Page to Screen: The Princess Bride (1987)

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The Princess Bride
based on the novel by William Goldman

★★★★½

1987 • 98 minutes • 20th Century Fox

I suspect that one of the many, many motivating feelings in my quest to CONSUME ALL MEDIA is envy. It’s the curse of the pop culture obsessive raised by non-pop culture obsessive. I, of course, had plenty of media to chew on. I was a preteen when The Lord of the Rings happened. I’m part of the Harry Potter generation, for the love of Pete. (Hufflepuff, by the way. Always and forever.) And yet, there’s still a part of me that squirms enviously when people merrily recall childhood memories of Star Wars or—more to the point of today’s review—quote The Princess Bride in near-full.

It’s not so much that I’m angry that I didn’t get to experience it that way—you can’t change the past—but rather that nostalgic love is a hell of a feeling and I’m very greedy. I’m getting better about it, but there’s still always that twinge. Of course, the only way I could actually satisfy said twinge is if I were Tilda Swinton’s character in Only Lovers Left Alive—i.e., immortal, filthy rich, and made of free time.

And when it’s good? Oh, that’s even worse. (Do keep in mind that I’m from fandom and regularly bark “YOU DORK!” at people and characters I adore.)

I’m not sure if I have anything else to say about The Princess Bride that hasn’t been said already, by the kinds of lists that introduced me to it (thanks, I Love the 80s), the coolest kid in my high school (who once took me aside at his job just to point out how flippin’ cool the twentieth anniversary cover was), and the stars themselves (see Cary Elwes’ As You Wish). I haven’t even read the original book, although I have a copy of the book at home—a gorgeous paperback copy from my hometown bookstore that smells exactly like an old speculative fiction paperback should. It’s a perennially fresh cult classic, undoubtedly aided by the fact that’s the rare fantasy comedy.

There just aren’t enough of those in the world at the moment. There are plenty of fantasy films with a funny bone—How I Met Your Dragon, anyone?—but comedy is not their raison d’etre. Your Highness was the last mainstream fantasy comedy to hit theaters in 2011, and it bombed so poorly that there is (I am told) a joke in This is the End about it. Galavant made a go of it recently, but it’s hardly revitalized the genre. The Princess Bride still stands head and shoulders above the rest.

And that’s because The Princess Bride is supremely disinterested in parodying fantasy. At no point does Fred Savage’s grandson (two degrees away from too cool for school before the story enraptures him) question exactly where Florin and Guilder is in the real world, where the fantastical elements come from, or how Inigo manages to learn the events of the last third of the film while blind drunk in another part of the movie. Instead, the film’s humor derives from the breaking of the fourth wall via the grandson and his grandfather, as well as a truly witty script. There’s a reason it’s so eminently quotable—it delights in wordplay and elegant humor in a way that few films do. A lot of modern comedies are focused solely on the script, as Tony Zhou rightfully points out in his Every Frame a Painting episode on visual comedy, but The Princess Bride carries off the same focus with grace and aplomb. That’s mostly because the story is as invested in its characters’ emotional lives as it is in their witticisms; I can never watch this film without tearing up at Mandy Patinkin’s performance as Inigo, given his intricate connection with his role. (If you don’t know that story, you owe it to yourself to find out.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Watching it again as a grown woman and not a feckless teenager, it’s very glaringly a white boy’s club to the point that I started getting uncomfortable. Robin Wright is luminous as Buttercup, but she gets so precious little to do that I’m now itching for The Congress or House of Cards. (The Congress is more likely, since it’s so focused on the consumption and exploitation of her image.) IMDb informs me that Carrie Fisher was the first choice for the role; I’m not sure any film could withstand the amount of sassy eyebrows thrown had she been cast.

I saw this film at Videology.

Review: Bad Feminist

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Bad Feminist
by Roxane Gay

★★★★½

2014 • 336 pages • Harper Perennial

In Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, you will find three versions of the eponymous essay. The final product opens the collection and two of its preceding drafts close it. They’re different enough that it doesn’t feel repetitive, but bookending the entire collection with them makes perfect sense. It shows how rocky the terrain of our current culture is, humanizes the writing process (which can feel sterilized in the seemingly permanent spaces of either the Internet or print), and drives home Gay’s point: that she “would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all” (318). For Gay (and, I would hope, for us all) being a feminist is an active process.

To be a feminist in the digital age is to be easily able to find both your community and those who would stand against you—even (and perhaps especially) those who also consider themselves feminists but are not committed to the cause as to a version of it that benefits them. There’s always that moment when a new acquaintance brings up Caitlin Moran and I tense up, wondering if they, too, subscribe to the same kind of cissexist feminism that doesn’t believe in intersectionality. To quote Flavia Dzodan, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” I have, in my long time on the Internet, sought out, found, stumbled across, and otherwise just looked up to find myself in complex feminist (and if not explicitly feminist, feminist-minded) spaces that have much more to teach me than I have to teach them. Reading Bad Feminist, I was reminded of nothing more than that online feminist universe that I haunt, to the point that discovering where versions of the collected essays had been previously published in the acknowledgements read quite a bit like my Feedly.

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Review: Candy

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Candy
by Samira Kawash

★★★★☆

2013 • 416 pages • Faber & Faber

“Do you have an opaque bag?” I asked the Best Buy employee. “It’s a gift for my dad and I don’t want him to see what it is,” I completely lied, and she handed one over. I immediately stowed my true prize inside—an economy pack of Juicy Fruit gum.

I hid it in my nightstand drawer, alongside my copies of Princess Princess. I had two pieces a day, the better to draw it out. It satisfied both my sweet tooth and my constant, anxious fidget, so I could stop picking at my nail beds or sucking on my teeth and gums. I chewed and chewed until I was left with a flavorless, stiff putty. It was a marvelous week, until I came home from school to find my mother ominously still at the threshold of my bedroom.

It was as if Madame had caught me with a stash of hash. It was immediately confiscated, of course, and a sharp eye was kept on my gum consumption. Later, she began to soften, but I still spent many trips to the grocery store reading ingredients off of gum wrappers to her to make sure they weren’t going to give us cancer. Candy always came into my childhood home with suspicion. (Whereas chocolate was only ever suspect for being milk or, worse, white. Blurgh.)

Samira Kawash opens Candy with a similar story: at a playdate between her son and a friend, another parent implied that she was poisoning her child with a handful of jelly beans. The idea that a little candy—a little kid’s fistful of jelly beans!—could ruin her son’s life sat with Kawash, until she became the Candy Professor and started looking into both the history of candy in America and the history of Americans’ relationship with candy.

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At The Movies: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

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What We Do In the Shadows

★★★★☆

2014 • 85 minutes • Madman Entertainment

I never watched The Office while it was on. Or Parks and Recreation (it’s on my list! After 30 Rock!). Or the films of Christopher Guest. I mean, I’ve seen the original British Office, which is actually a terrifying portrait of awful human beings, and I’ve seen The Thick of It and In The Loop during the dawn of my Peter Capaldi obsession last fall. Oh, and I’ve seen Spinal Tap, for… I imagine it was eighties-related reasons? That’s a pretty good assumption to make. But that’s not my point.

My point is that I am not as immured to mockumentaries as most people are. They just largely don’t interest me, as a genre, so I don’t seek them out. And If I don’t seek them out, then I can’t get bored with them. And I only seek them out when there’s something else to interest me. Like, say, the talents of Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Boy’s Taika Waititi. And vampires attempting to navigate modern life with all the success of, say, Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane. (Although I imagine he’s been doing better as of late, right? I stopped watching it because I’m a busy lady and Agent Carter exists.)

What We Do in the Shadows, presented as a New Zealand documentary via the hilarious use of a vintage New Zealand Film Board logo, follows a quartet of vampire flatmates—sweet, prissy Viago, lusty, violent Vladislav, brooding, mean-spirited Deacon, and basically Count Orlok Petyr—in the months leading up to the Unholy Masquerade, the biggest social event of the undead calendar. Like most mockumentaries, it wanders, despite its fleet eighty-five minute running time. The closest thing to a plot the film produces is the story of Nick, a young man Petyr sires, whose fratty behavior and allegiance to his human friend Stu starts getting the flatmates in trouble. Instead, it’s much more interested in simply pitting vampires against the modern world.

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Review: Stuck Rubber Baby

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Stuck Rubber Baby
by Howard Cruse

★★★★½

2010 (originally published 1995) • 210 pages • Vertigo

The backlash against Selma has taken many forms—witness those irate thinkpieces (gag) and the whitest Oscar race in decades (double gag). All for a film daring to not only ignore the White Savior complex, but actively reject it by focusing on the work of a black community. As if there’s such a difference in the liberties taken with countless period films featuring white casts! I can’t comment further, as I haven’t seen Selma. I want to, obviously. As the New England winter digs its claws in before March, it’s harder and harder to get me out of the apartment and into a movie theater.

As a rejection of the White Savior complex, Stuck Rubber Baby is, of course, no Selma—its protagonist is the young, closeted, and white Toland Polk living in a Birmingham, Alabama analogue called Clayfield during the sixties. Through his determined-to-be-straight involvement with Ginger, a progressive college student, he gets swept up into the civil rights movement. But the always hesitant Toland is hardly a hero: his involvement is scattered, although dedicated. In fact, there’s no real heroes here—people who do more than others, certainly, but mostly just people, trying to do the best they can. (It’s got that slice of life approach in common with Alison Bechdel’s work. Bechdel provides the introduction here.)

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At The Movies: Into the Woods (2014)

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Into The Woods

★★★½☆

2014 • 124 minutes • Walt Disney Pictures

While I was a theater kid in high school and college, it wasn’t because I was the kind of kid who put on skits for the family and adored The Wizard of Oz. It was because the high school debate team, after I proved to completely suck at actual debating skills and not suck at acting, had no idea what to do with me and the high school theater director kind of did. So when I turned up for my big girl acting class, the one I had to audition to get into, I found myself surrounded by the common American theater kid—bright, chatty, performing types who talked about famous plays and musicals I had never heard of. I was so ashamed of how little I knew that I never asked, so I only learned that Stephen Sondheim existed when the film adaptation of Sweeney Todd came out. (Tiring of Tim Burton, I immediately began delivering spirited rejections of the film’s hotification of Todd and Lovett to anyone who brought it up. I was incredibly charming and popular, as you can imagine.)

But at least one theater kid took pity on me, and I eventually watched the filmed version of Into The Woods in said theater kid’s basement during a slumber party. It became and remains my Sondheim musical, although I’ve largely left theater behind at this point. And so when Disney announced that there was an Into the Woods film adaptation in the works I was… excited. Movie adaptations of musicals (or even just officially released video of the musical itself) are fantastic, especially when you haven’t got a chance of seeing a show unless it rolls into town.

Others were less excited.

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