2015 • 95 minutes • Epic Pictures Group
Let’s talk about period pastiche.
Period pastiche, or determinedly making a throwback of a film, can be an interesting challenge for filmmakers and a delightful treat for film viewers. The Good German, Far From Heaven, and Hail Caesar! all leap to mind, but there’s also more blockbuster fare like Captain America: The First Avenger. From a distance, it’s easier to map the aesthetic contours of a cinematic era and hit the high notes while conspicuously eliminating any of the low ones. It’s also a great way to express narratives you’ve had in your head since childhood, as they will inevitably bear some markers of the era they coalesced into being during.
Case in point: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s Turbo Kid, a willful eighties throwback set in the far-off dystopian year of… 1997. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water is controlled by the warlord Zeus, teen scavenger the Kid scrapes together a living, comforted by his love for Turbo Rider comics. When he is aggressively “found” by a strange girl named Apple, he finds himself drawn into a conflict against Zeus that lets him realize his dream of being Turbo Rider. But, as Apple points out, he’s not much of a Turbo Rider. He’s more of a… Turbo Kid.
Under the Cherry Moon
1986 • 100 minutes • Warner Bros.
Losing Prince last month affected me the same way losing Bowie in January did—abstractly. I was saddened, of course, but not hurt enough to want to take 2016 back to the celestial customer service counter. I just didn’t have a personal stake in either artist. For whatever reason, while Bowie and Prince’s music is prime territory for queer weirdos of all stripes, I never landed there to take sustenance. It’s certainly nothing they did. I just have a hard time connecting with music on that deep of a level.
Still, their passings into the Undying Lands were worthy of tribute from me. For Bowie, I lit my homemade David Bowie prayer candle for the first time (which I’d made last August, not, like, for the occasion) and saved a Best of Bowie Spotify playlist to my phone.
And for Prince? I watched Under the Cherry Moon with my comedy troupe from college.
Now, to be fair, Purple Rain was in contention as well, but, as a fan of the eighties, I wanted to watch Purple Rain for the first time in a different and slightly more worshipful context. A midnight movie crowd would be ideal, but I have lately discovered that my biorhythms are those of a medieval French farmer. My apparent biological directive to wake up at the crack of dawn (and, presumably, hike a mile up to the cheese cave to gently turn all those wheels of dairy forty-five degrees to the left) means that midnight movies are largely no longer an option. Je suis desolée.
So Under the Cherry Moon, Prince’s infamous flop, it was. If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Under the Cherry Moon (and, honestly, who would blame you?), let me sum up. Against a backdrop of the toniest denizens of the Riviera, Prince attempts to seduce $50 million dollars out of Kristin Scott Thomas in her first major film role. (It’s one she’d really rather you forget.)
Between You and Me
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
2012 • 272 pages • Atria Books
Between You and Me is, quite obviously, inspired by the story of Britney Spears, especially her well-publicized personal struggles in 2006 and 2007. Regular Jane Logan Wade is having a rough go at life in New York City, with a career that’s going nowhere, a living situation she can’t stand, and a man who will never commit to her. When her cousin, international pop sensation Kelsey Wade, reaches out to her, she jumps at the chance. But she ends up embroiled in the personal drama of Kelsey’s life—her controlling parents, her tempestuous relationship with back-up dancer Aaron, and the secret, traumatic past they both share that eventually comes out…
Well, it comes out on Kelsey’s family’s end. I’m still wildly unsure what Logan’s dad did.
It ends up reading like Poppy Z. Brite’s Plastic Jesus meets Gossip Girl, but without the core transformative element at the core of Plastic Jesus that makes it at least an interesting premise. It even suffers from the same “inspired by real life” problem that Plastic Jesus does—it assumes that you know all about the inspiration, so it can glide and elide to the points in the narrative that are juicy without doing any of the legwork. (That’s a Zack Snyder kind of move, people!) Continue reading
Captain America: Civil War
Based on Captain America
by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
2016 • 147 minutes • Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Are we ever going to be able to get back to Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
Don’t get me wrong: I heartily enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. It is no less ideologically chewy, as one review delightfully put it, than The Winter Soldier. The difference is that The Winter Soldier is a Captain America movie and Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie. I often wonder when the wheels are going to come off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because we’re getting to a point where a Marvel film must do two things: be a good enough film and set up the board for the next film or films, depending on how many players are on this particular board. In my experience as a reader and viewer, serial plot structure is one of the most challenging things to do right. And Marvel, with the exception of Iron Man 2, has mostly been handling it well. But it’s difficult to serve two masters at once, and we know which one takes precedent.
The Russos, to their eternal credit, pull that delicate balancing act off elegantly, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get a wholly singular genre riff like Captain America: The Winter Soldier again in the Marvel universe.
People Places Things
2015 • 85 minutes • The Film Arcade
People Places Things is yet another retelling of that tired old story—a man in midlife crisis. The man? Will Henry, a graphic novelist and teacher of the same living in New York with his girlfriend Charlie and their twin daughters. That is until the day of their daughters’ fifth birthday, when Will catches Charlie sleeping with another man. A year later, a still-healing Will tries to make some active life choices: asking for more time with his daughters, for instance, and trying to date again, with the mother of a student. As Charlie prepares to marry the man she cheated on him with, the two of them try to get a handle on life.
Men in midlife crisis films rarely interest me, so why did I even want to see People Places Things? Well, Jemaine Clement, that’s why. At some undefined point in college, I mainlined the first season of Flight of the Conchords. My unwavering devotion to The Lord of the Rings and gentle, silly comedy meant that I was predisposed to love them. (Imagine my delighted shock when I discovered that Bret McKenzie was also the beloved Figwit—or Lindir, if you’re playing by Hobbit trilogy rules, which you should never really do.) The trailer did well to play up his dry, affable, and witty charm, and the film does the same. People Places Things can feel like a movie about nothing, but it is about Will trying to sort his life out in a way that’s fulfilling to himself, honest to others, and kind.
Star Wars: Darth Vader: Volume 1
by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larocca, and Edgar Delgado
2015 • 160 pages • Marvel
It’s embarrassing, but I’ll admit it—I wanted to read Star Wars: Darth Vader because I thought Kieron Gillen wrote “Thank the Maker.” If you’re unfamiliar with “Thank the Maker,” it is actually a 2000 Star Wars comic written by Ryder Windham about Darth Vader encountering C-3PO during The Empire Strikes Back. Vader flashes back to rebuilding C-3PO as a child, defending droid rights to his mother as she tells him that creating a droid is a big responsibility. I was so touched by Vader feeling actual pain over how far they’ve traveled from that point in time that I immediately determined to read… Star Wars: Darth Vader.
In my defense, I knew Gillen was writing a Darth Vader title when I saw a few pages of “Thank the Maker,” so the two naturally conflated in my mind.
In a way, though, Star Wars: Darth Vader answers the same question as “Thank the Maker”: how do you square Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker in light of the prequels in a meaningful way? And I don’t mean that in a joking way at all. I’m watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars while I get ready for work in the morning (this is how I watch any and all half-hour programs), and I’ve been very much enjoying how the show tries to balance Anakin’s character and bridge the gap between Jedi hero and Sith villain. He’s heroic, dashing, and loyal, but he’s also possessive, violent, and impulsive.
Kieron Gillen, naturally, has a very good answer to this question, which is Star Wars: Darth Vader. Continue reading
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
based on characters by Evan Daugherty based on “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm
2016 • 114 minutes • Universal Pictures
The last movie I saw in theaters was Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark, a movie that will make you lose your faith in humanity, let alone cinema. (And, I might add, actively seeks to do so.) I had to go home, eat cake, and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens to recover. I couldn’t walk past a comic book store for days without repressing the urge to flail screaming through it like my own personal marketplace scene. I’m starting to wonder if my neutral response to the fact that Captain America: Civil War is coming out in just a few weeks, a movie I already have a ticket to see, might not be a side effect of that experience.
After that, any cinema experience looks miles better in comparison. I left The Huntsman: Winter’s War practically glowing. Movies can be just mediocre! Oh happy day!
Madonna: Truth or Dare
1991 • 122 minutes • Miramax Films
Of my problematic faves, Madonna is probably one of the most high-profile. I’m not sure when I fell for Madonna. I know when I first became aware of her—the morning after the 2003 MTV Music Awards, during which she kissed both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during a performance of “Hollywood” staged as homage to her twenty year old performance of “Like a Virgin” at the inaugural MTV Music Awards. What was edgy then (well, edgy to a bus full of middle schoolers in Georgia in the early aughts) is now obvious as queerbaiting.
That’s the problem with provocation for the sake of provocation—it doesn’t age well. See how I recoiled from Madonna’s early nineties ouvre when I finally sat down and plowed through her discography a few years ago. But Madonna has never been just provocation. I enjoy her songwriting, her inventiveness, her willingness to explore, and her ability to stay relevant through sheer willpower. I like strong-minded women, who could have possibly guessed. Nonetheless, as much as I’ve been enjoying her recent work, I have been fixated of late on Madonna’s first incarnation: the club kid captured in Desperately Seeking Susan.
The Book of Margery Kempe
translated by John Skinner
1999 • 343 pages • Book-of-the-Month Club
I am as frankly surprised as you are that my reading has taken on a religious bent these past two weeks. I threw The Girl of Fire and Thorns into my bag yesterday morning, and only remembered once I started it that I had wanted to read it because it was the rare fantasy novel that actively deals with faith. (Verdict so far: yes, good, continue.) I’ve suddenly become dissatisfied with everything I currently have out of the library, so we’ll see if this trend keeps up when I refresh my selections. (I imagine it won’t, because I have Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader on hold and cannot wait to read it.)
But I originally wanted to read The Book of Margery Kempe because it’s often considered the first autobiography written in English (and by a woman!). Although, of course, autobiography wasn’t really a genre in the fifteenth century—it’s more accurately an autohagiography. Still, it offers particular insight into the life of a middle-class laywoman in medieval England, as Kempe experienced her call to Christ after the birth of her first child.
2005 • 368 pages • Counterpoint
Ever since I watched Jesus Camp as a teenager, church camp has kind of spooked me. And I don’t mean regular, normal church camp. (I assume regular, normal church camp is pretty chill. I would have no idea, as Madame didn’t want me growing up Catholic and ashamed of my everything, but never settled on an alternative beyond “let the poor kid sleep in.”) I mean the camps bordering on indoctrination, the “pray away the gay” camps, the ones that feel like they’re preying on children. I just can’t understand why anyone would put their child through that.
This morbid fascination is why I alighted on Julia Scheeres’ similarly titled Jesus Land, a memoir of her and her brother’s time at Escuela Caribe, a “Christian boot camp” that’s a cross between those camps and the kind of camps that kidnap kids in the middle of the night to “straighten them out.” (These are real and they are horrifying.) It’s been on the Behemoth long enough that I no longer recall who recommended it to me, just that I came across in the little Carnegie library I used to live across from in Denver long afterwards. (Man. I used to live in Denver. Wild.)