2015 • 108 minutes • A24
Ex Machina concerns Caleb, a programmer at the Google/Apple stand-in Bluebook, winning a lottery to spend a week with the founder of the complany, Nathan. Upon arrival at Nathan’s compound, Caleb is taken aggressively under Nathan’s wing and asked to participate in a Turing test to determine if Ava, Nathan’s latest project, is sentient.
It’s not a spoiler to say that this does not end well.
1986 • 102 minutes • TriStar Pictures
As a teenager, my love of the eighties was not particularly shared by the alternative scene kids I ran with. But during my deeply ill-fated tenure on my high school’s debate team, I acquired a scene partner who loved Labyrinth. I’d heard of it—specifically, I’d heard of “Dance Magic”—but I’d never actually seen it. She gushed to me about David Bowie’s ethereal beauty and other attributes (I was identifying as asexual at that point in my life, so I was unmoved), and I trotted off to our local Blockbuster to rent the film in question. To quote John Mulaney, that’s a very old-fashioned sentence nowadays.
I enjoyed it, but it didn’t particularly stick with me. (Nor did I stick with debate, transitioning instead to an even more ill-fated tenure in school theater.) Recently, though, I had an opportunity to revisit it when the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema hosted an outdoor screening in Brooklyn. To be honest, I mostly went to try and ferret out an official opening date for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Brooklyn (let me give you all of my disposable income, you monsters!). But I enjoyed the screening, despite the drizzle and despite being deep in the throes of the dissociative funk that Disaster Preparedness pushed me into. And now… I kinda get Labyrinth.
1988 • 92 minutes • Universal Studios
When it comes to the two major bad movie podcasts, The Flop House and How Did This Get Made, I’m a Flop House woman through and through. It’s always a delightful surprise whenever a new episode turns up in my Overcast app (my podcast application of choice), even though the podcast comes out every other Saturday. I listen to every episode twice, and some, especially the gutbustingly funny Labor Day episode, more than that. I’ve even been to a live show, which goes to show you the power of the hometown advantage.
Nonetheless, I am quite fond of How Did This Get Made, their rowdier Los Angeles-based counterpart, if only because of the infectious energy of Jason Mantzoukas. (The prim suspicion of June Diane Raphael is a close second in my heart.) I nearly cried laughing on the subway listening to Mantzoukas describe exactly how Xanadu went wildly overbudget. Despite their common genre, comparing the two podcasts is like comparing apples and oranges; the energy is just so different.
And that is nowhere more apparent than in their live episode on Bloodsport, which made me laugh so much that I had to seek out the film.
How to Marry a Millionaire
1953 • 95 minutes • 20th Century Fox
Have I ever mentioned how much I like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? I like to think of it as the prototype for one of my favorite comedy duo archetypes—Bad Idea Friend and Idiot. It’s sweet, daffy, bursting with Technicolor (which I adore), and features the amazing line, “Prithee, scat.” I’ll get around to revisiting it and reviewing some day (haha long term plans for my blog haha), but for now, let us have it inform my opinion of How to Marry a Millionaire.
Coming to America
1988 • 117 minutes • Paramount Pictures
Despite being an eighties freak, Coming to America
long escaped my interest. Why? Well, because it’s not really the eighties, is it? Coming to America
lacks what I consider the classic eighties look. What we so often break down into discreet decades are really half-decades. Armpit decades, if you will, and I say that knowing full well that you will not. This is the late eighties/early nineties situation, full of oversized sweaters, dull color palettes, and the ugliest interior design. This is is the calm before the art of tailoring was briefly lost for a decade. This is the cultural context that birthed Licence to Kill
I’ve also never been a particular fan of Eddie Murphy. As kid, my only exposure to Eddie Murphy was limited to broad, child-friendly comedy–and, of course, Shrek. It blew my mind to discover, as an older teen, that Eddie Murphy had once been cool. (It was kind of like discovering that your parents were once cool. It seems impossible, but the photo evidence that they once had hair as cool as yours is undeniable.) And not only cool, but one of the most popular comedians in America. But Delirious, which features an extended homophobic joke, obviously did not endear him to me.
Nonetheless, a mention in a recent(-ish. Y’all, I’m a busy lady) episode of the The Flop House convinced me to give it a shot. In an episode on The Golden Child
, Elliott Kalan mentioned that he preferred Eddie Murphy in Coming to America
, where he plays an idealistic romantic, rather than a smooth talker.
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.)
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.
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.
2016 • 108 minutes • Walt Disney Studios
As an Aunt to Werewolves, I get excited whenever I see something amazing happen that, to them, will be just a part of their childhood and the way the world works. My nieflings will never know an America without marriage equality or a Star Wars without women and people of color. (Sidebar: if you haven’t seen the Rogue One trailer, what you are doing reading this review go watch it immediately.) And they’ll always have had Zootopia to introduce them to complex concepts like bigotry and internalized bias, something I never expected of this movie when we first began hearing about it.