Can’t Hardly Wait
1998 • 101 minutes • Columbia Pictures
My brother is almost a decade older than me, which means that we’re, culturally speaking, part of two very different generations, although eternally linked through the Nintendo 64. (A specific Nintendo 64, in this case.) He was a teenager in the nineties, and I, a small child, watched his lifestyle avidly to try and prepare myself for the upcoming wild ride of adolescence. According to my findings, there would be parties! There would be shenanigans! And there would be frosted tips!
Of course, my acute observations were nipped in the bid the moment my brother discovered that his little sister would happily rat out his most embarrassing stories to any girl he knew willing to pay attention to me. I was thus banished from his high school kingdom and forced to seek other older kids who would let me watch movies my mother wouldn’t let me watch elsewhere. (It was the girl next door and it was Titanic.) But this is how I came to inherit a heavily nineties-tinged view of what teenage life was. And it somehow never really went away, considering that I spent my own aughts adolescence perfecting the arts of fandom lurking and terrible bangs.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
2008 • 98 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
Can you hear it? The slow, subtle turn of fandom’s head back to Marvel? The sound of dust being brushed off Captain America shields and hankies being stuffed into knapsacks against the impending Bucky Barnes feelings?
Well, if you can, I can’t, dear reader. Despite all the signs that the wind and your tumblr dashboard is starting to change direction to a different Disney property, I remain almost composed of Star Wars. After the glorious high of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems that my fever for that franchise will never abate. This is liberally aided by the fact that Star Wars, as a film series, is composed of four quality films and three exquisitely choice bad movies, satisfying my entire cinematic palette in one go. It is only the Expanded Universe’s decanonization that keeps me from running full tilt into it.
To soothe this ravenous appetite, I decided to finally embark upon Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’d thought about picking up The Clone Wars—the only Star Wars property currently streaming on American Netflix—over the holidays, but my dreams of introducing my nephew, Wolfboy, to Star Wars were shattered when he declared The Clone Wars “too scary” and went off to to his favorite movie, the existential horror show that is Cars. I mainlined holiday cooking shows instead. But it was only a matter of time. I’ve heard such good things about this television series, about how it gives Anakin Skywalker more time to develop from frustrated young Jedi to Sith Lord and gives Obi-Wan a quasi-romantic interest in a Mandalorian duchess named Satine. (Yes, she’s named that for the same reason you think she’s named that.)
2010 • 100 minutes • Universal Pictures
Really, the best way to review Leap Year would be to open up Irish pop culture blog Culch.ie’s review of the film and Jesse Hassenger’s review of The Perfect Match at the AV Club in different tabs, put them side by side, and cross your eyes. Unfortunately, I am told that this is bad for your eyesight by “science,” so I will do the best impersonation that I can.
Leap Year, for those of you who don’t hoard bad movies and spring them on your friends when the occasion rises, is a 2010 romantic “comedy” built on the Irish and British tradition of women only being able to propose on Leap Day. You see, according to Irish folklore, St. Brigid once asked St. Patrick if women could propose to their menfolk. St. Patrick said only on leap day, and St. Brigid, strangely, did not smack him in the face. (As a McBride, I must protest hotly at this portrayal of my eponymous saint—good St. Brigid was ten when St. Patrick died, so they were probably not hanging out a lot.) After Anna’s longtime boyfriend Jeremy fails to propose to her at an appropriate time (“where do you get off putting earrings in a RING BOX?!” I yelled at the computer screen) and heads off to Dublin for a medical convention, she decides to be spontaneous for once and chase after him to propose on Leap Day. Unfortunately, her flight gets redirected and she ends up in Dingle. Declan, owner of the local pub, offers to drive her to Dublin for a price.
The Price of Gold
2014 • 78 minutes • ESPN Films
Figure skating is the only Olympic sport I’ve ever actually gotten behind, culminating in the 2010 Winter Olympics being a very strange centerpiece to my sophomore year of college. (To this day, I have a macro of a tanning bed bellowing “FEED ME EVAN LYSACEK” that makes me laugh out loud.) Of all the sports represented at the Olympics, it’s the most overtly aesthetic and artistic. It’s also one of the most aggressively coded feminine sports, alongside gymnastics.
That makes figure skating densely symbolic in ways that other sports aren’t (or are in different ways), especially in terms of gender and class. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, two Canadian commentators said that Johnny Weir should take a gender test because his skating style was so flamboyant. (They later apologized.) I remember being particularly fascinated that year with American figure skater’s Evan Lysacek’s performance of gender—a lot of the material surrounding him seemed hilariously anxious to prove his masculine bonafides, especially in counterpoint to Weir. Lysacek won gold that year, soothing American masculinity’s precious nerves.
Similarly, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding rivalry in American women’s figure skating in the early nineties was both about the two skaters and about acceptable performances of gender, class, and physical prowess. On one hand, there’s elegant, graceful, feminine Kerrigan, an ice princess of the highest order. On the other hand, there’s athletic, tomboyish, sometimes abrasive Harding, from the wrong side of the tracks. And then there’s the famous act of violence that linked them together forever and affected their lives in very different ways.
2003 • 121 minutes • Columbia Pictures
Was Gigli the last movie America hated in unison?
I mean, let’s take a look at the nominees for this year’s Razzie Awards—we’ve got Fantastic Four, Fifty Shades of Grey, Jupiter Ascending, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, and Pixels. They’re all worthy of the nomination (Jupiter Ascending ought to win, on the basis of being pure glory and also that Eddie Redmayne performance), but there’s little ongoing cultural fascination and professional fallout regarding those films. I mean, there is Until Death Do Us Blart, an annual podcast where Tim Batt, Guy Montgomery, and the McElroy brothers review Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 on Thanksgiving every year until they all die. There is that. But even The Cobbler, perhaps the most recent bad movie to stay in popular imagination longer than it was in theaters, didn’t derail the careers of either its star or its director or cause a larger cultural conversation about its ending. (HOW CAN YOU DO THAT TO YOUR MENTALLY ILL WIFE?!)
Was the world just a little smaller thirteen years ago, when even USA Today, a newspaper largely distributed by forcing it upon hotel patrons, published an article rounding up the most cutting reviews of the film? Or is Gigli just that bad?
2016 • 100 minutes • Universal Pictures
I am not an acolyte of the Coen brothers. I even thought I’d never seen a Coen brothers movie until a friend of mine helpfully pointed out that I’d seen both O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Fargo. This lack of attention and devotion is no slam on them—I do want to see Inside Llewelyn Davis for reasons that are totally not related to Oscar Isaac—but rather more an indicator of where I stand in the landscape of American cineastes.
So I was sold much more on the setting—1950s Hollywood, in that last gasp of the studio system—than on the directors. And, of course, on the promise of Channing Tatum dancing. It’s now a commonly acknowledged fact that Channing Tatum’s moves will bring in the masses. This is how Magic Mike XXL was willed into existence by all of America, the same way we got Keith Richards into Pirates of the Caribbean.
2009 • 94 minutes • Magnolia Pictures
Humpday centers on two college buddies a decade after their youthful exploits. Ben (Mark Duplass) is a married man with a stable job and a nice house getting ready to conceive his first child with his beloved wife Anna (Alycia Delmore). Andrew (Joshua Leonard) is a vagabond artist who shows up at their doorstep in the middle of the night, in town to secure some funding for his latest art project. Despite Anna’s best efforts to be a good hostess, Ben and Andrew end up at a party in a queer artists’ colony one night. When a couple excitedly explains to them their plan to submit a film to Seattle’s Humpfest, an “amateur dirty film festival,” Ben and Andrew drunkenly decide to submit a film of their own to the festival—filming themselves having sex, which will be “beyond gay” since they’re both straight. The next morning, they find themselves making excuses not to back down from the project.
Unmoored in time, Humpday feels very slight, but it’s important to remember that in 2009 (oh, those ancient times a mere seven years ago), bromances were trending in pop culture—Apatow movies had gained cultural ascendency, “Guy Love” was a cheeky ditty capitalizing homoerotic overtones, I Love You, Man was in theaters, and even sexy new hit British show Sherlock had fun with letting Sherlock and John be mistaken for a gay couple. (This was back before we knew that the fun Sherlock was having was at our expense.) But it was nearly all of the “no homo” variety, with physical affection and therefore queer romantic or sexual behavior being played for laughs.
Dear White People
2014 • 108 minutes • Lionsgate
Dear White People opens in the aftermath of an “African-American-themed” party at Winchester University, a very tony Ivy League school somewhere in the United States. As national news covers the story, several characters stare, shellshocked, directly into the camera. It’s only Tessa Thompson’s Sam White who watches back, a camera glued to her left eye and an appraising look in her right one.
And that’s when I screamed in delight, because there are few things I love more than the fourth wall being coolly, elegant broken to make a point about who is seen and who is being seen. (If you would like to enjoy a pop music version of this, I direct you to Madonna’s performance of “Vogue” at the 1990 MTV Awards.)
1995 • 107 minutes • United Artists
I sometimes have trouble parsing the nineties, despite having been consciously alive for some of it. I watched the music video for Krystal Harris’ “Supergirl” last night (apropos of a home screening of The Princess Diaries, which we’ll get to next Friday), and my brain kept imploding. (And yes, I know that The Princess Diaries is a 2001 release, but the nineties lingered, people.) Everything was so familiar, from the cinematography to the styling to beautiful people slowly exiting a car, but the logic behind it felt strange and alien.
The same goes for Hackers, although that sense of familiarity is warped. Oh, there are things you’ve seen before—like the kid’s movie wackiness of the opening sequence, wherein an eleven year old manages to hack enough banking computers to drive the New York Stock Exchange down. But he’s immediately apprehended by a SWAT team seemingly authorized to use brutal force for a white collar crime. Our hero, Dade, moves to a new high school, where he’s hazed by the cool kids and begins to pine for a beautiful girl, Kate. But her sexual interest in him is predicated on his willingness to embrace gender fluidity for her. Hackers from all over the world join forces to help out Dade and his friends defeat the evil hacker known as the Plague. But only after Dade and Kate visit a nightclub where it only becomes obvious at the end of the scene that they’ve been on roller blades the whole time. It’s sort of like staring at, say, Brink, through a lens very, very darkly.
New Year’s Eve
2011 • 118 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
Of the winter holidays, New Year’s Eve is the most refreshingly secular. After we’ve all been run ragged by familial and religious obligations (look, I adore my werewolf niblings, but they eat up a lot more energy than I’m used to!), it’s a holiday perfect for revelry or reflection. Even the major tradition is resolving to improve your habits, which is rather vague and, let’s face it, easily ignored.
But that same refreshing secularity has made New Year’s Eve almost impervious to the holiday special. If It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Miracle on 34th Street are meant to teach us the true meaning of Christmas (goodwill towards your fellow man, even if they’re related to you, and presents, obviously), then the stumbling block for New Year’s Eve is obvious: the true meaning of New Year’s Eve is that it’s New Year’s Eve. Upon this tautology, no film can be built.