Page to Screen: The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

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The Phantom of the Opera
based on the musical based on the novel

★★★★☆

2004 • 143 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures

Crimson Peak’s box office may not be what Universal wanted, but I have been having a ball seeing it hit home with its intended audience: gothically and/or Romantically inclined women of all ages. I’ve seen (and, of course, promptly misplaced) tumblr commentary indicating that this was exactly what they yearned for as preteens when their mainstream and more current peers were focused elsewhere. All of this delighted sighing over romance and stylized frights brought me back to my own adolescence.

In 2004, back when I was a young preteen full of unspeakable urges (queer ones, not Byronic hero urges—well, not those Byronic hero urges), it was The Phantom of the Opera that captured the bloody hearts of the preteen Romantic hordes.

I mean, let’s face it: The Phantom of the Opera boasts a lot of similar elements as Crimson Peak. Beautiful, crumbling architecture, death looming in the shadows, young love, beautiful young women rising above their stations, gorgeous costumes, and brooding. Of course, there’s a Phantom in the sewers of Paris rather than [SPOILER REDACTED] in the attic, but both looming threats are surprisingly seductive. Oh, and there’s songs.

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Page to Screen: Sailor Moon S (1994-1995)

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Sailor Moon S
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi

★★★★★

1994-1995 • 38 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media

Sailor Moon S had an odd journey to North America. You see, after the first two seasons of DiC’s dub performed so poorly in syndication, DiC just kind of dropped it. In fact, it kind of dropped it towards the end of Sailor Moon R, never finishing the season. But after Cartoon Network made Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R a key part of Toonami, the show became more and more popular. DiC eventually bought and released the remaining episodes of Sailor Moon R, but it was Cloverway, the then American branch of the show’s production company Toei Animation, that produced the dubs of Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Super S, which ran on Cartoon Network. Sailor Moon Sailor Stars was never picked up for North American distribution, largely because of that season’s gender trouble.

I tend to think of Sailor Moon as a very cohesive whole, like a lot of manga and anime franchises, so it’s a little jarring to realize just how it trickled into North America, where it had such a sizable impact. As much as I’m mildly playing at revisiting my childhood by watching Sailor Moon at god awful in the morning while I get ready for work, I’m experiencing Sailor Moon in a way most English-speaking fans did not; I mean, I’ll actually get to watch an official subtitled version of Sailor Moon Sailor Stars.

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Page to Screen: Teenage (2013)

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Teenage
based on the book by Jon Savage

★★★½☆

2013 • 77 minutes • Oscilloscope Laboratories

How many ways can you actually make a documentary?

I mean, in that most perfect world, one would assume the genre variations are practically infinite. IFC’s loving parody Documentary Now! has found six ways to riff on the genre, with more to come in its second season. (I haven’t seen a frame of that series and I want to see it so bad.) And yet, most mainstream documentaries tend to stick to the talking heads (be it interviews or readings from primary sources) and footage (be it a primary source or a reconstruction) model.

Teenage sticks to that model as well, but just barely. The readings from primary sources are thrown into a blender and poured into a handful of vaguely distinct archetypes—a white American girl, a white British boy, an African-American boy, and a white German girl—all voiced by professional and, in the cases of Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, high-profile actors. These archtypes end up functioning as a pack of royal teen wes, staying the same age from the 1900s to the 1950s (the eras Matt Wolf and company have contemporary footage of). Their words are paraphrased from primary sources in a script meant to hit the high points of Jon Savage’s original book, except when they’re taken from the autobiographies of contemporary teenagers. Those segments are illustrated not with the original footage dug up for the film, but recreations that are only distinguishable as such by their well-fed actors and slightly too high quality.

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Page to Screen: A Royal Affair (2012)

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A Royal Affair
based on
Prinsesse af blodet by Bodil Steensen-Leth

★★★½☆

2012 • 137 minutes • Nordisk Film Distribution

I think about cultural context a lot, especially when strange men try to talk to me and I respond in Monster French, which is when you shriek French through your nose at someone. (If you do it loud enough, nobody will notice you have the vocabulary of a six year old! If you can quack “quoi,” you’re halfway there.) The effectiveness of Monster French is predicated on the assumption that my white bread self speaks English (as well as the assumption that I will parlez cette langue avec vous), and I think it’s healthy for everybody to have cultural assumptions like that destabilized once in a while.

Mads Mikkelsen’s cultural context is a particularly curious one. In Anglophone cinema, he’s largely perceived as a character actor dealing almost exclusively in villains, to the point that he actually had to protest that he wasn’t playing a villain in Star Wars: Rogue One by virtue of simply being cast. (I am personally hoping for “weird Jedi.” All the best Jedi are weirdos, like Luke Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn, the Bad Idea Jedi himself.) In Danish cinema, however, his cache cannot be overstated—he can do no wrong, because he, in a sense, is Danish cinema, especially as a metonym for that industry on the global stage.

I was quite looking forward to A Royal Affair destabilizing my perception of Mikkelsen as an actor, especially after mainlining Hannibal. (WAIL!) I was also hoping to get an angle on European history that I’ve rarely had a chance to experience—Scandinavian history tends to fall by the wayside in American history classes. A Royal Affair succeeds in the former and, strangely, fails in the latter.

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Page to Screen: The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

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The Jane Austen Book Club
based on the novel by Karen Joy Fowler

★★★½☆

2007 • 106 minutes • Sony Pictures Classics

I don’t know if I have anything particular to say about The Jane Austen Book Club, a film wherein six members of a Jane Austen book club find that Austen’s writing sheds insight on their romantic conundrums, as a film unto itself.

I mean, the extended montage of just how difficult modern life is (or was, in the far-off past of 2007) that opens the picture does make its point a little too heavily before launching into the story proper. Some of the jokes are a little broad for my tastes. And I did definitely spend the bulk of the film telling Emily Blunt to absolutely not sleep with her student. (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Blunt’s character follows my wise advice.) But, largely, it’s a very comfortable romantic comedy that balances its large cast well, treats all its characters with respect, and chugs along to a pleasant conclusion where everyone, now happily matched, accepts the wisdom of the classics and decide to start reading the Aubrey–Maturin series so they’ll never run out of material. It’s fun, it’s not infuriating (as mainstream American romantic comedies can tend to be, through no inherent fault of the genre), and it’s a little dated. (Two words: flip phones.) What’s not to like, even if it doesn’t make much of an impression?

But I do have something to say about The Jane Austen Book Club as a film in context of female representation in American cinema. Continue reading

Page to Screen: Hannibal — Season 3 (2015)

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Hannibal: Season 3
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

★★★★★

2015 • 13 episodes • NBC

It only really occurred to me on Sunday that I have spent this entire summer drowning in Hannibal. Despite declaring that binge watching was just not the way I, personally, should be consuming television, Hannibal’s circumstances and quality endeavored to make a hypocrite of me and succeeded. My appetite for Hannibal was insatiable; forty-five minutes never went so fast in my life before.

Now that I’ve returned to my other television projects (Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, for the curious), it almost feels like I’ve just wandered, dazed, out of a dark forest and, looking back, have only just now realized how vast it was. When it comes to television, I am well-trained in the art of being completely out of the loop when it comes to television: see previous sentence, where I have somehow managed to grow to full adulthood as a queer lady geek without the power of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess. So the experience of not only being in the loop but being in the loop with a show that has radically challenged what network television and television can do has felt like a rare honor.

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Page to Screen: Savage Grace (2007)

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Savage Grace
based on the book by by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson

★★★☆☆

2007 • 97 minutes • IFC Films

Why does this movie exist?

I mean, there are two very compelling reasons for Savage Grace to exist—the lives of Barbara Daly Baekeland and her son Anthony absolutely brim with scandal and that prelude to a threesome scene with Julianne Moore, Hugh Dancy, and Eddie Redmayne that you know from tumblr—but these are reasons for its genesis, not justification for its rather lackluster existence. If you are going to make a film about the Baekeland murder, a story rich with psychological drama, intrigue, and, yes, incest, why would you ever make it so… bloodless?

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Page to Screen: Ella Enchanted (2004)

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Ella Enchanted
based on the novel by Gail Carson Levine

★★☆☆☆

2004 • 96 minutes • Buena Vista Pictures

I was two-thirds of the way through Ella Enchanted when I realized I’d never seen Ella Enchanted before. I mean, it seemed so obvious! In 2004, I was a preteen mourning the loss of The Lord of the Rings who had, in fact, actually read Ella Enchanted and liked it. I even distinctly remember reading about Cary Elwes playing the villain in this film and taking a moment to think about what he would even look like with darker hair. (I am always fascinated by what natural blondes look like with darker hair, for reasons presumably related to my lifelong adventures in hair color.)

And yet, when Heidi Klum turned up as the giantess Brumhilda, I realized that I was on deeply unfamiliar ground. I must have been stitching something together out of The Princess Diaries and A Knight’s Tale to heal over the mental wound this film inflicted on my generation of lady geeks. It’s a wound so deep that, when I proposed this film to my erstwhile Valkyries as a bad film to skewer, even those mighty mavens balked. Surely, though, with a decade between both me and the film and me and my culturally bloodthirsty preteen self, I could take a gentler and wider view on this much reviled film.

(Also Hannibal’s seeped into my bloodstream enough that I am compelled to seek out the filmography of both Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, so expect King Arthur to be covered in these pages soon enough. Moving on…)

Ella Enchanted has precious little to do with the novel it’s based on, besides its basic premise. A girl named Ella is given the “gift” of obedience by a fairy, she goes to a giant’s wedding, and she falls in love with a prince named Char(mont). Other than that, they largely have nothing to do with one another, which makes Ella Enchanted, essentially, Shrek for teenage girls.

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Page to Screen: Hannibal — Season 2 (2014)

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Hannibal: Season 2
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

★★★★★

2014 • 13 episodes • NBC

What a time to be alive.

Maybe it’s because I binge-watched much of this season while out of my mind with a head cold that rendered me largely unable to string human words together, but few shows have energized my mind like Hannibal. Despite my previously mentioned distaste for binge-watching, Hannibal is surviving this method (I’m trying to catch up so I can finish the third season with the rest of the civilized world) and giving me plenty to chew on and wail over as I listen to Mediaeval Baebes. It’s a revitalizing experience.

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Page to Screen: Hannibal – Season 1 (2013)

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Hannibal: Season 1
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

★★★★★

2013 • 13 episodes • NBC

The only tragedy of the written word is that I cannot wordlessly scream a single note at you for the equivalent of 700+ words to convey how good Hannibal is. I mean, I am capable of recording myself wordlessly screaming, but there is no way that will accurately convey the intended message to you. You win again, the written word!

Ever the Johnnie-come-lately, I of course finally decided to put Hannibal‘s first season on hold a few days before the show was canceled. (Fuller and company are still searching for a home; Netflix and Amazon have passed.) Captain Cinema, tumblr (sweet Bowie, does tumblr love Hannibal), and the entire world have been talking up Hannibal a storm ever since the show began airing. Showrunner Bryan Fuller describing the show as not television, but “a pretentious art film from the 80s” was the only thing I needed to push myself off the edge.

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