A Royal Affair
based on Prinsesse af blodet by Bodil Steensen-Leth
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.
The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew
2014 • 176 pages • First Second
On Monday, The Mary Sue republished Lilian-Ann Bonaparte’s Black Girl Nerds essay on the importance of racebent fanart, “For Black Girls who considered Esmerelda Black when Cinderella wasn’t enuf: The Importance of Race-Bending Fan-Art.” It is well worth a read—Bonaparte specifically fixes on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the greatest of the Disney Renaissance films—but Bonaparte makes herself very, very clear at the end of it: “Race-bending is radical, progressive and imperative for the WOC who are starved for more positive representation in media.”
Gene Luen Yang, I think, would undoubtedly agree with Bonaparte. Given his measured but angry response to the atrociously whitewashed Avatar: The Last Airbender film (could have had it all, rolling in the deep, etc.), it’s very tempting and, I think, rewarding to think of The Shadow Hero as Yang’s opportunity to avenge the scores of Asian characters who have been whitewashed over the years for the sake of appealing to a “wider” (which is a very odd way to spell “whiter”) audience.
by Alexandre Dumas
translated by Tina A. Kover
2007 (originally 1843) • 336 pages • Modern Library
You may have recently seen that The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones recently wrote an article about how the late Terry Pratchett was not a genius—where he cops to never reading Pratchett in his entire life before calling his work trash and not real literature. I’m not linking you to it, dear reader, because I want your day to go well, and also because we’ve been here a thousand times at the screeching ghostly foothills of the false dichotomy of high and low culture. To reiterate: the line between high culture and pop culture is largely imaginary and constructed mostly of ideas of whose work really counts (which is why dead old white guys are vastly overrepresented in the Western canon, a thing also agreed upon by dead old white guys.)
Case in point: Alexandre Dumas, one of the greatest writers in history, wrote a scene where a man fights a shark. It’s all art, baby.
Georges is one of Dumas’ most little-known works—so little-known that even some of his most devout English-speaking fans didn’t know it existed. Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, who both found Dumas and the relative racial freedom of France inspirational as writers of color, never seem to have read or heard of it. And Frederick Douglass, who loved Dumas’ work enough to make sure to see Dumas-related sites around France while visiting, criticized Dumas for never writing about race. Sometimes, there’s an air of gatekeeping around works in translation—there’s certainly something suspicious in the fact that The Count of Monte Cristo is so accessible to English speakers that it’s in American public domain but Georges is not. Continue reading
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
based on the television show
2015 • 116 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
I was tentative about Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Or, to be more accurate, I could scent the weariness coming at it from all corners—yet another film version of a beloved sixties television show? Yet another movie about two white guys in suits (or, as Noelle Stevenson hilariously put it, two Michael Fassbenders)? Yet another stylish but hollow Guy Ritchie action movie? It was so pervasive that I felt awkward about being excited for it. No matter how excited my lizard brain was for pretty clothes and explosions and cuties of all genders, I started to feel certain that I was going to enjoy ninety percent of the film and rage over the remaining ten percent.
But The Man from U.N.C.L.E. surprised me. It nimbly leaps over the low bar of not actively offending human sensibilities by treating its female characters like people and failing to include anything along the lines of Robert Downey Jr. in yellowface in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Of course, there’s only two major female characters and the latter is achieved by a complete dearth of people of color, so that’s certainly an issue. The reason we keep the bar that low is because media still continues to fail it, and it is important to point out how texts fail that bar, even when we enjoy them.
Because, dear readers, I enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I enjoyed it a lot. I left the theater buzzing, feeling a little drunk off its good vibes, because it’s really the perfect kind of movie to come out at the tail end of the summer—a stylish, light, and fun action comedy.
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?
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 3
by Fumi Yoshinaga
2010 (originally published 2007) • 232 pages • Viz Media LLC
I have recently discovered that I have somehow gotten someone else addicted to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. In my local library system, books don’t really recirculate back to whatever library from whence they came; they just stay at the library they were most recently returned at. This makes for a surreal browsing experience when I’m trying to milk as much air conditioning as I can out of the library before popping over to the drug store. I’m surrounded by books I’ve already read.
My fellow fan, however, is farther along in the series than I am—which is fine with me, because that means I never have to wait for the next volume.
Previously on Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, we were exploring the origins of the matriarchal (but not quite…) society of Japan, something kept secret from the rest of the world. The Redface Pox continues to cut down Japan’s male population. The secretly female shogun Iemitsu (only her favorite lover calls her Chie) has been happy with her lover and seeming soulmate, the former monk Arikoto. Lady Kasuga, the power behind the throne, approves, so long as Iemitsu provides a male heir.
The only problem is that Arikoto appears to be infertile, forcing Kasuga and Iemitsu to look elsewhere. But even as Kasuga clings to the idea that a male heir is the key to Japan returning to normal, the working women of Japan must face the inevitable fact that the Redface Pox is not going to stop.
1986 • 104 minutes • Orion Pictures
Friends, I have a confession—I don’t like Chevy Chase.
Due to the peculiar nature of my upbringing, I was never exposed to Chevy Chase beyond a short clip of National Lampoon’s Family Vacation on VH1’s I Love the 70s, while both I and VH1 were trying to chase the glory days of I Love the 80s. While Père McBride’s heyday was around the time Chase was white hot (an objective fact I hold in deep, deep suspicion), he vastly prefers John Candy to Chevy Chase. Even my Gen X brother never particularly seemed to respond to him. I only really starting knowing who he was when I started watching and loving Community. I think Chase does quite well as Pierce Hawthorne, as the role works around and finds a use for a lot of his comedic stylings that I don’t usually care for. (It’s a bit like how I have trouble with eighties movies telling me that Bill Murray’s asshole characters are endearing, but age up that snark and entitlement thirty years and it becomes achingly poignant.)
But watching and loving Community also brought me into contact with Chase’s towering sense of entitlement, which eventually left to a rift between showrunner Dan Harmon and Chase. I don’t particularly want to get into Chase’s personal life… although when he came back to host Saturday Night Live for the first time, he mocked Bill Murray for his supposedly small talent and his acne scars (so, too real for yours truly) to the degree that they got into a physical altercation that had to be broken up by John Belushi, that paragon of responsibility. Oh, and one time he slapped Rob Huebel across the face when Huebel was trying to tell him how much Chase had influenced him. It’s a credit to Huebel’s devotion to Chase that he considers it a funny story and not horrifyingly disillusioning. And he’s so sexist (he appears to honestly believe that women aren’t as funny as men, which WHAT) that mere exposure to him makes Jane Curtin’s eyes flicker so hard I’m afraid she might hurt herself. (Which would be a tragedy, because she is a national treasure. TREASURE!) The author is dead, yadda yadda, but when the author is such a colossal jerk, it’s hard not to notice.
based onThe Once and Future King by T. H. White
1967 • 179 minutes • Warner Bros.
Camelot is how Captain Cinema and I met. Back in at our small town high school in Georgia, our theater director screened it for our class, presumably trying to select the longest possible musical to keep the normal children out of his hair while the theater kids were complicating his life. (I’m guessing here, although I did later end up among the theater children.) “C’est Moi” began playing and we, seated next to each other, began mercilessly riffing it. (“I ‘ave come from France!” “Oh, yes, we very definitely heard you coming, Lancelot, that’s quite a pair of lungs on you, my good fellow.”) We’ve been friends ever since.
Despite that seminal adolescent screening of Camelot, I had no idea that the musical was based on T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Which is no credit to it in my eyes. The Once and Future King is one of those sf classics that most people seem quite fond of, but I could never quite get my hooks into. I’d say it was a French-American kid’s natural aversion to L’Angleterre, except that Arthurian mythology is really, really French. (Which is why J. R. R. Tolkien, ever the Anglo-Saxon, decided to give England a proper English mythology. And thus modern mainstream fantasy was born!) To very poorly caricature Jebediah Atkinson, I didn’t like it when it was a book, I didn’t like it when it was a musical, and I didn’t like it when it was a movie. NEXT!
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 2
by Fumi Yoshinaga
2009 (originally published 2006) • 200 pages • Viz Media LLC
It’s taken me a while to sit down and review this. I tend to have a lot of trouble reviewing middle installments of serialized comics, even if the collection contains a complete arc. If I’ve already covered the premise, it’s hard for me to rehash what I’ve already said unless the new arc does something wildly different. (This is part of the reason why I so rarely review television shows. Good thing Sailor Moon crams a thousand things into every season.) Also, while my current pace of reading lagged behind my previous schedule, it actually still kind of supersedes my current schedule. I actually, for a very welcome first time in a while, have a backlog. Which is magical, but May has been running me ragged. I just need a day to blast through them all.
I’ll get there—I always do—but I did want to mention this by way of apology to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. The series as a whole does not deserve me dragging my feet, and this volume, in particular, demands only a standing ovation. While Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is serialized, in that each chapter is published in the magazine Melody, it’s also structured in larger, more complete arcs for its yearly publication as a volume of manga. It feels much more like installments in a book series, versus a collection of serialized comics (which is no burn on serialized comics as a medium, I should stress), which speaks to Fumi Yoshinaga’s mastery of the form.
based on Captain America: The First Avenger
2015 • 8 episodes • ABC
Do I really need to tell you Agent Carter is amazing?
I kind of feel weird reviewing it, to be honest. Part of it is its obvious awesomeness to everyone I come in contact with on a regular day. Part of it is that it feels so long ago. Okay, it’s only been a month, but that’s like a year in fandom time. (I mean, the first blush of Sherlock fandom feels like another decade entirely.) And part of that is because Agent Carter is the closest thing to an original television show I’ve decided to review for the blog, being based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of a specific comic, and that makes me a little nervous. Like everything that makes me nervous, that’s preposterous—it’s not as if I’m reading the Sailor Moon manga to give the anime series greater context…yet.