At The Movies: Coming to America (1988)

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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.

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Review: Bitch Planet — Extraordinary Machine (Vol. 1)

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Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Robert Wilson IV

★★★★½

2015 • 156 pages • Image Comics

While I’m familiar with the long history of feminist dystopian fiction (have I mentioned how much I loved Only Ever Yours?), I’m far less familiar with exploitation films, especially the women-in-prison variant. Nonetheless, the idea of reclaiming women-in-prison films for the purposes of feminist discourse naturally appeals to me. I also very much trust Kelly Sue DeConnick due not to anything like Captain Marvel (as I haven’t read her run yet), but to her adaptation of Barbarella (which I also haven’t read, but I’ve read DeConnick’s interviews regarding the art of adaptation). Reframing and adapting supposedly empowering female narratives from the past to actually be empowering? Nice.

Bitch Planet takes place in a future where women who are deemed noncompliant—i.e., too loud, too butch, too queer, too brown, too assertive, too “insufficiently feminine”—by the ruling Fathers. Women who are terminally noncompliant are arrested and shipped off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, nicknamed “Bitch Planet.” The latest crop of ladies struggle, suffer, and resist against their guards. But inmate Kamau Kogo is approached with an offer: put together an all-female team for the bloody Duemila sports competition. While kowtowing to the powers that put them in prison doesn’t appeal to Kamau, the opportunities it might provide, for both her fellow inmates and herself, do…

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Review: The Raven Boys

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The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater

★★★½☆

2012 • 409 pages • Scholastic Press

I’m actually very punctual in real life, so it never ceases to amaze me how late I turn up to bandwagons. The book blogging community has been raving about The Raven Boys since 2012, and the final book in the quartet, The Raven King, was released this year. It was only seeing the (I’m assuming positive?) weeping and gnashing of teeth on Twitter that I thought, well, I really loved The Scorpio Races… and made an effort to collect it from the public library. I was briefly thwarted by others doing much the same thing—or fans trying to reread the whole cycle in one go, which I heartily salute—but finally was able to get my hands on it and read it.

So, if you, like me, are a little unfamiliar with The Raven Boys, let me catch you up. Continue reading

Page to Screen: X-Men — Apocalypse (2016)

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X-Men: Apocalypse
based on
X-Menby Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

★★★½☆

2016 • 144 minutes • 20th Century Fox

I’ve mentioned that seeing Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark kind of broke my cinematic criticism—nowadays, if a movie doesn’t actively make me weep in exhaustion for humanity, it’s already streets ahead. A curse, true, but it’s also a blessing. I’m starting to think of it like being deathly afraid of something and then finally experiencing it. No film will ever be that bad again. I can take anything that cinema can throw at me, because I actively sought out and paid for the worst. Cinematically speaking, I am now invincible.

I already had a similar attitude to X-Men: Apocalypse even before Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark broke me like Bane breaking Batman’s spine. After X-Men: Days of Future Past, it became obvious that the reason to go see an X-Men movie was to follow the continuing saga of Charles Xavier and the X-Men, see some great character moments, and have a giggle over some of the sillier aspects of the proceeding that are, nonetheless, endearing, like a deeply loose grasp of the concept of the passage of time.

You know, sort of reading X-Men comics.

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At The Movies: Turbo Kid (2015)

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Turbo Kid

★★★☆☆

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.

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Review: Help Us, Great Warrior!

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Help Us! Great Warrior
by Madéleine Flores

★★★½☆

2016 • 160 pages • BOOM! Box

How great is Great Warrior? SO GREAT.

I love Madéleine Flores’ little femme warrior green nugget, probably because she’s cut from the same cloth as one Usagi Tsukino: ferocious, childish, good-hearted, and always up for pizza, cute boys, and fancy clothes. Great Warrior catsits for cosmic deities. She slices sea monsters in half just to get her chips back. She eats an entire “cursed” pizza to save her village. (So brave.) All of Flores’ Great Warrior comics are funny little one-off gags featuring Great Warrior going about her unique lifestyle, with occasional recurring characters like Great Warrior’s other little green nugget buddies and cute warrior girl Leo.

So for Great Warrior’s print comics debut for BOOM! Box, BOOM!’s “gleeful” imprint, it was time to tell an ongoing story with Great Warrior and her buddies. So enter Hadiyah, the High Chancellor, who tasks Great Warrior with dealing with the sudden influx of demons in their world. Unfortunately, Great Warrior does not want to go a demon-hunting, especially when there’s a party in her village. But eventually, Hadiyah convinces (or just straight up tricks) Great Warrior and her best warrior buddy Leo to help. Which is how they discover a big secret about Great Warrior…

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At The Movies: Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

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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.)

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Review: Code Name Verity

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Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein

★★★½☆

2012 • 451 pages • Hyperion Books

So… remember when Code Name Verity was making the rounds four years ago? Yeah, I finally got around to it last week. My lead time and my list of books to read grows longer every day, cats and kittens, but, you know, I’m a busy lady. I do busy lady things and sometimes I do them for four years before picking up a book. No big deal.

Except it kind of feels like a big deal, which is why I’m mentioning it.Code Name Verity is exactly the kind of young adult book that haunted me when I worked at the bookstore, because it came so highly recommended. World War II! Lady spies! An emphasis on female friendship being as life-altering and important as any romance! What wasn’t there to like? So I tenderly shelved it and its sister volume, Rose Under Fire, and then moved across the country and promptly forgot about it entirely until a spin through my reading list brought it back to my attention.

Letting a book percolate in your subconscious that long can be risky. Letting any media percolate in your subconscious that long can be risky. It often results in something like that heart-stopping moment I experienced, putting Velvet Goldmine into my laptop at college, wondering if it could possibly live up to the decade of furtive hype I’d spent on it?

It did, obviously, as I’ve managed to stuff in a reference to Velvet Goldmine in a review of a young adult novel set during World War II. Code Name Verity, despite having a shorter time to percolate in the old noggin… not so much.

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Review: Between You and Me

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Between You and Me
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

★½☆☆☆

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

Page to Screen: Captain America — Civil War (2016)

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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.

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