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.
X-Men ’92: Warzones!
by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, and Scott Koblish
2016 (originally published 2015) • 128 pages • Marvel Comics
The greatest cartoon theme song of all time—and I will fight you on this point—is undoubtedly the theme tune to X-Men: The Animated Series. Composed by Ron Wasserman (who also composed the theme song for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which kind of blew my mind), it’s sixty seconds of iconic synthesizers, illustrated by an opening sequence straight out of a comic book. (My favorite segment: the team crossing the screen from left to right while the word “X-Men” darts by in several directions for no reason.) It’s so good that Michael Kamen snuck in a sly musical reference to it in the score for X-Men. To me, it is the X-Men, although I never watched the show as a kid. (Although I did watch the entirety of season one at a friend’s apartment in college, and shrieked when Mister Sinister smiled for the first time.) When I went to go see X-Men: Days of Future Past at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, you can bet that they played the theme song and that I totally flipped.
There is simply nothing more X-Men. Nothing more radical. Nothing more, dare I say, nineties.
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.
The Vintner’s Luck
by Elizabeth Knox
2000 (originally published 1998) • 284 pages • Picador USA
You know how you can spot a period film made in the nineties? Well, I’m going to be no help, because I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know it when I see it. Like in Restoration—there’s something about the production design. The quality of the costumes. The Meg Ryan. It might be set in the 1600s, but a single frame can tell you that it was released in 1995. Never mind the fact that it can be carbon-dated by the fullness of Robert Downey Jr.’s lips. (This is why I nearly crawled out of my seat and over the very sweet Spider-Man fan when young!Tony appeared in Captain America: Civil War. His mouth was wrong.)
The same is true of, for some reason, most queer-minded media made in the late nineties and early aughts that I’ve consumed. Velvet Goldmine and The Vintner’s Luck have nothing else in common besides “dudes kiss in them” (oh, and shirtlessness, I guess?), but the quality of the atmosphere is quite similar—heady, languid, rarefied.
Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Robert Wilson IV
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…
The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater
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
based on X-Menby Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
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.
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.
Help Us! Great Warrior
by Madéleine Flores
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…
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.