based on characters by Ian Fleming
2015 • 148 minutes • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Spectre feels like it comes from an alternate timeline: specifically, an alternate timeline where the double punch of Die Another Day and The Bourne Identity had not resulted in a hard reboot of the franchise. In this timeline, Brosnan bangs out another movie; Craig slips neatly and seamlessly into the role after fans mutter about how he doesn’t look like Bond (nerds: we’re the same in every timeline); and the quips and the gadgets are thick on the ground. It’s a simpler and more basic Bond franchise in that timeline. How back to basics are we with Spectre? Let me put this way: there are sexy naked ladies in the opening credits sequence again.
At the end of Skyfall, we saw Bond complete his evolution into a masterless monster; answerable to no one now that the one person who could control him was dead. What those final frames suggested was not that we could now return to business as usual, but that the inevitable attempts to do so by the institutions and infrastructures attempting to utilize Bond could only end in tears and explosions. (Just look at the way he sizes up Ralph Fiennes. He feels equal to that man, and that is dangerous.)
2012 • 111 minutes • Relativity Media
On this, All Hallow’s Eve Eve, let me spin you a spooky tale, dear readers. Of a desaturated period movie from 2012. Concerning a famous American historical figure. Set in the Mid-Atlantic in the 19th century. Whose frames are splattered with CGI blood. Lots and lots of CGI blood. (I guess when it’s digital, it’s free!) And, of course, featuring historically accurate sunglasses.
What’s that, reader mine? No, I’m not talking about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! No, that would be exciting, because there would at least be supernatural nasties at work (and Dominic West working some sick sunglasses). Although, having not seen it, I can’t authoritatively say if it’s exciting or not. In any case, my kittens, we are instead talking of The Raven, 2012’s other strange high-concept historical movie that came from beyond Grimdark Canyon for what surely must be some good reason. If only the film could think of it.
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.
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.
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.
2015 • 120 minutes • 20th Century Fox
Watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the wake of the racist debacle that was Monty Python Live (Mostly) has been a particularly educational experience. I’ve been learning about Britain in the seventies, the infuriating amount of blackface and yellowface the Pythons thought they could get away with (BANSHEE SCREAM INTO THE NIGHT), and the difference between parody and satire. Parody is liberal; satire is radical. Parody pokes fun; satire skewers.
The Pythons are occasionally celebrated as satirists, and that’s quite true—of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Terry Gilliam’s later work. But watching the actual show, it’s very clear that, while the Pythons find bureaucracy, tradition, and authority exceedingly silly, they have no interest in upsetting it, just thumbing their noses at it. Robbed of the actual cultural context by the universe’s refusal to make me into an immortal pop culture consuming vampire, I can nonetheless see why it might seem radical—it’s certainly countercultural. But it’s just not enough.
by Genevieve Valentine
2015 • 307 pages • Saga Press
The best part of awards season is sometimes not the awards themselves at all. (I mean, we can’t have Matthew McCaughney take us to church every year.) What I get most excited for are Genevieve Valentine’s Red Carpet Rundowns. It’s not just the snark, the battle between the Stylists’ Guild and the Necklace Makers, or the incredibly elaborate sci-fi plots. It’s Valentine’s eye for the way fashion, makeup, and styling is used as a mechanism (or weapon, if you want to be combative) to construct a star image in the constant war for visibility, glamour, and prestige that is modern Hollywood. (Man, it was easier during the studio era, when studios just told you who was classy.) Much like Our Lady of Celebrity Gossip Anne Helen Petersen, Valentine understands both the mechanics and cultural implications of celebrity—in short, the story it can tell and what that story can do. As she says, “the red carpet goes beyond a fashion event to become coded messages about the careers of the people who walk it.”
Persona is all about those coded messages, centering it by having the International Assembly of the near future composed entirely of Faces who represent their countries. International diplomacy (and, of course, espionage) is now conducted in the language of celebrity. Everything, from press coverage (conducted along the lines of the studio era of Hollywood, with the paparazzi considered TMZ at best and politically dangerous at worst) to supposedly wild nights out to relationships, are coordinated by the Faces’ teams of handlers and stylists to send all the right messages about the country.
based on the novel by Gillian Flynn
2014 • 149 minutes • 20th Century Fox
For some reason, thinking about Gone Girl, the novel, exhausts me. It’s no insult to mystery (if I must throw in my lot with only one side of the frustrating but apparently evergreen literary fiction versus genre fiction debate, I will, of course, be on genre fiction’s side) or to Gillian Flynn herself, of whom I know precious (but positive) little. Rather, as you may recall, I worked at the Tattered Cover for a year. The book was so popular that, a year after its publication, I spent my closing shifts chasing miscreants out of the second floor under the watchful eye of a Gone Girl poster. When the paperback finally dropped in April (you’d be surprised by how many little old ladies prefer paperback to hardcover), there was no way for me to escape it save actually not reading the thing. Missing a Flynn novel was an easy, small thing for me.
Missing a Fincher film, however, was not. Watching The Social Network for the first time was such a formative, visceral experience for me as a budding film fan that I’m always willing to investigate. (Okay, I know I didn’t see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but that’s because I couldn’t work up the nerve to, not because I didn’t want to.)
We Need To Talk About Kevin
based on the novel by Lionel Shriver
2011 • 112 minutes • Oscilloscope Laboratories
Literary fiction, as a genre, often baffles me. Not in the sense that it is a genre—redundant and semantically superfluous as the term actually is, there’s enough stylistic and content similarities that we really do need to have a name for contemporary fiction that deals almost solely with the interior lives of often quite privileged characters. Or, to put it as bluntly as Erin Callahan has in the past, the worst literary fiction consists of “love letter[s] to privilege and ennui.” Rather, what baffles me is that it’s often used not to indicate that actual genre, but that something is acceptable in the mainstream while ghettoizing the genre it actually belongs to. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out accessible texts to people who normally don’t read a certain genre, but when it’s used to cherry pick from and then ignore an entire genre, that’s when I get angry.
So I sometimes forget about what literary fiction actually is at its core, without all of that silly privileging and labeling, and it takes a film to remind me. Last time, it was the astonishing A Single Man and this time it’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
based on a story by Ed Brubaker and characters by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
On May 6th, 2016, Captain America 3 (No Sleep Till Stalingrad, one presumes) will open opposite Batman Vs. Superman (Grimdark: The Movie, one presumes). This is not so much the two titans of the comic book world taking their eternal battle to the silver screen as much as it is Marvel asking DC and Warner Brothers if they want to see a pencil disappear. As Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to a close—we’ve only got Guardians of the Galaxy later this year and then its onto phase capper Avengers: Age of Ultron—the success of Marvel Studios (especially now that it’s in the hands of Disney) is envied and unparalleled. DC and Warner Brothers aren’t the only ones attempting to mimic the formula (although they are the only studio hilariously doing it backwards); Sony Pictures wants to do one Spiderman film a year and Fox’s The Wolverine may be the first in a line of films featuring single mutants. (X-Men Origins: Wolverine need not apply.)