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.
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.
1988 • 92 minutes • Universal Studios
When it comes to the two major bad movie podcasts, The Flop House and How Did This Get Made, I’m a Flop House woman through and through. It’s always a delightful surprise whenever a new episode turns up in my Overcast app (my podcast application of choice), even though the podcast comes out every other Saturday. I listen to every episode twice, and some, especially the gutbustingly funny Labor Day episode, more than that. I’ve even been to a live show, which goes to show you the power of the hometown advantage.
Nonetheless, I am quite fond of How Did This Get Made, their rowdier Los Angeles-based counterpart, if only because of the infectious energy of Jason Mantzoukas. (The prim suspicion of June Diane Raphael is a close second in my heart.) I nearly cried laughing on the subway listening to Mantzoukas describe exactly how Xanadu went wildly overbudget. Despite their common genre, comparing the two podcasts is like comparing apples and oranges; the energy is just so different.
And that is nowhere more apparent than in their live episode on Bloodsport, which made me laugh so much that I had to seek out the film.
How to Marry a Millionaire
1953 • 95 minutes • 20th Century Fox
Have I ever mentioned how much I like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? I like to think of it as the prototype for one of my favorite comedy duo archetypes—Bad Idea Friend and Idiot. It’s sweet, daffy, bursting with Technicolor (which I adore), and features the amazing line, “Prithee, scat.” I’ll get around to revisiting it and reviewing some day (haha long term plans for my blog haha), but for now, let us have it inform my opinion of How to Marry a Millionaire.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
based on characters by Evan Daugherty based on “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm
2016 • 114 minutes • Universal Pictures
The last movie I saw in theaters was Batman V. Superman: Grimdark Grimdark Grimdark, a movie that will make you lose your faith in humanity, let alone cinema. (And, I might add, actively seeks to do so.) I had to go home, eat cake, and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens to recover. I couldn’t walk past a comic book store for days without repressing the urge to flail screaming through it like my own personal marketplace scene. I’m starting to wonder if my neutral response to the fact that Captain America: Civil War is coming out in just a few weeks, a movie I already have a ticket to see, might not be a side effect of that experience.
After that, any cinema experience looks miles better in comparison. I left The Huntsman: Winter’s War practically glowing. Movies can be just mediocre! Oh happy day!