Madonna: Truth or Dare
1991 • 122 minutes • Miramax Films
Of my problematic faves, Madonna is probably one of the most high-profile. I’m not sure when I fell for Madonna. I know when I first became aware of her—the morning after the 2003 MTV Music Awards, during which she kissed both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during a performance of “Hollywood” staged as homage to her twenty year old performance of “Like a Virgin” at the inaugural MTV Music Awards. What was edgy then (well, edgy to a bus full of middle schoolers in Georgia in the early aughts) is now obvious as queerbaiting.
That’s the problem with provocation for the sake of provocation—it doesn’t age well. See how I recoiled from Madonna’s early nineties ouvre when I finally sat down and plowed through her discography a few years ago. But Madonna has never been just provocation. I enjoy her songwriting, her inventiveness, her willingness to explore, and her ability to stay relevant through sheer willpower. I like strong-minded women, who could have possibly guessed. Nonetheless, as much as I’ve been enjoying her recent work, I have been fixated of late on Madonna’s first incarnation: the club kid captured in Desperately Seeking Susan.
Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
based on characters published by DC Comics
2016 • 151 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
There is no way to prepare for the horror show that is Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I thought I was prepared. I had read every negative review, starting with Helen O’Hara’s. I spoiled myself silly, starting with the first episode of Overinvested. I took every measure to gird my loins, in the hopes of yielding the finest bad movie schadenfreude of the year, possibly even the decade.
But there’s no way to be prepared for the nihilistic slog of this film. As I told Captain Cinema upon exiting the theater, I felt like I had gone through childbirth without the reward of having had a child. We had to go home and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens just to remember the taste of strawberries, as the saying goes. (That and a heaping helping of tiramisu definitely helped.)
Before I get into spoiler territory, because I am going to get into spoiler territory, here is the simplest and easiest way to know if Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is for you. This is a film where the audience is honestly surprised when Batman threatens to throat-punch a villain with a sizzling Batbrand and doesn’t. If that level of violence and character assassination appeals to you, congratulations, please enjoy all of Zack Snyder’s cinematic oeuvre.
2016 • 108 minutes • Walt Disney Studios
As an Aunt to Werewolves, I get excited whenever I see something amazing happen that, to them, will be just a part of their childhood and the way the world works. My nieflings will never know an America without marriage equality or a Star Wars without women and people of color. (Sidebar: if you haven’t seen the Rogue One trailer, what you are doing reading this review go watch it immediately.) And they’ll always have had Zootopia to introduce them to complex concepts like bigotry and internalized bias, something I never expected of this movie when we first began hearing about it.
Can’t Hardly Wait
1998 • 101 minutes • Columbia Pictures
My brother is almost a decade older than me, which means that we’re, culturally speaking, part of two very different generations, although eternally linked through the Nintendo 64. (A specific Nintendo 64, in this case.) He was a teenager in the nineties, and I, a small child, watched his lifestyle avidly to try and prepare myself for the upcoming wild ride of adolescence. According to my findings, there would be parties! There would be shenanigans! And there would be frosted tips!
Of course, my acute observations were nipped in the bid the moment my brother discovered that his little sister would happily rat out his most embarrassing stories to any girl he knew willing to pay attention to me. I was thus banished from his high school kingdom and forced to seek other older kids who would let me watch movies my mother wouldn’t let me watch elsewhere. (It was the girl next door and it was Titanic.) But this is how I came to inherit a heavily nineties-tinged view of what teenage life was. And it somehow never really went away, considering that I spent my own aughts adolescence perfecting the arts of fandom lurking and terrible bangs.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
2008 • 98 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
Can you hear it? The slow, subtle turn of fandom’s head back to Marvel? The sound of dust being brushed off Captain America shields and hankies being stuffed into knapsacks against the impending Bucky Barnes feelings?
Well, if you can, I can’t, dear reader. Despite all the signs that the wind and your tumblr dashboard is starting to change direction to a different Disney property, I remain almost composed of Star Wars. After the glorious high of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems that my fever for that franchise will never abate. This is liberally aided by the fact that Star Wars, as a film series, is composed of four quality films and three exquisitely choice bad movies, satisfying my entire cinematic palette in one go. It is only the Expanded Universe’s decanonization that keeps me from running full tilt into it.
To soothe this ravenous appetite, I decided to finally embark upon Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’d thought about picking up The Clone Wars—the only Star Wars property currently streaming on American Netflix—over the holidays, but my dreams of introducing my nephew, Wolfboy, to Star Wars were shattered when he declared The Clone Wars “too scary” and went off to to his favorite movie, the existential horror show that is Cars. I mainlined holiday cooking shows instead. But it was only a matter of time. I’ve heard such good things about this television series, about how it gives Anakin Skywalker more time to develop from frustrated young Jedi to Sith Lord and gives Obi-Wan a quasi-romantic interest in a Mandalorian duchess named Satine. (Yes, she’s named that for the same reason you think she’s named that.)
2010 • 100 minutes • Universal Pictures
Really, the best way to review Leap Year would be to open up Irish pop culture blog Culch.ie’s review of the film and Jesse Hassenger’s review of The Perfect Match at the AV Club in different tabs, put them side by side, and cross your eyes. Unfortunately, I am told that this is bad for your eyesight by “science,” so I will do the best impersonation that I can.
Leap Year, for those of you who don’t hoard bad movies and spring them on your friends when the occasion rises, is a 2010 romantic “comedy” built on the Irish and British tradition of women only being able to propose on Leap Day. You see, according to Irish folklore, St. Brigid once asked St. Patrick if women could propose to their menfolk. St. Patrick said only on leap day, and St. Brigid, strangely, did not smack him in the face. (As a McBride, I must protest hotly at this portrayal of my eponymous saint—good St. Brigid was ten when St. Patrick died, so they were probably not hanging out a lot.) After Anna’s longtime boyfriend Jeremy fails to propose to her at an appropriate time (“where do you get off putting earrings in a RING BOX?!” I yelled at the computer screen) and heads off to Dublin for a medical convention, she decides to be spontaneous for once and chase after him to propose on Leap Day. Unfortunately, her flight gets redirected and she ends up in Dingle. Declan, owner of the local pub, offers to drive her to Dublin for a price.
The Price of Gold
2014 • 78 minutes • ESPN Films
Figure skating is the only Olympic sport I’ve ever actually gotten behind, culminating in the 2010 Winter Olympics being a very strange centerpiece to my sophomore year of college. (To this day, I have a macro of a tanning bed bellowing “FEED ME EVAN LYSACEK” that makes me laugh out loud.) Of all the sports represented at the Olympics, it’s the most overtly aesthetic and artistic. It’s also one of the most aggressively coded feminine sports, alongside gymnastics.
That makes figure skating densely symbolic in ways that other sports aren’t (or are in different ways), especially in terms of gender and class. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, two Canadian commentators said that Johnny Weir should take a gender test because his skating style was so flamboyant. (They later apologized.) I remember being particularly fascinated that year with American figure skater’s Evan Lysacek’s performance of gender—a lot of the material surrounding him seemed hilariously anxious to prove his masculine bonafides, especially in counterpoint to Weir. Lysacek won gold that year, soothing American masculinity’s precious nerves.
Similarly, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding rivalry in American women’s figure skating in the early nineties was both about the two skaters and about acceptable performances of gender, class, and physical prowess. On one hand, there’s elegant, graceful, feminine Kerrigan, an ice princess of the highest order. On the other hand, there’s athletic, tomboyish, sometimes abrasive Harding, from the wrong side of the tracks. And then there’s the famous act of violence that linked them together forever and affected their lives in very different ways.
based on Judge Dredd by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
2012 • 95 minutes • Lionsgate
Fun fact, cats and kittens: even as I sit down to write this, I still don’t have a really good feel for the Judge Dredd comics. I certainly plan to—I’m scenting vicious satire on the air—but I haven’t had the time since I watched it last week. I’m a busy lady.
Yes, my pop cultural blind spots can still amaze, even as I and the natural progression of time do our utmost to popping them like bubble wrap. But having proved too small in 1996 and tragically nonexistent in 1977, Dredd simply never came onto my radar screen, even when the Empire Podcast discussed it positively back when it was released. It took tumblr recommending it to me for me to watch it. (Why was tumblr recommending? Because I keep “tripping” onto the Domnhall Gleeson tag over there. Simple woman, simple tastes, etc.)
Why sit down and review this before catching myself up and counting myself lucky to live in the digital age? Because this is my blog, I will do what want to, etc., and also because I believe in utilizing my pop cultural blind spots to put myself in media situations that normally wouldn’t exist. In an age of reboots and remakes that assume the viewer has seen the original (Star Trek Into Whiteness, anyone?), it’s almost a superpower when it comes to consuming and critiquing media. That’s why I watched Prometheus before Alien, just to see if it would work. (Spoiler alert: it did not.) Can someone with no knowledge of Judge Dredd beyond having once watched the Nostalgia Critic review the 1996 Sly Stallone adaptation sit down and enjoy it without any prior knowledge?
2003 • 121 minutes • Columbia Pictures
Was Gigli the last movie America hated in unison?
I mean, let’s take a look at the nominees for this year’s Razzie Awards—we’ve got Fantastic Four, Fifty Shades of Grey, Jupiter Ascending, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, and Pixels. They’re all worthy of the nomination (Jupiter Ascending ought to win, on the basis of being pure glory and also that Eddie Redmayne performance), but there’s little ongoing cultural fascination and professional fallout regarding those films. I mean, there is Until Death Do Us Blart, an annual podcast where Tim Batt, Guy Montgomery, and the McElroy brothers review Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 on Thanksgiving every year until they all die. There is that. But even The Cobbler, perhaps the most recent bad movie to stay in popular imagination longer than it was in theaters, didn’t derail the careers of either its star or its director or cause a larger cultural conversation about its ending. (HOW CAN YOU DO THAT TO YOUR MENTALLY ILL WIFE?!)
Was the world just a little smaller thirteen years ago, when even USA Today, a newspaper largely distributed by forcing it upon hotel patrons, published an article rounding up the most cutting reviews of the film? Or is Gigli just that bad?
2016 • 100 minutes • Universal Pictures
I am not an acolyte of the Coen brothers. I even thought I’d never seen a Coen brothers movie until a friend of mine helpfully pointed out that I’d seen both O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Fargo. This lack of attention and devotion is no slam on them—I do want to see Inside Llewelyn Davis for reasons that are totally not related to Oscar Isaac—but rather more an indicator of where I stand in the landscape of American cineastes.
So I was sold much more on the setting—1950s Hollywood, in that last gasp of the studio system—than on the directors. And, of course, on the promise of Channing Tatum dancing. It’s now a commonly acknowledged fact that Channing Tatum’s moves will bring in the masses. This is how Magic Mike XXL was willed into existence by all of America, the same way we got Keith Richards into Pirates of the Caribbean.