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.
Just My Type
2011 (originally published 2010) • 384 pages • Gotham
I was at Michael’s the other day with a friend, in search of black wrapping paper to cover the shoeboxes I have lying around my apartment. (They have to be black to go in my room, you see, so I can put stuff in them. I have a system. A very goth system.) I always end up gravitating towards the cheap tchotchkes, and I discovered a cute little journal emblazoned with the phrase (and title of a very catchy Selena Gomez song) “Kill them with kindness.” Well, it would have been cute, if the font had been a dreamy, Pinterest-worthy script and not terrifyingly sharp block letters.
It’s things like this that remind me of the importance and beauty of typography, and it’s kind of a coincidence that I was halfway through Just My Type and seeing serifs the way David Krumholtz’s character sees patterns in Numb3rs. (That’s, like, a hip reference, right? I am so disconnected from the television landscape and yet, I save absolutely no time.)
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.
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.
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.
2010 • 256 pages • Riverhead Books
While I’ve cooled on all but one, my love for advice columns once led me to subscribe to three at once—Dear Sugar, Ask Polly, and Captain Awkward. These days, Dear Sugar has evolved into a podcast (which I don’t have room for on my current podcast rotation, sadly), Ask Polly has moved from the Hairpin to the Cut, and Captain Awkward is still chugging away. I now only subscribe to the good Captain, but I’ll occasionally drop by the Cut to see what Ask Polly author Heather Havrilesky is up to. Like when I dropped by a few weeks ago, and discovered this gorgeous gem that summed up a lot of my interpersonal issues:
What you don’t know when you’re young and single is how personal it feels to live at the whims of someone else’s bad habits.
It’s this kind of writing that really resonated with me, especially given my issues regarding control and agency. So, inevitably, that led me to add Havrilesky’s memoir to my reading list. Disaster Preparedness focuses on key incidents in the young Havrilesky’s life, growing up in the late seventies and early eighties, that highlight the dysfunction of her family. As she grows up and starts to learn that other people don’t operate the same way that her family does, she finds herself running into obstacles between herself and her ability to connect with other people.
Havrilesky writes Disaster Preparedness with the same clear-eyed wit and wisdom as she writes her column. Mostly, she marvels at the ways in which her family have pushed aside the world to cling together as a unit, in ways that damage them personally and publicly. She writes of her family life at a distance of both years and knowledge.
It’s all very well done. Nonetheless, I am left with one question: how do I review a book that pushed me into a dissociative funk for a weekend?
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.
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…