Between You and Me
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
2012 • 272 pages • Atria Books
Between You and Me is, quite obviously, inspired by the story of Britney Spears, especially her well-publicized personal struggles in 2006 and 2007. Regular Jane Logan Wade is having a rough go at life in New York City, with a career that’s going nowhere, a living situation she can’t stand, and a man who will never commit to her. When her cousin, international pop sensation Kelsey Wade, reaches out to her, she jumps at the chance. But she ends up embroiled in the personal drama of Kelsey’s life—her controlling parents, her tempestuous relationship with back-up dancer Aaron, and the secret, traumatic past they both share that eventually comes out…
Well, it comes out on Kelsey’s family’s end. I’m still wildly unsure what Logan’s dad did.
It ends up reading like Poppy Z. Brite’s Plastic Jesus meets Gossip Girl, but without the core transformative element at the core of Plastic Jesus that makes it at least an interesting premise. It even suffers from the same “inspired by real life” problem that Plastic Jesus does—it assumes that you know all about the inspiration, so it can glide and elide to the points in the narrative that are juicy without doing any of the legwork. (That’s a Zack Snyder kind of move, people!) Continue reading
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.
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.
by Lisi Harrison
2011 (originally published 2005) • 272 pages • Poppy
Have I mentioned how much I love Monster High? Because I love Monster High. I have a passing but passionate interest in fashion dolls; I keep a lazy eye on collector grade Barbies, used to buy issues of Haute Doll, and I even went through a brief period in high school where I tried to save up six hundred dollars to buy my very own ball-jointed doll. When Monster High, a line of dolls meant to be the children of old-school horror monsters, debuted, I was delighted to find a technicolor parade of little monster girls in the toy department at Target whose flaws weren’t “being clumsy” but “actively trying not to suck anyone’s blood.”
What I like about Monster High, besides its nostalgic-to-me sugar horror/baby goth/alternative kid aesthetic and its commitment to truly, truly atrocious puns, is that it’s about teen girl friendship. (Surprise!) And not just in the vague sense that I recall from my own childhood Barbies. Monster High is not just a line of dolls—it’s a franchise, with music, a Flash animated web series, CGI-animated direct-to-DVD television specials, a movie musical that will supposedly come to pass, and, as we can see from today’s selection, a line of young adult books. I watch the web series and CGI specials from time to time, and I’m always impressed by how they emphasize the girls’ friendships over anything else. In one web series episode, Frankie (as in Frankie Stein) feels like she’s falling behind because she, unlike some of her friends, doesn’t have a boyfriend. She, naturally, creates a fake one in her dad’s lab and brings him to school, where her friends are quick to reassure her that she doesn’t need to date someone to fit in with them. (And then she chucks him in the garbage, which is when we discover she actually gave him sentience. Whoops.) Even the mean girl, Cleo de Nile, evolves over the course of the web series, from a stereotypical mean girl to someone who appreciates her friends and defends them.
So it’s incredibly infuriating that the first Monster High book (as of this writing, there have been two series: this one by Lisi Harrison and a younger-skewing Ghoulfriends series by Gitty Daneshvari) ends with two girls shaking hands over, essentially, a declaration of war over a boy. Barf.
by Bob Brier
2013 • 256 pages • Palgrave Macmillan Trade
Captain Cinema and I have reacted to the advertising campaign for Exodus: If You’re From Ancient Egypt, Why Are You White? the same way—pure physical repulsion. (I am very good at scoffing. I’m French; it’s practically a superpower.) A sick, tired, rainy day couldn’t stop me from scrambling off the couch and refusing to watch an ad for it during a therapeutic episode of classic Saturday Night Live; even the arduous physical task of sitting through Interstellar (I mean, I enjoyed the film, I just have trouble sitting down for long stretches of time) couldn’t keep us from fleeing a poster of the damn thing at the movie theater.
It boggles the mind that such a film could not only be made in 2014, but also be so vehemently defended by its creative team. Ridley Scott offered a casually racist explanation for why he, one of the most powerful directors in the industry, could not be bothered to seek Egyptians to play Egyptians, Rupert Murdoch rolled his eyes on Twitter about people not realizing that sometimes white people are Egyptian too (which is technically correct but beyond missing the point), and Christian Bale complained that the color of his skin shouldn’t keep him from playing Moses. It’s such an astonishing display of the kind of entitlement that so many white people in the West bring to the table regarding ancient Egypt despite all basic logic. As a little kid, I was fascinated by ancient Egypt, but as an adult, I’m equally fascinated (and repulsed) by the imperialist and colonial overtones of early Egyptology.
1965 • 96 minutes • United Artists
In college, my friend Kathryn and I came up with a completely objective list of the Beatles rated from best to worst. It goes as follows: George (whatta saint!), Ringo (whatta cutie!), Paul (whatta ham!), and John (whattan a-hole!). Kathryn grew up with the Beatles, whereas I had just finished listening to their discography for the first time. I have this feeling that mainstream (Western, English-speaking, and white) pop culture can be understood through the dual lens of James Bond and the Beatles. I, personally, know that they have given me a better grasp on the last fifty years of pop culture in two dedicated but still manageable Big Gulps. (Television’s the hard one to get through, although my attention span is infamously shot.)
Of course, I’m hardly done with the Beatles—I’ve got to finish Beatles Anthology, Shout!, and, of course, their cinematic output. I’m endlessly fascinated by the narratives created by, developed for, and assigned to the boys, undoubtedly influenced by my nascent interest in star studies. How do all the various incarnations of the Beatles—scream-worthy mop tops, stoners, and psychedelic searchers—fit together? I still feel like I’m only at the beginning, and Help!, didn’t, well, help. A Hard Day’s Night is such an effervescent and almost pure expression of that first (to American eyes, at least) incarnation of the Beatles that anything was going to fall short of it, if only because the boys had discovered marijuana and could no longer be coaxed into doing much of anything that wasn’t music.
Monty Python Live (Mostly)
2014 • 180 minutes • Fathom Events
I have been extremely appreciative of the recent trend of screening plays and other theatrical performances in movie theaters. After spending much of high school tearing my hair and rending my garments at the fact that I was missing specific casts in specific shows and had no access to the Paley Center, I’m delighted to see theater being made more accessible. (I have since left musical fandom, because I lack superhuman powers of media consumption, no matter how much.) Now, events that previously would have me gnashing my teeth in despair—like that time I missed Eddie Izzard in Atlanta—are actually within my reach.
Events like Monty Python Live (Mostly), tickets for which sold out in under a minute. Before undertaking the road trip we are currently on, my roommate and I were delighted to realize that we had an opportunity to watch the legendary comedy troupe reunite for the first time in thirty years and, according to them, for the last time. (We’ll have one in Yonkers, of course, but we’re waiting for the one in Brooklyn to open.) We purchased our tickets, worked our itinerary around it, and were thrilled to be in a theater full of fellow Python fans. She’d recently, in the past few years, started looking into Monty Python’s Flying Circus in-depth; I had warm fuzzy memories of recording episodes off of BBC America, watching Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and overidentifying with Eric Idle during my preteen years.
But despite our disparate approaches, we both ended the evening frustrated and disappointed. When we overheard another filmgoer sigh in utter contentment, we fled as soon as we could.
What Was Hot! by Julian Biddle
So, you think you’re an eighties fan? Okay, Sergio Valente, can you handle this? It’s I Love the 80s, and this is 1980. The flicks, the fashion, the trends, the TV, the tunes. A totally awesome year that gave us these burning questions. Why did Doc get laid so much? Could Han kick Luke’s ass? And do you believe in miracles? The answers to those questions, plus: sweet Air Supply and one smelly doll. Because you love the eighties. Because you still wear your collar up, admit it. This is 1980.
In 2002, I was still reeling from seeing The Fellowship of the Ring and realizing that there was a whole world of pop culture beyond the mix of British sitcoms, seventies music, and French comics that was, in my small, Southern town, utterly unique to my family. I’d already made my first forays into fandom (you’re my forever girl, Digimon), but this was different. It wasn’t something experienced in a vacuum; it was something experienced communally. Most importantly, The Lord of the Rings had a history in American pop culture, one that I was now a part of, and I suddenly realized that I knew absolute jack about American pop culture. I listened to Yann Tiersen, for Pete’s sake. Interrogating my parents about their own pop cultural experiences would only shed light on the landscape of seventies France; interrogating my brother was impossible, what with him being halfway across the country attending the Air Force Academy.
Defy by Sara B. Larson
Out of the narrative ingredients available to a writer, the love triangle is an especially potent and attractive one. It’s an instantly relatable situation that generates tension and conflict in spades. Wielded wisely, it can flavor a story, emphasize a theme, or even be a story on its own. I submit for your examination A Midsummer’s Night Dream, where yon Billy Shakespeare makes merriment for all by playing merry hell with a love quadrangle. Wielded poorly, it can feel bland, unnecessary, or worse—shoehorned into a narrative that didn’t need it. And when that last one means that the love triangle devours the narrative from which it was born, you’re in trouble.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
I was supposed to love Chuck Klosterman.
Hype is a treacherous thing, isn’t it? There’s a fine line between getting excited and getting so excited that the actual thing can never live up your expectations. It’s why I manage so precisely my own exposure to promotional material; I usually limit myself to a trailer or a cover these days. But what can you really spoil with essays on pop culture? (Asks the woman who waited until she read A Year of Flops to archive binge on Nathan Rabin’s titular online column.) After all, I’m a ravenous fan who adores meta and an avid reader of The A.V. Club and Grantland. Nathan Rabin was the first writer who made me text someone in despair over how I could never possibly write like that. Based on that, it’s only logical that I would think Klosterman was directly up my alley.