At The Movies: Bloodsport (1988)

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Bloodsport

★★★☆☆

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.

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At The Movies: Turbo Kid (2015)

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Turbo Kid

★★★☆☆

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.

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Review: The Book of Margery Kempe

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The Book of Margery Kempe
translated by John Skinner

★★★☆☆

1999 • 343 pages • Book-of-the-Month Club

I am as frankly surprised as you are that my reading has taken on a religious bent these past two weeks. I threw The Girl of Fire and Thorns into my bag yesterday morning, and only remembered once I started it that I had wanted to read it because it was the rare fantasy novel that actively deals with faith. (Verdict so far: yes, good, continue.) I’ve suddenly become dissatisfied with everything I currently have out of the library, so we’ll see if this trend keeps up when I refresh my selections. (I imagine it won’t, because I have Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader on hold and cannot wait to read it.)

But I originally wanted to read The Book of Margery Kempe because it’s often considered the first autobiography written in English (and by a woman!). Although, of course, autobiography wasn’t really a genre in the fifteenth century—it’s more accurately an autohagiography. Still, it offers particular insight into the life of a middle-class laywoman in medieval England, as Kempe experienced her call to Christ after the birth of her first child.

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At The Movies: Star Wars — The Clone Wars (2008)

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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.)

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Review: Throne of Glass

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Throne of Glass
by Sarah J. Maas

★★★☆☆

2013 (originally published 2012) • 406 pages • Bloomsbury

When Sarah J. Maas mentions that she got the idea for Throne of Glass in high school, inspired by dark music in Disney’s Cinderella, in the supplemental material in the paperback edition of said book, I thought—well, that makes perfect sense.

I do not say this to be shady, or, more correctly, needlessly shady. (Shade is being cast, is what I’m trying to say.) But it made sense to me that Maas has spent years and years with these characters. The overall effect of reading Throne of Glass is a bit like wandering into somebody else’s high school reunion and finding yourself bewildered, simply because you don’t have access to the connective tissue between in-jokes, knowing looks, and old stories told in laughter and dropped phrases.

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At The Movies: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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Hail, Caesar!

★★★☆☆

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.

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At The Movies: Humpday (2009)

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Humpday

★★★☆☆

2009 • 94 minutes • Magnolia Pictures

Humpday centers on two college buddies a decade after their youthful exploits. Ben (Mark Duplass) is a married man with a stable job and a nice house getting ready to conceive his first child with his beloved wife Anna (Alycia Delmore). Andrew (Joshua Leonard) is a vagabond artist who shows up at their doorstep in the middle of the night, in town to secure some funding for his latest art project. Despite Anna’s best efforts to be a good hostess, Ben and Andrew end up at a party in a queer artists’ colony one night. When a couple excitedly explains to them their plan to submit a film to Seattle’s Humpfest, an “amateur dirty film festival,” Ben and Andrew drunkenly decide to submit a film of their own to the festival—filming themselves having sex, which will be “beyond gay” since they’re both straight. The next morning, they find themselves making excuses not to back down from the project.

Unmoored in time, Humpday feels very slight, but it’s important to remember that in 2009 (oh, those ancient times a mere seven years ago), bromances were trending in pop culture—Apatow movies had gained cultural ascendency, “Guy Love” was a cheeky ditty capitalizing homoerotic overtones, I Love You, Man was in theaters, and even sexy new hit British show Sherlock had fun with letting Sherlock and John be mistaken for a gay couple. (This was back before we knew that the fun Sherlock was having was at our expense.) But it was nearly all of the “no homo” variety, with physical affection and therefore queer romantic or sexual behavior being played for laughs.

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Review: The Empress Game

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The Empress Game
by Rhonda Mason

★★★☆☆

2015 • 352 pages • Titan Books

As concepts go, The Empress Game seems pretty clearly suited to my taste: a galactic empire elects its empress not through political process, but through the Empress Game, a tournament of ritualized combat where any woman with a title can compete for the seat. The mysterious but brutal pit fighter Shadow Panthe is hired as the illegal double for Princess Isonde, the emperor-elect’s politically powerful beloved, but participating in the game will bring her uncomfortably close to her past.

Ooh! Action, awesome ladies, and mysterious pasts? Sold! (And also sold on the strength of that cover, which insinuates both female empowerment and pulpy delights. I am a simple woman of simple tastes.) When I saw that Thea recommended this at the Book Smugglers, I immediately added it to my list.

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At The Movies: Hackers (1995)

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Hackers

★★★☆☆

1995 • 107 minutes • United Artists

I sometimes have trouble parsing the nineties, despite having been consciously alive for some of it. I watched the music video for Krystal Harris’ “Supergirl” last night (apropos of a home screening of The Princess Diaries, which we’ll get to next Friday), and my brain kept imploding. (And yes, I know that The Princess Diaries is a 2001 release, but the nineties lingered, people.) Everything was so familiar, from the cinematography to the styling to beautiful people slowly exiting a car, but the logic behind it felt strange and alien.

The same goes for Hackers, although that sense of familiarity is warped. Oh, there are things you’ve seen before—like the kid’s movie wackiness of the opening sequence, wherein an eleven year old manages to hack enough banking computers to drive the New York Stock Exchange down. But he’s immediately apprehended by a SWAT team seemingly authorized to use brutal force for a white collar crime. Our hero, Dade, moves to a new high school, where he’s hazed by the cool kids and begins to pine for a beautiful girl, Kate. But her sexual interest in him is predicated on his willingness to embrace gender fluidity for her. Hackers from all over the world join forces to help out Dade and his friends defeat the evil hacker known as the Plague. But only after Dade and Kate visit a nightclub where it only becomes obvious at the end of the scene that they’ve been on roller blades the whole time. It’s sort of like staring at, say, Brink, through a lens very, very darkly.

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Page to Screen: Savage Grace (2007)

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Savage Grace
based on the book by by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson

★★★☆☆

2007 • 97 minutes • IFC Films

Why does this movie exist?

I mean, there are two very compelling reasons for Savage Grace to exist—the lives of Barbara Daly Baekeland and her son Anthony absolutely brim with scandal and that prelude to a threesome scene with Julianne Moore, Hugh Dancy, and Eddie Redmayne that you know from tumblr—but these are reasons for its genesis, not justification for its rather lackluster existence. If you are going to make a film about the Baekeland murder, a story rich with psychological drama, intrigue, and, yes, incest, why would you ever make it so… bloodless?

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