Page to Screen: X-Men — Apocalypse (2016)

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X-Men: Apocalypse
based on
X-Menby Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

★★★½☆

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.

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At The Movies: Ravenous (1999)

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Ravenous

★★★★½

1999 • 100 minutes • 20th Century Fox

Says The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Ravenous:

Part allegorical period horror, part black comedy, and dosed with satirical and homoerotic overtones, the film—a troubled project that swapped directors early on, and opened to indifferent audiences and reviews—remains one of the genuine studio-backed curios of the 1990s.

So, you know, SOLD, especially after completing my summer of Hannibal and wailing in its wake. (Will I ever stop wailing into the floorboards about Hannibal? Not as long as The Hazards of Love is on my iPhone.)

Ravenous is a strange and largely forgotten film, despite being part of Fox 2000 Pictures’ 1999 output, which included cult classic Fight Club. And that makes sense: it’s easier to market disaffected white guys hitting each other than a period cannibal movie far less interested in gore than in damning westward expansion.

But that’s a shame, because Ravenous is just as worthy a cult classic as Fight Club is. It’s moody and atmospheric and deeply weird. It’s a quiet movie in a very minor chord that doesn’t ever succumb to the grand theatrical potential inherent in its subject matter. Cannibals and wendigos are real in the world of Ravenous, but they’re just men trying to survive, no matter how they try (and fail) to frame it.

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At The Movies: Spy (2015)

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Spy

★★★½☆

2015 • 120 minutes • 20th Century Fox

Watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the wake of the racist debacle that was Monty Python Live (Mostly) has been a particularly educational experience. I’ve been learning about Britain in the seventies, the infuriating amount of blackface and yellowface the Pythons thought they could get away with (BANSHEE SCREAM INTO THE NIGHT), and the difference between parody and satire. Parody is liberal; satire is radical. Parody pokes fun; satire skewers.

The Pythons are occasionally celebrated as satirists, and that’s quite true—of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Terry Gilliam’s later work. But watching the actual show, it’s very clear that, while the Pythons find bureaucracy, tradition, and authority exceedingly silly, they have no interest in upsetting it, just thumbing their noses at it. Robbed of the actual cultural context by the universe’s refusal to make me into an immortal pop culture consuming vampire, I can nonetheless see why it might seem radical—it’s certainly countercultural. But it’s just not enough.

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Page to Screen: The Princess Bride (1987)

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The Princess Bride
based on the novel by William Goldman

★★★★½

1987 • 98 minutes • 20th Century Fox

I suspect that one of the many, many motivating feelings in my quest to CONSUME ALL MEDIA is envy. It’s the curse of the pop culture obsessive raised by non-pop culture obsessive. I, of course, had plenty of media to chew on. I was a preteen when The Lord of the Rings happened. I’m part of the Harry Potter generation, for the love of Pete. (Hufflepuff, by the way. Always and forever.) And yet, there’s still a part of me that squirms enviously when people merrily recall childhood memories of Star Wars or—more to the point of today’s review—quote The Princess Bride in near-full.

It’s not so much that I’m angry that I didn’t get to experience it that way—you can’t change the past—but rather that nostalgic love is a hell of a feeling and I’m very greedy. I’m getting better about it, but there’s still always that twinge. Of course, the only way I could actually satisfy said twinge is if I were Tilda Swinton’s character in Only Lovers Left Alive—i.e., immortal, filthy rich, and made of free time.

And when it’s good? Oh, that’s even worse. (Do keep in mind that I’m from fandom and regularly bark “YOU DORK!” at people and characters I adore.)

I’m not sure if I have anything else to say about The Princess Bride that hasn’t been said already, by the kinds of lists that introduced me to it (thanks, I Love the 80s), the coolest kid in my high school (who once took me aside at his job just to point out how flippin’ cool the twentieth anniversary cover was), and the stars themselves (see Cary Elwes’ As You Wish). I haven’t even read the original book, although I have a copy of the book at home—a gorgeous paperback copy from my hometown bookstore that smells exactly like an old speculative fiction paperback should. It’s a perennially fresh cult classic, undoubtedly aided by the fact that’s the rare fantasy comedy.

There just aren’t enough of those in the world at the moment. There are plenty of fantasy films with a funny bone—How I Met Your Dragon, anyone?—but comedy is not their raison d’etre. Your Highness was the last mainstream fantasy comedy to hit theaters in 2011, and it bombed so poorly that there is (I am told) a joke in This is the End about it. Galavant made a go of it recently, but it’s hardly revitalized the genre. The Princess Bride still stands head and shoulders above the rest.

And that’s because The Princess Bride is supremely disinterested in parodying fantasy. At no point does Fred Savage’s grandson (two degrees away from too cool for school before the story enraptures him) question exactly where Florin and Guilder is in the real world, where the fantastical elements come from, or how Inigo manages to learn the events of the last third of the film while blind drunk in another part of the movie. Instead, the film’s humor derives from the breaking of the fourth wall via the grandson and his grandfather, as well as a truly witty script. There’s a reason it’s so eminently quotable—it delights in wordplay and elegant humor in a way that few films do. A lot of modern comedies are focused solely on the script, as Tony Zhou rightfully points out in his Every Frame a Painting episode on visual comedy, but The Princess Bride carries off the same focus with grace and aplomb. That’s mostly because the story is as invested in its characters’ emotional lives as it is in their witticisms; I can never watch this film without tearing up at Mandy Patinkin’s performance as Inigo, given his intricate connection with his role. (If you don’t know that story, you owe it to yourself to find out.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Watching it again as a grown woman and not a feckless teenager, it’s very glaringly a white boy’s club to the point that I started getting uncomfortable. Robin Wright is luminous as Buttercup, but she gets so precious little to do that I’m now itching for The Congress or House of Cards. (The Congress is more likely, since it’s so focused on the consumption and exploitation of her image.) IMDb informs me that Carrie Fisher was the first choice for the role; I’m not sure any film could withstand the amount of sassy eyebrows thrown had she been cast.

I saw this film at Videology.

Page to Screen: Gone Girl (2014)

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Gone Girl
based on the novel by Gillian Flynn

★★★☆☆

2014 • 149 minutes • 20th Century Fox

Spoilers below.

For some reason, thinking about Gone Girl, the novel, exhausts me. It’s no insult to mystery (if I must throw in my lot with only one side of the frustrating but apparently evergreen literary fiction versus genre fiction debate, I will, of course, be on genre fiction’s side) or to Gillian Flynn herself, of whom I know precious (but positive) little. Rather, as you may recall, I worked at the Tattered Cover for a year. The book was so popular that, a year after its publication, I spent my closing shifts chasing miscreants out of the second floor under the watchful eye of a Gone Girl poster. When the paperback finally dropped in April (you’d be surprised by how many little old ladies prefer paperback to hardcover), there was no way for me to escape it save actually not reading the thing. Missing a Flynn novel was an easy, small thing for me.

Missing a Fincher film, however, was not. Watching The Social Network for the first time was such a formative, visceral experience for me as a budding film fan that I’m always willing to investigate. (Okay, I know I didn’t see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but that’s because I couldn’t work up the nerve to, not because I didn’t want to.)

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