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Screentime: Two Very Different Takes on Growing Up and Coming Out in Theatres Now; Kill Your Darlings vs. Blue is the Warmest Colour

Last week while trying to find respite from the sudden cold snap in the city, I took advantage of New York’s cinematic status to see two recently released films that are certainly not playing in my hometown in Ohio: Kill Your Darlings and the French film Blue is the Warmest Colour (also known as La Vie d’Adele). These films were completely different in language, tone, and overall experience, but they have both opened to film festival awards and general critical acclaim. And they do share a common theme, one of coming of age and homosexual awakening, though they are tackled very differently and for differing purposes.

I’m going to put it all out there at the start: While the performances in both films were phenomenal, I loved Kill Your Darlings and have a lot of trouble coming to terms with Blue. I could very well take the time right now to discuss the technical issues I had, how I loved Kill‘s directing style (from director John Krokidas), a sharp and modern and engaging technique that evoked the jazz age and called to the coming Beats. How Blue felt over-long and it’s director (Abdellatif Kechiche) came off as self-serving and heavy-handed, not to mention slightly pedophiliac. But right now I am much more interested in comparing how these films tackled the issues of their protagonists’ sexuality.

Kill Your Darlings, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, as the great American poet Allen Ginsberg, centers on Allen as he becomes entrenched with the enigmatic and dangerous Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and meets the artists who will help him define a generation. Though the plot of the film is heavily focused on Ginsberg and Carr’s friendship and Carr’s murder of his tumultuous lover David Kammerer, the real story is that of Ginsberg coming into his own as an artist, discovering his poetic drive and style as well as coming to terms with his sexuality. His relationship with Carr is based on intimacy, and while there is a homosexual sex scene, it is interspersed with three other scenes of plot and character, like a woven web. Allen’s sexuality is not the central point. His connection to Carr is not shown to be one of lust, though the physical is a factor. It is as much about art and poetry. And while the film does not shy away from the historical issues of homosexuality in the mid 1940s, Ginsberg’s discovery of his sexuality is not played as odd or wrong. As a modern audience, the film wants us to be happy when he finally allows himself to be, truly, himself, despite the ever-present fear of arrest and/or public shaming. Thematically, I think the film handles its homosexuality very well. It is tasteful and it is not the be-all-end-all of Ginsberg’s life. It is an aspect of who he is, just like his relationship with his parents, his friends, and his poetry.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a different story. It is a French film that opened at Cannes and won the prized Palme d’Or, which was unusually awarded not just to the director but also the two lead actresses as well. Starring relative newcomer Adèle Exarchopolous as the lead who shares her name, the film (based on the French graphic novel by Julie Maroh that shares the English title and was only recently released in English) is the story of a young woman’s discovery of her sexuality as she falls deeply in love with blue-haired artist Emma (Léa Seydoux). Not to give too much away, but their romance is anything but easy, and while they have a happier ending than their graphic novel counterparts, their ending is far from a Happily Ever After.

This movie is all about desire and appetite. The audience is constantly seeing Adèle eating, or focusing on her mouth, or viewing her body in separate objectified parts. We see her desire for friends, desire to be normal, desire to be a teacher, and overwhelmingly her desire for Emma, even when her actions cause her to lose her. In some ways, the movie is not only about Adèle being gay. Though we see her facing bullying at school in one scene, and see her purposefully not coming out to her parents in another, most of the plot is about Adèle’s growing up and maturing, finding a career she loves and trying to make her relationship work. These are things that transcend sexuality.

But there are moments in the movie that, to me, void all of the positive scenes. All of this, again, in my opinion, are down to the director. Reports from the actresses say that he was very difficult to work with, especially in the sex scenes. These scenes are incredibly graphic, giving the movie an NC17 rating in the US. And wow, those scenes. The first is incredibly long, and has every position you could imagine possible between two women (except for one, which happened in the second sex scene, causing me to awkwardly laugh at my friend and say, “I wondered when that was going to happen”). This infamous scene, which is more than uncomfortably long, is blatant and stark, very much like porn. The camera leaves no room for emotion, though often the women are looking each other in the eye. They are sexualized with no intimacy beyond the physical, no warmth or heart. In fact, it isn’t merely like porn, it is porn. And while I have no problem with porn existing, I do have a problem with this kind of scene taking time in a story that should have been about emotion and relationships. To me, this scene and the director’s preoccupation with objectifying his stars and the female form, as well as female relationships, ruins the movie. The writer of the graphic novel recently wrote:

“Because – except for a few passages – this is all that it brings to my mind: a brutal and surgical display,  exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn, and [made] me feel very ill at ease. Especially when, in the middle of a movie theatre, everyone was giggling. The heteronormative laughed because they don’t understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and [they] found it ridiculous. And among the only people we didn’t hear giggling were the potential guys [sic] too busy feasting their eyes on an incarnation of their fantasies on screen.”

While my love of Kill Your Darlings and my dislike for Blue is the Warmest Colour is very much because of my feelings on the directing and editing of each, I do think they point to two very different ways of portraying non-heterosexual sexualities. While it is very possible to have a movie that centers on a character coming out and has their sexuality take center stage, it is more than time for movies with LGBTQ (also known as Gender and Sexual Minorities, or GSM) characters whose sexualities and genders are inconsequential to the greater plot, or at least minor in compared to other attributes. GSM individuals are just people, and what makes them great characters are the same things that make any character great. And I would love to see a film about a non-heterosexual female that did not objectify them or their love.

It’s 2013. Civil Unions are legal in many countries, and marriage equality is growing in the United States. The entertainment industry is at the forefront when it comes to those in the industry itself who are GSM or allies. So why the hell can’t that translate to the screen?

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“Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts…”

It’s September 1st, and everyone knows what that means… time to get onto the Hogwarts Express and head to school!

As a proud member of the Harry Potter Generation, today is basically a holiday. 

What does being a member of the Harry Potter Generation mean? It means that I literally grew up with the book series, and later the films. Harry and I grew up together, and his story was an integral part of my development. It means that when Wizarding World opened in Orlando, I was there as a 20-year-old and stood in line for nearly 2 hours to get my wand. It means I brought my copies of all 7 books to college with me every year. It means midnight book premieres, midnight movie premieres, costumes, merchandise, going to Platform 9 3/4 when I was in London, going to fan conventions (yeah, LeakyCon!!), spending hours upon hours talking HP with friends, and, of course, using House sorting as a way to perfectly sum up someone’s personality (Hufflepuff pride). 

It’s hard to say how I became so invested in Harry Potter, as it was sort of gradual. I read the first book in 3rd grade, and my next solid memory of the series was getting the fourth book the day it was released the next summer (I was nine, and it’s still my favorite of the books). Over time, my love grew like a snowball as I befriended more and more fellow Potter fans and as the series itself grew. 

People who have never read Harry Potter can have trouble grasping why we readers (and film watchers, though I INSIST that anyone who hasn’t read the books and only seen the movies give the books a shot for a more complete experience) are so connected. But it’s simple: Harry’s world is the perfect mixture of escapism and a moral call-to-action. His adventures and the magic of wizarding life give readers a place to go to when times are tough. The lessons he and his friends learn, and in turn teach, give readers the strength they need to get through those times. HP teaches the full spectrum of life lessons: tolerance, love, acceptance, friendship, civil rights, equality, hard work, determination, loyalty, and the list goes on. And since friendship is so often about finding others with the same core values, it makes sense that it’s so easy for Potter fans to find fast friends amongst each other, even when they’ve only known each other a short amount of time (like maybe 20 minutes in line for LeakyCon registration? Or a few Facebook messages before rooming together? Or a quick conversation about Pygmy Puffs at a Lit event? All places where I made great friends).

This series also sparked consumers to become producers. Art, writing, fan movies, a new genre of music, clothing, merchandise, the list goes on. Readers and watchers didn’t need to contain their love, but instead channeled it into creating any type of text imaginable. 

I could literally talk for hours about Harry Potter, from the characters to the setting to the intricacies of the magical world, to the treatment of minorities at Hogwarts or the inequalities in the Ministry of Magic’s practices. The list of topics is endless. 

But the best thing about Harry Potter is that it won’t end with my generation. Sure, the percentage of kids who are reading it feels like it has gone down since my time, but the books are still all over bookstores, and even events like LeakyCon are full of younger fans. And, of course, when my generation starts to have kids, a whole new Harry Potter generation will be born.

Because as anyone who has read the stories know, Harry and Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home.

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Screentime: Teen Wolf, AKA In Defense Of a Show Whose Name Makes Everyone Laugh

This week while working on job applications and being bored in New Jersey I started re-watching the first 2 seasons of Teen Wolf. And yes, I know what you’re thinking because I once thought it too.

When I first heard the news about the MTV scripted series, I laughed. Images of Michael J. Fox with furry arms playing basketball went through my head, mixed with disdain for the formerly-music and now mainly reality-filled network. But then last year a friend of mine convinced me to give the show a try.

I watched the first two seasons in two days.

Don’t let the terrible name fool you: Teen Wolf is anything but the campy 80s comedy that it alludes to. Something that became abundantly clear to me as I sobbed into my pillow watching a teen girl hallucinate her deceased militaristic mother screaming at her while she tried to calm down enough to stitch up her wounded and dying ex-boyfriend.

Plot Summary: Teen Wolf is, of course, about a teenage werewolf. Scott McCall, played with adorable sincerity by Tyler Posey (the little kid from Maid in Manhattan), is bitten by a wolf only to find his whole world turned upside down. He’s thrown into a world of werewolves, hunters, supernatural menaces, and, to put it bluntly, war. 

The show isn’t perfect. Like any mythology-heavy series, it suffers from plot holes and, at times, melodrama. But dang is it entertaining. 

It’s funny. Quick-witted and snarky, especially in Scott’s best friend “Stiles” Stilinski (Dylan O’Brien, who was plucked from youtube for his first role that’s catapulted him to stardom. He’s set to star in the upcoming Maze Runner movie). 

It’s smart. Yes, it’s full of semi-cheesy supernatural drama, but there are deeper meanings at play, and through lines from season 1 appear in the current episodes of season 3. 

It’s meaningful. The friendship between Scott and Stiles goes into the popculture history books as one of the greatest television bromances. The relationships on the show run deep, with family ties (both born and made) taking center stage.

It’s realistic. Okay, not the werewolf part. But in the way that teenagers live, interact, and feel. How life can be overwhelming, the strain that some teens put on themselves, the pressures and the intense emotions. These teens, despite being unnaturally gorgeous, feel real and relatable. 

It’s progressive. This is one of the best things about the show. The main character is what the Internet likes to refer to as a PoC (Person of Color), meaning he’s not white. Posey is of Mexican descent, and while it has not been explicitly stated that Scott is, it has been alluded to. The show is LGBT positive, with beloved character Danny having background relationships for the first two seasons and finally having a fore-fronted boyfriend in season 3, not to mention the multiple bisexual or unlabeled characters. And, of course, there are the women. Some of the most badass and complex female characters on TV, who’ve been put through the wringer and have come out as strong and capable (Crystal Reed’s warrior Allison and Holland Roden’s genius pretty girl Lydia). Sure, the show isn’t perfect, and it loves to kill of minorities (while merely emotionally torturing the white guys, especially Tyler Hoechlin’s Derek Hale and Daniel Sharman’s Isaac Lahey), but it is still refreshing to see a fuller spectrum of people onscreen.

Yes, Teen Wolf is on MTV, sandwiched between Catfish and Teen Mom. Yes, it’s based (loosely) on a camptastic 80s movie. Yes, the cast all look like models (did I mention that the men are CONSTANTLY shirtless?). But don’t let those surface issues stop you from giving it a shot, especially if you enjoy supernatural or mythology-heavy shows. 

And if you do give it a try, I DARE you not to fall immediately in love with Stiles. I dare you. 

Seasons 1 and 2 are currently on Netflix, and the second half of season 3 is set to air this January. 

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I’m No Superman

My whole Facebook and Twitter feeds today have been nothing but ranting over the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the Man of Steel sequel. Anyone who knows me (and probably even people who don’t) knows that I’m a girl that loves superheroes.

It’s funny to me, though, that so many people have such strong opinions about Affleck as Batman. I don’t remember this kind of reaction to Henry Cavill’s casting as Superman. And I honestly can’t remember the reaction to Christian Bale being cast in the Nolan franchise. But it’s odd. The collective cultural conscience seems to throw Superman away as a joke, while getting up in arms about Batman.

I’m gonna be honest here, and hope that you don’t get too upset with my opinion:

I don’t like Batman.

Like, at all.

He’s kind of a tool.

I have friends who love him, sincerely, and who have long and deep histories with the character, just as I do with Superman. And that’s fine. I would never tell you that you can’t like a character, or that you shouldn’t, or try to sway your opinion. But because 1) a lot of people like to get in my face about how “Superman sucks” and 2) I want to take the collective Batman lovers down a peg, not the individuals, here is my little rant about good ole Bruce Wayne and his spot in pop culture:

I know why I dislike Bats. He’s moody and a pretty shitty father to a large brood. He gets away with being an asshole. He’s self-centered and manipulative and dark in a way that I generally don’t like. I like my heroes to be brighter and funnier and not Deus Ex Machina machines (“I have a gadget for that/a martial arts move for that/a genius plan for that/something batshaped for that” we get it, Bruce).

I know why a lot of fans like Batman: He’s dark in a way they like. His genre is very Noir and Mystery heavy, which are both very popular. He’s enigmatic and has brain and brawn. He’s a self-made man in many ways, and is powered by his emotions, which is compelling, as is his complex emotional state. Plus, he gets lots of hot girlfriends.

I just never understand why the world at large, including countless people who don’t care about the character beyond the buzz that periodically appears around a movie, trending topics on Twitter and making Buzzfeed lists, liked him so much. They give vague reasons like, “he’s so badass!” and “he’s a real human, unlike other heroes” and “Dude, I could be Batman.”

No, dude, you can’t. He’s less realistic than Superman. It makes sense for a non human to have non human abilities. It doesn’t make sense for a “human” to have THAT much money, THAT much insane and unrealistic martial arts training, THOSE crazy gadgets, and have no one catch him. Plus, running around like a bat in the night in a town like Gotham? Why is he not locked in Arkham? (side note: there are some GREAT comic arcs that deal with the line of Bruce’s sanity. Genius).

So yes, I get annoyed when people seem to like Batman for no real reason, other than unspecific comments about his power and badassery. But whatever, it doesn’t really affect my life if the general audience has subconsciously decided to use Batman as a cypher for whatever action character they want to watch. 

It becomes more interesting when you look at the reactions to Affleck’s casting (ah, full circle). Affleck is, by all accounts, a good actor. He’s won Oscars and makes a ton of money. People love his movies. Except for a noted few, like Gigli. And Daredevil. Apparently playing one superhero in a movie that flopped means you can’t play anymore?

What does Affleck lack that fans want to see in Batman? Personally, I can see him doing a great job, but I lack an emotional connection to the character, plus I’ve seen him portrayed so differently in every story. 

Here’s what Affleck isn’t: gruff, old, overtly dark or twisted. He’s not Christian Bale, with his barely covered anger. He’s not Josh Brolin, a rumored casting choice who’s played just as many villains as heroes, and who immediately recalls a grizzled kind of Frank Miller (a comic book vet) Batman.

I don’t say any of this to make people angry, or to call out anyone. Just some observations from a person that’s not really connected to any Batman emotions other than apathy. I’m more worried about what Zack Snyder chooses to do to Superman.

Because I love Superman. I have since I was a little kid. I’ve had a Superman poster in my room since middle school. If I were to ever get a tattoo, it would be of the S-shield, because that symbol of hope has gotten me through some really tough times.

That’s what Superman is, you know. Hope. The belief that anyone can make a difference, that anyone can do better, anyone can change the world. Superman is a role model, something to strive for. He’s an outcast and outsider who fights for mankind. He’s a man with inner demons and struggles, who had to deal with feelings of isolation his whole life, who is the sole survivor of his planet, who never feels at home in his own skin. But he’s also a pure hero who strives to make the world a better place with the gifts he has.

You know what everyone misses about this Affleck argument? This movie isn’t about him. This isn’t a Batman movie. This is Batman in a Superman movie. Noir in a traditionally sci-fi genre. Their friendship is great. They’re opposites who compliment and challenge each other, complete each other. They respect each other. In their contrasts you can see their true character. A man who strives to be inhuman, a nonhuman who strives for humanity. They’re a beautiful yin and yang.

So who cares that Ben Affleck is Batman? Who cares if he’s not the image you have of what Batman should be? This isn’t about him. It’s not even completely about Superman, really. It’s about them both, that push and pull, that mix of the dark and light that characterize our era. War on Terror meets Obama’s Change campaign. Optimism meets realism.

Plus, really, and I can’t stress this enough: Ben Affleck will never be the problem when Zack Snyder is at the helm. Gross.

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