Recently, my fourteen-year-old self knocked on my window in the dead of night and asked me to reconsider demon butlers. Or, rather, I went to watch Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (a movie adaptation of one of the later arcs of the manga) in the cinema with a friend, where we were both promptly reminded why we’d loved this series so much as teenagers. The Black Butler manga is more than ten years old and still going strong, and the movie reeled me back into this world of supernatural action and Victorian Era finery with enough force and finesse that I was compelled to revisit the first few volumes of the manga—the “Jack the Ripper” arc, the storyline I remember being my favorite and starring my favorite pair of villains—and dive back into this story to see if it held up. Is it still good? Certainly. Is it also riddled with problems I’m much more wary of and attuned to now that I’m older and wiser? Absolutely. Spoilers for the arc ahead!
It’s almost the Fourth of July, and for those of us here in the United States, we’ll soon be celebrating our nation’s founding. For me, that often meant watching 1776 with my parents, and I have to say that I adored this musical. The film version of the musical 1776 came out in 1972, and the musical itself came out in 1969. It follows John Adams as he tries to get a difficult, cantankerous, and often divided Congress to agree on American independence.
However, if you are a Hamilton fan, this musical might be a disappointment for you. This movie is very white and almost entirely male, with the exception of two female cast members, only one of whom plays a significant role. Regretfully, while there are some great moments in this musical, as far as representation goes, it definitely falls short.
Having seen two out of the three abysmally bad Fantastic Four movies already, I figured that by now I was probably jaded enough to tackle the original 1994 version without risking my sanity. After all, the 2015 version was absolute rock bottom: so bad that it derailed before looping back around to “hilariously bad” and ended up in a fiery heap somewhere between terrifying and boring. Much to my relief, while the 1994 version is indisputably terrible, it’s the sort of terrible you can watch in relative comfort and have a giggle at. Some charming aspects are that it’s mercifully short, comically overblown, and features (genuinely) the best movie version of Dr. Doom we have. Some terrible aspects are that it feels like a high school kid did the final editing, it treats women like garbage, and while it’s technically fairly accurate to the comics, it chose specifically the worst faults of the comics to stay faithful to.
Sometimes when you rewatch children’s movies that you loved as a kid, you sadly realize how stupid they actually were. You may have loved the movie as a child, but as an adult you can understand why your parents hated when you would put it on. But every so often you rewatch one of your favorite movies from when you were young and are filled with a warm glow because it’s just as heartwarming and beautiful as you remembered. For me, this was the case with A Muppet Family Christmas, one of my all-time favorite childhood Christmas movies.
It has come to my attention recently that a lot of people have never seen A Muppet Family Christmas, and that just baffles me, because it is by and large the absolute best Muppet Christmas movie. Yeah, it is better than A Muppet Christmas Carol; it really is.
On my latest pre-Halloween adventure through the realm of nostalgia, I decided to revisit a movie that—for some reason—absolutely terrified me as a kid: 1994’s The Pagemaster. To say that any movie terrified me is really something, considering that I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at age five and Jurassic Park was my favorite movie at age six, but evidently watching a tiny, animated Macaulay Culkin scamper through an uncanny valley of living books was on another level of disturbing.
This uniquely 90s nugget of media is about a boy named Richard who is terrified of absolutely everything until he has to go on an adventure to escape from a library that has somehow been turned into a fantasy realm full of monsters and dragons and pirates and such. Helping him along the way are three anthropomorphized living books with creepy faces and weird little arms and legs. Are you not shaking in your boots yet? Come on.
We’re going a little deeper into the archives of science fiction this week, to pull out the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The black-and-white visuals and Cold War imagery give the movie a dated effect, but I’m realizing how distressingly relevant the underlying message still is.
At the top level, the movie is a satire of mutually assured destruction and nuclear war. A rogue American general named Jack D. Ripper, consumed with paranoia, orders an unprovoked nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, and a fleet of bombers take to the air.
When news of the strike reaches President Merkin Muffley, he descends to the underground War Room, joined by the maniacal General Buck Turgidson, the Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, and the title character, a nuclear scientist from Nazi Germany now serving the United States. De Sadeski reveals the existence of a Soviet Doomsday Device, which will automatically destroy all life on Earth with a cloud of radioactive gas if an atomic strike on the USSR is detected. The Americans and the Russians work together to recall the bombers, but one, piloted by Major T.J. “King” Kong, has been damaged and cannot receive the radio signal, and prepares to deliver its payload.
Earth’s last hope is the failure of Kong’s bomb, spray-painted with the name “Hi There!”—which jams in the bay. But the dedicated pilot climbs on top of it, and jumps up and down on it until it deploys. Kong rides the bomb to the end of the world, gleefully whooping and waving a cowboy hat in the film’s most famous scene.
The Americans pause for a moment of silence, before planning to resume the Cold War after the apocalypse when they emerge from their bunkers. The credits roll with a montage of mushroom clouds set to Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”.
I’m slowly working through all the old books on my bookshelf—the ones I remember reading and liking as a kid, but haven’t reread in years, and which I don’t quite want to put out for adoption without making doubly sure I’m not going to miss them. The upside of this project is that it’s lent me all sorts of fodder for Throwback Thursdays, and this week’s topic was yet another one of these keep-it-or-donate-it quandaries.
Before beginning to reread it, all I could I remember about Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson was that it was about seven witches competing for a wizard’s hand in marriage. Upon rereading it, I did find it goofy, dark, and fun, but I’ve got mixed feelings about the messages it sends.
Many people used to tell me that you weren’t a true anime fan unless you saw at least one episode of Dragon Ball Z. And while that may be gatekeeping bullshit, it is somewhat accurate, at least for my generation. Dragon Ball Z aired in 1989 to 1996 and was up there with Sailor Moon, as two of the anime that pretty much everyone has at least seen one episode of. It was two anime you knew on sight, but they certainly weren’t on par with each other. Sailor Moon was pretty much as feminist of a kids show as you could possibly get. There were a ton of female characters and female friendships, the women were their own heroes, and all were very complex. Women in DBZ, not so much. The show almost never passes the Bechdel test, the objectification of women is on absurd levels, and while our female characters aren’t damsels in distress, they are usually less powerful than their male counterparts (with a few notable exceptions). That being said, while DBZ couldn’t be called feminist, they certainly had some amazingly strong and complex female characters, all of whom I think would label themselves as feminists. And while the ladies of DBZ do fine on their own, you actually really see them shine in their relationships. Not because they need a man, but because juxtaposing these strong female characters with their male counterparts actually reveals some feminists in show (even if that wasn’t intended). Today I want to focus on two of my favorite characters and probably one of my favorite OTPs: Bulma and Vegeta!
Oh God, Invader Zim! If you remember this show you probably remember that it was one of the darkest and most cynical kids shows out there. I started re-watching this show thanks to the miracle of a Hulu Plus subscription and each episode promoted me to say both “We showed this to children?” and “I can’t wait to watch this with my future kids.” Invader Zim premiered in 2001, but was canceled in 2002 due to declining ratings and other budgetary issues, leaving some episodes of Season 2 unaired. It moved to Nicktoons and ended a second time in 2006, but this time did air all of Season 2. There are some rumors that the show ended due to issues between creator Jhonen C. Vasquez and Nickelodeon, but I don’t believe those rumors have ever been verified. Despite being canceled, the show did receive critical acclaim, winning several awards, and it is definitely a show you should check out if you haven’t already.
Invader Zim is unique in that it’s one of the few kids’ shows where working your hardest and wanting something really badly doesn’t get our characters anywhere. It’s also one of the few kids’ shows that seems to claim that most of society is stupid and warns viewers not to trust authorities or the media. How the heck do messages like that get translated into a kids’ show, you ask? Through the form of an alien invader called Zim who’s trying to take over the world, who, despite failing constantly and horribly, still thinks he’s awesome nevertheless.
At age eleven, I found myself with a case of acute appendicitis. I was hospitalized immediately and set up for same-day surgery within three hours, but just as my surgeon arrived, the Yu Yu Hakusho opening theme drifted through the prep room. Without missing a beat, eleven-year-old me asked, completely in earnest, “can we just wait thirty more minutes? It’s the Dark Tournament arc and this episode is really important!” Given the levity with which I had handled the whole medical emergency up to that point, everyone assumed I was joking. I was not joking.
Yu Yu Hakusho was a stellar fighting anime, following juvenile delinquent Yusuke Urameshi, who gains supernatural powers after being killed and resurrected. He and his mismatched team of human and demon cohorts go on to spend most of their time fighting baddies and after 112 episodes, Yusuke ends up the king of the underworld. It’s not as cool of a job as it sounds.