Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: The Monstrous-Feminine

Traditionally, horror has been a genre heavily defined by its gender roles; masked killers are usually male, their victims have traditionally been “bad girls” who engage in activities that society has in the past viewed as shameful.

The Monstrous-Feminine is a term coined by film theorist Barbara Creed in her 1993 book The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis wherein she argues that female horror villains take on fundamentally different archetypes than male horror villains, tying the roles that women play as villains back to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of sexual deference and his demarcation of female sexuality as dangerous; this is seen most obviously in Creed’s writing on the Monstrous Womb and Vagina Dentata. At this point, I feel it is important to mention that Creed’s writing is entirely focused on cisgender bodies, especially when Freudian theories become involved. 

I won’t get too heavily into Creed’s theories here as I don’t want to spend too long with the intro at risk of writing several hundred words before even starting to write about my first recommendation but I highly suggest checking out Creed’s work as well as an essay by Aviva Briefel entitled Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film if you’re interested in reading more about gender roles and horror, admittedly, that essay is very much written from a cis perspective. As well, if you’re interested in discussing this further and/or have your own recommendations for further reading please don’t hesitate to reach out either through my email: rhymeswpicard@gmail.com or on Twitter, I would love to hear your thoughts and get more perspectives on this. 

Carrie (1976), dir. Brian De Palma, United States

(CW: Carrie contains scenes of religious abuse)

BrianDe Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name is a classic. Carrie is about a sheltered girl raised by her deeply religious abusive mother who discovers that she has telekinetic powers. One of the best adaptations of King’s work, while very male gaze-y, Carrie is incredible. 

The prom scene alone is enough to declare this movie a masterpiece. As soon as Carrie is doused in pig’s blood, the previously swelling score cuts out as the only sounds present become that of dripping blood and the clang of a bucket as it drops, the sound cutting back in as soon as the bucket has fallen with the laughter of the prom attendees combining with lines from early in the movie, including a loop of Carrie’s mother saying “they’re all going to laugh at you”. The entire time, Sissy Spacek is incredible switching from anguish to wrath in the blink of an eye as the entire scene becomes drenched in red from the lights. The panic combined with Carrie’s quieter rage is masterfully done. 

As I said, Carrie is one of the best adaptations of King’s work. 

Teeth (2007), dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein, United States

(CW: Teeth contains scenes of sexual assault)

Teeth is a movie about a girl who has teeth in her vagina. It’s also a movie directed by a man, as so many of the movies on this list are (I am once again begging for more female-directed horror movies about monstrous women).

The protagonist, Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler), discovered that she has teeth in her vagina after biting off her rapist’s penis. Again, I would rather this movie had not been directed and written by a man. Dawn is continually assaulted by men only for her vagina to bite off their penises. Eventually, she realizes that her teeth only come out when she isn’t consenting to the intercourse.

As the movie progresses, Dawn continues to be assaulted by different men, killing each of them in turn until eventually, she begins to use her teeth to seek revenge on those who have wronged her, starting with her stepbrother Brad. 

Teeth is far from perfect, it’s no Jennifer’s Body and it honestly never had a chance to be that. Instead, Teeth is an entry in the “Good For Her” Cinematic Universe that is brought down by the fact that it’s written and directed by a man. 

Ginger Snaps (2000), dir. John Fawcett, Canada

(CW: Ginger Snaps contains simulated images of suicide)

Ginger Snaps is about a pair of sisters named Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) who hate the suburb they live in and have vowed to either get out or die together by age 16. While on the way to kidnap the school bully’s dog, Ginger gets her first period and is attacked by a werewolf who was drawn to her by the scent of blood.

Over the course of the movie, Ginger undergoes a transformation as she takes on the curse of the werewolf. She becomes more aggressive, begins to heal at an accelerated rate, hair grows from her scars, she grows a tail, and she begins to experience heavier periods. Basically, Ginger Snaps is a movie about puberty and how the changes that the body undergoes are at times terrifying.

Ginger Snaps is easily one of the best Canadian horror movies ever and is well worth a watch.

Jennifer’s Body (2009), dir. Karen Kusama, United States

(CW: Jennifer’s Body contains depictions of violence against women, ableist language, and some gore)

Originally a flop, Jennifer’s Body has, much like the title character, been resurrected, only rather than becoming a succubus, the movie has become viewed as a cult classic feminist horror film. It’s easy to see why considering that the title character is a teenage girl who was taken advantage of by men who wanted to get ahead, something that is very relevant, even over ten years later.

Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karen Kusama, Jennifer’s Body is above all else, funny. It strikes that delicate balance between horror and comedy and hits the very rare sweet spot between the two. I could say so much about Jennifer’s Body but I’ll just say one more thing: it’s one of those movies that I have never forgotten. If you haven’t watched it yet, take this as your chance to do so. If you’ve seen it before, use this as an excuse to watch it again.

Raw (2016), dir. Julia Ducournau, France

(CW: Raw contains scenes of cannibalism)

This is the second time I’ve featured Raw and that’s because it’s good and you need to watch it immediately.

If this is your first time joining us, a quick recap on Raw. Raw is a 2016 French horror film about a first-year veterinary student who, up until a hazing ritual gone wrong results in an intense craving for meat, has been a vegetarian her entire life. The movie follows Justine (Garance Marillier) as her craving intensifies to the point that she craves human flesh. 

Raw is bloody and atmospheric and easily one of my favourite horror movies. It’s also the first foreign-language film that I ever saw and for that reason, it holds a very special place in my heart. 

Categories
Comics

Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #1 is an (Almost) Entirely Unenjoyable Comic

Tom King’s Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is, aside from the art by Bilquis Evely, an entirely unenjoyable comic. Beyond writing that at times feels like it came directly from someone who just read Catcher in the Rye and thinks they’re hot shit because they see themselves in Holden, Supergirl is a comic about a woman that is very obviously written by a man who should not be writing women until he figures out how to do it properly. Now, typically I’m not too fond of King’s books. Out of the (admittedly few) that I have read, The Vision is the only one I remember enjoying. Caveat: I was at most fifteen when The Vision came out, and I haven’t read it since.

Woman of Tomorrow is first and foremost a True Grit rip-off; it’s extremely difficult to dispute this claim when there are so many similarities between the plots. The similarities are so present that I question why King didn’t just adapt True Grit as a graphic novel; he obviously wanted to. Instead, Woman of Tomorrow comes off as one of those outlandish crossovers one can find on fanfiction.net; an x meets y situation wherein Tom King took a character and put her in a situation that no one in their right mind would think to put that character in, and in doing so, portrays her in a way that feels entirely out of character for her.

There’s a line early in the book where Kara says, “I’m 21 now. Official. Which means it’s okay”, while that line is about Kara drinking, the phrasing of it feels off. It’s phrased in a similar way to how arguments centered around the age of consent are, and it just ends up feeling gross. 

As I’ve said in the past, I take issue with misogyny in a piece of media only to make a character unlikeable. The same goes with violence against women and girls; to take a very real, very serious issue and to use it as a shortcut is not only lazy (there are ways to make a villain villainous without having them slap a girl), but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for anyone, especially a man to take that issue, and use it entirely as a quick way to make a case for someone being a villain. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken issue with something in this vein (see the above link for my thoughts on using “broodmare” as an insult in Empyre), and it most certainly will not be the last.

Beyond the rest of these points, my biggest issue with this book is how it ends. Tom King did not need to kill (or injure, we still aren’t 100% sure what Krypto’s fate will be) Krypto. It’s entirely unnecessary to do so, and I have no idea what King’s motive could be beyond being edgy and generating headlines around it. Either way, it sucks. It’s a bad decision, and Tom King should be ashamed of himself. That’s the takeaway from this issue; Tom King should be ashamed of himself.

Categories
Comics

Character Spotlight: Loki

If you’ve been following me for basically any amount of time you would very likely have seen me mention Loki once or twice. Or once an hour, every hour. At least. 

However, if you somehow haven’t caught on yet, Loki is my favourite Marvel character, and he has been since I was ten years old and saw Thor (2011). Loki is the kind of character who means a lot to me; I’ve always loved screw-ups, I tend to see myself in them, and Loki is definitely a screw-up, to put it lightly.

So without further ado, I, GateCrasher’s resident Loki expert, would like to present my favourite Loki comics. 

Journey Into Mystery #118; Source: Marvel

Journey Into Mystery #118, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First thing’s first. I hate Stan Lee’s writing; silver age comics have been such a massive slog for me as I (very slowly) work my way through reading every Loki appearance.

That being said, I really like this issue. There’s a moment in this issue where Loki realizes that he’s gone too far with his scheme and will end up getting in serious trouble for it that I love. This issue alone shows that Loki is entirely self-serving and will only step up to help out when not doing so would result in him being punished. It’s a very good character study for the original incarnation of Loki and is at time of press the only Stan Lee issue I could ever see myself rereading.

Journey Into Mystery #622; Source: Marvel

Journey Into Mystery, Kieran Gillen and Doug Braithewaite

Journey Into Mystery is, along with Agent of Asgard, one of two definitive Loki comics. After the events of Siege, Loki has been reincarnated as a child with no memories of his past deeds, and so begins one of my favourite comics. Journey Into Mystery was my introduction to Gillen and I’ve loved it since I first read it. 

It’s the kind of story that makes me feel so many different things all at once and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should. Even if you’ve read it, take this as your push towards re-reading it. It’s worth it. 

Loki: Agent of Asgard #2; Source: Marvel

Loki: Agent of Asgard, Al Ewing and Lee Garbett

The aforementioned second definitive Loki comic. Agent of Asgard follows Loki after Young Avengers as he works for the All-Mother in an attempt to reinvent himself as more than just a younger version of the original Loki. As much as I love Journey Into Mystery, this is my favourite Loki story. It’s a story about stories but it’s also about how the perceptions of others and the roles we create for ourselves based on those perceptions can affect how we see ourselves. Loki is fighting the uphill battle of being more than who he was, a battle he continues to fight to this day and one that strikes a chord with me, even if the things I’ve done in the past aren’t nearly as bad or as world-ending as Loki’s actions. 

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8; Source: Marvel

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #8, Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Cat Thor! The birth of the Loki-Nancy friendship (the best friendship in comics, how I miss it so)! A giant gossip squirrel! This issue has everything, including some fantastic Loki scenes. As much as I love Kieran Gillen, Ryan North is one of my favourite Loki writers and I really think he could do an excellent solo series if given the chance. Loki’s other appearances in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #16, 27-30, 43, and 46 are also well worth checking out. 

Loki #1; Source: Marvel

Loki, Daniel Kibblesmith and Jan Bazaldua

The most recent Loki solo series was unfortunately cut short at five issues but Kibblesmith’s time with the character, short as it is, is well worth a read. Kibblesmith gets Loki. He understands that Loki is more than just a prankster and that he isn’t evil (at least not anymore). Once again, a lot of time is spent focusing on the fact that Loki is attempting to make amends for his past deeds in an effort to outrun the legacy of who he was. It’s a fun story that isn’t afraid to get serious at times as it continues to portray Loki trying to be a new person. 

Thor & Loki: Double Trouble #1; Source: Marvel

Thor & Loki: Double Trouble, Marino Tamaki and Gurihiru

Look, this miniseries isn’t done yet but it’s pretty close to peak comedic Loki so far. Loki is an absolute menace and the way Gurihiru draws him can only be described as “gremlin-like”. Beyond that, it’s also a super cute comic and a great intro to the character for those new to comics, especially younger readers. But that isn’t to say that older readers can’t find enjoyment in this book. It’s the kind of all-ages comic that really is for all ages, not just children. 


At time of publishing, all of the comics featured here can be found in digital formats and the first five entries are available in full on Marvel Unlimited. As well, many of them can be bought as trade paperbacks or omnibuses. Back issues of Thor & Loki may be able to be found at your LCS and the trade is currently available for pre-order.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Jesus Shit W/ Rob Secundus

Welcome to Reagan’s Recs. As you may have noticed, based on the title, things are a tiny bit different this time around. That’s because this is our first-ever guest spot! Before the first edition of Reagan’s Recs was even published back in April, I’ve wanted to have guests talk about movies they love and think more people should see. A big part of why I want more voices involved in this is because I firmly believe that there should be no one person who decides what is and isn’t worth watching. I am not the only voice in film criticism, and I definitely shouldn’t be. After all, I have blind spots both due to who I am and what I enjoy watching. That’s where guests come in. On the second Tuesday of each month, we’ll have a guest come on to recommend five(ish) movies based on a theme of their choosing. This way, a more diverse selection of films will be recommended than if it were only me picking the film. 

So, without further ado, I would like to introduce the first guest. Robert Secundus is someone for whom I have an immense amount of respect. His writing has been a massive influence on mine, and if not for his work at ComicsXF, I wouldn’t even be writing in the first place. Rob is someone whose work is always incredible and fresh, and I was absolutely ecstatic when he agreed to take the first guest spot because his taste in movies is fantastic. So rather than bore you with more housekeeping, let’s get right into it. Here’s Rob!


Hi! I’m Robert Secundus. I write mostly about comics, but I love movies too. I’ve really enjoyed the work Reagan has been doing on GateCrashers, and so I was honored and delighted to be asked to guest host Reagan’s Recs. I’m going to repeat her disclaimer that these aren’t necessarily going to be new or obscure recs—I’m a relatively normie cinephile, with tastes shaped by stuff like film twitter and the Criterion Collection. But I hope I can add an unusual perspective here. 

In my offline life, I’ve spent most of my professional career studying religious literature, and so I have a lot of thoughts on religious films. When you hear a phrase like “Christian Film” you probably think about atrocities like God’s Not Dead, or saccharine oldies like The Bells of St. Mary’s, but the truth is there’s a rich Christian tradition (or, really, traditions) in cinema that grapple with the glories and failings, the struggles and scandals, the creeds and the devotions of Christianity. There are Dantes and Miltons in cinema just as there are LeHayes. If that sort of thing sounds interesting to you, what follows is where I’d recommend you begin exploring. A lot of my favorite religious films didn’t make the list— you won’t find Doubt, Ida, Les Innocentes, In Bruges, or any of a great number of other Catholic movies, because even though Catholic literature/art is my focus, my guiding principle here was to ensure I addressed a variety of Christian aesthetic traditions. 

Andrei Rublev (1966), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky


(CW: Violence)

We’re beginning with the tradition (and the director) I understand least: Eastern Orthodoxy. The Protestants/Catholic split I can wrap my head around, because it’s centered in very clear doctrinal debates, but the Orthodox, as I understand them, don’t even conceive of the concept of “doctrine” in the same way I do. It’s a lot less catechetical and a lot more mysterious over there. Add the further complications of a religious film directed under the USSR, and you’ve got a product that I’ve got no chance whatsoever of understanding. I just know this—this biography of a medieval iconographer is intensely, incredibly beautiful.

Note: the first time I saw this movie, I was teaching at an extremely conservative institution. I wanted to give the kids a break, and we were reading some real dense Russian lit, so I thought, why not spend a class just watching some scenes from classic Russian cinema? And what better movie than the Tarkovsky flick about a monk? I watched the first half hour, picked a few scenes I definitely wanted to show them, a few to skip, and headed to class. I figured if I needed to fill time, I could just let the movie keep going. Reader: as I learned later when I finally saw the whole thing, it’s a good thing I did not do this, as I stopped the disk exactly two minutes before the appearance of an orgy of very naked witches. I was very close to losing that job. I tell this story not just because it’s funny, but because you need to know that one of the most beloved examples of religious cinema does include naked witches.

Calvary (2014), dir. John Michael McDonagh


(CW: Sexual abuse and trauma; graphic violence; violence done to animals)

This is probably the movie I understand the most of these; it’s not just the one Catholic film I’ve picked, but it’s also, specifically, a grotesque, darkly comedic Irish Catholic flick, which is extremely in my wheelhouse. The weird thing about Catholicism is that it’s, unlike the Orthodox Churches, very easy to break down doctrinally, but looking through that doctrine doesn’t really give you a good sense of what the religion is. Instead of a catechism, I’d hand someone a stack of books by Evelyn Waugh, Louise Erdritch, James Joyce, Kirsten Valdez Quade, and Toni Morrison if I wanted to give them a real sense of the actual religion as it’s lived rather than just what creed adherents claim to profess. Or maybe I’d just show them Calvary.

Calvary is directed by the far less famous brother of Martin McDonagh, John McDonagh. It’s about a priest who is told in the confessional that he’s going to be shot in seven days. It’s about how he spends those last seven days of his life. And it’s about his congregation, his community. Every single person in this movie is deeply traumatized; every person is suffering immensely. They’ve been harmed by poverty, by capitalism, by colonialism, by physical and sexual abuse. They’ve been harmed by the Catholic church, or by forces associated with it. They’ve been harmed by living in this fallen world. And they’re also all terrible people

It’s a weird experience, watching this movie; often you don’t know if you’re supposed to laugh or if you’re supposed to feel bad for laughing. It’s funny and horrifying. The characters are often sympathetic and often revolting. Monstrous things are done— and yet there’s also hope. There’s also beauty. The thing about Catholics is that their typical home decor isn’t the empty cross, signifying the resurrection, but statues of Jesus being tortured to death, and this is taken as cheery. Humor and horror, grace and suffering, hope and despair are all tied together in Catholicism. Calvary is the best movie I’ve seen that captures how that feels.

Winter Light (1963), dir. Ingmar Bergman


(CW: Suicide)

The first of our Protestants, Winter Light is the second movie in Bergman’s God Trilogy. All three are worth a watch, but Winter Light is my favorite because it’s the most exact. It’s about a few hours in the life of a Lutheran pastor as he fails to dissuade a member of his congregation from committing suicide. The title of the final movie in the trilogy, The Silence, is just as applicable to this one, as that’s what it’s really about: God’s Silence.

The thing that’s hard to convey about Christianity in this post-evangelical world is that it’s just as much a troubling thing to its devout adherents as it is a solace. There’s so much uncertainty; why does it seem like God has abandoned this world? Each of us? Why did Revelation come to an end? Why did Jesus not yet return? And Winter Light foregrounds the question that persists even if, in an act of faith, a believer is able to somehow move past the problem of God’s Silence and look still to eternity; it asks when we suffer, and when we inflict suffering, and when we sin.

First Reformed (2017), dir. Paul Schrader


(CW: Suicide, Blood, Pain)

This is the central question of my fourth pick, in which Paul Schrader sort of reimagines Winter Light in the modern day, through his Calvinist rather than Lutheran lens (and through his reaction against Catholicism, and more specifically against the kind of grotesque Catholic art that we find in Calvary; I can’t get into details without severely spoiling the film, but he picks up one of Flannery O’Connor’s most disturbing images and critiques it). The Reformed tradition really heightens the central anxieties in this Protestant artistic tradition, given the emphasis on predestination, on whether you are a member of the elect or the reprobate, on whether you from eternity are saved or damned.

Schrader’s great insight is that this very personal, individual anxiety is an extremely useful metaphor for the apocalyptic anxiety we all feel. The first three movies are all works of art that give you an idea of what it feels like to practice that faith tradition, but First Reformed finds that no matter what you believe, you know what it’s like to experience this kind of anxiety, because it’s what we all feel in this world of climate change and environmental destruction. We have broken our world. 

Again: Will God Forgive Us?

A Dark Song (2016), dir. Liam Gavin


(CW: Violence, Gore, Sexual Manipulation)

I knew when I sat down to write this list that I needed to talk about at least one horror movie (though First Reformed is arguably Calvinist Climate Horror), and I knew that I needed to talk about at least one movie about angels. A Dark Song is a movie about esoteric Christianity. Alongside all those different doctrinal traditions and feuding institutions are spiritual, mystical, and ritual traditions. A Dark Song follows two people practicing a real ritual (well, you know what I mean; a ritual that people do in our own real world) that is supposed to manifest an angel whom you can consult or ask for favors. The ritual requires total isolation, and it takes months to complete, so mostly this movie is watching two actors alone in a house draw marks of sacred geometry over and over again. It’s a slow and quiet movie; an early scare is from the distant barking of a dog. Is the ritual hokum, and is that just the outside world that they continue to ignore? Or is it real, and have they entered some spiritual plane? Is that really the sound of a dog, or is it a hound of hell

If First Reformed escalates the divine silence in Winter Light to apocalyptic horror, A Dark Song shifts it to psychological horror. It’s the movie that has best captured for me the feeling of dread and of hope that accompanies prayer and liturgy. 

The Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick

(CW: Child abuse)

I was tempted to cheat twice on this list: above with Bergman, and again here with Malick. In both cases, the impulse was to recommend whole trilogies. While I like Malick’s other movies about spirituality and sin and virtue and grace and life and death and twirling around in the golden light while music plays over a voice whispering strange and comforting things, this is the Big One. This is the one, infamously, with the dinosaurs. 

I couldn’t include so many films that attempt to grapple with the dread of silence without also offering at least one that tries to capture the feeling of presence. There’s a character in one Graham Green novel, Brighton Rock, that’s asked if he believes in hell, and he responds, thinking of all the horror and suffering he has caused and experienced, that of course he does. There isn’t a question for him that hell exists. And then he’s asked if he believes in heaven, and he stops. You get the sense that it’s not something he’s even really considered before. After a long pause, he admits that maybe. Maybe there’s such a thing. It’s possible.

It’s hard to imagine heaven. It’s hard to imagine grace. It’s hard to capture feelings of hope or joy in the face of pain and trauma. I think Malick succeeds in that, though. 

This isn’t a very linear movie. You’re not going to be able to latch onto a compelling plot or arc. Treat it like you would an extremely dumb action movie. Turn off your brain. Don’t try to make sense of it. It follows one guy as he reflects back on his childhood, on his loving mother, on his abusive father, on all the comfort and pain that his memories can bear. It’s scored as a funeral mass. And in the middle, there are, again, dinosaurs. But there are dinosaurs because, like First Reformed, this is a movie that wants to expand a personal spiritual experience to something cosmic. Instead of the end of the world, it turns to the beginning, and it finds there the same questions we are confronted with today: is our world naturally a world of suffering and horror? Or is there grace to be found there? Is it the creation of a benevolent being? If so, does it reflect His image? Or is it meaningless? Or can we fill it with meaning?


I’ve presented this whole list in a kind of amateur-anthropologist sort of way, framing each movie as a work of art that can tell you something about a cultural and aesthetic tradition you might not be all too familiar with, but I hope this last entry, in particular, shows that you don’t need to approach religious art (or at least, you don’t need to approach good religious art) from this outsider’s perspective. Put away the doctrine, the dogma, the institution, and you’ll find that, though it uses unusual tools, the religious film still asks the important questions, presents the important problems, engages with the important paradoxes and mysteries that we all encounter. The God’s Not Deads of the world are designed to heighten barriers, signal to in-groups, and increase conformity, but the First Reformeds and the Trees of Life of cinema honestly (though devoutly) acknowledge the problems and failings of their own religions while proceeding to an art that, though grounded in their very particular traditions, captures something universal. 

I hope you find a movie here that moves you, or troubles you, or brings you some measure of joy.

— Rob Secundus

Categories
Comics

I Breathed A Body and Consenting to View Violence

In Aftershock Comics’ I Breathed a Body, writer Zac Thompson once again tackles technology and our relationship to it, all while pairing it with body horror comperable to the likes of David Cronenberg.

A truth about horror is that the monster is rarely just a monster. As a general rule, the monster always represents the societal fears of the time. Just to be perfectly clear, when I say “monster,” I don’t mean literal monsters; what I’m actually referring to is the villain. For most of I Breathed a Body, there isn’t a literal monster so much as a metaphorical monster. I Breathed a Body’s villain isn’t a fish-man who has captured a damsel in distress; I Breathed a Body’s villain is instead technology and our relationship to it. More specifically, social media and how it affects our daily lives. 

Thompson has said that one of the events that inspired I Breathed a Body was a 2018 incident in which Logan Paul showed the corpse of a man who had committed suicide in Japan’s suicide forest in a vlog on his massively popular YouTube Channel. That incident, along with Elsagate; a controversy that began in November of 2017 when The New York Times published an article detailing some of the startling content that had, whether accidentally or not, slipped past YouTube’s filters and ended up on YouTube Kids, led parents to begin questioning just what their kids were watching all day on YouTube and how safe it was. 

Source: Aftershock Comics

One of the press releases for I Breathed a Body mentioned Michael Haneke’s Funny Games as a piece of media with similar aspects. I’ve been thinking about that specific reference for a while now, trying to figure out where the reference was within the text before it hit me. The reference isn’t within the text; it isn’t even subtext. Instead, the reference is metatextual; Funny Games is the title of two movies directed by Michael Haneke. The first is a 1997 German-language film, and the second is its 2007 shot-for-shot English-language remake. Both are about a family that is held hostage in their vacation home by two men who are torturing them with the titular “funny games.” Both are a commentary on the very genre of films that they belong to; Haneke never intended for Funny Games to be a horror film. His intention was always to make an incredibly violent but otherwise pointless movie and, in doing so, send a message about the kind of violence that Funny Games portrays. Funny Games is brutal. It’s difficult to watch, and yet I still watch it over and over again. I’ve seen this movie about four times now. I still feel like garbage when I get to the end and ruminate on the fact that Michael Haneke just spent one hundred and nine minutes trying to tell me that watching the events that unfolded, and being capable of feeling anything short of complete disgust, means that there is something wrong with me; some disconnect somewhere in my brain allowing me to at times enjoy the violence.

Source: Aftershock Comics

I Breathed a Body does something similar in the way that it shows graphic violence in one breath and condemns it in the next. On one panel, depicted with breathtaking art by Andy MacDonald and coloured stunningly by Triona Farrell, I Breathed a Body showcases some truly horrific body horror. Then, once the events surrounding it have unfolded, the book leaves the reader with no choice but to condemn it themselves with the knowledge that they sought this out; they chose this book specifically because they wanted to see the blood and guts and the twisted, mutilated bodies. I know that because I chose this book with that intent, the same intent with which I first watched Funny Games, as well as the intention with which I continue to rewatch it. 

Similarly to those who viewed the graphic content that was part of the two real-world controversies I mentioned earlier, and unlike the reader, the viewers in the story did not consent to see Mylo harm himself, let alone in the way that he does. In one impulsive, self-destructive act, Mylo rips himself apart live on-stream with what one can only assume are millions of people watching. For context, the video in which Logan Paul showed a dead body had amassed 6.3 million views within the twenty-four or so hours it was up for before it was deleted. That means that more than six million people saw the body of a dead man, many of them fans of Paul’s who had not sought the video out intending to see the body, expecting another typical vlog.

Source: Aftershock Comics

I was born in the year 2000. I can barely remember a world without Facebook or Twitter; sometimes, I have trouble thinking back to a time before Instagram existed. When I was fourteen years old, I signed up for my first social media platform. It was Tumblr. I signed up intending to finally have a space to yell about all of my obsessions, and while I did get that, I also got more than what I signed up for, more than what I consented to. I have at times semi-regularly received unsolicited nudes on Tumblr since I was about fifteen. On two occasions, I have been sent photos of mutilated corpses as threats in response to arguments I had taken part in. The Internet is a terrifying place even as an adult. You’re almost guaranteed to see something you didn’t consent to see. I wish I had known that when I was fourteen. 

Categories
Music

Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR is a Raw, Real Portrait of Teenage Heartbreak

Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR is an incredibly strong debut that knows exactly what it’s here to do. Every piece that makes it up is something either beloved or experienced by Rodrigo, all fitting together to create a portrait of what it’s like to be both seventeen and heartbroken. Through it all, Rodrigo’s songs are consistently raw and real, brimming with a sense of catharsis, this feeling that it is entirely necessary for her to get these words out in the world. A feeling that I and many others like me are intimately familiar with.

Running the gamut from pop-punk to acoustic ballads, SOUR captures all of the messy (sour) emotions that come with being a teenage girl, both sonically and lyrically. The opening track “brutal” is a perfect example of this, expressing all of the discomforts that come with being a teenage girl when it feels like the entire world including yourself hates you, made even worse in Rodrigo’s case by all the eyes on her thanks to her work as an actress in shows like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. In “brutal”, Rodrigo is speaking out against a system that she’s been part of since she was twelve years old as she rages against the constraints of her position as an actress and the toll that position and all of the attention that comes with it has taken on both her mental health and her self-perception.

Olivia Rodrigo in the music video for ”good 4 u” Source: Geffen/Interscope

As previously mentioned, SOUR’s sound ranges from pop-punk to ballads. The pop-punk influence is perhaps best put on display in “good 4 u” as Rodrigo addresses her ex in a way that screams catharsis, it feels reminiscent of songs like Paramore’s “Misery Business” both in terms of composition and, in terms of the overall feel of the lyrics. “good 4 u” however, turns the ire towards Rodrigo’s ex rather than directing anger towards the girl that her ex moved on to after breaking up with Rodrigo by sarcastically expressing support for her ex as they move on from their past relationship. At the same time as it feels reminiscent of Paramore, the music video for the track is filled to the brim with references to The Princess Diaries, Jennifer’s Body, and even Takashi Miike’s 1999 horror movie Audition.

In terms of the ballad end of the spectrum, songs like “drivers license”  and “traitor” express both the sorrow and anger that Rodrigo feels when she sees how quickly her ex has moved on while she’s still picking up the pieces, expressing those big emotions using bigger sounds than on the softer tracks like “enough for you”, a song that itself is concerned with the more personal insecurities felt in the wake of being left by someone who you have given so much of yourself to at a time when you’re still so unsure of who you are. Especially when that someone moves on so much quicker than you do.

Talia Ryder and Olivia Rodrigo in the music video for “deja vu” Source: Geffen/Interscope

One of the most important things that SOUR does is it never belittles Rodrigo’s feelings, she is consistently allowed to feel every emotion she expresses, never being told that she’s being over-dramatic or that these feelings will pass. As a young person who has gone through multiple messy, heart-breaking break-ups this is so refreshing. All of these emotions that are being expressed are so real and raw and relatable. SOUR is the kind of album that would have changed my life if it had existed when I broke up with my first boyfriend. SOUR is a very specific, but very necessary album and I am so happy for all of the people who will get to grow up with it out in the world. 

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Animation (May 2021)

Beyond the heavy hitters of Pixar and Disney lies a diverse world of animation that oftentimes remains unexplored by the general public. Movies like Perfect Blue, one of Satoshi Kon’s masterpieces, can become massive influences to Hollywood films (Black Swan being an example in the case of Perfect Blue), and go unseen by so many. So, in an effort to introduce some of my favourite animated movies to more people and to just get a chance to talk more about some well-known movies that I love, I’ve chosen to make this month’s theme Animation, and I’ve made the deliberate choice to include movies from multiple countries and time-periods. 

Sidenote: I am not trying to say that these are lesser-known movies. They aren’t and that is perfectly fine. I’m just telling you all to watch them. 

The Last Unicorn (1982), dir. Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass, United States

Based on Peter S. Beagle’s novel of the same name and directed by Rankin and Bass with a screenplay by Beagle, The Last Unicorn is the story of the titular last unicorn as she attempts to discover where the rest of her kind has gone. 

The Last Unicorn was animated by Topcraft, a now-defunct Japanese animation studio that would eventually become Studio Ghibli and it shows. The backgrounds are gorgeous and vibrant and aside from Eyvind Earle’s work on Sleeping Beauty (1959), are my favourite backgrounds in any movie. Interestingly enough, the unicorn tapestries that the opening credits of The Last Unicorn take their inspiration from were also a massive influence on Sleeping Beauty (a little bit more on that movie later). I’m so glad that Topcraft’s work continued even after it ceased existence. 

Aside from the animation, The Last Unicorn’s soundtrack is great and if you somehow haven’t heard the title song yet please listen to it with the understanding that I spent many a day yelling it at the top of my lungs as a child no doubt causing quite a few headaches for my parents. 

I was a unicorn kid growing up and I still adore this movie. To be perfectly honest, I still love unicorns, they’re great. 

Destino (2003), dir. Dominique Monféry, France

Destino began its life in 1945 as a collaboration between Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney. However, due to Walt Disney Studios’ financial troubles in the years surrounding the Second World War, it would not be completed until 2003. After being storyboarded for eight months by Dalí and John Hench, a short animation test was made in the hopes that interest in the project could be rekindled. Instead, it was put on indefinite hiatus. 

It wasn’t until 1999 when Roy E. Disney discovered the project while working on Fantasia 2000 that Destino would get a second chance. Walt Disney Studios Paris would be tasked with completing the project. After deciphering Dalí and Hench’s storyboards, the team of 25 animators led by director Dominique Monféry brought the ill-fated love story of Chronos and a mortal woman named Dahlia to life using a mixture of traditional animation (including Hench’s original animation test) and computer animation. 

Destino is a one-of-a-kind short film that very nearly didn’t exist, it’s one of those rare pieces of media that has a backstory as interesting as the actual plot and very specially in the case of this short film, the imagery. Dalí’s work and influence are plain to see in this. After all, it even has a melting clock. 

Princess Mononoke (1997), dir. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan

Princess Mononoke is one of Miyazaki’s many masterpieces. A nuanced story that explores environmental themes through a story about nature spirits, Princess Mononoke is a must-see. It has the gorgeous art you would expect from a Studio Ghibli movie and more than delivers on the heart aspect. 

The first time I saw Princess Mononoke, all I could do was marvel at the fact that someone was able to just come up with that story. It was (and continues to be) astounding to me that someone had the vision for this movie floating around in their head and was able to bring it from a kernel of an idea to a fully formed plot. Of all of his films, Princess Mononoke is easily Miyazaki’s masterpiece. It’s nuanced and gorgeous and it’s in my favourites on Letterboxd for a reason. 

Also, it features Gillian Anderson as a wolf which is far more than can be said for most other movies. 

Song of the Sea (2014), dir. Tomm Moore, Ireland

Song of the Sea is the equally gorgeous follow up to The Secret of Kells (2009), the first film in director Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy” which concluded with 2020’s Wolfwalkers.

The film follows Ben, a ten-year-old boy who discovers that his sister Saoirse is a selkie (a mythological being who can change from human to seal by shedding her skin), just like their mother was. Ben is antagonistic to his sister Saorsie, something that is clearly a part of the grief he feels at the loss of his mother, which he feels his younger sister played a part in. At the same time, Ben and Saorsie’s father is grieving the loss of his wife in a way that prevents him from taking proper care of his children, leading their grandmother to take them away to live with her in the city. 

Song of the Sea is a story about grief and how different people process it. Ben aims his anger at his sister, his father Conor shuts down, and the villain Macha decides that perhaps emotions aren’t worth it when they hurt so much. It’s always lovely to see animation tackle complicated themes, and it’s even nicer when those themes are not frequently explored in a realm of filmmaking usually reserved for children’s films. Tomm Moore is a masterful storyteller for being able to fit so much magic and heartfelt emotion into his works and I am so excited to see what he does next. 

Sleeping Beauty (1959), dir. Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Clyde Geromini, and Les Clark, United States 

When I started this I told myself I would stay away from Disney and yet here I am with two entries by Disney. How the mighty have fallen. 

Sleeping Beauty deserves to be on this list if only because of how gorgeous the art is. Drawing on both medieval art and art deco, Sleeping Beauty is both beautiful and distinctive. Eyvind Earle’s backgrounds are some of my favourite work in any animated film ever and continue to be massively influential (see: The Answer, an episode of Steven Universe). One look and it isn’t hard to see why I love the art as much as I do. 

As well, the music which is heavily based on Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty is phenomenal. George Bruns (One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone) does an incredible job of blending Tchaikovsky’s work with his own and the end result is nothing short of amazing. 

Also, Skumps slaps. 

The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021), dir. Michael Rianda, United States

Look. I know this is a new movie and is also super well-known. Odds are that you’ve seen this one by now which is totally fine, if that is the case then feel free to skip this section and focus on the previous five recommendations.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines was not going to be part of this until almost the last minute but after seeing it last week, I knew I just had to talk about it. I get affected by movies in many ways and this one affected me deeply and made me so happy that kids who are like I was; a bizarre film nerd who’s just discovering her identity as a queer person, will have this movie as they grow up. When I first noticed the writing on Katie’s hands I broke out into a grin because I still almost constantly have notes written on my hand in various colours of ink. Katie is the kind of character that I would never have let go of as a kid.

Beyond Katie, this movie is so heartfelt as it shows us a messy family and the fraught relationship between a father and a daughter who’s on the cusp of adulthood in ways that I’ve never really seen in an animated movie, and to think it does all of this with a robot apocalypse happening. 

Mitchells vs The Machines is just another bit of proof that Sony Animation knows what they’re doing and that Hollywood animation is able to rise to the occasion and deliver some real gems. Please, if you haven’t already taken the time to watch it, do so. 


I’ll be back next month with more recs, but in case you missed the last column, check it out here.

Categories
Film

Here Are Our Picks For The 93rd Academy Awards

The Oscars are the biggest night in Hollywood. Since 1929, the best the film industry has to offer have gathered together in Los Angeles to honour their accomplishments. At the same time as the créme de la créme gather in the Dolby Theatre, movie lovers across the world will be watching and hoping to see their favourites win. This year, we decided to get in on the fun. So, without further ado here are our picks for the 93rd Academy Awards.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Foreign Films (April 2021)

In 2019, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won the Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. In his acceptance speech for Best Director, Bong challenged attendees and viewers alike to expand their horizons and explore the wide world of film, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” So let’s do just that, let’s overcome the one-inch barrier.

But first, a quick definition of what I’m considering a foreign film. As a Canadian, by the strictest, most literal definition, any movie made outside of Canada could be considered a foreign film. For the purposes of this series, I will be using the standard definition of foreign films which is generally any film made outside of North America and in a language other than English. It’s worth acknowledging the fact that there are many issues with this definition as it comes from an americentric point of view and boils down the many and varied film traditions across the world into a single category.

Parasite (2019) dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea

(CW: Parasite contains depictions of violence and a relationship between a college-age tutor and his teenage student)

A Best Picture and Palme D’or winner (one of three films to win both of awards), Parasite holds up to the hype. Clocking in at 133 minutes, Parasite never feels like it drags, every scene is there because it needs to be there.

Each of the three acts of Parasite feel distinct both in genre and atmosphere with the movie gaining a progressively darker tone as it goes on and as the Kim family falls deeper and deeper into their deceptions. There is a reason why Parasite is as awarded as it is and that reason is because it’s one of the best movies of the last decade. A must-see.

Dead Pigs (2018) dir. Cathy Yan, China

(CW: Dead Pigs contains footage of dead pigs)

Despite premiering at Sundance in 2018, Cathy Yan (Birds of Prey)’s directorial debut wasn’t widely available until February of 2021 when it was released on Mubi. Mostly in Mandarin with a few scenes in English, When compared with Birds of Prey, Dead Pigs makes a case for Yan to be considered an auteur.

Intertwining multiple storylines featuring an incredible ensemble cast, Dead Pigs is an exploration of late-stage capitalism in China and the people it affects. Combining true events (like a 2013 incident in which tens of thousands of dead pigs floated down the Yangtze River towards Shanghai) with a fictional narrative, Dead Pigs is as stylish and fun as it is meaningful and is well worth taking a look at if you enjoyed Birds of Prey.

Gojira (1954) dir. Ishiro Honda, Japan

(CW: Gojira contains scenes of Kaiju destruction)

Perhaps the most famous monster movie of all time, Gojira is the film that launched the Godzilla franchise and created a pop culture icon. A truly harrowing warning of the dangers of nuclear testing, Gojira is a direct response to the final journey of the Lucky Dragon No 5, a japanese fishing boat that was caught in the radioactive fallout of the Castle Bravo test nine months prior to the movie’s release.

Gojira is considered a masterpiece for a reason. From the story to the special effects, everything about it is absolutely incredible. After watching the movie, the Criterion Collection’s commentary track by David Kalat is well worth checking out for the way it both expands on the themes and offers behind the scenes details. Alongside being a masterpiece in its own right, Gojira essentially created the kaiju genre and continues to have an impact to this day.

Raw (2016) dir. Julia Ducournau, France

(CW: Raw contains gore and depictions of cannibalism)

Not for the squeamish, Raw combines a coming of age story with a horror movie. Following a hazing ritual that leads to her eating meat for the first time, life-long vegetarian Justine (Garrance Mariller) is struck with a craving for meat that intensifies over time, eventually leading her to develop a taste for human flesh.

I’ll admit that Raw is a movie that I have a personal connection to as it was the first foreign film I ever saw. I remember hearing about this new french horror movie about a girl who becomes a cannibal and how it was a must-see and then, about a year after first hearing about it I remember sneaking downstairs late at night and turning the TV to the lowest possible volume setting to sneakily watch it as it was broadcast on The Movie Network, desperately hoping that my mom wouldn’t walk down the stairs and catch me in the act of watching a movie she would disapprove of. Raw is not for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, by all means check it out.

Woman in the Dunes (1964) dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan

(CW: Woman in the Dunes contains depictions of sexual assault)

A masterpiece of Japanese New Wave based on Kobo Abe’s 1962 novel of the same name. Woman in the Dunes follows an amateur entomologist (Eiji Okada) as he is tricked by villagers he encounters on an expedition into living with a widow (Kyoko Kishida) in an ever encroaching sandpit, helping her dig sand to be sold by the villagers. As the story plays out, the film explores themes of societal pressure to fulfill set roles and isolation. Throughout the film, Hiroshi Segawa masterfully utilizes both wide angled shots and extreme close-ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that allows you to feel as trapped as the protagonist does.