Genevieve Valentine's Blog, page 7

September 24, 2014

X-Files Lite classic nonsense plot machine Sleepy Hollow came back last night!



Group hug. (This is the version of Ichabod that Moloch generated in Purgatory to confuse her and trick her into staying forever; he liked hugging her as much as the other Ichabod likes hugging her. It's just that kind of show.)

My io9 recaps have, accordingly, also come back. I was barely able to keep up with all the shenanigans this week, because while they thought the Purgatory fake-out in the cold open was awesome, it also wasted all the time they could have spent on things like Abbie and the dollhouse of her childhood projections who might have been of some use, and instead went right to the part where Benjamin Franklin's magical key could get her out of purgatory so run for it RUN RUN COMMERCIALS ARE COMING JUST RUN. (Technically I guess that is a spoiler for the episode, but one of the best things about the show is that it's almost impossible to spoil anything because it's all such a goof palace that you could describe the episode blow-by-blow to someone and they would still have to experience the shirtless Headless Horseman pausing to give Katrina a look at the goods for themselves to really get it. This show is spoilerproof.)

I do worry slightly that, since we've apparently moved beyond the personal angst of the first season, we'll be losing the version of Abbie that's Dealing With Stuff, which is a shame, because her best moments last season often involved the slightly more dramatic material. (Her scene with Corbin in the second episode of last season where she's trying to be super-practical through her tears is still one of my favorites.) I mean, I enjoy some funtimes mugging as much as the next person, but I'm not sure I'd like a show that was all that, all the time.



That said, her utterly Over It summoning over Hell's telephone – "Ichabod Crane" delivered in the most disgusted tone you can imagine – was pretty good.



And in fairness to her, this is the guy she was summoning, so I can understand her being a little concerned about him. (The crossbow has a laser sight. He uses it to fire on the Horseman after Abbie spends both her enormous guns' worth of consecrated rounds. He does the drop-and-roll to reach the shelter of a huge stuffed armchair. Welcome back, show.)

And now that they've firmly established themselves in the bitching-about-Founding-Fathers milieu, I hope they can expand their list of tropes and do some experimenting. We're already there, if you ask me.



I mean, you can tell me this is not a Legend shout-out with imaginary Tangerine Dream soundtrack. I am not going to believe you.
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Published on September 24, 2014 08:27 • 14 views

September 19, 2014



Opening titles, from Art of the Title

This weekend is the last before the rush of fall shows. Let's all breathe it in for a second. Monday, Sleepy Hollow returns to us, and I'll be recapping them at io9 with screencaps at the ready! For those who want to catch up, the recaps for season one are right here, complete with a truly embarrassing number of screencaps of their height difference, their priceless reaction shots, and the many dozens of creepy locations that are apparently just sitting around in Sleepy Hollow and no one ever thought twice about before all the demons showed up. (Oh show, I cannot wait for Monday, come back soon.)

October 2, Reign returns, and I'll be covering it at AV Club for some weeks at the start of the season; I promise I'll be recording the fashion as best I can over here, no matter what thematic quagmires we find ourselves wading through over at AVC. Also over here: our running tally of people Catherine tries to poison, which I will forever regret not doing for season one, because the bottle episode alone was like 12 dudes.

Not all shows are waiting for the fall, though; Boardwalk Empire began its fifth and final season two weeks ago, and is moving forward in literal leaps and bounds, as it jumped six years in the future and is trying to wrap everything up in only eight episodes this time around, which is not an easy gig with a cast this big, a time jump this significant, and a deliberate pace that tends to let its subplots unfurl like the fronds of a delicate fern that's packing like three guns.

The season premiere, "Golden Days for Boys and Girls," was solid but not as sharp as it could have been; last week's episode, "The Good Listener," managed to juggle about eight subplots very gracefully in forming a larger picture of a moment in time, which is one of the things this show, at its best, does beautifully. It was an episode of people desperately trying ti wriggle out from under the powers that hold them.

This is probably not the end of television stuff I can't stop talking about; we've barely gotten into how The Quest managed to turn some really rocky game theory and some truly amazing semi-impromptu acting into the goofiest feel-good competitive reality TV ending ever. Until then, though, it's Boardwalk and Sleepy Hollow for me!
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Published on September 19, 2014 09:06 • 12 views

September 11, 2014

A couple of announcements! First, if I have not announced it already: I'll be a Guest of Honor at Capclave this October, alongside Holly Black and Paolo Bacigalupi!

The convention is the weekend of October 10. When not heckling Holly from the audience of whatever panels she's doing, I hope to be talking about movies, TV, writing as a day job, and whatever else they decide to ask me and/or I can't stop talking about.

I'll also have a special project on sale there: my first-ever novella, DREAM HOUSES. It will be a limited print edition, the first 250 of which will be signed. (Cover below; I dig the art, but that '70s space-movie tagline may or may not be my favorite part.)

It takes a certain type to crew a ship that drops you seven years at a time into the Deep. Kite-class cargo ships like Menkalinan get burned-out veterans, techs who’ve been warned off-planet, medics who weren’t much good on the ground. The Gliese-D run isn’t quite the end of the line, but it’s getting there. No cachet, no rewards, no future; their trading posts get Kites full of cargo that the crew never ask questions about, because if it’s headed for Gliese-D, it’s probably something nobody wanted.

A year into the Deep, Amadis Reyes wakes up. Menkalinan is sounding the alarm; something’s wrong. The rest of the crew are dead.

That’s not even what’s wrong.


It's SF about survival, space, motets, and deer, and I'm very excited to share it with you.
Online pre-orders are available at the WSFA Press site. (For those who prefer their books in pixels, I hope to have some news soon about a possible e-edition!)

And for those coming to Capclave, I'll see you there!
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Published on September 11, 2014 09:07 • 57 views

September 1, 2014

The list of celebrities who had their pictures stolen numbers over seventy-five. Some of them aren't even capitalized; not names, really. They're just folders where the prizes go.

Jennifer Lawrence is on the list. Perez Hilton posted those, for those who might otherwise have had trouble finding them fast enough. The question went out quick on its heels: Is her career over?

*

Being a woman with any degree of public life in the age of social media is to be constantly sandblasted; you know the sand was always there, but the sheer force and volume with which it hits you isn't something you can ever get used to. You have to brace yourself to turn on your computer; stepping out your door becomes a thing you have to armor against.

Many of them are such small things, but there are so, so many, and there are always more.

It's suggested, often, that women develop thicker skins; before that can happen, of course, the sandblasting would have to stop.

*

This week, Anita Sarkeesian put out a new video in her series on Tropes vs Women in Video Games, dealing with women as wallpaper in the context of being the victims of violence, to set a gritty scene or serve as motivation for the hero to find the bad guy. In Assassin's Creed, we follow a fleeing villain through the city; if you time it right and stay far enough away not to engage, he'll kill as many prostitutes as he has to just to get your attention.

It brought on possibly the greatest-yet volley from gamers who took offense to the idea that displaying the sexualized bodies of women victims was wrong. The argument quickly solidified into "It's just video games, they're not real, and they're only reflecting real-life violence, so it's the world that's the problem," delivered in what one has to imagine is a ceaseless pterodactyl screech of ruined fun.

Some accused her of cherry-picking her examples (from twenty-five games). Others called out factual errors. Regarding Mafia 2: Joe's Adventures, someone pointed out that Sarkeesian had been misrepresenting the scene in which the men have a firefight over the body of a dead pole dancer; the description was, he insisted, because the player must kill her and drag her body to the stage before the firefight can even begin.

I looked for that comment again. I didn't find it, but there were several search results.

One, a YouTube tip on game play: "you have to kill her then you can rob the store".

Another, a list of "10 Hot Exotic Dancers in Videogames." (The Mafia 2 ladies come midway through the rankings, beneath the women in Yakuza 3: "They’re not the prettiest and aren't great dancers but they’ll get the job done!")

Another, a link to a topic on a gaming-questions website: "Why can't I beat women in this game?"

*

An excerpt from Helen Garner's This House of Grief:

"Having recently watched a bunch of blokes pour a concrete slab in my own backyard, I was equipped to imagine the effect of this sight in Cindy Farquarson's stifling situation. A concrete pour is a dramatic process. It demands skill, speed, strength, and the confident handling of machinery; and it is so intensely, symbolically masculine that every woman and boy in the vicinity is drawn to it in excited respect. Spellbound on the back veranda between my two grandsons, I remembered Camille Paglia's coat-trailing remark that if women were running the world, we'd still be living in grass huts. "

*

From Phil Blankenship on Twitter, a Facebook screencap of someone using the name Daniel Del Pozzo.

"If you call yourself my friend, you will send me links to the pictures with Jennifer Lawrence, Victoria Justice, Ariana Grande (even though she claims they are fake) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead...oh and I also heard Emma Stone was one. Please and thank you."

He's updated the post with those he's seen, as if to reassure everyone it isn't as if he's gross, he's not greedy about it; he's just choosing off a menu, that's all.

*

The last line on the screencapped list of stolen pictures reads, "plus a show of alison brie and dave franco." He's the only guy whose name appears on the list; it's a content warning, in case you don't want a guy to ruin the fantasy.

*

Anita Sarkeesian received what is apparently the usual number of death threats upon release of this latest video. Some, however, were so violently specific that she alerted police, made them public, and left her home. (Those threats are screencapped here, though all possible trigger warning apply.)

Some gamers accused her of making these up. They threatened to kill her for it.

*

Some people have replied to the celebrities directly on Twitter, a sandblast of shame. What did they expect, taking photos on their personal phones intended only for the recipients? Privacy? Then this serves them right, apparently, somehow.

A screencap by @scotchka, of tweets sent to Mary Elizabeth Winstead since deleted from somoene whose handle begins @JohnnyMP:

"You deserved this because a girl like you would never date me in real life no matter how nice and courteous I was. Karma!"

"Sorry but it's not fair that only the guys of your choosing get to see the photos while the ugly, less fortunate guys do not."

*

Sonia Saraiya is a TV editor at AV Club, (where, for the sake of disclosure, I write TV reviews). Recently, one commenter went through four years of her Twitter and Tumblr to pull comments critical of white men, linked the resulting graphic in the comments at AV Club, and agitated for her to lose her job.

There are a dozen comments in the image (helpfully titled "Sonia's views on race" and assembled in what seems to be a frenzy of beginner Freudian design). It's not clear, due to the design, if all of them are hers, or where they're from. Some are small, clustered together as if to downplay the effort that must have gone into finding them all. Some are displayed prominently and centrally; the prizes. (The comments are not particularly important; the important thing is to remind her she's being watched.)

The centerpiece, large and offset with framing clips in dark gray that draw attention to this as a significant offense: "let's talk about how done i am with straight white men trying to explain things to me about GoT or anything else, really"

She didn't say it; a minor detail.

*

If Jennifer Lawrence had done a sex scene, her nudity would have been the talk of the press junket; they would have asked how she prepared, how much she dieted (of course she would have dieted, and of course it would come up - the size of her body has been public discourse for a while). Maybe they'd ask what her parents thought, but maybe she's old enough now that it's off the list of questions worth asking. Someone would have called up Mystique, and made a makeup joke.

It would be considered one of the many career milestones of a promising actress. The Academy Award gives her the protection to do the occasional nude scene; doing a nude scene can lead to the protection of an Academy Award, but it's a longer shot. Better to have the statue first.

If Jennifer Lawrence had done a nude scene, it would have been a performance. We would all have seen her body, gotten the usual thrill that accompanies the concept, and been finished.

Of course, it would be overanalyzed and screencapped and fetishized by everything from thinspo blogs to porn sites. But it would not have been as appealing as this crime is, now, to the people to whom it appeals. These photos are in demand because they are a thing she did for herself that got stolen from her. That's the draw. That's the prize.

*

A headline in the Telegraph, this week: "Mother of three poised to lead the BBC".


*

Since the stolen pictures were announced, they've apparently been the subject of discussion on a subreddit; The Fappening has begun tracking access problems to the "latest release."

Neetzan Zimmerman tweeted a screenshot of the announcement that the photos had been made unavailable:

The central comment:

"This is the fork in the road.

Reddit is officially a censorship based website.

No more free speech for us."

*

Jennifer Lawrence's career is not over. Scarlett Johansson's career wasn't over when her nude pictures were stolen. The advantage of being able to afford legal teams is that you can redress wrongs committed against you.

What she can't get back, of course, is the feeling that any part of her is safe from criminal commodification. As a public figure, it's considered a serious possibility that being the victim of theft might endanger her career. As a private citizen – well, she isn't now, is she? That's gone.

That's the appeal of the photos, of course. Photoshops of Playboy models with Jennifer Lawrence's head pasted on wouldn't be nearly worth what these are worth. The act of violation is what makes the results so valuable; they're in demand because she made them for herself, and you can take that from her just by looking.

The lawyers will shut down the distribution, but that's hardly the point.

Women are being watched. Women are never safe. The goal is always to strip you, of anything, of everything; the hunt is on.

Tomorrow morning, step outside.
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Published on September 01, 2014 15:11 • 142 views

August 26, 2014

[Before we get to current fashion, I have an article at The Toast about Victorian rational dress and cycling, "I don't think I'll venture on dual garmenture".]

Ah, the Emmys. The Emmys can mean a lot of things. An evening to honor the year’s most awardable TV shows based on a complicated rubric in which actual quality is often way down the list; a way for designers and stylists to begin the complicated mating dance that will eventually culminate in the Oscars – or, for a lucky few, the Met Costume Institute Gala. For us at home, it's a chance to celebrate the increasingly murky TV/movie divide, and get early hints about what the Stylists' Guild has in mind for us in the coming red carpet season, just like whatever the first vegetables are that bloom in a season of however long growing stuff takes, I know shockingly little about vegetables.

It was, by and large, a lovely and tasteful year on the red carpet for the Emmys, an awards ceremony in which almost everyone has realized the cost-benefit analysis of hiring whoever needs hiring to make you look effortlessly, fashionably employable. I appreciate that. I also appreciate everyone who showed up looking slightly ridiculous, because they serve a useful purpose, just like things in a vegetable patch that provide shade and whatever even though they're probably poisonous.

Let's run down this red carpet.



My pick for look of the night: Robin Wright showed up in a long-sleeve faux-tux backless pantsuit and no jewelry, and it looked damn good. (Yes, she has that weird hem red carpet pants so often do where it looks like your legs are just tubes instead of having feet and shoes, but ugh, look at this, it's a pass.)

But honestly, it was a tough call this year. Deco looks poised to be a huge trend this red carpet season, so a lot of people looked pretty great.



LOOKIN' GREAT DIVISION



Amanda Crew, whose work I had to look up because I've never watched an episode of Silicon Valley, in what is a serious contender for my look of the night. The t-shirt formal is a tricky but rewarding silhoutte, and the creeping Deco ivy of her embellishment is gorgeous without taking over the lines of of the dress. It's like the most beautiful silver filigree wedding dish in the world, and I love it.





Taissa Farmiga. God help me, I think this dress is so fantastically, fascinatingly oddball that I love it impossibly much. It's like a horror move broke out during a bridal shower, neck-first. What a delight.




Lizzy Caplan, whose dress was a gorgeous, chic black cutout dress, and a white train that honestly did nothing for the rest of the silhouette except to declare that she was prepared to walk all the way up to that podium with all that white trailing behind her and pick up a freaking Emmy if she got even a sliver of a chance to do it. I'm not sure if she ever really thought she had a chance, but I like to think this operated as a pysch-out on her way across the red carpet. There will be another season of Masters of Sex, and oh, Lizzy Caplan will be ready.




Melissa McCarthy, who I always love when she goes slightly starker on the red carpet, and whose dress manages to carry several textures in harmony.




Kate McKinnon, whose dress I am way into even if I am not 100% certain of the logistics of the lining in the vest.




Allison Tolman, in a lovely ball gown in a delightful color for her, whose stylists have made me realize the evergreen problems of a one-shoulder dress with long hair if you want to leave some of it down. Does it meet the shoulder of your dress, creating an unbroken line that, if someone played around with the settings on her graphics program late at night when she should have been asleep, looks like her hair has melted onto her dress into one Godiva mass? One would think not, but to move it to the opposite shoulder ruins the empty-shoulder effect you want from a one-shoulder gown in the first place! And yet why half-down hair instead of a soft updo that would give you the best of both shoulders? I need a decision tree on this, there is a lot going on.




Mayim Bialik, going Liz the First But With Attached Pockets in a my favorite shade of purple (that shade of purple is Essentially Blue), and a ferns-and-daises lace that's kind of better the more of it there is, which is not something you can say about all laces.




Amy Poehler, to whom the phrase "What if it was Deco but super casual, with like, sexy beach hair?" was palpably uttered.




Julianna Marguiles, who clearly knew on her way in that she was walking away with the statue.




Michelle Dockery. I love the shape and drape of this dress so much, and the pink and the blue are both stunning. (The green's a harder sell, but the look still works.)




Christine Baranski, in my favorite cape.




Kim Dickens, who approaches everything with the all-business mein you secretly hope for from Kim Dickens, is wearing this dress like it's the most utilitarian possible dress for reasons that aren't your business, and there's a bangle belt around her waist and a clutch in her hand and she's supposed to be showing them both off so here they are, shiny, doing just what they're shined here to do.




A lot of the women on the carpet belonged to a single show that the Emmys quietly ignored!

LITERALLY JUST PEOPLE FROM ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK DIVISION



Laverne Cox, in an honest-to-god Wonder Woman formal dress. (I did not think I would have to qualify this, but I have to: of all the drape-capes that appeared on the red carpet last night, it's my second favorite.)




Uzo Aduba, looking fantastic, though if we are being honest I could do without the chiffon ruffly bit on the mermaid tail. Still, it's an amazing look. Also a good reference for when someone says "The bangle bracelet makes the outfit really sing" and you think "How can a bracelet possibly do that much work?" And yet, here we are.




Kate Mulgrew, whose subdued dress and amazingly careless sheer sleeves look straight-up like she's here for a Tony, somehow. (Not a bad thing.)




Samira Wiley, in the Lemon Curd version of the Original Barbie Dress we will be seeing a lot this evening, and which will never be my favorite silhouette, but it's a stunning color on her even if the seams look like points of articulation on a formal-event action figure.




Danielle Brooks, lover of geometric lace, wearer of a skirt whose slit was one design element too many.




Taylor Schilling, whose dress was a nicely Deco beige business until she started talking about how her clutch only had a phone in it because there was a team of people assigned to carry the stuff she actually had to use later, with the unspoken subtext that it both amused and quietly frightened her, so she's still wearing a nicely Deco beige business, but she's well, well aware.




Laura Prepon, in a gorgeous color, and a silhouette that thanks to Project Runway the nation already knows as "overworked."




Natasha Lyonne, in a dress that felt less like its own dress than a Kate Mulgrew Practice Dress, somehow, and that's just fine.



Not to be outdone, Game of Thrones sent every woman it could find who had the time, either from hiatus or from being killed already.

GAME OF THRONES DIVISION




Lena Headey always dresses like the head of a vaguely post-apocalyptic punk enclave who has to dress well because the punk enclave demands it but who has clearly barely ground out her cigarette butt on the hand of a willing underling before the picture was taken. I adore it.




Sibel Kekilli, looking elegant and lovely, and reminding us that the bangle belt is happening all around us.




Rose Leslie, who is being amazing in Utopia and I hope we can all start officially talking about it soon, in a way I don't really feel like saying much about this dress, except that the very-close colorblocking combined with her hair looks slightly like a really fancy drowned ghost, and I'm into it.




Natalie Dormer, in a very interesting dress whose lines and colorblocking are interesting even if things seme to get a little murky past the knees, literally cannot stop making this face. I have four pictures of her from different points on the carpet both posed and candid, and she is either making this face or caught in the desperate effort to make this face as quickly as possible before the shutter goes off. From an objective standpoint I suppose we can all admire that level of commitment to a shtick, and you might as well, since she's never stopping.




In terms of trends in color, the red carpet saw more white than the Emmy winners themselves (TIMELY)!

OPTIC WHITE DIVISION



Sofia Vergara, Eyebrow-Raising Platform Spinnee, is almost always in a bombshell dress. Less often is she wearing the gown of Arachne Venomina, Queen of the Space Spiders, and suddenly that seems a shame, because why wouldn't you?




Angela Bassett, who looks stunning even (especially?) if that's gold braid on her cuffs.




Anna Chlumsky, in another great '30s throwback, and the facial expression of someone who's just realized she dressed to match the Emmys photo wall and there's nothing she can do about it now.




Michelle Monaghan, who went Full Bacall for this red carpet and then added the world's shiniest spike heels, which are both so fabulous and so uncomfortable I'm afraid to look right at them.




Lucy Liu, whose dress is almost amazing except right in the bodice region, where things begin to look like she decided to do a quick plaster cast of herself so it could dry in the sun.




Retta, wearing a perfect accent sash and an overskirt that looks like sheer curtains from the honeymoon suite, which, if you must, is the very nicest place from which to snag your sheer curtains.



But it wasn't the only standout color on the carpet!

LADY IN RED SMOOTH JAZZ DIVISION



Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose kiss bit with Bryan Cranston was funnier than the entire season of Modern Family that won the award last night, has made a red-carpet habit of wearing perfectly nice dresses that pretend to nothing else – usually not overly fussy, overly shiny, overly anything. It's a good game plan when you're in it for the long haul. I love the little details on this that make it interesting; the necklace and pleated top look perfect together, and do what my grandmother told me and must have also told Julia every dress should do, and draw attention to your lovely face.




Octavia Spencer, who is wearing a perfectly lovely dress with most of another perfectly lovely dress draped on top of it for no particular reason, but who cuts so fine a figure that I'll just assume the beads fell off the bottom dress in the cab and woodland creatures descended with the chiffon business to help out.



Christin Hendricks, whose dress has some outstanding embroidery, whose ears have some outstanding earrings, and whose silhouette suffers from Red Carpet Action Figture Articulation right above the knee.




January Jones, who is so done she's delivering this dress-wearing performance from space, in a dress that benefits enormously from a high-low hemline lined in black to frame a pair of questionable witch shoes, and which, in a year of Deco influence, does not benefit at all from looking like it's made out of Deco couch fabric.




Claire Danes; once I would have tried to like this dress and its busy necklace and its oddly loose studded evening belt, but it's just never going to work, just like Claire Danes for me.




Mindy Kaling, another victim of Red Carpet Action Figure Articulation Effect.




I AM REALLY NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO YOUR NEW SHOWS DIVISION

Small, but necessary.




Debra Messing, who will not be wearing this dress for long once she starts playing a woman whose life involves being a cop who is also attempting to raise children, SIMULTANEOUSLY.




And Kate Walsh, sunniest mermaid of them all, who will be playing a woman who is also attempting to be a judge, SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Truly, it's a golden age.



And speaking of golden, every year a few people decide they're going to dress in something that's a pile of nonsense just to give people like me something to talk about, and I appreciate it so, so much.


THANK YOU FOR BEIN' A FRIEND DIVISON



Kiernan Shipka. The the thing is, this dress looks amazing...from one angle. At this angle it looks like she's cosplaying the Fortress of Solitude with a single belt that's already fallen off in back so she's pinned her arms to her sides to try to keep it on until judging..




Sarah Paulson, bravely soldiering on through a seasonal attack by a swarm of laser pointers.




Viola Davis. I love the color, but that bodice is literally Golden Girls material, so this dress could not go anywhere else.




Color amazing. Neckline, perfect. The rest? Remember the Borrowers, where they would make dresses out of hair bows and everything and the scale was always way off because they were tiny people and the velvet hair bows of the world were so super big? Yeah. Anyway, here's Allison Janney.




Kate Mara. I've begun to find it comforting that wherever there's a red carpet, Kate Mara will show up there in a dress that inevitably looks like it perished of acidic sadness on its way onto her body.




Kaley Kuoco, who honestly just has to be kidding me.




Look at Lena Dunham's face, though. She knows. She knows. This Fauntleroy haircut and melting-pipe-cleaner ombre? It's on purpose. She will MAKE you look.




Julia Roberts, whose dress has contracted the kind of maritime buildup that usually only boats get.




Anna Gunn in what is, for reasons only she can know, an exact replica of one someone wore to Homecoming my freshmen year of high school, when everyone involved was fourteen years old, and even then it seemed a little twee.




Katherine Heigl, the fanciest ambassador the 1701-D has ever hosted.




Kerry Washington, wearing a Magic Eye dress that's trimmed so she looks like the glitter outline of a 2D paper doll.




Julie Bowen, wearing a Magic Eye dress that's the embodiment of how everyone feels about the show she's on.




And Betsy Brandt. Sure, the show might have been almost impossibly bleak in its final season, but Brandt wanted to make sure we could all end on a laugh, and I respect that. She didn't wear this dress for herself, okay? She wore this dress for all of us.
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Published on August 26, 2014 13:03 • 71 views

August 25, 2014

I have an article up at The Toast today! "'I don't think I'll venture on dual garmenture': Rational Dress and the Politics of Biking" discusses pretty much what it says on the tin, including rib-crunching, satirical poetry, seltzer sponsorship, and Aesthetic Dress as the theater kids.

Research for this was delightful.





Above are two of my favorite political cartoons and two of my favorite advertisements on the subject, at the far ends of the cultural response to Victorian biking costume: Terror that those ladies would go getting newfangled ideas in their heads...and how cool they would look if they did. (Please note that the adorable proposal has interrupted a meal, something about which the artist was clearly concerned.)

This article was a blast to write, and I'm so happy it found a home at The Toast. You can read it there!

(Sources: cartoons via, posters Wikimedia and Retrocatch).
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Published on August 25, 2014 14:27 • 25 views

August 22, 2014

A few things I've badmouthed (or otherwise) recently:

Over at io9, I talk about some things Universal can keep in mind when adapting those fourteen Anne Rice vampire books they just bought. (I didn't realize I had any feelings about it, but then suddenly I was thirteen and buying a copy of Premiere magazine I still own with a huge behind-the-scenes article that fascinated me as much as the movie did.) Surely for something that ambitious they have a game plan, but if they haven't already considered the toxic-aristocrats angle of enormously rich vampires who literally feed off the lower classes AND the angle where they eat hearts and stomp around in huge immortal snits, then now's the time to consider them, is all I'm saying.

At Philly Weekly, I talked a little about
Over at AV Club, I reviewed Happy Valley, which is a very tense, often bleak story of crime in a small town and the officer who ends up investigating half by accident. The performances are all pitch-perfect and the depth of its lead role – a policewoman in the twilight of her forties with a complicated home life and career setbacks – is fantastic. It helps that the miniseries manages to avoid the worst cliches of either, and left some interesting ambiguities (among a few things that felt a little easy). Let me stress that while I found it totally absorbing, I was not kidding about the "grueling" part either; the first Sally Wainwright thing I ever saw was Sparkhouse, the Wuthering Heights modern retelling with bonus genderflip (and a tiny baby Holliday Grainger), so I was prepared for hours of bleakness with tiny glimpses of hope. That turned out to be for the best.

AV Club is also celebrating its 1994 week. In the midst of preparing a pitch about Hackers for 1995, because I will never not want to talk about that movie, I participated in an inventory of pop-culture notables from '94, including The Crow, the beginning of Turner Classic Movies, and four Chinese art-house flicks that made their mark. And in other things that remind me of decades past, I'll start recapping the so-X-Files-you-can't-imagine The Intruders this weekend!


In life stuff, I went to the Met with a friend, and found these two statues of women and their monsters.



On the left, Domenico Guidi's "Andromeda and the Sea Monster," moments before the rescue (one hopes). On the right, a 15th century statue of St. Margaret of Antioch, who was swallowed by a dragon but secured her release by making the sign of the cross, at which she burst forth whole from its body.
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Published on August 22, 2014 06:46 • 22 views

August 20, 2014

The cover for Catwoman 36 has been released! I missed the Mary Sue exclusive reveal last week, but am glad to see people seem to be into Jae Lee's cover art. I'm so excited about this pared-down cover style, which we revealed in the initial announcement and I voted one million percent to carry over when it came up. I'm double excited about Selina's deconstructed-tux uniform while she's out of the Catsuit (I am, to no one's surprise, deeply invested in what everyone in this comic is wearing, which we'll get into once the comics come out). And though it's definitely a stark image, and I can't talk about specifics because of spoilers, I'm hypothetically invested in the symbolic Doppelganger aspect of Selina facing off against Catwoman...and possibly losing.

I tried equally hard to avoid specifics in this interview with Dynamic Forces, which was a lot of fun. It includes some thoughts about how Selina plays power games with herself, what she's willing to do for the sake of Gotham, and the phrase "sexy, sexy impasse." (Yes, it's about That Relationship.)


Catwoman #36 is due to hit shelves in November! I will have given in and started talking about the clothes long before then.
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Published on August 20, 2014 09:38 • 30 views

August 5, 2014



This recap has been a long time coming. I didn't even want to look up how long it's been since Ellen won this recap in Con or Bust and typed "Merlin and the Book of Beasts" in an email to me in a way you could just tell was a sinister, gleeful whisper.

Interestingly, that was still not long enough for my major potential foil, the Jeff-Bridges-and-a-dragon movie Seventh Son, to be released as proof that budget and quality are not always related; that movie's been delayed from embarrassment even longer than this recap has! It did, however, turn out to be delayed long enough for The Quest to premiere, which serves just as well. For those who missed it, it's an extremely-vaguely-LARP reality series where everyone competes to be a hero instead of actually LARPing, which is a shame, but doesn't stop anyone from asking "Can we trust him?" every time someone asks them to do anything, a skepticism I admire in reality-show contestants. (I reviewed the first episode at AV Club, and will probably end up tuning back in, but for now it's enough to know that the costume budgets of Book of Beasts and The Quest were, to all appearances, dollar-for-dollar the same, except Book of Beasts also blew a chunk of money on an upholstery cape.)




The Quest also has, via its amazing actors and their even more amazing loaded-pauses-before-turning-around, reminded me why I ended up accidentally falling for Book of Beasts. (We'll get there.) And though technically this is a film about Arthurian lore, it's very much a "film" about "Arthurian Lore," which means, for example, it contains three more Gorgons then generally appear in films about Arthurian lore. It just doesn't care. No wonder I love it. Let's dig in.




We open in Medieval Castle Village (which looks suspiciously like the Medieval Castle Village in which Erica Durance peppily fought gender roles in Beyond Sherwood Forest, a similar SyFy "film" about "Robin Hood"). But things are not well in Medieval Castle Village, as a sneaky magician opens up the Book of Beasts, releasing poisonous butterflies (yes) who kill some people, while several more fall prey to a sudden-onset case of Scared Face Into The Camera-itis.



"This will be the Age of the Arkadian," he intones to no one since the butterflies got them all, suggesting he's not on top of the kingdom concept yet. Then he makes a face I'm saving for later because it's his only one and I don't want the bloom to fade.

Luckily, we can assume these four brave knights are out to fix all that Arkadian business:



From right, we have Lysanor: useless dudebro, Tristan: son of Tristan and Isolde, Galahad: last member of the Round Table and father to Lysanor the Useless, and Avlynn: daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, out to reclaim the Round Table by defeating the wizard whose vicious butterfly antics have not stopped.

This seems like a good time to note that while the plot devolves into the usual nonsense, and ends up kind of dull except for the subtext two of its stars decided to generate for shits and giggles, it's not particularly egregious nonsense. Both Titans movies were more disjointed and perfunctory than this. Really, the idea of a secret child of King Arthur pitted against a Loki-esque embittered Mordred, with help from Merlin and one last knight of the Round Table plus some handsome aides against monsters that require big fight scenes, sounds like a likely entry into the big-budget fairy-tale revisions we're seeing of late. Largely, this movie feels ridiculous because the effects budget here was five bucks and Lysanor's cape is a single upholstery trapezoid. As it is, the movie makes the best of the landscape, and occasionally there's smart use of non-effects, as when these four head into the woods to look for Merlin and they trick-cut to what looks like sudden magical nightfall. Make Do and Mend: The Motion Picture.

Of course, they're all useless against enchanted armor that literally comes with a Step No Further warning, so everybody gets their ass kicked (The Quest made me think of these battle scenes, given the general level of fight enthusiasm is I Practiced Twice), and in the end it's up to Avlynn to triumph and face Merlin alone.



Aaand welcome James Callis, holding a snake. No stranger to making rent, he's usually game for whatever. We all know he spent years staring, appalled, into thin air at an invisible Cylon girlfriend, but that's only the beginning. Ernest of Saxe-Coburg in Victoria and Albert? Sure thing; enjoy his fastidious jacket-wearing. Accursed Haman the Agagaite in One Night With the King? Absolutely; enjoy his ceaseless Batman gravel-voice. And in Merlin, Book of Beasts — which I assume he was obligated to film as payment due for Battlestar Galactica — he goes Full Merlin, which includes the hair and makeup the movie gave him, and an accent he gave himself, which is so far Welsh he's basically in the ocean.

Once he's used his snake to hypnotize Avlynn (not a euphemism), he gets to reveal her for what is the first time in the actual movie, since not we're supposed to know she's a lady until right now!



(She's just hypnotized. She's really very nice.)

Boy, is Merlin ever surprised/quietly upset/maybe in love/saddened!



The other thing James Callis brings to this movie is the rainbow of facial expressions that have not yet even warmed up.

Laura Harris has also paid her TV dues, usually without pulling quite so many questionable faces, going all the way back to the time she had bio lab taught by the Devil on the X-Files. She's a solid performer who's also suitably game for this.

And what makes this movie amazing is that at some point, she and James Callis decided to just stare at each other in utter disregard for the script, in which Lysanor is her romance and some plot rests on their True Love's Kiss business, but that was horrible, so I was an ideal audience for the old Actors Doing Whatever They Want gambit. We'll be charting the plot largely by these looks, since they're the only interesting thing happening.

We start right away, as Merlin slaps her archly with a branch to wake her (!). (Come to think of it, the sheer randomness of his magic is also actually kind of amazing, since he uses branches and fireballs and powders and positive thinking and water and the whole thing; this movie's either secretly great or I watched it so many times I've lost all perspective.) Beginning our strange-subtext work, Merlin asks what a choir girl's doing alone in the woods, complete with monotone "lalalalala" to bring home the concept. I highly recommend that for the full punch of his accent mingled with the line delivery of this, you just go ahead and watch the whole thing, or if that's not possible, at least watch this whole, bizarre scene.

Why is she here? To rescue the kingdom from the terrifying Akadian, of course:



This is his face throughout. It is fantastic. You can pay him enough to show up, but not neeeeearly enough to care.

Merlin cares, though! He's even making a powder so Avlynn's forcible drugged removal from the forest is painless. What a gentleman. He cares even more when Avlynn reveals herself as the daughter of King Arthur. Luckily, she has a dragon tattoo 'sacred mark' that keeps him from backhanding her (actual thing) for making false claims.

"Do with me what you will," she offers in exchange for his help (well then). But weariness has overtaken Merlin. "Help me to avoid the mistakes of my father!" she begs instead. He gives her the world's single slowest farewell wave as he suggests she perhaps get the hell out. So, sad but undaunted, she farewells him right back with, "I will inform the knights I found you dead, to spare them the disappointment of knowing your cowardice." That's a decent burn. Merlin feels it, too.

Back in the plot, things are bog-standard, and bickeringly, they slouch toward Camelot. But the Arkadian sics a Dragon Soldier on them! (A Dragon Soldier looks like a soldier in Orc Prototype makeup and a skeleton helmet; I trust everybody's imagination to supply this to spare us the fight screencaps.)

Things look terrible for them, until they're rescued by a mysterious, magical benefactor!



(Listen, I'll take anything I can get in one of these, okay? I enjoyed the meta of the B-movie they were filming in Piranhaconda, I enjoy any shot that looks like someone thought about it.)

It's Merlin! He's come to join them!



I'm impressed, Callis.

"There might be some things in this world still worth fighting for," he growls quietly/intensely at Avlynn. (Well then.)

Introductions are made. Merlin doesn't give Galahad the hard time I expected for someone who "never felt the kiss of love, nor maiden's hand in mine" introducing a son, but he also must have descended quietly from heaven at some point after the coast was clear, so who knows. Tristan gets a little shade. And when Galahad introduces Avlynn, Merlin mutters, "I know, almost killed her" and wanders out of frame, and I'm reminded that James Callis is kind of delightful.

I wish Lysanor had gotten more shit in this movie, though; he tries some dudebro moves and gets punched and just honestly nobody cares. "I like a challenge," he explains to Tristan about why he's going after a lady who punched him rather than kiss him. Okay, great, go find the farthest chair in the kingdom and go have a seat, challenge accepted. Tristan seems a little too into the idea of Avlynn and Lysanor together, but otherwise is cool and may stay. (It's worth noting that Patrick Sabongui is of Egyptian descent, which already makes this movie less white than dozens of other medieval movies, and he's one of the heroes and doesn't even die, which puts this movie ahead of about a dozen fantasy movies.)



After a friendly fire where Merlin spits on the name of Morgan le Fay (yikes, bad breakup) and everyone else asks intense whisperquestions while he judges them silently (see above). Later, Merlin awakes from a prophetic dream sequence (forecasting Fellowship of the Ring lighting, perhaps), and Merlins around about it, staring unblinkingly at Avlynn while someone else tries to get his attention, establishing a pattern that will repeat itself. Tristan's sort of not into it. Lysanor's definitely not into it. Avlynn is absolutely into it.



Later, Lysanor is attacked by a root and turns into a wereplant. Turns out it's not even one of the Book of Beasts monsters; it's just that the forest really hates him. I hear you, forest.



That's ten dollars this makeup budget is never getting back.

Naturally Merlin takes care of it, and then, together at last and free of the hateful underbrush, the questers head out as someone fiddles with the Inspirational Bells setting on the soundtrack Casio.





They arrive at a CGI-ruined Camelot (not pictured, nobody cares) and sneak in through the "long and deep tunnels" (huh). Merlin goes for the Book as everyone else hangs out in the courtyard, and Galahad warns Avlynn to be careful since she's so valuable, which feels like something you might want to consider before you and a Queen set out on a dangerous quest with only two other people.

In short order, Merlin discovers that the Arkadian is actually Mordred, falls for the old fake-book trick, and gets "forced backwards" onto the sacrificial slab with "magic rays," which means a few glorious seconds of James Callis lying down with extreme prejudice.



Meanwhile everyone in the courtyard is on high alert for danger.



Nailed it.

We'll assume they're all distracted from talking about whether Merlin will be able to conquer the Book or if he'll be corrupted, which is a legitimate discussion. Sadly, that possession of the Book is actually the least of Merlin's problems, since he's currently held hostage by Mordred, who channels the world's bitchiest maitre d' as he tries to capture Merlin's spirit in the book itself.





("Draw me like one of your French wizards.")

James Callis does his level best to deliver a scathing Merlin scolding (when Mordred asks about the sword in the lake and Merlin says he hid it: "You hid the sword?" "No," he Callises, "I hid the lake"). Mordred wipes the smile off Merlin's face by revealing his plans to impregnate Avlynn and raise a Pendragon baby. Yikes.

In the courtyard, the knights are facing down Gorgons, because of course.



Good look, ladies.



Mid-fight with the Gorgons, everybody piles into the crypt: the Gorgons try to climb Merlin, Mordred tries to sketch Merlin as fast as he possibly can, and Avlynn and pals are put in a freeze ray; it's paced a little languidly, but I admit this is about where I started to enjoy myself, because why not. By the time Merlin's broken free, distracted Mordred, gotten the book back, and died trying, and everybody runs for it as Tristan and Avlynn beat the crap out of some soldier and Lysanor carries a store dummy in Merlin's clothes that's so poorly put together you can literally see where joints have come loose, I was all in. (Double all in: Avlynn, who bends over the fallen Merlin and weeps, "I can't stand to lose another." Well then.)

At the Spring of Brittany, Avlynn brings Merlin back to life by caressing his head lovingly as she cuts her hand so that her blood makes the fountain flow with the water of life (or something, I was mostly there for the head-cradling). Mordred operates the Book of Beasts remotely, using the most intense invisible-book-page-turning ever committed to film, to summon the remaining Gorgons.

Lysanor the Terrible looks right at them, of course, and Merlin has to keep him from turning to stone using his deepest magic.



This honestly might be a fantastic movie, I'm just saying.

After the Gorgons are dispelled, Merlin spills the beans about Mordred and decides they'll need Excalibur, and everybody has a big complicated conversation about the pros and cons as these two stare at each other:



Tristan remains unthrilled. He is wrong.

Things only get more overt as they reach the enchanted lake:



(Negative space! Nice, SyFy.)

At which point James Callis and Laura Harris just do whatever they feel like.



"From what I've seen, she's more than ready." (Actual line.)



(Lysanor nudging himself between them in the background cracks me up. Tristan is just embarrassed for him.)

Meanwhile, in a very good use of scenery, Avlynn must fight herself to get the sword.



Never has a fight looked so majestic, yet wholesome.

Spoilers, she cannot fight herself but must instead accept herself. She must also accept humility, as she prays with bloody hands for the right to wield Excalibur. Not like there's much doubt, but the horn section AND the vocal synths are really happy for her when she triumphs.



This might also be a decent shot, but honestly at this point I think maybe I just want to visit British Columbia.

At camp, Merlin and Galahad catch up about how hard it was to raise two knight-kids, and how many people Galahad had to kill to keep their secret. Merlin's very pleased with the second part. Galahad also mentions that he had orders from Arthur not to trust anyone else, Merlin included, which Merlin is also pleased with, in an extremely angsty way. Tristan and Lysanor also get a scene of chatting about Avlynn and Tristan's parents; it's a lot of breathing room for a SyFy movie.

Then Avlynn comes back with the sword. Everyone's thrilled and gathers around to swear fealty, which I honestly don't think she even notices.



"Give yourself a bit of a knock, did you?" Merlin asks her in low-register close talking. (He's just openly stroking her arm in this shot, too. Whoever made these decisions was making some amazing decisions.)



Galahad is literally giving an inspiring speech to everyone about how this has brought them all closer to victory and now Avlynn will lead them. It's amazing.

Not quite as amazing as when Mordred's Death Hawks attack. Later in the production process, someone realized they didn't have the budget for close-range CGI birds, so everyone has to fight birds they were told would be added in and were not.





Visit beautiful British Columbia! Lord of the Rings reenactments available.

Avlynn wakes up to "Lysanor" comforting her from her "bad dream," but Mordred the Deceiver underestimated how deeply she's not into Lysanor, and he's forced into Plan B, which is to take his real form and use black magic to ensorcel her into becoming sweetly compliant.



I am not into this plot twist whatsoever, especially because I thought she was faking it and waiting for the right moment to turn on him, and was disappointed when I realized she was just totally damseled. Still, I appreciate that this shot frames them next to the broken remnants of their father's Round Table.

Meanwhile, in a slightly less orthodox subplot, Medusa is super into Tristan.



Merlin, when appealed to for aid: "Can't stop love, my boy." We can all only hope to be as carefree as this movie.

The scene might be awkward except for a distinct vibe of "a handful of actors killing time until dinner break," and all the eye-rolling and tiptoeing and gathering-to-watch and plinky synths are unconcerned with anything, ever. (As Tristan lifts her onto the altar for better-angled makeouts and later bloodletting, James Callis mutters, "All right, Tristan, don't overdo it," and smacks a gawping Lysanor on the ear. A deadly battle to reclaim a broken kingdom!)

Leaving Tristan to it, the rest of them confront Mordred, whose plans and facial expression remain unchanged. He'll prove it!





Merlin's not thrilled.

In the battle that follows, Lysanor manages to True Love's Kiss Avlynn back to herself (ugh), Galahad gets turned to stone by Medusa (sure), and Tristan runs up, asks her "Will you leave me so unsatisfied?" (this movie has now referenced everything it could possibly reference), and gets his ass kicked long enough for Avlynn to cut her down.

During all this, Merlin's gotten hold of the book.



James Callis, everyone.

Avlynn finally pins the book to the Round Table with Excalibur, nullifying its power forver, and then begs, weeping, for the fallen Merlin to return to her.



Her love interest, unnoticed, mourns his father, the most avoidable death in Camelot's impressive history of avoidable deaths.



Merlin mourns him too, as soon as he can drag himself away from Avlynn's platonic face-cradling long enough to intone, "He was a once and future warrior, who would be king." (I was wrong before about this movie referencing everything, sorry, I think now we're done.)

The new Camelot flourishes, the grain trade competing for supremacy with the Jesus Fucking Christ Where Did You Even Find That Thing texile industry.



"Will you stay," she whispers, "and counsel me during my reign?"



After they're done staring unblinkingly into one another's eyes, the answer is apparently no, because Lysanor. His actual reasoning: "When you find love, when you fight for love out of love, well, then, Avlynn, you will find a strength that you have not known before. For opening your heart is not a weakness. It takes great courage." (If this was a Marvel movie there would be two Tumblrs devoted to this pairing before midnight the day of release.)

But there isn't, so instead of setup for a sequel, Avlynn and Merlin share a nice, platonic goodbye.



Nailed it.

THE END! So, what have we learned? I think we can agree Merlin and the Book of Beasts is not a good film. Still, it's bad in ways that feel like a budget might actually have mattered — sure, the monsters make no sense, but if they made no sense with decent CGI, would that be demonstrably different from Seventh Son? (I don't know how they'd explain the Gorgons, but that's the movie's problem.) Would Avlynn's quest to reclaim her throne with some dudely assistance be ridiculous if she had a 3D camera and some fancier duds? It's only barely a more awkward film than Eragon, in which no one had a good time; at least here we know two people were really enjoying themselves by screwing with the subtext, and a villain recast would help with the rest. But who knows, really? All I know is, in multiple viewings and via all the movies this movie ceaselessly references, this movie managed to sneak up on me, and in the end, I accidentally enjoyed it. Serves me right.
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Published on August 05, 2014 11:31 • 52 views

July 22, 2014

Well, only sort of. But I realized the last thing I posted here was the Catwoman announcement, and not any of my nonfiction work directly before or since. Obviously I'm still stoked about Catwoman, but I didn't realize how much time's gotten away from me in the last few weeks. Yikes. (I don't think I ever even mentioned how much I enjoyed
A very nice thing about Philadelphia Weekly is that my column there, Genevieve Spoils Everything, gives me some flexibility in what I cover, so that along with the latitude to go off on long tangents (my favorite!), I can also talk about both movies screening that week in a double-feature format, rather than exclusively covering one. So last week, when I saw Violette, which I enjoyed, and Wish I Was Here, which I very much did not, I wrote
For NPR, I reviewed The Book of Life, the third in Deborah Harkness's Ashmole trilogy, after reading the preceding novels to make sure I had the necessary context. (It...was not my favorite.)

At the AV Club, I reviewed the pilot of Lifetime's The Lottery, which was also not my favorite! The general clunkiness was not as problematic as the ways in which the show seems so carelessly, clangingly tone-deaf about its own thematic implications, which – considering they deal directly with fertility, government control of women's bodies, and sexual mores – are the very loaded sort that you'd want to be very careful about, unless you were The Lottery, I guess.

And at Strange Horizons, I wrote "A Million Ways to Die in the West," a column that was sparked by The Rover (an intensely grim but very committed post-apocalyptic movie that nonetheless might be most famous in five years for pressing the reset button on Robert Pattinson's career), and how a some movies, post-apocalyptic and otherwise, use a West they've decided is the best place for the world to end.

I am going to try my best not to let huge lags happen again; sure, that's probably wishful thinking, but once I manage to clear Merlin and the Book of Beasts off my ledger, I might even be something close to caught up!
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Published on July 22, 2014 07:49 • 28 views

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