As I’m sure you’ve heard by now (more than once), I and my fellow editor/contributor Elizabeth went to ClexaCon this past weekend. We gushed about fanart, cosplay, and the amazing guests and celebrities on Ladies First on Wednesday. So today, I want to talk about one of the less publicized gems of the con: the film festival. That’s right, there was a festival of films dedicated to queer ladies that went on all weekend. I didn’t get to go to many of the films given how full my schedule was. Fine, I only made it to one. But the one I did go to was wonderful and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Almost Adults stars Carmilla alums Natasha Negovanlis (Carmilla) and Elise Bauman (Laura Hollis) as college best friends and roommates Cassie (played by Negovanlis) and Mack (played by Bauman), short for Mackenzie. The film opens on a scene establishing the bff nature of this friendship of opposites as the titles roll. Cue awkward family dinners times two, and I’m already sold. Mack has recently figured out she’s a lesbian, and Cassie recently broke up with her long-time boyfriend. Each character must find a way to tell their parents the ‘truth’ about their lives and, surprise, surprise, it’s Cassie’s parent’s who are less accepting. Mack actually calls her gay best friend Levi to complain about how accepting her parents were because she feels she missed out on a queer right of passage.
The rest of the film follows the pair as they navigate what life throws at them next. Mack learns how to ‘be a lesbian’, including getting a Tumblr account and ‘Tumblr girlfriend’, a real girlfriend, and then losing real girlfriend over her ‘Tumblr girlfriend’. Cassie faces life post Matthew, including struggling with her grades and losing a potentially career making internship. They’re learning how to be adults and how to be friends through the ups and downs of life.
If you’ve watched Carmilla, you’ll be unsurprised to hear how hilarious the film is. I’m not all that familiar with LGBT+ focused films, so maybe this is par for the course for LGBT+ comedies. But I, for one, loved the curve ball nature of the humor. Negovanlis jokes about how she wants to live up life now that she’s broken up with Matthew, like, for example, staying out late or getting HPV. Mack replies, “Your standards are too low. Go crazy! Get the clap!”
A huge part of what I enjoyed about the comedy is that it takes injects humor into the female and LGBT+ experience. Making fun of unsatisfying male lovers is not new to comedy (just see shows like Sex and the City), but doing it in the context of being a queer woman is. At least to me. And I loved seeing Mack get to be awkward and ridiculous about being a newly out wlw. She utterly fails at her first attempt at sex, and we get to laugh with her about it. It’s Brooklyn 99 levels of ‘laugh with, not at the LGBT+ character’.
Elise Bauman continues her love affair with eating (and spitting out) food on screen, much to my delight. And even though their characters in Almost Adults are completely different from their characters in Carmilla, Bauman and Negovanlis are utterly convincing. The conflict in their relationship feels real and not overly melodramatic. We can see the tiny little steps along the way that lead to the bigger arguments without them feeling forced. Neither character is 100% in the right all the time, either. The audience can sympathize with both sides of the issues regardless of whether Cassie or Mack is feeling more hurt by the other’s behavior.
And that’s one of the film’s greatest successes. By creating space for both protagonists to be self-absorbed, the film avoids falling into the trap of being a stereotypical ‘friend of queer woman learns how to be kind about her coming out’ story. The point is that they’re both selfish and self-absorbed at different points. They’re both ‘almost adults’ in that they’re learning how to care about more than their own personal sorrows and frustrations. Both Cassie and Mack are flawed human beings and flawed friends.
And that’s what I love most. By making it a story about friendship rather than coming out, Almost Adults becomes a human story that everyone can relate to. We’ve all had shitty friends, and been the shitty friend. Being an adult means moving past yourself to care for others while making space for forgiveness instead of relying on demonizing and cutting ties with people who hurt you. By building up the rift in the friendship so naturally, the ending (which I won’t spoil) feels both cathartic and earned.
For an independent film, the cinematography and camera work felt more what you’d expect from a bigger studio dramedy. It was intimate, but professional looking. The leitmotif of the statue in the park worked really well to broadcast where Cassie and Mack’s friendship is at any given moment. Whether it be them together taking adorable pictures with it, Cassie leaning against it alone at night, or Mack by herself, double fisting her ice cream cones while dripping all over it. That statue says it all.
The script was well done, with lots of visual and experiential echoes to parallel the protagonists’ experiences. But it didn’t feel hackneyed or in your face obvious either. The dialogue was both funny and rich, and I really enjoyed the use of silence/on-screen texting of characters off screen. It was painfully true to life.
At the end of the day Almost Adults, is a funny, warm, and insightful film about learning how to grow up and grow with your friends even if they hurt you. While it may at times rely on LGBT+ stereotypes a bit too much for my comfort level, it still manages to be hilarious without making queer characters the butt of all the jokes. Bauman and Negovanlis absolutely nail their roles. They prove once again that they have some of the best comedic timing of any young female pair of actors, hands down. I can’t wait to see more work from each or both of them in the future!
All in all, one of the best ways to close out an amazing weekend at ClexaCon! The Q&A after the film was interesting as well. I learned first hand that Natasha Negovanlis was much shorter than I expected after having watched Carmilla.
Almost Adults was released in the US earlier this year. It is available for rent or purchase on YouTube, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vimeo, Microsoft, Vudu, and Google Play.
Images Courtesy of Unsolicited Pictures
‘Deadpool 2’ Plays With Us and Itself
Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly violent, raucous, hilarious meta heartfelt meditation on trauma and family. A giddy middle finger to the self-serious offerings from the Warner Brothers/DC movies. It’s also a glorious raspberry to the convoluted and lazy scriptwriting of Marvel’s latest Avengers movie. More importantly, it shows both studios how it’s done.
For all it’s irreverence and wacky fourth wall breaking, Deadpool 2 has a structure it stringently adheres to. By ‘structure’ I mean that it takes its time setting up and exploring characters and situations while still maintaining a sort of breathless nihilistic glee. It has time travel, but there are rules and consequences. Deadpool may have regenerative powers, but that doesn’t mean he is indestructible.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) as Deadpool is meant to be a sort of satiric caricature. He’s a comic book character who knows he’s a comic book character. The madman who knows more than anyone just how mad he is. The first Deadpool got a lot of mileage out of playing with this notion. At times Deadpool felt like a looney tunes cartoon on acid with Barry Manilow as the soundtrack.
Deadpool 2 leans into this sensibility while also showing the character is actually quite fertile for growth. Unlike his counterparts, Deadpool spends his time not helping people so much as murdering bad people who have hired him to murder other bad people. Any heroics that happen to be achieved are purely accidental and probably in the vein of Wade’s self-interest.
At least until Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wades vulgar cynical soul mate is gunned down in their apartment. Vengeance bound, Wade quickly runs her killer down and doles out his own particular brand of justice. Distraught and morose Wade attempts suicide in a way that feels utterly cartoonish but wholly organic to Deadpool.
Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) arrives to put Wade back together again, literally. Deadpool 2 zigzags through genres and tropes, but it never feels as if it just merely checking off boxes. With each zig and zag, we find our expectations thwarted.
Reynolds is so perfect as Wade Wilson that it’s less acting and more laconic conjuring. The Deadpool mask covers his face entirely yet somehow we can feel the manic toothy grin all but strain against the red blood soaked fabric. The comedic timing is pristine, but it never comes at the expense of the pathos of Wade Wilson.
What is sometimes forgotten is that without his powers Wade Wilson is just a man dying of cancer. David Leitch brutally reminds us when Wade is forced to wear a collar that inhibits his regenerative capabilities. Stripped of his suit and his ability to heal he is instead just a man constantly on the edge of death. Remarkably though, Wade never ceases to be Wade. Though riddled with cancer and self-pity the humor and allergy to authority are never gone.
Colossus and his protege, the epically named, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) drag Wade kicking and screaming to Xavier’s Home for the Gifted. Deadpool is an anarchic cyclone of murder and chaos. Predictably he bristles at Colossus rules and orders of how things are done.
A petulant Wade stomps around the mansion, his only source of joy is Yukio (Shiori Kutsuna), Negasonic’s girlfriend. Yukio and Negasonic are rarely, if ever, not in the same frame holding hands. A couple so cute and perfect even Wade is forced to smile and cheerlead the two.
Part of Wade’s X-Men training has him showing up to help a young boy Russell (Julian Dennison). It’s here Deadpool 2 begins to hint at something deeper. A young mutant with the ability to shoot fire from his fists seems hell-bent on destroying everything in his path. As a trainee, Wade is thrown into the situation to try and talk the kid down. Because all Wade does is talk he’s able to discover the boy is being abused. His anger is valid and the destruction merely a cry for help.
Deadpool 2 has stakes. The stakes aren’t the end of the world or galaxy threatening, thank God. Rhett Reese, Ryan Reynolds, and Paul Wernick’s script instead focus on something the superhero movies with a couple of notable exceptions have ignored or forgotten. What does it mean to be a hero?
By design, Deadpool is not meant to be part of a team. Yet Wade desperately wants a family. He and Vanessa were working to have a child before she was brutally gunned down. Much of Wade’s anguish is the loss of the dream of having a family. All corny and melodramatic which is why it’s so brilliant that Deadpool 2 pulls it off not just well but brilliantly.
Cable (Josh Brolin) a bounty hunter of sorts from the future arrives to hunt down Russell. Wade may be crazy, but even he’s baffled as to why anyone would want to kill a kid. Yet, Wade also can’t keep his mouth shut and alienates Russell when he needed Wade the most.
Brolin does quiet, wordless brooding in his sleep. Likewise, Cable is a part that fits Brolin like a glove. He struts across the screen with a swagger capped by a smoldering grimace. Charismatic as all hell, Brolin somehow manages to get us to root for him and against him, often within the same scene.
Unlike Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 slams rules and exceptions on time travel. Its a plot device but not one without consequences. Not only does this raise the stakes but it also draws boundaries around what, when, and where the characters must go to further the plot. The writers are forced to deal with issues both narrative and emotionally as opposed to leaving them dangling or hand wave them away.
What’s more Deadpool 2 has the audacity to switch bad guys in midstream. The evolution of the character arcs of Russell and Cable and how they relate to Wade borderlines on a sort of loony sad poetry. Death surrounds Wade, even as he tries to assemble a team of experts and mutants.
Along the way, Wade meets Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose power is luck, and the plot begins to fall neatly into place. Beetz is a ray of effortless sunshine. She gives Domino a flower child, easy going demeanor who’s not afraid to get her hands bloody.
The culmination of all this time traveling, random death, and wisecracking monologues is Wade’s realization that his actions and words have consequences. Bad guys are sometimes good people, and monsters often look like everyone else.
Leitch paces Deadpool 2 as if it were a manic breeze. He packs the frames with action in the foreground and background. Much like his other movies John Wick and Atomic Blonde he allows us to see the punch and the kicks land. The fights are a ballet of haphazardness. Most superhero fights are like a dance. But when your character is the Tasmanian Devil personified you’re forced to dance the Macera to a Mahler composition played on a flaming tuba with kazoo accompaniments.
Leitch’s biggest accomplishment is following the simple creed of “Let Deadpool be Deadpool,” and all that may entail. Deadpool 2 is a deeply felt violently hilarious melodrama about loss and loneliness. The heavy stuff works not just because the filmmakers know how to balance the tones, though they do.
It works because the script has slyly laid the groundwork. But it also works because it allows us to not just spend time with Domino, Wade, Cable, Russell, Negasonic, Yukio, and Colossus. But because it allows us to understand why they are the way they are.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox
The Happytime Murders Looks to Murder Your Childhood
Following the deaths of the stars of former show The Happytime Gang, two detectives (one human and one puppet) try to solve the murders. Have you ever imagined what Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would be like if it tried to be as crude and immature as humanly possible? Well, that’s what The Happytime Murders looks like. I sure hope the actual movie isn’t as bad as this trailer was.
I suppose the concept could work. Take the idea of humans and Muppets living side by side, make it visually gritty, don’t take yourself too seriously, and really sell the idea of this world’s existence. This trailer seems to do literally the exact opposite of that. I couldn’t watch this without feeling like Happytime Murders just wants to use Muppets to be as shocking as possible in hopes of cheap laughs. Nothing about this trailer made me feel like they tried to make a real world out of this movie at all. I really hope I’m wrong. Hopefully, I am.
If I am wrong, then this trailer was a huge failure. All it did was make me hate the very idea of this movie. I’m not sure I’ve ever rolled my eyes as much as I did during the ejaculation joke at the end. And then they doubled down and did it again. I guess some people will take this less seriously than I do, and that’s fine. No judgment here. After all, humor can be very subjective.
The Happytime Murders hits theaters on August 17. If it’s as bad as it looks here, and Melissa McCarthy somehow makes it work, then maybe consider her for some awards. And if I’m wrong about how bad the movie looks here, then I will happily eat crow about it.
Images Courtesy of STX Films
The Top 5 Best Portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in Film or Television
Due to scheduling conflicts, Thad and I were unable to record our episode of Beneath the Screen of the Ultra-Critics. We will return in two weeks with an episode about the Hays Code. This time both our voices will be audible, so it doesn’t sound like one long Andy Kauffman style prank.
This week though Thad and I decided, in light of Elementary being renewed for another season, to rank our favorite Sherlock Holmes in film and television. We had one caveat; the character has to actually be Sherlock Holmes. What this means is characters like Dr. Gregory Hous (Hugh Laurie) who are clearly inspired by Holmes are not eligible. Nor is Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) on the list because he only believes he is Sherlock Holmes and that doesn’t count either. Sadly, this means Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) is nowhere to be found but rest assured he is, in fact, one of the great fictional detectives.
Once again, we blithely court controversy by daring to rank the portrayals of a fictional detective over a hundred and thirty years old. We fully acknowledge that this is list is the only one of its kind in existence. Which makes our decisions all the more final and inarguable.
5. Basil Rathbone
Sherlock Holmes’s iconic deerstalker hat came not from Doyle, so much as from the illustrations that accompanied the Holmes stories in The Strand. Likewise, the image of Holmes we conjure up in our brain when we think of the Baker Street occupant is more than likely Basil Rathbone’s. Remarkable since, even though Rathbone played Holmes for seven years, few people today have seen or heard of him.
Yet, all prior depictions have been more or less been modeled after his gaunt granite thin-lipped demeanor. The sly sardonic smile and steepled fingers practically thrive in the public conscious when we think about the great detective. Rathbone’s performance is lodged in our collective psyche. Holmes is an archetype, and early actors played him as such.
Rathbone’s performance lacks any real complexity, but then again the scripts weren’t calling for it. They called for a simmering and brooding Holmes with acidic quips and sharp denunciations and that’s what Rathbone gave us. More than any physical attribute, it’s how he walked at the clipped pace and held himself on the edges of the frames. When Rathbone played Holmes, it was less a character and more a calm and collected wraith.
4. Robert Downey, Jr.
Far from the first American to play Sherlock Holmes, Downey brought his singular energy and presence to the role. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes pay little heed to Doyle’s original source material. But through it, all Downey gives us delightfully fun and impish Holmes.
Arguably Downey’s Holmes is the least mature on the list. Ritchie’s characters tend to be the types found on the floors of local bars near closing time. The contrast between Doyle’s staunch upper-class tendencies and Ritchie’s deeply embedded working-class humor leads to a weird adventure yarn more suited for a Doc Savage book than a Sherlock Holmes story.
Downey pulls it off. His Watson (Jude Law) hews much more to the stuffy tweed wearing visage of his origins. Mixed with Downey’s street brawler Holmes though the two make the whole thing feel like an idea Shane Black had but never got around to working out. Downey’s performance seems to hint at the Holmes imagined by Doyle more than any other before or since. Less a faithful hew to the performances before him, Downey’s Holmes was a punk rock rebel.
3. Sir Ian McKellen
Of all the movies about Sherlock Holmes, I find none of them as haunting and beautiful as Bill Condon Mr. Holmes. Less a faithful adaptation of the source material and more of a meditation on Holmes himself. Mr. Holmes none the less is a moving story about the great detective nearing the end of his life.
Sir Ian McKellen plays Holmes stripped of his pretenses. His determined gait and calculated movements now replaced with shaky hands and a walking stick less for show and more for necessity. Filled with regret and longing for the choices he’s made McKellen’s Holmes is a tragic melodramatic figure. Old age and dementia are raving the once great mind.
Condon plays with us as he intertwines the memory of Holmes and our expectations of Holmes laced with Holmes disapproval of the public’s perception of him. Staying with a widow and a young boy he finds himself enjoying their company. When the boy lashes out at his mother, Holmes demands he apologizes.
“Go after her. You must apologize for saying things that were meant to hurt. You were cruel. If you don’t apologize, you will regret it.” The boys scoff at the old man. “People always say that.” “Because it’s true.” Holmes snaps. When the boy asks if Holmes regrets anything, “So. Much.” McKellen’s Holmes is a man who realizes his loneliness is of his own doing.
2. Jonny Lee Miller
Elementary is far and away the most complex and adult modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. The picture of Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) with Watson (Lucy Liu) is apt. Unlike almost every other adaptation Watson is viewed as an equal part of the Holmes narrative. What we get is not just a Holmes story but a Holmes story about his relationship with another person who challenges and supports him at the same time.
He’s a fully functional adult who’s struggling with addiction. Holmes forthright struggle with addiction humanizes him in a way most other portrayals fail. Earlier Holmes either downplay Holmes drug abuse, such as Steven Moffat’s Sherlock. Or flat out ignore it. By addressing it and understanding that addiction is a lifelong progress, Elementary forces Sherlock to evolve not just as a character but as a human being.
Miller brings a wounded and confused anxiety to his Holmes. People are more than puzzles to him—they represent possibilities. He trains Watson because she shows an intellectual aptitude and a moral fortitude to what Holmes believes to be a higher calling, a private detective. His Holmes understands intelligence is something that is both inherent and taught. Miller’s Holmes is often the smartest person in the room but rarely is he the only smart person present.
1. Jeremy Brett
Of all the Holmes on this list, none of them capture the mercurial enigma that is Jeremy Brett’s, Sherlock Holmes. His Holmes bubbles with glee and excitement underneath his quivering jaw. Cool and calm under fire but un-hesitant to leap to the floor crawling at the floorboards to reveal a hiding spot. Brett fumes with a manic energy that brings an entirely fresh and singular vision of Holmes.
Far from the stiff upper lit Londoner, Brett’s Holmes has a twinkle in his eye. A hunger for the rages within his breast as he shares with Watson how he had figured all out. Yet, much like Miller’s Sherlock, Brett also has a great humanity within him. The Case of the Blue Carbuncle, in particular, shows him scouring the London streets on Christmas Eve to help out a local policeman who’s come to him for help.
The Case of the Six Napoleons reveals to us the complex sensitive and egotistical side of the great man. Inspector Lestrade compliments Holmes on his deductive work. “We’re not jealous of you, you know? No sir, we’re proud of you.” Brett’s cool demeanor cracks as he receives validation from a source he respects very much. Brett’s Sherlock is quite simply a marvel of restraint with sudden outbursts of great emotion. Rarely has the great man ever been portrayed with such passion, glee, and deep sympathetic humanity.