FINT Book Review: Joss Whedon & Race

et’s face it. White liberals are having a “woke” moment that is shamefully long overdue. Growing up in the 1980s and early 90s as a white middle class kid from a moderately open-minded family (albeit residing in the conservative American south east), I was taught that the most respectful way to treat people of color was to be “color blind”. That is, to behave as if the color of their skin did not matter. It’s who they are inside that counts. And while that is a lovely notion for a fictional, utopian, post-racial society, it is unrealistic for our world. Moreover, it’s disrespectful and hurtful because it negates the realities of people of color. In Virginia, I could see that racism was alive and well. But I moved to Seattle, Washington at my earliest opportunity and was quickly absorbed into a little bubble of like-minded people. How easy it was for me to forget what it was like beyond the membrane of my blue cocoon.

Mary Ellen Iatropoulos and Lowery A. Woodall III’s collection of critical essays, Joss Whedon and Race cover Whedon’s relationship with race, ethnicity, and nationality on his television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Angel (1999-2004), Firefly (2002-2003), and Dollhouse (2009-2010), as well as the Firefly movie, Serenity (2005). Though Whedon is known for his progressive narratives, he’s not immune to perpetuating cultural stereotypes even as he seeks to subvert or transcend them. This is particularly true of his early work…

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Film Int. Review: The Love Witch

You could never accuse writer/director Anna Biller of masking her influences. She has, to date, painstakingly created two films that would fit seamlessly within the sexploitation genre of the 60s and 70s. She follows up her sexual revolution comedy debut, Viva (2007), with The Love Witch, a film that flirts with horror, but still boasts plenty of ‘ploitation of the sexual ilk. The only clues that The Love Witch wasn’t made 60 years ago are the modern cars parked along the street. However, Biller prominently features her protagonists’ vintage automobiles, as well as ensures that every other possible detail is as period accurate as an episode of Mad Men. Trouble is, movies like this have fallen out of favor for a reason. Sure they look great – every frame and outfit makes me long to hit the flea market. But the story is also period accurate in that it peddles a brand of faux-feminism better left in the past. The protagonist is a badass because she isn’t afraid to kill to get what she wants. But what she wants is nothing more than the attention of a man – seemingly any man. You can dismiss these themes in movies from that era because they were playing within the status quo. But we’re better than that now. Maybe not a lot better, but let’s not take two steps back just to be true to the era. I prefer my throwbacks with a dash of modern ideology…

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Film Int. Review: Phantom Boy

Co-directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol follow up their Oscar nominated film, A Cat in Paris, with Phantom Boy, a film that is perplexingly set in New York City, though everything else about it is as French as can be including the humor and animation style. The script (by Gagnol) tells the story of Leo, an eleven-year-old boy who, afflicted with an unnamed, but serious enough illness to require chemotherapy, learns that he can escape the loneliness of his hospital bed through astral projection for brief stints. When Leo meets Lt. Alex Tanguy (Édouard Baer), an injured police officer with a knack for getting on his boss’s nerves, he uses his power to help ensnare a criminal mastermind who threatens to bring the city to its knees. Phantom Boy is perhaps too simple a story to appeal to all ages, but for children, it is a terrific introduction to heady themes like crime noir and, more importantly, grave illnesses and mortality…

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Film Int. Review: Fantastic Planet Criterion DVD

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first stumbled upon René Laloux’s surreal animated French language sci-fi film, Fantastic Planet (1973). I assume I was old enough to read subtitles, but I’m not 100% sure because the visuals are engaging and unusual enough to hold the attention of anyone, regardless of language comprehension. I believe it was broadcast on television in the mid 1980s, which means I would have been between 7 and 10 years of age. I must have been by myself because for years after, when I attempted to describe what I saw, I received only blank looks. After a while, I began to wonder if I had, in fact, dreamed it. The film certainly possesses a dreamlike quality. But sadly, my dreams are not quite so brilliant. Finally, in my early twenties, I stumbled upon a movie poster in an independent video store and my fuzzy memories were validated.

With the 2016 release of the Criterion edition, it’s clear that La Planète Sauvage (the original title) has staying power that reaches beyond the basement-dwelling 80s child demographic. After re-watching it, this is hardly surprising. The 1973 film is a piece of art that transcends time and space. The paper cutout animation brings Terry Gilliam’s Flying Circus segments to a new level, seamlessly blending moving pieces with the background to create a fluid visual. I’d call it a lost art; only graphic designer Roland Topor is peerless in his skill and vision. His images are mesmerizing and all encompassing. It’s a trip that you can take without the need for mind-altering drugs or a rocket ship…

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