Eurocomics Spotlight : Anne Simon’s “The Empress Cixtisis”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Ostensibly a sequel to her earlier, and justly well-received,  The Song Of Aglaia, French cartoonist Anne Simon’s newly-released-in-English (and in color!) The Empress Cixtisis (originally published in 2014 under the title Cixtite Imperatrice) is something rather more than that, in actuality — I mean, yeah, Aglaia’s back and all, but she’s just one of a pair of dueling pro/antagonists, the other being our titular Empress, who is herself a barely-concealed (to say nothing of bitingly sardonic) stand-in for the “real life” Empress Dowager Cixi of China, who effectively ruled that country for nearly 50 years. We’ve got an ambitious and multi-faceted text going on here, then, but here’s the thing with Simon — no matter how conceptually and theoretical dense her work may be, it’s never anything less than a pure joy to read.

In fact, my one and only complaint about The Empress Cixtisis is that, at…

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Everyone Else Is Talking About “Pope Hats” #6 — I Suppose I Should, Too

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

So — who do we believe? Over at TCJ, inexplicably popular critic Matt Seneca used his review of Hartley Lin’s recently-released Pope Hats #6 as a platform for anti-natalist proselytizing and to burnish his “edgelord” bone fides, while at Sequential State, my friend Alex Hoffman adorned it with glowing praise, admittedly filtered though his own parental sensibilities. Can they both be right and/or wrong?

Well — theoretically, sure. But as circumstance would have it, I find myself leaning more toward “Team Hoffman” on this one, although I don’t see the latest issue of the long-running AdHouse Books series, which carries the title of “Shapeshifter,” as a revolutionary departure for anyone but cartoonist Lin himself, who telegraphs his intentions early on by ditching his “Ethan Rilly” pseudonym and positioning himself as being smaller in stature than his infant son and a toy (?) ladybug on the comic’s cover. He’s still…

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Film Review: Greta (dir by Neil Jordan)

I always worry a little bit about Chloe Grace Moretz.

Seriously, it seems as if every film in which she appears features her either losing her entire family or getting stalked by some psycho or both.  It’s rare that she ever gets to play someone who is happy with their life.  Even when she was cast against type as a spoiled, vacuous brat in Clouds of Sils Maria, she still came across as being the saddest spoiled, vacuous brat imaginable.  Obviously, Mortez has the dramatic talent necessary to play these type of roles and, out of all the young actresses working today, she seems the most likely to still have an interesting career 30 years from now.  Still, it’s hard not to wish that she could just do a nice, romantic comedy at some point in the future, if just to give her a break from constantly being menaced on screen.

This year’s Chloe Moretz Gets Stalked film was Greta.  In this one, Moretz plays Frances McMullen, a waitress living in New York City.  Frances lives in a nice loft, has a fantastic roommate and best friend named Erica (Maika Monroe), and a strained relationship with her wealthy father (Colm Feore). As is typical of any character played by Chloe Moretz, Frances is still struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her mother.

After Frances finds an expensive handbag on the subway, she returns it to its owner, a piano teacher named Greta Hibeg (Isabelle Huppert).  Greta claims to be French and says that she’s been lonely ever since her daughter left home to study music in France.  Frances needs a substitute mother.  Greta needs a substitute daughter.

Can you tell where this is going?

If you said, “Together, they solve crimes!,” — well, you’re wrong but you’re still my hero.  Instead, what all this leads to is Greta becoming rather obsessed with Frances.  When Frances discovers that Greta has a whole closet full of handbags and that she’s not even French, Frances decides to end their friendship.  However, Greta will not take no for an answer.  Soon, Greta is following both Frances and Erica all around New York City.  Greta even goes to Frances’s place of employment and makes a scene that leads to Frances losing her job.  (Considering the amazingly ugly waitress uniform that Frances was required to wear, I’d say that Greta was doing her a favor.)  Eventually, it all leads to a kidnapping, a drugging, and an unexpected visual gag involving the Eiffel Tower.

About 30 minutes into Greta, there’s a scene in which Isabelle Huppert spits a piece of chewing gum into Chloe Moretz’s hair and it was at that moment that I knew that I was going to absolutely love this film.  I mean, there have been a lot of films made about people being stalked but it takes a certain amount of demented genius to have one of the world’s most acclaimed actresses actually spit a piece of gum into someone’s hair.  Brilliantly, the film follows this up with a scene of Frances and Erica trying to press assault charges against Greta, all because of the gum incident.  The cop is so cynical and unimpressed by their story that you just know that Frances is probably like the hundredth person to get attacked by chewing gum in just that day.

My point here is that there’s absolutely nothing subtle about Greta and we’re all the better for it.  As directed by Neil Jordan, Greta is a thoroughly excessive and deliberately campy little film and definitely not one to be taken too seriously.  Everything, from the lush cinematography to Greta’s sudden rages, is wonderfully over-the-top.  While Moretz wisely underplays her role (because, after all, someone has to keep things at least vaguely grounded in reality), Maika Monroe and especially Isabelle Huppert dive head first into the film’s melodramatic atmosphere.  Huppert, especially, deserves a lot of credit for her ferocious performance as Greta.  Whether she’s cheerfully celebrating a murder by doing an impromptu dance or suddenly screaming in Hungarian, Huppert is never less than entertaining while, at the same time, remaining credible as a very threatening individual.  One of the great joys of Greta is watching this masterful French actress play a Hungarian who is obsessed with Paris.  (It’s also probably not a coincidence that Greta is obsessed with someone named Frances.)

There’s an interesting subtext to the Greta and Frances relationship, one that goes beyond a girl who needs a mother and a woman who needs a daughter.  In many of the scenes where Greta stalks Frances, Huppert plays her as if she’s a spurned lover, crying out, “I love you!” and demanding that Frances return her phone calls.  As for Frances, she’s portrayed as being an almost absurdly repressed single girl who spends all of her personal time with two very different women, the accepting and fun-loving Erica and the predatory and destructive Greta.  (When Erica tells Frances that a guy who is interested in her is throwing a party, Frances says that she already has plans with Greta.)  Watching Greta, it occurred to me that the film was really about Frances coming to terms with her own sexuality, with Greta representing her fears and Erica representing the peace of accepting who you are.  The film may be about Greta stalking Frances but it’s also about Frances struggling to decide whether to give in to her fears or to accept her own identity.

Then again, it’s also totally possible that there’s no intentional subtext at all to this film.  It might just be an entertaining film about Isabelle Huppert stalking Chloe Moretz.  And that’s fine, too!  Either way, it’s a fun movie.

Music Video Of The Day: Pop Muzik by M. (1979, directed by Brian Grant)

“I was looking to make a fusion of various styles which somehow would summarise the last 25 years of pop music. It was a deliberate point I was trying to make. Whereas rock and roll had created a generation gap, disco was bringing people together on an enormous scale. That’s why I really wanted to make a simple, bland statement, which was, ‘All we’re talking about basically (is) pop music.”

— Robin Scott, on Pop Muzik

Before adapting the persona of M., Robin Scott attended Croydon College with Malcolm McLaren (who would later manage the Sex Pistols) and released a folk album called Woman From The Warm Grass.  Scott eventually walked away from his folk roots, turning instead to electronic music.  Pop Muzik, which was written from the perspective of a DJ, was arguably the first new wave hit and this music video was extremely popular during the early years of MTV.

The video was the first to be directed by Brian Grant, who was a BBC producer at the time.  Working with a £2000 budget, Grant created a video that was revolutionary for the time.  (In the late 70s, music videos were mostly just straight performance clips.)  The success of Pop Muzik led to Grant becoming one of the busiest music video directors around.  Grant went on to direct videos for The Human League, The Fixx, Squeeze, Duran Duran, and many others.  If you were a New Wave group, Brian Grant probably directed at least one video for you.

I searched but I could not find the names of the two models who appeared in this video.  Does anyone reading this know?