Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

To State the Obvious: We Are the Best!

Christa and I have decided to take an international journey, and we may just never come back. This week, I picked We Are the Best! Not only because it’s about teen punk rockers, but because we are the best, which I think should be reflected in our film choices and blog post titles more frequently. See Christa’s review here!

The Film:

We Are the Best!

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Swedish tomboys start a punk band with “the weird religious one” in the ‘80s.

The Trailer:

Okay, I was looking at my stats for the past year (almost!), and it appears the only video anyone has played is Peter Gabriel’s original song for Babe: Pig in the City. I can’t be your primary provider of Peter Gabriel content, people. So I quit. If you really want to watch a trailer for this film, use the fucking search bar on Youtube.

The Uncondensed Version:

Bobo and Klara, punks, tomboys, and all-around badasses, are 13-year-old best friends who don’t particularly fit in with the rest of their classmates. Girls their age are pretty damn mean, older boys are complete assholes (they call 13 year olds the c word. 13 YEAR OLDS), and teachers apparently do very little about any of this (I guess anything goes in Swedish schools).

two girls with short hair and over-sized sweaters play drums
I love that Bobo looks like a tiny university professor. Or, now that I think about it, kind of like Steven Coogan as Mole in The Wind in the Willows.

Instead of getting discouraged, Bobo and Klara remain confident…so confident, in fact, that they start a punk band despite total lack of any musical skills whatsoever.

Though both of the girls resent their parents equally (they’re 13, after all), Bobo secretly adores Klara’s close-knit family, whose father tries to jam with them on his clarinet and older brother gives Bobo hair-styling tips. Seriously, I might be a little in love with Klara’s older brother myself because he says her hair looks great as it is, but also teaches her to spike her hair.

a teenage boy tells a girl standing in front of a mirror, "You look great. Your hair is great."
Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo damn cute.

Bobo is living with her possibly bipolar or at least majorly depressed mother, whose boyfriend Lasse (not Lassie) just broke up with her. I have never wanted to adopt anyone except maybe Bobo (okay, fine, also Billy Elliot). She offers to make her mom some tea or hot chocolate and reminds her eating is important.

So anyway…back to the band. The girls want to play their angry punk song about their gym teacher in the school’s fall concert, but all of the spots are full. Though the concert is basically what you would expect from middle schoolers, there is one really talented girl, Hedvig, who plays folksy/Christiany music on her guitar (and gets booed).

Bobo and Klara ask her to join their band…and by join they basically mean be the talent and teach them how to actually play their instruments.

Klara is kind of a jerk because she’s a proud atheist and keeps haranguing Hedvig about believing in God.

a teenage girl with long blonde hair looks skeptically at a girl with a mohawk who tells her "It's about hanging God, because he's a fascist"

Hedvig is possibly the most patient person ever because she puts up with this and also teaches them how to play. She’s not even mad when they give her a punk haircut, though her mother is a different story. This all blows over and they have the cutest dance party ever.

3 teenage girls with short hair dance together, singing "Or perhaps you'll settle for any kind of crappy job"
I just love them.

They decide to get serious and raise money for an electric guitar by lying about having poor and/or drug addict parents. Women after my own heart, they buy ice cream and candy instead.

All of this is going rather well until the last third of the movie, in which the girls meet a boy punk band and Bobo becomes an awkward 3rd wheel.

I didn’t like this part of the film, so I wasn’t paying the most attention ever. I feel for you, Bobo. Boys suck.

The Critique:

Based on the first hour or so, I would’ve given this film 5/5. I really felt for Bobo, and Klara was fucking hilarious. I wish this film had continued to focus on the friendship between the two, their developing friendship with Hedvig, and their family relationships. Instead, for the last half hour, we get this relationship angst that creates drama between Bobo and Klara, which fucking sucks.

Also, as a non-Swede, there are some cultural references that I don’t understand at all and I just kind of accepted are nonsense like whenever the Swedish chef speaks (sorry, Swedes).

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Because Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig are possibly my favorite teens ever. Girl power forever.

See what Christa, the Klara to my Bobo, thought of this one here at her blog!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, or: I Can Take Your Eyes out of Your Skull

Foreign films, round two. This one is Christa’s pick.

I’m not even going to try to create any sort of suspense here; I loved this film (spoiler spoiler spoiler).

See what Christa thought here!

The Film:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

I saw a review describing this as the first Iranian vampire western. I would also argue it is the first (only?) feminist vampire movie. With a cat.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

There’s a cat in this film, and it’s actually pretty important to the (admittedly not overly involved) plot. I was initially afraid this was going to get all Gummo, but don’t worry—nothing bad happens to the cat. (I guess that’s a spoiler, but whatever. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care what happens to the cat at the end, you deserve to have all film endings spoiled. Probably).

a man drives a vintage car with a
The cat seriously deserves an Oscar for the range of emotions on its face.

So our protagonist is Arash, a young man who works hard but keeps getting caught up in his father’s nonsense and the general shittiness of living in Bad City. His father is a junkie, gambler, and owes a lot of money to this super shady pimp/loan shark/not 100% sure what his job description is. Whatever he does for a living, he’s a total douche as exhibited by (a) threatening the fucking cat, (b) his “SEX” neck tattoo, and (c) taking Arash’s car as payment for his father’s debts.

It’s okay, readers. This tool doesn’t have long to live. He makes his last mistake by kicking a prostitute to the curb without payment for services rendered. Sketchy dudes of Bad City, beware: you never know who or what is watching you. Spoiler alert: vampire. Totally a vampire. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand she kills him.

Later, in what is possibly my favorite moment of the entire film, the vampire threatens to feed a little boy’s eyes to dogs, then steals his skateboard.

a woman wearing a hijab talks to a young boy, telling him "I can take your eyes out of your skull"
Have I ever told you you’re my heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeero?

It may not surprise you that Arash meets the vampire one night. He is leaving a costume party dressed as a vampire and has just taken E or something…I don’t know, guys. I have little to no street cred. Whatever he took, it makes one particular streetlamp absolutely fascinating to him, apparently. The vampire approaches him, and he then wraps her in his cape because she feels cold. Then she pushes him on the skateboard to her place. Honestly, this scene was about 10,000x more adorable than I can convey here. They also have basically the most tension-filled non-sex scene ever.

a man and woman stand close together in a room decorated with many posters
Oh my god, just make out already. Now. …Now. …NOW.

When they meet again later, Arash brings the vampire a hamburger; if that’s not love, I don’t know what is. He also gives her stolen earrings and pierces her ears with a safety pin…awwwwwwwww?

The Critique:

Okay, I think she’s the first feminist vampire, and this may be the first feminist vampire movie. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not an expert because I think vampires are just not scary at all and have to follow a lot of arbitrary rules. Plus lady vampires usually have to be “sexy” vampires, which is just so infuriating.

Straight talk: this is a majorly hipster-y movie; the vampire listens to music on a record player, has a disco ball in her room, and I think I spotted Michael Jackson on the wall. And sometimes this movie is really bizarre; there’s this scene of a woman dancing with a balloon to sort of operatic music. I’m still puzzling over that one.

However, this is a gorgeous film, part love story, part story of bringing justice to Bad City. So…Iranian vampire western. Accurate. (To be honest, I was thinking of Rango the whole time and expecting the little owl mariachi band to appear at any moment.) Much more of a creepy/suspenseful film than a gory horror.

The director’s next project is apparently “a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas wasteland” where a “muscled cannibal breaks the rule ‘don’t play with your food.” Ana Lily Amirpour, WHERE have you been all my life???

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 5/5 Pink Panther Heads

We’re doing it; we’re going with a perfect score. I don’t mean to say this is a perfect film that is completely free of WTF moments, but it was original, it was creepy, it was tense, and it had a cat. As close to perfection as possible.

Christa’s review is available here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Kolya, or: I’m Czeching You Out

First pick of foreign film-athon! This one is Kolya, Czech film and winner of the Foreign Language Oscar in 1996. A well-deserved win? Mmmmmmm…we’ll see. I’m sure the fabulous Christa has many thoughts about this too!

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A curmudgeonly old cellist must take care of his Russian wife’s child after she ditches for West Germany.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Based on the trailer and the emotional, cloud-watching from an airplane at the beginning, I expected this movie to break my heart. And it did…it just took a long time. A reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally fucking long time.

Basically, the setup is that Louka is a grumpy old man who plays cello with a quartet, mostly for funerals. Though he used to play with the philharmonic, Louka now performs odd jobs, like restoring headstones because he’s been blacklisted for Communist reasons (I think?). He is also a full-time creep, whether to the woman singing with the quartet, women he tutors, or random young women on the street. I think we’re supposed to take away from this that he’s lonely…but seriously, if you’re going to be that creepy, you shouldn’t be shocked when women stay as far away from you as possible.

A man leans toward a woman in bed, telling her "Music means celibacy."
{Insert eye roll HERE}

So anyway…this is the gross version of The Concert (which is an excellent film AND stars Mélanie Laurent). That is until Louka’s friend offers him a way to make quick money: marry this young Russian lady who doesn’t want to get deported. Louka is super fucking skeptical at first, but ultimately agrees as the money will allow him to buy a new car. And in Soviet Czechoslovakia, “new” means “rust-free.” GUYS.

It takes almost 40 minutes for the ENTIRE PREMISE OF THE MOVIE to happen, but it’s pretty great when it does. The Russian lady’s son, Kolya, shows up on Louka’s doorstep as she suddenly left to be with her boyfriend in West Germany. Louka does his best to take care of the kid, but is at heart a bit of a grump. To be fair, the kid is kind of an asshole and won’t even take his hand to cross the street. SAFETY, kid.

An elderly man reads a magazine in bed as a child sleeps on the other end. He tells the child "Stop snivelling and sleep. One night won't kill you."
Really relating to Louka at this moment.

Louka pretty much decides to continue as usual with things like giving cello lessons and being really shady. I’m sorry, but what do women find attractive about this dude??? He looks like the Czech Hemingway.

One of Louka’s last attempts to pawn the kid off on someone else fails when Kolya’s grandmother dies. So we get some different montages of really cute days out, honestly, and Louka being nice. Like he buys 5 tickets to a Russian movie so Kolya can see it. And he even speaks broken Russian over a loudspeaker in order to find Kolya when he gets lost in the subway. Now when Louka is calling women late at night, he’s asking if they can read the kid a story in Russian.

An elderly man looks at a young boy, saying "I'll probably keep him.'"
One of many heart-slaying moments.

It turns out Kolya doesn’t know when his birthday is, so Louka invents one and gives him a violin. Everything is going just swimmingly, so of course this is when the social services office shows up regarding his claim from months before.

Not sure I’m selling this one particularly well, but the ending will rip your heart out and stomp all over it unless you are made of STONE. If you make it there.

The Critique:

The emotional moments of this film were so fucking successful, though it really doesn’t take much to overload my feelings right now. Let’s be generous and say it’s not me, it’s the film.

HOWEVER, if we hadn’t been watching for the blog, though, I probably would have given up way earlier and missed out on the emotional payoff. Louka was just such a fucking creep, and he didn’t really change that much through the course of the film. I expected the movie to focus a lot more on the evolution of the relationship between Louka and Kolya, but the growth was really just a series of montages (I need to stop using that word because now I have “Montage” from Team America stuck in my head). There were a lot of angry tirades about the Russians, the Czech government, and Communism in general. It had the warm fuzzies and political indignation of Billy Elliot, but I was totally lacking the context of what the hell was going on in the Czech Republic at the time.

A man crouches in front of a young boy, telling him "You're expansionists!"
Pretty sure you’re not really clearing anything up there, Louka.

Maybe if you’re less of a philistine or a better world citizen than I you will like this film.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Honestly, that is a rather arbitrary rating because I’m not sure how to feel about this movie.  When it was good, it was excellent…and when it was bad it was so damn directionless.

See what Christa thought here!

Book Reviews

Through the Woods Book Review, or: We Need to Talk About Carroll

I’ve decided to do another book review and you can’t stop me. Not sure if I’ve mentioned on this blog my love for graphic novels/comics/picture books…whatever you want to call them. I love the art and design and that they feel like watching a silent film. Also a disproportionate number of graphic novelists seem to enjoy telling creepy, dark, surreal stories, though perhaps these types of stories magically find me no matter the format. Creepy book of the week is Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods.

cover art

It’s a collection of short stories, all of which I would describe as dark fairy tales taking place in different historical periods. These are stories about things lurking in the woods, dysfunctional relationships, ghosts, madness, betrayal, and murder. Unlike many fairy tales we tell to children, no one is going to help in the end and, in fact, other people are most likely actively plotting to destroy you. Assuming, of course, that they are actually human.  (So…realistic fiction, essentially.)

Most of the stories are quite short, and Carroll teases us with some details but ultimately leaves a lot of ambiguity. What is great is that the stories continue to surprise even with the building sense of dread and inevitability. I basically love all of the drawings, but the best/eeriest are black, white, and red. There are several images that will haunt my dreams.

My favorite is the last story, but even the fucking epilogue I love, and when the fuck can you ever say you love an epilogue? The last story is the longest, and I felt I could really sink my teeth into it. It follows Bell, a young woman in the 1920s whose mother has recently passed away. After her year at boarding school ends, she goes to stay with her brother and his fiancée in the country. Bell would like to stay inside and read all summer, but her brother is intolerably cheerful and outdoorsy, encouraging her to spend time outside and to get to know his fiancée. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bell discovers the fiancée has a much darker secret than a cupboard full of overdue library books. All I’m going to say is that you will probably shrink in terror from the next flapper you see (if you regularly encounter flappers).

The only disappointing thing is how quickly you can get through this book, and Carroll doesn’t have any other collections of her work, and she is apparently busy being a Twitter goddess. Sample tweets: “next time I sit down to read another Classic Must-Read Horror Book by a dude, I’m just going to save myself the trouble & do anything else.” Also “let me guess, is there a sexy evil woman in it? how about a shrew? fellas, if that was scary I’d scream every time I looked in the mirror.” We get it, Emily Carroll. You’re really cool and probably an interesting person to talk to. Get back to work. EDIT: Emily Carroll does have quite a few comics you can read for free on her site: Girl apparently just picked up some Eisner Awards for Through the Woods and her short story “When the Darkness Presses.”

Before I go, I’m not fucking kidding. Haunting my dreams (and wait until you see what happens to those teeth):

red spaghetti-like strands emerge from a woman's nose, mouth, and from behind her eyeballs

Carroll’s stories, most of which are about young women encountering sinister, otherworldly creatures, remind me a lot of Libba Bray’s novels, and I would follow that woman into battle. As the epilogue reminds us, “you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the WOLF…the WOLF only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Through the Woods is like that too: full of fragments, stories, and images that are beautifully disquieting. Disquietingly beautiful?  All of the above.  Yes.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hector and the Search for Happiness, or: Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Christa’s pick because I guess this is still romance week(s), but we’re a little romanced out. Also Simon Pegg. See Christa’s thoughts here!

The Film:

Hector and the Search for Happiness

The Premise:

Films like this make me question including a summary. Hector (Simon Pegg) travels the world searching…for…(act surprised)…HAPPINESS.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

The most important thing you need to know about this film is that it begins with Simon Pegg and a dog flying in a biplane. If this is an image that appeals to you, you may enjoy this film. If you think that sounds a bit over the top and, frankly, cheesy, then this film may not be up your alley.

Our movie follows Hector, a psychiatrist who likes his nice, quiet, comfortable life with his girlfriend, Clara (Rosamunde Pike). As her jackass boss points out, Clara has yet to discover the words “maternity” or “leave.”

The usual routines get upset when Clara finds a picture of Hector with someone named Agnes. Hector also brings out the “Are you happy?” question with extremely poor timing. Honestly, Hector really does want to know what makes people happy, and decides to travel around the world conducting his research.

A man wearing glasses faces a woman who is wearing oversized black glasses.
You think I’m unhappy? Did the giant hipster glasses give me away???

Hector’s first stop is China, where a cranky rich dude argues that money is happiness. In contrast, we get the Dalai Lama (I presume?) telling Hector that the key to happiness is, among other things, not to avoid unhappiness.

Next stop is to visit Hector’s friend, a doctor in an indeterminate African nation. Basically, all kinds of shit goes down, but Hector does make friends with a powerful drug dealer. Cool?

Finally, Hector travels to Los Angeles to meet up with Agnes, thus freaking Clara the fuck out. On the plane, someone asks if there’s a doctor in the house b/c there’s a woman whose brain is swelling. She doesn’t want the plane to stop because she’s on the way to visit her sister one last time, so Hector requests the plane fly at a lower altitude. Okay, I’m sorry, but if you’re having a medical emergency, I think they would stop the fucking plane whether you want to or not. Hector, the very soul of nobility, gives his first class seat to the woman and spends the rest of the flight trying to make her feel better. To be honest, this entire scene makes faking a medical emergency on a plane seem very appealing.


A man on a plane tends to an unconscious woman.
You beautiful angel, you are NOT REAL.

Anyway, Hector arrives in LA. Also Agnes is Toni Collette, which is fantastic. Agnes is happily married with children, but she has some great connections in the psychology field, including Christopher Plummer in a beanie. He has developed a device for people to wear, after which he can diagnose what emotions they are feeling.

A man sits next to an older man (played by actor Christopher Plummer) in a medical office.

Hector doesn’t have grown up feelings until Clara calls, and it lights up every part of his brain. He’s got more feelings than someone watching a Pixar movie.  Does this mean Hector has finally found the key to happiness???

The Critique:

Simon Pegg was so adorable in this film, and Rosamunde Pike too. I really liked that the message of this film was, among other things, that it’s okay to enjoy the everyday moments of life and the seemingly dull routines…though it is necessary to challenge yourself and be a bit uncomfortable at times.

This was a fun, upbeat film, but at times it was a little too upbeat. I found myself overanalyzing certain situations in which people turn out not to be complete assholes with really sketchy ulterior motives (but I suppose that may be more of a reflection of my general state of mind at the moment).

I also expected us to delve into Hector’s childhood a bit more, as there were clearly some issues there. I suppose it was kind of refreshing that this wasn’t a film in which talking about trauma made its impact suddenly disappear.

And on a side note, towards the end of the film, Hector Skypes with the Dalai Lama, who seems surprised to see him. It makes me uncomfortable to think the Dalai Lama is on Chatroulette or something, but in what other video chat scenario would you be so surprised to see someone you know? No?

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherHalf Pink Panther head 3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m a harsh critic, what can I say? Honestly, I got hung up on that plane scene, which seemed to argue for the basic decency of passengers on long trips.

What did Christa think? Find out in her post here!