Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Iris, or: I Don’t Want the World to See Me

Feminist February has been much more of an emotional roller coaster than anticipated. Though I regret nothing about our choice this month, I think Christa and I are both ready for the assault on our emotions to end.  Bring it on, as yet unnamed, eclectic March theme!

Not going to lie, this pick has mostly been on my radar forever almost entirely because of Judi Dench.

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Flashbacks reveal the life of Iris Murdoch as a young writer, free spirit, and teller of interesting stories at parties—in contrast to her struggle with Alzheimer’s during her final years.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens with one of the recurring images of this film: Iris swimming, whether old, young, alone, with her husband. Which makes sense what with The Sea, The Sea, if that’s not too obvious. Also the seaside is a place throughout the film where Iris is free…yet seems to be searching for something in the murky waters.

A woman walks along a pebbly beach towards the ocean.
Keep calm and remember I was an English major if this gets unbearable.

Iris is obviously still full of spirit in her 70s, but she is beginning to forget things. As a young woman, she was charismatic, charming, and nearly impossible to keep up with (both literally and figuratively, as bicycling Hugh Bonneville could tell you).

A man and woman bicycle next to each other.
Did I mention Kate Winslet is in this too?  Kate Winslet is in this.

Much of the story revolves around the romance between loud, controversial Iris and shy, stammering professor John Bayley. He’s so fascinated by Iris and shyly tells her he’d like to read her novel and that he loves her nose. In contrast to Iris, John is quite sexually conservative and inexperienced, even asking her to marry him after they kiss once. John is super jealous and scandalized when he finds out Iris is banging both men and women on the side.

In the later storyline, Iris and John do normal couple-y things, like complaining about things in grocery stores and hanging out at their local pub. Unfortunately, she also becomes increasingly forgetful and puzzled. While doing an interview that reminded me a lot of a scene in Atonement (or maybe I’ve just got Atonement on the brain), Iris suddenly loses her train of thought and all comprehension of what’s going on. This leads to a memory test, brain scan, and a dementia diagnosis.

It gets so heartbreaking from here on out, as John tries to be patient while caring for Iris but is frequently frustrated. Also really difficult to type because when both Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent are crying, you can’t not fucking cry, and when they are both apologizing to each other, you can’t not fucking weep. Don’t make me think about the scene in which John reads Pride and Prejudice to Iris.

An elderly man sits on a sofa next to an elderly woman, his hand on her shoulder.
And I don’t even fucking like Pride and Prejudice!

Though this film is not driven by plot, I’d say it culminates with Iris wandering off one day, sending John into a panic.  And me and, by extension, Bertha Mason.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

An incredibly heart-wrenching film that is also quite horrifying. Our culture deals with aging really, really badly, and I’m not an exception. I dread this type of story, and I can’t think about this film without wanting to hit something and thinking about how unfair everyfuckingthing is.

It’s important that this film doesn’t flinch when tackling how hard it must be to deal with a loved one’s dementia, and it doesn’t pretend Iris Murdoch was an infallible human being. She was strong-willed and brilliant, but flawed.

So worth watching, but prepare yourself.  You will cry and you will get the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” stuck in your head, which will likely make you cry all over again.  I highly recommend tissues, chocolate, and a cat to accompany you.

There’s a funeral for a friend (love lies bleeding) in which John references a part in Anna Karenina where she thinks of something funny to tell her lover but realizes she can’t. John does the same thing. It was basically equally as sad as the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and if W.H. Auden doesn’t make you fucking weep, I have serious reservations about your humanity.

I was just really glad I had a cat to hold throughout.

Is Christa still speaking to me after this incredibly masochistic pick?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: The Punk Singer

This week’s feature in Feminist February takes us into documentary territory.  Christa’s pick, which may not surprise you when I tell you it’s the Kathleen Hanna documentary.

The Film:

The Punk Singer

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Documentary following Kathleen Hanna, the Riot Grrrl movement, and her decision to quit the scene in 2005.

The Uncondensed Version:

Editor’s note:  I knew very few concrete facts about Kathleen Hanna prior to this film.  What can I say—Christa is the cool punk riot grrrl of our relationship.

Our film opens with Kathleen performing angry, intense slam poetry.  Her performance captures the focus of this documentary and her career—it’s all about message over form, and being empowered to have a voice.

One of the sticking points for Kathleen is how her childhood gets twisted in the media.  Admittedly her father was a bit of a jerk and was sexually inappropriate to Kathleen (in her own words).  Meanwhile, her mother did things like play the trust game and let her fall!  This is literally what happened in Wetlands, and the mother in that was awful!

A woman sits outside in a chair, wearing a sailor hat.
Not sure this image is relevant, but Kathleen Hanna in a sailor hat.

Kathleen gets involved with feminism and its expression via art while a college student.  After her best friend is assaulted in their house, Kathleen’s feminist rage is awakened, and everything she creates puts voice to that rage.

When she’s asked to form a band, she recognizes the opportunity to spread her message.  This is Bikini Kill.  As in We Are the Best, lack of musical experience is not an obstacle.

So Kathleen does several (actually way more than several) incredible things while part of Bikini Kill.  She starts the “girls to the front” thing, which encourages women to find safe spaces at her concerts.  Oh, and basically comes up with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” while wasted with Kurt Cobain.  And begins Riot Grrrl meetings, writing a manifesto, and encouraging other women to write their own Riot Grrrl manifestos.

An image from a feminist 'zine that reads "No we are not paranoid. No we are not manhaters. No we are not worrying too much. No we are not taking it too seriously."

However, her relationship with the press is dismally bad, she has little money despite rising fame, and Bikini Kill is not getting along well as a whole.  She also gets death threats and a punch in the face from Courtney Love (for no apparent reason).

Kathleen is able to find some happiness by recording a solo album, Julie Ruin, which deliberately sounds like it was made in a girl’s bedroom.  I love the way she describes girl’s rooms as creative spaces, and this album is a way to reach out and connect those space.  She also pursues a relationship with a Beastie Boy.

All good things come to an end, which is most decidedly true for Bikini Kill.  Kathleen then starts Le Tigre, which she describes as a band creating politically radical content that you can dance to.  I can’t even count the number of times “Deceptacon” has gotten stuck on repeat in my head.

Members of the band Bikini Kill pose -- 2 young women and one young man, all wearing black and white.
Who took the bomp, indeed.

Le Tigre is doing really well and off on world tours when Kathleen abruptly quits.  As it turns out, she had been getting sick on tour really frequently.  She is eventually diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease, which became much worse as it went untreated.  Her doctor tells us that sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, and it’s quite heartbreaking to see the toll it takes on Kathleen.  After having fought so hard for control of her life, she is in a lot of pain and has little control of it at times.

However, we do end strong with Kathleen’s words:  “People don’t have to believe in feminism, but they shouldn’t get in my fucking way.”

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Watching this documentary made me really wish I were the kind of person who gets interviewed as a premier expert on punk.

A woman stands outside on the open balcony of a building, gesturing emphatically.
This lady was my fave for how many times she used the word “fuck.”

And also made me want to watch We Are the Best, but literally every film we watch right now makes me want to watch We Are the Best again.

I have so much respect for Kathleen Hanna battling both rampant sexism and Lyme disease; both are horrific.  I got super emotional at the end because I can’t deal with people crying at this point and I had no clue how awful Lyme disease can be.  This is an incredibly empowering documentary, whether you’re into punk or not.  You may have to remind yourself that it’s not okay to break your keyboard on a man’s skull, though.  At least if you get caught.

Did Christa embrace the feminist rage or will our difference of opinion break up the band (why is this even a question)?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (But Only Metaphorically)

Third film of Feminist February with the somewhat misleadingly titled Vic + Flo Saw a Bear.  I don’t know where to begin with this one.  Really I don’t.

I am positive Christa has much to say about this week’s pick.

The Film:

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Lesbian ex-cons move to small-town Canada, which is quite beautiful and has fewer bears than anticipated. Except in the metaphorical sense.

The Uncondensed Version:

The titular Vic arrives in a small town in Quebec, already ruffling feathers as she insults a trumpet-playing child. I really connected with her at that moment.

As it turns out, Vic has recently been released from prison. She plans to live with her uncle, who is now paralyzed and cannot speak. Fortunately, Uncle Emile has a caretaker in the form of this teen boy who likes to fly a remote control helicopter and avoid wearing a shirt. (Does it really get that hot in Quebec?!)

This is part of a plan to fool her parole officer, Guillaume, into thinking she lives with her brother. Guillaume is pretty much not fooled, but he lets Vic get away with a lot of shit.

a man sits with two women in a restaurant booth
Pretty adorable for a parole officer.

Vic spends quite a bit of time cruising around with that teen boy in a golf cart, saying grumpy things to the PO, and inexplicably crying.

It’s not too long before Flo arrives and completes the duo. Vic and Flo are quite sweet initially, but their differences are heading towards irreconcilable. Flo is a younger, free-spirited city dweller who longs for excitement, while Vic would be perfectly content to stay holed up in the woods and never see another living human being.

two naked women recline on a bed, one saying "I'm old enough to know that I hate people."

Sadly, this is not to be, as a woman working for the city shows up and seems to be flirting with Vic. She helps Vic tend to her garden and, in exchange, asks to use the property as a shortcut occasionally. Vic agrees because, hey, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, Flo, whose sexuality is a bit more fluid, goes to the only bar in town to pick up guys. Also to drink, but probably like 60-75% to pick up guys.

So not the healthiest relationship ever. Things go from bad to worse when Guillaume tells Vic that her uncle Emile really needs better care. She manages to hang on to some of his money that she found hidden in the house, which Flo interprets as a way to keep and control her. Vic, on the other hand, sees it as a romantic gesture even though she follows it with the line “I’ll kill myself if you leave.” Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, ease up a bit on the emotional manipulation, please.

two women drive a golf cart down a country lane

Everything spirals out of control when the lady who has been helping Vic with the garden turns out to be Jackie, a woman with a vendetta against Flo. After she ties Flo to a tree and breaks her leg, Flo insists Jackie has gotten her revenge and will absolutely, definitively NOT return.

a woman stares fixatedly at another woman standing against a tree
Look at her face…she’s obviously just kidding around.

I would just like to point out that this is (obviously) horribly, horribly wrong and the kind of person who ties you to a tree and breaks your leg will ALWAYS be back. Lest I completely ruin this one, let’s leave it there and say this film takes a very dark turn.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Personally, it drives me nuts that many questions are left unanswered at the end of this film.  Unless I missed all of the answers while typing my notes.

First, any sort of explanation for Jackie’s behavior. Presumably Flo owes her money or betrayed her in some way? Jackie’s motives are deliberately ambiguous as she is the force of nature, the “bear” in this film, and it’s not important why she behaves the way she does. It seems to be inherent in her nature.

On a related note, the reason for Vic’s incarceration and Flo hiding for 10 years. Money? Idk, you guys—the only institution who I’ve borrowed large sums of money from is the government. And I don’t think the US federal government has reached the stage of tying people to trees and breaking their knees. YET. My point is that Jackie’s motives seemed more personal, but it remains unclear what she wanted…except to hurt Flo.

The last half of this movie was much stronger than the first…and it would have been stronger if there had been, I don’t know, SOME FUCKING ANSWERS.

I found Vic and Flo compelling but not particularly sympathetic. I completely loved the parole officer, while Vic was scary controlling at times, and Flo incredibly self-destructive.

Worth a watch, but be prepared for the lack of literal/non-metaphorical bears.

Did Christa see a bear or is she out in the wilderness regarding this film?  Does that question even make sense?  Find out the answer to at least one of those questions by reading her review here!

a woman lies on a bed in a small, enclosed space, wearing a black dress and with her black high heeled shoes kicked off
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February II: Advantageous

Feminist February continues!  This week is Christa’s pick, it’s sci-fi, it’s about ageism, and it’s written/directed by and starring women.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

In the near-ish future, a middle-aged woman undergoes a dramatic procedure to keep her job and secure her daughter’s future.

The Uncondensed Version:

Gwen is a career woman, mother, and face of her company.  She has a lot going for her even in the somewhat disconcerting future she lives in.

Everyone has a little flying UFO-type aircraft to zip around the city.  Well…it occurred to me that in the future (as in the present), only rich people will be able to afford really cool shit like that.  Thus all of my enthusiasm for the future has been crushed.

a futuristic city skyline depicts a building with a waterfall cascading down onto it
On the bright side, waterfall skyscrapers are a thing we can look forward to in the future.

Gwen’s daughter, Jules, is having a hard time understanding the world they live in, esp. as most things have gone to shit.  Jules didn’t get in to the exclusive prep school she applied to, she may not have eggs by the time she’s 20, and she feels that humanity’s awareness of how bad things are has done nothing to alter the course of history (she has a point there).

a woman and child rest their heads against each other while sitting on a couch
They’re pretty cute.

Though Gwen tries to remain optimistic and instill a sense of hope in her daughter, things go from bad to worse when she is let go as the face of her company, which specializes in radical procedures to help women (and I mean, probably men too, but mostly women.  Fucking patriarchy) maintain a youthful appearance.  The latest procedure is experimental—it involves transferring one’s brain into a younger body.  Of course it does.  And guess who is too old to be the face of the company?

So Gwen is fired and immediately calls her…agent?  He seems to be a robot named Drake, which cracked me up every time.  At one point, Gwen asks “Drake, are you a human being?”  Valid question, Gwen.  Drake is really unhelpful and suggests Gwen donate eggs…which will earn her money in a few months.  Not going to help when Gwen needs to live and somehow afford a $10,000 down payment to reserve a spot at a fancy private school.

a woman stands on a balcony with a large potted plant behind her
You used to call me on my Bluetooth…

Guess where this is going.  Guess.  Yeah, Gwen decides to be a guinea pig for the procedure in which her identity and memories are transferred to a new body.  She continues to reinforce to her daughter, who has some major preteen angst, that she is a beautiful, strong young lady.

a man in glasses stands in a room with dark-colored walls
On a side note, Ken Jeong is in this(?!?!??!?!?!).

Gwen and Jules spend Christmas together.  Jules draws quite a nice portrait of Gwen.  Gwen reminds her that the wisdom and kindness Jules has is the secret beauty everyone wants.  Cue the waterworks.

Shortly after, the time to undergo the procedure arrives.  The way this film builds to the inevitable conclusion is brilliantly done, but still feels jarring.  There is no other option for Gwen as the external (and internal) pressures build on her.  However, I kept trying to find ways around the ending as it’s not going to conclude happily for anyone, really.  As more is revealed about the procedure, this film becomes increasingly horrifying/sad/wrenching.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Chilling.  Make sure you have a cat to hug immediately following viewing.

Did Christa feel the need to hug a cat as well?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

Feminist February is off with a bang!  Or quite possibly a whimper.  It’s my pick this time around, chosen primarily because this film was written, directed, and produced by women.  Plus there’s that T.S. Eliot reference in the title.

I don’t know how to react to this one, but Christa might.  She usually does.

The Film:

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A perpetual temp with a photography hobby takes a job working for a curator with somewhat bizarre results.

The Uncondensed Version:

Polly, aforementioned temp, is way ahead of her time as evidenced by the format of this film:  1980s video diary.  She was a vlogger (sorry, Christa) before vlogging was a thing.

A woman in a videorecording poses in front of a wall of photos.
I’m done using the word “vlog” in this post now.

It’s pretty clear that Polly doesn’t quite have her shit together, but her house is a hipster’s dream complete with darkroom to develop the photos she takes around the city.  Oddly, the darkroom seems to function as living quarters for plants…so I’m not sure those plants will be alive for long unless they need little to no sunlight.  Too nitpicky?  Too nitpicky.

A woman bicycles through a parking lot.
She even rides a bicycle everywhere.

So Polly lives alone with a cat and a goldfish that lives in a huge jar.  Again, surprised that it’s alive.  Polly considers herself a spinster at the age of 31??!?!?  I almost spat out my tea at that.

To return to the (admittedly somewhat thin) plot, Polly takes a temp job as a secretary for a French gallery owner/curator, Gabrielle.

Polly seems to have a pretty big crush on Gabrielle, who is gorgeous and sophisticated in an Ingrid Bergman-esque kind of way.  Okay, I’m sorry, all women with vaguely European accents—I have probably compared you to Ingrid Bergman at some point.

Anyway, Polly seems hopeful about their relationship and, confusingly, they do go to a Japanese restaurant for squid.  Is it a date?  Is it dinner?  Is it all of the above?  Unclear, but when Gabrielle offers Polly a permanent position, she eagerly agrees.

Two women sit across from each other on the floor of a Japanese-style room; they are both unfolding small hand towels.
Hand towel struggles.

Everything seems to be going quite swimmingly until Gabrielle’s ex, Mary, rolls into town.  Gabrielle and Mary become an item again, which makes Polly super jealous and have very odd dreams/fantasies.  Though Polly is invited over to hang out with the two, she becomes something of a third wheel as she’s not sophisticated/hipster/chic enough to stay on their level.

Two women sit next to each other, both wearing headbands.
Damnit, I left my headband at home.  Now I’ll never fit in!

And, as it turns out, Gabrielle gets into heavy existential shit when she’s drunk.  I mean, she is French.   Gabrielle feels like she has no talent and is wasting her life, unable to create anything of beauty or significance.  In an effort to make Gabrielle feel better, Polly asks to see her work.  It’s so beautiful that Polly decides to hang it in the gallery.  Plus it prob wouldn’t hurt her chances with Gabrielle.  But does it help?  As it turns out, the work isn’t really Gabrielle’s.  And, even worse, Gabrielle insults Polly’s photos.  Not cool, Gabrielle.

Let’s just say this film goes super dark and bizarre when Polly discovers the truth about who created the paintings.  Seriously, it’s pretty fucked up.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

That’s the last time I pick a film based on T.S. Eliot references in the title.  I was left wondering what exactly the point was, and I feel the ending came out of nowhere.  Polly is pretty adorable, though.  She’s kind of like a neurotic Molly Ringwald.

Did Christa hear the mermaids singing?  Read her review here to find out!