The Pink Panther Snipes Again

Bad Movie Reviews with a Touch of Snark


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Obvious Child, or: Russian Roulette

To be completely in line with this month’s theme, I fucked up and forgot we were posting today.  That is the level of my commitment to this blog—I will deliberately fail to remember things just to more authentically represent a theme.  You’re welcome, readers.

Our theme, of course, is “Oh Dear God How Did I End up on This Adulthood Train and How Quickly Can I Jump off Without Winding up on the Tracks?”

The Film:

Obvious Child

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime

The Premise:

It’s the abortion comedy you never knew you needed!

The Uncondensed Version:

Donna is a stand-up comedian struggling to make a living from her passion in NYC.  Though talented, she is just barely holding things together in her personal and professional life.  Things start to unravel when her boyfriend dumps her after a gig.  To make matters worse, the bookstore where she works during the day is closing, so there goes her major source of income.  Luckily, Donna has friends to help her through:  the angry feminist and the gay best friend.

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Feminists make the greatest bffs!

While Donna has an easy relationship with her father, she doesn’t get along well with her mother, who pushes her to do more with her life.

Still not over her ex, Donna takes the opportunity to get shitfaced both before and after a standup gig, resulting in (a) perhaps the most emotionally intense stream-of-consciousness ever for a standup routine, and (b) a one-night stand with an awkward but sweet guy she meets at the bar.

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Read the room, girl.  Please.

If you go into this film knowing it’s an abortion comedy, you know what happens next:  Donna discovers she’s pregnant and decides to get an abortion.

After that, a series of miscommunications and chance encounters with her one-night stand, Max, leads her to believe she should tell him about the abortion.  That is, until Max tells her how much he’s looking forward to being a grandfather, and Donna begins to think he should never know.

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Book sale??!  This is the most unexpected surprise I could possibly learn about today!

To borrow a page from Christa’s book, dramatic questions:  Will Max find out?  If so, how will he react?  And will Donna give herself a break for not having all of the answers?

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Easily.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this one, but it unflinchingly addresses a (still) controversial topic with warmth and humor.  I flipping love the dialogue in this and the relationships Donna has with her parents and close friends.  The feminist friend has a great line about Donna playing Russian roulette with her vagina.  Max is unrealistically sweet, or perhaps I am unrealistically cynical.  But I’ll take it.

We explore briefly how this procedure can be cost-prohibitive for some women.  At $500, Donna’s abortion is a relatively low-cost medical procedure, but she cries when the doctor gives her this figure.

There are also several female experiences with abortion–for Donna, it is an easy decision but she still feels a certain level of stress and shame.  Her angry feminist friend (I say this with affection), however, feels zero regret about it.  Donna’s abortion doesn’t ruin her life or wrack her with guilt—it’s a decision about her body and future rather than the act of cold-blooded murder certain conservative groups make it out to be.

I will stop now because I could go on all day.

Would Christa take this film out for a nice Italian meal or make up flimsy excuses during chance encounters with it the next day?  Find out here!


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Tallulah: A Case Study

Hooray for fuck-ups!  At least that’s our theme this month (and let’s be honest—every month.  Every DAY).  This week’s pick is brought to you by Allison Janney and Ellen Page, but mostly Allison Janney.

The Film:

Tallulah

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Ellen Page steals a baby!  Also Allison Janney is in this.

The Uncondensed Version:

Tallulah (Lu) and her boyfriend Nico have been on the road, living out of a van for the last couple of years.  Things begin to fall apart when Nico suggests they settle down a bit, maybe even marry and have children.  Lu, much more of a free spirit, freaks out a bit, leading to a big fight and Nico’s departure.  With nothing to go on beyond Nico’s brief mention of going home, Lu heads to NYC to find his mom.

Nico’s mom, Margo, is played by Allison Janney (who in fact makes this movie).  In the midst of a divorce, fearing she will be kicked out of university-sponsored housing, and alienated from her son, Margo is not in a good place and not particularly welcoming.

After Margo sends her away, Lu goes to a hotel to scavenge and is mistaken for housekeeping.  An unhappy trophy wife asks Lu to watch the baby, Madison, while she goes on a date.  This woman, Carolyn, doesn’t seem to know the first thing about babies, letting her daughter toddle around naked, claiming she is already potty trained and doesn’t need diapers.

Carolyn is a pretty insufferable character and is accustomed to paying people to do anything she can’t or doesn’t want to do herself, including applying her makeup and putting her shoes on her feet.  She has a bit of a breakdown about how incompetent she is as a mother, but it was really difficult to sympathize.  Possibly because I find it difficult to sympathize, period.

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Is it wrong that I’m also annoyed by how perfect her hair is?

By the time Carolyn returns home, she is drunk and passes out almost immediately.  When Madison reaches her arms out to Lu, she takes it as a sign and leaves the hotel with Madison.

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The thing that scares me about babies is you never know if they just like shiny things or if they actually intend to choke you.

With nowhere else to go, Lu returns to Margo’s apartment and claims Madison is Nico’s daughter.  Margo agrees to let them stay for a night, which of course becomes longer.

Margo, Lu, and Madison bond a bit though mostly Margo yells at Lu for her complete incompetence as a mother.  We learn a bit more about Margo’s divorce, including the tidbit that she has yet to sign the divorce papers.  After many years of marriage, Margo’s husband came out as gay and left her for a man (Zachary Quinto).  Margo refuses to sign the papers in part because she’s angry that her husband is considered brave after so many years of lying and ultimately breaking up their family.

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Why go to a paint ‘n wine class when you can get drunk and make bad paintings for free?

Lu, on the other hand, remains pretty mysterious.  The only thing she reveals is that she was named after a bar in the town where she grew up, and possibly hints that one or both of her parents were alcoholics.  When asked if she was raised by wolves, she responds “I wish.”

Meanwhile, Carolyn is frantic about her missing daughter, partially because her husband has no idea she is in NYC and will never forgive her for losing their daughter.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know if I like this one or not.  Allison Janney is amazing in this (duh).  There are moments that are very successful, and I like that it’s very focused on exploring themes rather than plot.

On the other hand, the tone strikes me as very uneven.  It’s a drama, but it has some lighter moments and (almost) a comedy ending.  I also didn’t really buy Margo and Lu’s bond—by the end, it was meant to be very strong, but I didn’t think enough time was spent establishing that.

My mom watched quite a chunk of this with me, and she thought the subtitle should be “A Psychologist’s Case Notes” or something along those lines.  It did seem to be a very clinical study of the characters’ personalities and motivations.

Even though she’s the titular character, I think Lu’s motivations remain the most obscure.  It’s odd that she takes the baby so soon after having a discussion with Nico insisting she doesn’t want to settle down and have a conventional life.  But the movie is all about deception and self-deception, so perhaps these are things Lu does want to some degree.  All of the characters seem to lack clarity regarding what how they’d like the future to look and instead try to replay old scenarios with a happier ending.  Lu may want to create the happy childhood she presumably never had without having to really commit to being a parent or leaning on others for help.

I like the exploration here, but not necessarily the execution.

Would Christa take the money and run or take the baby and…stun (rhyming is hard)?  Find out here!

 


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Book Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

Speak

Louisa Hall

336 pages

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Speak is a science-fiction novel featuring artificial intelligence, totalitarian responses to uncannily lifelike AI, and computer prodigies, but its focus (like all sci-fi that I can think of, frankly) is on humans and humanity.  Hall explores humanity by weaving several different storylines together.  I admit I’m a sucker for novels in which seemingly separate stories come together, and much of the force driving this novel forward comes from piecing together where the connections are.  Refreshingly, I found all of the stories compelling and never felt the urge to skip through any of the sections.

We follow the history of the human search for meaning through time, beginning with Mary, a young Puritan dreading the life she will have with a new husband in the New World.  Mary’s narration is possibly my favorite as it’s full of energy, intelligence, and overconfidence in her understanding of the world.

A close second is the fictionalized letters of Alan Turing, which reveal his brilliance and isolation.  Hall perfectly balances the tragic elements of his life with his energy and wit.

Hall smoothly transitions us into the sci-fi elements of the story, beginning with a scientist hoping to reconnect with his wife.  His wife, on the other hand, is much more interested in speaking with the AI he helped develop than saving their marriage.

We jump farther forward in time to hear from a scientist and inventor imprisoned for life for his role in creating extremely lifelike AI that served as companions for children, which have since been banned.  However, after this type of AI is banned, an entire generation is left with physical and emotional illnesses, unable to form meaningful connections with humans.

Like virtually every other work tackling AI, Speak considers what it means to be human if we can create machines that can replace the appearance, interaction, and emotional work that humans perform.  Does AI make us more or less human?  And can we consider AI itself human?

There is a certain amount of sadness to the stories told here, but this novel is more of an exploration than a tragedy.  All of the consequences the characters suffer, no matter how terrible, ultimately arise from curiosity and the need for understanding.  If anything the tragedy lies in the number of characters who inevitably make themselves unknowable and unknowing in their search for a connection.

I’d call this sci-fi with an emphasis on language and a haunting/hopeful tone.  For fans of Margaret Atwood and weirdly Colum McCann?  Beautiful prose, you guys.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads


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On Counseling, or: How Does That Make You Feel?

Six different counselors have listened to me, and I don’t think there will be a seventh.  At least not for a while.

Some terminology first:  I use the word “counselor” over “therapist” because counselor to me suggests someone advising you versus someone “fixing” you.  Therapy inevitably winds up alongside concepts like physical therapy, which you do for a set amount of time until your muscles have healed.  Sometimes this is how counseling works—you do it until you no longer need it.  But I haven’t ever felt “fixed” so much as I’ve learned some new coping strategies and some ways to recognize when I’m not coping well.

I’ve had counselors I’ve really clicked with, and others not so much.  My latest taught me two things:  1. Sometimes the counselor is wrong for you, and 2. I have the tools I need to be my own best counselor.

I should clarify the first point—I don’t think my counselor was under-qualified or giving out bad advice, but it wasn’t advice that made sense for me.  The best counselors for me listen and help bring me to my own conclusions, whereas this one told me on several occasions what I should do and, implicitly, how I should feel.  She told me about the solace she has found in religion.  I honestly wish I could say the same, but I don’t, and the tone she took made me feel inexplicably guilty.

At the time, I was feeling inadequate about starting a new job, managing one of the worst family conflicts I’ve ever dealt with (and that’s saying something), and feeling extremely isolated.  According to the counselor I spoke with, the key to unlocking all of my problems was forgiveness (and, I swear, The Secret, but I will try to refrain from being overly snarky in this post).  I do know that I hold onto grudges and don’t forgive easily, but telling me that I should be more forgiving does absolutely nothing to help me feel better about myself.

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We weren’t even halfway through our 6 sessions, and I already knew this counselor didn’t understand where I was coming from.  She told me I was adorable and angelic, both of which made me feel worse.  I catch myself being fake nice all of the time and suppressing the shit out of my negative emotions, so being complimented on how sweet I am just makes me feel like complete garbage.  She asked me if I love myself, and I don’t know how to fucking respond to that.  I’m human.  There are things I like about myself, and things that I don’t.  I know that one of the people I’m most reluctant to forgive is myself.

The worst was when I told her my reasons for coming in, and she paraphrased, “So you’d say you’ve had a pretty easy life.”  Would a single fucking person in the world say they’ve had an easy life?  Life is damn hard, no matter who you are.  I’ve certainly had privileges others haven’t, but I felt so obliterated when she said that, so completely invalidated.  In retrospect, I should’ve said that it wasn’t working out and asked to see another counselor, but I am so goddamn stubborn and feel like I’ve failed if I quit something.

Even though I don’t think of the sessions with this counselor as successful, being unable to connect with her gave me room to connect better with myself.  I realized I didn’t need these sessions at all—what I really needed was to give myself time alone to unravel my feelings, space to breathe, and compassion to be fair to myself even when I don’t like who I am.

I’m not particularly good at trusting or forgiving people or feeling like an authentic version of myself, whatever that actually means.  Sometimes I dig myself a pit of self-despair and don’t know how to get back out.  But that’s part of who I am, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing those things and trying to refocus my energy.

Believe me, I’m not saying you should ignore the advice your counselor gives you or skip out on counseling.  I am most certainly not an expert on mental health issues.  Besides, I really clicked with a couple of my counselors, one of whom I still imagine having conversations with when I’m feeling really low.  He really understood me and pushed me to follow through to conclusions I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with.   But even psychologists are only human.  Like all human relationships, some work out better than others, and it’s not your fault if they don’t.


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Adult World (Not That Kind of Adult World)

This week’s film underlines the “adulting sucks” element of fuck-ups month while highlighting the unintended but nevertheless important motif of the Cusack siblings.

The Film:

Adult World

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A recent college graduate must rethink her plans to become a bohemian poet when faced with that pesky necessity of moving out of her parents’ house and earning an income.

The Uncondensed Version:

Despite no longer being a teen, recent college grad Amy is the epitome of an angsty teenager.  Her hero is Sylvia Plath, she has a stack of poems reserved for posthumous publication, and she makes a couple of halfhearted suicide attempts with an oven and an Adult World plastic bag.  The symbolism in this movie—it’s not subtle, but that’s ok.

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Not proud, but this is pretty close to what my room looked like for a good 7 years.

Amy was the overachiever, pretentious as hell, straight-A student in college.  Her closest encounter with the opposite sex was with the equally pretentious poet/artiste in a writing class who read aloud his poem about absinthe and turned out to be a total dickbag.

After earning her BA in poetry, the only thing Amy knows is that (a) Rat Billings, alternative poet in the Beat tradition, is her hero, and (b) she must dedicate her life to her craft.  This leads to (c), she will be spending a significant amount of the next year or so living with her parents.

Amy’s parents are quite supportive, but even they eventually object to her living rent-free and using her parents’ money to submit poetry to every magazine she can think of…only to receive rejection after rejection.  Much to her dismay, the only job she manages to snag is at the porn shop Adult World, run by an elderly couple.

The manager, Alex, is conveniently about the same age as Amy, and looks close enough to Anton Yelchin for my heart to break.  Adult World must be one of the only places on the planet where you can rent porn, for those convinced the internet is a government tracking device.  Alex gives Amy the lowdown on the genres and arrangement of the films, which is pretty interesting to me as a librarian.  As with library collections, Adult World sees its share of sticky video returns (gross gross gross gross gross).

Around this time, Amy has her first interaction with Rat Billings (John Cusack), the poet she idolizes.  As a poet who achieved early success, Rat is now a grumpy old asshole, and immediately resents Amy’s devotion to his work.

Shortly after, Amy meets Rubia, a friend of Alex and a transwoman.  Amy does not play it cool at all, making a terrible first impression with Rubia.  However, she manages to turn things around when she and Rubia share a bus ride.  Rubia quickly becomes the only person Amy can count on when her parents are tired of her being a deadweight.  Perhaps a little too quickly, but I like their relationship so IDGAF.

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Rubia’s shirt may have predicted the rise of Pokemon Go…

All of this works as a setup for Amy and Rubia stalking Rat on a tandem bicycle.  I’m sorry, but I think you would realize if 2 women on a tandem bike were following you—it is perhaps the least conspicuous type of bicycle.

When she catches up with Rat, Amy asks if he will read her poetry.  He rather rudely declines, but Amy is persistent and chooses to interpret his sarcasm as agreement.  In the following weeks, Amy manages to become his protégé, though that essentially involves cleaning his house, following him to the university classes he teaches, and sitting through his sardonic tirades.

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Also shirt repairs that don’t seem to be particularly effective.

Things get uncomfortable when Amy dresses a bit like a cat/femme fatale and tries to catch Rat’s eye.  This backfires horribly, though later Rat reveals he’d like to include Amy’s work in an anthology.  Amy is too excited to suspect Rat’s sudden attitude adjustment may hide ulterior motives.

It’s all going to unravel at Amy’s birthday party, attended by a few family, friends, and Rat, of course.  Spoiler:  Rat acts like a…rat.  How will Amy react when her last idol falls from his pedestal?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The plot is somewhat meandering, and the story lines don’t flow particularly well into each other.  I loved the character of Rubia, but she seemed there mostly to underscore how progressive and open-minded Amy is, and that just didn’t sit right with me.  Since this is a coming-of-age story, there’s also a major focus on Amy losing her virginity, which will obvs magically transform her into a woman and complete her as a person.  Not great.

That being said, I’m rounding up from 3.5 because I was almost the literal embodiment of Amy’s character as a high school/college student .  Just insufferably enthusiastic about melodramatic poetry, establishing which writers are the good ones, and making some sort of “Top 25 Under 25” list.

I related to Amy’s character to a painful degree and still haven’t learned some of the things she did in the film.  As a former overachiever, she looks for validation in all of the wrong places and is surprised when she gets no recognition just for trying.  She also has to stop constantly looking ahead to success, fame, legacy (all of which are fleeting anyway) and focus on what she can learn when life doesn’t go the way she expects it to.

 

This film’s tone successfully balances sympathy for its protagonist while acknowledging how absurd some of her problems are, especially as she creates them herself.  I feel that, Amy.

What did the blog wife think?  Is this film the good kind  you can find at Adult World or the kind that’s been returned sticky?  Find out here!

 


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Welcome to Me, or: Alice Through the Looking Glass

Update from the past week:  Christa and I are both hanging in there but mutually agreed we could use a reminder that we’ve got this shit.  Everything.  All of it.  Which sometimes means the schadenfreude of watching other people mess up their lives so much more than you have.

My biggest regret is not thinking of this in February and having the alliterative Fuck Up February for our theme.  Fine, not my only regret.  Only relevant regret.

Kristen Wiig is kicking off this month for us, even though she only plays a fuck up on TV (and film).

The Film:

Welcome to Me

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

After winning the lottery, Alice decides to write, produce, and star in a show entirely about herself.

The Uncondensed Version:

Even though the above premise sounds over the top, this is actually a reasonably subtle comedy (at times) with some emotional depth.

Alice is a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder whose longest relationship seems to be with Oprah.  She has a collection of Oprah’s shows recorded onto VHS that she watches religiously because Oprah gives her much-needed guidance, a judgment-free zone, and a low-risk opportunity for human connection.

When we meet Alice, it appears she’s not taking her medication regularly (if at all), and her mandated visits with a counselor aren’t going well.  Nevertheless, she manages to cope just well enough that she can go on quietly living her life.

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Raindrops do not keep falling on my head because this is California.

Major disruption = Alice wins millions in the state lottery.  With so much money at her disposal, she no longer needs to follow the rules to receive disability, and she is free to pursue her dream:  starring in her own talk show.

Luckily, James Marsden plays a Hollywood sleaze just desperate enough to think this sounds like a great idea.  His brother is a bit more skeptical but likes Alice herself, causing complications further down the road.

Surprisingly, the show isn’t quite as much of a train wreck as it seems it will be.  It’s an unintentionally surreal show that features swan boats,  grudge-filled reenactments of conversations Alice had with kids from high school she still resents, and overly in-depth discussions about how frequently Alice masturbates.

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Paleo diet cookies?

Some of Alice’s ideas are relatively straightforward (at least theoretically), like when she decides to host a cooking segment.  But the segments become increasingly bizarre, including a shadow puppet reenactment of her arrest in Canada and neutering a dog live on TV.  I’m sorry, but PETA would’ve been all over that shit.

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A lawsuit for you, and a lawsuit for you…everyone gets a lawsuit!

Though Alice has everything she wants, her increasingly over-the-top, egocentric behavior alienates her best friend, family, counselor, and allies on the show.  Ultimately, is the show worth it if Alice is her only fan?

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Like Alice herself, there’s something about this film that is unsettling yet fascinating.  I cared about what happened to her even though she is extremely self-absorbed, in complete denial, and an awful friend.

On the other hand, she is very upfront about what she feels and doesn’t care about anyone’s approval except her own, which must be very freeing.  Alice clearly has a lot of problems, but they don’t hold her back or make her unlikeable.

What annoys me most about this film is after seemingly burning all of her bridges, the end wraps things up a bit too neatly.  I expected it to go much darker.  Am I just in an overly cynical place right now?  (No, let’s be real—that place is my permanent residence.)

Would Christa ride in on a swan boat or cause a mysterious accident on set?  Find out here!