Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Grey Gardens, or: The Hallmark of Aristocracy Is Responsibility

We’re rounding out January with a classic that we have both officially watched now.  No more looking away uncomfortably at parties when someone asks if we’ve seen this week’s pick–not for these bloggers.  And btw, if you’re not attending the kind of party where Grey Gardens comes up in conversation…you are probably leading a quite interesting and fulfilling life.

The Film:

Grey Gardens

The Premise:

The classic documentary about the aunt and cousin of Jackie O who lived together in a decaying old house features much bickering, singing, flag waving, eating corn, and so many cats.

 

The Uncondensed Version:

Big Edie and Little Edie live together in an old mansion that has fallen into disrepair since their days of being wealthy, high society types ended.  The two women eventually cleaned up the house with the help of Little Edie’s cousin Jackie O, but still seem to be constantly on the verge of eviction.

It’s really difficult to gather an accurate picture of what happened in the past because of the constant bickering and one-upmanship of the two women, but it’s easy to sympathize with them.  Both seem to believe the lifestyle they assumed would be theirs forever is still relevant and sustainable.

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One sustainable lifestyle choice: wearing big floppy hats.

Big Edie achieved some success as a singer in her prime along with her accompanist Gould.  Little Edie herself was a talented dancer…so there are A LOT of song and dance routines in this, some more cringey than others.  Their sudden financial decline was a result of Little Edie’s father, Phelan, leaving the family and getting what she calls a fake Mexican divorce(???).  Her point being that the Edies, as Catholics, do not acknowledge the divorce, but rather consider it a separation.

It’s really never clear to me what (if any) support Phelan provided to his family after leaving (very little, it would appear), and where Little Edie’s brothers are in all of this.  She mentions 2 brothers, but they never seem to visit or even attend Big Edie’s birthday party.  God fucking dammit, men.  Do better.

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Here’s a cat to make you feel better.

Little Edie reveals she always wanted to marry and had many proposals from well-to-do gentlemen back in her day, which were all sabotaged by her mother.  Likewise, as she was about to get her big break in NYC when she had to return home to care for her mother.  It’s believable, but it also begs the question of the role of fear and comfort in Little Edie’s life.  She seems just as reluctant to leave the house as her mother and gets downright paranoid about someone secretly coming in to the house and moving her books.  Though she talks constantly about returning to NYC and never looking back, she hasn’t done so in the decades she’s lived with her mother in Grey Gardens.  Besides which, she seems unable and possibly unwilling to support herself, claiming she wants to be free and supported.

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“Free and supported” sounds like an ad campaign for bras or elastic-free underwear. 

This mother-daughter relationship is extremely complicated, as Little Edie has cared for her mother for years but also blames her mother because she feels she has missed out on the opportunity to really live and enjoy life.  Big Edie oscillates between insisting she had men to take care of her and admitting she didn’t want Little Edie to leave her alone.

Little Edie is a self-described staunch character—and it becomes clear her mother matches this description too.  The two women appear to engage in a battle of wills daily, but make amends just as often.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not sure that’s a fair rating, but there’s something deeply unsettling here that is difficult to shake.  The documentary itself is fascinating to watch, but I found myself alternating between the type of fascination from listening to someone tell a really great story and the type you experience when you’re watching a train wreck.

There are many shots of the raccoons and cats that inhabit the house, and of the house itself.  It’s beautiful but covered in ivy and has gigantic holes and visible structural problems, which seems to be a metaphor for the Edies and their mental/emotional state.  Both are very sharp but live in a world they’ve created entirely separate from reality, willfully blind to how dire their situation is in many ways.

In a scene that captures this tension perfectly, Little Edie remarks that one of their many cats is going to the bathroom behind a beautifully painted portrait of a young Big Edie.  Instead of becoming upset, Big Edie remarks she’s glad someone is doing something they want to do.  It’s a moment full of humor, tenderness, heartbreak, and disgust all at once, and the very essence of this film—simultaneously in horror and admiration of these staunch characters.

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Aforementioned cat giving zero fucks.

Was my blog wife staunchly in favor or opposed to the multi-cat lifestyle depicted in this film?  Find out here!

 

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Scarlet Street, or: Lack of Perspective

True confession:  I picked this week’s film and couldn’t remember why until I looked up old movie reviews (besides the obvious point in its favor as a film noir).  Our film this week was banned in several US cities for its questionable moral message, and one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to feature a serious crime going unpunished (er, spoiler?).  I’ve also finally accepted that I’m never actually going to watch Metropolis, and a Fritz Lang noir must be the next best thing, right?

The Film:

Scarlet Street

The Premise:

A fairly white bread man  with artistic aspirations becomes obsessed with a mysterious young woman whose main interests are money and looking aloof.

The Uncondensed Version:

Note:  One thing you just have to live with in this film is the lead’s name, Chris Cross, which works on a symbolic level but also might make you giggle every time you are reminded that this is his full name.

Chris Cross is a good little worker bee—he’s just been recognized for 25 years of loyal service by his boss, cares for his wife Adele, and looks upon his boss’s affair with vague disapproval.  On the other hand, Chris dreams of being recognized as an artist, freedom from his loveless marriage, and the admiration of a young woman that comes so easily to his employer.  The answer to his problems seems to come via a chance encounter with a young woman named Kitty.

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Perhaps the only American in front of a camera to make the poncho look effortlessly classy (and easy to use).

As Chris emerges from the subway following a sort of a work bros dinner party, he sees a violent altercation between a man and woman.  He rushes towards the scene and sort of taps him with an umbrella, which somehow knocks the man flat.  Chris then rushes to alert the police, but returns to find the other man has vanished.  Kitty, the young woman, tells the officer the man was a stranger who demanded her money and ran away.

Chris has more than a casual interest in Kitty and takes her out for a drink before bidding her good night.  Alcohol decidedly does not strip away their inhibitions, as everything they reveal to each other is a complete crock.  Chris claims to be a successful artist who goes around selling $50,000 paintings and buying works by Cezanne to hang on his wall.  Kitty, on the other hand, is very concerned about finding Johnny, though she later insists he’s no one.  According to Kitty, she’s an actress…but it’s heavily implied she’s a sex worker.

Soon after, we learn Johnny is none other than the scumbag who beat her up at the beginning of the film, and is sort of her boyfriend and pimp.  Seeing the potential for a scam, Johnny persuades Kitty to get more and more money from Chris, and she even manages to have a fab studio/apartment set up where she can live.  In reality, the oodles of money Chris is shelling out is stolen from his wife and workplace.  Surely no one will notice significant amounts of money missing.

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Chris does get points for excellent apron…but that’s about it.

Kitty is vaguely uncomfortable with asking for all of this money, but is very devoted to her horrible boyfriend and their schemes to get rich and settle down.  When Johnny gets the idea to sell the valuable paintings, Kitty objects but ultimately goes along with it.  Unsurprisingly, Johnny’s first attempts to sell work by a “famous” artist no one has heard of doesn’t go well…until a collector likes the paintings and recognizes their potential.

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Alcohol is the only thing pictured here you really need, Kitty.

When pressed to identify the artist, Johnny points out Kitty.  This complicates their scheming as Kitty must now explain where Chris’s paintings have been disappearing and why Johnny is perpetually hanging around her.  Chris doesn’t like Johnny to begin with (as virtually no living human being could) and becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious of his relationship with Kitty.  Nevertheless, he chooses to ignore his doubts and is convinced she’ll marry him if he can find a way out of his marriage with Adele.

Things finally seem to be going Chris’s way when a mysterious stranger from Adele’s past offers a clear path to ending the marriage and living happily ever after with Kitty.  …Unless, of course, the truth comes out…

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This isn’t quite up there with my noir favorites (Laura, Out of the Past, Sunset Boulevard, Notorious), but Christ, it’s close.  There’s not a single likeable character to be found, all morality is skewed, and the ending is pitch black.

The atmosphere is tense AF, the dialogue is so spot-on (Chris has this brilliant line about how he never could manage perspective that is too fucking real), and the acting is quite subtle considering the high melodrama involved in the plot.

My biggest complaint is that Kitty isn’t quite as cool as I wanted her to be–I found myself wishing she had more agency.  All of her decisions revolved around Johnny even though he was a despicable human being.  It’s frustrating to watch a very street-smart female character make awful choices while remaining blind to reality.

However, we do get perhaps the most progressive film noir scene ever when Chris paints Kitty’s toenails (though, of course, this is also a symbol of her power over him and his emasculation).

I CHOOSE THE FORMER INTERPRETATION.

Did my blog wife find this one mysteriously alluring or express as much disdain as Kitty’s resting bitch face?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Lure, or: Killer Mermaid, Take Two

I think this may be the first Polish film of the blog collab?  Don’t quote me on that.  Either way, this is our second outing into killer mermaid features, and it’s pretty safe to say there’s no movie quite like this one in any language.

The Film:

The Lure (Córki Dancingu)

The Premise:

This loose modernization of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” features much more gore, cabaret numbers, and fangs than most adaptations.

The Uncondensed Version:

Silver and Golden are two teenage girls who have run away from home to experience life in the big city (Warsaw) and end up performing in a cabaret.  Important details:  their home is the ocean, they are sirens whose tails reappear whenever they come into contact with water, and they subsist at least partially on human flesh.  They also don’t have female genitalia when they’re in human form, ruling out the possibility of a fully nude number for the two.

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Another advantage of living on land = opportunities for angsty bathtub singing.

None of this information is especially critical to the staff and owner of the cabaret as they quickly recognize the novelty (and profit) of a siren sister duet…in a cabaret conveniently called The Lure (except in Polish).  Krysia, the lead singer at the cabaret and recruiter of this new talent, brings the sisters into her family in part to help…and in part to pocket their salary.

Since our story pivots around the cabaret, there are many musical numbers that flow seamlessly into the narrative.  The song transition is never jarring, and they almost always work in conjunction with the plot for added poignancy and drama (I have to admit, there were some that were a bit too surreal for me to follow.  More on that later).

Silver and Golden decide they have a pretty good thing going and telepathically agree to stick around for a while before swimming on, though with strikingly divergent motives—Silver has taken a shine to a young bassist at the cabaret, Mietek, while Golden’s sights are aimed in a much more sinister direction.

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However,  both can agree on the effectiveness of the smokey eye look.

Golden thirsts for blood and begins picking up any willing victim she can to devour.  She is also intrigued by a man with horrible scars who’s going for a distinctly Ozzy Osbourne vibe…and like our main girls, seems to be something not entirely human.

Silver, on the other hand, is content to spend time with Mietek, even when he’s not especially jazzed to be associated with her.  He flat-out tells Silver she’ll always be a fish to him first, but this doesn’t deter her.  Neither sister approves of the other’s pursuits, but they both take a live and let live approach until it’s too late.

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Relateable “Your relationship is a huge mistake” face.

Finally, the bodies pile up to the degree that people start paying attention—namely, Krysia and the cabaret “family” who lives with her.  Suspecting Silver and Golden, the humans take matters into their own hands.  You know it’s a fucking terrible idea to face off against bloodthirsty sirens with fangs and the power to hypnotize, so this doesn’t end especially well for some of them.

It just gets crazier as Silver undergoes dramatic surgery to finally have legs and live happily ever after with her man, Golden is draw more and more to the Ozzy wannabe and the other land-dwelling sea creatures, and the dark mythology of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale takes shape.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The film itself can be messy and confusing at times, which is just amplified by some of the bizarre song choices and (mis)translations (there’s a song that is translated to include multiple uses of the word “y’all,” which just feels out of place).  Case in point = a song performed by a nurse who dances around the dazed members of Krysia’s household while hooking them up to an IV drip.  What.

But all complaints are minor.  Even though following the plot sequentially is virtually impossible, the film is still completely mesmerizing.  The visuals are absolutely gorgeous, our two leads are deeply amoral and fascinating to watch, and the social commentary feels so relevant.  This fits nicely in with the magic realist tradition of weaving a fantasy seamlessly into an ordinary situation with a purpose—among other things, the commodification of abnormal bodies, voyeuristic tendencies towards young women and teens, and the impossibility of conforming to the supposedly ideal body type.

I’m reminded of elements of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night–amoral, non-human women in a shady part of town dispensing their own version of justice…or reigning horror down upon any unlucky enough to cross their path.

Word of caution:  this is exceptionally gory, especially some surgical scenes that made me feel very squeamish.  And I think you know by now how frequently gory madness adds fuel to the fire of this blog collab.

Did this one’s siren song mesmerize my blog wife or should it go swim with the fishes (sorry/not sorry)?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Phoenix, or: A Miraculously Creepier Version of Pygmalion

Christa and I were unanimously decided the lead in Barbara, Nina Hoss, was the highlight of the film.  Since this week’s film is essentially a cast reunion in a suspenseful film noir war drama, we are absolutely in.

The Film:

Phoenix

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

After facial reconstruction surgery changes her appearance, a Holocaust survivor sets out to find her husband, the man who may have turned her in.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens as two women cross back into the German border immediately following WWII.  The driver, Lene, explains her passenger, who rests semi-unconscious and covered in bandages, is a survivor from the camps.  After being seriously wounded by a shot to the face, Nelly is returning to Berlin for facial reconstruction surgery.

Nelly learns she can afford this expensive surgery only because of a large inheritance left to her as the only surviving member of her family.  Though the results of the surgery will be quite impressive, her face will no longer be the one she knows.  In a beautifully shot scene, Nelly sees her new face for the first time reflected in a broken mirror in the bombed ruins of her former home.  “I no longer exist,” she says without emotion.  Her desire to recapture what was lost contrasts sharply with Lene’s conviction that creating a new future in Israel is the only option for them.

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Chills, man.

Before the war, Nelly was a singer of some renown.  Unlike Lene, she never really considered herself Jewish and feels no connection to the new Jewish state.  Nelly also dreams of reuniting with her husband, Johnny, which Lene dismisses.  As it turns out, Johnny was arrested days before Nelly…then released as soon as she was arrested.  This is straight out of Hitchcock and would’ve had me running a mile from this shady dude.  However, Lene keeps this information hidden for a while…along with the fact that Johnny filed for divorce before Nelly’s arrest.

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A true friend will help you obtain a visa and give you a revolver as a gift.

Nelly, oblivious to all of this, becomes determined to track down her husband and live together as the devoted couple once again.

When Nelly finds Johnny, he’s working at a shady AF night club, called—guess what—the Phoenix.  Conveniently, her face is different enough to dodge recognition, though she still bears some resemblance to her former self.  This gives Johnny the idea to bring Nelly, now known as Esther, in on his scheme to claim his supposedly dead wife’s inheritance.  They will split the money if they can pull off this scam, which seems like a great idea to Nelly…mostly so she can prove once and for all Johnny really loved her.  IDK, I feel like knowing your husband has a scheme to collect your inheritance because he thinks you’re dead is a major tip-off…?  But Nelly has a more trusting nature than that and wants to believe in her husband and the possibility of a return to a normal life.

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I won’t get mad–tell me your honest opinion about the ‘stache.

While Esther trains to be Nelly, she isn’t allowed to leave Johnny’s apartment.  It’s quite a twisted version of Pygmalion, with Johnny’s insistence that Nelly will dress glamorously and remain unchanged by her experience as a Holocaust survivor creating a bitter irony.  He chillingly reassures her that what may have happened in the camps won’t matter as no one will ask about them.  In a scene that’s almost funny but not quite, Johnny calls off the scheme when he decides no one will ever believe she’s the real Nelly.

However, Esther convinces him to keep going when she quickly masters Nelly’s handwriting.  She tries to draw as much information from Johnny as possible, but he’s extremely reluctant to talk about the past.  A sudden, dramatic complication arrives in the form of Lene finally revealing the truth about the divorce to Nelly.

The revelation leads to an incredibly final scene that unfolds painfully and heartbreakingly clearly.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Despite all of the melodramatic film noir elements (facial reconstructive surgery, a sketchy night club, an inheritance scheme, a case of mistaken identity), this film takes quite a realistic approach to betrayal and the lasting impact of war.  The ending of the movie is haunting and understated in spite of the enormity of the revelation.  Partly because it’s not a surprise to the audience, but also because it’s much more ambiguous than a revenge plot or a dramatic noir ending.  It becomes clear Johnny will never see a dime of Nelly’s inheritance, but will he be punished for his role in Nelly’s harrowing experiences as a Holocaust survivor, and does he even feel the slightest remorse about it?

To pick a bone, however…even though a lot of the dramatic tension comes from the audience knowing the truth about Johnny quite early on, it still would’ve saved SO MUCH goddamn time if Lene had just fucking told Nelly what she knew to begin with.  I wonder if Lene suspected Nelly wouldn’t believe her or possibly she didn’t want to break her heart completely with that knowledge?  Either way, the revelation that your friend’s husband turned her into the authorities (presumably to die) seems like a pretty important detail to share.

It’s also really painful to watch Nelly blindly ignore the facts for so long, but it does make a degree of sense as acknowledging the truth means accepting that it’s no longer possible to return to the life she had before the war.

Nina Hoss is incredible in this and, as Christa noted, bears almost no resemblance to the character she played in Barbara.  And not because the actress went method and really had facial reconstructive surgery.  As far as I know.

Would my blog wife run an inheritance scam with this one or walk away slowly and deliberately?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Divines, or: Au Revoir, Feelings

Not cool, Christa.

First film of the new year and I’m already ugly crying.  We’re kicking off 2017 by knocking off a handful of titles that have been on our movie bucket list forever.  First up is Divines, which will just toy with all of your emotions before crumpling them into a ball and kicking them.  In the best possible way.  Make sure you’re not wearing mascara before you watch.

The Film:

Divines

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Teens in Paris are determined to make money by any means possible to escape their tough neighborhood and family dysfunction.

The Uncondensed Version:

Dounia and her bff Maimouna are teenagers living in a rough Paris neighborhood.  The two are always getting into trouble, blowing off school, and causing mayhem in general.  Dounia has the added chip on her shoulder from her mother’s reputation for sleeping around—which means all of the little asshole kids call Dounia a bastard.

Things really kick into high gear when Dounia gets sick of all this shit and drops out of school, determined to make as much money as possible and leave everyone else in the dust.

Enter Dounia’s idol, Rebecca, a drug dealer who seems to have it all.  Dounia comes up with a bold plan to get Rebecca’s attention…which actually pays off, and both Dounia and Maimouna wind up working for Rebecca.

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Preach.

In addition to working together and causing trouble, Dounia and Maimouna like to sneak into the theater when dance recitals are happening and make snarky comments.  That is, snarky until Dounia develops a major crush on one of the dancers, Djigui, whose day job is working security at the mall.  (He does have really nice eyes and a fucking hot back tattoo.)  In typical teenage girl fashion, she’s a complete jerk to him and makes fun of his dancing…which may be the only time in recorded history that tactic actually works.

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Also the tactic of watching/recording him while he’s shirtless.  Apparently when I do it, it’s creepy and illegal.

As the relationship between Dounia and Djigui intensifies, so too does her role in Rebecca’s criminal activities.  Rebecca’s plan is to steal money from her old supplier, who supposedly has 100,000 hidden in his apartment.  Dounia will get herself invited to his apartment…once she conquers walking in heels.

At the club, Dounia does catch Reda’s eye but later gets in trouble when she provokes the police.  Her mom, Maimouna’s parents, and Rebecca are all pissed.  Dounia loses permission to see her bff and loses Rebecca’s trust.  Determined to make things right with Rebecca, Dounia arranges to meet up with Reda.

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THIS.  Is my favorite scene.  Along with every other scene Dounia and Maimouna have together.

Unfortunately, the night she will meet with Reda is also the night Djigui invites her to his recital.  What will Dounia choose and what will the consequences be?  I’ll answer one of those questions:  major.  Major consequences.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I deducted 1/2 of a PPH because it took me a while to get invested in this one, maybe 30 mins or so.  It’s really hard to get under the surface of Dounia’s personality at first—she’s cocky, tough as nails, and single-mindedly focused on making money.  She’s also incredibly talented at making cringe worthy decisions that you can see unravelling as soon as she commits to them.

I also find it really challenging to sympathize with teenagers at this point in my life.

However, once I finally started to understand Dounia’s motivations and the vulnerabilities she constantly works to cover up, I fell hard for her character.  The relationship between Dounia and Maimouna is so fucking lovely and perfect, it makes me almost want to be a teenager again.  Almost.  Just be warned that all of those horrible decisions Dounia makes don’t come cheaply and don’t come without serious repercussions.

What did my divine blog wife think?  Does she have feelings left or is she also just an empty husk now?  Find out here!