Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: Paris Is Burning

Feminist February is going out with a bang.  We’re crossing off classics from our movie bucket lists, unintentionally synchronizing our film choices when we’re not even trying, and posting on 2 films for the price of 1.

The Film:

Paris Is Burning

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

This is a classic documentary now, filmed 30ish years ago and giving a mainstream audience the inside story of drag balls in NYC.  Classically for drag queens to dress up in a Vegas showgirl style complete with feathers and sequins, ‘80s balls expanded to many categories giving attendees the chance to strut their stuff in military uniform, business suits, school girls, jockeys, realness…there’s virtually no limit to the number of possibilities.

Our first introduction is through Pepper LaBeija, who considers herself reigning queen of Harlem balls (even though not everyone would agree with this characterization).  In her own words, “I never felt comfortable being poor, and being middle class doesn’t suit me.”  Balls give participants a taste of glamour and fame they otherwise wouldn’t get.  One participant calls it a high that won’t hurt you.

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I really feel my captions can add nothing of value to this moment.

Another theme that weaves throughout this film is the family found in ball culture—and the houses that pop up and feud with each other.  Many of those interviewed share their stories of being loved but not accepted—or completely rejected by their families.  Each house has a mother who leads the family and takes care of them, while unapologetically calling bullshit.

Feuds between houses means a LOT of shade gets thrown, and really aggressive voguing takes place.  Willi Ninja is an absolute master of voguing—a dance-off involving moves and poses inspired by fashion magazines like Vogue.  His take-down of his opponent revolves around pantomiming applying his own makeup, holding up an invisible mirror, and pretending to apply makeup to his competitor.  If you watch nothing else of this, watch that clip.  Later, Willi ends doing really well for himself, popping up in music videos, modelling, and doing choreography left and right.

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Venus Xtravaganza is a transwoman who participates in balls and desperately wants to earn enough money for sex reassignment surgery.  She works as an escort and seems to enjoy the sweetness of some of her clients.  Devastatingly, however, we find out Venus was later strangled and found 4 days after the fact.  I couldn’t help thinking immediately of the number of transwomen who have already been murdered this year and wonder how much has really changed.

Dorian Corey is one of my favorites—an older and somewhat more cynical drag queen who wanted to be Lena Horne when she was younger.  She wraps things up for us with her aloof realism.  She had so many dreams when she was younger, but eventually aimed lower.  You may want to make a mark on the world when you’re young—but you’ve left a mark if you just get through it.  (This is especially badass if you Google Dorian Corey and the MUMMIFIED body found in her apartment after her death.  WHERE is the Lifetime movie version of this.)

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The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wasn’t going to go with 5 b/c I feel that’s almost the equivalent of saying “Casablanca is a really good movie,” but there’s no other option.  This is a fascinating but balanced glimpse into a culture discriminated against by race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.  Even as balls bring them together, they feud and toss insults at each other.  Those interviewed are deeply sympathetic but don’t shy away from their flaws and disagreements.  Some want sex reassignment surgery, while others speculate those who opt for it may regret it later.

There are lines throughout that are incredibly poignant, especially in light of many featured in this film dying quite young.  The subjects of this film are extremely socially aware as well, since most are black, LGBT, and economically disadvantaged in a system that wants to keep it that way.

I don’t think I can review this without at least mentioning that several of the participants felt they were owed money by the filmmakers.

Is this the mother of my blog wife’s house or would she throw some serious shade at it?  Find out here!

BONUS ROUND:  I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Since we both watched (and loved) this film over the weekend too, a few words about it.

There’s something slightly Coen brothers-esque about this one–it’s very funny with hints of violence beneath the surface that suddenly bubble up and spiral out of control.  So many bodies pile up for a movie about a depressed woman finding her grandmother’s stolen silverware with the help of a neighbor who overestimates his martial arts skills (Elijah Wood [with a beard and rat tail?!?!?!]).  Though, of course, that’s not what this movie is really about at all.

This film captures how confusing and deeply disturbing it is to be alive, especially if you are seeking either reason or compassion from your fellow humans.  Ruth doesn’t realize how quickly her life can become a (wo)man vs man vs nature struggle, and how easily the lizard part of our brains can take over.  I related so hard to Ruth’s feelings of despair about humanity and the world we live in, and her determination to find meaning in the face of really horrible existential questions.

That being said, it really is very fun to watch and has some great comedic moments.  Melanie Lynskey is perfect in this role–she looks and acts the way a normal human woman would rather than suddenly absorbing assassin skills while wearing 6 inch stilettos (though I’d watch that movie too).  IOU a longer review, IDFAHITWA.

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Amour Fou, or: Romantic Romantics

This week is brought to you by aristocratic dogs, Romantic poetry, and rich people who hate democracy and paying taxes.  Period drama + social commentary?  I’m in.

The Film:

Amour Fou

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A German Romantic poet just wants to find a nice young woman who will agree to die with him.  Not a euphemism.

The Uncondensed Version:

The setting is early 19th century Berlin, and a small group of aristocrats are all abuzz that a famous Romantic poet will soon be in their midst.  This poet is Heinrich von Kleist, melancholy, melodramatic pursuer of love who fancies himself extremely attuned to the emotional states of others.  Or rather, desperate to find a kindred spirit to enter into a murder-suicide pact with him.  Whoa, dude.  You’ve got to start out with some polite small talk first.

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No, Mrs. Vogel, I expect you to DIE.

Heinrich’s ideal partner is his cousin Marie, but she’s not ready to die young for love.  Go figure.

A rather distant second arrives in the form of Henriette, the wife of one of Heinrich’s acquaintances.  Based on my limited experiences with 19th century period dramas, apparently the only form of entertainment was standing around someone’s drawing room while a member of your crowd signs and/or plays the piano.  If this was really what a good time looked like back in the day, no wonder Heinrich wanted to blow his brains out.  (Sorry.  Ish.)  My rather roundabout point here is that Henriette has a nice singing voice and likes Heinrich’s poetry, both of which are qualities he admires immensely.

Meanwhile, with the French Revolution fresh in the minds of German aristocrats, the topic on everyone’s mind is the horror of taxes, democracy, and rights for peasants.  Heinrich is in favor of being free and doomed—no surprise there.

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Do you think anyone’s noticed that I only have one hat?

After getting to know Henriette for maybe a week or so, Heinrich decides to make his rather unconventional proposal to die with him instead of living with her husband, daughter, and mother.  Henriette rejects him but seems interested in the idea, even though his speech comes complete with unconvincing logic about the nature of love and absence of real love in Henriette’s life.  Because it’s not real love unless you’d kill yourself and/or others…?  Sorry, romantic ballads of the ‘80s, but I’m not buying it.

Rather conveniently for Heinrich, Henriette becomes seriously ill shortly after all of this.  After receiving a total BS diagnosis of a “spiritual ailment,” it’s eventually clear that she has an inoperable tumor that is killing her.  Finally ready to die with Heinrich, Henriette asks if his offer still stands and he changes his goddamn mind because he doesn’t think her motives are pure enough.  For fuck’s sake, dude.

It should be mentioned that Henriette’s husband is quite sweet through all of this.  He basically tells her to leave him for another man if that will make her happy in her last days, and he never stops trying to find a trendy cure in Paris.

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To be fair, it’s pretty easy to look like the sane/normal one when you’re the one who did NOT propose a murder-suicide pact.

You can easily look up the true story if you want to know what happens in the end.  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s not a particularly happy one.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I thought this would be a comedy for some reason…and there is the occasional bleakly funny scenario, but it’s overall a serious, melancholy film.  I like the completely unromantic take on Romanticism and unsentimental period drama this is.  Heinrich was the absolute worst, and I couldn’t help realize this must have been exactly what it was like to talk to me as a teenager.  I do like the Romantics, but it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything even remotely ordinary if they were thinking about love, death, and King Arthur’s court as much as they did in their poetry.

There’s no sense that the filmmakers approve of the romantic determination to live fast, die young.  It’s actually quite pathetic to die so young for love, and it doesn’t feel like it’s truly an act of love to ask that of another person.

It also seems pretty absurd that Heinrich feels he’s taking control of his life by ending it, which is highlighted in a moment when he struggles with a gun that’s out of bullets.  Henriette’s decision to die is based on avoiding a prolonged painful death, but it’s clear from the beginning no one is going to find a peaceful death by slowly sailing off into the mist like it’s LOTR (sorry/not sorry, Christa).  Death is death, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how it happens.

Happy Feminist February?

Would Christa travel to the countryside with this one under false pretenses or repeatedly back away from serious commitments to it?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Feminist February: The Love Witch

Horror is this blog collab’s bread and butter, but as Christa and I have lamented, horror can be a terribly misogynistic genre.  How refreshing, then, to watch a female-centric horror about witches that has a lot to say about women and power just in time for the 2nd week of our 2nd Feminist February.  Complete with a lovely ’60s aesthetic, medieval pageantry, and harp accompaniment!

The Film:

The Love Witch

The Premise:

A young witch uses magic and sex appeal to find love and happiness in 1960s California.

The Uncondensed Version:

Elaine is a young woman on the way to start over in small-town California after husband Jerry’s mysterious death.  After his death, Elaine was reborn as a witch in a strange occult ritual (at least that’s what I gather).  Now that she has the power of love and sex magic at her disposal, she’s determined to find a man who won’t disappoint her like Jerry.

Once she settles into the new place, she befriends a neighbor, Trish, who takes her to a Victorian tea room.  It’s really bizarre and comes complete with a woman constantly playing the harp, and everything decorated with delicate cream and pastel pinks.  I’ve just really never been a pastel pink kind of girl.

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Clearly I just haven’t found the right pastel pink floppy hat.

Elaine tells Trish of her sordid past, which has taught her to give men everything they want in order for women to get what they want in turn.  Magic is simply a way to use your will to get what you want, and Elaine seems to have special magic staring powers to influence men.  As Trish (fairly) puts it, it sounds like Elaine has been brainwashed by the patriarchy.

Shortly after, Elaine uses her magic stare to invite herself back to a university professor’s cottage in the woods.  That, and a love potion laced with hallucinogenic herbs.  After sleeping with Elaine, the prof (Wayne) becomes incredibly emotional and obsessed with her, claiming he’s unable to live without her.  As it turns out, not an exaggeration—he dies very soon after, leaving Elaine with a body to bury and evidence to burn.

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It either needs more salt or more hallucinogenic herbs…

Rumors start flying around town around witch murders, casting doubt on the entire witch community.  It should be added that witchcraft is treated as just another religion in this film, with practices that look strange to the outside observer but no less valid than mainstream religions.  This begins to shift as the bodies pile up (spoiler?).

Determined to bounce back, Elaine sets her sights on Trish’s husband when he’s conveniently left alone for the weekend.  Let’s just say this doesn’t end well at all for him.

Meanwhile, the police are investigating Wayne’s suspicious disappearance and all signs point towards Elaine.  Luckily, Elaine still has that magic eye trick up her sleeve, and manages to get a horseback riding date (not a euphemism) with a detective (Griff) instead of a murder charge.  While out together, the pair encounter a group of witches having some sort of medieval pageant, including fake sword fights and songs about unicorns and goblets of joy.  Pretty cringe-y, TBH.  There, Elaine and Griff are bound together in a fake marriage ceremony, finally fulfilling Elaine’s happily ever after fantasy.  At least for the moment…  Believe me when I say the ending gets appropriately dark and gory.

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I personally prefer to see more unicorns in weddings.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The aesthetic is beautiful, and of course I’m all about feminism in films.  One of the biggest challenges in dissecting this one, however, is that none of the characters are particularly likeable.  It’s never overly clear to me whether Elaine believes her own nonsense re: men or, like magic, she’s using these lies to get what she wants.  She’s not as straightforwardly feminist as I expected, caught between wanting to assert her independence and hoping to live out her princess fantasies.  I was really hoping she would have a better relationship with Trish because I’m all about that female solidarity.

Compounding the problem of unlikeable characters is that of one-dimensional acting, which I think is supposed to be part of the tribute to ‘60s films…but sometimes I can’t actually tell either way.

The dialogue gets a bit preachy at times, hitting you over the head with its meaning.  Elaine gets some classic lines (“According to experts, men are fragile and can be crushed if you assert yourself”) along with some truly horrible lines (“I’m the love witch; I’m your ultimate fantasy”).

However, it’s nice to see a film address the complexity of feminist issues surrounding female sexuality in a world where “virgin slut” is an actual insult that can be hurled at women with no one blinking an eye.   I admit I’m still puzzling about this movie, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Would my blog wife marry this one in a fake a ceremony with this one while surrounded by witches or slip it one too many hallucinogenic herbs?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: Arranged

Kicking off Feminist February is a film directed by and starring women surrounding arranged marriages.  Is it possible to have a feminist movie about arranged marriages?  Based on this month’s blog theme, the answer will probably not surprise you.

The Film:

Arranged

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Two Brooklyn teachers of different religious backgrounds find friendship in anticipation of their arranged marriages.

The Uncondensed Version:

Rochel is a young Orthodox Jew beginning her first year as a teacher in a Brooklyn elementary school.  She finds a kindred spirit in Nasira, a young Muslim woman from Syria.  Both live with their families, are committed to their faiths, and are in the process of negotiating their impending arranged marriages.  Significantly, both experience some major BS from well-meaning women who suggest Nasira’s hijab actually attracts unwanted attention, thus defeating its purpose, and chastises Rochel’s conservative wardrobe for concealing her beauty.

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Bitch, please

In the classroom, Rochel and Nasira teach their students about tolerance, which is pretty unrealistic since it’s not content that appears on a standardized test.  Meanwhile, they contend with the principal’s horrifically inappropriate tirades against conservative religions and tells the two women they’re so smart except for the religion thing.  HOW.  WHY.

Outside of the classroom, Rochel contends with her family’s expectation that she marry ASAP, the matchmaker charged with finding her a nice Orthodox boy, and a series of disastrous dates.  Despite her reservations, her mother and aunt insist she continue with the process.

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Universal look of disapproving relatives everywhere

The approach Nasira’s family takes is to set her up with a friend of her father’s, who is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay older and shares nothing in common with Nasira.  When she approaches her father about her concerns, he listens (!?!?!?!) and doesn’t press the issue (!!?!??!?!).  My expectations of men are exceedingly low this Feminist February, so I was pleasantly surprised.

As Nasira and Rochel’s friendship grows, they experience some major side-eye from their families, and initially Nasira isn’t welcome even to go over and work on lesson plans at Rochel’s.  If anything, my biggest complaint is that this tension is glossed over, never completely addressed or resolved.

Eventually, Nasira’s father introduces her to a young engineer who is a much better conversationalist and is just prettier, frankly.

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Shared interests:  unblinking staring and sitting really uncomfortably on couches

Rochel, on the other hand, is burnt out with these horrible dates and finally decides enough is enough.  After a major fight with her mom, Rochel leaves home to stay with her cousin, the black sheep of the family who broke away from Orthodox traditions years ago.  Rochel has some serious decisions to make about what she wants her future to be.

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Rebellion = wearing polos and ducking out of parties early.

Sensing her friend’s unhappiness, Nasira intervenes to set her up with the perfect guy.  Does her plan succeed or backfire completely?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is light on plot, but I really appreciated the simplicity of this film.  The shared traditions of two religions who have been portrayed as hostile to each other are highlighted, and the differences are acknowledged but fall aside.  At the same time, the oversimplification of religious tension is sometimes a bit difficult to manage.

It’s nice to see conservative religions depicted positively since they are so often dismissed as being completely bizarre or antiquated.  On the other hand, there is some tension hinted at in the form of Rochel’s cousin being cut off after rejected Orthodox Judaism, but this is glossed over.  As mentioned earlier, both families are prejudiced towards the other, but no one acknowledges it.

All of this aside, this is essentially a story about friendship across cultural and religious divides.  Nasira and Rochel have a very sweet, drama-free friendship.  It’s so refreshing to have a story about this rather than a melodramatic forbidden love story.

I also really loved the treatment of teachers as people in this—most teachers in movies I can think of are only there to courageously educate and inspire the youth.  Which is a noble mission, but I find it difficult to believe every classroom looks like it comes straight out of Stand and Deliver.

This isn’t necessarily a modern classic, but it’s quite sweet and succeeds in making a very different lifestyle feel comfortable and routine.

Was this film a perfect match for my blog wife or would she ditch it to party in Brooklyn?  Find out here!