a teenage girl looks at a poster on her wall that marks progress towards her mother's bail, which is currently at the $0 mark
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Deidra and Laney Rob a Train, or: Trainspotting 3

Rounding out the latest month of Blog Free or Die Hard is another Netflix original, selected entirely on its own merit.  And not at all because it was so easy to find and stream on both sides of the pond.

The Film:

Deidra and Laney Rob a Train

Where to Watch:


The Uncondensed Version:

Deidra and Laney are teen sisters who act like parents to their younger brother Jet, pick their mom up from work, and try to find ways to keep the family afloat financially.  The 2 sisters are managing to keep scraping by until they find their mom having a very public meltdown at work with screaming, the police dept, and destruction of expensive Good Buy property involved.  Through bad luck and shady insurance practices, her impulsive mistake is considered an act of domestic terrorism (WTF) and bail is set much higher than the family can afford to pay.

two teenage girls and a younger boy face their mother across the table in a visiting area in prison
All seem like appropriate “Mom is in prison” faces.

After years of hard work and stress, their mother Marigold is quite relieved to relax in prison.  Adulting is hard, man, and Deidra seems to be a more natural head of the household.  This feeling, of course, is not shared by the rest of the family, who can’t find the money to pay the bills, let alone bail or Deidra’s imminent college expenses.   It looks like college may no longer be an option as Deidra misses class and college deadlines to manage things at home and come up with ways to earn quick cash.

Meanwhile, Laney is having a miserable time at school as she has been selected to compete in a beauty pageant (that appears to replace actual class…?) against her best friend.  Her friend Claire, feeling threatened by Laney’s participation, sets out to make her life miserable.

a woman and a teenage girl drink tea at a table, with the word "Etiquette" on the wall behind them
I would watch the hell out of pageants if there were a competitive tea-drinking round.

After much time spent stressing, Deidra gets an idea from the rather shady men in (and absent from) her life.  Her father, Chet, who prides himself on knowing when the family doesn’t need him, is a train mechanic.  He obliviously explains how modern-day train robberies happen, not realizing he is providing a catalyst for Deidra’s plan.  When Deidra’s ex mentions his side hustle selling just about anything he can get his hands on, the pieces fall into place and a crime spree is about to begin.

Both Deidra and Laney are in on the plan, and the two sisters become closer than ever.  However, tensions are high as Deidra’s dream of college seems to be slipping away, Laney pins her hopes on the pageant yet feels very alone, Child Protective Services suspects Deidra isn’t cut out to be the head of the household, and the fuzz is catching on to the robberies.

To everyone’s surprise, their father steps in to cover with CPS and do what he does best—plan petty crimes and destroy evidence.  This may be too little too late, as a persistent railroad security employee, Truman, is determined to crack the case.  Shit hits the fan when Truman puts 2 and 2 together on the night of the pageant, and Chet decides to take off.

a teenage girl stands next to a man as they look at a fire in a trashcan
Also a convenient way to destroy evidence of all of those animals I tortured…

How can this possibly end well for our titular train-robbing teens?  You know the drill.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Largely because Deidra and Laney are so cute and incredibly real.  I could especially relate to Laney re: awkward/insecure teen years…and, you know, the whole beauty pageant scene (lol).

The acting is convincing even if the characters aren’t always–Deidra’s guidance counselor being presented as sympathetic while pushing her own agenda over Deidra’s best interests really grated on me, as well as Chet playing the role of dirtbag with a heart of gold father.

This film has a lot of heart, but some of its sweet moments are emotionally manipulative AF.  It suffers from an uneven tone, simultaneously attempting to tackle serious issues while offering soothing reassurances to the viewer that it will all be okay.  The film frequently undermines its own ideas, and wraps things up much too neatly for my tastes (even though I was rooting for our leading ladies the whole time).

There is quite a lot of consideration of fate vs. free will throughout, which remains persistently upbeat.  This is one of my major beefs with the film, as it ultimately seems to reinforce the narrative that hard work and individualism pay off.  Though Deidra and Laney resort to robbing trains, it’s emphasized that their resourcefulness, determination, and clever planning earns them opportunity.  Am I bumming you out?  I sense that I’m bumming you out.

Would Christa ride the rails or take a bus instead?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Win It All…Or Not

Another week, another pick to give us a chance to Blog Free or Die Hard.  But mostly the former.

The Film:

Win It All

Where to Watch:


The Uncondensed Version:

Eddie is a laid-back guy who means well yet invariably chooses the worst possible option when it comes down to decision time.  This is in large part due to his gambling addiction, which drives his willingness to settle in other areas of his life as long as he can scrape together enough money to make his rounds at poker.  Although he could work for the family landscaping company, Eddie chooses instead to make some easy money as a parking attendant.

You know from the setup a change is going to come, and it takes the form of a duffel bag full of cash.  All Eddie has to do is babysit the bag while its owner serves a short prison sentence…but I think you know where this is going.  Despite stern advice from Keegan-Michael Key–in a serious-ish role as a friend from Gamblers Anonymous–Eddie decides to borrow just $500 in order to scratch his gambling itch.  It’s not long before $500 turns into $20,000 in debt.

two men in a diner sit across from each other in a booth

At this lowest of low points, Eddie finally decides to get his shit together and turn it around for real.  He agrees to work with his brother at the family business, and enjoys having a steady job and getting invested in the company’s success.

Meanwhile, his personal life is taking a turn for the better when he meets Eva, a nurse/single mother.  She meets with approval from Eddie’s family, but he has to earn some serious trust before he can meet Eva’s family.

a man and woman sit next to each other in a bar

Everything seems to be going well until Eddie gets a call from the owner of the duffel bag, who will be released from prison early.  Shit hits the fan for Eddie as the only options springing to mind for making money including borrowing from his brother, becoming a coke dealer, or–you guessed it–gambling.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Eh.  This is sort of bland, and while there’s nothing especially objectionable about Eddie, it was difficult for me to root for him.  Spoiler–this gets a fairly happy ending that doesn’t seem earned.  This was never going to be a gritty drama, but the tone is a bit too upbeat to talk about gambling addiction seriously, and I’m not sure Eddie really lost enough to change his ways for good.  I also felt Keegan-Michael Key was underutilized, but I would say that about a film in which he plays every goddamn character (which I would watch the fuck out of).

Oddly, this is the 2nd film I can tag “gambling problems are hilarious”–the other one being the horrendously awful Alex & Emma.  To be clear, this one is much better and shouldn’t be affiliated with that other film in any way.  Apologies to all involved in the making of this movie.

Would Christa (sorry/not sorry)…bet on this one?  Read her review here to find out!

an extremely tall woman looks into the window of a house
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, or: Feminist(?) Rage

Catching up on classics is my favorite thing to do during Blog Free or Die Hard month, and this one has been leaving an approximately 50 foot hole in my heart.

The Film:

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Where to Watch:


The Uncondensed Version:

It’s not a good time to be in 1950s California—for more reasons than one.  The primary reason being a comet rapidly speeding towards the area, which turns out be a…glowing alien orb?  With a giant alien ghost who has a fondness for diamonds.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  To understand the complex drama unfolding in this film, let’s back up just a little bit.

a large glowing white orb sits on the ground in front of a parked car at night
A practical and aesthetically pleasing UFO.

Nancy Archer is the first person in town to stumble across the crashed UFO, having just stormed angrily out of the bar where her husband, Harry, was sleazily flirting with his mistress.  Harry would leave his wife except that would mean sacrificing her inheritance and the cushy life he’s grown accustomed to.  As Nancy has a vague history of mental illness, including a sanatorium stay following violent headaches and…falling down(?), it wouldn’t take much for Harry to get her committed for good.

Conveniently, Nancy runs to the police to report her alien sighting, where she is pretty much dismissed as a raving drunk.  And cautioned against wearing diamonds because they might tempt thieves.  Fucking hell.  Is it any wonder she’s going to get super angry (spoiler)?

a woman holding a glass looks angry while standing in a living room

Nancy and Harry obviously have a really unhealthy relationship—if unclear before her return home, it is written out when Harry confronts her.  Harry threatens to leave her, which is what supposedly drove her crazy before.  In a really condescending scene, he tucks her in for bed and goes out drinking again.

However, Nancy’s rest is short-lived as the local news is giving a lot of attention to her alien sighting and making pretty fucking rude jokes about finally finding a man to love her.  Fuck off, men.  Determined to prove her sanity, she goes out to the desert and encounters the alien once again.  Her encounter with the alien leaves her in a coma due to radiation…(?) for some reason.  It also turns her into (spoiler spoiler spoiler) a 50 foot woman.

a woman wearing a white bikini knocks down a large structure
Everything else was in the wash…

Mandatory scientist with a pipe and incomprehensible German try to figure out what’s going on, reaching the conclusion that women who mature become irrational like middle-aged men.  JFC, dudes.  To cure her, they will need Harry’s permission to operate.  Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.

In spite of Harry’s best efforts, Nancy does finally wake up and all hell breaks loose.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is one of the early examples in horror where you are just waiting for a specific character to die…but honestly the payoff doesn’t feel worth it.  No one is supposed to come off squeaky clean in this one (at least none of our 3 leads), though my biggest problem with Nancy is that she didn’t crush more skulls.  I really wanted her rampage to be more satisfying and I would have been okay with more or potentially all men dying.  In painful ways, which makes me feel conflicted about the person I’ve become.

Frankly, for a movie entitled Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the aforementioned 50 foot woman really has very little screen time, and her attack is quite mild.  Does not live up to the poster.  Next time I’d like her to destroy the foundations of our society or at least raze an entire town.

Did Christa embrace the rage here or…let’s be real, there is no other option.  Read her thoughts on this one here!

a man in a hard hat holds the phone in a phone booth to his ear
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blow Out, or: Another Reason to Celebrate the Death of the Pay Phone

April brings us another round of Blog Free or Die Hard, one of my favorite themes next to Ewan McGregor/Hellraiser month…and every other theme of the blog collab.  This week we opt for a throwback featuring John Travolta, dramatic ’80s scores, and sketchy, sketchy payphones.

The Film:

Blow Out

Where to Watch:

Netflix UK apparently

The Uncondensed Version:

John Travolta has been the sound editor for low-budget horror for the past couple of years.  It’s a living.  The latest picture is presenting a challenge, as he can’t seem to get some of the sounds right, in particular the screams of the slasher victims in the film.  To gather sounds for the film, he decides to somewhat sketchily hang around parks at night and record general nature sounds.  What could possibly go wrong?  You might ask.  Naturally, JT (conveniently, for both John Travolta and his character, Jack Terri) sees something he’s not supposed to see…or rather hears something he shouldn’t.

A close-up of an owl's face at night. Behind the owl stands a man with sound recording equipment.
Owl be seeing you?  (Not sorry.)

Just before a car dives headlong into the river, passengers inside, JT hears a gunshot and realizes this crash isn’t an accident.  His deep sense of moral conviction doesn’t permit him to remain a bystander, so he jumps in shortly thereafter to help the surviving passenger, a young woman (of course).

While at the hospital, JT learns the victim of the car crash was none other than the fictional Governor McRyan, top contender for the presidential nomination in the upcoming election.  JT is encouraged to keep quiet about the presence of the young woman as this news would only upset McRyan’s family further.  He reluctantly agrees to do what seems like the honorable thing…but is it?

The young woman, Sally, is very confused and agitated in the hospital and eager to leave.  JT brings her to a motel so she can rest, but also so he can obsessively play his recording of the crash to figure out what happened with the accident and why.  Meanwhile, we learn someone really is destroying and covering up evidence surrounding the crash.  Spoiler alert:  It’s John Lithgow.  As we learn soon after, John Lithgow escalates things super fucking quickly.

a man in a trench coat stares down the length of a hallway
Damn it, John.

JT tries to get more information out of Sally about her relationship with McRyan, but she doesn’t take well to this line of questioning.  At this point JT does get really fucking irritating and insists they get a drink since he did save her life and all.  FFS, save a woman from drowning because it’s the right thing to do—not because you expect her to get a goddamn drink with you.

Annoyingly, they do get a drink, but mostly so we can learn about JT’s tragic backstory investigating police corruption.  I sometimes worry about the lack of empathy I have for characters in realistic scenarios, but his story came off as a bit melodramatic and led to some pretty cringey Travolta overacting.

a man smiles at a woman seated next to him in a restaurant booth
Nice rabbit foot…

As it turns out, Sally has a dark past of her own, and was part of a conspiracy to ruin McRyan’s political career.  This is apparently all too much for the honorable JT, who you know…probably never saw anything worse in his days of investigating police corruption.

But to return to John Lithgow.  Remember how he was going to take shit too far suddenly?  As part of the conspiracy to eliminate McRyan from the competition, John Lithgow decided to just straight-up eliminate him by shooting out his car tire.  But the plan included Sally’s death and, since she’s one of the few people who can tie all of this back to the conspirators, she needs to die.  John Lithgow actually becomes a serial killer with a fucking garrote watch and all, targeting sex workers who look like Sally so her death won’t seem too out of the ordinary.  TWIS.  TED.

What will happen when John Lithgow poses as a journalist trying to get all of the evidence connecting him to the crime?  If you’re squaring off with someone who has a garrote watch, it’s probably not going to end well.

The Review:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The plot is solid, and John Lithgow is obv a delight.  To the extent sociopathic serial killers with goddamn murder watches can be considered a delight.  In true film noir style, the entire movie is incredibly dark, and the ending doesn’t shy away from that.  This is an indictment on politics, Hollywood, the media…virtually every angle of American life.  Since some of the elements of this film are right out of the ’80s thriller playbook, I expected a cop-out ending, but ended up really impressed.

On the other hand, there’s just something that vaguely irritates me about John Travolta no matter what…?  I think I watched Grease too much growing up, and he was one of the first men to disappoint me with his stupid expectations for women.

I also had such a problem with the roles for women in this film, who are all props without exception.  I really wanted to like Sally, but she just felt like a pawn with no real dimension, and she was soooooooooooooooooooooooo naïve for a woman who agreed to a sleazy plot to set up a politician, And as a minor point of irritation–her voice was really grating.  She brought up shades of Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain to me.  Is it me or is Lina Lamont still more of a feminist icon than Sally in this movie?

Would Christa dive off a bridge for this one or let it sleep with the fishes?  Read her review here to find out!