Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

A Date for Mad Mary, or: Quite Contrary

I think the overarching theme of this month is that it’s proven too real for us.  Our pick this week manages to be somewhat more uplifting while remaining emotionally devastating in a way we’ve come to expect (and enjoy to some degree–we’re pretty masochistic).

The Film:

A Date for Mad Mary

The Premise:

Immediately after release from prison seems as good a time as any to plan a wedding, dress up as characters from Mamma Mia, and make bold claims about fictional boyfriends.

The Ramble:

Mary has just been released from a brief stint in prison, a fact willfully ignored by her bff Charlene and just about everyone else.  There’s more important shit going down…like Charlene’s wedding in just a few short weeks.  In spite of all that’s happened, Mary is ready for her life to go back to the way it was and to get up to her usual antics with Charlene.

As we know, weddings are important, blah blah blah, but it’s all a bit much for Mary, who is so not into the frilly lace and passive-aggressive snarkiness of it all (the bride gives Mary a CD with elocution lessons—say what?).  What our girl Mary is really angling for is a carefree night at the club with her bestie, but there always seems to be some element of the wedding rudely sabotaging their friendship.  Or is it something that’s been festering for a long time?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

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U up?

When Mary goes out to the club on her own, it’s obvious she has a bit of a temper.  Bouncers seem to have it in for her as the unexplained mystery of Mary’s prison sentence had something to do with a drunken night out and a short temper.  It’s not long before Mary is sent home without $200 for passing go.

Impulsively (as she does most things), Mary proclaims she’ll need a plus one for her super smokin’ hot boyfriend.  The problem, of course, being that Mary doesn’t have a boyfriend and seems to have very little interest in dating or attracting members of the opposite sex.  In fact, it becomes pretty clear that Mary may be more than a little bit in love with her bestie.  Or is she in love with the person Charlene used to be?

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My milkshake brings all the girls to the stairs…

Either way, checking things off the massive wedding plan list has just become a lot more complicated.  Additional wrench thrown into the plan arrives in the form of Jess, the videographer for Charlene’s big day.  Having left things too late, Mary begs Jess to cancel the gig she has with her band that night.  Reluctantly, Jess agrees, but only because Mary’s a babe and the two share a connection.  *winky face*

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Is that a guitar in your case or…oh, it is a guitar?

Mary does seem to finally have a date, though not the one Charlene is expecting.  Jess is willing to go along with this but balks when it becomes clear how often Mary’s sole purpose seems to be making Charlene angry and jealous.

Alone once again and falling back into old patterns, Mary decides to get her drink on and go pick a fight.  Is it too late for her to change her habits and accept herself the way she is?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really liked this one, so it probably deserves a better rating.  That being said, I was completely unable to separate my reaction to this film from my feelings toward Charlene, who is an utterly horrid person.  At the end of the day, the emphasis on Mary and Charlene’s relationship is that it has changed (necessarily), but my biggest takeaway was that she was a shit friend.  The elocution lessons CD was fucked up, then writing a maid of honor speech for her, along with the complete unwillingness to support her friend through a difficult time–all really fucked up things to do.

I feel this was a deliberate commentary on my ability to let go of things.  In this case, Mary and Charlene had a rather toxic friendship, but it was still hard to watch a one-sided relationship and see Mary’s realization that their friendship was no longer what it once was.

Would this be my blog wife’s plus one or would she tackle it in a drunken brawl?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Poppy Shakespeare, or: Arguably the Less Fun Shakespeare

I thought this week’s film would go nicely with our theme and be somewhat satirical in the vein of Trainspotting.  Horrible moments dotted with the occasional winking nudge along the lines of “Blimey, this mental health business is a bit much, isn’t it?”

I don’t know where this delusion came from…possibly too much John Oliver?  The moral of the story is that I was wrong.  So, so wrong.

The Film:

Poppy Shakespeare

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime

The Premise:

Pray you never find yourself at the mercy of the mental health care system, whether you believe in a higher power or not.

The Ramble:

N is a patient who has been in psychiatric care for many years, carrying on a legacy inherited from her mother and grandmother, and possibly farther up her family tree.  She’s pretty content with the status quo—she collects “mad money” as her income, gets to come and go more or less freely, and enjoys the company of her fellow patients.

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Based on this scene, I’d be totally fine with a stay at Dorothy Fish.

Obviously a change is coming, which arrives in the form of Poppy Shakespeare.  Though everyone in the Dorothy Fish hospital is there voluntarily, Poppy insists she isn’t.  N is assigned to help Poppy understand how the ward works, but the only help Poppy is interested in is how to return to her life and daughter.

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Dress every day as if you’ll be committed to psychiatric care.

Meeting with a lawyer introduces Poppy to the catch-22 that is the entire mental health system:  to collect “mad money” and pay for representation that proves she is fit to leave Dorothy Fish, Poppy must prove she is, in fact, mentally unstable.  Luckily, she has N to help her con the system by falsifying her forms and demonstrating symptoms like pulling out her own hair and burning herself with scalding water.

Meanwhile, the ward is undergoing massive changes.  In an attempt to cut costs and receive bonuses, assessments will be made more frequently to discharge more patients more quickly.  N is terrified as her usual yearly performance must walk a very fine line to avoid the dread of placement on one of the upper floors for more severe mental health issues without being discharged entirely.

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They like me–they really like me!

As N and Poppy try to cheat the system, they become close friends.  The chemistry between the two leads is perfect, making their friendship believable yet bittersweet.  While N is confident their plan will succeed, of course things aren’t going to be so simple as the two patients wind their way through the maze that is the mental health system.  All of this madness begins to take its toll on both characters, and the emotional damage they suffer together will have understandable, realistic consequences for them.

Yeah, this is less Trainspotting and more…slowly bludgeoning your feelings with a wooden plank for an hour and a half.

The Rating:

3/5 PPHs

I wouldn’t argue that this is a bad film or one that mishandles its subject matter, but it’s heavy as fuck.  Oh, you wanted an uplifting film about overcoming crises and handling mental health issues effectively?  Not this one.

Poppy’s situation is horrifying as she describes completing a profile, then out of the blue being identified as someone with a severely disordered personality and being stuck in limbo.  Her experience begs the question of who exactly defines sanity and what motivations may influence them–especially when N uncovers a secret towards the end of the film.  N isn’t in a much better place, as she and just as much at the mercy of the system–a system that failed miserably to help her mother and grandmother.

Chillingly, Dorothy Fish is recognized for its excellence at one point in the film.  It’s a bit of an Ivan Denisovich move–if this place is considered exemplary, how terrible must the other wards be?

Would Christa let this one loose or send it up a floor higher?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

The Neon Demon, or: Beauty Is Skin (and Blood) Deep

Someday we will watch a film about what a nice place LA is and how completely un-problematic the fashion industry is (or not).  Today is not that day–it is, after all, Anxiety August.

The Film:

The Neon Demon

The Premise:

The fashion industry is disturbing.  Really disturbing, and possibly cannibalistic.

The Ramble:

Elle Fanning plays Jesse, an aspiring model who has recently arrived in LA.  She’s getting possibly the creepiest pics ever for her portfolio courtesy of her amateur photographer friend/boyfriend/acquaintance?  Not 100% sure on this one yet.  She lounges on a sofa with blood dripping down her arm as the camera.  Dramatically.  Pans away.

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Just another day at work…

Jesse’s magnetism/beauty/je ne sais quoi lands her a party invite from make-up artist Ruby.  At the party, she meets other models who are probably 10 years or so older (aka ancient in terms of modeling) and therefore immediately loathe her.  Our unholy trinity corners her in the bathroom and asks all kinds of overly personal questions about her sex life and family.  Ruby is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally intensely into Jesse and applies appropriately named Red Rum lipstick to her.

Jesse scores representation from a competitive modeling agency that recognizes she will go far as a model.  However, first she needs much better pics for her portfolio, which will be provided by really intense shaved head dude (yeah, I wasn’t paying the most attention ever to all of the names here).  At the photo shoot, the photographer asks everyone to leave and for Jesse to take off her clothes.  It gets weirder when he covers her in gold paint in the messiest and least efficient way possible besides maybe if he had used a pastry brush.

After the shoot, Ruby says she’s looking out for Jesse and insists she call if she ever needs anything.

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“And I mean anything…”  *wink*

Meanwhile, Jesse is sort of dating the amateur photographer who took her first round of pics.  It’s hard to say what she’s feeling most of the time as she seems to be a bit detached from everything, though there are a few moments when she reveals insecurity about her talents.  It’s sort of sweet if anything can be said to be sweet about this movie?  But you know this is all being set up for it to fall dramatically as if from a diving board.  Oops…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, in a cameo I don’t completely understand, Keanu Reeves plays the manager of the shady motel where Jesse is staying.  They’re never going to be the best of friends, especially after a puma destroys her room.  Yeah.  An actual puma.

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This is a pretty shot, but I also sort of expected song and dance in the style of La La Land.

Anyway, things are going swimmingly well for Jesse on the career front.  She manages to swipe a major gig from one of the models from earlier, then lands another job with the other one, who has struggled for years to get where she is.

Predictably, things start to go downhill with Jesse’s boyfriend (or at least guy she’s gone on some dates with).  When she has nowhere else to turn to, she goes to stay with Ruby.  Two guesses about whether this ends well.

The Rating:

3.5/5 PPHs

My review is destined to be biased as, based on the title, I expected demons to appear explicitly in this film.  Perhaps that’s just an indication of our usual fare for the Blog Collab, i.e. veering just a bit farther away from the intellectual.  If you’re looking for demons, you’ll probably be disappointed; however, you will see a lot of blood in this.  SO MUCH BLOOD.  Also slow, dramatic face close-ups.  If we had cut those in half, this film would have probably been about 30 mins shorter.

This does take a pretty interesting angle and makes it clear that this film is a vehicle for social commentary, but it’s not particularly fun to watch for a few reasons:

  1.  No one is particularly likeable or even that interesting as a character.  You will have brief glimpses when characters seem slightly more likeable,  but those moments are usually less than genuine.
  2. All of the photo shoots are really suggestive, which is clearly in service of the film’s message.  It doesn’t make them less voyeuristic and uncomfortable to watch.
  3. It’s really irritating to hear all the goddamn time how beautiful Jesse is and how she has that certain something.  Part of the message here seems to be that all of this talk of magnetism and charisma is a bunch of shit, but it’s still pretty distracting.  See also:  it would’ve been more satisfying to see explicitly that Jesse was a demon or worshiping Satan or something.

Not a bad film, but it might appeal more to the film school crowd than this simple blogger with a strong interest in B-movie monsters.

Would Christa take a dive with this one or send it off to be eaten by pumas?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Incredible Jessica James vs. The Incredible Jessica Williams

This month is already affectionately (or not-so-affectionately) known as Anxiety August, which is like a less chill version of Blog Free.  Welcome to our paradise.

The Film:

The Incredible Jessica James

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Premise:

Jessica Williams is…more or less a version of herself navigating personal crises and keeping her dreams of becoming a playwright alive.

The Ramble:

Nothing seems to be going right in any part of Jessica James’s life, personal or professional.  Having just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and facing rejection after rejection as a budding playwright, JJ is pretty much done on all fronts.

I feel you, JJ.  The one bright light seems to be that her bff Tasha has got her back, plus her job teaching kids theater at a non-profit isn’t too shabby.  However, this is far from the life she envisions for herself.

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Archetypal look laden with secret bff meaning.

Even though dating is gross, JJ agrees to go along on a date Tasha sets up.  The date is with a 30-ish man (yeah, right) who is recently divorced and dubiously named Boone, so I guess it follows that they both need a rebound relationship in the logic of all rom-coms.  They don’t seem destined for each other as he has no interest in theater and she can only think about the ways in which he’s completely unlike her ex.

After deciding to go their separate ways, JJ ends up spending the night in his apartment and then moves on.

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“I really am 30!  Why are you laughing?”

Meanwhile, she’s determined to convince one of her most talented students, Shandra, to attend an upcoming writer’s weekend.  They have a bit of a falling out because Shandra would rather spend time with her dad during their weekend together, something JJ doesn’t have a whole lot of understanding for.

As it turns out, JJ is un-enthused at the prospect of returning home to Ohio for her sister’s baby shower.  She doesn’t have the best relationship with her family as the big city girl who left to pursue her dreams rather than settle down.   As a small act of rebellion, she writes a book about subverting the patriarchy, which is less than thrilling to the other ladies at the shower.  She also does a perfect imitation of a pretentious film student and is super rude about what true theater is when one of the guests asks her which show she should see in New York.  We get a little bit more family backstory eventually, but not to a degree that seems particularly satisfying.  I’m not going to deny that family relationships are hard, but if you’re going to make a film about it, you need better character motivations.

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I don’t remember putting this on my registry…

After returning to New York, JJ breathes a sigh of relief.   She’s clearly still not over her ex, continuing to write scenes in which she confronts him about their relationship and he begs for another chance…only to be crushed by falling pianos, etc.  Both JJ and Boone help each other get over their exes by taking important steps like unfollowing them on Instagram…then giving each other updates on the other’s ex.  JJ seems to finally catch a break personally and professionally, with things all coming together—until of course they aren’t.  Will things turn around for the incredible Jessica James?

The Rating:

3.5/5 PPHs

Don’t get me wrong—Jessica Williams is great in this, but somewhat underutilized.  There are moments when her natural charm and humor shine through (like when she shames a manspreader on a subway car), but her character seems to be written as a less interesting version of the real JW.

The times when real emotional depth is attempted fall flat, and the scenes with her family just unintentionally make her seem self-centered.  Their family drama seems so…normal, and there’s no clear reason for the rift between JJ and her family.

Ok, AND I’m probably super biased here, but JJ slags off Ohio, which I can only deal with coming from actual Ohioans.  Have a disproportionate number of serial killers hailed from Ohio?  Are we the state people only care about during presidential election years?  Is it somewhat disheartening that we’re incredibly proud our rivers no longer catch on fire?  Yes, yes, and yes—but, like family, it’s our dysfunctional mess.

I loved the scenes between JJ and her best friend, however few and far between they were.  I would’ve really liked that to be the central focus of this film rather than her attempts to get over her ex and the development of her relationship with Chris O’Dowd.  Can we be real for a second?  She and Chris O’Dowd have ZERO chemistry.  ZERO.  And I didn’t believe him as 30-ish for a minute.

Spoiler-ish (but not really because this is a light-hearted rom-com that doesn’t pull any punches):  the ending pissed me off because everything came together so neatly in a way that didn’t feel earned.  And Boone makes a romantic gesture that would personally make me really uncomfortable and wonder what he really wanted from me.  To wear my skin Buffalo Bill-style?

No?  Have I just become the world’s most cynical living human?

Did this one make Christa’s dreams come true or send them back to Ohio to die?  Find out here!