Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Burn Burn Burn, or: Three’s a Crowd

This week’s film sadly wraps up our November theme with a film that made me think of my blog wife immediately.  A British road trip comedy about two women scattering their best friend’s ashes?  I know Christa would make that trip 10,000x more fun than the one in this week’s pick.

The Film:

Burn Burn Burn

The Premise:

Two women embark on a road trip to scatter their friend’s ashes in this loose adaptation of On the Road.

The Ramble:

Before we delve into this film any further, let’s get this out of the way:  one of the leads in this film is Edith from Downton Abbey (Laura Carmichael), which is thoroughly inescapable.  However, her character here is significantly more likeable and inclined to expressing genuine emotion.

Anyway.  During the funeral reception for their best friend Dan, Seph and Alex are hit with the bombshell news that Dan has left his ashes to them.  While dying of cancer, he made a series of videos instructing them on the 4 places where he’d like his ashes to scatter.  However, Alex and Seph aren’t too keen on the idea of a morbidly death-centric road trip.  Both have (rather boring) jobs and steady relationships to maintain, so they decide to return to their usual routine.

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Back to the humdrum existence of making presentations about yogurt while wearing penguin sweaters.

Of course, this would be a very short film if the story were that simple.  After Alex’s girlfriend turns out to be a cheater and Seph finally loses patience with her terrible job as a nanny, the two women hit the road.  Not before Seph threatens Alex’s girlfriend in a rather touching scene and experience the uncomfortable truth about Dan’s resentful relationship with his mother.  Is it too late to save that relationship?

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Why is everything Alex does in this film so damn relateable???

The first stop on the journey is Glastonbury Abbey, though the tour guide at the abbey warns Seph and Alex they can’t scatter the ashes due to badgers(?!).  They do eventually reach a compromise and seem to be going forth rather uneventfully until they receive an invitation to party that evening.  Alex is reluctant to go along as we subscribe to the same school of thought when it comes to parties–what is a party for if not standing around looking uncomfortable and vaguely annoyed?

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I’ve been there, Alex.

IDK what kind of party this is supposed to be, but it’s in a barn, features many party-goers in masks, and ends with the burning of a giant straw effigy.  As far as cults go, perhaps one of the more harmless ones (unless you’re a straw effigy).

The next day, several of the party-goers/cult members join Alex and Seph on their trip.  Their leader, Adam, is insufferable when everyone around him is sober, so it’s not long before our duo finds a way to ditch his crowd.

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This shot is significantly less effective with only 2 people.

After Seph and Alex arrive at the next stop in Cardiff, tensions begin to roil.  Since Alex’s mother lives in Cardiff, the two stay with her but experience obvious tension.  Later, Seph hooks up with a guy she meets at a club that night.  Still reeling after discovering her girlfriend’s infidelity, Alex becomes furious with Seph, making for an unpleasant drive to York.

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I HATE IT WHEN YOU TWO FIGHT.

As Dan’s video messages go on, he becomes increasingly bitter, expressing anger towards his mother, the petty concerns of his friends and their inability to really live.  Dan crosses a line when he’s a bit too on the nose about Alex and Seph, who reconsider the trip altogether.  Will Seph and Alex be able to honor Dan’s final wishes?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The relationship between Alex and Seph is the driving force behind this film, and succeeds in its strength and believability.  At times they judge each other, disagree, and disapprove, but at the end of the day support and love each other.

I also love the dialogue here, especially early on.  It’s very sharp, clever dialogue that reveals the nature of the two leads while embracing quite dark humor.  One of Alex’s lines about the number of children who die while someone is eating a yogurt cracked me up.

Two criticisms, however.  One:  Dan seems like the kind of person who would annoy the bejeezus out of me in real life.  He imagines himself this cool, laid-back rebel who’s dropping truth bombs left and right, but comes across as more of a lazy asshole who sits around providing commentary for other people’s lives instead of getting his shit together.  The bigger problem is the uneven tone of this film.  It’s initially very funny with admittedly very dark humor at times.  As it wraps up, though, it becomes a much more tragic story that meanders a bit.  Throw in the wise old hitchhiker trope and it becomes difficult to take it all seriously even though the finale of this film is quite sad.

Was Christa along for the ride or would she leave it stranded at the gas station?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Lion, or: Goodbye, Feelings

This month’s theme (essentially “Hey, this film made me think of you”) has unintentionally been the ultimate exercise in trust.  “Hey, let’s watch this emotional sucker punch of a film because I know how much you like a good reminder of how broken your feelings are” is one interpretation of this week’s pick.  However, I believe the intention with Lion is along the lines of “Hey, I know you like films with a realistic yet affirming story and rich emotional complexity, plus Nicole Kidman’s cool.”

/Also I may have suggested this one for the blog before but have lacked the emotional willpower to follow through and watch it.  That stops today.

The Film:

Lion

The Premise:

Based on the true story of a young man, raised in Tasmania by his adopted family, who used Google Earth to find his biological family in a small Indian village over 25 years later.

The Ramble:

Saroo lives with his mother, sister, and brother in rural India.  The family does what it can to scrape by–Saroo’s mother carries rocks, while Sarro and his brother Guddu performing the dangerous work of stealing coal from moving trains.  Saroo is especially close with his brother and always wants to be included whenever Guddu goes off alone to bring home something the family can trade for food.

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I can no longer complete this post as my heart has broken into pieces too tiny to ever find and put together again.

One evening, Saroo insists on going along with his brother on a mysterious errand at the train station.  However, Saroo is unable to stay awake and falls asleep at the station.  When he wakes up, Saroo is on a moving train that doesn’t stop for days.  Eventually, the train stops in Calcutta and a lost Saroo has no idea how to return home.

After months of life on the streets dodging all manner of characters with ill intentions, a young man helps him talk to the police.  The police don’t recognize the name of his village and post his picture in hopes of someone claiming him.  Unfortunately, these efforts fail, and Saroo is sent to an orphanage that makes Dickens look tame.

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Never trust a ginger.

Eventually, an Australian couple adopt Saroo and later, his brother Mantosh.  As they grow up, it becomes clear that Mantosh is a deeply troubled child who later turns to drugs.

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I’d like Nicole to do more ’80s period pieces because she’s nailed that look.

The family dynamics become strained further when, after completing his university education, Saroo secretly determines to find his biological family.  Though his girlfriend Lucy believes his family should know what’s going on, Saroo insists it would hurt his mother too much to learn the truth.

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I apologize for not preparing you for how good Dev looks in this film.

If you saw any of the trailers for this film or have seen any films that avoid an entirely nihilistic ending, you can probably guess whether Saroo is able to locate his family (plus I’ve never heard of anyone writing a book about looking for their biological family and then not finding them).  However, I challenge you to feel emotionally ready for the ending of this film because, unless your heart is made of stone, it will not happen.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though the plot is fairly straightforward, this film kept me engaged throughout as it battered my feelings.  It asks quite involved questions about the nature of family, privilege, identity, and loss.

Because this is a story driven by the experiences and feelings of its characters, the casting is so important here–and it’s perfect.  Dev and Nicole really stand out in their roles, and of course Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child.  He conveys so much emotion with his eyes and comes across as very genuine in some really devastating scenes.  I don’t even like kids, but I wanted to reach through the screen and hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay.

Possibly my only criticism is that Rooney Mara is almost entirely wasted in her role as the supportive girlfriend.  She has charisma here but not a lot to work with–it’s not even clear to me what she does in later scenes except go jogging and lecture Saroo about being honest with his family.  While she’s of course not the focus of the story, it would’ve been nice to see her fleshed out as a character and given more personality.

Everything else about this one is beautiful, though.

Would Christa use Google Earth to track this one down or run away faster than you can say “orange soda”?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Final Girl, or: You and Me Baby Ain’t Nothin’ But Mammals

This week’s film is chosen with my Blog Wife in mind.  Not only is she on record as one of the coolest people I know, but she has a segment on her blog dedicated to final girls in horror.  What could be more appropriate for this week than a film taking its cues from the badass final girls we know and love?  (Assuming we continue to exist in a world where the Mega Shark vs. Mecha Margaret [The Foxy Merkins] franchise has yet to materialize.)

The Film:

Final Girl

The Premise:

A teen girl trained to kill targets a group of boys who like to reenact “The Most Dangerous Game” with the girls in their small town.

The Ramble:

After the death of her parents, 5-year-old Veronica is adopted(?) for the purposes of mini assassin training.  Her trainer, William, has lost his wife and child in an extremely vague murder, leading to his, er, brilliant plan of killing a group of 17-year-old boys 12 years later.

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Nice view, if you can stand all of the assholes.

The training for Veronica is oddly specific, from killing people with her bare hands (since guns run out of bullets) and running through the woods until she can no longer feel her feet.  After all of this time with William as her only human connection, Veronica is rather in love with him (in a super gross Stockholm syndrome kind of way).

After seriously 12 years of training, William deems Veronica ready for a test.  She lures a man into the bathroom of a sort of Western themed restaurant(?) and manages to knock him out.  This is an exhibit of (1) the general cop-out feeling that is watching this movie—surely the first test would be actually killing someone and (2) unintentional evidence of the creepy nature of Veronica and William’s relationship—random older man hits on Veronica = unacceptable, but relationship with William = ok because she knows him and he knows how to rock the stubble?

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Creepy pseudo-romantic relationship or perfume ad?

To be completely ready, Veronica also has to undergo a test where she’s injected with a drug that will reveal the truth/show her greatest fear.  As it turns out, her greatest fear is William murdering her.  Pretty fucking twisted.

Having passed all of the tests, Veronica is finally ready for her, uh, mission?  William instructs her to gather information on a group of 17-year-old boys who hunt and kill the girls in their high school.  Somehow, no one is suspicious about all of these girls going missing or about the number of times a girl has gone out with these guys only to never return.

Veronica buys a milkshake at the local diner for Jennifer, who is dating one of the psycho teens.  I actually really liked the bonding scene between these two characters, even though it’s all about boy problems and Jennifer delivers one of the most cringeworthy lines of dialogue in the entire film (and there are a lot):  “I’m a 17-year-old girl…of course it’s boy-related.”  I could feel myself losing years from my life during that moment.

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We were going to try to pass the Bechdel test, but who gives a fuck.

After learning valuable(?) information about her targets that she pretty much already knew, Veronica meets up with the ringleader and scores a date.  There are a few scenes giving the boys a bit of personality, which pisses me off, largely because the female characters like Jennifer get no time whatsoever for character development.  Like the only thing we know about her is she likes milkshakes and is dating a psycho.

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I drink your milkshake…

Veronica meets up with the Fucked Up Four and starts things out with a rather sinister game of truth or dare in the woods.  Our ringleader tells this really psychotic story about a rabbit and eventually says the line “We’re all just animals,” thus ruining any chance I had of taking this movie seriously.  It’s really difficult to take anything seriously when you have the Bloodhound Gang stuck in your head.

I think it will surprise no one to learn some pretty grisly deaths follow without a ton of suspense about who the final girl is in this film.

The Rating:

1/5 Angry Pink Panther Heads

I would’ve gone with 2 PPHs because this film wasn’t the worse ever, but the relationship between Veronica and William pissed me off so much.  It’s creepy for William to have raised Veronica and then potentially pursue a romantic relationship with her.  Plus she’s 17, which may be the age of consent but is young enough to still be creepy AF.  It’s also uncomfortable that William keeps putting her through tests to prove she’s worthy of being alive; the parallels to what men do in toxic relationships are too real.  Let’s not even touch on the major Stockholm syndrome at play in all of this or we’ll be here for a long fucking time.

It’s difficult to see William as any better than the psychotic 17 year olds we’re supposed to hate, honestly.  He subjects Veronica to horrendous treatment and plays mind games, even if he considers it for her own good.  It’s unclear how killing these dudes has anything to do with the murder of William’s wife and child as well; I don’t think we’re in a Michael Myers situation where they killed someone at the age of 5.  This film accepts the weird logic that targeting bad people for murder makes you a good person…but does it?

By the end, I was really rooting for Veronica to kill William and fully embrace the concept of the final girl.  Take a wild guess about whether I was disappointed (yet again).

Would Christa buy this one a shake or take an axe to it?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Madame Bovary, or: Arsenic and Gold Plates

November is the month of love on the blog–specifically love for the Blog Collab and our partnership.  In line with age-old tradition, our theme for this month revolves around choosing films that remind us of each other.  This week is Christa’s pick, and I think I’ve done well for myself if period dramas are the films immediately associated with me.

The Film:

Madame Bovary (2014)

The Premise:

France.  Extramarital affairs.  Massive debts as a result of too many gold encased centerpieces.  You know the drill.

The Ramble:

If 150+ years isn’t long enough to catch up on the basic plot of this story, this film considerately drops a few hints right away that it doesn’t end super well for the titular Madame Bovary.  Guess what?  Being a middle class married woman in the 19th century French countryside isn’t usually the most fun in literature.

Short diversion:  though set in France, this adaptation feels English AF, and the accents are confusing.  We have pseudo-French, British, American, and a few I couldn’t identify super easily.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want to hear actors in a French story at least make an attempt to put on a terrible French accent.

Returning to our story–almost immediately after her education in what looks like the world’s most boring martial arts school (but is actually a French convent), Emma marries a youngish doctor and moves to a small town outside of Rouen.  Everyone is stoked about the good match she’s made and predicts she’ll enjoy a comfortable, quiet life with her husband.  A ha ha.  Ha.

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They see me rollin’…

For whatever reason, Paul Giamatti has a small role in this as a pharmacist/unintentional wingman for Emma.  He introduces Emma to a young legal clerk, Leon, with the dubious honor of being the last romantic in France.  Though Emma is really into this guy, the most scandalous thing she’s willing to do is walk slowly through a golden field with him.  That seems to be the end of that (at least for now).

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Period drama requirements satisfied in this scene:  bonnets, sideburns, symbolically wild/flowy hair on men, walking in fields.

Bored with the countryside, Emma tries to convince her husband to move to a city with more excitement or at least some more dudes to scope out.  Sorry, Emma–not going to happen.  Her only consolation is buying expensive shit on credit so she’ll have a shiny new wardrobe and extravagant decor.

After some time, Emma meets a marquis at a really fancy fox hunting party (which also makes this story feel even more fucking English).  Though initially Emma only offers friendship to the Marquis, she becomes tired with the constant disappointment that is life and begins an affair with him.  Eventually, Emma plans to run away to Paris with the Marquis, but…that doesn’t work out very well for her.  She does get some apricots out of it, though.

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Break-up note accompanied by food is…not the worst idea, actually.

Luckily, Leon shows up again around this time.  However, Emma has also amassed much more debt than her husband can ever pay off by this point.  Unless Emma can rustle up 10,000 francs, she will lose everything.  Guess who’s there for her in her hour of need?

Spoiler:  it rhymes with marsenic.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I do always love the scenery, costumes, and symbolism of a period drama.  The sweeping landscape shots are beautiful, though (again), there’s something about all of this that feels so English.

However, we’re sorely missing a glimpse into Emma’s inner workings.  We see her reacting to feelings of emptiness and boredom without understanding where these feelings come from or what drives her to spending money and conducting affairs.  She’s also described as intelligent yet overly romantic, but neither of these characteristics shines through.  In this adaptation, Emma is actually somewhat boring herself and honestly not the brightest.  As a result, there is very little redeeming about her character, and it’s difficult to be sad when she meets an unhappy end.

At a certain point, this film ends up feeling like it’s crossing off items on the period drama checklist:  furtive glances at church, melancholy walks in the countryside, forbidden meetings at night.  You can get all that and more from so many other period dramas, in addition to more fully developed characters and deeper significance (plus less confusing accents).

Would Christa plate this one in gold or send it away to walk alone in the woods?  Find out here!