Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shirkers, or: Ladies Before Men Who Are Shady

It’s November, meaning (1) I’ll be eating an excessive amount of turkey and (2) we’ll be doing what we want on the blog.  This week that means getting real via the medium of a documentary about a film about murder.

The Film:

Shirkers

The Premise:

A group of teens in Singapore make a film with their mentor only to suffer crushing disappointment when he and the film reels disappear.

The Ramble:

In 1992, Sandi and her friends Jasmine and Sophie took on the impressive feat of writing, shooting, and starring in a movie.  Sandi wrote the script and starred as a teenaged murderer.  Influenced by the experimental films of ’60s French cinema, the team made a film unlike anything else in Singapore.

Raised by her grandparents with high expectations for her future, Sandi felt more at home with Jasmine’s laid-back, undemanding family.  Bonding over their love of censored films, music, and all things punk, Sandi and Jasmine found a voice through the creation of their own zine.

The lives of Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie change when they meet Georges, a filmmaker who will become their mentor.  An enigmatic man, Georges lies about his age, date of birth (including day of the month!), birthplace, and–bizarrely–about being the inspiration for James Spader’s character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

If Georges doesn’t already scream “major creep” to you at this point, he cranks up the dial by inviting Sandi on a road trip across the United States.  After the trip, Sandi is inspired to write the script for a film called Shirkers.

Determined to make the film and unleash it upon the world, Sandi and Georges drive production forward even when Sophie and Jasmine would prefer to wait.  By her own admission, Sandi is a bit of an asshole during production.  In addition to pouring their hearts into the film, Sandi and Sophie clear out their bank accounts to make it all happen.

At the end of the day, Georges is the one walking away with the film reels.  Sandi and her friends wait eagerly for news of the final product…but only receive a couple of messages from him before he disappears without a trace.

Years pass (23+ in fact) and Sandi feels over what happened with the film.  She has written a novel and gotten married in Vegas.  Sandi has given up all hope of seeing the film reels again when she gets a call from Georges’ wife.  George has passed away, and he’s left behind 70+ reels of film labelled “Shirkers.”

What will Sandi and her friends find on those reels?  And why the eff was Georges such a massive creep?  Answers to at least one of those questions revealed in the documentary.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love the girls in this, especially as Sandi and Jasmine embrace their weirdness and the spirit of punk.  This girl gang proudly marches to the beat of their own drum.  Sophie wisely points out that the experience created a unique bond among the three girls, who remain close because of the shared triumph and devastation of creating and losing their film.

However, a good chunk of this film is dedicated to the pursuit of understanding Georges and his decisions.  I can appreciate how this process is a strategy for Sandi to find closure…but sometimes when dudes act like assholes, it’s just because they’re fucking assholes.

Would my blog wife embrace this as part of her girl gang or hide it from the light of day?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Don’t Talk to Irene, or: Failure in Drag

As much as I miss Horror Month on the blog, I love months when anything goes.  This explains how we shift gears completely from last week’s dark exploration of human nature to this week’s film about befriending maggots, cheerleading, and Geena Davis.

The Film:

Don’t Talk to Irene

The Premise:

In spite of her mother’s disapproval and bullying from her peers, teenager Irene dreams of being a cheerleader and gains an unexpected squad in the form of a group of retirement home residents.

The Ramble:

The ‘burbs of Toronto:  so close to the city yet so far.  Irene is a relentlessly positive teen living in the ‘burbs, determined to join the cheerleading squad.  So what if she wears plus size clothing, adopts maggots as pets, and holds conversations with the poster of Geena Davis above her bed?

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According to Irene’s mother, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  Mom (who I don’t think is ever named?), a cheerleader until becoming a teen mom in high school, worries that Irene will be bullied or scorned by her peers.  Too late to worry on that front as Irene is well aware she’s considered a loser but seems to give zero fucks.

On the first day of school, Irene creates a DIY cheerleader outfit to try out for the team.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by new student Tesh, a fabulous dresser and the self-described Switzerland of gender.  They are completely on board with Irene challenging the status quo.

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One person decidedly not on board with this is Sarah, a classmate who decides to humiliate Irene for the hell of it.  Convincing Irene and a few other naive girls that they must lick the shower of the boys’ locker room to make the squad, Sarah films the gross prank and posts it on social media.  Obviously when this goes public, the school principal is not amused and suspends Irene, Sarah, and her boyfriend.  During their time away from school, they will complete mandatory community service at the local retirement home.

Determined to make the best of things, Irene befriends several of the residents:  the sweet but forgetful Millie, curmudgeonly Charles, and suggestive Ruth.  When Irene hears about a reality show contest, she schemes to put together a cheer routine with a squad of her own making:  the residents and staff of the retirement home.  Initially Irene’s pet project, the residents quickly buy into the plan and look forward to learning their new moves.  And of course Sarah is there at every turn to sabotage Irene.

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As Irene faces setbacks, Geena Davis and her new friends teach her to be resilient.  Charles shows Irene how to respond to bullies and to throw a perfect punch.  Tesh, in on the plan too, utters perhaps my favorite line in cinema: “Success is just failure in drag.”

Closer to being part of the contest than ever, Sarah pulls out all the stops to prevent Irene from accomplishing her goals.  With the retirement home manager, Irene’s mother, and a flat tire to contend with, the squad has a lot to overcome.  Does this mark the end of Irene’s dream to defy the odds and become a cheerleader?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s just say there are no shocking twists to this story–it’s a genuine, feel-good film that is precisely what I needed.  Irene is such a sweet character who doesn’t even seem to notice when others try to put her down.  I would really like to borrow some of Irene’s optimism and absolute indifference to horrible douchebags.

Some criticism:  Irene’s mom is a bit disappointing, and her inevitable change of heart feels a bit too little too late.  Though she claims everything she does is to protect Irene, she constantly fat shames her daughter and discourages her for most of the film.  Sarah’s antics get irritating as well; she’s often frustratingly one-dimensional.  I do admit I wish Irene had taken things a step further with some of her choices, but the entire point of her character is about staying positive and not holding onto insecurities.

However, so many of the other characters are so sweet I’d put them in my coffee (if coffee weren’t vile). For once all of the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia here seems authentic instead of hipster ironic.  I love that Geena Davis was part of this film.  And Milli Vanilli helps teach us a valuable lesson about being true to yourself.  What’s not to like?

Did my blog wife cheer this one on or consider it success in drag?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hold the Dark, or: Men, Manly Men

Although our absolute favorite month on the blog is over, there’s no reason we can’t celebrate November by doing whatever we like.  This month, we’ll be returning to our old stand-by:  the free for all.  We’re starting out with a reminder that it’s going to get chilly before too long, though hopefully not as cold as Alaska.

The Film:

Hold the Dark

The Premise:

Arriving in smalltown Alaska to hunt a killer wolf, a writer/wolf expert quickly becomes embroiled in a shocking murder case.

The Ramble:

After Medora’s son is taken by wolves in Alaska, she writes to that guy from Westworld (Jeffrey Wright), famed for his writings about living with wolves.  Her son is not the first victim of the wolves, but the authorities have done little to prevent further attacks.

Unexpectedly, wolf expert extraordinaire Russell responds to the letter, promising to find the wolf that brought an untimely end to more than one life.  While he won’t receive pay for his services, Russell hopes the trip will give him an opportunity to reconnect with his daughter, a teacher in Anchorage.  He must be pretty damn committed as he’s not swayed even when an Inuit woman warns him that Medora knows evil.

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Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon is off at war, completely unaware of the tragedy that has happened at home.  After killing a fellow soldier who assaulted a local woman, Vernon has a near miss with death when he is shot in the neck.  His injuries are so severe he is sent home in critical condition.

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Soon after Russell begins his search, he returns to Medora’s home to find her missing.  Decidedly not missing but also no longer living is Bailey, the child supposedly stolen by wolves.  This leads police to the horrible but undeniable conclusion that Medora, having killed her child, invented the wolf story to cover her tracks.  When Vernon discovers the truth, he kills multiple cops, steals the case file on his son’s murder, and swears revenge on his wife.

So begins a rather tedious round of searches:  police search for Vernon, Medora searches for a place to hide, and everyone searches for Medora.

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If Vernon taking out people one by one as he treks across Alaska isn’t enough excitement for you, just wait until his friend Cheeon joins in.  Cheeon’s daughter is one of the victims of the supposed wolf attacks and really, really doesn’t like the police.  After a standoff, Cheeon manages to wipe out a good 75% of the police force.

This is, of course, all leading up to a confrontation between Vernon, Medora, and Russell/the police.  Who will find Medora first–and who will survive the reunion?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The desolate Alaskan landscape matches this film’s bleak atmosphere perfectly.  Somehow I feel more inclined to visit Alaska while also never wanting to go there.  Survival is an impressive feat for all of the characters here, contending with the extreme climate, packs of wolves, and dark human intentions.

However, there are a lot of problems with this film.  I’m left with so many more questions than answers.  All of our characters are kept at a distance–we don’t get to see much into their brains and dissect their motives, feelings, or histories.  Failing to get a motive for any of our leads–Russell, Medora, and Vernon–is unsatisfying and leaves me thinking “So what?”  As a result, most of the events of this film seem loosely connected by strings of random violence.

There are also times when the film seems to become a parody of masculinity, though this is at no point a funny movie.  Something about Vernon tramping around in a wolf mask, killing people left and right, seem to belong more in the realm of a supervillain.  And he straight up stabs a guy in the skull at one point–dude must have a sharp fucking knife.

This also brings me to the point of why the fuck so many people had to die???  So many of the violent deaths here are so senseless and could have been easily avoided, yet the message of the film doesn’t seem to comment on the violence.  There seems to be some attempt at a social justice message involving the police, the Inuit people, and violence.  But this never feels fleshed out, and I can’t help drawing a negative comparison to Wind River in my mind.  Whereas Wind River has a clear message about violence against Native American women and delves into the grief characters experience after a horrific murder, Hold the Dark feels somewhat hollow as it doesn’t explore its characters’ emotions or have a message underneath that frigid Alaskan landscape.

Would my blog wife cozy up around the fire with this one or track it to the ends of the Earth and stab it in the skull?  Find out here!