Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Iron Sky: The Coming Race, or: Conspiracy Quest

Much to my dismay, whenever someone is bringing Nazis into the mix on the Blog Collab, it’s usually me. Though I have no desire to give neo-Nazis any time or attention whatsoever, I still find WWII and its prevalence in pop culture fascinating. No other event in modern history has shaped so many of our ideas about what evil looks like or shaken so thoroughly our belief in progress…or produced such bizarre and lasting conspiracy theories. If this film accomplishes one thing, it’s embracing every possible conspiracy theory it can in under 90 minutes. Let’s take the red pill then, shall we?

The Film:

Iron Sky: The Coming Race

The Premise:

After a nuclear war between humanity and moon Nazis, the survivors have found temporary refuge on the dark side of the moon. To find a new home, a small group of humans must return to Earth to reclaim the Holy Grail from the Nazis/lizard people (I kid you not).

The Ramble:

Following the events of Iron Sky (which I admittedly forget), the planet has been left a nuclear wasteland in the wake of war between Earth and moon Nazis. However, there is some hope for the lizard people/neo-Nazis who have brought about the end of humanity. Among these are Sarah Palin (president of the USA in this version of reality, and not too far off the mark), Margaret Thatcher, Christian and Muslim religious extremists, and their leader, Hitler (obviously). All of these horrible people have slithered to the center of the Earth, where their secret underground society thrives.

in an image reminiscent of The Last Supper, figures sit side-by-side at a long table, with Hitler at the center

Any human survivors of the war have fled to the dark side of the moon, home to the former colony of moon Nazis. These include Obi, a tough but kind engineer, and her mother, effectively the leader of the struggling colony. Even after nuclear disaster, a hierarchy exists, and the members of a religious cult that worships Steve Jobs are the self-proclaimed righteous among the rest of humanity.

With dwindling supplies, crumbling infrastructure, and no way to leave the moon, it’s unclear how long the survivors of nuclear war can last. Hope comes in the unlikely form of a UFO piloted by Russians, including Sasha, who proves to be resourceful yet constantly worried about his fragile masculinity.

a man and woman in bulky bone armor face each other in a sand-colored prehistoric city

Because Obi’s mother is unwell, she is desperate for a cure. Desperate enough that, when she uncovers the secretly alive Moon Führer, Obi is willing to hear him out re: an evil plan he’s concocted. For reasons that are in no way sinister (eye roll), the Moon Führer, aka Hitler’s lizard man brother, seeks the Holy Grail. Coincidentally, its contents have the power to heal Obi’s mother. The only complication? The grail is located at the center of the secret civilization at the center of the Earth.

Along for the ride are Sasha, Obi’s unbelievably jacked bestie Malcolm, and a few members of the Steve Jobs cult, who believe their fearless leader is still miraculously alive on Earth. Things are off to a rocky start when the group crashes, encountering the dangerous world at the center of the planet, inhabited by lizard people and dinosaurs alike.

a man in a black turtleneck and beard looks human except for the lizard eyes and scales on his forehead

When most of the group is captured by Nazis, it’s up to Obi and Sasha to track down the grail. Meanwhile, the Steve Jobs cult discovers their leader is himself a lizard person in on the Nazis’ evil plan. Attempting to switch sides, the members of the cult get a firsthand reminder that you should never trust a promise from Hitler, whether he’s a lizard person or not.

a man in Nazi uniform faces Hitler, who is riding a T-Rex

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our heroes manage to escape with the grail, though not before a dramatic triceratops chariot chase. However, shortly after returning to the moon, Obi and the gang realize they have been followed…by none other than Hitler riding a T-Rex. In the showdown between lizard people, moon Nazis, and humanity, who will prevail?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Credit where credit’s due: this film is visually much more impressive than your average Nazi conspiracy theory action comedy. The lizard people look disgusting, honestly, and as realistic as it’s possible for them to look. Even though the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, I do appreciate that the writers did at least try to weave conspiracy theories together into a somewhat coherent narrative. And my sci-fi loving heart can’t help but enjoy the commitment to telling a story about space travel.

However, like most B-movie sequels, all of the novelty and quirkiness of the first film is lost here. I did find some of the political humor rather gratifying, including when the Steve Jobs cult leader (played by Tom Green?!!!??!) mistakenly called Hitler by the name Donald Trump, as well as when he offered Hitler a quid pro quo. And there’s something quite satisfying about seeing Margaret Thatcher pushed from a triceratops chariot at high speed. But a lot of the political humor doesn’t feel especially clever, and where it was surprisingly apt in the first film, it feels tired here.

My other complaint with this film is the surprise “twist” at the end that reveals Malcolm to be gay. And, for the record, not because I oppose LGBTQ representation in film, but because I object to the use of a character’s sexuality as a joke or plot twist. I quite liked the character of Malcolm and the revelation that he had never been interested in Obi romantically (there’s a bit of an implied love triangle that gets so old so fast), but I felt this was played for laughs in a way I wouldn’t expect in a film from 2019. For fuck’s sake, do better.

Would my blog wife share a swig from the Holy Grail with this one or chase after it on a roaring T-Rex? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Nightingale, or: Bloody White People

There’s nothing like a revenge film to make me grateful most infractions against me are fairly minor, and I can brush them off and continue on binge watching Netflix shows in my sweatpants. It just looks so tiring, doesn’t it? And in this case, trekking through the Tasmanian wilderness, getting eaten alive by leeches, catching and preparing roasted wallaby for dinner–it makes me want to simply forget and forgive. However, when the offenses you’ve experienced are rape, murder, denial of your freedom, and witnessing genocidal war, sometimes the path of vengeance is the route you have to take.

The Film:

The Nightingale

The Premise:

With the help of an Aboriginal guide, a young Irish convict in Tasmania seeks vengeance on the soldiers who destroyed her family.

The Ramble:

Set during the Black War, Irish convict Clare is just one of many living in and around violence in colonial Tasmania. She has carved out a difficult life for herself alongside husband Aidan and a young daughter even as she faces violence, rape, and the denial of her freedom from irredeemably awful Lieutenant Hawkins.

See, Clare’s sentence actually ended months ago; however, because Hawkins is unwilling to sign off on the paperwork that will recognize this fact, she is stuck in limbo. Instead, she is to continue cooking, cleaning, entertaining the troops with her lovely singing voice, and enduring sexual assault, with no end in sight.

a young woman lies in bed next to a baby

Surely something will happen to change Clare’s life for the better? Alas, no. The arrival of a superior officer is meant to signal Hawkins’ promotion to a northern post. But since Hawkins is a horrendous person and a less than inspiring leader, he is denied the promotion. Worse, the final mark against him seems to be the fistfight he and Aidan engage in after Hawkins refuses to sign off on Clare’s papers.

Blaming Clare and Aidan for his own failure to get the promotion, Hawkins pays a visit to their cottage with a couple of loyal soldiers. In an absolutely brutal scene, Clare loses her husband and daughter, is repeatedly assaulted, and left for dead. When she learns that Hawkins and a couple of men have headed north to apply for the promotion in person, Clare swears to track them down and seek revenge.

Clare recruits Aboriginal tracker Billy to help her find the soldiers. In order to persuade him, Clare offers Billy a shilling now and additional payment later, telling him the lie that she’s seeking a reunion with her husband, who is traveling with the group. Billy has become jaded from guiding white soldiers in the past, but he reluctantly agrees to help Clare.

a man in military uniform looks ahead in a forested area, with two men and a boy following close behind

Meanwhile, Hawkins has recruited several convicts to help him, along with Billy’s uncle to lead their party. One of the soldiers encounters Lowanna, an Aboriginal woman, abducting her and repeatedly raping her.

Truth be told, though Clare doesn’t commit acts of physical violence, she is quite contemptuous in her initial treatment of Billy. Though he is a knowledgeable guide, she disregards his advice, constantly calls him “boy,” and seems incapable of recognizing his own pain (i.e. murder of his family) at the hands of the English. In a scene I’m not super comfortable with, Clare tells Billy she’s Irish, not English, and therefore implicitly has nothing to do with the genocide happening all around her. Clare finally checks her attitude a bit, but only after Billy fucking saves her from drowning when she attempts to cross a river he literally just told her not to cross because of the strong current.

Shortly before Clare and Billy catch up with Hawkins, the soldiers face a group of Aboriginal trackers attempting to reunite with Lowanna. The soldier who killed Clare’s baby is injured by a spear, and limps away. When Clare tracks him down, it becomes clear her mission isn’t the innocent goal of finding her husband as she brutally shoots, stabs, and beats the man to death. I’m not saying I felt any pity for this man, but the disturbing violence of the scene makes it difficult to find much satisfaction in this revenge.

an Aboriginal man and a woman covered in blood stand next to each other in the woods, a horse beside them

Clare’s revenge is cut short when the rest of the soldiers escape and another group stumbles upon the murder scene. Add to this mix an illness, a moment of hesitation, and a separation from Billy, and things are looking pretty bleak for Clare. Will she complete her mission of vengeance…even if the cost is Billy’s life?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

A social justice-oriented period drama about a woman seeking vengeance against genocidal misogynists? Sounds like a film plucked right from my dreams. Perhaps my disappointment is one reason I disliked this film so intensely, but here are some other reasons this one just didn’t click for me.

First off, I do not believe in censorship; however, I find it tough to believe that repeated, explicit scenes of sexual violence are necessary. There are so many rape scenes in this film, and they are much more graphic than I feel is needed. The rape of Lowanna is especially mishandled as she is a rather flat character, onscreen exclusively to suffer and die. In comparison with Clare’s story, Lowanna’s assault feels set up to be a lesser, secondary pain. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way this narrative is set up and the way Lowanna is a plot device rather than a person.

I’m also unconvinced that the way race is addressed in this film as a whole works particularly well. It takes Clare a really long time to recognize Billy’s humanity. She treats him so badly throughout the film, while Billy must consistently play the role of exceptional man of color, proving he excels in tracking and survival skills. Though Billy and Clare ultimately develop a deeply felt mutual understanding, it’s gross that Billy has to prove himself multiple times and face mortal wounds just to be recognized as a human being.

I will credit this film for casting Aboriginal actors to play Aboriginal characters. Additionally, as this was shot on location in Tasmania, the cinematography is stunning.

Overall, the brutal and unflinching violence of this film is off-putting to me rather than effective. At worst, it feels voyeuristic; at best, it lacks subtlety. For me, the explicit violence replaces the sense of psychological terror that may have served this film better.

Would my blog wife lead this one safely across a rushing river or unleash violent revenge upon it? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Lost My Body, or: A Bird in the Hand

Sometimes life feels without direction or meaning. It happens to the best of us. At other times, your purpose in life is abundantly clear; for example, if you are a reanimated hand that has been separated from the body you used to be attached to. This story is the latter.

The Film:

I Lost My Body

The Premise:

The animated tale of a severed hand on a mission to reunite with the rest of Naoufel, a young man with a traumatic past.

The Ramble:

To say Naoufel hasn’t had the best day ever is an understatement: lying on the floor near his severed hand, covered in blood as flies buzz around him. Later, his hand busts out of a medical waste bag, determined to be reunited with him. What is Naoufel determined to do? You know, chill.

As a child, Naoufel was interested in music and exploration: he dreamed of being a concert pianist/astronaut. Things related to touch and to seeking out the unknown, you’ll notice. Naoufel’s happy childhood was cut short when his parents died in a car accident. At the time of the crash, he was recording sound, and is therefore still interested in listening to and recording the everyday sounds of the world around him.

an astronaut and a composer holding sheet music look down at the viewer

Now a young adult, Naoufel lives with his uncle and cousin, neither of whom are particularly warm or supportive. An exceptionally bad pizza delivery driver, Naoufel is aimless, isolated, and feeling a lack of agency in his own life.

That is until our apathetic protagonist makes an unusual pizza delivery. Late as always, Naoufel is unable to open the lobby door leading up to the 35th-floor apartment. Though merely explaining the situation to the customer at first, the two begin an earnest conversation over the intercom. Starved of human interaction, Naoufel develops a crush on Gabrielle, the person behind the voice, and becomes determined to find her again.

a young man wearing a helmet holds a pizza box in the lobby of an apartment building

Recalling from their conversation that Gabrielle works at a library, Naoufel makes his way there. He just barely misses her and, based on information a good coworker would definitely not share with a stranger, follows her to a carpenter’s workshop. When he arrives and is called out for lurking, Naoufel lies and says he is there regarding a notice for an apprenticeship. He’s especially keen to work for the carpenter, Gigi, when it becomes clear that Gabrielle regularly visits to bring him medicine. Even better, Gigi has an apartment available so Naoufel can move out of his uncle’s place.

Though initially using woodworking merely so he can be near Gabrielle, Naoufel demonstrates a knack for the process and enjoys making things. When Gabrielle helps Naoufel with a splinter in his hand, the two have an opportunity to bond. As it turns out, both are extremely interested in the North Pole and long to see that vast, white expanse of land.

a man and woman sit on the ground on opposite sides of a table, a pizza box between them

This leads Naoufel to a grand romantic gesture: building a wooden igloo on a nearby rooftop. Gabrielle is impressed; however, when Naoufel uses the opportunity to reveal his identity as the delivery guy from all of those weeks ago who has been yearning to reconnect, she is skeeved out.

Meanwhile, the severed hand wanders around the city in search of Naoufel. Facing a harrowing journey, the hand is attacked by a pigeon, nearly trash compacted, brawls with rats, and is almost hit by a subway car. As a viewer, you will become way more invested in what happens to this poor hand than you may have thought possible.

an animated hand perches on the edge of a window sill, a darkening cityscape in the distance

So how did Naoufel lose that hand? And is he destined to keep missing every time he tries to reach out to another human being?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First of all, I feel for that severed hand (no pun intended). I wasn’t even distracted by questions that later occurred to me, such as how the hand could “see” its surroundings and feel pain, and whether it could die again. No–I was that invested in what happened to this hand, and I was rooting for it to find Naoufel and become reattached.

Naoufel himself, though? He sort of drove me crazy. It’s difficult to watch him stumble along in a depressed stupor, and especially so because he feels life is beyond his control. While I relate to these feelings, they don’t always make for a particularly sympathetic character. Also, I hated his decision-making process in virtually every situation. Desperate for human connection and afraid to admit the truth? I get it. Tracking down a woman at work, following her, and then making up a lie so she’ll have to see you regularly? Whoa, man. Let’s not do that. Worse, even though it was beyond his control (and even awareness), I will never forgive Naoufel for not reuniting with that severed hand!

I will admit that this film is gorgeous to look at, and the symbolism is highly effective. The idea of touch as a way to connect people to each other and to the world around them is clearly important, and the animation focuses on not only the severed hand, but also the use of hands to touch, create, and interact. Naoufel is also very interested in destiny, as the forces shaping his life to this point have felt very much beyond his control. Though this review paints a somewhat bleak picture, I appreciate that there is hope in the film. Naoufel learns it is possible to break patterns and to change the course that seems to be laid out. Beautifully, he learns to be at peace with the idea of not feeling whole. Too bad the severed hand doesn’t get a say there.

Was my blog wife okay with this one getting handsy or did she promptly sever all ties (and hands)? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

JT LeRoy, or: Wigging Out

Perhaps appropriately, 2020 is in with a non-committal shrug. Will it come with the shiny potential a new year brings? Meh.

The year promises to be in line with our first pick for the Blog Collab 2020 as it is similarly likely to feature apathetic hipsters, inappropriate gaslighting attempts, and ’90s nostalgia out the wazoo.

The Film:

JT LeRoy

The Premise:

Based on a true story, a woman in ’90s San Francisco pretends to be the made-up persona of a trendy writer.

The Ramble:

Savannah is a young woman looking forward to the possibilities of living in a new city–San Francisco, specifically–with her brother Geoff and his live-in girlfriend Laura. Both are part of what is most likely a painfully grungy underground band, and Laura is not-so-carefully guarding a secret: she is the writer JT LeRoy, behind the edgy pseudo-memoir everyone is talking about. Her biggest secret? JT is a persona she has made up, pretending to be him on the phone and always making excuses for his refusal to be seen in public.

a woman wearing '90s grunge clothes sits in a dimly lit living room, gesturing to a character off-screen

After reading the novel for herself, Savannah feels deeply connected to the words and persona of JT. The book is supposedly based on JT’s real experiences as the child of a sex worker who provided services to men at truck stops. Laura asks Savannah to pose for a picture as JT by donning a wig (one of so many featured) just this one time. Famous last words.

More and more, Savannah appears as JT LeRoy for magazines and in public appearances. The persona of JT is naturally awkward and standoffish, working conveniently well for Laura’s purposes. Posing as his manager (with a rather cringey British accent), Laura effectively answers any question that comes JT’s way.

an androgynous young man poses for a photographer, wearing women's clothing and dark sunglasses

Though uneasy with the arrangement and constantly convinced she’s about to get caught, Savannah does enjoy trying on the role of JT. She has extra incentive to keep up the charade when she meets director and actress Ava, who is keen to get the film rights for the novel. However, this does complicate her personal life and relationship with her boyfriend.

When the book’s publishers agree to send JT and his manager to Paris, Savannah has the chance to get closer to Ava. But is there a real connection there when Savannah is pretending to be a 19-year-old boy with a traumatic childhood? Laura suspects not and, worried about her loosening control over the situation, tells Savannah that Ava only cares about the film rights.

a woman smokes a cigarette, seated next to an androgynous young man wearing a dark hat and sunglasses

Meanwhile, Laura is neglecting her relationship with Geoff, as well as her commitment to the band. But the JT act is going swimmingly. JT LeRoy is such an avant garde hipster that any challenges to his identity or history are easily shaken with a blasé shrug.

Once the film begins rolling, Savannah feels more conflicted about lying to Ava about who she is, and the existence of JT altogether. Despite pressure from Laura, Savannah decides to give up the act. However, after the film is completed and accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, Savannah agrees to make one final appearance as JT. We all know how that goes…right?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Laura Dern in all of her ’90s grunge finery alone makes this film worth a watch. LD, like she does in basically everything, looks GOOD. And her ever-rotating quirky grunge looks are so delightful here.

However, considering the madness of the story itself, it’s a bit of a letdown that my only real question here is “So what?” We don’t get a whole lot of insight into why Laura and Savannah hatch the JT LeRoy scheme. There are some half-explanations about Laura’s past in a group home, her mystical connection to the character of JT, and her need for recognition as an author without being fully in the spotlight. Savannah’s motives are similarly superficial–and if that’s truly the case, making this film seems like a waste of time. I hoped for an inside look into what made these two tick, but it falls flat. Even their relationship isn’t particularly convincing, and the two seem to annoy each other more than anything else.

I’m disappointed that, like its subject, this film takes the too-cool-for-you hipster brush off approach rather than pausing to offer a thoughtful reflection.

Would my grungy blog wife party with this one, unwashed hair and all, or slowly put on her oversized shades and walk away? Read her review here to find out!