Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, or: To Your Ship Be True

The only type of film I’m feeling up for right now is one that’s the equivalent of homemade comfort food. I think stop-motion animation is the closest we can get to a film reaching through the screen, gently patting us on the back, and telling us everything is going to to be okay. Did this week’s film live up to our admittedly rather high expectations of being comforted with endless bowls of mac and cheese?

The Film:

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

The Premise:

The lives of Shaun the Sheep and company are disrupted when an alien crash lands near their farm.

The Ramble:

It’s a dark and stormy night in the countryside, meaning the timing is perfect for the sudden appearance of…aliens? A UFO lands in the forest, and the only witnesses are a rather hysterical man and his dog. In other words, did it really land at all?

For the residents of Mossy Bottom Farm, the UFO may as well be lightyears away, as their routine continues as usual. Shaun and his sheep friends, bored with their lives of essentially standing around chewing grass, cause all manner of mayhem as sheepdog Bitzer tries to keep them in line.

An animated dog and sheep glare at each other across a sign that indicates no frisbee throwing is allowed.

After finally taking things too far and ordering pizzas for the sheep, Shaun ends up puzzled when the pizza boxes arrive empty. He follows a trail of crusts to the barn and encounters an alien who evidently really enjoys pizza. The alien, Lu-La, has a gift for imitation and a knack for getting into trouble matched only by Shaun’s. Though Shaun tries to keep Lu-La’s existence a secret, the task is next to impossible when the alien takes the tractor out for a joyride.

While skeptical of the local UFO sighting, the Farmer sees the crop circle pattern mysteriously left behind and is inspired. Deciding to cash in on the alien hysteria, the Farmer plans a space-themed park…which he naturally puts Bitzer and the sheep in charge of constructing.

An animated man with thinning hair and thick glasses sits at a breakfast table, reading a newspaper with a headline about a UFO sighting.

Meanwhile, Shaun has disappeared with Lu-La in an attempt to reunite her with the UFO she crash-landed. Apparently Lu-La’s fondness for driving dangerously got her into trouble in the first place, as she hopes to return to her parents after borrowing their UFO for an impulsive ride around the galaxy. Mayhem ensues when they are sidetracked by adventures in a grocery store and a mysterious agency investigates the possibility of alien life on Earth.

An animated sheep looks in alarm at a pink and purple creature resembling a dog. The creature sits in a bin of frozen food in a grocery store, holding a frozen pizza.

Just as Shaun and Lu-La locate the UFO, Bitzer arrives on the scene, followed shortly by the agency, the Ministry of Alien Detection (MAD). Determined to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life, MAD won’t let Lu-La escape as easily as she might like.

After a serious UFO crash, will Lu-La be able to return to her parents and home planet?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not going to lie, I absolutely adored the first Shaun the Sheep film and was hoping for a repeat of the wild, inventive humor here. In the first film, Shaun’s antics lead the Farmer to develop a severe case of amnesia and gain fame as an iconic hair stylist to the stars. Even with aliens thrown into the mix in the sequel, the plot doesn’t maintain the same level of absurdity and fun. Most importantly, I wasn’t rooting for the characters to pull off their unlikely schemes in the way I did in round one.

Also, there was only a very brief bit where the sheep pretended to be people. In the first film, the extended scene where the sheep acted like humans dining in a restaurant legitimately cracked me up.

The plot feels very disjointed, in large part because the characters don’t share a goal for most of the film. Part of the charm of Shaun is that he constantly screws things up, yet the sheep (and eventually Bitzer) always have his back, working together to make things right. The other problem is Lu-La as the sower of chaos here, who I’m just not as invested in as Shaun. What would be a silly antic from Shaun is just irritating from Lu-La, even when we learn that her childish behavior comes from being an actual child.

I will give credit here for the animation. Like all things from Aardman, the accomplishment of telling a complete story with almost no dialogue is impressive. The expressions on the sheep’s faces, and long-suffering Bitzer, are particularly endearing.

And let’s not forget the alien theme park, though less than thrilling to visitors, was constructed by an all-sheep construction crew with a dog as foreman. That concept in and of itself could be a major hipster tourist attraction.

Does my blog wife believe the truth is out there or was this all as staged as the moon landing (jk in case Buzz Aldrin is reading this)? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Proud Mary, or: They See Me Rollin' on a River

There’s an odd comfort in a mob war movie. Possibly because they’re all taking similar cues from The Godfather or dispensing a brutal but simple version of street justice. However, at the moment, I think the main comfort is seeing a danger that’s easily dealt with and dispensed…which is decidedly not true for the global pandemic and health emergency we’re currently facing. Plus Taraji P. Henson kicking ass is never a bad idea…right?

The Film:

Proud Mary

The Premise:

A hit woman for the mob runs into complications after taking out a target whose young son is in the next room.

The Ramble:

The titular Mary is an assassin for the mob in Boston, with an aim that is precise and unwavering. After many years of efficiently killing for her father figure, Benny, Mary is disturbed one evening when she kills a man whose young son is playing video games in the next room. Wracked with guilt, Mary keeps tabs on the boy, Danny.

An African-American woman sits at a desk, stirring a cup of tea she is holding.

The next year doesn’t go particularly well for Danny. With both parents out of the picture, Danny becomes an errand boy for Uncle, a member of another Boston crime family. Though transporting significant amounts of drugs and cash back and forth, Danny sleeps rough on park benches and is in constant danger from the mob and others lurking in the sketchier parts of town.

A woman wearing a leather jacket walks next to a preteen boy wearing a hoodie as they walk through a park, the cityscape of Boston behind them.

Because Mary has been looking out for Danny, she helps him when he eventually passes out in an alley after receiving a nasty head wound. Suspicious when he wakes up in a stranger’s apartment, Danny is keen to take his backpack and leave. However, Mary first decides to pay Uncle a visit to remind him of his manners. Predictably, things go horribly wrong, and Mary knocks off several members of the rival gang.

Should anyone discover Mary is responsible for the killings, it will spell trouble for both her and her adopted family. To cover her tracks, Mary immediately starts casting doubt around fellow mob member Walter, who has beef with the other family. The only problem is her ex (and Benny’s son) isn’t buying this, but Mary manages to get the ok to take out Walter.

An older African-American man sits in an office chair, wearing a suit. He looks serious and has worry lines across his forehead.

Meanwhile, an attack on Benny and his crew reveals the rival gang’s commitment to escalate the mob war regardless of what happens to Walter. Tom also finds out that Danny is living with Mary and becomes suspicious of this entire arrangement. At Benny’s insistence, Mary and Danny attend a birthday party for his wife. Because her character is written as an idiot, Mary reveals to Benny that she plans to get out of the mob, despite his status as her boss/father figure. Extremely bad idea.

I’m not sure how much more detail I can go into without my eyes rolling into the back of my head. Suffice it to say, things escalate further. The rival mob is a problem, Benny is a problem, and Mary’s assassination of Danny’s father is a problem.

Also an issue? How disappointingly bad this film is.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh my god, every single character in this film is insufferably stupid. Considering two of them are played by Taraji P. Fucking Henson and Danny Glover, this is unforgivable.

This film is almost immediately bad, as things are set up in a way that makes it difficult to care about any of the characters. First, it’s difficult to understand why Mary feels so much guilt about this particular murder of Danny’s father. Surely she’s killed other men in their 30s before, and statistically at least some of them had children? It’s also an odd choice for Mary to intervene only after Danny has experience a head trauma; his life in the entire year leading up to this wasn’t exactly a cake walk. Throughout the film, it seems like Mary has a special connection to Danny, i.e. is secretly his mother(?!?!?!), but this is never a revelation that happens. There needs to be some reason Mary feels connected to Danny–but there never really is, so their relationship, which should be the driving force here, falls miserably flat.

The relationships between the other characters are also incredibly underdeveloped. One: since Benny has been like a father to Mary, you’d think these two characters would know each other better. However, they don’t seem to know each other at all, and have to seriously spell out their exact thoughts and feelings to each other in awfully written dialogue. The same is true for Mary’s relationship with Tom, which used to be romantic, yet now she describes as brotherly? Gross gross gross.

The motivations are also super stupid for all of the characters, and Mary’s eagerness to leave the mob life behind seems to come out of nowhere. We’re given no sense of what’s going on in her brain throughout the film, so her decisions almost never make sense.

On the bright side, we do get a rather nice ass-kicking scene set to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” But it takes us a really long time to get there, and it ends up being too little too late.

Would my blog wife spare this film or unhesitatingly pull the trigger? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Yeh Ballet, or: Fair Plié

Sometimes my brain can predict perfectly when an inspiring, feel-good film will be exactly the ticket. Possibly because, lately, there’s never been a time when I haven’t needed a bit of a lift. Either way, I’d like to take the time to say good call, brain.

I’m not sure why, but films about ballet have a special power to inspire me and break my damn heart. As a child, I quit ballet even faster than I quit soccer, so there are no fond memories there. But I can’t help admire the quiet strength and beautiful grace of ballet dancers, especially when it means shaking up the status quo in all of the best ways as it does in this week’s film.

The Film:

Yeh Ballet

The Premise:

Two young men in modern day Mumbai pursue a love of ballet despite discouragement from their loved ones, an emotionally volatile teacher, and significant financial obstacles.

The Ramble:

In a Mumbai slum, teen breakdancer Asif dreams of a life where his family isn’t barely scraping by. Rebellious and always seeking out a party, Asif shakes his unruly hair all around during Holi. The problem? His strict religious uncle is keen to remind Asif that they are Muslim, and participating in a Hindu festival is highly inappropriate.

A young man stands outside in the middle of a circle of people, his hands raised triumphantly in fists.

Lacking the funds–and the freedom–to pursue his love for dance, the closest Asif can get to making a career of his passion is through watching a reality show competition on TV.

One of the competitors on the show is another aspiring dancer, Nishu. Though eliminated from the competition, Nishu manages to snag the audience favorite award, the Hat of Destiny. When he learns of a prestigious dance school run by a famous American, Nishu is eager to attend. However, Nishu’s parents disapprove of this non-traditional career path and worry he won’t be able to provide for his ailing sister in the future.

A man with a microphone rests an arm on the shoulders of a young man who is dressed all in gold and wears a gold hat.

Through lies and omissions, both Asif and Nishu end up as students in the dance school. The boys dislike each other instantly, and fare no better with the instructor Saul, who turns out to be a total diva. In his rebellious, impulsive style, Asif manages to earn the teacher’s attention after literally tripping him up in the hallway. Asif certainly has style, but does he have the discipline to follow through in learning a new art form: ballet?

Meanwhile, Nishu takes the hardworking nerd approach, asking a classmate to catch him up on all of the ballet moves others have already learned. Nishu grows more and more skilled, but Saul doesn’t have the time or interest in anyone but Asif.

A middle-aged man looks angrily at a smirking teenager in the middle of a dance class.

For his part, Asif faces setbacks as his friends tease him relentlessly about his new hobby. Tragedy strikes when a friend dies suddenly in a gang-related incident, for which Asif blames himself. Faced with this wake-up call, Asif vows to commit himself fully to ballet, dedicating the time and focus needed to truly learn and hone the art.

Nishu’s problems also escalate after his father discovers where his college fund has really been going. When his parents kick him out of the house, Nishu agrees to be the school’s unpaid custodian in exchange for a stay in a creepy windowless basement (which includes utilities, aka a bucket of water collected from the building’s A/C unit).

A young man faces off with another young man, grabbing the other's shirt in a hallway.

Further complications arise when Asif falls for a Hindu girl whose family disapproves of his Muslim faith. Meanwhile, Nishu’s sister’s condition worsens and she ends up in the hospital.

Things start to look up when Saul insists Asif move in to train 24/7 for US ballet school auditions, with Nishu as a chaperone. The arrangement could be beneficial to both boys…if they’d stop fighting long enough to recognize it. However, even if the two dancers do manage to gain acceptance to a program, can they afford to go? And will the States even let them into the country to pursue their dreams?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: damn, Holi looks so fun. Maybe not right now. But in other, non-pandemic times.

The rest of the film is just as fun, full of energy, hope, and some killer dance moves. While the concept of the movie sounds a bit like Slumdog Millionaire meets Billy Elliott, it has managed to carve out a space with its originality and heart, plus challenging of traditional gender norms. Our story looks into the lives of characters in extreme poverty, but it never takes a condescending or overly romanticized approach to their challenges. And approximately the last half made me cry my fucking eyes out.

There’s added interest here in the social and religious commentary of the film–first, the religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India, as well as the use of religion to police others’ decisions. The States’ immigration policies get an examination from this film, as well as the idea that bringing in a white man adds authority to any endeavor in former colonies. Saul never really gets that his abysmal behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in any other context, but he’s experiencing some serious white privilege in India.

While I’ve neglected Asif’s love interest, who is a fairly minor character, she brings an energy to the film that I just love. A tough breakdancer in her own right, Asha is stubborn without being an infuriating rom-com stereotype. Would absolutely watch a spin-off (no pun intended) about her.

Honestly, though, it’s the journey Asif and Nishu experience that makes this film compelling: both individually and as reluctant friends. I wish they had been friends a bit earlier on in the film as it’s so sweet when they do finally stick up for each other. On the bright side, to me this means one thing only: Yeh Ballet 2: 2 Fast, Tutu Furious MUST be in the works.

Would my blogging/dance partner twirl with this one or deliberately step on its toes? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Haunt, or: Down to Clown

The last time I went through a haunted house (fine–more accurately, it was a cave), it proved to be a terrible mistake. As it turned out, the area was muddy AF and involved a steep decline, which was a challenge for my friend who was wearing an orthopedic boot at the time. I’ve been told this story lacks the kind of terror people are looking for in a horror film. Let’s test that theory and determine for ourselves whether this week’s film is truly as harrowing as my own experiences with haunted Halloween attractions.

The Film:

Haunt (2019)

The Premise:

A group of friends out for a fun night of Halloween chills get more than they bargained for in a haunted house that’s significantly more murdery than anticipated.

The Ramble:

It’s Halloween, meaning one thing for roomies Harper and Bailey and their group of friends: it’s time to do shots of spider-infused vodka in a dimly lit club. Honestly, the thought of an evening in a trendy club surrounded by youths is my personal nightmare, but the evening promises to become much more sinister.

In a booth at a club, four young women in costume pose for a selfie together.

Though Harper spends most of the evening sulking that her toxic boyfriend hasn’t texted her back, she gets into the spirit of things after meeting perhaps the embodiment of a fuckboy, backwards baseball cap included. Said fuckboy, Nathan, is actually a fairly nice dude, but comes along with his own bestie, who is a bit of a tool.

After a sufficient number of shots, the group decides to continue the evening with Halloween-themed festivities. When Harper fears a car has followed the group from the club, a series of twists and turns takes them to an all too conveniently located haunted house. Like any horror movie friends worth their salt, they ignore the possibility that it may be a horrendously bad idea to visit the creepy haunted attraction whose sudden appearance may not be entirely coincidental.

To make matters worse, many of the employees at the haunted house are eerily silent clowns who primarily just stand around wearing empty eyed masks. Even when the group has to sign a liability waiver and give up their cell phones to enter the haunted house, they remain undeterred.

A young woman with her back to the camera faces a person wearing a plastic clown mask.

Upon entering the house, there are some disturbing and oddly specific scares for the group, including a young woman apparently being tortured by a witch, a coffin that rains down spiders on the arachnophobic member of the group, and a guessing game involving body parts. However, things are dialed up to 10 when Bailey is seriously wounded with deep gashes on her arm, and a member of the group is murdered in front of them.

Adding another layer to Harper’s experience, she confesses that she grew up in a haunted house. Living with a physically abusive father terrorized her and made even relatively safe hiding places dangerous.

A young man and woman stand at the edge of a darkened tunnel, peering in.

Splitting from the group, Nathan apparently recruits an employee of the haunted house to help, but how trustworthy is this masked figure? When he gives the group a set of keys that will allow them to escape, it comes with a catch: the only way out is through a tunnel where they came in, and the group can only get through the tunnel one at a time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, escaping the house isn’t as easy as planned. Members of the group are picked off one by one by the masked figures that supposedly work for the haunted house. Could those masks be hiding something more sinister than initially expected? Spoiler alert: YES. And what does that mean for the group’s chances of survival?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Out of curiosity, I looked this up on Rotten Tomatoes, and it currently has a 71%??? Did we watch the same movie? The comparison of growing up in an abusive household to the terror of a haunted house is interesting (if underdeveloped), but this is honestly the only thing even remotely clever in the film. Most of the scares of this film depend on gore, so it’s frequently more disgusting than frightening. To make matters worse, there were some truly bizarre choices that gave me a chuckle rather than a chill.

The big twist of this film comes from seeing what’s under all of those creepy masks, but we take a really long time to get there. And the twist seems to exist for the sake of saying there was a twist rather than going anywhere particularly thrilling with the concept. I have so many more questions than answers, and almost exclusively because there was a frustrating lack of details surrounding the twist itself.

Perhaps the real issue at fault, though, is the party at the beginning of the film. For me, this is the actual nightmare here, and everything else that happens pales in comparison with a room full of 20-somethings in costumes getting shit-faced, and no corner is dark enough–nor liquor high enough proof–to truly escape from the surrounding terror.

Would my blog wife send in the clowns or, like a person who has seen any horror movie ever, destroy it like a melting clown baby ASAP? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Land of Steady Habits, or: Turtle Recall

Ah, to be a mediocre white man. To never question that you are the star of the narrative, and your story is so compelling it’s only natural you’d get such attention. Unless, of course, your story were one of character growth…sort of. You could still get away with a lot of shit, though, like putting up tacky Christmas decorations and having in-depth discussions about turtles, especially if you were the lead in this week’s film.

The Film:

The Land of Steady Habits

The Premise:

In the throes of a mid-life crisis, a newly single man who has taken an early retirement struggles to find the better life he’s in search of.

The Ramble:

The setting: a small town Bed Bath & Beyond. It’s only when faced with the impossible task of decorating empty shelves that you realize how daunting a task it is to make a decision amidst endless rows of home goods. Such is Anders’ lot in life as a newly separated man who has opted for an early retirement from his soulless Wall St. job. In the process, Anders has managed to alienate virtually everyone in town, including adult son Preston (and yes–there are apparently people so white they will unironically name their child Preston).

Despite his midlife-crisis-induced decision to pursue a different, more fulfilling life, Anders doesn’t seem to be any closer to his lofty goal. Through a rotating series of one-night stands, Anders is often unable to perform and continues to feel alone. Desperate for a connection to his former life, Anders accepts the open invite to a party hosted by a family friend–one that ex-wife Helene will most definitely attend (with her live-in boyfriend).

A man and woman stand at the edge of a living room in front of a door frame, facing each other. In the background is a small group of people.

Ostracized by the other adults at the party, Anders wanders outside and encounters his fellow kids. Believing Charlie, a friend of Preston’s, is out smoking weed with the group, Anders casually joins in–only to learn moments later that he’s actually done PCP. When Charlie overdoses later during the party, Anders feels enough remorse to visit him at the hospital.

A middle-aged man sits outside in a dark back yard, surrounded by a group of teenagers and 20-somethings. The man is holding a pumpkin-shaped bong.

Meanwhile, Anders regrets his decision to let Helene keep the house as part of their settlement. As it turns out, Anders can’t afford the mortgage and his early retirement, so it won’t be long before Helene loses the house anyway. However, Anders can’t bring himself to tell Helene the truth–mostly because he doesn’t want to get chewed out yet again for his terrible judgment.

Preston isn’t about to let his father make all of the awful decisions here, choosing to gamble with money from one of the ESL students he teaches. Helene is none too pleased as she was able to wrangle the job for her son in the first place only to end up firing him. It all hits the fan when Helene kicks Preston out of the house, and Preston reveals that, soon enough, Helene may not have anywhere to live either.

A man in his 20s faces a middle-aged man and woman whose backs are to the camera. In the background, a small group of people sit around a table with cards.

As Anders finally meets a woman he’d actually like to spend time with, he reconnects with Charlie. Since Charlie’s parents are forcing him to go to rehab, he asks Anders to take care of his pet turtle. After Anders agrees to take care of the turtle, Charlie runs away, rejecting rehab.

In a rather cruel twist, Preston, who went through his own addiction issues with alcohol, is now making deliveries for a liquor store. When he’s encountered with a classmate who seems to have his life completely together, Preston decides to end his sobriety…until discovering something horrible has happened to Charlie.

After the truth comes out about Anders’ questionable choices in enabling Charlie, our hero once again decides to leave his life behind. Will Anders ever stick around anywhere long enough to face the consequences of his actions?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s difficult to fault the performances here, even if Edie Falco is almost criminally underutilized in this film.

However, there’s not much going on beyond the actors’ commitment to their roles. The meandering plot is understandable given the character-driven nature of this piece…but it’s frequently very difficult to care about our lead (or any of the characters, honestly). Anders is the focus of our character study, but IDK if he really deserves our attention. He constantly makes bad decisions and rarely has to deal with the consequences. It’s frustrating to see him do everything except much-needed self-reflection to process his emotions. And Preston follows a similar pattern despite all of the support and love he receives from Edie Falco!

What I’m trying to say here is Edie Falco deserves a better fictional husband and son. And a better role, while we’re at it.

Would my blog wife take care of this one like it’s a pet turtle or drive away as quick as she can? Find out in her review here!