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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Atlantics, or: Ghosting in the Literal Sense

Clearly, we’re always prepared for a horror film on the Blog Collab. Gory slashers, serial killers, creepy stalkers–all have been welcome here (at least as fictional characters). This week’s horror is a change of pace, much more in line with the eerie Gothic of another recent French film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And, just as with that film, there are going to be several things that burn.

The Film:

Atlantics (Atlantique)

The Premise:

A young woman is haunted by her lover, a construction worker who disappeared after his boat overturned while seeking a different life in Spain.

The Ramble:

As construction wraps up on a looming skyscraper in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, the crew completing the job has had enough. The men who have built the tower haven’t been paid in months…and businessman Mr. Ndiaye, who owes the money, is conveniently out of contact. Sounds familiar, eh?

Young lovers Ada and Souleiman must deal with the additional complication of keeping their romance a secret. Ada is expected to marry a wealthier man, Omar, in a matter of days, though her heart belongs to Souleiman.

A young man and woman turn to face something happening off-camera to the left.

Though a childhood friend insists Souleiman is merely a test of her commitment to Omar, Ada continues to sneak around with her boyfriend, planning to meet him at a beachside bar at night. However, with nary a word of notice, Souleiman and several of the other construction workers have taken a boat in an attempt to reach Spain. After a terrible storm, all of the men are presumed dead.

Meanwhile, a depressed Ada proceeds with her wedding ceremony. The celebrations take a shocking turn when the couple’s marriage bed seems to spontaneously combust. But someone or something must have set the fire…right?

A group of young people gathers on a beach by the ocean at night.

To investigate the mysterious happenings, young detective Issa arrives and immediately suspects Souleiman, who has been spotted recently. As a result, Ada is suspected of aiding and abetting…but Souleiman can’t possibly have survived the shipwreck.

To make things worse, several characters, including Issa, are stricken with an unrelenting fever. The young women who suffer fevers during the day appear to be possessed at night, arriving at Mr. Ndiaye’s to demand the wages they are owed as the embodiment of the deceased construction crew.

A young woman with completely white eyes stands in a darkened living room, several other young women seated behind her.

As Ada receives texts from someone who claims to be Souleiman, she becomes increasingly convinced it’s the real deal. But how can that be true when Souleiman is dead?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I have to admit the meandering, rather unconnected plot for most of the film was a distraction for me. There’s not a ton of structure here, though the way the end ties everything together is eminently satisfying. And the Gothic ambience really steals the show here, what with the mysterious fires, ghostly appearances, and possessions.

The Atlantic Ocean is a huge part of this atmosphere, and its many moods reflect the film’s translated title, Atlantics. Then again, perhaps the marketing team simply wanted to make sure results from The Atlantic weren’t the only results when searching for the film’s title. Either way, it cannot be a coincidence that the Atlantic here promises a new life for those crossing the ocean. This, unsurprisingly, is a false promise, as it was historically for Africans transported by boat into slavery. The film’s themes of exploitation, labor, and capitalism weigh heavily on us as an audience.

Also impossible to ignore are director Mati Diop’s feminist themes. It’s refreshing to see Ada pursue what she wants rather than what her family and faith demand of her. I also have so much time for the way the young women in this film demand compensation for the deceased workers of the construction crew. Even though they are possessed by the spirits of men, it is the women Mr. Ndiaye must contend with, and whose physical bodies intimidate him into meeting their demands. Female power plays a vital role in seeing some measure of justice carried out.

Would my blog wife meet with this one in secret or set it ablaze like it’s a marriage bed? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Been So Long, or: I’ll Buy You a Kebab

Two things I’m up for at almost any time: movie musicals and kebabs. Fortuitously, this week’s film brings together both of these interests. Added bonus is the leading role for the multi-talented Michaela Coel, whose star seems very much on the rise of late. But do all of these elements create something greater than the sum of its parts or do they mix as well as orange juice and toothpaste?

The Film:

Been So Long

The Premise:

A single mother who has been burned before connects with a man who has recently been paroled but fears opening up her heart again.

The Ramble:

Simone is a single mother struggling to balance working as a hairdresser with caring for her daughter who uses a wheelchair. In contrast to her more relaxed mother and carefree bff Yvonne, Simone is very tightly wound. She very rarely makes time for herself or agrees to a night out…and Yvonne is sick of this nonsense.

A woman walks next to her daughter in a wheelchair as they move through a crowd in Camden Market.

Meanwhile, recently paroled Raymond is hoping to reconnect with friends after 3 years incarcerated. Everyone seems to have moved on with their lives, though, and he’s stuck at home with his mother and an ankle monitor. The one person who hasn’t moved on seems to be a mysterious and mentally unstable man following Raymond. Who is this man and what’s the deal with his obsession?

A woman with brightly colored hair drinks champagne at a bar while another woman looks incredulously at her.

After her mother steps in to babysit, Simone reluctantly heads out for a night on the town with Yvonne. Their first stop is the neighborhood bar, Bar Arizona, which has certainly seen better days. After Yvonne catches the attention of Raymond, the only other customer there, she sets him up with Simone.

As it turns out, Simone and Raymond have a bit of a connection, though she is keen to avoid the mere possibility of a romantic relationship. When she realizes Raymond has been recently released from prison, Simone pushes him away…but they reconnect when they end up on the same bus later that night.

Sitting on either side of a draughts board in a dimly lit bar, a man and woman smile at each other.

Eventually, we learn that Raymond was incarcerated largely because of a friend’s drunken decisions, though he accepts responsibility for his own choices. Not proud of his past, Raymond is also embarrassed by his current work as a street sweeper and binman.

Rewinding to 3 years ago, we also learn that Raymond’s stalker, now wielding a kebab knife, instantly fell in love with Raymond’s girlfriend at the time. No other mention of this woman or what happened to her…so to say this plot point is stretched too thin is an understatement.

A man stands in front of the counter at a kebab shop, oblivious to a man in a hoodie staring at him intensely.

Simone is also contending with mistakes from the past meeting the present as her daughter’s father, Kestrel, hopes to spend time with their child. Because Kestrel is a recovering addict who wasn’t around for the earlier years of his daughter’s life, Simone doesn’t trust him at all and insists he stay away.

Throughout, Simone seems to be trapped in a cycle as she gets close to Raymond only to push him away.

In the end, are kebabs powerful enough to bring this couple together once and for all?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know where to begin–there are a LOT of issues with this film. Perhaps the most frustrating is its failure to fill in details. Rather than create suspense, the vagueness is distracting and makes it difficult to get invested in our characters and their lives.

Related is the ordinariness of the film’s plot. The stories feel too unremarkable for a musical, so it’s frequently underwhelming. Seriously, a knife-wielding, mentally disturbed homeless man wants to kill someone because he fell in love with his girlfriend 3 years ago based on seeing her ONCE? And then changes his mind because he just wants someone to sympathize with the idea of love being difficult? What a WEAK story line.

Simone and Raymond’s past experiences also feel underdeveloped. We don’t get to see these experiences and their emotional impact on the characters, so it’s difficult to believe that their trauma explains their current behavior. It seems to me that Simone may have some mental health issues or some additional experiences that have shaped her life, but the film doesn’t explore these possibilities.

Speaking of mental health, the way Gil’s (aka kebab knife dude) mental health is handled is rather cringey at times. The balance of comedy/drama is way off there. Sometimes Gil is treated as genuinely dangerous and in need of help, and at other times he exists only for comic relief. I really felt for him even as I was annoyed by his stupid love at first sight plot line.

Because the characters and their issues don’t feel real, it’s impossible to feel the supposed instantaneous connection between Simone and Raymond. It’s also difficult to feel like Simone has undergone the changes the film tells us she has.

It’s refreshing to see a mostly Black cast of Londoners in a musical. And I do like that we can hear the London accents in the songs. However, everything else about the musical numbers is largely forgettable. The one I remember best is Gil’s soulful song “Been Too Long,” but even that one I mostly forget. It doesn’t help this film at all that I’ve recently been listening to the Kinky Boots soundtrack on repeat, which is both much more fun and emotionally resonant.

Honestly, without Michaela Coel in a leading role, this film would have gotten a much lower rating from me. She’s great, but this is kind of a mess.

Would my darling blog wife share a kebab with this one or use the closest sharp object to keep it at bay? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Down in the Delta, or: In the Manor with the Candlestick

This week’s film is directed by an absolutely phenomenal writer and creative mind, Maya Angelou. Shockingly–or perhaps not so shockingly given the lack of opportunities for women of color in Hollywood–this was Angelou’s only feature film as a director, made all the more disappointing for its moving story and powerful characters. And things don’t seem much different 20 years later…in our efforts to watch more films with Black directors, a mere fraction have been Black women.

Let’s stop this madness because I want more films like this one.

The Film:

Down in the Delta

The Premise:

Spending the summer in Mississippi, a single mother reconnects with her extended family and their shared history as she reconsiders her future.

The Ramble:

In 1990s Chicago, single mother Loretta struggles to make a living for herself and her children, but her addiction to alcohol and drugs frequently sabotage her good intentions. Luckily, her mother Rosa Lynn lives with the family and takes primary responsibility for watching the children, nonverbal Tracy and upbeat Thomas. Though teenage Thomas is ready to step up and help the family, earning money by taking pictures of tourists, it’s difficult to imagine an easy path ahead, as he’s so accustomed to the sounds of gunfire that he can identify the type of weapon based on the gunshots he hears.

Walking along a busy Chicago street while smoking, a woman pauses to speak with her mother. Two children are close behind them.

After Loretta fails yet again to land a job, she spends the day drinking at the playground, only returning home late at night. Frustrated with her daughter and having recently heard from her estranged brother in small town Biloxi, Mississippi, Rosa Lynn insists Loretta and the children head to the South for a visit. Pawning off Nathan, a silver candelabra that has been in the family since the 1850s, Rosa Lynn warns her daughter she has until September to earn the money to reclaim the family heirloom.

In a dimly lit pawn shop, a grate separates a woman holding a silver candelabra from an employee.

Loretta’s uncle Earl lives in the Big House, a former plantation manor the Black side of the Sinclair family bought from the white Sinclairs shortly after the Civil War. A restaurateur, Earl owns and manages a place that exclusively serves chicken dishes, including at least 20 varieties of chicken sausage.

Immediately, Loretta feels judged by her uncle and objects to all of his stern rules, including keeping the front door locked at all times. However, most of these rules exist as he struggles to care for his wife, Annie, who has fairly advanced Alzheimer’s. Luckily, caretaker and housekeeper Zenia is around to look out for Annie and the family.

A woman stands in a small dining room, looking incredulously at an older man offering up a bowl of horseradish for her to try.

As Loretta works in the restaurant, she also gets to know Earl and the family’s history better. She eventually uncovers the meaning behind Nathan’s importance, as well as Earl’s enduring bitterness surrounding Rosa Lynn’s “kidnapping” of the candelabra years ago. The family traces its history all the way back to Jesse Sinclair, who was born into slavery, and his descendants, who all lived in the same house and are buried in the same cemetery.

Largely so Wesley Snipes can make an appearance, Loretta meets her cousin Will, a corporate lawyer who has disappointed his father by leaving Biloxi. However, it’s with Will’s help that Loretta begins to plan greater things for the chicken restaurant and envision a future connected more closely to the family’s roots. But isn’t Chicago Loretta’s home…and where her mother will expect her to return?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The symbolism of Nathan as both intergenerational trauma and shared family history is brilliantly done. As a family fractured by time and circumstance, and still contending with the legacy of slavery, the candelabra represents the desperately needed reunion of the Sinclairs. At the same time, there is a significant amount of pain that comes along with reclaiming history.

Our excellent cast brings the characters to life in a way that makes the family’s dissolution feel real without casting blame. Loretta makes her share of mistakes and causes pain to others, but we’re always rooting for her and all of the Sinclairs.

There are, however, a couple of things that don’t work for me. I’m not a huge fan of the way Chicago is depicted here–it buys into stereotypes about Black poverty and violence but ignores racist systems. Also the way Loretta’s addiction just sort of disappears as soon as she’s in a dry county and reconnected with her family borders on divine intervention.

But this is still a moving family drama that makes me wish for more films like this directed by Maya Angelou.

Did my blog wife relish this as much as 20+ varieties of chicken or did it convince her to go vegan? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bones, or: Dog Eat Dogg

Renovating an old home can be a nightmare even when your main concerns are restoring the original hardwood flooring, replacing the ugly formica countertops, or finding vintage pieces that perfectly capture a feeling of rustic country charm. But DIY-ing a home haunted by the spirit of a wrongfully murdered man that may hide a direct connection to hell in the basement? Truly a situation where home renovation…can be murder. Which is a missed opportunity for this film’s tagline IMHO, though perhaps lacking some of the dog/Snoop Dogg puns central to this week’s film.

The Film:

Bones

The Premise:

After his mysterious death in the late ’70s, the spirit of local legend Jimmy Bones returns seeking vengeance on those responsible.

The Ramble:

In a once-thriving neighborhood, drug deals go down regularly, cops patrol the streets, and a black dog terrorizes the residents. Longtime resident of the neighborhood Shotgun narrowly escapes the dog’s jaws, but witnesses the dog turn its attention on two frat boys hiding from the cops after a drug deal. Could there be something…supernatural about this dog’s appearance? That’s a definite yes.

A graffiti-ed van is parked on the street in front of a 2-story brick house with a Gothic facade.

The dog seems to operate in and close proximity to the creepiest house around (naturally): an abandoned Gothic-style house that has fallen into disrepair. When young Patrick buys the property in the hopes of transforming it into a trendy nightclub along with his siblings and bff, the group may get much more than they bargained for.

As it turns out, the last owner of the property was one Jimmy Bones, played by none other than Snoop Dogg. In 1979, he was a legend in the neighborhood, even earning a song about his tough but fair protection of his own. What went wrong to leave the house in shambles and the angry ghost of Bones in the form of a dog haunting the neighborhood?

A group of four young people crowd around a spot on the floor of a dark, dusty room.

Though Patrick and his friends remain clueless, they can sense something isn’t quite right about the house. Neighbor Pearl (Pam Grier), a psychic, conceals her connection to Jimmy Bones, warning the friends to no avail while cautioning her daughter Cynthia to keep her distance. Of course, Cynthia pays no mind, especially since she finds Patrick quite charming.

A woman with an afro and a feather boa holds hands with a man wearing a wide-brimmed fedora and pinstripe suit.

When Patrick, Bill, Tia, and unofficial member of the family Maurice announce the big news at home, it doesn’t go over well. Father and head of the household Jeremiah once lived in the very neighborhood of Jimmy Bones but has long since traded it all in for a comfortable life in the ‘burbs. Clearly disdainful of the ‘hood culture he believes has corrupted the old neighborhood, Jeremiah discourages his children from having any association with that part of town. Could Jeremiah be hiding a terrible secret related to the fall of Jimmy Bones?

Meanwhile, corrupt cop Lupovich and drug dealer Eddie Mack seem to have run the neighborhood since Bones has been out of the picture. Do they have an unsavory past to hide as they seized control?

A young man rests on a bed, eyes closed, headphones on, as shiny black hands surround him.

The moral of the story here is that the house holds a secret that no one wants to surface…especially since the body of Jimmy Bones has the power to reanimate as his vengeful spirit dog consumes flesh.

However, the only thing that becomes increasingly clear throughout our story is that Jimmy Bones will be back, and he will very definitely seek out those who did wrong. And he’s absolutely dedicated to dramatic entrances that involve maggots and fire raining from the sky.

Will anyone survive Jimmy Bones’s revenge?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there were never going to be any Oscar nominations for this film. But it’s so entertainingly pulpy and over the top, with some unexpectedly relevant commentary on Black neighborhoods with a bad reputation. Drug dealers and law enforcement earn our disdain here, but so do members of the Black community who seek middle-class respectability at the expense of their friends and neighbors.

Of course, having a cast that includes the onscreen pairing of Pam Grier and Snoop Dogg, which I never knew I needed, doesn’t hurt. Plus Katharine Isabelle gets a supporting role, and I will never complain about that.

Even though the film is very much a tribute to campy B horror and blaxploitation, it’s truly creepy at times. There are effects that look incredibly low-budget, but there are also genuinely gross scenes with maggots and rotting flesh that are truly horrifying. Director Ernest Dickerson pulls no punches here, condemning several characters to grisly deaths and an eternity in hell.

But in a fun way?

Would my blog wife light a candle in this one’s memory or condemn it to hell for all time? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shaft, or: We Can Dig It

Going into this week’s film, the only thing I could’ve told you for sure is that it has an incredibly catchy theme. Can the film Shaft keep up with its theme song…and will I ever be able to return to a time when its melody isn’t echoing in my brain?

The Film:

Shaft (1971)

The Premise:

A 1970s private eye searches for the missing daughter of a local mobster while trying to uncover the truth about a brewing race war.

The Ramble:

As the theme song tells us right off the bat, Shaft is a Black private eye, sex machine, and all-around bad mother. Currently, Shaft is watching his back as a couple of so-called cats from Harlem have been trying to track him down. Add to this a relationship with the police that oscillates between peace and hostility, and the situation is downright precarious.

A Black man with a small afro and large moustache walks while talking to a white detective in a trench coat.

It turns out there have been quite a few violent clashes between gangs lately, but the police have been unable to determine what exactly is brewing. When Shaft catches up with Flashy Plaid Coat and his partner, who have been tasked with tracking him down, it becomes clear that local mobster Bumpy Jonas is involved.

Because he sent one of Bumpy’s guys hurling through a window, Shaft is pressured by the police to find out what he can and fill in the details for them. At the same time, he’s an independent investigator and wants to maintain distance from the cops whenever possible.

Two Black men talk to another Black man who is seated in a cushioned office chair, smoking a cigar.

The pieces start to come together when Bumpy arrives at Shaft’s office and pleads for his help. As it turns out, Bumpy’s daughter has gone missing. Bumpy suspects Black Power activist Ben Buford is involved…though, of course, his whereabouts are unknown.

After finally locating Ben, Shaft is followed, and a shootout ensues. Five of Ben’s allies are now dead, and he believes this was all orchestrated by Shaft. However, it turns out Shaft was the target of the attack. Teaming up with Ben to find out the truth, Shaft learns that a race war between rival Black and Italian gangs is building…and that Bumpy knew all along Ben had nothing to do with the kidnapping.

A Black man covers the microphone end of a phone as he talks to a white woman next to him.

More sleuthing happens, Shaft shares a steamy shower scene with a random white lady, and our leading detective takes out his fridge gun for a final confrontation with the kidnappers. Can a complicated man save the day, prevent a race war, and still find time to be a sex machine?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

To be honest, the plot and supporting characters aren’t doing a lot to earn points for this film. However, it’s impossible not to enjoy the iconic theme, the film’s groovy ’70s feel, and Richard Roundtree in the now classic role. The music, the clothes, the hair, everyone calling each other “cat”–it instantly immerses us in the ’70s.

One of the few Blaxploitation films with a Black director, Shaft is refreshingly confident and cool. Watching the film now, nearly 50 years after its release, it’s clear how ready Black audiences must have been for the character of Shaft. Proud of his Blackness, able to slip between Black neighborhoods and white police detectives with ease, and shooting down racist taunts with clever comebacks, the character is one of a kind. There’s never any doubt in our minds that Shaft is going to coast through any and all trouble that comes his way.

I will admit this is certainly not a feminist masterpiece. There are love scenes with two different women, both of which exist to show what a sex machine Shaft is. And he is constantly trading banter about his love life and plans to get laid, which gets pretty tiresome. I guess “sex machine to all the chicks” makes for a catchier verse than “treats his sexual partners with respect and recognizes when discussions about relationship expectations are needed.”

Does my blog wife agree this one is a bad mother or think it would cop out when there’s danger about? Find out in her review!