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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sound of Metal, or: Drumming up Support

We’ve really gone the full gamut of human emotion this month: from plucky determination to existential dread to pure cynicism. Luckily, we’re ending the month on a high note with a film that’s maybe not a barrel of laughs, though it does promise not to be entirely bleak. And, honestly, it checks off the Riz Ahmed requirement that’s an automatic add to the queue for…almost everyone, I imagine?

The Film:

Sound of Metal

The Premise:

Losing his hearing, a heavy-metal drummer grapples with the possibility that his future may unfold much differently from the one he anticipated.

The Ramble:

The drummer in a heavy-metal band fronted by his girlfriend Lou, Ruben may not be rich, but he’s carved out a happy life for himself. Following some success, the band Blackgammon is touring and even signing a record deal. Now sober for 4 years, Ruben feels loved and accepted for the first time in his life, offering support in return to former self-harming Lou.

Ruben, a young man with bleached hair and a chest covered in tattoos, plays the drums onstage while shirtless.

Though Ruben is having trouble hearing the words Lou sings during their gigs, he’s quick to shrug this off. I mean, you don’t listen to metal for the clear enunciation of vowel sounds. However, as Ruben intermittently loses his hearing on and off the stage, he can no longer ignore the problem. After seeing a doctor in secret, Ruben learns that his hearing has deteriorated so much that he misses 70 to 80% of spoken words. The doctor’s advice to avoid further damage to Ruben’s hearing? Eliminate exposure to loud noise. Yeah, ain’t gonna happen.

Ruben continues to live his life as if nothing has changed, becoming laser focused on the possibility of hearing implants, which cost an unspeakably large sum and are not covered by health insurance. However, when Ruben can’t hear at all during a gig, he can no longer hide from Lou that his hearing is nearly gone.

In a rainy diner, Lou, a woman with long dark blonde hair, talks on the phone while sitting next to Ruben, who looks annoyed.

Upon learning of Ruben’s condition, Lou immediately calls his sponsor. On his recommendation, they find a rehab center for the deaf and hard of hearing, managed by Joe, a recovering alcoholic who is deaf. To stay at the center, Ruben must go it alone without Lou or even any contact with her. Afraid of losing the love of his life and accepting a new reality, Ruben resists…until Lou buys a plane ticket to stay with her father in Paris, leaving Ruben with no other option but to give it a go.

As Ruben navigates his new existence, the goal fueling him is to fix his hearing, reunite with Lou, and return to his life before hearing loss. He’s given one job at the center: to learn how to be deaf. Despite his reluctance to embrace life at the center, Ruben begins to bond with the members of the community, including the children he begins teaching to play drums. But Joe still feels Ruben is holding onto a need to “fix” his perceived disability and is unable to sit and appreciate silence.

Sitting around a table sharing food, Ruben communicates animatedly using ASL with those around him.

Eventually, Ruben is given the choice to stay at the rehab center or opt for implants that may restore his hearing and help him go back to the life he had before. But if Ruben had seen even one Bill & Ted movie or had one stoned conversation about killing baby Hitler, he would have realized the impossibility of ever going back.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I appreciate a lot about this film. The tone is subtle but effective; we certainly know Ruben has a difficult journey ahead, but we never get the feeling that all hope is lost. I can’t personally address the portrayal of the deaf community, but there has been overall a positive reaction to its depiction here. I enjoy the levels at play as well; the story works as a meaningful reflection on navigating circumstances beyond your control and adapting with some measure of grace to new ways of living and experiencing the world. A message I can appreciate if not apply to my own life.

What held me back slightly in my rating was the lack of narrative structure. Ruben’s struggle to accept his life as it is–all of the torment and back-and-forth agony–feels realistic, but it’s very frustrating at times. You most likely have some idea of how the film ends based on its tone and approach (along with all of the reviews about this as an uplifting story), so there are stages where it’s difficult not to will Ruben to get his shit together faster. However, this is also an approach that makes the last scenes feel earned and satisfactory. What can I say? Always a critic.

The performances are great (Riz Ahmed in particular carries this film), and I was happy to see the editing and sound crew receive Oscar wins for their work. Though I found the performances compelling, I didn’t always feel the supporting characters seemed real. Almost every character seems to exist to support Ruben on his journey, which is…nice? But at times took me out of the story.

Would my blog wife embrace this one with open arms or smash it in a rage like it’s fancy sound equipment? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Promising Young Woman, or: You Know That You’re Toxic

CW: sexual assault

Phew, this month has been a solid reminder that films getting award nominations or buzz aren’t here to play. It’s been a rewarding but intense month on the Collab, and this week is no exception. Our pick this week aligns so well with some of the themes we most enjoy here and that we’ve been looking forward to reviewing for months. Will we love what this one does…even if it’s toxic?

The Film:

Promising Young Woman

The Premise:

Years after her best friend’s assault at a party, a medical school dropout seeks vengeance against the people and systems that failed her.

The Ramble:

It’s tough being a business bro these days, isn’t it? You can’t schmooze your clients at the strip club or even go to the men only golf club for meetings with all of those pesky women coworkers around. Not like the good ol’ days.

As they bemoan their plight, a group of aforementioned bros notice a woman so drunk she can barely remain conscious where she sits. While a couple of the guys joke about taking advantage of the woman’s state, ahem, “nice guy” Jerry approaches under the guise of ensuring she makes it home safely. Because the woman has lost her phone, she can’t use a rideshare app, and Jerry gallantly offers to share an Uber-like but not Uber ride home. Of course, the ride ends up at Jerry’s apartment, where he invites the woman up for a drink. Though she is on the brink of passing out and repeatedly asks what Jerry is doing, he is determined to take advantage of the situation…until the woman lets him know very clearly that she is perfectly sober.

In a nightclub featuring red furniture, a man sits next to Cassie, a blonde woman who appears to be very intoxicated.

The woman in this situation is Cassie, a former medical school student who acts out this saga nearly every night–most memorably with a coked-out novelist who insists that he’s such a nice guy. Why? Because during a party that many of the med school cohort attended, Cassie’s best friend Nina was raped, disbelieved, and dropped out of school. The events destroyed the futures of two promising young women, as Cassie dropped out soon after to care for her traumatized friend, who ultimately killed herself.

By day, Cassie lives a rather bleak life, to the point that she forgets her own 30th birthday. Living at home with her parents and working in a coffee shop, her parents and boss Gail worry that Cassie has no friends and no interests…beyond keeping color-coded tally of her evening activities in a notebook under her bed.

In a pink and blue pastel coffee shop called Make Me Coffee, Cassie and her supervisor, a Black woman with long curly hair, serve a customer.

Out of the blue, Ryan, a guy from Cassie’s med school class, stops in at the coffee shop and recognizes his former classmate. Now a doctor, Ryan clumsily admits that he had a crush on Cassie during school and always wondered why she dropped out. Though Cassie is skeptical, she eventually agrees to a lunch date with Ryan. As a bonus, Cassie learns about the exploits of her former classmates, including a former friend’s recent delivery of twins, and Nina’s rapist, Al, preparing for his upcoming wedding.

Cassie, wearing a white dress covered in roses, sits in a diner booth across from Ryan, a man wearing glasses and a plaid shirt.

Though Cassie finds Ryan’s awkward earnestness sweet, their relationship moves with stops and starts as she navigates giving a functional relationship a go. However, the surprisingly sweet rom-com style romance (including the mandatory karaoke-inspired scene) takes a definite backseat to Cassie’s schemes. With more information about her former classmates, she hones in on those who failed Nina the most: former friend Madison who didn’t believe Nina’s story, the dean who dismissed Nina’s claims, the lawyer who pressured Nina to drop her case, and, of course, Al.

Cassie has some pretty twisted schemes up her sleeve for those who have wronged Nina, including setting Madison up to wake up in a hotel room with a strange man and no memory of what’s happened, as well as making Dean Blackwell believe her daughter is alone at a wild frat party. Using the same logic that condemned Nina, Cassie’s vengeance underscores the dangers of dismissing victims’ accounts while giving the benefit of the doubt to abusers.

Cassie empties the last of a bottle of wine into a glass for Madison, a woman with short dark hair, over a restaurant table.

Briefly, Cassie seems to embrace the advice of Nina’s mother to move on at last. But can Cassie really set aside her revenge plans when she still has her biggest fish to fry in the form of Al? After Madison reveals one of Al’s friends made a video of Nina’s assault, Cassie learns some new details that unleash a fresh wave of rage. Striding into Al’s bachelor party as a sexy nurse accompanied by a killer instrumental version of Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” you know it’s going to be a memorable evening…though perhaps not in the ways anticipated.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s so much to like about this film. The themes that interrogate rape culture, complicity, and the failure of justice are powerful and very rarely receive much attention on film. I wonder if the persistent underrepresentation of women and people of color in director roles is at play here. *Shrug* And, truly, we are not worthy of the soundtrack and the beautiful, glossy colors contrasting with the awful behavior of the characters. I’m so happy to see Carey Mulligan onscreen again, and I can’t find fault with any of the performances, honestly. The dialogue is so sharp and made me laugh out loud at times.

However, there are some inconsistencies that prevent this film from being a new favorite for me. There are a lot of times this is frustrating to watch, as there are virtually no likeable characters here. If, like me, your cynical mind is always at work, you won’t be overly surprised by this…but you may still be annoyed that some characters are very close to doing the right thing only to easily backtrack into the convenient thing.

I feel like another broken record on the internet at this point, but I do take issue with the film’s ending as well, largely because of the abrupt tonal shift. There are some issues with tone throughout, as there are a lot of times during Cassie’s scenes with Ryan that we seem to be in a charming romantic comedy. We also get a number of satisfying revenge scenes with Cassie’s self-assured swagger, though admittedly some of her tactics are more unsettling than anything else. But both of these concepts give way to a bleak ending that really pulls the rug out from under the viewer and gives us the most dramatic tonal shift yet. It’s unsatisfying to feel that Cassie is a victim when she begins the film by reclaiming some degree of power, even though I suppose she is pulling the strings in the end. I can’t help feeling that if Billy Loomis can fake his own death in Scream, surely a scheming med school dropout could have done the same (does a spoiler from a 1996 movie count as a spoiler?).

I will say I got a lot of enjoyment from this film and will make plans to see Emerald Fennell’s next picture as soon as possible.

Would my darling blog wife plot an elaborate revenge scheme on this one’s behalf or pretend it never happened at all? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, or: A Whole Load of Existential Dread

*Spoilers follow*

There’s Oscar bait and then there’s Oscar bait, if you follow me. Along with the big-budget period dramas following the tried and true formula (which, don’t get me wrong, I often enjoy), there are inevitably some very ambitious, high-concept films transparently hoping for a nod. This week’s film didn’t quite make the Oscars cut, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.

The Film:

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

The Premise:

While driving with her boyfriend to meet his parents, a young woman notices an increasing number of disturbing discrepancies that cause her to question reality itself.

The Ramble:

After only about a month or so of dating, Lucy is troubled by the recurring thought that she should end things with her boyfriend Jake. This leads her down a pretty convoluted, philosophical internal monologue…which is a pretty good recap for this film, honestly.

Lucy, a young woman with curly red hair, looks in anticipation as she stands on a snowy street.

Despite Lucy’s misgivings, she agrees to take a day trip with Jake to meet his parents, who live on a farm in a very rural setting. Though Lucy is concerned that the heavy snow accompanying their drive will make it difficult to return in time for her to work early the next day, Jake reassures her that he has chains for the tires. As if that automatically makes driving in a blizzard easy to manage, but whatever.

As Lucy and Jake drive in the heavy snow to his parents’ farm, they engage in a series of philosophical discussions. Jake discusses a series of poems by Wordsworth to a young woman named Lucy, who died tragically young. Lucy observes the landscape, finding it somewhat beautiful yet unsettling. Additionally, Jake cautions Lucy that his mother has been unwell lately, so she may not prepare much for dinner that evening.

Jake, a man with blonde hair, drives along a snowy country road with Lucy as a passenger.

Lucy and Jake continue to make their way to the family farm, and Lucy learns that Jake is a secret fan of musical theater. He knows the musical Oklahoma! well, which is staged every few years. Confusingly, Lucy begins to recite her own poetry, though she also claims to be an artist and a physicist at different points. She does feel concerned when a billboard pig seems to speak to her, but chalks it up to her currently foggy memory.

Meanwhile, we follow the daily routine of a school custodian, who listens to a Christian radio station, one of the few he can pick up. The custodian cleans the school largely ignored as others go about their lives. He seems to enjoy media as he stops to watch a rehearsal of the school musical and has a generic Robert Zemeckis comedy on during his meal break (I lol’ed at this–apparently Zemeckis gave the okay on this gentle ribbing).

An elderly man sits in the driver's side of a pick-up truck, frost and snow on the vehicle's windows.

When the couple finally arrives at the farm, Jake offers a tour to Lucy. He tells her a farm horror story about pigs that were being eaten alive by maggots, squashing any dreams I’ve ever had of quitting everything in my current life in favor of starting a goat farm.

Though Jake insists he told his parents that Lucy would be visiting, they seem unprepared for the couple. Lucy notices there are creepy marks on the basement door, which Jake insists are nothing to worry about. And going into the basement? Not advised, but only because it’s unfinished. Not because it’s hiding any uncomfortable, dark secrets, okay? So stop asking about it, GOSH.

The family has a dog, though the dog only appears when Lucy asks about it…and it exhibits some pretty strange behavior. However, before there’s too much time to consider this, Jake’s parents come downstairs to greet their guests at last. Jake’s mom is Toni Collette (lucky duck), who is overly excited to the point of concern. Meanwhile, Jake’s father is very much the rugged farmer stereotype who has no patience for abstract art and is pretty quick to throw around the word “nancy” to describe men who are, IDK, not toxic?

Over a ham dinner (YIKES) that has been carefully prepared from farm to table, Lucy gets to know Jake’s parents. Jake’s mother is especially interested in the story of their meeting at a trivia night, which Lucy relates in a rather convoluted and contradictory manner. Though Jake’s mother has a lot of enthusiasm, she mixes up minor details, including his award for diligence during grade school. Jake snippily corrects her, reflecting bitterly that diligence is for people who work hard but aren’t particularly bright. But we can totally just brush that aside, right?

Sitting around a table featuring a dinner with many homemade dishes, a middle-aged man and woman smile with some discomfort.

Lucy changes her story several times, first claiming to study physics, then gerontology, then painting. Despite continuing to insist that she cannot stay for the night, she seems to think it’s inevitable that she and Jake will not drive home that evening. As Jake’s parents suddenly look much older, Lucy finds a nightgown belonging to Jake’s mother that she can sleep in. The only catch is that Lucy must go to the basement to wash the nightgown, which makes Jake noticeably agitated. In the basement, Lucy finds a series of paintings, books, and other items that suggest everything she has created really comes from the basement of Jake’s family home. That can’t be good.

Finally, Lucy and Jake put the snow chains on the car and leave. Their discussion now revolves around film, which seems to be another area of expertise for Lucy. Eventually, they stop for ice cream, though quickly lose their taste for the overly sweet dessert. Needing a place to dispose of the melting ice cream, Jake drives to his former high school, knowing of little else around for miles. And let me tell you: Shit. Gets. Surreal.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Whoa, this one is a puzzle. I feel like I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this film. It’s a frustrating viewing experience in a lot of ways, and very much a filmmaker’s film. Sometimes it seems like director Charlie Kaufman just enjoys throwing in all of the references he can–one of which is to an essay collection by David Foster Wallace because OF COURSE it is.

I will give a lot of credit for Toni Collette’s brief but compelling performance here (and I can’t fault any of the performances, actually). What’s more, I appreciate the high concept of the film; I am very much in favor of directors taking risks and embracing nontraditional narratives and techniques. The feeling of dread, disquiet, and strangeness are so powerful here, making for an effective but not particularly enjoyable experience. As a meditation on age, loneliness, memory, and reality, Kaufman sets up a story driven by metaphor rather than plot, which I do admire.

However, there’s a lot here that I just don’t get. The disjointed structure of the film is difficult to piece together, and a great deal of the extended dialogue on philosophical topics is…boring, honestly. I took the minimum number of philosophy credits required for me to graduate college and have never looked back.

On a side note, I would watch this again if it were made into a ballet. Same applies to Oklahoma!, a movie musical I dislike almost as much as Cats (I give Oklahoma! some credit for its iconic 1950s interpretation of American frontier fashions).

I would also accept, overall, more ballets with knife fights.

Would my blog wife prepare a lovely (non-maggot-infested) ham dinner for this one or leave it stranded in a winter storm? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I’m Your Woman, or: I’ve Got You, Babe…y

As the Oscars approach, this means…not a whole lot on the Collab historically. However, being largely at home in my free time during a global pandemic seems like as good a time as any to check out some of 2020’s buzzworthy films. This week’s pick didn’t receive any nominations, but it must have been a close call. After all, we’ve got worryingly vague criminal enterprises, abrupt and disturbing acts of violence, and so many funky ’70s vibes.

The Film:

I’m Your Woman

The Premise:

After things go awry with her husband’s life in organized crime, a woman must go on the run with her baby.

The Ramble:

Happily(?) married Jean is a 1970s housewife whose sole occupation seems to be lounging around and smoking, looking unutterably glamorous. Jean would much rather spend her time raising a child; sadly, after multiple miscarriages, it seems clear that delivering a child isn’t a possibility for Jean. Due to husband Eddie’s rather illicit activities, adoption is out of the question too. The solution? Buy a baby from a teen with an unwanted pregnancy (perhaps from the baby merchant)! Clearly.

The character Jean, a woman with long blonde hair, wears oversized sunglasses while sitting outside and smoking a cigarette.

Too stoked to ask too many questions, Jean eagerly cares for baby Harry as her own. While she occasionally worries about how Eddie makes a living, Jean is usually happy to remain unaware.

That is, until one of Eddie’s work buddies arrives at the house in the middle of the night. Sharing few details, he insists that Jean throw together a few belongings and leave immediately. Taken to a motel to meet with another man, Cal, Jean understands very little of her new life, except that Eddie is in some very deep shit indeed. It’s now Cal’s job to take care of Jean; luckily, he also knows a thing or two about soothing fussy babies.

The character Cal, a Black man wearing a turtleneck, comforts Jean's baby. Jean looks on with some concern as they stand in a dimly lit motel room.

However, in this case, Harry’s endless cries are worrying. Despite Cal’s warnings, Jean insists that Harry must go to the hospital for a fever that won’t break. Their hospital visit is cut short when a couple of dudes arrive and give Cal a bad feeling. After escaping the hospital, Cal and Jean sleep in the car with baby Harry, earning a questioning from the police. Jean’s quick thinking saves the day, as she claims Cal is her husband and they pulled over after driving late into the night to get to their new house.

Luckily, there is a safe house for Jean and Harry in a quiet neighborhood. Cal instructs Jean to stay put and talk to no one until he can return. There is a phone and secret number in the house for Jean to use in case of emergency only.

For quite a while, Jean learns to live in virtual isolation, doing nothing but taking Harry out for walks at night and reheating frozen dinners. Things escalate very quickly after Jean, starved of companionship, allows a neighbor with a casserole to stop in for a visit. Extremely suspicious of the visitor, Jean is panicked when, later that night, she hears an uninvited guest downstairs. Hoping for help from neighbor Evelyn, Jean is shocked to find the woman tied up and questioned by former associates of Eddie’s.

Jean sits cross-legged on a bed with the handset of a pink rotary phone to her ear.

Luckily, Call arrives just in time to intervene. Jean objects to his methods, including shooting Evelyn to leave no witnesses–though he does point out that Jean has no way of knowing if Evelyn was involved in the plot. With their safe house busted, Cal takes Jean and Harry to a new location, a one-room cabin in the countryside. Jean connects the dots and realizes this is Cal’s childhood home. Though Cal remains reluctant to talk about his own life, he does reveal that Eddie killed the crime boss he worked for…as a contract killer?! That definitely can’t be true at all…can it?

After time passes, Jean is surprised when she hears a car arrive at the remote cabin. The visitors, rather than members of a criminal organization, are Cal’s family: wife, child, and father. Cal’s wife, Teri, seems impossibly independent, strong, and quick-witted–traits Jean envies with a passion. As Jean falls into the family’s rhythms, she learns some shocking truths about Eddie’s past, while feeling a growing sense of unease about Cal’s extended absence. What will happen when Jean insists she go along with Teri to find Cal?

Jean and Teri, a Black woman, sit outside of a rustic cabin, wrapped in blankets and looking out into the distance.

All you know for sure is that shit. Will. Go. Down.

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There is a LOT to like about this film, but I almost never feel a 2-hour runtime is justified for a film. This one is an extremely slow burn, so it took me some time to become fully invested here.

However, I do love the concept of a gangster film that focuses on the women who are typically props–if they appear onscreen at all. I also really enjoy seeing Jean’s growth as a character; from being a woman who is largely sidelined and extremely sheltered, Jean learns to trust her own instincts and navigate a shockingly violent world.

Unsurprisingly, I adore the relationship between Teri and Jean. I think one of my issues with the pacing of the film is how long it takes for Teri, who is truly iconic, to enter the picture. Though certainly not without complications, the trust that evolves between the two feels real. Jean seems to aspire to channel Teri’s detached calm under pressure, yet this doesn’t create a rivalry. The people most marginalized in our film–people of color and women (including women of color)–stick together against those with the most power to inflict harm (mostly white dudes, TBH).

To me, where the film is most successful is in its exploration of themes not usually tackled in a film about organized crime. We focus in on Jean’s grief and loneliness quite a lot–partly a result of her husband’s willingness to shut her out of significant parts of his life, but also due to her many miscarriages and despair that she may never be a mother. Jean literally needs Cal and Teri to survive; she needs them on a human level too, after living in isolation long before hiding from a gang. When it comes down to it, a life lounging around looking fabulous does not replace the bond Jean finds in her surrogate family, where she experiences need and is needed.

On a side note, the cinematography is stunning. My favorite part of any period piece is typically the fashion, and this film is no exception. I am also very much here for the ’70s grooves in the soundtrack. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Brosnahan in Mrs. Maisel, and I appreciate her transformation in this role, tapping into a much darker place than I associate with her. I was here for the Rachel Brosnahan content, but I stayed for the tensely written plot and the supporting characters.

Would my blog wife hide this one under the floorboards or put a bullet through its skull at point-blank range? Find out in her review!