Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Perfection, or: Cello, Is It Me You’re Looking for?

I’m quite sad that LGBTQ month on the Collab is drawing to a close…until I remember that we are mere days away from October, a true time of festivity for our horror-loving hearts. It doesn’t hurt that this week strikes a happy medium between these two themes with a rather twisted lesbian romance at the center of an unexpectedly vomit-filled, bug-infested horror.

The Film:

The Perfection

The Premise:

When the former student of a prestigious music school reunites with the academy’s most famous pupil, so many ulterior motives are revealed.

The Ramble:

A former student of Bachoff, the World’s Most Prestigious Music School, Charlotte is in Shanghai to help judge a competition for the next open spot at the academy. Having suffered a fall from favor after leaving the school to care for her dying mother, Charlotte isn’t prepared to meet star pupil turned darling of the cello world Lizzie.

While Charlotte fangirls over the world-renowned cellist, Lizzie herself reveals that she briefly met and idolized Charlotte when they were children. After judging the competition, Lizzie makes her intentions known by inviting Charlotte to perform a cello duet. Before spending the night together, the two witness one of the evening’s attendees suddenly become violently ill before collapsing onto the ground. Though concerned it may be a serious plague, Charlotte and Lizzie are mostly unconcerned.

As the two women bond, Lizzie invites Charlotte to join her as she travels across the Chinese countryside for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the journey is off to an inauspicious start as Lizzie is extremely hungover. Determined to power through it, an increasingly agitated Lizzie boards a bus with Charlotte only to insist the bus stop shortly after. Lizzie becomes extremely ill, and the disconcerted bus passengers insists she disembark after she claims to see bugs in her vomit.

Left in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves, Lizzie only becomes more distressed as she sees bugs crawling under her skin and becomes convinced she’s dying. Because these bugs all seem to be beneath the flesh of her right arm, Charlotte presents Lizzie with the only logical option: immediately severing her arm with a meat cleaver. Say what now?

Weeks later, Lizzie returns to Bachoff missing an arm, and therefore is of no further use to head of the academy Anton. Unceremoniously removed from the institution, an enraged Lizzie blames Charlotte for the accident and is determined to make her pay. But who is really…pulling the strings in all of this (sorry not sorry)?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

More interested in setting up dramatic plot twists than telling a coherent story, this film is nevertheless quite fun to watch. The casting of Allison Williams means you know underhanded schemes will happen, and Logan Browning is great here too (as always).

Because this becomes a revenge film, it loses a lot of its effectiveness by going for shock value instead of clearly establishing the villain early on. I also wish the relationship between Charlotte and Lizzie had been better defined as the film’s conclusion left me wondering how well they knew each other as children, and not entirely convinced by their motives.

Would absolutely watch a horrendous sequel, though, if given the chance.

Would my blog wife perform a duet with this one or cut all of its strings? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, or: Warrior Queens

It would be a shame to let this month, focused on LGBTQIA+ films, pass by without a musical number and a drag queen or two, wouldn’t it? This week’s film checks off these boxes and more, serving up the fiercest looks on impossibly tall stilettos.

The Film:

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

The Premise:

Deciding to become a drag queen at age 16, Jamie prepares to debut his identity at prom while dodging discouragement from family, classmates, and school administrators.

The Ramble:

Leading a fairly quiet life in Sheffield, openly gay teen Jamie aspires to a glamorous life in the spotlight. In response to his unsupportive classmates and dreamcrushing teacher Miss Hedge, Jamie claims his plan is to be a performer, but this is only part of the story. Jamie really dreams of becoming a drag queen but is too nervous to admit this even to his bff Pritti.

Jamie, a teen with short bleach-blonde hair, sits across from his friend Pritti, a teen wearing glasses and a hijab.  She is looking at a pair of very high-heeled glittery red stilettos.

Luckily, Jamie’s mother Margaret and her own bestie Jay are extremely supportive. Knowing her son’s love of glittery fashion accessories, Margaret gifts Jamie with his first pair of stiletto heels for his 16th birthday. While it seems there are no secrets between mother and son, it’s clear pretty early on that Margaret is massively covering for Jamie’s absentee father, who has zero interest in being a part of his child’s life.

Disappointed in his father’s absenteeism yet again, Jamie is nonetheless thrilled with the heels in which he will take his first steps to success as a drag queen. Sharing the good shoe news with Pritti, Jamie finds his bff somewhat confused yet unshakably supportive. She encourages Jamie to show off his developing drag queen identity at prom, despite putdowns from cookie cutter homophobic bully Dean.

Jamie sits at a work table in the family kitchen, holding his mother's hand. Both look at each other as they sing.

By chance, it’s around this time that Jamie finds a local drag shop owned by Hugo Battersby, former drag queen Loco Chanelle. Along with some practical advice on preparing for and performing drag, Hugo gives Jamie a history lesson that contextualizes its significance for those involved, identifying earlier trailblazers as true warrior queens. Color me disappointed that none of the drag acts featured Boudica or even Xena, Warrior Princess.

Getting to work right away, Jamie starts saving money for fabulous drag gear, learning to apply makeup, and hoping in vain that his father will suddenly decide to support his son just a little bit. Ahead of prom, Jamie debuts his drag identity Mimi Me, despite attempts from Dean to derail the evening.

Jamie, wearing a robe, looks into a mirror as a drag queen applies makeup to his face. Three other drag queens prepare for their act as they sing to Jamie.

As Jamie begins to find confidence while in drag, he must contend with the fact that he feels ugly and insecure as himself. Complicating matters are the school administrators’ words of discouragement on learning that Jamie intends to wear a dress to prom. To top it all off, Jamie realizes with dismay that his mother has been lying about his father maintaining even a modest level of interest in his son’s life.

At a definite low point, Jamie turns to a night of binge drinking and antagonizing footballers. Now that he’s fallen from those very stylish heels, will Jamie be able to pick himself back up again?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is such a fun, upbeat film that it’s impossible not to find some charm in it. (So much better than the misguided The Prom, thank god). I enjoy the choreographed dance numbers so much, and it’s welcome to see a film with a heartfelt message, especially in the context of…everything. In terms of casting, our lead Max Harwood and (obviously) Richard E. Grant are so perfect here, and the brief Bianca del Rio cameo is superb. Richard E. Grant’s character and songs are firmly my favorites.

I cannot overstate how pleased I am that this film’s heart depends on family and friendship. And, most of all, that no one has a problematic romance with the class bully who was only terrible because he hated his own secret gay identity. I cannot tell you how tired I am with this trope, and we dodged it entirely, praise the lord.

What holds me back from a full 4 stars is how persistently light and upbeat this is, even when dealing with troubling themes. The story doesn’t fully explore these themes and suffers for it, at least in my opinion. I welcome affirming stories like this one, but I think pushing things into slightly more serious dramatic territory could have only made the emotional resonance more powerful. I loved the bejeezus out of the Richard E. Grant number “This Was Me” that celebrates drag and the LGTBQ community in the 1980s and would have wholeheartedly embraced more songs of this nature (speaking of which–the song was added for the film, and I could not imagine a stage production without this number).

Another issue is that, while the story is about Jamie’s identity, Jamie is a bit self-involved. The single-minded focus on his character means we don’t get to explore the nuances of more interesting supporting characters (okay–I’m primarily talking about Loco Chanelle). Every single non-Jamie character is either there to support or discourage him in cartoonishly awful ways, and he doesn’t always do much for them in return. Jamie is a bad friend to Pritti at times, though full credit for always having her back when faced with Dean. Honestly even Jamie’s character development isn’t that great, as there’s a lot of external focus on his appearance and not as much exploration as I would have liked about his internal motivations to do drag.

As a result of little secondary character exploration, I didn’t believe the change of heart so many characters have at the end. The school’s acceptance of Jamie is sweet but feels hollow and somewhat confusing too. Fully recognizing it’s possible to want contradictory things, I found it odd that Jamie seems to want to stand out but also for everyone to love him. Sure, I understand the impulse, but a bit more self-awareness from the character may have helped him recognize the impossibility of both of these things being true.

That being said, I would watch this 6 more times just for the brief scenes featuring Richard E. Grant in drag.

Would my blog wife help this one pencil in elegantly arched brows or snatch the tiara from atop its perfectly styled wig? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bound, or: Blood Money

It’s no secret that we L O V E film noir on the Blog Collab, particularly when our story involves a femme fatale who can expertly fire a pistol between drags on a cigarette perched in a dainty silver holder. This week, we have more than enough 1940s noir ambience to go around, along with a butch ex-con, illicit schemes and affairs, and elegantly crafted scenes of violence. Oh, and it’s the first film by the Wachowskis. Have we died and gone to heaven or, you know, been resurrected Matrix-style?

The Film:

Bound (1996)

The Premise:

A woman seeking freedom from the mafia begins an affair with another woman whose former life of crime may help them escape the mob with a case of stolen money.

The Ramble:

Out of prison and keeping a low profile, the excellently named Corky finds work renovating a recently vacant apartment and completing general building maintenance in Chicago. Quietly minding her own business doesn’t seem like a feasible option for long when Corky catches the eye of neighbor Violet, who lives with Caesar, a man who is quick to anger and heavily linked to the mafia. A winning combination indeed.

Corky, a woman with shaggy dark hair wearing a dirty A-shirt style tank top, leans against a kitchen sink. She is gazing intently into Violet's eyes, a woman wearing a low-cut black dress with a curly 1940s-style bob and makeup.

After Violet pulls the classic earring-down-the-sink maneuver, she and Corky begin a sexual relationship, sharing an unspoken and intense connection. Based on their understanding and Violet’s long-held desire to leave the mob life behind, she loops Corky in on a plan to fool everyone and escape the mafia with millions of dollars.

As Violet explains, recently tortured and murdered schemer Shelly was skimming money from his own mob crew with serious commitment–to the point that these funds fit nicely into a suitcase worth over $2 million. For a brief window, all of the money will be in Caesar and Violet’s apartment before big boss Gino Marzzone passes go and collects it. In a rather gruesome turn, all of the money has to be cleaned and air-dried first as Gino’s hothead son Johnnie shoots and kills Shelly, covering the cash in blood.

Wearing a black spaghetti strap top and dark red lipstick, Violet sits with one hand propping up her head. She is staring contemplatively at the many $100 bills clipped to fishing line as they air dry.

Like any film noir-style hard-boiled detective worth their salt, Corky is pretty fucking suspicious of Violet’s motives in all of this. However, the allure of both the money and Violet herself soon have Corky returning to her life of crime, outlining a brilliant, foolproof plan that of course could never go wrong in a million years.

Mob associate Caesar embraces Johnnie with a fake smile. Johnnie is wearing a bandage on his nose from an earlier punch Caesar gave him.

What follows is a very tense unraveling of the game plan as Caesar proves to be way more of an unhinged, trigger-happy murderer than expected. I will leave it there–but is it because I’m tired, bad at explaining heists, or terrible about planning my time this week? No doubt the answer to this question generates as much suspense as the film itself.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Violet’s character is the closest we get to a 1940s femme fatale in a 1990s setting, so she is now our new idol. At least I can only presume. What’s truly excellent about both of our leading ladies is their approaches to navigating a violent, male-dominated world; they each have different strategies, and they work together in perfect harmony. There’s no pitting these identities against each other or implying there’s a more appropriate way to be a woman and express one’s identity. Both Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are wonderfully cast.

From virtually the first minute of the film, suspense is driving the narrative forward, whether because of the tension between Violet and Corky or the increasingly troublesome case full of cash. As such, the pacing never slows down, and my interest as a viewer never waned. Some of the scenes are horrifically violent yet beautifully and even lovingly filmed. I’m such a fan of the last few scenes of the film and some of the brilliant one-liners these characters have…but also every scene, to be honest.

A couple of criticism do come to mind. First, though the film pivots on a lesbian relationship, the film is quite overwhelmed by white, male, and heterosexual characters. This film could pass the Bechdel test more comfortably as well as include more diversity, especially as it takes place in Chicago. Another drawback that comes to mind is that the relationship between Violet and Corky is a bit too easily established, and the trust between them not wholly earned. However, they’re so vividly drawn characters that it’s impossible to be mad about that. The romance between our two leads is hot (and definitely R rated) without being creepy or voyeuristic.

Would my blog wife devise a convoluted plan with this one or smoke a cigarette around it with no small measure of disdain? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Saving Face, or: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Given the global pandemic still very much happening and its impact on my current mental/emotional state, I could probably keep watching horror for the next 500 years and still not satisfy that unique sense of dread and calm the genre inspires in me. I’m worried the world is an awful place but feel a certain tranquility when it shows its true colors.

Anyway.

It’s probably for the best to do a bit of a reset in September ahead of the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween). This week, we have a lesbian romance with hints of soap opera drama and a hearty dose of navigating cultural identity. Plus vending machine snacks.

The Film:

Saving Face

The Premise:

As a young Chinese-American surgeon pursues a romance with another woman, she learns her mother has been keeping a shocking secret of her own.

The Ramble:

Wil is a promising young surgeon who gives her mother Gao a lot of cred in their Chinese-American community in Queens. On the marriage front, Gao insists that Wil is much too busy and successful to date. Hmmmmm…dramatic secrets related to identity would suggest otherwise.

Wil, a young woman dressed casually in sweatpants, bends down to talk to her mother, Gao. Gao is sitting on a bed, eyes closed in meditation.

As Gao plays matchmaker at the community’s weekly gathering, she is unknowingly the source of her own gossip, as the widow of over 20 years is stunningly gorgeous and very single. A man by the name of Cho is quite clearly gearing up to make a move, though it’s taken years for him to work up the nerve.

One fateful night, Wil meets the one person her mother is decidedly not trying to set up her daughter with: a ballet dancer named Vivian. In a demonstration of how close-knit the community is, Vivian happens to be the daughter of Wil’s boss. But she’s quite attractive and her love language seems to be vending machine snacks, so poor Wil doesn’t stand a chance.

Wil, dressed in a loose-fitting button-down shirt, stands close in front of Vivian, who touches the sleeve of Wil's shirt.

Meanwhile, Wil realizes through shocking gossip that Gao is keeping even more secrets than her daughter. As it turns out, Gao is pregnant and refuses to divulge the father’s identity. Ooooooh, things are getting more scandalous than the Chinese soaps Gao watches religiously. Wil’s grandfather is especially disappointed, evicting his daughter from their shared apartment and telling her not to bother coming back without a husband. The tables are turned on Gao as Wil attempts to find her the perfect (and perhaps somewhat gullible) husband.

Wil reclines on a futon, arms behind her head. Her mother Gao sits next to her, knitting. Both are staring ahead at an offscreen television.

Now with the complication of having her mother as a roommate, Wil has to work double time to keep her own secret love hidden. A relatably awkward tomboy, Wil is quite sweet when bonding with Vivian. However, conducting their relationship as if it’s an illicit affair isn’t what Vivian has in mind. She begins actively considering an offer to dance ballet in Paris…even though her heart is with modern dance and with a certain socially graceless doctor.

After a number of horrible dates, Gao ultimately accepts a proposal from Cho. While Wil is initially relieved, she’s troubled that her mother still seems rather closed off and unhappy. What’s more, Wil’s grandmother experiences a health crisis, sending the family into a spiral just before the wedding. Taking a cue from Gao’s soaps, the discovery of a shocking letter on her wedding day could spell disaster…or might it lead two generations of Chinese-American women to carve out space for themselves within their own community?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed this. Our story feels real, slightly melodramatic twists and all. I think this is largely because the characters and their relationships ground the story. There’s an attention to detail and nuance that makes the love, especially between mother and daughter, convincing. It involves just enough tension for us to believe this is true with all of the messiness and conflict that comes along with family.

The tone is perfect; overall, this is a very sweet film. However, there is enough of a cultural and familial clash that I was somewhat concerned about how it would all turn out. I was relieved when (spoiler?) our leading ladies found a way to fully embrace their own unique identities and place them within Chinese-American culture, not as disparate pieces. I loved that even Wil was shocked by Gao’s secrets and made some of the same assumptions the Chinese community made since it is a part of her identity.

This is the kind of film where I respect the director, Alice Wu, even more as I learned about her process of making this movie a reality. Look it up! It was really a labor of love. My favorite fact so far is that studios really pushed to make all (including the leads!) or at least some characters white to bring more star power to the film, but Wu insisted on maintaining a Chinese cast.

Related: consider that this film was the first major US release since The Joy Luck Club and until Crazy Rich Asians to star an Asian cast. And while we do now have Shang-Chi to enjoy, we’ve still got a lot of progress to make for representation.

Would my blog wife romance this one with vending machine fare or leave it at the altar for another film? Find out in her review!