Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tau Be or Not Tau Be

…And we’re back!  After a December hiatus, we’re kicking off 2019 with year 4(?!??!) of the Blog Collab!  My most excellent blog wife Christa picked an appropriately futuristic film as we start a new year with a free for all month.

The Film:

Tau

The Premise:

After being abducted by a mad scientist, Julia must figure out a way to escape her captor and his super sophisticated AI house.

The Ramble:

We don’t know a lot about Julia beyond her occupation as small-time thief.  She’s not the kind of person who will be missed–the ideal type of person a renowned but secretly unhinged scientist would target for unscrupulous experiments.

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This is exactly how Julia suddenly finds herself one evening, locked in a cell with electrified bars along with a couple of other unlucky souls.  They all have matching uniforms along with Hannibal Lecter-style masks.  These feel a little unnecessary as their cell seems to be far from the hearing range of any living human beings.

Our aforementioned mad scientist is running experiments involving a chip implanted into the back of his subjects’ necks and pretty much torturing them to measure brain activity.  At least if I remember correctly–I tried.  I really, really tried to care about what happened in this film.

Using the skills she’s acquired as a thief, Julia manages to smuggle a pair of scissors after her latest round in the patient’s chair.  Freeing herself and her fellow prisoners, Julia manages to use the conveniently placed gas line to blast their cell open.

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As they come close to making their daring escape, the three prisoners make a fatal mistake when they attempt to open the front door’s biometric lock with the wrong set of fingerprints.  The alarm triggers a giant death robot that is controlled by the house’s advanced AI system, Tau.  After taking out 2 of 3 humans in the house, Tau abruptly stops when mad scientist Alex returns home.

Full name Thomas Alex Upton, Alex has named his most brilliant creation, Tau, after himself.  This is perhaps the most believable plot point of the film.  Tau cleans, cooks, and calms Alex during stressful times–for example, when his apartment has been nearly destroyed by prisoners attempting to escape his insanity.

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With a rapidly approaching deadline, Alex cannot let Julia escape but needs her to cooperate with his experiments.  They reach a truce of sorts as she agrees to be cooperative, thus earning the privilege(?) of a shower, clean clothes, and freedom from restraints.

Meanwhile, Julia is sneakily attempting to understand and befriend Tau.  Unable to contend with Tau’s destructive powers, Julia begins to unravel Tau’s interests in learning and making sense of the world.  Julia starts to realize that Tau, though a creation, has more humanity than its namesake, and the two share a bond.

As Julia and Tau learn from each other, she discovers the convenient existence of a self-destruct button for Alex’s apartment.  Can Julia use this intel to save herself and Tau from one absolutely batshit insane scientist?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a frustrating one–it has some good ideas but doesn’t execute them particularly well. I’ve complained A LOT about films that take their goddamn time getting to the point.  Tau does the complete opposite; we genuinely do get about 3 minutes of exposition before Julia’s abduction.  I really wanted to care about her, but I found it hard to invest in her character at all.  Throughout the film, I kept thinking of the beginning when Julia sold her stolen goods at a pawn shop with a poker game going on in the background for some reason(?!).  Tell me more about what the actual fuck is going on here–this is a story I’m interested in.

The relationship grounding the film is Julia and Tau’s, but it doesn’t have enough emotional depth to carry it.  Maybe I’m too narrow-minded, but I had trouble getting past the idea of Tau as AI; there’s a moment when Julia goes back to save him and it’s just stupid.

I also found Julia and Alex ridiculously one-dimensional as characters.  Alex was laughably evil at times and had a tendency to overdo it.  There was more than one serious scene he ruined with his excessive rage acting.  It didn’t help that the effects were terrible, so it was difficult to believe the real threat of robot Tau.  Let’s not even touch the ceiling collapse that makes Alex’s death (oops, spoiler) much less satisfying.

Would my blog wife save this one or leave it to be crushed to death by a massive chunk of concrete ceiling (hypothetically speaking)?  Find out at her shiny new site here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Citizen Ruth, or: Merry Christmas?

Delay in posting means we’re kicking off December with a satirical abortion comedy starring a very ’90s Laura Dern.  Nothing says Christmas like a vicious debate about the undetermined future of a woman’s pregnancy…right, Mary?

The Film:

Citizen Ruth

The Premise:

A young woman, pregnant and with nowhere to turn, unwittingly finds herself in the spotlight as both sides of the abortion debate try to influence the decision about her pregnancy.

The Ramble:

After a fight with her boyfriend and the cold shoulder from her brother, Ruth is SOL with nowhere to go.  Spending her last dollars to get drunk and high on paint fumes, it’s not long before the police are on her case…again.

When she is checked into a hospital, Ruth learns some unwelcome news:  she is pregnant again.  Having already given birth to and lost custody of 4 children, Ruth is charged with criminal endangerment of a fetus.  Quickest way to avoid those charges?  Get an abortion.

Ruth’s plans go awry when a seemingly altruistic group of strangers post her bail–the only time anyone has every posted her bail.  Of course, these good Samaritans have an ulterior motive:  they are pro-lifers determined to convince Ruth of her moral obligation to have the baby.

While experiencing the middle-class lifestyle for the first time, Ruth learns the price for her acceptance into the fold is the birth of a healthy baby…and going cold turkey on the booze and paint fumes.  Though the family presents the decision as Ruth’s to make, they take her to a hospital that shows her a horrendous video about abortion and straight-up lies about the procedure.  The small but devout group’s only source of entertainment(?) seems to be protesting outside of the local abortion clinic.

It doesn’t take long before Ruth feels suffocated and seeks out her old comfort of huffing paint fumes (and, in an extremely relateable move, punches a child).  Shamed by the pro-lifers, Ruth falls in with undercover pro-choice activist, Diane (Swoosie Kurtz).

Lending Ruth’s decision symbolic significance, both sides are determined to sway her to the correct side.  Bringing supporters from all across the country, celebrity figureheads (played by Burt Reynolds and Tippi Hedren!), and even Ruth’s mother into the debate fail to make an impact.  What really catches Ruth’s attention?  When both sides offer her $15,000 to persuade her to their way of thinking.

What will Ruth’s life-changing, earth-shattering decision be?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ooooh, this one hurts a bit to watch.  It’s quite disheartening how relevant this film is almost 20 years later.  If anything, the abortion debate feels more contentious than ever, and women’s rights just as precarious.

This film highlights the hypocrisy on both sides as the pro-choice and pro-life groups give Ruth’s decision significance it doesn’t need to have.  Ruth never wants to make a statement with her choice–she simply wants to do what is best for her (aka get those sweet pro/anti-abortion $$$).  Neither side gives much consideration to what is actually best for Ruth.

However, it’s difficult not to see the connections between pro-life strategies then and now and note they don’t come off looking particularly great.  In addition to using the manipulative approaches of posting Ruth’s bail and telling her blatantly false medical lies, the characters give off an unnerving Pleasantville vibe, with all of those pasted-on smiles beginning to crack.  Besides, it’s my admittedly biased opinion that at least 75% of the problems in the world can be attributed to the kind of religions zealots who consistently claim to know and correctly interpret the intentions of their god.

As bleak as I’m making this sound, it ultimately is a satire, and one that does succeed in making some darkly funny observations.  It would probably be funnier if an emotionally unstable misogynist hadn’t just been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Would my blog wife choose this one’s side or take the money and run?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shirkers, or: Ladies Before Men Who Are Shady

It’s November, meaning (1) I’ll be eating an excessive amount of turkey and (2) we’ll be doing what we want on the blog.  This week that means getting real via the medium of a documentary about a film about murder.

The Film:

Shirkers

The Premise:

A group of teens in Singapore make a film with their mentor only to suffer crushing disappointment when he and the film reels disappear.

The Ramble:

In 1992, Sandi and her friends Jasmine and Sophie took on the impressive feat of writing, shooting, and starring in a movie.  Sandi wrote the script and starred as a teenaged murderer.  Influenced by the experimental films of ’60s French cinema, the team made a film unlike anything else in Singapore.

Raised by her grandparents with high expectations for her future, Sandi felt more at home with Jasmine’s laid-back, undemanding family.  Bonding over their love of censored films, music, and all things punk, Sandi and Jasmine found a voice through the creation of their own zine.

The lives of Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie change when they meet Georges, a filmmaker who will become their mentor.  An enigmatic man, Georges lies about his age, date of birth (including day of the month!), birthplace, and–bizarrely–about being the inspiration for James Spader’s character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

If Georges doesn’t already scream “major creep” to you at this point, he cranks up the dial by inviting Sandi on a road trip across the United States.  After the trip, Sandi is inspired to write the script for a film called Shirkers.

Determined to make the film and unleash it upon the world, Sandi and Georges drive production forward even when Sophie and Jasmine would prefer to wait.  By her own admission, Sandi is a bit of an asshole during production.  In addition to pouring their hearts into the film, Sandi and Sophie clear out their bank accounts to make it all happen.

At the end of the day, Georges is the one walking away with the film reels.  Sandi and her friends wait eagerly for news of the final product…but only receive a couple of messages from him before he disappears without a trace.

Years pass (23+ in fact) and Sandi feels over what happened with the film.  She has written a novel and gotten married in Vegas.  Sandi has given up all hope of seeing the film reels again when she gets a call from Georges’ wife.  George has passed away, and he’s left behind 70+ reels of film labelled “Shirkers.”

What will Sandi and her friends find on those reels?  And why the eff was Georges such a massive creep?  Answers to at least one of those questions revealed in the documentary.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love the girls in this, especially as Sandi and Jasmine embrace their weirdness and the spirit of punk.  This girl gang proudly marches to the beat of their own drum.  Sophie wisely points out that the experience created a unique bond among the three girls, who remain close because of the shared triumph and devastation of creating and losing their film.

However, a good chunk of this film is dedicated to the pursuit of understanding Georges and his decisions.  I can appreciate how this process is a strategy for Sandi to find closure…but sometimes when dudes act like assholes, it’s just because they’re fucking assholes.

Would my blog wife embrace this as part of her girl gang or hide it from the light of day?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Don’t Talk to Irene, or: Failure in Drag

As much as I miss Horror Month on the blog, I love months when anything goes.  This explains how we shift gears completely from last week’s dark exploration of human nature to this week’s film about befriending maggots, cheerleading, and Geena Davis.

The Film:

Don’t Talk to Irene

The Premise:

In spite of her mother’s disapproval and bullying from her peers, teenager Irene dreams of being a cheerleader and gains an unexpected squad in the form of a group of retirement home residents.

The Ramble:

The ‘burbs of Toronto:  so close to the city yet so far.  Irene is a relentlessly positive teen living in the ‘burbs, determined to join the cheerleading squad.  So what if she wears plus size clothing, adopts maggots as pets, and holds conversations with the poster of Geena Davis above her bed?

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According to Irene’s mother, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  Mom (who I don’t think is ever named?), a cheerleader until becoming a teen mom in high school, worries that Irene will be bullied or scorned by her peers.  Too late to worry on that front as Irene is well aware she’s considered a loser but seems to give zero fucks.

On the first day of school, Irene creates a DIY cheerleader outfit to try out for the team.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by new student Tesh, a fabulous dresser and the self-described Switzerland of gender.  They are completely on board with Irene challenging the status quo.

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One person decidedly not on board with this is Sarah, a classmate who decides to humiliate Irene for the hell of it.  Convincing Irene and a few other naive girls that they must lick the shower of the boys’ locker room to make the squad, Sarah films the gross prank and posts it on social media.  Obviously when this goes public, the school principal is not amused and suspends Irene, Sarah, and her boyfriend.  During their time away from school, they will complete mandatory community service at the local retirement home.

Determined to make the best of things, Irene befriends several of the residents:  the sweet but forgetful Millie, curmudgeonly Charles, and suggestive Ruth.  When Irene hears about a reality show contest, she schemes to put together a cheer routine with a squad of her own making:  the residents and staff of the retirement home.  Initially Irene’s pet project, the residents quickly buy into the plan and look forward to learning their new moves.  And of course Sarah is there at every turn to sabotage Irene.

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As Irene faces setbacks, Geena Davis and her new friends teach her to be resilient.  Charles shows Irene how to respond to bullies and to throw a perfect punch.  Tesh, in on the plan too, utters perhaps my favorite line in cinema: “Success is just failure in drag.”

Closer to being part of the contest than ever, Sarah pulls out all the stops to prevent Irene from accomplishing her goals.  With the retirement home manager, Irene’s mother, and a flat tire to contend with, the squad has a lot to overcome.  Does this mark the end of Irene’s dream to defy the odds and become a cheerleader?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s just say there are no shocking twists to this story–it’s a genuine, feel-good film that is precisely what I needed.  Irene is such a sweet character who doesn’t even seem to notice when others try to put her down.  I would really like to borrow some of Irene’s optimism and absolute indifference to horrible douchebags.

Some criticism:  Irene’s mom is a bit disappointing, and her inevitable change of heart feels a bit too little too late.  Though she claims everything she does is to protect Irene, she constantly fat shames her daughter and discourages her for most of the film.  Sarah’s antics get irritating as well; she’s often frustratingly one-dimensional.  I do admit I wish Irene had taken things a step further with some of her choices, but the entire point of her character is about staying positive and not holding onto insecurities.

However, so many of the other characters are so sweet I’d put them in my coffee (if coffee weren’t vile). For once all of the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia here seems authentic instead of hipster ironic.  I love that Geena Davis was part of this film.  And Milli Vanilli helps teach us a valuable lesson about being true to yourself.  What’s not to like?

Did my blog wife cheer this one on or consider it success in drag?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hold the Dark, or: Men, Manly Men

Although our absolute favorite month on the blog is over, there’s no reason we can’t celebrate November by doing whatever we like.  This month, we’ll be returning to our old stand-by:  the free for all.  We’re starting out with a reminder that it’s going to get chilly before too long, though hopefully not as cold as Alaska.

The Film:

Hold the Dark

The Premise:

Arriving in smalltown Alaska to hunt a killer wolf, a writer/wolf expert quickly becomes embroiled in a shocking murder case.

The Ramble:

After Medora’s son is taken by wolves in Alaska, she writes to that guy from Westworld (Jeffrey Wright), famed for his writings about living with wolves.  Her son is not the first victim of the wolves, but the authorities have done little to prevent further attacks.

Unexpectedly, wolf expert extraordinaire Russell responds to the letter, promising to find the wolf that brought an untimely end to more than one life.  While he won’t receive pay for his services, Russell hopes the trip will give him an opportunity to reconnect with his daughter, a teacher in Anchorage.  He must be pretty damn committed as he’s not swayed even when an Inuit woman warns him that Medora knows evil.

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Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon is off at war, completely unaware of the tragedy that has happened at home.  After killing a fellow soldier who assaulted a local woman, Vernon has a near miss with death when he is shot in the neck.  His injuries are so severe he is sent home in critical condition.

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Soon after Russell begins his search, he returns to Medora’s home to find her missing.  Decidedly not missing but also no longer living is Bailey, the child supposedly stolen by wolves.  This leads police to the horrible but undeniable conclusion that Medora, having killed her child, invented the wolf story to cover her tracks.  When Vernon discovers the truth, he kills multiple cops, steals the case file on his son’s murder, and swears revenge on his wife.

So begins a rather tedious round of searches:  police search for Vernon, Medora searches for a place to hide, and everyone searches for Medora.

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If Vernon taking out people one by one as he treks across Alaska isn’t enough excitement for you, just wait until his friend Cheeon joins in.  Cheeon’s daughter is one of the victims of the supposed wolf attacks and really, really doesn’t like the police.  After a standoff, Cheeon manages to wipe out a good 75% of the police force.

This is, of course, all leading up to a confrontation between Vernon, Medora, and Russell/the police.  Who will find Medora first–and who will survive the reunion?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The desolate Alaskan landscape matches this film’s bleak atmosphere perfectly.  Somehow I feel more inclined to visit Alaska while also never wanting to go there.  Survival is an impressive feat for all of the characters here, contending with the extreme climate, packs of wolves, and dark human intentions.

However, there are a lot of problems with this film.  I’m left with so many more questions than answers.  All of our characters are kept at a distance–we don’t get to see much into their brains and dissect their motives, feelings, or histories.  Failing to get a motive for any of our leads–Russell, Medora, and Vernon–is unsatisfying and leaves me thinking “So what?”  As a result, most of the events of this film seem loosely connected by strings of random violence.

There are also times when the film seems to become a parody of masculinity, though this is at no point a funny movie.  Something about Vernon tramping around in a wolf mask, killing people left and right, seem to belong more in the realm of a supervillain.  And he straight up stabs a guy in the skull at one point–dude must have a sharp fucking knife.

This also brings me to the point of why the fuck so many people had to die???  So many of the violent deaths here are so senseless and could have been easily avoided, yet the message of the film doesn’t seem to comment on the violence.  There seems to be some attempt at a social justice message involving the police, the Inuit people, and violence.  But this never feels fleshed out, and I can’t help drawing a negative comparison to Wind River in my mind.  Whereas Wind River has a clear message about violence against Native American women and delves into the grief characters experience after a horrific murder, Hold the Dark feels somewhat hollow as it doesn’t explore its characters’ emotions or have a message underneath that frigid Alaskan landscape.

Would my blog wife cozy up around the fire with this one or track it to the ends of the Earth and stab it in the skull?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World, or: Frenchy McFrenchface

This week’s film brings Horror Month to a close (say it isn’t so)!  In true French spirit, this film does horror with style (and is based on a true story!).

The Film:

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World

The Premise:

Paula Maxa, famous for dying onstage in every performance, may be the target of a real-life killer.

The Ramble:

Welcome to 1930s Paris, a world full of cigarettes, drama, religious zealots, and…murder?  The (in)famous Paula Maxa has the distinction of being murdered every night at the Grand Guignol Theatre, much to the dismay of a die-hard group of protestors.  Believing her violent act will yield acts of real violence, the protestors only seem to create more intrigue around the scandalous show.

You have to give credit to the theater crew for keeping things fresh–Paula’s deaths are always gruesomely staged with a disturbing amount of attention to detail.  Whether being stabbed, choked, or beheaded, the stunts always look real.  Possibly because the blood and body parts involved aren’t props but harvested from human victims…?

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On this particular evening, there are several audience members of note watching the show.  First is an older man with his young lover in a private box.  The man in question seems much more interested in Paula’s bloody death than anything his lover has to offer.  That can’t be good.

Another person of importance is a journalist, Jean, writing a story about the Grand Guignol as a den of depravity.  After the show the next night, Jean meets Paula at a bar straight out of a film noir.  He’s immediately intrigued and determined to learn more about the glamorous, aloof star.

Meanwhile, Paula is having flashbacks to her younger days, and they aren’t particularly happy memories.  These seem to be influenced in part by the awful director who is determined to drive Paula insane for some reason?  Mostly because he’s a douche?

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As Paula opens up to Jean, she reveals the tragic secret in her past she’s held onto for so many years.  She also hints that she’s ready to leave the theatre and will do so with an appropriate amount of dramatic flair.

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Unfortunately, someone else seems ready for Paula to exit, stage left, in real life.  The choice to re-create Paula’s past onstage seems rather ominous.  Like Paula’s past, will this story end in tragedy?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

More film noir than horror, this film has a wonderful aura of mystery.  The gory effects paired with the melodramatic onstage deaths are impossible to resist.  As an added bonus, the film fits in nicely with the blog collab’s unoffical subtheme:  Women Who Look Good Smoking.

However, there are a lot of elements that never feel fully fleshed out.  I expected more to happen with the religious zealots, and almost all of the character motivations are confusing.  This is the kind of film where I anticipate a clever twist, but the end is just…a very French ending indeed.  (Not in a dirty way.)

Would my blog wife resurrect this act for a grand finale or let it die IRL?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ouija: Origin of Evil, or: Spirit of the ’60s

I’m so happy it’s Horror Month on the blog.  Not so happy that this week’s film features incredibly creepy children, but you can’t win ’em all.  At least we’ve got some fab ’60s style to go along with it.

The Film:

Ouija: Origin of Evil

The Premise:

Evil originates.  Through a Ouija board.  In the 1960s.

The Ramble:

Alice is a 1960s mom trying to make ends meet–so what if that involves tricking people into believing their deceased relatives are communicating to them from beyond the grave?  As far as I’m concerned, Alice earns every penny as she’s put some serious creativity and intense detail into the whole endeavor.

Since the death of her husband, Alice is raising moody and extremely skeptical Lina, along with the younger Doris, who desperately wants to reconnect with her father.

One evening, Lina and her rebellious friends bust open the liquor cabinet and use a Ouija board to talk to the spirits of the dead…spooky!  Despite Lina’s eye rolling, the group is genuinely freaked out until they are interrupted by the arrival of parentals.  After a stern talking to, Alice concedes that Ouija is all the rage and decides to add it to her skill set.

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Meanwhile, Lina has agreed to attend the Homecoming dance with her friend Mikey.  When Mikey comes over to walk Lina to school, Alice gives him a stern talking-to and makes sure he understands how short his lifeline will be if he hurts Lina in any way.

At school, Doris is tormented by a couple of nasty little boys.  The head of their school, Father Tom, manages to earn some major points with Alice when he intervenes and cheers up Doris.  Though there seems to be something between Alice and Father Tom, it’s too bad since he’s married to the church and such.

As she practices with the Ouija board, Alice makes the rookie mistake of using the board alone and doesn’t say goodbye to the spirit.  Things get eerie when Doris begins responding to Alice’s questions from the 2nd floor of the house…creepy!  Even worse, Doris completes homework in beautiful cursive with the help of her “friend.”

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Though skeptical at first, Alice begins to believe Doris is able to speak to the dead when she claims her father is communicating with her, providing details Doris couldn’t possibly know on her own.  After finding a hidden stash of money and saving the house from foreclosure, Doris and her new talent prove very lucrative indeed.

However, it should surprise no one when Doris gets even more fucking creepy, using her mind to turn a bully’s mean prank against him, describing in detail to Mikey what it’s like to die by choking to death, and sewing a doll’s mouth shut to stop the voices.  Give that child over to the state, lady.

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After Lina brings Father Tom’s attention to letters Doris has mysteriously written in fluent Polish, the priest visits the house in the guise of connecting to his deceased wife.  What this Ouija session reveals is the frightening and rather confusing truth about who is really reaching out from the other side.

How many will still be on the side of the living by the time the credits roll?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This isn’t a bad film, but doesn’t strike me as particularly memorable.  Initially quite watchable, the amount of time spent on setting the scene becomes tedious after a while.  Even though we spend a lot of time with our main 3 characters, I still didn’t really care about what happened to any of them.

I do love a period drama, though, and the ’60s details are absolutely gorgeous.  Doris is ridiculously creepy, but it’s not enough to hold the film together.

Would my blog wife’s spirit possess this one or search for a more worthy host elsewhere?  Find out here!