Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Dolemite Is My Name, or: Lady in Reed

Not going to lie, I intended to keep the sad vibes going this week with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, but our pick for the week by no means feels like sloppy seconds. Rather than a serious drama of revenge in the Tasmanian wilderness, this week takes us on a decidedly more fun journey to 1970s Los Angeles.

The Film:

Dolemite Is My Name

The Premise:

This biopic follows comedian and musician Rudy Ray Moore as he struggles to make and release the 1970s Blaxploitation film Dolemite.

The Ramble:

As an aspiring musician and comedian in the 1970s, Rudy Ray Moore has seen better days. His music has gone out of fashion in favor of stars like James Brown, and his one-man-show act isn’t what any of the comedy clubs are looking for. Now working in a record store by day and as an MC by night, Rudy’s career seems truly at a dead end.

However, inspired by the ramblings of a homeless man at the store, Rudy develops a comedy character by the name of Dolemite. Borrowing money from his aunt, Rudy creates a raunchy comedy record deemed too filthy for radio. The record speaks for itself as Rudy makes his rounds across the comedy clubs in L.A. and the South.

an African-American man wearing a yellowish-green suit stands onstage with a band

While performing comedy, Rudy finds a partner for a double act in the form of Lady Reed, a woman preparing to fistfight with a man at the club. Though Lady Reed has never considered herself a comedian, she has the commanding presence and raunchy sense of humor to make her the perfect partner for Rudy.

a man in a 1970s-style suit holds a microphone, facing a woman with a microphone in a tight, shiny purple outfit

It can never be said that Rudy’s dreams are too small; as soon as he’s achieved success in clubs, Rudy is ready to take his character Dolemite to the big screen. With his enthusiasm and charm, Rudy easily recruits a playwright, director, crew, and cast. Never mind that the cinematographers are UCLA film students, many of the actors are strippers with no film experience, and the electricity for their improvised studio fades in and out.

An over-the-top Blaxploitation film, Dolemite promises to deliver an all-girl kung-fu army, a gritty look into the nightclub scene, and a dramatic exorcism, all while addressing themes of urban inequity and drug abuse. Too bad director D’Urville Martin (of Rosemary’s Baby fame) dreams of creating a serious, artistic film rather than the campy mess Rudy envisions. It becomes clear very quickly that Rudy will take nothing seriously, from the kung-fu moves to the silly sex scene.

a man faces two people at a booth in a nightclub:  a woman with a teased afro and a man in a retro corduroy hat and outfit

Eventually, Martin yields to the inevitable and accepts the film will never be as he envisioned it. With filming wrapped, the movie is all set for theatrical release, right? Wrong. After all of his work on the film, Rudy is having trouble drumming up any distributor interest whatsoever; he eventually gives up on the film ever seeing the light of day.

Will Dolemite ever complete its journey to the big screen? (Spoiler/historical fact: yes.)

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The cast is killer and it’s worth watching the film for the performances alone: Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Wesley Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eddie Murphy at the top of his game–still only a fraction of the cast making this film such a fun ride. The dynamic between Murphy and Snipes especially stands out, and I absolutely love Randolph here too.

It doesn’t hurt that the script offers an interesting peek into a little-known true story (or at least not known to me). Like Rudy, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, but respects and pays tribute to its subject. Perhaps Dolemite was never going to win any Oscars, but it was a real passion project for Rudy and a reflection of a time and place in recent(ish) history. It’s still quite a feat today to find a film with a primarily black cast and creators.

Rounding out the experience are the spot-on ’70s vibes captured here. The attention to period detail (is it odd to you too that this is considered a period piece?) is incredible in terms of the appearance of characters and scenery, as well as the slang and soundtrack we hear. I truly enjoyed (and learned a lot from) this film!

Would my multi-talented blog wife give this one the green light or send it back to the 1970s, white tuxedo and all? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Coffy, or: Cream & Sugar

I can’t believe this free blogging month is nearly over–though, of course, October is truly the most wonderful time of the year on the Blog Collab. The challenge this year will be out-doing a film featuring Pam Grier with a shotgun; honestly, should we just call it a day and try again in 2020?

The Film:

Coffy

The Premise:

A woman seeks revenge against the drug ring responsible for her sister’s heroin addiction.

The Ramble:

If you can’t handle a ‘70s vibe, get out of this kitchen, as this is possibly the most ’70s film you will watch.

Outside of an extremely retro nightclub, a junkie waits for the big time drug dealer inside.  She will do anything to get a hit—a rather more appealing prospect to the dealer when it turns out the junkie is Coffy, played by Pam Grier.

Upon retiring to a private apartment, Coffy reveals she’s had an ulterior motive all along:  rather than a junkie, she is a woman seeking vengeance against those she holds responsible for her sister’s addiction to heroin.  Both the dealer and his driver fail to live past this night.

A nurse by day, Coffy visits her sister in rehab every week–not the typical stone-hearted killer. Though in a relationship with Howard, a hopeful for an upcoming congressional race, her boyfriend is keen to keep their relationship out of the public eye. Perhaps his reasons for the secrecy move beyond commitment issues? (Hint: they totally do.)

After her ex-boyfriend cop, Carter, is put in a coma, Coffy has added incentive to take down the drug dealers, police officers, and political insiders victimizing the black community. When she confronts a sex worker, Coffy gains intel about the local drug ring and the role of dealer and pimp King George–aka the most stereotypically ’70s pimp to ever grace the silver screen.

Posing as a sex worker, Coffy uses her connection with King George to root out the creeps at the top of the pyramid. Though she has things all sorted out to take care of dealer Vitroni (including gun smuggled in a child’s stuffed lion), Coffy’s plan is foiled when Carter’s partner, a corrupt cop, recognizes her and tips off his boss.

Out of her depth and with no friends to be found, how will Coffy manage to save the day and take down a massive drug ring all by herself?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ll start with the jarring elements of the film: there is a LOT of nudity here that feels EXTREMELY male gaze-y. The standouts here are the cringey cat fight between Coffy and one of the sex workers, as well as the gross scene after Carter is beaten where one of the assailants rather casually attempts to rape Coffy.

As a blaxploitation film, there are some ways in which race is addressed well…and others that feel incredibly problematic. A leading contributor to this is the weirdness of a mostly black cast in a film written and directed by a white man. The way King George meets his end, being dragged behind a car with a noose, is the absolute worst. And while the film’s message isn’t to endorse racism, it does have a voyeuristic feel that makes me wonder if there are people today who genuinely enjoy this scene.

However, the film is very much ahead of its time in its anti-drug themes, and the way it connects these to structural racism in politics and law enforcement. It’s truly tragic the way these ideas will be completely ignored during and in the aftermath of the war on drugs.

The real highlight is, of course, Pam Grier. She succeeds in being a tough but tender lead who is as comfortable wielding a shotgun as caring for her sister. Additionally, she’s a genius at hiding sharp objects in her ‘fro.

I give maximum points for this film’s tagline:   “They call her Coffy, and she’ll cream you.”

Would my tough as nails blog wife give this one a cuddle or bring on the shotgun? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

How to Talk to Girls at Parties, or: Zan-adu

This month takes us not to new cities, countries, or worlds, but new galaxies.  Time to finally take up stargazing because we’re ready to kick off Alien August!

The Film:

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

The Premise:

A teen trying to get his punk band off the ground unknowingly joins an alien party for an evening, leading to shenanigans.

The Ramble:

1970s London.  Punk.  Eyeliner.  Spiky hair.  Aliens?  Aliens.

Enn is a wannabe punk rocker with his small group of misfit friends.  No one seems to like his little gang, as their fellow punks think they’re posers, while everyone else thinks they’re hoodlums.

After embarrassing himself in front of the entire Croydon punk scene at a concert, Enn has also struck out with Boadicea, a punk with the connections to get their band into the limelight.

A woman with bleach-blonde hair and a punk aesthetic smokes a cigarette.

At least they have the after party to look forward to…until the trio become hopelessly lost while trying to find the party.  Upon hearing strange music they’ve never experienced the likes of, Enn and his pals follow the sounds to a different party–an alien party.

Unbeknownst to any of the 3, they all have a good time grooving with the aliens, getting some hot alien action, and meeting intriguing alien girls.  Enn feels a connection with Zan, an alien in the form of a teenager who wants to see and experience human life in an authentic way.

Unfortunately, the other aliens disapprove of Zan’s actions and even believe she will stir up trouble.  After partying all night, Zan meets Enn’s mother as well as one of her fellow aliens, who sort of possesses the body of Enn’s mother to communicate?

A group of four women stand with hands on hips; they are wearing skin-tight orange and black outfits with orange patches at the breast and crotch area.

When Enn and Zan return to Boadicea’s undergound punk club, a misunderstanding leads her to believe Zan is a big deal in the American scene.  As a result, Zan accidentally becomes the lead singer of a punk band for the night.

A young man and woman at a house party face each other, screaming into microphones.

However, her night goes off the rails when other aliens crash the party and she decides to do a little much carpe diem-ing in defiance.  Overhearing some rather sinister plans, Enn becomes convinced Zan is part of a cannibalistic cult that will kill and eat its own.

Calling in a favor from Boadicea, Enn assembles a punk army to defeat the aliens and save Zan. Does she even need saving, though?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The coherence level is low here, but there are just enough charming touches to almost make up for it.  There are some crazy, nonsensical sequences, but I don’t hate them–the energy is great and feels drawn from a genuine love of punk music and culture.  Honestly, the plot is kind of unnecessary and not nearly as fun as just watching punk and alien cultures collide.

The highlights here are the two main ladies.  Elle Fanning’s mannerisms are endearing and fun and avoid the trope of the logic-driven, emotionless alien.  I do love that she keeps asking Enn to see the punk.  And can we please talk about punk Nicole Kidman dressed more or less as David Bowie in Labyrinth?  Because it’s just as incredible as it sounds.

Was this the dark punk rock dream of my blog wife or a total poser?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, or: Lute Duet

I’m sad and astonished to report we’re close to wrapping up the best month on the blog.  This week brings us more horror with the unintentional bonus theme of (mis)handling mental health.  But let’s be honest—that’s every month on this blog.

The Film:

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

The Premise:

Upon moving to a creepy house in the country, a woman’s dark hallucinations return, disrupting her connection to reality.

The Ramble:

After mysteriously moving to a small, rural town, Jessica is ready to put the past behind her.  She’s arrived in town rather ominously in a hearse, along with her husband and also…some random guy who just lives with them?  Like I tried really hard to figure out why he was there being the awkward live-in third wheel but that remains unclear.

A woman stands in front of a headstone in a cemetery.
Cemeteries are pretty cool, though.

So anyway…Jessica alludes vaguely to her visions and time in the hospital, but is more than happy to leave all of that behind.  It seems eerie visions aren’t entirely in the past, though, when she sees a ghostly figure of a woman in a graveyard.  To avoid any unwanted questions, Jessica keeps this particular sighting quiet, convincing herself she didn’t really see anything.  That always works out well in horror, right…?

To make things worse, the group takes a ferry over to the house, aka the old Brookfield place.  The man who runs the ferry tells them sinisterly they’ll be on the other side soon after hearing where they’re heading.  Ooooooooh, double meanings!

Upon arriving at the house, Jessica and the others discover they aren’t quite alone.  A woman named Emily has been living in the abandoned house and, feeling a kinship with her, Jessica invites her to stay.  She sort of regrets this immediately when Emily and Jessica’s husband, Duncan, share an uncomfortable lute duet filled with sexual tension.

Three men face a red-haired woman.
Nice…lute?

Meanwhile, Jessica is seeing more and more dark visions, including seeing blood, hearing voices, and encountering a dead body floating in the nearby pond.  The small town vibe is rather eerie as well—the approximately 4 dudes who live in town seem set on being really standoffish and uninviting.  The one somewhat friendly face in town is the antiques dealer, who is quick to reveal the sad story of a local woman who drowned and now haunts the town and/or may be a vampire (begging the question of whether you can be both a vampire and a ghost simultaneously).

A woman in a messy antique shop looks at a small stained glass lamp.
TBH, I was expecting this to become a scene from IDFAHITWA as soon as the antique shop came into play.  Sadly, it did not.

As Jessica sees increasingly disturbing images, Emily is more and more sinister, and Duncan acts even sleazier, Jessica begins to question what is real, desperate to convince herself she’s imagining everything.  Who will make it to the other side, as it were?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s not especially scary as a horror film, but it does set up an atmosphere of paranoia very effectively and tackles mental health quite well.  Jessica seeing things no one else can see and constantly second-guessing herself and the voices in her head is so real.

I really enjoyed Emily as a character/chaotic force of nature while simultaneously feeling a lot of sympathy for Jessica.  The men in this film could’ve just spontaneously combusted and it would have been fine with me; they were quite bland characters.

Ha, though some of the, er, suspenseful music is hilarious and does take away from the drama of it all at times.  It makes me wonder if all of the intense music post-Dark Knight will be laughable in a few years and take people out of the scene immediately.

Did this one scare Christa to death or would she hop onto a ferry in search of something better?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Black Christmas (I Gave Unicorn My Heart)

The Christmas Collab, truly the highlight of my December, has one last hurrah this week. Christa picked, so you know it’s going to be a good one.

The Film:

Black Christmas

Where to Watch:

Youtube

The Premise:

An unknown creep stalks and murders the members of a sorority house during Christmas in the 1970s. And it reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally looks like the ‘70s.

The Uncondensed Version:

So the girls of Made-Up Sorority X, the Real Name of Which I Can’t Remember are having the annual sorority Christmas party. And by that I mean standing around looking 30 and soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ‘70s.

a woman with oversized glasses embraces a man with an afro and a moustache who is seated on a floral couch
So ’70s.

Meanwhile, we’re getting a lot of weird camera angles/creepy breathing, so you know this party is going to end so very badly. Plus, I mean, this film is called Black Christmas.

It’s all fun and games until the sisters get an incredibly creepy phone call that sounds like dying/choking/masturbating, and quite possibly all of the above. The girl who picks up the phone, Jess, puts up with all sorts of rude suggestions and death threats until Barb, clearly the rebel of the group, responds sarcastically and hangs up.

That was an example of Barb using her sarcasm wisely; for an instance in which Barb is a sarcastic jerk who manages to piss off all of her friends, see the part where she makes fun of Clare’s alleged inexperience. Clare, who will be going out of town with her boyfriend, goes upstairs to pack. She never finishes packing (I mean, does anyone ever except by virtue of the ride leaving in 20 minutes?) as she is attacked and suffocated by the creepy murderer.

The next day, Clare’s father becomes concerned when she fails to meet him on campus as they’d planned. He asks the house mother, Mrs. Mac, (or whatever she is…I’ve never claimed to understand how sororities work) where Clare could be. Mrs. Mac is a cat lady who likes to swear. I connect to her on a spiritual level. STILL no one realizes Clare is sitting in a rocking chair in the sorority house, dead (honestly, might not have been a rocking chair, but that’s a much more effective image, isn’t it?).

With all of this shit going on, Jess has more to deal with as she is planning to get an abortion. She tells her boyfriend, Pete, as he is practicing piano? Even when you take into account the odd timing, Pete’s reaction is disproportionately jackass-y. He asks if she ever considers anyone but herself and asks if she has any idea how important his pending audition is. The moral of the story being fuck that guy.

a woman stands in front of a piano, talking to a man with a feathered hairstyle
Shut UP, Pete.

Finally someone files a missing person’s report for Clare, Jess asks if Clare’s boyfriend has seen her (no b/c she’s dead AF), and Barb has a total meltdown over driving Clare away. I seriously think this film started “Go home, you’re drunk” as one of the girls says, “Barb, you’re drunk. Go to bed.”

a woman with a tired expression stands in a dimly lit room
I’M NOT TIRED!

So anyway…the police and members of the community form a search party for Clare, which is just such a mistake. People start dying left, right, and center.

To remind us that it’s Christmas, Jess opens the door to kids sing carols, which personally would creep me out so fucking much. In other creepy news, Pete asks her to marry him so he and Jess can raise the baby together. Ugh, no.

AND perhaps the greatest moment of this film occurs when death by glass unicorn happens. They’re dangerous.

The police begin to suspect Pete b/c he’s a fucking psycho, but did he do it? Maybe you should watch the damn movie and find out.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Because I hated Pete.

And I know it was the ‘70s, but there was quite a lot of casual misogyny and offhand remarks about rape. However, this is quite a progressive horror film, esp. as there is frank discussion of abortion in a way that doesn’t attempt to demonize it.

I was also legitimately creeped out by this film at several intervals, which is impressive as I’ve watched so much bad horror as to be virtually immune to this kind of thing.

Does Christa agree or will there be a fight to the death with glass unicorns? Find out by reading her review here!