March Madness continues with a throwback to the ’80s–chunky earrings, high-waisted jeans, and mink coats included.
Roxanne Shante, a teen in 1980s Queens, paves the way for women in hip-hop as an overnight rap sensation.
Initially facing off in rap battles to earn money for her family, Shante is unbeatable by the age of 9. As she grows into her teens, she continues to compete to support her young sisters and struggling single mom, Peggy. At least Shante has her bff, Ranita, who is essentially her DJ and hype (wo)man.
Things go from bad to worse when Peggy’s boyfriend runs off with the family’s savings. Peggy, who has always been hard on Shante, leans on alcohol and bitterness to carry her through. Shante rarely shows up for school as her focus is on keeping the family afloat. According to her mom, no school = no home, and Shante must find another place to live before too long.
It’s not long before Shante returns, attempting to make money and keep up with chores. As she is washing laundry, a neighbor asks her to do a quick recording in his studio. They do a single take, and history is made–seemingly overnight, Shante is a rap star.
As Shante’s success takes off, she enjoys the ride but makes almost no money from her endeavors. She happily takes gifts from fans, but has a falling out with her DJ over it. During this time, Shante’s long-term relationship with the waaaaaaaaaay older Cross begins to unravel as he becomes increasingly abusive.
Will Shante rise above these challenges and find success, peace, or all of the above?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
Eh, this was a bit of non-story in terms of plot. Shante’s story is worth telling, but the way it’s told here could be more compelling. Chanté Adams, Nia Long, and Mahershala Ali all stand out in their roles, though I really hated what a sleaze Cross was. It’s hard to watch Cross treat Shante so badly for so much of this film. We don’t ever really get inside of Shante’s head–perhaps as a survival technique, she remains quite aloof.
That being said, I do love the relationship between Shante and her bff, as well as a very brief scene between Shante and her “rival” Sparky D. I think I could’ve gotten behind this more with a focus on those strong female bonds, but instead we see Shante’s dysfunctional relationships dominate the story.
As a side note, this is also somewhat light on actual rap scenes for a film about a rapper.
It’s October, our favorite month on the blog! Besides all of the other months. October is always like coming full circle to our first collaborative posts on Ginger Snaps. Never fear–there will be plenty of questionable special effects and metaphors for puberty later this month. First, we’re kicking things off with a more sinister horror that dials up the suspense.
Under the Shadow
A woman in 1980s Tehran suspects the Iran-Iraq War isn’t the only thing to fear when creepy things start happening in her apartment.
After failing to gain re-acceptance into med school, Shideh finds it difficult to contain her resentment of her family–husband Iraj and daughter Dorsa. Because of her politics during the 1979 Revolution, Shideh is essentially blacklisted from the university. Most discouraging of all is her mother’s recent death, which has given Shideh the final push to complete her studies and achieve their shared dream.
Unfortunately, it’s too late for Shideh to become a doctor, which her doctor husband is pretty ok with TBH. The tension between the two is always simmering below the surface and boils over pretty frequently. Sometimes Shideh finds herself snapping at her daughter too as she feels she was too quick to start a family.
All of this is happening in the ongoing Iran-Iraq War, which draws closer to Tehran every day. It won’t be long before Iraj must serve his country at the heart of the fighting, leaving Shideh and Dorsa to worry about the threat of missiles and maybe even spirits haunting the apartment building.
Dorsa insists she can see and hear things in the apartment that she suspects are djinn. Fun fact: a djinn is apparently a lot different from what I thought it was. In this film, the djinn is sort of a ghost or breeze that floats in. Horrifyingly, Dorsa seems to be getting these stories from the creepy neighbor kid…who also happens to be mute. Me. Out of there. Immediately.
If the supernatural elements weren’t stressful enough, the anxiety meter gets cranked up when missiles target Tehran, even striking the apartment building itself. Shideh tries to save a neighbor who has a heart attack in response, but bitterly reflects she’s not really a doctor.
After the missile scare, many of the neighbors leave. Shideh, however, refuses to leave–partly because the last thing she wants to do is rely on her in-laws. This woman is made of sterner stuff than I because she experiences something trying to choke her in the night, the destruction of her beloved Jane Fonda workout tape, strange sounds, and the disappearance of Dorsa’s doll. The last part is especially troubling as one of the neighbors (helpfully) tells Shideh she’s screwed if the djinn possesses something of hers.
Meanwhile, the air raid sirens have been sounding more and more frequently, prompting Shideh’s decision to finally leave Tehran with Dorsa. First, they must navigate an accusation of indecency when Shideh flees during an air raid without wearing a hijab. For fuck’s sake, men.
Added complication: Shideh must find the doll before she and Dorsa can leave. It doesn’t help that Dorsa keeps saying heart-stopping things about a lady who has the doll and says she can take care of her.
Which will Shideh and Dorsa encounter first: the doll, the missiles, or the djinn?
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I loved this one–so damn creepy and suspenseful. Though it’s a fairly short film, my heart was pounding through its entire run time. Having both the threat of war and supernatural phenomena was effective in creating tension that had me genuinely concerned about our two main characters.
Speaking of our main characters, I enjoyed the realistic relationship between mother and daughter. Shideh got frustrated with her daughter regularly and frequently seemed to fail to be patient or sympathetic. I never had the sense that their relationship was easy (Shideh was, after all, raising a daughter by herself in the midst of war, broken dreams, and angry spirits), but it felt strong throughout and grounded the film.
Word of warning–if you have the option to watch the dubbed version, don’t do it. Netflix defaulted to some of the worst English dubbed dialogue, and I switched over to subtitled Farsi almost immediately. It’s much more convincing.
Would Christa tape this one back together like a broken doll or kill it with fire? Find out by reading her review here!
Feminist February is going out with a bang. We’re crossing off classics from our movie bucket lists, unintentionally synchronizing our film choices when we’re not even trying, and posting on 2 films for the price of 1.
Paris Is Burning
Where to Watch:
The Uncondensed Version:
This is a classic documentary now, filmed 30ish years ago and giving a mainstream audience the inside story of drag balls in NYC. Classically for drag queens to dress up in a Vegas showgirl style complete with feathers and sequins, ‘80s balls expanded to many categories giving attendees the chance to strut their stuff in military uniform, business suits, school girls, jockeys, realness…there’s virtually no limit to the number of possibilities.
Our first introduction is through Pepper LaBeija, who considers herself reigning queen of Harlem balls (even though not everyone would agree with this characterization). In her own words, “I never felt comfortable being poor, and being middle class doesn’t suit me.” Balls give participants a taste of glamour and fame they otherwise wouldn’t get. One participant calls it a high that won’t hurt you.
Another theme that weaves throughout this film is the family found in ball culture—and the houses that pop up and feud with each other. Many of those interviewed share their stories of being loved but not accepted—or completely rejected by their families. Each house has a mother who leads the family and takes care of them, while unapologetically calling bullshit.
Feuds between houses means a LOT of shade gets thrown, and really aggressive voguing takes place. Willi Ninja is an absolute master of voguing—a dance-off involving moves and poses inspired by fashion magazines like Vogue. His take-down of his opponent revolves around pantomiming applying his own makeup, holding up an invisible mirror, and pretending to apply makeup to his competitor. If you watch nothing else of this, watch that clip. Later, Willi ends doing really well for himself, popping up in music videos, modelling, and doing choreography left and right.
Venus Xtravaganza is a transwoman who participates in balls and desperately wants to earn enough money for sex reassignment surgery. She works as an escort and seems to enjoy the sweetness of some of her clients. Devastatingly, however, we find out Venus was later strangled and found 4 days after the fact. I couldn’t help thinking immediately of the number of transwomen who have already been murdered this year and wonder how much has really changed.
Dorian Corey is one of my favorites—an older and somewhat more cynical drag queen who wanted to be Lena Horne when she was younger. She wraps things up for us with her aloof realism. She had so many dreams when she was younger, but eventually aimed lower. You may want to make a mark on the world when you’re young—but you’ve left a mark if you just get through it. (This is especially badass if you Google Dorian Corey and the MUMMIFIED body found in her apartment after her death. WHERE is the Lifetime movie version of this.)
5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I wasn’t going to go with 5 b/c I feel that’s almost the equivalent of saying “Casablanca is a really good movie,” but there’s no other option. This is a fascinating but balanced glimpse into a culture discriminated against by race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Even as balls bring them together, they feud and toss insults at each other. Those interviewed are deeply sympathetic but don’t shy away from their flaws and disagreements. Some want sex reassignment surgery, while others speculate those who opt for it may regret it later.
There are lines throughout that are incredibly poignant, especially in light of many featured in this film dying quite young. The subjects of this film are extremely socially aware as well, since most are black, LGBT, and economically disadvantaged in a system that wants to keep it that way.
I don’t think I can review this without at least mentioning that several of the participants felt they were owed money by the filmmakers.
BONUS ROUND: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Since we both watched (and loved) this film over the weekend too, a few words about it.
There’s something slightly Coen brothers-esque about this one–it’s very funny with hints of violence beneath the surface that suddenly bubble up and spiral out of control. So many bodies pile up for a movie about a depressed woman finding her grandmother’s stolen silverware with the help of a neighbor who overestimates his martial arts skills (Elijah Wood [with a beard and rat tail?!?!?!]). Though, of course, that’s not what this movie is really about at all.
This film captures how confusing and deeply disturbing it is to be alive, especially if you are seeking either reason or compassion from your fellow humans. Ruth doesn’t realize how quickly her life can become a (wo)man vs man vs nature struggle, and how easily the lizard part of our brains can take over. I related so hard to Ruth’s feelings of despair about humanity and the world we live in, and her determination to find meaning in the face of really horrible existential questions.
That being said, it really is very fun to watch and has some great comedic moments. Melanie Lynskey is perfect in this role–she looks and acts the way a normal human woman would rather than suddenly absorbing assassin skills while wearing 6 inch stilettos (though I’d watch that movie too). IOU a longer review, IDFAHITWA.
Feminist February is off with a bang! Or quite possibly a whimper. It’s my pick this time around, chosen primarily because this film was written, directed, and produced by women. Plus there’s that T.S. Eliot reference in the title.
I don’t know how to react to this one, but Christa might. She usually does.
I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing
Where to Watch:
A perpetual temp with a photography hobby takes a job working for a curator with somewhat bizarre results.
The Uncondensed Version:
Polly, aforementioned temp, is way ahead of her time as evidenced by the format of this film: 1980s video diary. She was a vlogger (sorry, Christa) before vlogging was a thing.
It’s pretty clear that Polly doesn’t quite have her shit together, but her house is a hipster’s dream complete with darkroom to develop the photos she takes around the city. Oddly, the darkroom seems to function as living quarters for plants…so I’m not sure those plants will be alive for long unless they need little to no sunlight. Too nitpicky? Too nitpicky.
So Polly lives alone with a cat and a goldfish that lives in a huge jar. Again, surprised that it’s alive. Polly considers herself a spinster at the age of 31??!?!? I almost spat out my tea at that.
To return to the (admittedly somewhat thin) plot, Polly takes a temp job as a secretary for a French gallery owner/curator, Gabrielle.
Polly seems to have a pretty big crush on Gabrielle, who is gorgeous and sophisticated in an Ingrid Bergman-esque kind of way. Okay, I’m sorry, all women with vaguely European accents—I have probably compared you to Ingrid Bergman at some point.
Anyway, Polly seems hopeful about their relationship and, confusingly, they do go to a Japanese restaurant for squid. Is it a date? Is it dinner? Is it all of the above? Unclear, but when Gabrielle offers Polly a permanent position, she eagerly agrees.
Everything seems to be going quite swimmingly until Gabrielle’s ex, Mary, rolls into town. Gabrielle and Mary become an item again, which makes Polly super jealous and have very odd dreams/fantasies. Though Polly is invited over to hang out with the two, she becomes something of a third wheel as she’s not sophisticated/hipster/chic enough to stay on their level.
And, as it turns out, Gabrielle gets into heavy existential shit when she’s drunk. I mean, she is French. Gabrielle feels like she has no talent and is wasting her life, unable to create anything of beauty or significance. In an effort to make Gabrielle feel better, Polly asks to see her work. It’s so beautiful that Polly decides to hang it in the gallery. Plus it prob wouldn’t hurt her chances with Gabrielle. But does it help? As it turns out, the work isn’t really Gabrielle’s. And, even worse, Gabrielle insults Polly’s photos. Not cool, Gabrielle.
Let’s just say this film goes super dark and bizarre when Polly discovers the truth about who created the paintings. Seriously, it’s pretty fucked up.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
That’s the last time I pick a film based on T.S. Eliot references in the title. I was left wondering what exactly the point was, and I feel the ending came out of nowhere. Polly is pretty adorable, though. She’s kind of like a neurotic Molly Ringwald.