As it turns out, this month’s theme could have easily been “Accents I Enjoy Listening To.” We’ve leapt from New Zealand to Ireland to France, and back to New Zealand’s neighbor to the west, Australia. As a bonus, my period drama loving heart gets to enjoy plenty of flouncy dresses along with all of those exclamations of “Struth!”
Ladies in Black
16-year-old Lisa begins work at Goode’s department store as she dreams of attending university, befriending the colorful characters who work alongside her.
In 1959 Sydney, the ladies who work at Goode’s department store all wear black, thus explaining our film’s title.
Lisa is the newest member of the team, working temporarily as she waits for her exam results and hopes to attend university, becoming a poet or actress. Her dad Ed is less than thrilled at this prospect, believing a university education is a waste of time.
As Lisa is helping out during he Christmas rush, the store is busy from open to close, and she starts out more or less as everyone’s errand bitch. Refugee Magda, who runs the exclusive dress shop within the store, recognizes Lisa as a clever and dedicated employee. Lisa begins helping Magda, and Magda in turn has all of the style advice to offer. Magda brings Lisa into the fold, inviting her over to enjoy exotic foods like rye bread(!) and Hungarian husband Stefan’s intellectual conversation about classic novels. As it happens, Lisa also experiences her first love in the form of a divine one-of-a-kind dress she can never possibly afford.
Meanwhile, coworker Patty is struggling to keep her marriage alive as she and her husband try for a baby. After a memorable evening with a sexy nightie, he leaves without a word for the stupidest fucking reason you will ever hear in your life.
Another of Lisa’s coworkers, Fay, is a hopeless romantic who is incredibly disillusioned with the fellas of Sydney. A sensitive soul, she cries during French films and yearns for the old world charm of a man who will kiss her on the hand and prove chivalry isn’t dead. As Lisa conspires to set up Fay with Magda’s continental friend Rudi, a Hungarian refugee, a New Year’s party seems the perfect place for things to fall into place. Nothing is as romantic as lively Hungarian folk dancing, after all.
As Fay and Rudi get to know each other, Patty’s husband returns from the ether, and Lisa does outstandingly well on her exams. Everything seems to be coming together so perfectly…but how can Lisa overcome the obstacle of her stubborn father?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a cozy fleece blanket of a film; it’s impossible not to root for the characters, who have quirks that make them seem real. I especially love the vibrancy of the small but mighty continental immigrant community here, even as their presence is a stark reminder of the persistence of xenophobia. It blows my mind that Australia, which was incredibly sparsely populated, resented the influx of WWII refugees to such a degree that it was a taboo to befriend–let alone date or marry–anyone of the community. And it wasn’t too long ago that SALAMI was considered ethnic food?!??!!
Thematically, this film couldn’t be more perfectly timed as the United States and many other countries have an opportunity to help refugees and consistently fail to do so. It’s disturbing to see the logic of 60 years ago applied to a situation that has only gotten worse as more conflicts and climate crises have left people without a home. It does make me appreciate greatly when Stefan reminds Magda not to expect too much from the Australians, who are, after all, descended from convicts.
On a minor note, I’m absolutely obsessed with Magda and her dynamic with Stefan, the ’50s aesthetic, and Fay’s dresses.
However, things do wrap up too neatly for basically every character in the film, and there’s not much conflict to speak of. Things are resolved too perfectly to make this a truly memorable film.
This week’s film gives our feelings a break for once as we are transported to an oddly surreal dream world that may or may not be real, aka high school in 1970s Australia.
A girl’s 15th birthday party goes from awkwardly cringey to bizarrely surreal when a magical music box opens to another realm.
Greta has recently started at a new school and, rather than trying to make friends, seems to be trying her best to keep a low profile. Her plan fails when she is approached by two separate groups: first, Elliot (who is adorable and relatably enthusiastic about donuts), and then the stereotypical “cool” girls. Both groups want to fold her into their embrace, but Greta seems afraid to speak up about who she’d rather be friends with (though I’d usually encourage girls to stick together…always pick the friendship that begins with donuts).
Life at home seems fairly harmonious at first, but almost immediately the cracks begin to show. Greta’s father is constantly making terrible dad jokes and trying to stop his youngest child from growing up. Her mother throws her attention on her daughters as she doesn’t seem to like her husband’s sense of humor–or anything about him as a matter of fact. Greta’s older sister Genevieve throws the delicate balance off completely by coming home late with a really smooth boyfriend who smokes and tries to give off a bit of a James Dean vibe.
After school, Greta invites Elliott over and shows him her favorite thing, a music box passed on to her from her mother. She likes to imagine it’s from a secret realm. Hmmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps this plot detail will be important in about 20 minutes.
Greta lives in fear of being the center of attention, so imagine her horror when her mother suggests throwing a big party for her birthday and inviting everyone at school. The party causes a major fight between her parents, so Greta eventually agrees to have the party to keep the peace.
When the dreaded day of the party arrives, her mother gives her a dress that is very cute but so not her style, and she’s deeply uncomfortable when others tell her she looks so beautiful and grown up.
As the party guests arrive, things begin to get slightly surreal with a pretty nice disco sequence. The party doesn’t seem to be the nightmare Greta imagined it would be. However, the cool girls arrive—two of whom are creepy twins who never say anything. Their gift for Greta is a cassette tape that plays a really mean song about her…which feels like a somewhat sociopathic move, honestly.
Humiliated, Greta retreats to her room. Her only real friend, Elliott, comforts her and also says he’d like to be more than friends. This is remarkably bad timing, which causes Greta to freak out and push him away, calling him a homo (not cool, Greta). Elliot is deeply offended that she considers this an insult in a way that I really appreciate.
To comfort herself, Greta opens up the music box, which seems to gain a life of its own and shocks her. When she wakes up, there’s a thing from the other realm there that has claimed the music box. It runs away into the woods (of course), and Greta gives chase.
Possibly not shockingly, things get really surreal from here on out. A woman who lives in the forest helps Greta navigate the woods and steer clear of the scary dog thing that’s pursuing her. It gets suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper Freudian when she encounters alternate versions of her mother and father, who are an ice queen and a sort of swamp guy, respectively. There’s also a really unsettling bit with Genevieve’s boyfriend, who has some sort of French alter-ego and comes on strong to Greta.
What does this all mean, and will Greta ever make it back to the party? Does she even want to make it back?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a very gentle coming of age story. Though it does tackle some heavier themes surrounding Greta’s home life and fear of attention, these receive only brief attention. I might complain about this if I were in a different mood, but avoiding anything too deep was a breath of fresh air with some very sweet moments and surreal scenes (admittedly with somewhat mixed results).
Elliott is one of my favorite teen characters ever now, though he is perhaps way too nice to be believed. I don’t care—I want to believe. I want Elliott to be my best friend.
The lack of depth is a bit frustrating at times—Greta quickly changes the subject when anyone tries to talk too much about the past, and the surreal scenes don’t really give us any insight into her psyche. At a certain point they do cross over into artsy film school BS.
It doesn’t help that the real and dream worlds are kept separate—it would have been nice to see them woven together better. Genevieve briefly alludes to what happened on her own 15th birthday, and as the music box is a gift from her mother, the whole experience could have been a shared experience. I would’ve LOVED it if there were more time for female relationships in this movie.
However, I enjoyed the aesthetic and this was just whimsical and sweet enough for me to enjoy.
Would Christa share a donut with this one or leave it to get lost in the woods? Find out by reading her review here!
It’s a free for all month in Blog Collab Land, which of course means at least one B monster movie. This one is about a supercroc terrorizing tourists in Australia, and further evidence that going on a cruise is the actual worst idea.
The Uncondensed Version:
Our lead, Pete, rolls into a small Australian town wearing aviators. Pete, that is. Not the small Australian town.
As it turns out, he is a journalist covering a story about something or other. I forget because it’s never spoken of again.
Boat cruises in Australia? Because that’s his first stop. On the cruise, we meet a host of different characters whose names you will likely forget immediately: Single Guy with a ‘70s ‘Stache, Woman with Cancer, Family of Woman with Cancer, Camera Guy, and (slightly later) Douchebros in a Speedboat. The only name I remember is Kate, the blonde captain of the boat who is obv going to be a love interest.
The tour is relatively uneventful at first, though of course the extended description of crocodile behavior will definitely be relevant. Things start to go downhill when a member of the group sees a distress flare, and Capt. Kate must check it out. (Even though a significant number of the tourists are pissed about possibly missing a bus. Humans are the worst.)
This, of course, leads to the first encounter with the supercroc/disappointingly no one actually gives it a cheesy name a la Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark. Though no one gets chomped by the croc, the boat is destroyed, and everyone is stranded on a very small island. To make matters worse, the tide will rise in a few hours, submerging the island completely.
The whole situation very quickly becomes a bit of an And Then There Were None sort of suspense story, with everyone turning on each other and blaming the others for their predicament. Or maybe just a Real Housewives episode (any and all of them).
The douchebros show up again to be douchebros and, I must say I got quite a lot of joy when one of them gets chomped (spoiler, but you knew it was going to happen). At this point, I realized the other douchebro is Sam Worthington, who actually somewhat makes up for acting like a dickhead by proposing a risky plan to get across the river. He will swim across with a rope that will be attached on both sides of the river to a tall tree so everyone else can sort of shimmy across the river without swimming/alerting the supercroc.
This would all go fabulously well but remember how humans are the worst? The first woman to try the crossing has a bit of a meltdown and just stops midway over the water. To drive home the point of how stupid and frustratingly short-sighted humans are, the husband of Woman with Cancer (I know, I know, but that is honestly her only defining characteristic in this film) tries to cross with his daughter (a really young Mia Wasikowska!). This is just the worst idea. The worst, and it should surprise no one that all 3 fall in, yet only 2 make it back to the island.
It’s kind of lame that Kate has a bit of a freak out at this point even though I’m positive I would do the same thing. Just irritating that all of the, ahem, “brilliant” plans are devised by men in this film. It’s Pete’s turn to come up with a plan, which involves creating a diversion and temporary trap for the supercroc while everyone swims to shore.
In the aftermath of the plan, Pete is separated from the rest of the group and trapped in a cave with the supercroc. Does this mean a big showdown with the supercroc??? Yes, it does.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
There are some gorgeous landscape shots because this is set in Australia, which is a surprise bonus.
However, the characters are so, so bland, which makes it difficult to care when they start getting chomped by the supercroc.
The last half hour of this focuses on Pete alone, and sets up some incredibly suspenseful last few scenes. But the rest of the characters just drop off the radar completely, making for some disjointed storytelling and almost creating a completely separate film for the final act. It’s dissatisfying for so many of the characters to just vanish (even though I didn’t actually care about them as human beings).
And ok, I don’t want to get too spoiler-y, but riddle me this. If you were a supercroc, would you kill and/or severely maim your victims and then drag them back to your lair, or would you JUST FUCKING EAT THEM? Coincidentally, this is also a question you can ask yourself to determine if you are a serial killer.
Time for Remembrance of Films Past, my oft neglected series of posts started with the best of intentions.
Sabrina Down Under
Where to Watch:
Youtube (apologies in advance for the terrible screencaps)
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, visits Australia to fulfill her dreams of becoming a marine biologist. There are mermaids.
The Uncondensed Version:
Hopefully if you’re reading this review you’re okay with a little (a lot) of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Remember how there were a couple of TV movies that seemed to have approximately zero connection to the series except for the fact that Sabrina and Salem appeared in them? YOU’RE ABOUT TO. (Don’t worry, I WILL be reviewing the other one, Sabrina Goes to Rome, as soon as possible.)
At the beginning of this particular movie, we learn of Sabrina’s hitherto unexplored passion for marine biology. (Right? I seriously don’t remember her mentioning marine biology even once in the series.) Apparently a book written by one Dr. Martin (don’t worry—not Doc Martin) inspired her to visit the Great Barrier Reef. I WONDER IF SHE WILL ENCOUNTER THIS DR. MARTIN DURING HER VISIT. HMMMMMMM.
As Sabrina rides over the ocean in a helicopter to wherever the fuck she’s going in Australia, she sees someone in the water. I wonder if it’s a merman (spoiler alert: it is).
Meanwhile, Salem has planned his own getaway, booking his favorite suite at a hotel where it is apparently normal to get a room for your cat and arrange for him to have massages and drink cocktails. “Your cat’s every whim is our desire” is literally a line uttered in this movie.
Meanwhile, Sabrina is meeting up with her English cousin, Gwen, who is something of a fuck-witch (get it? Get it?). Gwen’s goal is basically to watch hot Australians sunbathing, a hobby Sabrina greatly approves of but is not very good at. One of her astute observations is “He has dimples as big as coconuts.” Uh…are we talking about the same thing here, Sabrina?
This is interrupted when Sabrina realizes the disgruntled Aussie yelling at everyone for trespassing is none other than Dr. Martin. Sabrina tells him she’s a huge fan; he basically just continues to mutter to himself. However, he does invite her to join his diving expedition the next day. (It’s okay—for once, that is not a euphemism.)
The next day, Sabrina and Gwen show up in what has to be Barbie brand diving gear. They go diving to this really bad cover of “Octopus’s Garden.” Like the ’90s pop version of “Octopus’s Garden.” I would recommend watching this scene on mute. Sabrina turns herself into a fish for no apparent reason whatsoever EXCEPT to conveniently assist her in discovering a supposedly extinct species of fish. Gwen swims back to the surface and meets BARNABY (that’s seriously his name) the merman who appears to be sick or injured; when she tries to introduce him to Sabrina, he mysteriously vanishes.
Meanwhile, Salem discovers there’s a white Persian staying at the hotel, who is a witch serving out a sentence as a cat. There are SLOW MO shots of the Persian shaking her head and licking her lips. (This movie’s target audience HAD to be cat ladies.) Though Salem expects they will bond over being trapped in cat bodies, the Persian flat out rejects him. He tries to win her over by sending himself to her on a tray. Yeah, there’s an uncomfortable amount of cat sexualization in this movie.
Returning to the Sabrina storyline, Dr. Martin informs her they will have to verify the rare fish sighting and is generally a dick since he’s miffed he wasn’t the one to discover the fish. There’s also some dramatic foreshadowing about toxic waste being dumped in the ocean and killing the reef.
Then Sabrina and Gwen find what they initially believe is a dolphin but is, in fact, Barnaby the MERMAN lying on the beach. OF COURSE they try to give him mouth to mouth as Barnaby’s sister, Fin, and a dolphin watch, dismayed that the humans have Barnaby. Sabrina teleports them away from the beach, and they drag Barnaby to her room run a bath for him (I promise you this movie is not a porno).
When he wakes up, the merman has an American accent; clearly, the moral of the story is don’t date Australians. (The human/merperson barrier is easier to breach than the Australian/American.) In order to better fit in while he recovers, Sabrina gives him legs as well as blue camo pants and a beanie (I think Sabrina’s cruel streak runs deeper than anyone ever knew during the series). There’s a montage of Barnaby using his legs to a really bad cover of “Livin’ la Vida Loca” including riding a Sea Doo, going shopping, and eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
In the meantime, someone shows Dr. Martin pictures of the merman, which he vows to find and capture FOR SCIENCE. When Sabrina brings ointment to a sick Fin, Dr. Martin places a tracking device in her backpack so he can finally have a merman of his own.
On the comic relief front, Gwen accidentally turns Salem into a catfish, who falls into the ocean. The Persian is supposed to meet Salem for dinner (and nobody at the restaurant questions this), and it turns out Salem is in fact a fish in the restaurant’s tank. By the time Sabrina transforms him back into a cat, the Persian has already left. To make it up to her, Salem takes the Persian to see the sunrise and conveniently snaps pictures of illegal toxic waste dumping in the ocean.
Returning to the unfolding mermaid tragedy, on the day Sabrina’s spell on Barnaby will wear off, Dr. Martin prepares to find the mermaid colony. To stop him, Sabrina decides to create THE PERFECT STORM; this can only end in tears. Because she’s standing in the water when Sabrina accidentally hits herself with lightning and knocks herself unconscious. Apparently this renders her temporarily unable to cast any more spells.
This entire sequence is all in vain as Barnaby crashes a car just after turning back into a merman right in front of Dr. Martin, who imprisons him in the hotel pool (that has got to be against hotel policy). Luckily, Gwen’s boyfriend, who does a really bad mermaid drag act, distracts everyone while Sabrina and Gwen free him. Unfortunately, Dr. Martin and his gang of scientists put out nets to catch Fin and Barnaby. Sabrina manages to get aboard with the help of Fin’s dolphin friend (seriously). After Dr. Martin catches the merpeople, Sabrina magically finds the supposedly extinct fish and tries to convince everyone it’s more impressive than the discovery of merpeople. She starts cutting the net; I want a movie about Sabrina becoming a member of PETA and throwing blood on people wearing fur. Is that weird? She then makes a point about who is REALLY the poacher and demands Dr. Martin let the merpeople go (LET MY MERPEOPLE GO).
After this sequence of events, Dr. Martin’s dedication to the profession is renewed; he proceeds to recite the Endangered Species Act. The Persian transforms back into a woman since her sentence is over and breaks up with Salem (as a side note, witches/warlocks really need to work on a better crime deterrent because spending 1,000 years as a talking housecat does not sound like punishment at all to me). The identified ship that has been illegally polluting is stopped, and the reef is saved. Sabrina and Gwen go scuba diving with the merpeople, wooooooooo.
The biggest disappointment of this movie is that Sabrina’s quirky aunts don’t appear at all. They were a vital part of the show, and the dynamic is entirely ruined by their absence.
I am also both delighted and dismayed that there was no Sabrina/Barnaby romance. In my memory there was, which is rather upsetting because of Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey and also because the merman’s name is BARNABY. (I really apologize to any and all members of the general population named Barnaby, but to me it sounds like the name of a sickly child in a 19th-century novel.)
On the bright side, there’s A LOT of very dramatically urgent didgeridoo music in the score (if made-for-TV movies can be said to have scores). I still think this is a reasonably entertaining movie, though perhaps not exactly the stuff that dreams are made of.
3/5 Pink Panther heads
It hurts to give this movie a mere 3, but, my love of Sabrina aside, this is a fairly nonsensical film. If you never watched Sabrina, you will probably only enjoy this movie if you’re really into didgeridoo solos, cats, and/or mermaids. Mercats?
Sorry my longest review ever focuses on a made-for-TV movie about Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. It’s unforgivable, truly.