Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tales from the Hood 2, or: They Call Me Mr. Simms

Sometimes we dive right into the middle of a horror franchise with ease; we’ve reviewed a later installment of the Child’s Play franchise without religiously watching all prior volumes in order, and a number of Hellraiser sequels. A few have made us eager to watch more; several have made us consider how much more of our lives we’d like to lose to not-even-B-horror (though only briefly).

I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine which of these types of horror sequels our latest pick falls in; however, I will remind you that there’s perhaps a reason the franchise is currently only on film two of two. EDIT: as of October 2020, there are THREE films in the Tales from the Hood series.

The Film:

Tales from the Hood 2

The Premise:

A storyteller recounts four tales of terror for a police robot learning to identify criminal behavior.

The Ramble:

At Dumass Beach Securities, the CEO is the exact kind of sleaze you would imagine with a predictive policing robot prototype designed to arrest criminals before they can act. (Coincidentally, your level of amusement related to the name Dumass Beach sounding much like “dumbass bitch” can determine with a reasonable degree of accuracy to what extent you will enjoy this feature. In my case, this was not a whole lot.)

Little does Dumass Beach know that his visitor, one Mr. Simms, is a storyteller with an agenda. Hired to tell stories that will help the Robo Patriot learn to identify who may one day commit a crime, Mr. Simms clearly spots the ultimate goal is to racially profile people.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Simms uses this as an opportunity to tell stories that are more subversive than Dumass Beach realizes. Which, to be honest, isn’t particularly difficult as the thinly veiled stand-in for Trump is about as likely to pick up on subtext as…well, the real thing. Thus, four stories follow with extremely self-evident messages about race and racism.

In a hallway, a blonde white woman smiles ahead, while a Black woman next to her looks on with discomfort.

In “Good Golly” (whose reasonably clever title I will acknowledge), a group of college friends check out the eerie Museum of Negrosity, a collection of antiquated–and extremely racist–memorabilia. Besties Audrey and Zoe insist that the stereotypes on display here are a thing of the past, and their friendship (between a Black and white girl) is proof that racism is dead and gone. Despite some very college lecture-y explanations of why this is untrue from the museum curator, the girls learn absolutely nothing. Audrey holds fast to her conviction that the golliwog doll is a comforting symbol from her childhood and decides she absolutely must have it…even if it means stealing this racist figure.

Since this is a horror/comedy, be confident that this plan goes horribly awry in a way that manages to be simultaneously creative and boring.

Two Black men stare each other down while a third figure looms in the background, fists together.

“The Medium” is the requisite gangster story, featuring 3 gang members trying to track down $5 million from ex-pimp Cliff. Now a successful businessman, Cliff refuses to reveal the location of the money, which is intended for a foundation. This revelation earns such cartoonish dialogue as “Fuck the United Negro College Fund, and fuck the kids.” Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the gang loses patience, and Cliff ends up dead.

Since Cliff was the only person who knew the location of the money, the gang members are SOL…until one of them has the brilliant idea of using a psychic to connect with Cliff. What could possibly go wrong there?

Two women in lingerie hiss, exposing vampiric fangs.

Our next story, “Date Night,” purports to underscore the importance of bros before hos. Two friends, Ty and Kahad, look forward to meeting two women from Tinder, ostensibly for a date. The two men are actually predators, claiming to be an agent and casting director in a disgusting bro-y way. In fact, the two do have plans to see their dates on film…by drugging them and recording their rape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two women are not entirely who they appear to be, and the evening may take a nasty turn for Ty and Kahad.

A Black man and his mother look skeptically in the same direction that a white woman is staring.

Finally, “The Sacrifice” is…A LOT. The story alternates between the night of Emmett Till’s murder and the present day. In our contemporary story, pregnant Emily experiences nightmares about Till’s murder, becoming increasingly convinced that he has decided to live…and her baby must die. The baby’s father, Henry is a Black man and local politician who is a lifelong Republican. Ignoring his mother and wife alike, Henry disbelieves the signs that Emmett has a message for him from beyond. However, when it becomes clear that the life of Henry’s child is at stake, he has no choice but to listen to the spirit.

All of these stories are tied together by the Robo Patriot story, “Robo Hell.” What not-so-secret message might Mr. Simms reveal at last to Mr. Dumass Beach?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know where to begin. First, let’s be clear that those 2 PPHs earned are purely for Keith David’s commitment to increasingly menacing grins and willingness to pull out all of the stops in his last few scenes.

However, the rest of the film is an absolute mess. Pulling off neither horror nor comedy particularly well, the stories mostly just make me cringe. Women are incredibly flat characters here, including the ONE Latina character, who is also depicted very stereotypically. The themes are about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and the dialogue is truly terrible. Even the Emmett Till story, which is the most genuine of the bunch, comes across as a clumsy after-school special.

If the Tales from the Hood franchise fails to fully launch, this film is the reason.

Would my blog wife channel this one’s spirit or condemn it to Robo Hell for eternity? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight, or: Un-Brayk My Heart

It’s the best month on the blog, even if Horror Month is somewhat less of an escape while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic (being especially mishandled by the leadership in my country, the good ol’ “freedom isn’t free” USA). As this week’s film shows, things could always be worse…though I’ve seen demons with more compassion than some of our current world leaders.

The Film:

Tales from the Crypt presents:  Demon Knight

The Premise:

The fight for the key that holds humanity’s only hope for survival comes to smalltown New Mexico when a loner arrives, pursued by demon.

The Ramble:

Rather unnecessarily, the Crypt Keeper is a Hollywood director, which isn’t so much commentary as an opportunity for horrendously cringey puns on actors’ names. I suppose the Crypt Keeper is a necessary part of the film since this is a tale from the crypt…but I could have happily skipped these scenes without missing any of the film’s essence.

A skeleton wearing a director's costume faces the camera from a film set.

Once we dive into the main story line, we’re dropped into the middle of a dramatic high-speed chase. Protagonist Brayker is SOL when he runs out of fuel completely and cowboy-hatted Billy Zane still has his foot firmly on the gas pedal. As an audience with zero context for what’s happening, we’re initially supposed to be conflicted about who the good guy really is here…but we’ve all seen Titanic, right? Billy Zane’s character is known later only as the Collector–ooooh, ominous!

A man in a cowboy hat raises his hands as if in surrender, the police officer behind him looking skeptical.

After the two cars collide in a fiery explosion, there can be no survivors. Thus conclude the local police officers investigating the accident. However, to dramatically prove them wrong (and to keep the film going for another 80 minutes), an unscathed Collector emerges from the wreckage, demanding to know where the man he was following has gone.

As it turns out, Brayker has left a fairly easy trail to follow after attempting to steal a car parked outside of a café. At the suggestion of a man everyone in town calls Uncle Willy, Brayker winds up staying the night at a motel called the Mission, formerly a church.

A man wearing a leather jacket sits at a dingy table, an empty bowl in front of him.

Especially for a horror film, there are a LOT of characters whose names we’re supposed to remember from here on out (in addition to Uncle Willy). First is Irene, the owner of the motel, and formerly incarcerated employee Jeryline who is decidedly not here for your nonsense. Then we’ve got Cordelia, a sex worker who operates out of the motel, and Wally, a postal worker who is in love with her. Unfortunately, Cordelia has terrible taste in men, opting for the appropriately named Roach.

Before the cops and the Collector have to do too much sleuthing, a suspicious Irene tips them off on Brayker’s location. When they apprehend Brayker, the Collector reveals his interest in finding the man: he’s searching for an ancient key that seems to contain a precious liquid (spoiler alert: it’s the literal blood of Jesus).

However, unlike most horror movie cops, these two are at least somewhat suspicious of an actual demon, demanding that the Collector accompany them to the station rather than handing over the key. This is really not part of the plan, and one of the cops soon meets a grisly end as the Collector escapes. Condemning the property, the Collector brings forth demons to destroy those remaining in the motel.

After some setbacks, Brayker manages to keep demons out of the motel using the blood of Christ at all entrances to the building. However, this strategy will only work if no one enters or leaves the motel for the rest of the night. Complicating things is the demons’ ability to possess any of the humans with no one the wiser…until it’s too late.

A woman looks in horror at something offscreen as a man stands behind her, smiling.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Collector spends most of the film sending demons after the crew in the motel and trying to convince the humans to make a deal with him. He really wants that key as it is the last of 7–the other 6 of which are already in the demons’ possession. Of course, the key/Jesus blood is the only way for humanity to hold off the forces of darkness.

As the night goes on, both the human and demonic body count rises, with Jeryline emerging as an unlikely heroine. But does she have what it takes to preserve the key, save humanity, and keep the demonic forces at bay?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

You know, I didn’t hate this. The humor doesn’t always land well, and the explanation for the importance of the relic feels extremely underdeveloped. But overall, I stayed reasonably entertained through most of the film.

Demons pursuing an ancient object in a creepy old house gave me quite a Hellraiser vibe, and I’m not mad about that. However, this film doesn’t particularly pull off the menacing elements that Pinhead and the Cenobites bring to Hellraiser, opting instead for comedy. There were some times when I did find Billy Zane’s flippant approach to demonhood entertaining; it does seem on brand that a demon would have a good time watching humans inevitably fail. With the shaved head and dark eyes, Billy Zane gives off High Priest Imhotep vibes and seems to have made the entire film an audition tape for his role in Titanic.

Actually, the casting is well done in a way that doesn’t always happen with horror. William Sadler comes across like a budget Patrick Swayze, and it works for me. Perhaps the biggest badasses of the film are CCH Pounder as Irene and Jade Pinkett as Jeryline. My complaint here is that Jada in particular isn’t given much to do until the end, reflecting some of the film’s issues with major reveals. There are quite a few plot elements that are thrown in as dramatic twists, Jeryline’s role as the heir to Brayker’s work included (does that count as a spoiler?). This doesn’t always work particularly well; with Jeryline, it undercuts her importance by giving her less screen time. It’s a damn shame, especially because the scenes towards the end of the film are some of the most suspenseful (and badass).

New horror classic? Maybe not. But it’s just enough fun (and gore) that I have no regrets that we’ve included it on this year’s Horror Month watchlist.

Would my blog wife join this one in hell or banish it with a barrier of Jesus’s blood? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blacula, or: There He Is Again

Even if many typical Halloween activities have been cancelled or deemed too risky for me personally, it’s October, damnit! The spirit of Halloween lives in our hearts, and that’s at least reflected on the Blog Collab if not in many other parts of my life right now. Since we’ve already crossed off the Snoop Dogg/Pam Grier vehicle Bones, what better way to kick off Horror Month than with another pioneer in Black cinema…Blacula?

The Film:


The Premise:

After becoming a vampire nearly 200 years earlier, Prince Mamuwalde awakens in 1970s Los Angeles as Blacula.

The Ramble:

The year is 1780 in Transylvania, and Dracula is meeting with two representatives of the fictional Abani nation: Prince Mamuwalde and his wife, Luva. The two seek Dracula’s support in ending the slave trade, a cause so unsympathetic to the vampire of legend that he laughs off the idea. In fact, Dracula decides that having two visitors to his estate presents an opportunity to feed. Transforming Mamuwalde into a vampire, Dracula seals him in a coffin to thirst for blood for eternity as…Blacula.

A grey-haired white man in period costume looks smug as a Black man and woman stand next to him, looking indignant.

Nearly two centuries later, cringey gay stereotypes Bobby and Billy are interior decorators hoping to cash in on the campiness of antiques from Dracula’s estate. Shrugging off the warnings of the agent, the two men purchase items including a coffin, which happens to contain Mamuwalde’s undead corpse. After the coffin is sent to Los Angeles, Bobby and Billy unknowingly unleash the vampire on the city, becoming his first victims.

A man with an afro smiles, looking at a table of antiques. Two other men stand next to him.

At Bobby’s funeral, Mamuwalde spots a mourner who looks just like his wife, Luva. Impossible, as Luva was locked in the creepy cellar in Dracula’s castle to die…or is it? The modern-day Luva is named Tina, a woman whose sister is dating an LAPD pathologist. Mamuwalde makes a bad first impression when he materializes in a dark alley, sending Tina running for her life. Conveniently, Mamuwalde is able to reconnect by returning Tina’s purse to her and explaining the misunderstanding. Though she is unnerved by Mamuwalde, Tina also feels drawn to him.

In a dark room, a man in a cape smiles at a woman with a short afro.

Meanwhile, the bodies pile up as Mamuwalde simultaneously feeds and covers his tracks. Dr. Thomas, the boyfriend of Tina’s sister Michelle, begins to suspect the mysterious deaths may share something similar. Researching all manner of ghoulish subjects, Thomas and Michelle investigate one of the victim’s graves after the LAPD refuses to exhume the body. There, they discover Billy’s undead corpse, which springs awake to attack them.

After an incredibly unsubtle line of questioning (“Are you into the occult?”), Mamuwalde realizes that Thomas is onto him. Just as it seems Mamuwalde has convinced Tina to join him for eternity, the LAPD interrupt, and the vampire is forced to flee. Upon following one of the vampires, Thomas and others find a den of the creatures, narrowly escaping.

With Mamuwalde on the loose, Thomas and Michelle pressure Tina to help them find and destroy him. Will Tina keep her promise or give in to the allure of Mamuwalde and the vampire lifestyle?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

For such an iconic film, I frequently found myself struggling to stay awake…and not because of any vampiric hypnosis. This is basically a straightforward adaptation of Dracula set in the ’70s with a mostly Black cast. I was hoping for a stronger social commentary, but Mamuwalde doesn’t seem to have any secret social justice agenda, nor do any of the other characters. Even the name Blacula becomes problematic as it’s Dracula’s name for Mamuwalde rather than his own. Is it strange that I wanted a period piece set in the 19th century where Mamuwalde seeks vengeance against Dracula???

The character of Mamuwalde himself is pretty boring, though I suppose at the time it may have been refreshing to see a Black character who wasn’t a complete stereotype. He does, after all, walk around LA proudly wearing a cape. However, Dr. Thomas really takes over as a protagonist, and he’s not particularly interesting either. There’s a reason so many films about vampires focus on Dracula rather than Van Helsing–it’s so much more fun to be the creature than the force attempting to stop it.

Let’s not even get started with the characters of Tina and Michelle, who are glamorous but given virtually nothing to do. Neither has much agency, as Tina is mystically drawn to Mamuwalde, while Michelle revolves around Thomas. There isn’t really a compelling reason for Tina to feel a connection to Mamuwalde except because, you know, vampires. Either way, she doesn’t really get to make her own choices in the story and deserves better than the fate she meets.

And it’s impossible for me not to address the representation of gay characters Bobby and Billy in this film, which ages very poorly. I know most sitcoms today don’t do much better, but it’s still jarring to see these characters played purely for laughs.

Overall, the highlight is the unnecessary number of funk music interludes, which makes me suspect this would have been better as a musical.

Would my blog wife fly into the night with this one or deliver it a stake to the heart? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Cuties, or: Dance Mignonnes

It’s true that the Blog Collab doesn’t shy away from controversy–and this week’s film is at the center of one of the internet’s most intense debates right now. In response to Cuties, people have called for a boycott of Netflix and even leveled death threats at the film’s director. Netflix certainly handled the marketing of this film incredibly badly…but what about the movie’s content itself? Let’s unpack it, shall we?

The Film:

Cuties (Mignonnes)

The Premise:

As she becomes part of a competitive dance team, preteen Amy’s religious upbringing increasingly clashes with the provocative moves and attitudes of her new friends.

The Ramble:

Having just moved to a new apartment in Paris, 11-year-old Amy and her younger brother are eager to stake a claim on their own rooms. However, these plans are thwarted when their mother makes it clear that one of the rooms is strictly off-limits. What could that possibly be about?

A preteen girl looks longingly down from one side of a wrought iron fence.

Part of a Senegalese immigrant family, Amy dresses modestly and attends a weekly religious service at a local mosque. The services are quiet and emphasize women remaining obedient servants of God and, ultimately, their husbands.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Cuties, a group of girls who dress in revealing clothing, rebel against teachers, and practice extremely suggestive dance routines. To lonely Amy, the Cuties have carved out their own freedom, and befriending one of the girls who lives in her building opens up a wholly different way of existing in the world.

Two girls sit side by side in the drum of a clothes dryer.

Practicing dance routines in secret, wearing her little brother’s t-shirts as crop tops, and posting selfies from a stolen phone, Amy begins trying on an identity far removed from that of well-behaved, obedient immigrant daughter. When she learns of her father’s plans to bring a second wife with him from Senegal and witnesses her mother’s devastated response, Amy is increasingly eager to embrace her new persona.

After girl group leader Angelica has a falling out with one of the girls, Amy sees her opportunity to become a permanent part of the Cuties. Absorbing sexually explicit music videos in secret, Amy takes the girls’ choreography and pushes it to an even greater extreme with dance moves that are pretty damn disturbing. Of course, the girls are keen to adopt changes to their routine to make them stand out in an upcoming competition.

In a school restroom, four girls crowd around a phone one is holding, while another girl stands slightly apart from the group.

As Amy attempts to balance her commitment to the dance team with the demands of preparing for her father’s wedding, responsibilities begin to fall through the cracks. Enraging both her overbearing aunt and the Cuties team, Amy skips out on helping her aunt only to miss the girls’ competition tryout. Can Amy ever do enough to earn her spot back on the dance crew…and is that really what she wants?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ignore the boycotts and general outrage about this film–those are largely down to Netflix’s own marketing and promotion. The film itself and the director, Maïmouna Doucouré, don’t deserve to be the targets of anger (and even death threats) when it comments on the hypersexualization of children rather than glorifying it. It does feel worth examining that this story–told by a Black woman and immigrant–is the subject of so much vitriol when exploitative shows like Dance Moms have aired for years with no one batting an eye.

I will say this film isn’t free of its own problems. There are scenes that don’t seem necessary, especially as there are many, many shots of the girls performing extremely sexual dance moves. A lot of these scenes don’t successfully balance commentary with the feeling of exploitation, and it’s pretty disturbing to watch them. I think Doucouré could have found a creative approach to commenting on the sexualization of young girls in a way that didn’t involve so many problematic scenes.

However, it’s a shame (if not a surprise) that internet outrage has overshadowed the film’s nuanced approaches to girlhood, immigrant experiences, and identity.

Would my unproblematically cute blog wife join this one’s dance crew without hesitation or take up a nice jump rope hobby instead? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Jezebel, or: Nothing Like the Real Thing

It’s really difficult to remember the earlier days of the internet at times: the dial-up speeds, the AOL chat rooms, the GeoCities web pages that made questionable use of Flash graphics. Even then, it was true that the internet was for porn…except of a more pixely, low-resolution variety. This week’s film follows a webcam girl from the late ’90s, and it’s quite a fascinating world. And surprisingly empowering in some ways, though, as with porn, its appeal is a deeply subjective topic.

The Film:

Jezebel (2019)

The Premise:

A young woman living with her sister begins to make her own way by working as a webcam girl in the late 1990s.

The Ramble:

In the late ’90s, Sabrina barely makes a living as a phone sex operator. With two siblings to look out for, a young daughter, and a live-in boyfriend, the shared one-bedroom apartment feels tiny. What’s more is that the family matriarch has been unwell in the hospital for some time…and those bills are adding up.

A woman closes her eyes while on the phone, reclining on a bed wearing a low-cut nightdress.

To help keep the family afloat, Sabrina suggests that her 19-year-old sister Tiffany answer a job ad for an internet model gig–nudity required.

With Sabrina’s help, Tiffany is hired on the spot by brother and sister duo Chuck and Vicky. When asked for her name in the chat room, Tiffany gives the name Jezebel. There are few rules in the chat room beyond no nudity (except in private sessions), no onscreen penetration (which can yield a prostitution charge), and no personal contact information (for safety and financial reasons).

A young Black woman wearing overalls sits next to a white woman holding a computer keyboard, dressed in lingerie.

In the free chat room, Vicky and Tiffany dress in bikinis or lingerie and type flirty messages to their spectators, waiting for one to pay for a private room. Once in a private room, Tiffany is meant to keep the person on the other side of the screen logged in for as long as possible. Vicky does show Tiffany many of the tricks of the trade–none of the sex acts performed onscreen are real, from playing with sex toys to spanking.

The pay is decent, and, with help from her sister, Tiffany learns quickly how to get the most of her clients. She begins to genuinely have affection for a fetish client, Bobby, who responds well to seeing feet and being scolded or ignored. Tiffany even opens up enough to tell Bobby after she’s been to her mother’s funeral, and to give him her PO box and phone number.

A Black woman wearing a long wig sits on the floor of a darkened room, avoiding looking at the camera. Text shows chat messages asking the woman to speak to the sender.

It isn’t long before Tiffany has saved enough money for her own apartment. However, things begin to unravel when a client calls Tiffany the n-word in the chat, and everyone merely tells her to grow thicker skin. Soon after, Chuck calls out Tiffany for ignoring Bobby in a private chat room, despite this being one of his fetishes.

With an offer to move on to the adult film industry, Tiffany isn’t too devastated when she is fired. But when Chuck and Vicky reflect on how much money Tiffany is bringing in, will she return…with demands of her own?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoy how quiet and ordinary this film feels in many respects. There are elements of Tiffany’s work as a webcam girl that seem creepy or unsettling, and there are certainly exploitative people and businesses in this realm. However, the focus is on Tiffany and the development of her confidence and power rather than the gritty spiral out of control pattern that films with similar themes typically follow. In the work Tiffany does, it’s not so much what she does that’s important so much as whether she has a say in it. Part of Tiffany’s power is in her willingness to label herself Jezebel (quite literally), as well as her reclamation of the word.

While Tiffany’s journey provides the main story line, the relationship between sisters is also essential. Sabrina introduces her sister to the world of sex work, and this is more or less in line with any other sort of job referral. Her experience as a phone sex operator means Sabrina has an understanding of sexual power, as well as the ways in which sex work from a distance can mean greater control. She is there to offer advice and words of caution. Sex work is another way to earn money, which our characters and the film treat with pragmatism and a lack of melodrama.

My biggest complaint about this film is the lack of structure that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. What will happen when Tiffany finally meets Bobby? Will she follow in her sister’s footsteps and pursue a long-term arrangement with him? And what was with Tiffany’s fantasy about one of the other webcam girls–was it exclusively male gaze-y? Because of the nature of this film as sort of a slice of life story, so many questions remain!

Would my lovely blog wife let this one watch her paint her toenails or block it immediately? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Eve’s Bayou, or: Batiste by Fire

Louisiana: home to crayfish, spicy Creole dishes with extra hot sauce, snakes slithering across tree branches, and fireflies that sing love songs in Cajun French to one twinkling star in particular? Nope–wrong movie. This week’s film may not feature the New Orleans jazz or Mardi Gras celebrations of The Princess & the Frog (the only other Louisiana-set film that springs immediately to mind), but it has more than its share of humidity, moody swamp scenes, and small-town Southern drama. Do all of these elements combine to create a satisfyingly spicy pot of jambalaya?

The Film:

Eve’s Bayou

The Premise:

Over the course of a hot Louisiana summer, 10-year-old Eve uncovers secrets about her family that lead to her to take drastic action.

The Ramble:

In 1960s Louisiana, narrator Eve Batiste pulls no punches, telling us right off the bat that she was 10 when she killed her father. Say what, now?

The Batiste family descends from General Jean Paul Batiste and Eve, an enslaved woman for whom the Creole-settled bayou is named. By the ’60s, the family is one of the most prosperous in the area, throwing any number of swanky, well-attended parties. It’s during one such party that tomboyish Eve, always in the shadow of her older sister Cisely, runs off. As a result, Eve sees her father Louis, a respected doctor, sneaking around with a married woman. After Cisely convinces her sister this can’t have possibly been true, Eve buries the memory and pretends nothing ever happened.

A man and his teenage daughter dance in the middle of a crowded room of onlookers.

However, Eve isn’t the only one with suspicions–her uncle Harry nearly has a drunken fistfight with Louis. After the fight breaks up, Aunt Mozelle drives her inebriated husband home…though a car crash on the rainy night leads to his sudden death. A psychic counselor, Aunt Mozelle believes she is cursed as she has lost three husbands to tragic, violent deaths.

A woman wearing a headscarf holds a cigarette, a girl walking beside her and smiling.

Mozelle draws a distinction between herself and the fortune teller down at the market, who is rumored to speak nonsense and practice voodoo. However, after having her fortune told, Eve’s mother Roz becomes convinced something ominous is in the near future. Roz decides the only solution is to keep her children inside for the duration of the summer, never letting them out of her sight.

Two women in elegant dresses walk side by side, a swampy landscape behind them.

Though her younger brother remains oblivious, Eve is a keen observer, using the time stuck inside to notice just how frequently her father is absent and how strained her parents’ marriage is. Meanwhile, Cisely becomes increasingly rebellious, chopping her hair off in favor of a more grown-up style and speaking back to her mother in defense of her father.

In a dark twist, a child is killed after he is hit by a bus. This spells good news for the Batiste children, who are finally allowed outside again now that the foretold danger has passed. However, Cisely reveals to Eve that their father recently sexually assaulted her. Vowing to protect her sister, Eve begins planting seeds of doubt in the mind of Mr. Mereaux, an unsuspecting man whose wife is having an affair with Louis. Eve also pays a visit to the mysterious psychic, demanding to know how one goes about killing someone with voodoo.

Has Eve set in motion a plan that will yield more than she’s bargained for?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though the plot is itself somewhat melodramatic, it feels appropriate for the atmosphere, a Southern Gothic in which everyone is stifled by the heat and long-buried secrets. There are beautifully shot scenes of the Louisiana swamp and its looming cypress trees for days, all the better to emphasize the turmoil in our characters’ lives.

Men are a part of the plot, but this is very much a story about women and sisterhood. Aunt Mozelle in particular is a standout character who is the rock of her family when her brother consistently disappoints. She cares deeply for her family and is a role model to Eve with the strength, independence, and compassion she demonstrates. It seems Mozelle is destined to repeat a cycle of heartbreak for the rest of her life, but it makes her no less willing to continue to open up her heart. Coincidentally, she continues the subtheme of this blog, women who look good smoking, and she does it with ease.

Beyond female power and community, the nature of memory is crucial to the unfolding of the film’s events. The way Eve and Cisely in particular question their memories of specific acts has the power to change utterly how they relate to their family and each other. The effect of memories surfacing or failing to surface in these characters’ minds is chilling.

The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the way sexual assault is at the center of the concept of memory as unstable and ever-changing. The way it’s set up in the film, there seem to be two different stories of what happened between Louis and Cisely that are equally likely. This is for dramatic effect, as it makes us at the audience wrestle with Eve’s actions. Is it really relevant, though? Louis is the adult here, and, whatever happened, it feels gross to suggest that Cisely was in control of their relationship in a way that may diminish the actions of her father.

Would my blog wife eagerly consult with this one about her future or loudly denounce its fortunetelling skills? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Atlantics, or: Ghosting in the Literal Sense

Clearly, we’re always prepared for a horror film on the Blog Collab. Gory slashers, serial killers, creepy stalkers–all have been welcome here (at least as fictional characters). This week’s horror is a change of pace, much more in line with the eerie Gothic of another recent French film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And, just as with that film, there are going to be several things that burn.

The Film:

Atlantics (Atlantique)

The Premise:

A young woman is haunted by her lover, a construction worker who disappeared after his boat overturned while seeking a different life in Spain.

The Ramble:

As construction wraps up on a looming skyscraper in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, the crew completing the job has had enough. The men who have built the tower haven’t been paid in months…and businessman Mr. Ndiaye, who owes the money, is conveniently out of contact. Sounds familiar, eh?

Young lovers Ada and Souleiman must deal with the additional complication of keeping their romance a secret. Ada is expected to marry a wealthier man, Omar, in a matter of days, though her heart belongs to Souleiman.

A young man and woman turn to face something happening off-camera to the left.

Though a childhood friend insists Souleiman is merely a test of her commitment to Omar, Ada continues to sneak around with her boyfriend, planning to meet him at a beachside bar at night. However, with nary a word of notice, Souleiman and several of the other construction workers have taken a boat in an attempt to reach Spain. After a terrible storm, all of the men are presumed dead.

Meanwhile, a depressed Ada proceeds with her wedding ceremony. The celebrations take a shocking turn when the couple’s marriage bed seems to spontaneously combust. But someone or something must have set the fire…right?

A group of young people gathers on a beach by the ocean at night.

To investigate the mysterious happenings, young detective Issa arrives and immediately suspects Souleiman, who has been spotted recently. As a result, Ada is suspected of aiding and abetting…but Souleiman can’t possibly have survived the shipwreck.

To make things worse, several characters, including Issa, are stricken with an unrelenting fever. The young women who suffer fevers during the day appear to be possessed at night, arriving at Mr. Ndiaye’s to demand the wages they are owed as the embodiment of the deceased construction crew.

A young woman with completely white eyes stands in a darkened living room, several other young women seated behind her.

As Ada receives texts from someone who claims to be Souleiman, she becomes increasingly convinced it’s the real deal. But how can that be true when Souleiman is dead?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I have to admit the meandering, rather unconnected plot for most of the film was a distraction for me. There’s not a ton of structure here, though the way the end ties everything together is eminently satisfying. And the Gothic ambience really steals the show here, what with the mysterious fires, ghostly appearances, and possessions.

The Atlantic Ocean is a huge part of this atmosphere, and its many moods reflect the film’s translated title, Atlantics. Then again, perhaps the marketing team simply wanted to make sure results from The Atlantic weren’t the only results when searching for the film’s title. Either way, it cannot be a coincidence that the Atlantic here promises a new life for those crossing the ocean. This, unsurprisingly, is a false promise, as it was historically for Africans transported by boat into slavery. The film’s themes of exploitation, labor, and capitalism weigh heavily on us as an audience.

Also impossible to ignore are director Mati Diop’s feminist themes. It’s refreshing to see Ada pursue what she wants rather than what her family and faith demand of her. I also have so much time for the way the young women in this film demand compensation for the deceased workers of the construction crew. Even though they are possessed by the spirits of men, it is the women Mr. Ndiaye must contend with, and whose physical bodies intimidate him into meeting their demands. Female power plays a vital role in seeing some measure of justice carried out.

Would my blog wife meet with this one in secret or set it ablaze like it’s a marriage bed? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Been So Long, or: I’ll Buy You a Kebab

Two things I’m up for at almost any time: movie musicals and kebabs. Fortuitously, this week’s film brings together both of these interests. Added bonus is the leading role for the multi-talented Michaela Coel, whose star seems very much on the rise of late. But do all of these elements create something greater than the sum of its parts or do they mix as well as orange juice and toothpaste?

The Film:

Been So Long

The Premise:

A single mother who has been burned before connects with a man who has recently been paroled but fears opening up her heart again.

The Ramble:

Simone is a single mother struggling to balance working as a hairdresser with caring for her daughter who uses a wheelchair. In contrast to her more relaxed mother and carefree bff Yvonne, Simone is very tightly wound. She very rarely makes time for herself or agrees to a night out…and Yvonne is sick of this nonsense.

A woman walks next to her daughter in a wheelchair as they move through a crowd in Camden Market.

Meanwhile, recently paroled Raymond is hoping to reconnect with friends after 3 years incarcerated. Everyone seems to have moved on with their lives, though, and he’s stuck at home with his mother and an ankle monitor. The one person who hasn’t moved on seems to be a mysterious and mentally unstable man following Raymond. Who is this man and what’s the deal with his obsession?

A woman with brightly colored hair drinks champagne at a bar while another woman looks incredulously at her.

After her mother steps in to babysit, Simone reluctantly heads out for a night on the town with Yvonne. Their first stop is the neighborhood bar, Bar Arizona, which has certainly seen better days. After Yvonne catches the attention of Raymond, the only other customer there, she sets him up with Simone.

As it turns out, Simone and Raymond have a bit of a connection, though she is keen to avoid the mere possibility of a romantic relationship. When she realizes Raymond has been recently released from prison, Simone pushes him away…but they reconnect when they end up on the same bus later that night.

Sitting on either side of a draughts board in a dimly lit bar, a man and woman smile at each other.

Eventually, we learn that Raymond was incarcerated largely because of a friend’s drunken decisions, though he accepts responsibility for his own choices. Not proud of his past, Raymond is also embarrassed by his current work as a street sweeper and binman.

Rewinding to 3 years ago, we also learn that Raymond’s stalker, now wielding a kebab knife, instantly fell in love with Raymond’s girlfriend at the time. No other mention of this woman or what happened to her…so to say this plot point is stretched too thin is an understatement.

A man stands in front of the counter at a kebab shop, oblivious to a man in a hoodie staring at him intensely.

Simone is also contending with mistakes from the past meeting the present as her daughter’s father, Kestrel, hopes to spend time with their child. Because Kestrel is a recovering addict who wasn’t around for the earlier years of his daughter’s life, Simone doesn’t trust him at all and insists he stay away.

Throughout, Simone seems to be trapped in a cycle as she gets close to Raymond only to push him away.

In the end, are kebabs powerful enough to bring this couple together once and for all?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know where to begin–there are a LOT of issues with this film. Perhaps the most frustrating is its failure to fill in details. Rather than create suspense, the vagueness is distracting and makes it difficult to get invested in our characters and their lives.

Related is the ordinariness of the film’s plot. The stories feel too unremarkable for a musical, so it’s frequently underwhelming. Seriously, a knife-wielding, mentally disturbed homeless man wants to kill someone because he fell in love with his girlfriend 3 years ago based on seeing her ONCE? And then changes his mind because he just wants someone to sympathize with the idea of love being difficult? What a WEAK story line.

Simone and Raymond’s past experiences also feel underdeveloped. We don’t get to see these experiences and their emotional impact on the characters, so it’s difficult to believe that their trauma explains their current behavior. It seems to me that Simone may have some mental health issues or some additional experiences that have shaped her life, but the film doesn’t explore these possibilities.

Speaking of mental health, the way Gil’s (aka kebab knife dude) mental health is handled is rather cringey at times. The balance of comedy/drama is way off there. Sometimes Gil is treated as genuinely dangerous and in need of help, and at other times he exists only for comic relief. I really felt for him even as I was annoyed by his stupid love at first sight plot line.

Because the characters and their issues don’t feel real, it’s impossible to feel the supposed instantaneous connection between Simone and Raymond. It’s also difficult to feel like Simone has undergone the changes the film tells us she has.

It’s refreshing to see a mostly Black cast of Londoners in a musical. And I do like that we can hear the London accents in the songs. However, everything else about the musical numbers is largely forgettable. The one I remember best is Gil’s soulful song “Been Too Long,” but even that one I mostly forget. It doesn’t help this film at all that I’ve recently been listening to the Kinky Boots soundtrack on repeat, which is both much more fun and emotionally resonant.

Honestly, without Michaela Coel in a leading role, this film would have gotten a much lower rating from me. She’s great, but this is kind of a mess.

Would my darling blog wife share a kebab with this one or use the closest sharp object to keep it at bay? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Down in the Delta, or: In the Manor with the Candlestick

This week’s film is directed by an absolutely phenomenal writer and creative mind, Maya Angelou. Shockingly–or perhaps not so shockingly given the lack of opportunities for women of color in Hollywood–this was Angelou’s only feature film as a director, made all the more disappointing for its moving story and powerful characters. And things don’t seem much different 20 years later…in our efforts to watch more films with Black directors, a mere fraction have been Black women.

Let’s stop this madness because I want more films like this one.

The Film:

Down in the Delta

The Premise:

Spending the summer in Mississippi, a single mother reconnects with her extended family and their shared history as she reconsiders her future.

The Ramble:

In 1990s Chicago, single mother Loretta struggles to make a living for herself and her children, but her addiction to alcohol and drugs frequently sabotage her good intentions. Luckily, her mother Rosa Lynn lives with the family and takes primary responsibility for watching the children, nonverbal Tracy and upbeat Thomas. Though teenage Thomas is ready to step up and help the family, earning money by taking pictures of tourists, it’s difficult to imagine an easy path ahead, as he’s so accustomed to the sounds of gunfire that he can identify the type of weapon based on the gunshots he hears.

Walking along a busy Chicago street while smoking, a woman pauses to speak with her mother. Two children are close behind them.

After Loretta fails yet again to land a job, she spends the day drinking at the playground, only returning home late at night. Frustrated with her daughter and having recently heard from her estranged brother in small town Biloxi, Mississippi, Rosa Lynn insists Loretta and the children head to the South for a visit. Pawning off Nathan, a silver candelabra that has been in the family since the 1850s, Rosa Lynn warns her daughter she has until September to earn the money to reclaim the family heirloom.

In a dimly lit pawn shop, a grate separates a woman holding a silver candelabra from an employee.

Loretta’s uncle Earl lives in the Big House, a former plantation manor the Black side of the Sinclair family bought from the white Sinclairs shortly after the Civil War. A restaurateur, Earl owns and manages a place that exclusively serves chicken dishes, including at least 20 varieties of chicken sausage.

Immediately, Loretta feels judged by her uncle and objects to all of his stern rules, including keeping the front door locked at all times. However, most of these rules exist as he struggles to care for his wife, Annie, who has fairly advanced Alzheimer’s. Luckily, caretaker and housekeeper Zenia is around to look out for Annie and the family.

A woman stands in a small dining room, looking incredulously at an older man offering up a bowl of horseradish for her to try.

As Loretta works in the restaurant, she also gets to know Earl and the family’s history better. She eventually uncovers the meaning behind Nathan’s importance, as well as Earl’s enduring bitterness surrounding Rosa Lynn’s “kidnapping” of the candelabra years ago. The family traces its history all the way back to Jesse Sinclair, who was born into slavery, and his descendants, who all lived in the same house and are buried in the same cemetery.

Largely so Wesley Snipes can make an appearance, Loretta meets her cousin Will, a corporate lawyer who has disappointed his father by leaving Biloxi. However, it’s with Will’s help that Loretta begins to plan greater things for the chicken restaurant and envision a future connected more closely to the family’s roots. But isn’t Chicago Loretta’s home…and where her mother will expect her to return?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The symbolism of Nathan as both intergenerational trauma and shared family history is brilliantly done. As a family fractured by time and circumstance, and still contending with the legacy of slavery, the candelabra represents the desperately needed reunion of the Sinclairs. At the same time, there is a significant amount of pain that comes along with reclaiming history.

Our excellent cast brings the characters to life in a way that makes the family’s dissolution feel real without casting blame. Loretta makes her share of mistakes and causes pain to others, but we’re always rooting for her and all of the Sinclairs.

There are, however, a couple of things that don’t work for me. I’m not a huge fan of the way Chicago is depicted here–it buys into stereotypes about Black poverty and violence but ignores racist systems. Also the way Loretta’s addiction just sort of disappears as soon as she’s in a dry county and reconnected with her family borders on divine intervention.

But this is still a moving family drama that makes me wish for more films like this directed by Maya Angelou.

Did my blog wife relish this as much as 20+ varieties of chicken or did it convince her to go vegan? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bones, or: Dog Eat Dogg

Renovating an old home can be a nightmare even when your main concerns are restoring the original hardwood flooring, replacing the ugly formica countertops, or finding vintage pieces that perfectly capture a feeling of rustic country charm. But DIY-ing a home haunted by the spirit of a wrongfully murdered man that may hide a direct connection to hell in the basement? Truly a situation where home renovation…can be murder. Which is a missed opportunity for this film’s tagline IMHO, though perhaps lacking some of the dog/Snoop Dogg puns central to this week’s film.

The Film:


The Premise:

After his mysterious death in the late ’70s, the spirit of local legend Jimmy Bones returns seeking vengeance on those responsible.

The Ramble:

In a once-thriving neighborhood, drug deals go down regularly, cops patrol the streets, and a black dog terrorizes the residents. Longtime resident of the neighborhood Shotgun narrowly escapes the dog’s jaws, but witnesses the dog turn its attention on two frat boys hiding from the cops after a drug deal. Could there be something…supernatural about this dog’s appearance? That’s a definite yes.

A graffiti-ed van is parked on the street in front of a 2-story brick house with a Gothic facade.

The dog seems to operate in and close proximity to the creepiest house around (naturally): an abandoned Gothic-style house that has fallen into disrepair. When young Patrick buys the property in the hopes of transforming it into a trendy nightclub along with his siblings and bff, the group may get much more than they bargained for.

As it turns out, the last owner of the property was one Jimmy Bones, played by none other than Snoop Dogg. In 1979, he was a legend in the neighborhood, even earning a song about his tough but fair protection of his own. What went wrong to leave the house in shambles and the angry ghost of Bones in the form of a dog haunting the neighborhood?

A group of four young people crowd around a spot on the floor of a dark, dusty room.

Though Patrick and his friends remain clueless, they can sense something isn’t quite right about the house. Neighbor Pearl (Pam Grier), a psychic, conceals her connection to Jimmy Bones, warning the friends to no avail while cautioning her daughter Cynthia to keep her distance. Of course, Cynthia pays no mind, especially since she finds Patrick quite charming.

A woman with an afro and a feather boa holds hands with a man wearing a wide-brimmed fedora and pinstripe suit.

When Patrick, Bill, Tia, and unofficial member of the family Maurice announce the big news at home, it doesn’t go over well. Father and head of the household Jeremiah once lived in the very neighborhood of Jimmy Bones but has long since traded it all in for a comfortable life in the ‘burbs. Clearly disdainful of the ‘hood culture he believes has corrupted the old neighborhood, Jeremiah discourages his children from having any association with that part of town. Could Jeremiah be hiding a terrible secret related to the fall of Jimmy Bones?

Meanwhile, corrupt cop Lupovich and drug dealer Eddie Mack seem to have run the neighborhood since Bones has been out of the picture. Do they have an unsavory past to hide as they seized control?

A young man rests on a bed, eyes closed, headphones on, as shiny black hands surround him.

The moral of the story here is that the house holds a secret that no one wants to surface…especially since the body of Jimmy Bones has the power to reanimate as his vengeful spirit dog consumes flesh.

However, the only thing that becomes increasingly clear throughout our story is that Jimmy Bones will be back, and he will very definitely seek out those who did wrong. And he’s absolutely dedicated to dramatic entrances that involve maggots and fire raining from the sky.

Will anyone survive Jimmy Bones’s revenge?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there were never going to be any Oscar nominations for this film. But it’s so entertainingly pulpy and over the top, with some unexpectedly relevant commentary on Black neighborhoods with a bad reputation. Drug dealers and law enforcement earn our disdain here, but so do members of the Black community who seek middle-class respectability at the expense of their friends and neighbors.

Of course, having a cast that includes the onscreen pairing of Pam Grier and Snoop Dogg, which I never knew I needed, doesn’t hurt. Plus Katharine Isabelle gets a supporting role, and I will never complain about that.

Even though the film is very much a tribute to campy B horror and blaxploitation, it’s truly creepy at times. There are effects that look incredibly low-budget, but there are also genuinely gross scenes with maggots and rotting flesh that are truly horrifying. Director Ernest Dickerson pulls no punches here, condemning several characters to grisly deaths and an eternity in hell.

But in a fun way?

Would my blog wife light a candle in this one’s memory or condemn it to hell for all time? Read her review to find out!