Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

47 Meters Down: Uncaged, or: Nothing But the Tooth

It’s April 2020, yet it feels like the end of the world half the time. In the Covid 19 edition of the Blog Collab, all we’ve got are films bonkers enough to distract us from our current reality. This week, we’re going back to our roots. That’s right–for our purposes, this week is Shark Week.

The Film:

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

The Premise:

Feuding siblings end up with much more family bonding than anticipated when a cave diving adventure yields dangerous encounters with sharks.

The Ramble:

Mia is having a rough time adjusting to her new high school, where she has been immediately branded a loser. Meanwhile, her sister Sasha is already set with a girl gang, avoiding publicly recognizing her social misfit sibling at all costs.

Determined to facilitate sisterly bonding opportunities, father Grant books a weekend shark tour on a glass-bottomed boat. Busy with an exciting new find as an archaeologist/excavator/diver/I don’t really know what this man’s job is, Grant will have to skip the tour in favor of exploring a series of underwater tunnels that are part of an ancient city. He doesn’t seem too broken up about it, to be honest. Though he’s ditching all of the family togetherness, Grant does give Mia an ancient shark’s tooth he’s uncovered, which may come in handy later (it definitely does).

Despite cancelling her plans with her posse, Sasha’s friends Alexa and Nicole show up to save her from what can only be a torturous tourist trap. Feeling at least some amount of loyalty to her sister, Sasha invites Mia to tag along for their adventure at a secret swimming spot (naturally).

Finding a small stockpile of scuba gear from their father’s dive, the girls plan to explore part of the underwater city, including a temple supposedly marking the entrance to Xibalba, the Mayan city of the dead. Always a stellar plan, ladies.

Admittedly, the underwater temple looks pretty flipping cool. However, it doesn’t take long for trouble to arise when Nicole is startled by a Mexican cave fish, which is blind and eerily colorless. After knocking down a significant part of the temple, the girls draw the attention of Grant’s assistant, Ben. He seems eager to help them out with the guide line he’s been using to retrace his steps (strokes?)…but, sadly, it’s not long before Ben becomes shark bait. And, like our Mexican cave fish friend, this is a special species that has evolved sightless–all the better to sense prey based on sound and movement.

With oxygen running low and determined sharks on their trail, the girls regroup to find Grant’s crew working nearby. Will this plan save them or is a more harrowing turn of events in the cards? Prepare to be astonished.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

You know, I didn’t hate this. Were the characters (more than) a bit underdeveloped? Was the weird high school bullying theme entirely unnecessary? Did I laugh out loud at some of the shark attack deaths? Clearly, yes.

However, I found this film genuinely suspenseful at times and creative in its approach to some of the shark scenarios. Since our protagonists were in the unusual situation of diving underwater for most of the shark attacks, the additional dangers of low oxygen, strong currents, and surfacing near steep cliffs with no way to climb up added interesting complications to the story. I also legitimately felt my stomach drop when two of our protagonists finally surface near a boat only to realize its crew are chumming the waters. Mia has some rather badass scenes as well that, while highly unrealistic, are pretty damn entertaining.

And, honestly, I can’t help but respect a diving crew that chooses the Carpenters as the soundtrack for their excavation.

Would my blog wife go along for a deep dive with this one or stay sensibly planted on solid ground? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, or: To Your Ship Be True

The only type of film I’m feeling up for right now is one that’s the equivalent of homemade comfort food. I think stop-motion animation is the closest we can get to a film reaching through the screen, gently patting us on the back, and telling us everything is going to to be okay. Did this week’s film live up to our admittedly rather high expectations of being comforted with endless bowls of mac and cheese?

The Film:

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

The Premise:

The lives of Shaun the Sheep and company are disrupted when an alien crash lands near their farm.

The Ramble:

It’s a dark and stormy night in the countryside, meaning the timing is perfect for the sudden appearance of…aliens? A UFO lands in the forest, and the only witnesses are a rather hysterical man and his dog. In other words, did it really land at all?

For the residents of Mossy Bottom Farm, the UFO may as well be lightyears away, as their routine continues as usual. Shaun and his sheep friends, bored with their lives of essentially standing around chewing grass, cause all manner of mayhem as sheepdog Bitzer tries to keep them in line.

An animated dog and sheep glare at each other across a sign that indicates no frisbee throwing is allowed.

After finally taking things too far and ordering pizzas for the sheep, Shaun ends up puzzled when the pizza boxes arrive empty. He follows a trail of crusts to the barn and encounters an alien who evidently really enjoys pizza. The alien, Lu-La, has a gift for imitation and a knack for getting into trouble matched only by Shaun’s. Though Shaun tries to keep Lu-La’s existence a secret, the task is next to impossible when the alien takes the tractor out for a joyride.

While skeptical of the local UFO sighting, the Farmer sees the crop circle pattern mysteriously left behind and is inspired. Deciding to cash in on the alien hysteria, the Farmer plans a space-themed park…which he naturally puts Bitzer and the sheep in charge of constructing.

An animated man with thinning hair and thick glasses sits at a breakfast table, reading a newspaper with a headline about a UFO sighting.

Meanwhile, Shaun has disappeared with Lu-La in an attempt to reunite her with the UFO she crash-landed. Apparently Lu-La’s fondness for driving dangerously got her into trouble in the first place, as she hopes to return to her parents after borrowing their UFO for an impulsive ride around the galaxy. Mayhem ensues when they are sidetracked by adventures in a grocery store and a mysterious agency investigates the possibility of alien life on Earth.

An animated sheep looks in alarm at a pink and purple creature resembling a dog. The creature sits in a bin of frozen food in a grocery store, holding a frozen pizza.

Just as Shaun and Lu-La locate the UFO, Bitzer arrives on the scene, followed shortly by the agency, the Ministry of Alien Detection (MAD). Determined to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life, MAD won’t let Lu-La escape as easily as she might like.

After a serious UFO crash, will Lu-La be able to return to her parents and home planet?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not going to lie, I absolutely adored the first Shaun the Sheep film and was hoping for a repeat of the wild, inventive humor here. In the first film, Shaun’s antics lead the Farmer to develop a severe case of amnesia and gain fame as an iconic hair stylist to the stars. Even with aliens thrown into the mix in the sequel, the plot doesn’t maintain the same level of absurdity and fun. Most importantly, I wasn’t rooting for the characters to pull off their unlikely schemes in the way I did in round one.

Also, there was only a very brief bit where the sheep pretended to be people. In the first film, the extended scene where the sheep acted like humans dining in a restaurant legitimately cracked me up.

The plot feels very disjointed, in large part because the characters don’t share a goal for most of the film. Part of the charm of Shaun is that he constantly screws things up, yet the sheep (and eventually Bitzer) always have his back, working together to make things right. The other problem is Lu-La as the sower of chaos here, who I’m just not as invested in as Shaun. What would be a silly antic from Shaun is just irritating from Lu-La, even when we learn that her childish behavior comes from being an actual child.

I will give credit here for the animation. Like all things from Aardman, the accomplishment of telling a complete story with almost no dialogue is impressive. The expressions on the sheep’s faces, and long-suffering Bitzer, are particularly endearing.

And let’s not forget the alien theme park, though less than thrilling to visitors, was constructed by an all-sheep construction crew with a dog as foreman. That concept in and of itself could be a major hipster tourist attraction.

Does my blog wife believe the truth is out there or was this all as staged as the moon landing (jk in case Buzz Aldrin is reading this)? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Proud Mary, or: They See Me Rollin' on a River

There’s an odd comfort in a mob war movie. Possibly because they’re all taking similar cues from The Godfather or dispensing a brutal but simple version of street justice. However, at the moment, I think the main comfort is seeing a danger that’s easily dealt with and dispensed…which is decidedly not true for the global pandemic and health emergency we’re currently facing. Plus Taraji P. Henson kicking ass is never a bad idea…right?

The Film:

Proud Mary

The Premise:

A hit woman for the mob runs into complications after taking out a target whose young son is in the next room.

The Ramble:

The titular Mary is an assassin for the mob in Boston, with an aim that is precise and unwavering. After many years of efficiently killing for her father figure, Benny, Mary is disturbed one evening when she kills a man whose young son is playing video games in the next room. Wracked with guilt, Mary keeps tabs on the boy, Danny.

An African-American woman sits at a desk, stirring a cup of tea she is holding.

The next year doesn’t go particularly well for Danny. With both parents out of the picture, Danny becomes an errand boy for Uncle, a member of another Boston crime family. Though transporting significant amounts of drugs and cash back and forth, Danny sleeps rough on park benches and is in constant danger from the mob and others lurking in the sketchier parts of town.

A woman wearing a leather jacket walks next to a preteen boy wearing a hoodie as they walk through a park, the cityscape of Boston behind them.

Because Mary has been looking out for Danny, she helps him when he eventually passes out in an alley after receiving a nasty head wound. Suspicious when he wakes up in a stranger’s apartment, Danny is keen to take his backpack and leave. However, Mary first decides to pay Uncle a visit to remind him of his manners. Predictably, things go horribly wrong, and Mary knocks off several members of the rival gang.

Should anyone discover Mary is responsible for the killings, it will spell trouble for both her and her adopted family. To cover her tracks, Mary immediately starts casting doubt around fellow mob member Walter, who has beef with the other family. The only problem is her ex (and Benny’s son) isn’t buying this, but Mary manages to get the ok to take out Walter.

An older African-American man sits in an office chair, wearing a suit. He looks serious and has worry lines across his forehead.

Meanwhile, an attack on Benny and his crew reveals the rival gang’s commitment to escalate the mob war regardless of what happens to Walter. Tom also finds out that Danny is living with Mary and becomes suspicious of this entire arrangement. At Benny’s insistence, Mary and Danny attend a birthday party for his wife. Because her character is written as an idiot, Mary reveals to Benny that she plans to get out of the mob, despite his status as her boss/father figure. Extremely bad idea.

I’m not sure how much more detail I can go into without my eyes rolling into the back of my head. Suffice it to say, things escalate further. The rival mob is a problem, Benny is a problem, and Mary’s assassination of Danny’s father is a problem.

Also an issue? How disappointingly bad this film is.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh my god, every single character in this film is insufferably stupid. Considering two of them are played by Taraji P. Fucking Henson and Danny Glover, this is unforgivable.

This film is almost immediately bad, as things are set up in a way that makes it difficult to care about any of the characters. First, it’s difficult to understand why Mary feels so much guilt about this particular murder of Danny’s father. Surely she’s killed other men in their 30s before, and statistically at least some of them had children? It’s also an odd choice for Mary to intervene only after Danny has experience a head trauma; his life in the entire year leading up to this wasn’t exactly a cake walk. Throughout the film, it seems like Mary has a special connection to Danny, i.e. is secretly his mother(?!?!?!), but this is never a revelation that happens. There needs to be some reason Mary feels connected to Danny–but there never really is, so their relationship, which should be the driving force here, falls miserably flat.

The relationships between the other characters are also incredibly underdeveloped. One: since Benny has been like a father to Mary, you’d think these two characters would know each other better. However, they don’t seem to know each other at all, and have to seriously spell out their exact thoughts and feelings to each other in awfully written dialogue. The same is true for Mary’s relationship with Tom, which used to be romantic, yet now she describes as brotherly? Gross gross gross.

The motivations are also super stupid for all of the characters, and Mary’s eagerness to leave the mob life behind seems to come out of nowhere. We’re given no sense of what’s going on in her brain throughout the film, so her decisions almost never make sense.

On the bright side, we do get a rather nice ass-kicking scene set to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” But it takes us a really long time to get there, and it ends up being too little too late.

Would my blog wife spare this film or unhesitatingly pull the trigger? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Yeh Ballet, or: Fair Plié

Sometimes my brain can predict perfectly when an inspiring, feel-good film will be exactly the ticket. Possibly because, lately, there’s never been a time when I haven’t needed a bit of a lift. Either way, I’d like to take the time to say good call, brain.

I’m not sure why, but films about ballet have a special power to inspire me and break my damn heart. As a child, I quit ballet even faster than I quit soccer, so there are no fond memories there. But I can’t help admire the quiet strength and beautiful grace of ballet dancers, especially when it means shaking up the status quo in all of the best ways as it does in this week’s film.

The Film:

Yeh Ballet

The Premise:

Two young men in modern day Mumbai pursue a love of ballet despite discouragement from their loved ones, an emotionally volatile teacher, and significant financial obstacles.

The Ramble:

In a Mumbai slum, teen breakdancer Asif dreams of a life where his family isn’t barely scraping by. Rebellious and always seeking out a party, Asif shakes his unruly hair all around during Holi. The problem? His strict religious uncle is keen to remind Asif that they are Muslim, and participating in a Hindu festival is highly inappropriate.

A young man stands outside in the middle of a circle of people, his hands raised triumphantly in fists.

Lacking the funds–and the freedom–to pursue his love for dance, the closest Asif can get to making a career of his passion is through watching a reality show competition on TV.

One of the competitors on the show is another aspiring dancer, Nishu. Though eliminated from the competition, Nishu manages to snag the audience favorite award, the Hat of Destiny. When he learns of a prestigious dance school run by a famous American, Nishu is eager to attend. However, Nishu’s parents disapprove of this non-traditional career path and worry he won’t be able to provide for his ailing sister in the future.

A man with a microphone rests an arm on the shoulders of a young man who is dressed all in gold and wears a gold hat.

Through lies and omissions, both Asif and Nishu end up as students in the dance school. The boys dislike each other instantly, and fare no better with the instructor Saul, who turns out to be a total diva. In his rebellious, impulsive style, Asif manages to earn the teacher’s attention after literally tripping him up in the hallway. Asif certainly has style, but does he have the discipline to follow through in learning a new art form: ballet?

Meanwhile, Nishu takes the hardworking nerd approach, asking a classmate to catch him up on all of the ballet moves others have already learned. Nishu grows more and more skilled, but Saul doesn’t have the time or interest in anyone but Asif.

A middle-aged man looks angrily at a smirking teenager in the middle of a dance class.

For his part, Asif faces setbacks as his friends tease him relentlessly about his new hobby. Tragedy strikes when a friend dies suddenly in a gang-related incident, for which Asif blames himself. Faced with this wake-up call, Asif vows to commit himself fully to ballet, dedicating the time and focus needed to truly learn and hone the art.

Nishu’s problems also escalate after his father discovers where his college fund has really been going. When his parents kick him out of the house, Nishu agrees to be the school’s unpaid custodian in exchange for a stay in a creepy windowless basement (which includes utilities, aka a bucket of water collected from the building’s A/C unit).

A young man faces off with another young man, grabbing the other's shirt in a hallway.

Further complications arise when Asif falls for a Hindu girl whose family disapproves of his Muslim faith. Meanwhile, Nishu’s sister’s condition worsens and she ends up in the hospital.

Things start to look up when Saul insists Asif move in to train 24/7 for US ballet school auditions, with Nishu as a chaperone. The arrangement could be beneficial to both boys…if they’d stop fighting long enough to recognize it. However, even if the two dancers do manage to gain acceptance to a program, can they afford to go? And will the States even let them into the country to pursue their dreams?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: damn, Holi looks so fun. Maybe not right now. But in other, non-pandemic times.

The rest of the film is just as fun, full of energy, hope, and some killer dance moves. While the concept of the movie sounds a bit like Slumdog Millionaire meets Billy Elliott, it has managed to carve out a space with its originality and heart, plus challenging of traditional gender norms. Our story looks into the lives of characters in extreme poverty, but it never takes a condescending or overly romanticized approach to their challenges. And approximately the last half made me cry my fucking eyes out.

There’s added interest here in the social and religious commentary of the film–first, the religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India, as well as the use of religion to police others’ decisions. The States’ immigration policies get an examination from this film, as well as the idea that bringing in a white man adds authority to any endeavor in former colonies. Saul never really gets that his abysmal behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in any other context, but he’s experiencing some serious white privilege in India.

While I’ve neglected Asif’s love interest, who is a fairly minor character, she brings an energy to the film that I just love. A tough breakdancer in her own right, Asha is stubborn without being an infuriating rom-com stereotype. Would absolutely watch a spin-off (no pun intended) about her.

Honestly, though, it’s the journey Asif and Nishu experience that makes this film compelling: both individually and as reluctant friends. I wish they had been friends a bit earlier on in the film as it’s so sweet when they do finally stick up for each other. On the bright side, to me this means one thing only: Yeh Ballet 2: 2 Fast, Tutu Furious MUST be in the works.

Would my blogging/dance partner twirl with this one or deliberately step on its toes? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Haunt, or: Down to Clown

The last time I went through a haunted house (fine–more accurately, it was a cave), it proved to be a terrible mistake. As it turned out, the area was muddy AF and involved a steep decline, which was a challenge for my friend who was wearing an orthopedic boot at the time. I’ve been told this story lacks the kind of terror people are looking for in a horror film. Let’s test that theory and determine for ourselves whether this week’s film is truly as harrowing as my own experiences with haunted Halloween attractions.

The Film:

Haunt (2019)

The Premise:

A group of friends out for a fun night of Halloween chills get more than they bargained for in a haunted house that’s significantly more murdery than anticipated.

The Ramble:

It’s Halloween, meaning one thing for roomies Harper and Bailey and their group of friends: it’s time to do shots of spider-infused vodka in a dimly lit club. Honestly, the thought of an evening in a trendy club surrounded by youths is my personal nightmare, but the evening promises to become much more sinister.

In a booth at a club, four young women in costume pose for a selfie together.

Though Harper spends most of the evening sulking that her toxic boyfriend hasn’t texted her back, she gets into the spirit of things after meeting perhaps the embodiment of a fuckboy, backwards baseball cap included. Said fuckboy, Nathan, is actually a fairly nice dude, but comes along with his own bestie, who is a bit of a tool.

After a sufficient number of shots, the group decides to continue the evening with Halloween-themed festivities. When Harper fears a car has followed the group from the club, a series of twists and turns takes them to an all too conveniently located haunted house. Like any horror movie friends worth their salt, they ignore the possibility that it may be a horrendously bad idea to visit the creepy haunted attraction whose sudden appearance may not be entirely coincidental.

To make matters worse, many of the employees at the haunted house are eerily silent clowns who primarily just stand around wearing empty eyed masks. Even when the group has to sign a liability waiver and give up their cell phones to enter the haunted house, they remain undeterred.

A young woman with her back to the camera faces a person wearing a plastic clown mask.

Upon entering the house, there are some disturbing and oddly specific scares for the group, including a young woman apparently being tortured by a witch, a coffin that rains down spiders on the arachnophobic member of the group, and a guessing game involving body parts. However, things are dialed up to 10 when Bailey is seriously wounded with deep gashes on her arm, and a member of the group is murdered in front of them.

Adding another layer to Harper’s experience, she confesses that she grew up in a haunted house. Living with a physically abusive father terrorized her and made even relatively safe hiding places dangerous.

A young man and woman stand at the edge of a darkened tunnel, peering in.

Splitting from the group, Nathan apparently recruits an employee of the haunted house to help, but how trustworthy is this masked figure? When he gives the group a set of keys that will allow them to escape, it comes with a catch: the only way out is through a tunnel where they came in, and the group can only get through the tunnel one at a time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, escaping the house isn’t as easy as planned. Members of the group are picked off one by one by the masked figures that supposedly work for the haunted house. Could those masks be hiding something more sinister than initially expected? Spoiler alert: YES. And what does that mean for the group’s chances of survival?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Out of curiosity, I looked this up on Rotten Tomatoes, and it currently has a 71%??? Did we watch the same movie? The comparison of growing up in an abusive household to the terror of a haunted house is interesting (if underdeveloped), but this is honestly the only thing even remotely clever in the film. Most of the scares of this film depend on gore, so it’s frequently more disgusting than frightening. To make matters worse, there were some truly bizarre choices that gave me a chuckle rather than a chill.

The big twist of this film comes from seeing what’s under all of those creepy masks, but we take a really long time to get there. And the twist seems to exist for the sake of saying there was a twist rather than going anywhere particularly thrilling with the concept. I have so many more questions than answers, and almost exclusively because there was a frustrating lack of details surrounding the twist itself.

Perhaps the real issue at fault, though, is the party at the beginning of the film. For me, this is the actual nightmare here, and everything else that happens pales in comparison with a room full of 20-somethings in costumes getting shit-faced, and no corner is dark enough–nor liquor high enough proof–to truly escape from the surrounding terror.

Would my blog wife send in the clowns or, like a person who has seen any horror movie ever, destroy it like a melting clown baby ASAP? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Iron Sky: The Coming Race, or: Conspiracy Quest

Much to my dismay, whenever someone is bringing Nazis into the mix on the Blog Collab, it’s usually me. Though I have no desire to give neo-Nazis any time or attention whatsoever, I still find WWII and its prevalence in pop culture fascinating. No other event in modern history has shaped so many of our ideas about what evil looks like or shaken so thoroughly our belief in progress…or produced such bizarre and lasting conspiracy theories. If this film accomplishes one thing, it’s embracing every possible conspiracy theory it can in under 90 minutes. Let’s take the red pill then, shall we?

The Film:

Iron Sky: The Coming Race

The Premise:

After a nuclear war between humanity and moon Nazis, the survivors have found temporary refuge on the dark side of the moon. To find a new home, a small group of humans must return to Earth to reclaim the Holy Grail from the Nazis/lizard people (I kid you not).

The Ramble:

Following the events of Iron Sky (which I admittedly forget), the planet has been left a nuclear wasteland in the wake of war between Earth and moon Nazis. However, there is some hope for the lizard people/neo-Nazis who have brought about the end of humanity. Among these are Sarah Palin (president of the USA in this version of reality, and not too far off the mark), Margaret Thatcher, Christian and Muslim religious extremists, and their leader, Hitler (obviously). All of these horrible people have slithered to the center of the Earth, where their secret underground society thrives.

in an image reminiscent of The Last Supper, figures sit side-by-side at a long table, with Hitler at the center

Any human survivors of the war have fled to the dark side of the moon, home to the former colony of moon Nazis. These include Obi, a tough but kind engineer, and her mother, effectively the leader of the struggling colony. Even after nuclear disaster, a hierarchy exists, and the members of a religious cult that worships Steve Jobs are the self-proclaimed righteous among the rest of humanity.

With dwindling supplies, crumbling infrastructure, and no way to leave the moon, it’s unclear how long the survivors of nuclear war can last. Hope comes in the unlikely form of a UFO piloted by Russians, including Sasha, who proves to be resourceful yet constantly worried about his fragile masculinity.

a man and woman in bulky bone armor face each other in a sand-colored prehistoric city

Because Obi’s mother is unwell, she is desperate for a cure. Desperate enough that, when she uncovers the secretly alive Moon Führer, Obi is willing to hear him out re: an evil plan he’s concocted. For reasons that are in no way sinister (eye roll), the Moon Führer, aka Hitler’s lizard man brother, seeks the Holy Grail. Coincidentally, its contents have the power to heal Obi’s mother. The only complication? The grail is located at the center of the secret civilization at the center of the Earth.

Along for the ride are Sasha, Obi’s unbelievably jacked bestie Malcolm, and a few members of the Steve Jobs cult, who believe their fearless leader is still miraculously alive on Earth. Things are off to a rocky start when the group crashes, encountering the dangerous world at the center of the planet, inhabited by lizard people and dinosaurs alike.

a man in a black turtleneck and beard looks human except for the lizard eyes and scales on his forehead

When most of the group is captured by Nazis, it’s up to Obi and Sasha to track down the grail. Meanwhile, the Steve Jobs cult discovers their leader is himself a lizard person in on the Nazis’ evil plan. Attempting to switch sides, the members of the cult get a firsthand reminder that you should never trust a promise from Hitler, whether he’s a lizard person or not.

a man in Nazi uniform faces Hitler, who is riding a T-Rex

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our heroes manage to escape with the grail, though not before a dramatic triceratops chariot chase. However, shortly after returning to the moon, Obi and the gang realize they have been followed…by none other than Hitler riding a T-Rex. In the showdown between lizard people, moon Nazis, and humanity, who will prevail?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Credit where credit’s due: this film is visually much more impressive than your average Nazi conspiracy theory action comedy. The lizard people look disgusting, honestly, and as realistic as it’s possible for them to look. Even though the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, I do appreciate that the writers did at least try to weave conspiracy theories together into a somewhat coherent narrative. And my sci-fi loving heart can’t help but enjoy the commitment to telling a story about space travel.

However, like most B-movie sequels, all of the novelty and quirkiness of the first film is lost here. I did find some of the political humor rather gratifying, including when the Steve Jobs cult leader (played by Tom Green?!!!??!) mistakenly called Hitler by the name Donald Trump, as well as when he offered Hitler a quid pro quo. And there’s something quite satisfying about seeing Margaret Thatcher pushed from a triceratops chariot at high speed. But a lot of the political humor doesn’t feel especially clever, and where it was surprisingly apt in the first film, it feels tired here.

My other complaint with this film is the surprise “twist” at the end that reveals Malcolm to be gay. And, for the record, not because I oppose LGBTQ representation in film, but because I object to the use of a character’s sexuality as a joke or plot twist. I quite liked the character of Malcolm and the revelation that he had never been interested in Obi romantically (there’s a bit of an implied love triangle that gets so old so fast), but I felt this was played for laughs in a way I wouldn’t expect in a film from 2019. For fuck’s sake, do better.

Would my blog wife share a swig from the Holy Grail with this one or chase after it on a roaring T-Rex? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Nightingale, or: Bloody White People

There’s nothing like a revenge film to make me grateful most infractions against me are fairly minor, and I can brush them off and continue on binge watching Netflix shows in my sweatpants. It just looks so tiring, doesn’t it? And in this case, trekking through the Tasmanian wilderness, getting eaten alive by leeches, catching and preparing roasted wallaby for dinner–it makes me want to simply forget and forgive. However, when the offenses you’ve experienced are rape, murder, denial of your freedom, and witnessing genocidal war, sometimes the path of vengeance is the route you have to take.

The Film:

The Nightingale

The Premise:

With the help of an Aboriginal guide, a young Irish convict in Tasmania seeks vengeance on the soldiers who destroyed her family.

The Ramble:

Set during the Black War, Irish convict Clare is just one of many living in and around violence in colonial Tasmania. She has carved out a difficult life for herself alongside husband Aidan and a young daughter even as she faces violence, rape, and the denial of her freedom from irredeemably awful Lieutenant Hawkins.

See, Clare’s sentence actually ended months ago; however, because Hawkins is unwilling to sign off on the paperwork that will recognize this fact, she is stuck in limbo. Instead, she is to continue cooking, cleaning, entertaining the troops with her lovely singing voice, and enduring sexual assault, with no end in sight.

a young woman lies in bed next to a baby

Surely something will happen to change Clare’s life for the better? Alas, no. The arrival of a superior officer is meant to signal Hawkins’ promotion to a northern post. But since Hawkins is a horrendous person and a less than inspiring leader, he is denied the promotion. Worse, the final mark against him seems to be the fistfight he and Aidan engage in after Hawkins refuses to sign off on Clare’s papers.

Blaming Clare and Aidan for his own failure to get the promotion, Hawkins pays a visit to their cottage with a couple of loyal soldiers. In an absolutely brutal scene, Clare loses her husband and daughter, is repeatedly assaulted, and left for dead. When she learns that Hawkins and a couple of men have headed north to apply for the promotion in person, Clare swears to track them down and seek revenge.

Clare recruits Aboriginal tracker Billy to help her find the soldiers. In order to persuade him, Clare offers Billy a shilling now and additional payment later, telling him the lie that she’s seeking a reunion with her husband, who is traveling with the group. Billy has become jaded from guiding white soldiers in the past, but he reluctantly agrees to help Clare.

a man in military uniform looks ahead in a forested area, with two men and a boy following close behind

Meanwhile, Hawkins has recruited several convicts to help him, along with Billy’s uncle to lead their party. One of the soldiers encounters Lowanna, an Aboriginal woman, abducting her and repeatedly raping her.

Truth be told, though Clare doesn’t commit acts of physical violence, she is quite contemptuous in her initial treatment of Billy. Though he is a knowledgeable guide, she disregards his advice, constantly calls him “boy,” and seems incapable of recognizing his own pain (i.e. murder of his family) at the hands of the English. In a scene I’m not super comfortable with, Clare tells Billy she’s Irish, not English, and therefore implicitly has nothing to do with the genocide happening all around her. Clare finally checks her attitude a bit, but only after Billy fucking saves her from drowning when she attempts to cross a river he literally just told her not to cross because of the strong current.

Shortly before Clare and Billy catch up with Hawkins, the soldiers face a group of Aboriginal trackers attempting to reunite with Lowanna. The soldier who killed Clare’s baby is injured by a spear, and limps away. When Clare tracks him down, it becomes clear her mission isn’t the innocent goal of finding her husband as she brutally shoots, stabs, and beats the man to death. I’m not saying I felt any pity for this man, but the disturbing violence of the scene makes it difficult to find much satisfaction in this revenge.

an Aboriginal man and a woman covered in blood stand next to each other in the woods, a horse beside them

Clare’s revenge is cut short when the rest of the soldiers escape and another group stumbles upon the murder scene. Add to this mix an illness, a moment of hesitation, and a separation from Billy, and things are looking pretty bleak for Clare. Will she complete her mission of vengeance…even if the cost is Billy’s life?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

A social justice-oriented period drama about a woman seeking vengeance against genocidal misogynists? Sounds like a film plucked right from my dreams. Perhaps my disappointment is one reason I disliked this film so intensely, but here are some other reasons this one just didn’t click for me.

First off, I do not believe in censorship; however, I find it tough to believe that repeated, explicit scenes of sexual violence are necessary. There are so many rape scenes in this film, and they are much more graphic than I feel is needed. The rape of Lowanna is especially mishandled as she is a rather flat character, onscreen exclusively to suffer and die. In comparison with Clare’s story, Lowanna’s assault feels set up to be a lesser, secondary pain. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way this narrative is set up and the way Lowanna is a plot device rather than a person.

I’m also unconvinced that the way race is addressed in this film as a whole works particularly well. It takes Clare a really long time to recognize Billy’s humanity. She treats him so badly throughout the film, while Billy must consistently play the role of exceptional man of color, proving he excels in tracking and survival skills. Though Billy and Clare ultimately develop a deeply felt mutual understanding, it’s gross that Billy has to prove himself multiple times and face mortal wounds just to be recognized as a human being.

I will credit this film for casting Aboriginal actors to play Aboriginal characters. Additionally, as this was shot on location in Tasmania, the cinematography is stunning.

Overall, the brutal and unflinching violence of this film is off-putting to me rather than effective. At worst, it feels voyeuristic; at best, it lacks subtlety. For me, the explicit violence replaces the sense of psychological terror that may have served this film better.

Would my blog wife lead this one safely across a rushing river or unleash violent revenge upon it? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Lost My Body, or: A Bird in the Hand

Sometimes life feels without direction or meaning. It happens to the best of us. At other times, your purpose in life is abundantly clear; for example, if you are a reanimated hand that has been separated from the body you used to be attached to. This story is the latter.

The Film:

I Lost My Body

The Premise:

The animated tale of a severed hand on a mission to reunite with the rest of Naoufel, a young man with a traumatic past.

The Ramble:

To say Naoufel hasn’t had the best day ever is an understatement: lying on the floor near his severed hand, covered in blood as flies buzz around him. Later, his hand busts out of a medical waste bag, determined to be reunited with him. What is Naoufel determined to do? You know, chill.

As a child, Naoufel was interested in music and exploration: he dreamed of being a concert pianist/astronaut. Things related to touch and to seeking out the unknown, you’ll notice. Naoufel’s happy childhood was cut short when his parents died in a car accident. At the time of the crash, he was recording sound, and is therefore still interested in listening to and recording the everyday sounds of the world around him.

an astronaut and a composer holding sheet music look down at the viewer

Now a young adult, Naoufel lives with his uncle and cousin, neither of whom are particularly warm or supportive. An exceptionally bad pizza delivery driver, Naoufel is aimless, isolated, and feeling a lack of agency in his own life.

That is until our apathetic protagonist makes an unusual pizza delivery. Late as always, Naoufel is unable to open the lobby door leading up to the 35th-floor apartment. Though merely explaining the situation to the customer at first, the two begin an earnest conversation over the intercom. Starved of human interaction, Naoufel develops a crush on Gabrielle, the person behind the voice, and becomes determined to find her again.

a young man wearing a helmet holds a pizza box in the lobby of an apartment building

Recalling from their conversation that Gabrielle works at a library, Naoufel makes his way there. He just barely misses her and, based on information a good coworker would definitely not share with a stranger, follows her to a carpenter’s workshop. When he arrives and is called out for lurking, Naoufel lies and says he is there regarding a notice for an apprenticeship. He’s especially keen to work for the carpenter, Gigi, when it becomes clear that Gabrielle regularly visits to bring him medicine. Even better, Gigi has an apartment available so Naoufel can move out of his uncle’s place.

Though initially using woodworking merely so he can be near Gabrielle, Naoufel demonstrates a knack for the process and enjoys making things. When Gabrielle helps Naoufel with a splinter in his hand, the two have an opportunity to bond. As it turns out, both are extremely interested in the North Pole and long to see that vast, white expanse of land.

a man and woman sit on the ground on opposite sides of a table, a pizza box between them

This leads Naoufel to a grand romantic gesture: building a wooden igloo on a nearby rooftop. Gabrielle is impressed; however, when Naoufel uses the opportunity to reveal his identity as the delivery guy from all of those weeks ago who has been yearning to reconnect, she is skeeved out.

Meanwhile, the severed hand wanders around the city in search of Naoufel. Facing a harrowing journey, the hand is attacked by a pigeon, nearly trash compacted, brawls with rats, and is almost hit by a subway car. As a viewer, you will become way more invested in what happens to this poor hand than you may have thought possible.

an animated hand perches on the edge of a window sill, a darkening cityscape in the distance

So how did Naoufel lose that hand? And is he destined to keep missing every time he tries to reach out to another human being?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First of all, I feel for that severed hand (no pun intended). I wasn’t even distracted by questions that later occurred to me, such as how the hand could “see” its surroundings and feel pain, and whether it could die again. No–I was that invested in what happened to this hand, and I was rooting for it to find Naoufel and become reattached.

Naoufel himself, though? He sort of drove me crazy. It’s difficult to watch him stumble along in a depressed stupor, and especially so because he feels life is beyond his control. While I relate to these feelings, they don’t always make for a particularly sympathetic character. Also, I hated his decision-making process in virtually every situation. Desperate for human connection and afraid to admit the truth? I get it. Tracking down a woman at work, following her, and then making up a lie so she’ll have to see you regularly? Whoa, man. Let’s not do that. Worse, even though it was beyond his control (and even awareness), I will never forgive Naoufel for not reuniting with that severed hand!

I will admit that this film is gorgeous to look at, and the symbolism is highly effective. The idea of touch as a way to connect people to each other and to the world around them is clearly important, and the animation focuses on not only the severed hand, but also the use of hands to touch, create, and interact. Naoufel is also very interested in destiny, as the forces shaping his life to this point have felt very much beyond his control. Though this review paints a somewhat bleak picture, I appreciate that there is hope in the film. Naoufel learns it is possible to break patterns and to change the course that seems to be laid out. Beautifully, he learns to be at peace with the idea of not feeling whole. Too bad the severed hand doesn’t get a say there.

Was my blog wife okay with this one getting handsy or did she promptly sever all ties (and hands)? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

JT LeRoy, or: Wigging Out

Perhaps appropriately, 2020 is in with a non-committal shrug. Will it come with the shiny potential a new year brings? Meh.

The year promises to be in line with our first pick for the Blog Collab 2020 as it is similarly likely to feature apathetic hipsters, inappropriate gaslighting attempts, and ’90s nostalgia out the wazoo.

The Film:

JT LeRoy

The Premise:

Based on a true story, a woman in ’90s San Francisco pretends to be the made-up persona of a trendy writer.

The Ramble:

Savannah is a young woman looking forward to the possibilities of living in a new city–San Francisco, specifically–with her brother Geoff and his live-in girlfriend Laura. Both are part of what is most likely a painfully grungy underground band, and Laura is not-so-carefully guarding a secret: she is the writer JT LeRoy, behind the edgy pseudo-memoir everyone is talking about. Her biggest secret? JT is a persona she has made up, pretending to be him on the phone and always making excuses for his refusal to be seen in public.

a woman wearing '90s grunge clothes sits in a dimly lit living room, gesturing to a character off-screen

After reading the novel for herself, Savannah feels deeply connected to the words and persona of JT. The book is supposedly based on JT’s real experiences as the child of a sex worker who provided services to men at truck stops. Laura asks Savannah to pose for a picture as JT by donning a wig (one of so many featured) just this one time. Famous last words.

More and more, Savannah appears as JT LeRoy for magazines and in public appearances. The persona of JT is naturally awkward and standoffish, working conveniently well for Laura’s purposes. Posing as his manager (with a rather cringey British accent), Laura effectively answers any question that comes JT’s way.

an androgynous young man poses for a photographer, wearing women's clothing and dark sunglasses

Though uneasy with the arrangement and constantly convinced she’s about to get caught, Savannah does enjoy trying on the role of JT. She has extra incentive to keep up the charade when she meets director and actress Ava, who is keen to get the film rights for the novel. However, this does complicate her personal life and relationship with her boyfriend.

When the book’s publishers agree to send JT and his manager to Paris, Savannah has the chance to get closer to Ava. But is there a real connection there when Savannah is pretending to be a 19-year-old boy with a traumatic childhood? Laura suspects not and, worried about her loosening control over the situation, tells Savannah that Ava only cares about the film rights.

a woman smokes a cigarette, seated next to an androgynous young man wearing a dark hat and sunglasses

Meanwhile, Laura is neglecting her relationship with Geoff, as well as her commitment to the band. But the JT act is going swimmingly. JT LeRoy is such an avant garde hipster that any challenges to his identity or history are easily shaken with a blasé shrug.

Once the film begins rolling, Savannah feels more conflicted about lying to Ava about who she is, and the existence of JT altogether. Despite pressure from Laura, Savannah decides to give up the act. However, after the film is completed and accepted into the Cannes Film Festival, Savannah agrees to make one final appearance as JT. We all know how that goes…right?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Laura Dern in all of her ’90s grunge finery alone makes this film worth a watch. LD, like she does in basically everything, looks GOOD. And her ever-rotating quirky grunge looks are so delightful here.

However, considering the madness of the story itself, it’s a bit of a letdown that my only real question here is “So what?” We don’t get a whole lot of insight into why Laura and Savannah hatch the JT LeRoy scheme. There are some half-explanations about Laura’s past in a group home, her mystical connection to the character of JT, and her need for recognition as an author without being fully in the spotlight. Savannah’s motives are similarly superficial–and if that’s truly the case, making this film seems like a waste of time. I hoped for an inside look into what made these two tick, but it falls flat. Even their relationship isn’t particularly convincing, and the two seem to annoy each other more than anything else.

I’m disappointed that, like its subject, this film takes the too-cool-for-you hipster brush off approach rather than pausing to offer a thoughtful reflection.

Would my grungy blog wife party with this one, unwashed hair and all, or slowly put on her oversized shades and walk away? Read her review here to find out!

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!