Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Greener Grass, or: Something in the Water

*Spoilers follow*

It can’t be too much of a surprise at this point that, left to our own devices (and the open-endedness of a month without a theme), things tend to take a turn towards the darkness on the Collab. B-horror is our origin story, after all.

This week’s pick, not necessarily classified as a horror film, certainly borrows a feeling of dread from the genre that accompanies the slow realization that all is not well. And, no surprises here, one of the most terrifying places on film is our setting: a seemingly peaceful and quaint US suburb.

The Film:

Greener Grass

Directors:

Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe

The Premise:

A suburban mother in a surreal town begins to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect…a fact that her closest friend is prepared to use to her advantage.

The Ramble:

A children’s game of soccer in a suburban neighborhood park is not the most thrilling time for anyone involved, but opting out seems impossible. For long-term frenemies Jill and Lisa, the game represents an opportunity to show off their parenting skills and catch up on the most shocking gossip. The latest scandal to rock the town is the murder of a young yoga instructor, though the majority of locals are most concerned with whether or not the suspect bagged their groceries.

As Lisa envies her friend’s seemingly perfect life and crushes on her husband Nick, even the queen bee has worries. Jill is secretly frustrated with her son Julian, who she frequently brags about. People pleasing to a fault, Jill is constantly smiling and trying to live up to absolutely everyone’s expectations, clearly an impossibility. Behind her braces-lined smile (which, btw, all the adults in this town wear), Jill is crumbling beneath the pressure of being a flawless Stepford-style wife and mother.

Impulsively, Jill gives her baby Madison to Lisa to raise as her own, and things just get stranger from here. Jill and Nick’s awkward child Julian transforms into a golden retriever after falling into the pool during Nick’s 40th birthday party. Nick, already obsessed with the pool water’s taste, becomes increasingly fixated on drinking only water that has come from the family pool.

Meanwhile, Lisa and her husband Dennis contend with the increasingly bad behavior of their son Bob, and welcome an unexpectedly odd new baby into their home. As Julian is no longer enrolled in an accelerated math program or allowed to participate in soccer (no Air Bud rules here), Jill feels like a failure as a parent, particularly as she has no human children left.

As all of these events unfold, Jill unknowingly has a stalker who periodically drives by in a golf cart (like the braces thing, all of the adults drive golf carts). What does it all mean? If anything, that is.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The vast majority of the time, all that I ask of a film is that it be weird. This one certainly fits the bill, and it makes quirky observations & social commentary while doing this. Based on the limited amount I knew about this film, it seemed inevitable that I would either love or hate it.

While this is usually described as a dark comedy, its interest in portraying the suburban dream transformed into an unending nightmare aligns this one quite closely with horror. There is always something slightly jarring about the smiles, bright colors, and non-sequitur dialogue that Jill tries to make sense of and belong in. Friendship, marriage, parenthood, divorce–all of these prove to be empty social signifiers above anything else.

No one is particularly likeable, and almost all of the characters are so self-absorbed that they don’t even know what’s going on around them, unless it can be used to their advantage. The humor is pitch-black, and I legitimately laughed at some of the shows within shows the characters watched–shows like a reality baking competition where contestants are judged on others’ bakes or a taboo children’s show called Kids with Knives. Nick’s obsession with pool water is so odd but is never not funny to me, and the scenes he shares with Julian (both in dog and child form) are silly but sharp.

This doesn’t even touch the storyline of Lisa’s new baby being an actual soccer ball, or the children’s teacher (D’Arcy Carden!)’s repeated references to her mother’s murder of the other members of her immediate family.

I will say the film does lack cohesion in some regards, but this didn’t impact my enjoyment. What’s more, some of the approaches that come across as pretentious hipster bullshit in other contexts work quite well here.

Coincidentally, this is the 2nd social satire of the Collab featuring a human to dog transformation (though not quite as literally with Bitch). I’d watch more in this subgenre, honestly.

Would my blog wife love this one like her own child dog or flunk it out of accelerated math? Find out in her review!

Film Reviews

Fresh, or: Reasons to Go Vegan

*Spoilers follow*

Unsurprisingly, a lot of our loosely structured themes on the Collab end up veering into horror territory. However, I think the unintentional cannibalism subtheme of the past couple of weeks is a first, even for us. This week’s pick has been getting a lot of buzz for its disturbing scenes in the vein of Sweeney Todd, though I can’t help wondering if some of the more upset stomachs have ever been around for a Julia Ducournau film.

The Film:

Fresh

Director:

Mimi Cave

The Premise:

A young woman who has all but given up on the world of dating is thrilled to meet a man who seems to good to be true…and definitely is.

The Ramble:

Noa has been on too many dating apps to count, and all she’s got to show for it are men who overshare details of their indigestion and share unsolicited dick pics. After a rather depressing evening, Noa discovers she has absolutely nothing in the fridge and must venture into the world for sustenance.

While in the produce section, Noa encounters surprisingly charming and extremely good-looking Steve, who more or less feeds her grapes?! It’s a more interesting trip to the store than I’ve had in a long time anyway. Desperate for the rom-com style meet-cute promised by any number of ’90s films, Noa gives Steve her number. Encouraged by bff Mollie, Noa decides to embrace the whirlwind romance that ensues.

Shortly after a single dream date where Noa feels really connected to Steve, she agrees to an impulsive weekend away. While Mollie gets rather sketchy vibes from this whole setup, she decides to be happy for her friend as long as she gets updates over the course of the weekend.

Of course, as soon as the couple arrives at their destination, it’s revealed that Steve’s isolated house in the country has no internet or cell service. Following their very first night in the house, Noa wakes up in a darkened room with Steve…who reveals he has drugged her and chained her to the floor. And it’s all in the name of cannibalism. Obviously.

To her horror, Noa learns she’s not alone in her prison, and is one victim among many in a massive underground bunker built expressly for the purpose of keeping women alive as Steve slowly carves them up. Not only does Steve enjoy human flesh himself, but he’s become a legend as the personal human butcher to the 1% of the 1%, who will pay excessive amounts of money for a taste.

With only the voice of Penny, the woman in the next room, to keep her relatively sane, Noa plans her escape. She quickly realizes a charm offensive is the way to go, though will Noa be able to stomach that any better than the prospect of pâté made from human liver…at least until Mollie can find her?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This one has such a twisted heart, and I love it for that. It has many of the same instincts of Promising Young Woman, or perhaps the feel of a horror written by Margaret Atwood. Thank god this is a comedy, as the truly disturbing themes and events (and the ways they stand in for sexual violence, psychological abuse, and human trafficking) throughout would be even more nauseating without the film’s sharp humor. I applaud the well-timed comic use of soundtrack in particular.

I appreciate that the film establishes Noa’s perspective initially, specifically where Steve is concerned. Steve doesn’t have horror movie music playing in the background when we meet him as, through Noa’s eyes, he’s a charming and good-looking man who is miles apart from anyone on the dating apps. Though there are hints that all is not well with Steve, the film is careful about not making Noa’s failure to see his real intentions at all her fault in any kind of victim-blaming way.

Daisy Edgar-Jones does great work here, but it’s Sebastian Stan who has the flashier role, and I already feel like I’ve been haunted for years by his character. He’s honestly fun to watch as he’s such a nightmarish figure, flipping so easily from sweet to seething. The way Steve is willing to believe Noa could genuinely care about him while keeping the threat of physical violence in his back pocket (even throwing around the vomit-inducing take on “you’re not like other girls”) feels like a chillingly accurate reflection.

I’m here for Mollie and her brilliant use of reverse Google image search–the best on film, in my opinion. I got a laugh out of one of the characters starting to investigate some of the disappearances and then bailing…especially since it allowed female solidarity to shine.

Word of advice: don’t try to watch this one while eating dinner.

Would my blog wife serve up some home cooking for this one or send it right to the chopping block? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, or: Art Is Pain

No regrets about our recent picks on the Collab, but my brain could certainly use a change of pace. The old comfort of B-movie madness seems to be the only part of the world that consistently makes sense, and the joy of picking apart the major leaps in logic in a film is my drug of choice. While we anticipate a different & extremely buzzy cannibal movie (looking at you, Fresh), here’s one to tide us over.

The Film:

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal

Director:

Boris Rodriguez

The Premise:

When an artist discovers he finds inspiration in bloody violence, he’s hesitant to stop the sleepwalking acts of cannibalism he witnesses.

The Ramble:

While driving along snowy country roads to start a new job teaching in a rural school, serious artist Lars hits a deer with his car. As it’s dying in agony, Lars makes the decision to end the deer’s suffering…by repeatedly bashing its head with a rock. In the midst of this unsettling spectacle, the local sheriff happens to walk by, cautioning a guilty-looking Lars not to leave the deer in the middle of the road. This does not bode well.

Years ago, Lars was a rising star in the contemporary painting scene, though he no longer paints, much to the dismay of the school principal, who had hoped to drum up some money based on their pseudo-famous hire’s career. Guaranteeing funds becomes especially important when the institution’s wealthy benefactor dies, leaving a fortune to the school, as long as care for her nephew Eddie is provided (IDK what kind of lawyers would sign off on this, but ok).

When he is assigned to care for Eddie (seriously, the logic never makes a lot of sense on this), a silent man with a cognitive disability, Lars learns that Eddie has a secret quirk: at night, he sleepwalks and unknowingly preys upon small animals. Eddie regularly returns home covered in animal blood…until the night he’s covered in human blood.

Lars would probably be more disturbed by this in normal circumstances; however, he finds the blood and guts stir up long-dormant artistic inspiration. Once again painting masterpieces, Lars is reluctant to intervene and, in fact, covers up Eddie’s acts of cannibalism. Predictably, this opens up the door to an ethical downward spiral as Lars shifts from accomplice to vindictive God figure, pointing Eddie towards anyone who is a bit of an asshole.

While Lars begins a romance with a fellow teacher he’s been crushing on and revels in his artistic acclaim, the sheriff becomes suspicious of the number of disappearances in their quaint small town. It’s all going to come down to the classic Hollywood dilemma: romance or cannibalism?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there are a lot of plot points that don’t make sense, but I have a lot of appreciation for this one’s incredibly dark humor and interest in exploring themes related to the creative mind. Our film has a lot to say about human nature and the lengths we will go to when justifying bad behavior. I never get tired of a film that underlines the hypocrisy of the mythology surrounding a tortured genius, and I enjoy how director Boris Rodriguez approaches things here.

Lars is an interesting if not particularly likeable character, ultimately becoming a sort of Dr. Frankenstein figure who is more monstrous than his creation. Eddie’s existence is a stark contrast, and he’s incredibly sweet. He’s got more than a bit of a Fido zombie quality to him, and I’m guessing the zombie mythology wasn’t embraced largely because “sleepwalking cannibal” makes for a catchier B-movie title.

I will say the characters don’t make a lot of sense here, as their opinions of Lars swing wildly from distrust to complete trust, condescending art prick to pure-hearted golden child. Lars himself makes really odd choices, like agreeing to take care of Eddie and taking the teaching job to begin with, neither of which we really get much of an explanation for. Teacher crush Lesley is just annoyingly written, not a fully formed character in many ways.

Considering the title, I believe we could have gotten a much wilder story to rival our favorite B movies from the Collab. Lesson learned: no cannibal film will ever beat Ravenous, though I did have fun with this.

Would my blog wife pair this one with a nice Chianti or leave its limbs scattered in the woods? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Humans, or: Family Togetherness

Somehow it’s March, and if that fills you with existential dread, you’ll certainly enjoy(?) this week’s film. Or at least connect to it on a spiritual and emotional level? It’s another free for all/blog free month on the Collab, and it wouldn’t be us without familial dysfunction and a healthy dose of despair.

The Film:

The Humans

Director:

Stephen Karam

The Premise:

Gathering for a Thanksgiving celebration in the youngest daughter’s new apartment, the cracks begin to show in both the building and the family members.

The Ramble:

As the Blake family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving feast, they anticipate a rather minimalist celebration. Youngest daughter Brigid is hosting despite having moved recently to a new apartment in Manhattan with serious boyfriend Richard–so recently that the majority of their furniture and belongings have yet to arrive.

Though the new place is in Manhattan, don’t be fooled: this isn’t exactly the Upper West Side with scenic views of Central Park. Rather, Brigid and Richard have found a place with an “interior courtyard” view, major structural cracks, and water stains that seem to be actively growing.

In the midst of this decay are the family members themselves: parents Erik and Deirdre, hardworking “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types who are struggling nevertheless. They bring along Erik’s mother, a woman with both physical and mental ailments that have progressed as she’s aged. Brigid’s sister Aimee joins the family as well, though she suffers from ulcerative colitis that has recently taken a turn, seeming to cost her job and relationship with long-term girlfriend Carol.

Both sisters have moved away from Scranton to the big city (Aimee to Philadelphia), which causes their parents some consternation as they fret over the rejection of their values and the unsafe streets of the city. It doesn’t help that Erik and Aimee were actually in Manhattan on September 11, with Aimee interviewing for a law job in the World Trade Center.

As the cracks in familial bonds are revealed, the lights begin to fail, and with no replacement bulbs, the apartment slowly descends into darkness. Dreams and memories seem to be the only things keeping the family together, though these don’t provide a particularly firm foundation. Can the Blakes survive the evening, admittedly in more of an existential sense?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t 100% know what to make of this one. Both compelling and frustrating, it seems to simultaneously draw in the viewer and push us away. There have been some descriptions of this film as horror or even comedy(!?!), but it’s very much an old-fashioned family drama in the spirit of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Fraught family relationships, the impossibility of connection, and an inevitable, slow decline create the film’s bleak tone.

The darkness is in the mundane, the day-to-day lives and relationships of our characters struggling to understand each other and manage their personal grief. There are physical and mental illnesses to navigate, much as Erik and other members of the family believe they are genetically immune to depression. Dread of illness, death, and decay inhabits the apartment, and the slowly encroaching darkness reflects this onscreen. The characters have the impulse to share vulnerable moments and be honest, but secrecy and isolation are the result of many of their choices.

Our film is all about atmosphere, the camera angles from afar distancing the viewer from the family as well as reflecting their own disconnectedness. The slow creep of cracks & water stains are the symbolic decay of the family, the sudden disgust of cockroaches and bodily functions a stand-in for their feelings towards themselves and each other.

There are admittedly times things get a bit heavy-handed & full of hipster nonsense, but the film is extremely effective in evoking an oppressive tone. I find the nuances of the familial relationships and the realistic dialogue well done too. Truly unsettling.

Would my blog wife fix this one up with a bit of joint compound or condemn this property immediately? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Happiness of the Katakuris, or: Born This Clay

It wouldn’t be the Blog Collab if we weren’t pressing play on a horrible mismatch of genres that shouldn’t work. Horror, musical, comedy, claymation? Surely these elements can never combine in satisfying cinematic harmony. But we’re not necessarily seeking perfection here so much as that certain B-movie je ne sais quoi.

The Film:

The Happiness of the Katakuris

The Premise:

After an unlucky family covers up the suicide of their first inn guest, things…escalate.

The Ramble:

At a hotel restaurant in Japan, a young woman finds a horrible surprise in her meal: a little demonic creature that thinks her uvula looks like a delicious snack. After leaving the woman for dead, the creature undergoes a very quick life cycle, coming full circle as it’s snatched up in a crow’s beak. When an elderly man kills the crow, bringing it down mid-flight, you know ominous events are about to unfold.

A claymation woman screams as a small winged demon pries open her jaws.

The aforementioned man is our narrator’s great-grandfather Jinpei Katakuri, the head of a rather unfortunate family. His son, Masao, laid off from his job, made the seemingly sound decision to buy a remote property sure to transform into a popular tourist destination after the construction of a major road. Major setback to this plan? The road has yet to be built.

Masao’s daughter Shizue lives with the family, along with her brother Masayuki and daughter Yurie, the narrator. Shizue is divorced and falls in and out of love too quickly. Masayuki has a violent temper and is attempting to leave his criminal past behind. Yurie herself is a child but old enough to realize her family is leaning heavily on the dysfunctional side of the scale.

Four members of a family stand outside, looking unhappy and facing away from each other.

Just as the family is prepared to give up on making a living from the inn, they finally welcome their first guest on a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately, their guest is extremely depressed, ultimately dying by suicide when he stabs himself with a hotel key. When the family discovers the body, they decide to cover things up, fearing their first guest’s suicide will doom their business.

Four people in a dark room pause in the middle of a dance. They react in distress to the discovery of a body in the room.

Soon after, a man claiming to be a member of the British Royal Navy arrives, and Shizue is instantly smitten. It becomes increasingly clear that the man is not who he appears to be, especially as he makes ever more outlandish claims about his connections to the royal family. After he leaves, Shizue receives a call implying he has died…but is that the truth?

When a somewhat renowned Sumo wrestler arrives at the inn with a teen girl, it’s not long before both end up dead. Because of the suspicious number of bodies piling up, the family starts to believe Masayuki may be responsible due to his criminal past.

Add a few musical numbers to the mix, a plan to finally begin building the long-promised road, and some reanimating corpses, and you’ve got…a rather surreal experience.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise is irresistible, but the loose structure of the film itself is confusing and often frustrating. I appreciate the musical numbers so much, especially the extremely dark ones that discuss hiding the body of the first guest and discovering the exhumed bodies have become zombified.

I would have liked a bit more direction here, though, and some idea of what is to come. I expected more horror, but the film is more interested in exploring themes around family and social commentary about success/happiness and the perception of these…as well as just doing whatever the fuck it wants to. Some of these themes don’t work well when everyone in the family is problematic to some degree. I found it difficult to care about the characters and what happened to them as they spent most of their time being horrible, making questionable decisions, and having things go miraculously well despite their incompetence.

Props for weirdness, though. I’m struggling to think of a recent watch as unabashedly strange and visually daring as this one.

Would my blog wife save this one from an unexpected lava flow or bury it along with the other bodies? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Troll 2, or: The Family That Summons Together

I’m quite happy to skip most media that reliably generates memes, especially since becoming a meme or a gif seems to be an end unto itself. As loyal readers of this blog know (all…3.5 of you?), your Blog Collab writers are deeply resentful of films like Sharknado that exist exclusively for the social media buzz. So even though I’ve seen Troll 2 appear on its share of top 10 B-movie lists, I’ve largely ignored it since I’ve seen a boatload of memes from the film. I’ve gotten all of the highlights, right?

How wrong I have been.

The Film:

Troll 2

The Premise:

While vacationing in a small, rural town with his family, a boy sees visions of his grandfather warning him of the imminent threat of goblins.

The Ramble:

As far as bedtime stories go, Grandpa Seth spins a yarn that ranges from disturbingly dark to…even darker. Cautioning young Joshua Waits about the very real dangers of goblins, he warns that goblins may disguise themselves and will encourage humans to eat foods that will turn them into edible plant people. The moral of the story is that goblins will fuck you up for no reason–a refreshingly post-modern theme for a children’s tale. Making matters worse, Grandpa Seth has been dead for months, properly freaking out Joshua’s mother as her child continues to have conversations with the man.

A close-up on grandpa Seth shows an elderly man with a beard looking intensely into the distance, a child in pajamas reclined on a bed in the background.

Hoping to enjoy time away together in the countryside, the family is swapping houses for a month to stay in the idyllic small town of Nilbog. (And just in case you didn’t catch it, don’t worry–our film will dramatically reveal the shocking surprise that “Nilbog” is goblin spelled backwards.) Added bonus here? The trip should distract troubled Joshua and remove older sister Holly from the influence of “bad boy” Elliott. As far as a I can tell, Elliott’s reputation comes from the fact that he does nothing but hang around with his friend gang all day. This is a point of contention between Holly and Elliott, and apparently a good reason to throw around some casual homophobia. Our film is from 1990, but it’s still pretty jarring.

Though Holly invites Elliott to vacation with her family, she makes it clear that his friends are not welcome to come along. As it turns out, Elliott and his friends have rented an RV and plan to surprise the Waits family by meeting them in Nilbog.

A group of goblinshuddle over their victim. The goblins are short human-like creatures with white hair covering their faces, large noses, and oversized pointy ears.

When the Waits crew arrive at their vacation home, the family who live there eerily leave without saying a word. However, it’s not long before the Waitses feel at home, especially since there is a delicious (albeit oddly green) meal ready for them to enjoy. Grandpa Seth warns Joshua that the family must not eat the meal, so Joshua devises a disgusting plan to intervene, though points for creativity. Joshua’s father pulls the ultimate “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” power move with a lecture about how he grew up in poverty legitimately going hungry many nights.

Meanwhile, Elliott’s buddy Arnold, the face that launched 1,000 memes, notices a young woman running through the woods in terror. When goblins catch up to the two, Arnold confidently tells them to get lost, presuming they are a group of costumed weirdos. This seems to pay off initially…until a goblin lobs a spear his way. Fleeing the goblins again, the pair winds up in a creepy church that is now the home of iconic druid queen Creedence. Though it seems Creedence will be an unlikely savior, she in fact has a sinister hidden agenda…oh my GODDDDDDDDDDDD.

Arnold, a teen with blond hair and large glasses, screams with a sweat-soaked face. There is a housefly on his forehead.

The next day, the group of guys and the Waits family are in need of provisions. On the way to the town store, the sheriff offers one of Elliott’s friends a GREEN SANDWICH, which he eats without hesitation. It feels like a major sign of privilege that this dude automatically thinks any food proffered by law enforcement will definitely be safe to consume, even if it’s fucking GREEN. At the shop, the only thing available is special fortified Nilbog milk, which is suspiciously free of cost. The extremely helpful and friendly locals relay a message from Arnold that essentially boils down to “Meet me in the creepy house in the woods.” Sure sounds like Arnold!

Creedence, a woman with dark eye makeup and oversized glasses, gestures dramatically over her shoulder as two worried teens look on.

While in town with his father, Joshua stumbles across a goblin church service, which is sort of a Southern Baptist-inspired gathering with the congregation’s ire focused on eating flesh. Unwittingly drawing attention to himself while snooping, Joshua narrowly misses being force-fed Nilbog ice cream.

That evening, as the goblins tire of biding their time, they hold an impromptu gathering at the vacation home under the guise of folksy smalltown generosity. As Joshua learns, it’s always a good thing to have the spirit of your deceased grandfather around to supply you with Molotov cocktails in case a group of goblins pressures you to choose between a quick death and a slow, violent one.

Will the Waits family manage to defeat the goblin army or will they be reminded that you don’t piss on hospitality?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

A purely subjective rating based on my own personal enjoyment of this film. Is this the well-crafted, moving work of art that is Portrait of a Lady on Fire? God no. Is it going to occupy a similar amount of space in my brain? Probably.

Of course, it’s extremely irritating to have homophobia join the party here. And I don’t completely understand the hostility towards vegetarians that seems to be on display throughout the film. It’s also reasonably distracting that a film with trolls in the title is about…goblins. But overall, I did enjoy this one so much more than anticipated. There’s a good reason this is considered a cult classic.

Once I started watching, I couldn’t look away. Things are obviously extremely low budget, and the acting is as stilted as expected. But it’s actually quite funny (more or less intentionally), and some of the effects are surprisingly gross. It doesn’t hurt that the unsettlingly friendly group of strangers becoming increasingly sinister is one of my favorite horror setups.

I haven’t even really given Creedence her due in this review, as she is truly a legend amongst cult classic villains. She is living my dream life, minus the oddly sexy popcorn scene with an actual teenager. But her unhinged maniacal energy along with her preference for plants over people make me absolutely root for her.

Special mentions to Holly’s extremely ’90s Garfield astrology sleepwear, as well as Grandpa Seth’s odd Orson Welles vibe.

TL;DR: if you don’t like Troll 2, you’re wrong.

Would my goblin queen toast this one with a glass of Nilbog milk or conspire to defeat it with a surprisingly violent spirit guide? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Knife + Heart, or: Crow Me a River

*Spoilers below*

CW: sexual assault

We have good intentions with our themes, we really do. But sometimes, even when you think the innocuous film that’s not too taxing on the brain is what you need, you just have to go with the lesbian director of gay porn struggling to find a masked killer murdering her actors in 1970s Paris. Duh.

The Film:

Knife + Heart

The Premise:

As a masked killer picks off the actors in her gay porn film, director Anne attempts to solve the murders, wrap filming, and impress ex-girlfriend Loïs with her brilliance.

The Ramble:

A director of gay porn in ’70s Paris, Anne is…quite troubled and troubling, frankly. At times a very high-functioning alcoholic, Anne’s reliance on the bottle has finally destroyed her long-term relationship with girlfriend and editor Loïs for good. Certainly not too proud to beg, Anne calls from a pay phone after a night of drinking, but Loïs insists they remain work colleagues only.

A blonde woman in a black leather trench coat stands in a phone booth at night, looking down dejectedly.

Meanwhile, at one of the top surreal gay nightclubs of Paris, one of Anne’s young stars catches the eye of a man in a dark mask that covers his face completely. Though things start on a kinky note, they take a turn for the ominous when the masked figure brings out a dildo that’s also a switchblade.

In a dark night club illuminated in blue, a young man looks off into the distance while dancing with a group of men.

Anne is rather unfazed, prowling a local quarry for another young gay star–or at least a man who has no qualms about performing gay sex on camera for the right price. So unmoved by actor Karl’s death is Anne that she even finds inspiration in his death for her next film, Anal Fury V…a reference to Karl being stabbed in the rear. The crew finds this all to be in rather poor taste.

After the murder of another of Anne’s regular actors (featuring a white-eyed grackle or possibly crow depending on the translation), the cast and crew is properly freaked the fuck out. However, Anne merely retitles the film Homocidal, determined to finish her greatest work yet and impress the hell out of Loïs. Unfortunately, it seems that Loïs has moved on with another woman, leaving Anne to drink alone at an incredibly surreal lesbian club.

Loïs, a white woman wearing a sheer dark dress, dances in a nightclub with a Black woman wearing a metallic dress.

When the filming is complete, Anne hosts a wrap party, aka an opportunity to wait around for Loïs to arrive. Soon after Loïs arrives, a white-eyed grackle lands on her shoulder, and a dramatic wind storm cuts the party short. As the party attendees flee, an actor left behind becomes another victim of the masked killer.

Following Loïs home, Anne confronts her ex, demanding that she continue to love her. Anne sexually assaults Loïs and, the next day, her former lover disappears and asks to be left alone.

When Anne learns of the latest death of one of her actors, she confronts the police about the absence of any leads whatsoever. Taking pity, a young police officer gives Anne a feather that has been found at each crime scene. As it turns out, the feathers come from…a white-eyed grackle, hailing from a forest in rural France, and supposedly victims of extinction hundreds of years ago.

To uncover the truth, cityslicker Anne packs her bags and heads to smalltown France. Will she discover the identity of the killer or just find a forest full of creepy birds?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

In the earlier segments of the film, I was confused and frustrated enough that I probably would have multi-tasked for the remainder of the film if it hadn’t been subtitled. There are a lot of artistic decisions here that come across as the work of auteur who thinks it’s your problem if you don’t understand their vision. Oh, you didn’t understand the oranges as a representation of the loss of childhood innocence and their evocation of early Russian silent films? That’s on you.

That being said, even if enjoyment doesn’t quite describe my feelings about this one, I admire the ambition. I don’t particularly like our lead, especially since she sexually assaults someone and claims it was love, but I’m ok with not liking Anne a whole lot. From a thematic perspective, the concept of becoming monstrous in the name of love draws a parallel between Anne’s actions, those of masked killer Guy, and even the actions of his father.

Appropriately, the cinematography is gorgeous and chaotic, playing with film noir blues and violent reds, as well as soft daylight glow.

I did find the look into some considerations of the porn industry at the time pretty fascinating. Interestingly, Anne takes pride in the artistic element of her work, and wants to create gay porn with a unique spin. Not to give the porn industry a free pass on a lot of its exploitative/problematic practices, but it’s nice that there’s no shame here for the cast and crew, and there’s even a sense of professional pride. That’s not the perspective we get about porn crews in a lot of other works.

In the end, I didn’t expect to find the unraveling of Guy’s story to be quite so moving. I wouldn’t call Guy a sympathetic figure, but the past does color his actions with tragedy and create a surprisingly emotional conclusion to our film. It has to be intentional that the setting is 1979, setting the stage for the AIDS crisis just a few years later.

Btw, if you’re just here for an extended and quite artistically shot orgy scene, skip to the last 5 minutes of the film.

Would my blog wife cast this one in a porn film immediately or leave it to a forest of white-eyed grackles? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Spinster, or: A Yarn about Knitting

It’s a good feeling to cross things off the watchlist, particularly in advance of the Oscars. Even though the only things I have to do are pay for streaming subscriptions and sit down to watch films, there’s still a nice feeling of setting a goal and meeting it. That being said, April was an intense viewing month on the Blog Collab, and we are now very much looking forward to a more low-key May. Unless we change our minds.

The Film:

Spinster

The Premise:

Dumped on her 39th birthday, a single woman considers what it means to be a spinster…and whether such an existence is really so tragic.

The Ramble:

As a bride-to-be recounts the impossibly romantic, life-changing moment she met her future husband, caterer Gaby has already decided the hassle isn’t worth it to serve at this wedding. A champion of dead-pan sarcasm, Gaby’s cynical take on marriage is infuriating enough for the bride to storm off in a huff, leaving us to wonder how our protagonist ever manages to paste on a smile long enough to book events.

Gaby, a woman with brown hair in braids, sits in a commercial kitchen, 3 plates of food she has made in front of her.

Gaby’s lack of empathy on this particular day is in large part due to her 39th birthday, a reminder that she is rapidly approaching 40 with no partner, children, or direction in her life. When she returns home, Gaby finds her boyfriend packing up all of his things and moving out. This sends Gaby into a panic–though she insists she doesn’t need marriage to be happy, she spends a worrying amount of time on dating apps.

Meanwhile, Gabby struggles to connect with the people in her life. She spends time with her bff Amanda, but only when running errands with the kids or attending horrible couples dinner parties. Neighbor Callie seems helpful and friendly, but Gaby is too wrapped up in her own troubles to notice an extended olive branch. And when it comes to Gaby’s family…let’s just say those relationships are fraught. Since her mother’s death several years ago, Gaby retains a lot of anger towards her father, who spent a lot of the marriage having various affairs. What’s more, Gaby’s brother Alex is a narcissist convinced he’s a comic genius as he navigates a messy divorce and custody battle.

Gaby sits on the couch across from her friend, who is folding laundry as they talk.

In short, Gaby is exactly the kind of character whose life is never going to change unless something shakes it up. The catalyst in this instance is a change in the custody agreement for Alex’s daughter Adele. Now, Gaby will need to take care of Adele while Alex pursues his stand-up comedy dreams on Thursday evenings (barf).

Around the same time, Gaby gets fed up with dating apps. At Amanda’s suggestions, she unsuccessfully pursues a (married, oops) chiropractor and joins a casual softball team to meet dudes. She even checks out dudes as Adele rock climbs, all to no avail. After yet another date that goes well initially but ends in disappointment, Gaby shifts gears and begins searching for the dog she’s always wanted but never adopted.

Gaby rests on a couch, reading, as a dog snuggles next to her.

In a fortuitous turn of events, Gaby’s father finally acknowledges that it’s very possible that she will never marry. Since he spent $40,000 on her sister’s wedding, he decides to give Gaby a comparable sum in the name of fairness. Gaby has always wanted to open a restaurant, and having a sizeable amount of money to get started gives her the opportunity to realize this dream.

While Gaby works to establish a restaurant, she builds a life that looks very different from the vision of her spinster aunt smoking 2 packs a day and dying alone in a bathtub. Getting to know her neighbor, joining a knitting group, spending one-on-one time with her bff, bonding with her niece–Gaby seems to have it all figured out. When she meets a lost hiker while out for a walk, will Gaby reconsider?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I like this one a lot. It’s a bit mild and inoffensive at times, and I wish it had pushed some of its ideas a little bit further. However, it really fit the bill in terms of giving our brains a break, and no arguments here at all on the message and themes. It’s refreshing to see a single woman navigating her place in the world without a rom-com message along the lines of “when you are a single woman who learns to love yourself, a moderately attractive man will love you too, and at last your life will no longer be the empty shell devoid of meaning that it was merely days ago.” I love how at peace Gaby becomes with the idea of living the single life and creating her own sense of meaning and purpose. Chelsea Peretti’s dead-pan performance is perfect here, and watching her character grow is sweet without being overly sappy. The film is spot-on about getting older being a triumph as well.

Major criticism that prevented this from being a 4-star review: the huge amount of privilege Gaby has that the film never really acknowledges. The way it’s presented when her dad gifts Gaby with a $40,000 check, it’s a fucking normal thing for families to do. It’s not an expectation I have that any member of my family will ever give me $40,000 for any reason–and even if it were, it’s never going to happen. If you’re reading this and anyone in your family has ever given you $40,000 or more, please tell me if you’re currently accepting new family members into the fold. That plot element took me out of the story, as well as the overall lack of conflict in the film. The film could have done a better job of being inclusive, as the characters of color are in minor roles and we get a mere glimpse of LGBTQ representation. Some of Gaby’s arguments in favor of singlehood for women come from a place of privilege too, though it’s still satisfying to see her shut down some extremely dated/patriarchal talking points.

Despite some criticism, this film really fit the bill in terms of what I wanted to see onscreen at the moment, and helped fill the void of female-driven films that aren’t focused entirely on romantic storylines. Gaby’s relationship with Adele is handled really well too; I don’t always love a film that hinges on a character playing surrogate parent to a child as a transformative experience. In this situation, I enjoyed the aunt/niece dynamic, and that Gaby felt it was important for Adele to learn to communicate her interests and be able to say no.

Would my blog wife cater a lovely wedding or funeral for this one or send it off without even an hors d’oeuvre sample? Find out in her review!

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!