Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Holy Camp, or: I-E-I Will Always Love You

This week gives us a much-needed break from full-frontal scenes depicting the male (and female) anatomy, which is a feat unto itself.  Add Whitney Houston musical numbers, strong female friendships, and lesbian themes, and we’ve got…well, a film premise constructed from our dreams, essentially.

The Film:

Holy Camp! (La llamada)

The Premise:

Teen bffs at a religious summer camp must contend with secret parties, the crushing of their dreams, visits from an unexpectedly glittery God, and attractive nuns.

The Ramble:

Maria and Susana are besties for life reluctantly spending the summer at a religious camp for teens.  While initially planning to sneak out and party every night, Maria has lost interest in their schemes.  As it turns out, she has been meeting someone else at night–God.  And he seems to be a huge fan of Whitney Houston.

A man in a shiny suit descends from a blue-lit staircase from heaven.
This is your vision of God too, right?

After refusing to participate in a weekend canoe trip, Maria and Susana are effectively under house arrest with novice nun Milagros.  Though she tries to be stern, Milagros is too kind to be angry and bonds with Susana over their love of music.  Hmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps Milagros has a secret past as the lead singer of a band…

Milagros isn’t the only one keeping a secret.  Susana, upset about the newfound distance between the two friends, accuses Maria of leaving her hanging.  Maria, on the other hand, thinks it’s time to grow up and forget about their dream to become a world-famous girl band.

Two teenage girls at a crowded club smile excitedly at each other.
Bestie love.

Meanwhile, Sister Bernarda is convinced she has the perfect solution for reining the girls in:  music.  Though Milagros appreciates the thought, she finds Sr. Bernarda’s taste in music…a bit dated.  This leads to perhaps the finest nun-centric musical number since The Sound of Music.

A nun sits on top of a piano, raising her hands skyward while a novice stands next to her, dancing.
No caption needed.

Still on the outs with her bff, Maria, confides in Sr. Bernarda that God speaks to her through the songs of Whitney Houston.  Sr. Bernarda is less than understanding initially, but does eventually believe and support Maria.  With the help of the Sister, Maria learns to pray so she can understand God’s message but keeps her newfound faith a secret.

Susana is also keeping her feelings a secret.  When she sees Milagros dress up and sing into a hairbrush, reminiscing about her days as a singer, Susana develops a bit of a crush.  But does Milagros have a clue?

A teenage girl stands by a mural, smoking a cigarette.  She is standing at the end of a rainbow the Virgin Mary is projecting from her fingers.
Right on, Mary.

Though now armed with the power of prayer, Maria feels farther than ever from God when he laughs at her efforts and walks away.  She becomes despondent after this until Susana finally visits her and the two make up.  Susana confesses to Milagros that she’s in love with her, leaving the novice stunned.

How will the two best friends heal their relationship with the ones they love?  And might it perhaps involve a choreographed glitter-suffused dance number?

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Without hesitation.

I feel bad now about some of the other films I haven’t given a full 5 stars that probably deserved it.  This one definitely deserves it as it’s so fucking joyous and refreshing in so many ways.  All 4 of our leading characters are women, one of whom is rather aged.  Though she’s a bit out of touch, she is a respected and compassionate while remaining remarkably free of judgment.  The ladies of this film support each other so much, and I support that support.

The way love is explored is powerful:  spiritual love, the love between friends, and romantic love.  Both Maria and Susana express their love for each other by being true to themselves and honest with each other.  I also like the message about religion even as a completely non-religious person.  The way the faithful choose to worship is their decision–music is just as valid as prayer.

If this is what church had been like when I was growing up, you can be pretty damn sure my ass would’ve been in the pews about 3,000x more.

Was Christa singing the gospel of this film or did she convert to another immediately?  Read her review here to find out!

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a woman sits cross-legged on the floor of a mostly empty room, while a man in a robe stands behind her
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Dark Song, or: Angels & Demons

As much as this month is about trashy horror, it wouldn’t be complete without a moody slow burner about dealing with grief through a countryside retreat to practice occult rituals.  With a man who is essentially an extremely ginger Paul Giamatti.

The Film:

A Dark Song

The Premise:

A woman hires an occultist to perform a ritual allowing her to communicate with her murdered son.

The Ramble:

Sophia has been mourning her son’s unsolved murder for a long time (understandably) and finally decides to do something about it.  Her solution?  Occult ritual to summon a guardian angel that will grant her a request.  Though she claims the request will be to speak with her child one ore time, does Sophia have ulterior motives?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

The occultist she meets with is Joseph, who has had a 1 in 3 success rate, which I guess isn’t too shabby in the occult world?  In order to complete the ritual, Sophia will have to follow Joseph’s instructions without question, some of which are pretty gnarly.  Joseph initially turns down her request, even for a shitload of money, but decides to take on the ritual when she convinces him her motives are pure.

a woman drives a car with a male passenger looking out the window
The film’s original pitch as a road trip comedy was less successful…

Joseph explains the ritual is basically a journey (I guess he’s a New Age occultist) in which they’ll travel through 5 circles, invoking the angel at all stages.  Most likely, the angel will materialize after the 4th or 5th step.  Of course, there are also really horrific tasks along the way for purification.  Sophia has to do things like shave Joseph’s body (what), spend hours to days reciting from one of the dark magic books (obv I totally know a lot about this kind of thing…) without food or sleep, drinking stemless wine glasses of Joseph’s blood, and getting naked in front of him so he can “purify” himself (gross gross gross).

There are some signs that the rituals are working like birds hitting the window and Sophia hearing her son’s voice speaking to her.  However, after a while, it becomes clear that they’re really not getting the intended results from all of the blood drinking and…uh, emergence of other bodily fluids.  As it turns out, Sophia’s real motive is to rain down vengeance on the teens who killed her son in a pseudo-occult ritual (and were never caught).  Joseph says it’s fine as a motive, but lying about it was distinctly not ok.

a man and woman sit side by side in the dark, smoking cigarettes
Lying is impure, but cigarettes are fine.

For the ritual to work now, Joseph insists Sophia must be purified, which means nearly drowning her in a cold bath in the middle of the night.

After Sophia’s near-death experience, she’s angry with their lack of progress and lashes out at Joseph.  Things escalate rather quickly in ways that aren’t wonderful for Joseph.  After Sophia tries to leave the house, she discovers she can’t… and of course things get really sinister from here on out.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The eerie ambiance is perfect and burns so slowly, leading to a suspenseful ending.  Not a lot of horror can do what this film does.  However (as always), men ruined it for me.   I had trouble getting around Joseph being an asshole for 95% of his screen time.  Sophia isn’t necessarily the most likeable character ever, but she’s easier to understand and feel sympathy for.  The last 30 minutes or so of this are pure perfection, though, and  (SPOILER) blissfully Joseph-free (sorry, dude).

Would Christa complete an occult ritual with this one or let it drown in the bathtub? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Resurrección, or: No Mo’ Poe

This week takes us back in time again to another, er, true event(?).  True in the sense it was a real historical event…except with demons.

The Film:

Resurrección

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

It’s 1871 Argentina, and the Catholic Church is strong but so is the outbreak of yellow fever, the worst in the history of Buenos Aires.  After having visions of the plague, a young priest decides it’s God’s will that he head to BA and help the sick.  But not before stabbing himself in the hands with a cross, which is pretty gross honestly.  But not as gross as it’s going to get with all of the vomiting that happens in this film.

Before going into the city, the priest makes a pit stop at the family estate, where his brother and family live (I don’t remember him ever having a name, but I also have a notoriously bad memory for character names).

What is meant to be a fond family reunion quickly devolves (don’t they always) when the priest learns his brother Edgardo is gravely ill with yellow fever, and his wife is holed up in the chapel with their daughter, Remedios.  She will neither let anyone enter or leave, though Remedios expresses her desire to leave.

A priest talks to an ill man who is lying in bed.
U ok, bro?

When a man who is essentially a faith healer shows up, the priest insists he leave and stop taking advantage of desperate people.  The healer answers that he has the power to cure the priest’s faith problem, blah di blah, but leaves.  Maybe the family should have taken the healer up on his offer, as Edgardo is in pretty bad shape—sweating, talking nonsense, and vomiting up black blood.  Btw, I looked it up, and the black blood really was a symptom during this outbreak, and people even referred to the fever as the black vomit.  Suffice it to say it looks really fucking unpleasant.

Just before dying, Edgardo gives his brother a journal that will explain everything because of course he does.  Oh, and also takes one last stab at the conviction of his brother’s faith.

The only conclusion the priest can make is some weird shit is going on, since obviously the journal goes missing before he can read it.  He senses there is something sinister that his brother feared more than his illness and death and is determined to get to the bottom of it, but first on his to-do list is helping Remedios escape the chapel.

A veiled figure kneels before a shrine illuminated with many candles.
Despite what Pinterest suggests, you CAN have too many candles.

All of this is thrown off track, however, when the priest comes down with yellow fever too.  This means a series of trippy, surreal dream sequences that look cool but are confusing AF.

After waking up from his nightmarish sleep, the priest learns a shocking truth from Quispe, who has served the family for years:  the priest’s sister-in-law, Lucia, killed Remedios and herself overnight.  The priest refuses to believe this and is determined to find out what really happened.

It goes a bit off the rails from here on out, with Quispe going off on a tangent about how much of a dick his dad was, and then the priest’s dad was also a dick but at least he watched him die (!?!?!).  Quispe doesn’t pull any punches, telling the priest if he vomits black blood, he’ll be dead within a day.  Great?

An elderly man passes a set of keys to a character in the foreground.
“Hand me the keys, you fairy godmother!”

As he becomes more seriously ill, the priest finds Lucia and Remedios alive, though Quispe insists this is a delusion.  The priest finally breaks down and calls for the faith healer, abandoning his Catholic faith and putting his trust in…I don’t know, something that looks like a tiny carved bone?  You do you.

This of course isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the priest immediately regrets his decision when the Catholic guilt returns with a vengeance.  The ending is straight out of Poe, except without the suspense, emotional punch, and the feeling of everything all clicking into place.  Just leave Poe alone, sir.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really wanted to go with 3, but there’s too little going on here to merit that extra PPH.  Guess how much fun it is to watch a feverish Argentine priest stumble around for an hour and a half with complete conviction that what he’s doing is important and makes sense.

There is virtually no suspense as it’s impossible to care about the characters and their motives.  I still don’t understand why the priest cared so much about Remedios.  Ok, she was his niece, but you’re going to have to do better than that to tell a good story.  This goes against everything I’ve ever said about movies, but you know what this could have used more of?  Some goddamn flashbacks to establish the fucking character relationships.  Without that anchor, this film is emotionally empty.

Based on the trailer, this looked like a shitty version of Guillermo del Toro…which is pretty accurate, honestly.  The del Toro tribute just feels like a rip-off, though, from the Gothic vibe to the haunting narration at the end (which is almost a paraphrase of the conclusion of Devil’s Backbone, but just falls flat here).

Every time someone tells me they’ve never seen Devil’s Backbone, I lose 6 months of my life, so do us both a favor and watch that instead.

Did Christa put her faith in this one or remain a critical skeptic?  Read her review here to find out!

cover art for the book Brighton Rock
Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Brighton Rock

I almost bought a copy of this novel in Brighton, which would have been perfect, but I hated the cover.  Apparently it’s a thing to have cartoony characters on the cover of this novel, which makes no sense because, in true Graham Greene fashion, the closest it comes to humor is bitterness.

There are some spoilers in this review…but this novel is nearly 80 years old and has been made into 2 different movies.  At a certain point you might want to just accept you’re never going to read it.

Brighton Rock

Graham Greene

Total pages:  247

Important note:  this is connected to another Graham Greene novel, A Gun for Sale.  However, I maintain it’s really not necessary to read the other one before this.  But who knows, I could be missing information that would bring new meaning to my reading of Brighton Rock.

Other note:  Brighton rock does not refer to a geological formation (as I believed for a really long time), but a candy stick you can buy in every.  Single.  Shop in Brighton.  The stick reads “Brighton rock” on both ends and all the way through.

a piece of Brighton Rock, a striped stick of candy wrapped in a label that reads "Brighton rock"

Our story follows the leader of a 1930s Brighton gang in the aftermath of a murder.  Pinkie Brown is a cold, ruthless 18-year-old psychopath whose grey eyes give “an effect of heartlessness like an old man’s in which human feeling has died.”  (God damn, Graham Greene.)  Following the murder of his gang leader, Pinkie is in charge of those loyal enough to remain, and his first order of business is vengeance.

Pinkie’s target is Fred Hale, a man who betrayed the gang leader in some way, presumably (I can’t claim I understand how gangs work at all).  Just before Fred’s murder (spoiler, but I don’t think Fred even makes it to page 30), he encounters the easy-going Ida, whose bosom is described in virtually every chapter.  When Fred disappears, Ida is extremely suspicious and refuses to rest until she discovers the truth about what’s happened.

As Ida pursues Pinkie, Pinkie pursues Rose, a teenager who unknowingly holds a key piece of evidence that could implicate Pinkie in murder.  Even though the idea of romance is utterly repellent to Pinkie and he sees the traditional path of marriage and children as a slow death, he convinces Rose he loves her in order to dissuade her from talking to anyone about what she knows.  Is he willing to sacrifice his “bitter virginity” (whatever the fuck that means), his freedom, and even his eternal soul in order to keep Rose quiet?

Like basically every other Graham Greene novel ever written, this one is highly critical of the Catholic Church.  Pinkie and Rose are both Catholic, in contrast with Ida, who isn’t religious but spiritual and has a few weird superstitions about ghosts and Ouija boards.  As a child, Pinkie wanted to be a priest, and Greene draws parallels between his contempt for the rest of humanity, indifference to suffering, and disdain of sex and romantic love with the Catholic Church.  Greene also prods quite a bit at the two Catholic characters’ willingness to sin despite the promise of eternal damnation, going so far as to say “a Catholic is more capable of evil than anyone” (246).  (Ha ha, since this isn’t an English paper, I can end this paragraph with a quote and refuse to offer any explanation whatsoever!)

For some reason I didn’t get into his the first time around I tried it, but I LOVED it this time.  It’s outrageously cynical, and the only novel I can think of in which a candy tourists buy in Brighton is used as a metaphor for the inescapability of human nature.

Fair warning that you’ll have to deal with a reasonable amount of dated ‘30s slang that feels made up, esp. re:  women.  (Both “buer” and “polony” get thrown around A LOT and I still don’t fully understand what either means.  I just kept thinking of Polonius from Hamlet and also Thelonious Monk every time someone used the word “polony.”)

The end also gets a bit melodramatic, and it’s hard not to imagine physically throwing Rose.  She’s an idiot.  Most frustrating is that Ida, the only likeable character, gets quite a lot of focus at the beginning of the novel, but then Pinkie receives more and more attention.  I was so excited when I thought (however briefly) this was actually a female-centric Greene novel.

My favorite quote is also a good test of whether you might enjoy this one or find it too dark and cynical:  “That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape––anywhere––for anyone? It was worth murdering a world” (92).  Chills, you guys.

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The Spectator’s review on the back of the book says of Greene, “Entertaining he may always be; comforting, never,” which I think is the most accurate description of his novels I’ve ever read.  (And at the same time seems a bit like backhanded praise and also possibly written by Yoda?)  I can’t think of another writer quite like Greene; perhaps Cormac McCarthy in terms of bleakness?  John Le Carré in terms of suspense and a darker take on spying (as in The Quiet American)?  William Golding for shared views on human nature?  He’s not quite like any other writer I can think of, which is why I love him so much.

Btw, there’s apparently a 1947 film version that scandalized the nation for being too violent, which I cannot WAIT to see.