a woman in a prison uniform stands before a judge in court
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Citizen Ruth, or: Merry Christmas?

Delay in posting means we’re kicking off December with a satirical abortion comedy starring a very ’90s Laura Dern.  Nothing says Christmas like a vicious debate about the undetermined future of a woman’s pregnancy…right, Mary?

The Film:

Citizen Ruth

The Premise:

A young woman, pregnant and with nowhere to turn, unwittingly finds herself in the spotlight as both sides of the abortion debate try to influence the decision about her pregnancy.

The Ramble:

After a fight with her boyfriend and the cold shoulder from her brother, Ruth is SOL with nowhere to go.  Spending her last dollars to get drunk and high on paint fumes, it’s not long before the police are on her case…again.

a woman sits in an abandoned alleyway with a brown bag and bottle of alcohol

When she is checked into a hospital, Ruth learns some unwelcome news:  she is pregnant again.  Having already given birth to and lost custody of 4 children, Ruth is charged with criminal endangerment of a fetus.  Quickest way to avoid those charges?  Get an abortion.

Ruth’s plans go awry when a seemingly altruistic group of strangers post her bail–the only time anyone has every posted her bail.  Of course, these good Samaritans have an ulterior motive:  they are pro-lifers determined to convince Ruth of her moral obligation to have the baby.

five members of a family hold hands and pray before their meal

While experiencing the middle-class lifestyle for the first time, Ruth learns the price for her acceptance into the fold is the birth of a healthy baby…and going cold turkey on the booze and paint fumes.  Though the family presents the decision as Ruth’s to make, they take her to a hospital that shows her a horrendous video about abortion and straight-up lies about the procedure.  The small but devout group’s only source of entertainment(?) seems to be protesting outside of the local abortion clinic.

It doesn’t take long before Ruth feels suffocated and seeks out her old comfort of huffing paint fumes (and, in an extremely relateable move, punches a child).  Shamed by the pro-lifers, Ruth falls in with undercover pro-choice activist, Diane (Swoosie Kurtz).

two women look up into the night sky as another woman looks skeptically at them

Lending Ruth’s decision symbolic significance, both sides are determined to sway her to the correct side.  Bringing supporters from all across the country, celebrity figureheads (played by Burt Reynolds and Tippi Hedren!), and even Ruth’s mother into the debate fail to make an impact.  What really catches Ruth’s attention?  When both sides offer her $15,000 to persuade her to their way of thinking.

What will Ruth’s life-changing, earth-shattering decision be?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ooooh, this one hurts a bit to watch.  It’s quite disheartening how relevant this film is almost 20 years later.  If anything, the abortion debate feels more contentious than ever, and women’s rights just as precarious.

This film highlights the hypocrisy on both sides as the pro-choice and pro-life groups give Ruth’s decision significance it doesn’t need to have.  Ruth never wants to make a statement with her choice–she simply wants to do what is best for her (aka get those sweet pro/anti-abortion $$$).  Neither side gives much consideration to what is actually best for Ruth.

However, it’s difficult not to see the connections between pro-life strategies then and now and note they don’t come off looking particularly great.  In addition to using the manipulative approaches of posting Ruth’s bail and telling her blatantly false medical lies, the characters give off an unnerving Pleasantville vibe, with all of those pasted-on smiles beginning to crack.  Besides, it’s my admittedly biased opinion that at least 75% of the problems in the world can be attributed to the kind of religions zealots who consistently claim to know and correctly interpret the intentions of their god.

As bleak as I’m making this sound, it ultimately is a satire, and one that does succeed in making some darkly funny observations.  It would probably be funnier if an emotionally unstable misogynist hadn’t just been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Would my blog wife choose this one’s side or take the money and run?  Find out by reading her review here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tangerine, or: Donut Underestimate Me

This month’s theme is Blog Free or Die Hard.  Unexpectedly, our secondary theme for this month is the importance of donuts in friendship.  Girl Asleep and Tangerine don’t have a lot in common…but they do share donuts.

The Film:

Tangerine

The Premise:

Remember that movie shot entirely on iPhones?  It’s also one of the first films to gain wide(ish) recognition for its representation of trans women of color.

The Ramble:

After serving a short prison sentence, Sin-Dee is catching up with her bff Alexandra over a donut on Christmas Eve.  Donut singular as Sin-Dee is broke as a joke after being unable to work for the past month.  Both ladies are trans sex workers in LA, which is a niche but pretty in-demand corner of the market.

Alexandra accidentally lets it slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend, Chester, couldn’t even go the past month without cheating on her with a cis white girl.  Enraged, Sin-Dee decides to track down the girl, Dinah, and make her regret the day she was born.

Meanwhile, Alexandra is promoting her event tonight, where she’ll sing at a dive bar.  She invites Razmik, a cab driver and regular client.  Razmik is Armenian with about 8 family members to support, including his wife and young child.

a man looks ahead, driving a taxi

Alexandra agrees to help Sin-Dee find Dinah and Chester as long as they don’t stir up too much drama.  Sin-Dee breaks this promise pretty quickly and heads off on her own to the food line, a motel, and a donut shop–pissing off virtually everyone she comes across.

When Sin-Dee does find Dinah, she drags her to the bar where Alexandra is performing in an effort to multi-task.  Though Sin-Dee and Dinah begin understandably at odds, they do bond over make-up and meth.

a woman sits on the bus next to another woman whose mascara is running

Razmik tries to make it to the show but arrives too late.  Hoping to see Alexandra, he tells his family he needs to keep working on Christmas Eve.  Suspicious, his mother-in-law hires a cab driver to track Razmik down and uncover the truth.

In the mean time, Sin-Dee, Alexandra, and Dinah have finally managed to track down Chester.  Razmik has also caught up with our crew, along with his mother-in-law, wife, and child.  It’s all about to go down at Donut Time.

two women stand outside of a shop called Donut Time.
If shit’s going down, it may as well be at a location reliably stocked with donuts.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I tried really hard to like Sin-Dee, but she annoyed me quite a lot throughout the film.  I liked Alexandra a lot better, and the dynamic between the two women made this worth watching–and Dinah makes a surprisingly fitting addition to the team.  Sin-Dee was a bit of an impulsive drama queen, while Alexandra was off in the corner making snide remarks (which I relate to on a fundamental level).

Chester is a total sleaze, but does add some unexpected humor to the film, delivering lines like “You get my ass thrown out of donut time?!” with conviction.  He’s not a likeable character but, like everyone in the film, feels multi-dimensional and real.  I would’ve liked to see him suffer a bit more, honestly (evidence that I’ve become a full-blown sociopath?).

This is a beautifully shot film, and you forget completely that it’s known primarily as the movie shot entirely with iPhones.  The characters are engaging and lively, and our two leads are absolutely the highlight.

Minor point of contention: I don’t remember the title being explained or anyone ever mentioning tangerines.  I’m sure I’m being too literal here, but it drives me nuts that I don’t understand the title.

Would Christa share a donut or two with this one or drag it around town with only one shoe?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Meet John Doe, or: I Protest!

This week’s film wraps up the pseudo-Christmas theme of the month and another year(?!!??!) of the Blog Collab.  If I had realized that, I might have picked something more in line with horror and/or film noir since those are the essential genres of this blog…though we still get a touch of horror from this week’s frequently too real selection.

The Film:

Meet John Doe

Where to Watch:

Internet Archive (yes—this one is in the public domain [along with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians])

The Premise:

A newspaper columnist and an unemployed all-American type unintentionally kick off a political movement with the publication of a fake suicide letter.

The Uncondensed Version:

Newspaper columnist Ann is out of work and desperate to hold onto the salary that supports her mother and younger sisters.  Since she’s lost her job but still needs to write one final column, she writes an imaginary suicide note from a man protesting the state of civilization.  Fair enough, honestly.

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The face you make when you can’t say what you’re really thinking to a manager.

This John Doe will jump off a building on Christmas Eve to make his statement—a statement that apparently resonates with many Americans who see the letter in print.  With her job back, weekly column reinstated in the form of letters from John Doe, and a story quickly becoming headline news, Ann is determined to keep a good thing going.  She schemes with the newspaper execs to find a real John Doe to draw even more public attention.

This, of course, is Gary Cooper, who used to play baseball but is now homeless.  At first, John merely needs to pretend he’s the man behind the letters, but soon the paper and the people ask more and more of him.  As his friend the Colonel warns him, “when you become a guy with a bank account, they’ve got you.”

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Movies are the only times when you should listen to the conspiracy theorist.

John gains an ever-increasing following that starts a political movement.  He refuses to identify with either major political party, so John Doe Clubs sprout up all across the country.  Buttons and signs with John’s face and inspirational messages about being a good neighbor are suddenly everywhere…which means someone will inevitably try to capitalize on the situation.  Obviously things fall apart when wealthy political wannabes get involved…which is just way too real even 70+ years later.  Damn it, Frank Capra.  Too on the nose.

Oh, also there’s a romantic subplot because it’s Frank Capra.

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Yay for…on-screen relationships with zero chemistry?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a Frank Capra film, so there’s a strong optimism underlying the story along with an idealization of the all-American underdog, and a commitment to doing right even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong.  Many of the themes and story elements present in other Capra movies are here too, but they come across as a bit rehashed and less defined.  This feels like watching the 10th or so Woody Allen movie about infidelity and failed relationships–Jesus fucking Christ, dude, we get it.  There were also a shitload of baseball references I didn’t understand.

IDK if it was a good decision to watch this around Christmas because It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my absolute favorites.  I inevitably compared Gary Cooper to Jimmy Stewart, and I just don’t think he has the natural charm and squeeze-ability of J-Stew.  Gary Cooper feels more tough and reserved like later Jimmy Stewart, but I find earlier Jimmy more fun and sweet to watch.  It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—Barbara Stanwyck is great in this.  This just doesn’t grip me like some of Capra’s other work.  It’s very possible that I’ve become too cynical to enjoy things anyway.

Would Christa stand up to the Man with this one or take the $50 and run?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or: The Star Trek of Christmas Movies

To continue the subgenre of, er, classic(?) film, and without further ado…Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

The Film:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The Premise:

Martians kidnap Santa!  Because…their children need to enjoy childhood more?

The Uncondensed Version:

The Martians are facing a real but probably not instantly resolved problem—their children spend too much time watching TV and not enough time enjoying childhood.  These Earth TV programs are corrupting the youth, turning their minds to mush…you’ve heard it before.  This is in a society in which it’s considered totally appropriate to use sleep spray to send children to sleep (that’s a euphemism for chloroform, isn’t it?!?!?!).  Martians seem to be extremely open to the power of persuasion, so when they hear a news program suggesting Mars needs its own Santa, they decide to kidnap Santa.  Obviously.

two boys in matching blue costumes and helmets stand while a man dressed identically sits in the background
Why spend time with your Martian children when you can just kidnap an elderly man to make toys for them instead?

Throwing a wrench in this ingenious plan are (1) logic and (2) Voldar.  Logical gaps come in the form of the Martians turning on their radar shields only AFTER being detected, as well as kidnapping 2 Earth children…so they won’t tell the authorities and so no one will suspect Martians kidnapped Santa Claus.  WHAT.

Voldar is definitely the main antagonist here and honestly a bit of a hero.  He tells the children to their faces their theories are stupid, and is against the whole concept of children having fun, playing, enjoying life, etc.

a man with a moustache wears a helmet with a metal attachment
Exemplifying that the mustachioed character is always evil.

Although the children escape to warn Santa (even braving a fierce polar bear and, inexplicably, a robot Voldar tries to program to destroy them), it’s too late.  The Martians use their freeze rays to kidnap Santa and bring him back to Mars.  This, of course, begs the question of why the fuck you even need Santa when you have freeze rays.

close-up of a person in a polar bear costume
Terrifying.

Once aboard the ship, Santa comforts the children with a mix of dad jokes and rather sinister laughter.  What will happen next???  You know.  Believe me, you already know.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This one regularly makes worst movie lists…with good reason.  It’s like watching one of the cheesier episodes of Star Trek:  TOS (like that one where the costume designer wrapped a dog in a shaggy rug and called it an alien)–complete with horrible special effects, cheesy fight scenes, awful one-liners, a lead male putting odd emphasis on the word “sabotage,” and a simplistic message about morality that hits you over the head with a mallet.  Also like some of the worst Star Trek eps, this is bearable for only about half of its run time.  The first half is admittedly entertaining in an utterly cheesy, campy, and cringe-worthy kind of way.

It does get darker than I expected, as Voldar tries to throw Santa and the children out of the airlock.  Maybe this is just who I am, but I was totally rooting for the villain here.  The children are ANNOYING, and Santa’s blind faith in humanity is grating.  Was also hoping for some kind of horrible Santa vs. aliens fight scene.

Was my blog wife on board the UFO for this one, or was she tempted to throw it out of the airlock?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sunset Boulevard, or: Christmas Party for Two

We’re kicking off what was intended as a month of Christmas-themed classics with…Sunset Boulevard.  HEY—a Christmas party happens in the course of this film PLUS there are so many horrible financial decisions that it’s basically the story of my Christmas every year.

The Film:

Sunset Boulevard

The Premise:

Please tell me you know this.  Lie if you have to.

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

I’ll try to keep the summary short since this is possibly THE movie classic and I really feel you need to watch this if you haven’t.  It’s so good, and Gloria Swanson’s performance makes life worth living.  This is that film about an aging star deluding herself, grooming and controlling a much younger man, and uttering that line about being ready for her close-up.

It can’t be spoiler-y to reveal our protagonist Joe’s death—for one thing, this film is 60+ years old, and for the other, the narrator tells us within 5 minutes of the beginning that the body floating in the pool is his own.

As a result, the mystery here is not who was murdered, but how, why, and by whom.  Rather interestingly, the way Joe frames his story, he offers the facts to those who want the truth.  …So that may not be a hell of a lot of people in these post-truth times (to get just a teensy bit topical).

Flashback to 6 months earlier, when Joe was a broke, unsuccessful screenwriter trying to scrape together $300 to save his car from being repossessed.  His last effort to make money honestly is pitching an original story about a baseball player who must throw the World Series, which is flat-out refused to his face by a woman named Betty, who will be important later.

a man stands in front of a large Spanish-style mansion
“I remember Manderley…”  Oops–wrong film.

As Joe leaves, he runs into his creditors and loses them by parking in an empty garage that appears to be part of an abandoned estate.  However, as Joe quickly learns, this creepy old house belongs to none other than former silent movie star Norma Desmond.  Like Miss Havisham, Norma lives in the past and, since she never appears to leave the house, she is both literally and figuratively detached from reality.  God, but she’s a fucking brilliant badass and quite honestly my personal hero.  In Norma Desmond’s words, “I AM big—it’s the pictures that got small.”

The first meeting is incredibly surreal as Norma believes Joe is there to bring a monkey-sized coffin for her dead monkey (not a euphemism).  Things deteriorate when she discovers Joe is a screenwriter and gets the question all Hollywood types must dread:  Can you read my screenplay?

an elegantly dressed woman looks angrily down at a man sitting in front of a typewriter
How can you possibly find the nude scenes for the aspiring screenwriter gratuitous?

Norma’s screenplay is a retelling of the story of Salome, starring its writer in her comeback role (“I hate the word; it’s a return”).

Joe agrees to this, but is immediately incredibly weirded out when Max, Norma’s all-purpose maid, chauffeur, butler, and provider of organ music, moves all of Joe’s belongings into the house overnight.  Their relationship gets more uncomfortable for Joe as Norma pretty much Pygmalions him with a new wardrobe, gold-plated watches and cigarettes, and moves him to the room where her husband used to sleep.  Norma is becoming dependent on Joe to the point of obsession, but Joe continues to hold her at arm’s length with a mixture of pity and disdain.  But not enough disdain to refuse the rent-free stay in her mansion or the many gifts she bestows on him, of course.

The tension amps up when Joe runs into Betty again and Norma fears losing both her return to the big screen as well as her man (admittedly something of a wet blanket).  All of this leads to a spectacular mess that is just so goddamn fun to watch fall apart and full of opportunities for Gloria Swanson to flash some major crazy eyes (and do her best Charlie Chaplin impression for some reason), which is of course swept along by sudden, dramatic music in true ‘50s noir style.

a woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin holds up a cane while a man with a duster looks on in the background
WHAT.

I’d be happy doing Noir 2.0 for this month—fuck, I love film noir.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s a reason this is a classic.  This is a perfect movie AND a brilliant film noir with a career-defining performance from Gloria Swanson.  I don’t like William Holden at all, but that never detracts from this film in the least.  In fact, I reluctantly admit this was a good role for him as it requires a balance between being a total sleaze vs sticking to his principles, which creates some of the film’s carefully crafted dramatic tension.

That being said, Gloria Swanson is clearly the star here, and pulls off completely delusional yet sympathetic and arguably somewhat heroic.  She is the underdog here, and I think it’s impossible not to root for her return to the screen.  Hollywood has taken her youth and talent to leave her wasting away in her mansion/prison.

Serious question:  are there any other films dealing with ageism in Hollywood or ageism at all?  Advantageous, as reviewed for the collab, comes to mind, but that’s the only other movie I can think of.  I’m glad we see older ladies on the screen like heroes Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, but Sunset Boulevard’s interest in Hollywood ageism still holds up.

The role reversal in this film is great too; it feels much like the inverse of Rebecca or My Fair Lady but with a much more tragic twist, esp. re: women holding the power in a romantic relationship.  I imagine this story wasn’t intended to question gender roles at the time given its ending, but it leaves things just ambiguous enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions.  Was it wrong for Norma to take advantage of Joe’s situation, or were they both disenfranchised by the Hollywood movie machine?  Watch this film and write 500 words in response.

Did Christa think this made a big return or did it fail to make a comeback?  Find out by reading her review here!