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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Skate Kitchen, or: Ollie-oop

I’m not sure too many people are feeling optimistic about 2022–and it’s only day 2. After a wild couple of years, the next one is still looking somewhat unpredictable. Rest assured, the Blog Collab is ticking along like clockwork in our volatile world, and we’ll even go so far as to celebrate the seasonally appropriate theme of new beginnings & adventures in January. Largely for other people.

The Film:

Skate Kitchen

Director:

Crystal Moselle

The Premise:

Recovering from an injury, young skateboarder Camille finds kindred spirits in an all-female skateboarding collective in NYC.

The Ramble:

Teenage Camille is a skateboarder who experiences a major setback when she is badly injured while boarding. All of Camille’s fears about never being able to skateboard again are realized when her mother insists that she never pick up a board again. Which Camille obeys for approximately the amount of time it takes for her stitches to heal.

Camille, a young woman with long dark hair holding a skateboard, walks by a group of boys sitting on the side of a skate park with their own boards. They are watching the skateboarders currently in the park skating & performing tricks.

Following a group of girls known as Skate Kitchen on Instagram, Camille decides to sneak away to meet them at a skate park in the City from her home in Long Island. Getting back on the board after her injury suddenly feels less scary with a team of girls cheering her on amid all of the testosterone of the skateboarder bro crowd. Bonding with kindred spirit Janay and gaining the approval of brash leader Kurt, it’s not long before Camille becomes part of the group.

As Camille learns new skateboarding tricks and techniques, she also learns some things about growing up from her new girl gang. Because of her joint-smoking, makeup-wearing, sexually adventurous group of friends, Camille realizes how useful (and non-deadly) tampons can be, and to beware of the douchebags of the skate park, like Janay’s rather cute ex, Devon.

The members of Skate Kitchen, a group of young women in their teens, walk together down the street, holding skateboards and with arms around each other.

Spending more and more time at the library, as Camille tells her concerned mother, it’s not too surprising when her cover is blown. Having a huge falling out at home, Camille moves in with Janay temporarily…and then not-so-temporarily. Getting a job as a cashier in the same store where Devon works, Camille is soon hanging out with him and his skateboarding crew, crushing quite a bit. Since the girls despise Devon for breaking Janay’s heart, Camille wisely tells no one. But what will happen when these worlds collide and Camille’s secret is revealed?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Because the majority of the cast is made up of real-life skateboarders (many of whom are part of the real Skate Kitchen), our film feels authentic in its documentary-style approach. The skate tricks are real, the attitudes and passion come across onscreen, and the cool camera shots go on for days. Apparently the original cut was 5 hours long, which I can understand as appreciating the art of skateboarding rarely gets old.

What’s a bit frustrating is that director Crystal Moselle’s actual documentary The Wolfpack was so much more effective, and I can’t help thinking that approach here may have made for a better film. The structure is loose enough and the characters seemingly close enough to the actors’ backgrounds that a genuine documentary wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch. A lot of the semblance of plot is where the film is weakest, honestly, like the really unconvincing Camille/Devon romance.

However, the members of Skate Kitchen are cool enough that it’s fun just to hang out with them for an afternoon & entertain the possibility that I could stay upright on a board for more than 3 seconds (I totally couldn’t).

Would my blog wife allow this one into the skate gang or let it wipe out all alone on a concrete sidewalk? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blinded by the Light, or: Born in Thatcher’s UK

If you’ve been following news from the US in particular, but also worldwide developments in the Covid-19 pandemic as a whole, 2021 doesn’t seem off to a promising start. Unless, of course, you focus your attention on our plans for the Blog Collab. What started out as an attempt to cheer ourselves up with inspiring films has morphed into a sort of music appreciation/coming-of-age theme that we never knew we needed. Not all of our plans have worked out on the Collab, but I feel a round of applause is in order for the parts of our brain that anticipated this unintended theme was just the ticket.

Jumping back from the ’90s Midlands last week to Thatcher’s 1980s Britain (blegh), the events unfolding in this film don’t necessarily represent an improvement over the 2020s. But our film for the week does consider immigrant experiences, pursuing personal dreams, and the power of music to uplift (or at least spur on impressively choreographed dance scenes).

The Film:

Blinded by the Light

The Premise:

A British-Pakistani teen in 1980s England falls in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen while struggling to balance his family’s expectations with his dreams of becoming a writer.

The Ramble:

Growing up in 1980s Luton, British-Pakistani teen Javed’s feelings about his hometown largely comprise the urge to get away as soon as possible. Bullied and harassed by skinheads in training, resistant to his family’s ambitions, and somewhat of a loner at school, Javed takes comfort only in writing, whether journal entries, poetry, or lyrics for his bff Matt’s band.

A teen boy looks unenthusiastically at a small cake his mother is presenting to him for his birthday. His father and younger sister stand on the sides, smiling expectantly.

Javed shares opinions on few issues with his father, who pressures him to stay focused on school rather than going to parties or dating. The family agrees that Javed should attend university; however, while dad Malik insists on his son pursuing a lucrative field like economics, Javed secretly enrolls in English A levels.

During the school day, Javed receives encouragement from his teacher, crushes on political activist Eliza, and longs to be part of one of the “tribes” of students. He doesn’t realize that a small gesture from Sikh student Roops will change his life: a loan of a Bruce Springsteen cassette.

Two teen boys have an intense conversation while standing outside of the front of a school building.

Javed immediately relates to the Boss’s songs of rejection, loneliness, rebellion, and the pain of being an outsider. Emboldened by Springsteen’s lyrics, Javed decides the only way to make things happen is by pursuing them, no matter what his family says. Secretly, Javed starts on the path of writing as a career, beginning with the school paper.

Just as Javed is ready to dream big and risk it all for his future, his father Malik loses his job at the local Vauxhall factory, where he has worked loyally for nearly 20 years. Under more pressure than ever to support the family financially, Javed instead focuses on the music of Bruce, writing poetry, and getting an article published in the school paper. His goal is to attend the University of Manchester, and his new pals Roops and Eliza are there to support him.

A teen boy in a denim jacket dances with a teen girl in the middle of a crowd at an outdoor market.

But while Javed is finding his voice as a writer, Malik reminds his son to stay on track to make a decent living. What’s more, Javed’s devotion to Bruce is causing tension between him and Matt, who considers the Boss too American and essentially dad rock. And let’s not overlook the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim bullies in Luton, newly invigorated by an upcoming National Front march in town.

As always seems to be the case, everything of note seems to be happening on one dramatic day: the National Front march, the wedding of Javed’s older sister, and a chance to buy tickets for a Springsteen concert at Wembley Stadium. Where will Javed’s priorities lie when he has to choose between supporting his family and following his own dreams?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really wanted to give this a 4 because it’s such a feel-good film, and our lead, Viveik Kalra, is so cute. His performance as Javed is so charming that I was always rooting for him, even when his character was making irritating decisions.

I’m also such a sucker for a heartwarming coming-of-age story, especially when it comes with a healthy disdain for Thatcherism and white supremacy. And I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, but I could still enjoy the themes relating to music and identity that his work represented here.

However, I found our film a bit too lengthy (nearly 2 hours) and overly devoted to a familiar structure for coming-of-age films.

I did appreciate the hell out of the commentary on immigrant experiences in the 1980s and today. Films that look back with a heavy dose of nostalgia often rub me the wrong way, but this one counterbalanced those feelings by recognizing the socioeconomic and racial tensions still haunting the UK today (and, cough, the US).

But the film’s decision to tell instead of show really annoyed me on a personal level. First, it means that the dramatic moments fell a bit flat in terms of their emotional impact. I will admit that, increasingly, my heart seems to be made of stone–though having Javed make a speech all about how he has developed a more nuanced approach to chasing his dreams while appreciating his family lacked the emotional punch needed. We didn’t actually see him go through this progression onscreen. The plot elements needed to be woven together better so that the action of the film led to this moment, rather than feeling like merely a series of events.

Another disappointment is the development of the supporting characters. I really enjoyed Javed’s relationships with his friends and younger sister, but they (like everyone else in the film) were more or less props for his story. And there was a disagreement between Javed and Matt that I didn’t fully understand–especially when it was ultimately Matt who should have apologized IMHO (though the opposite happened). I did find the romp through town that Javed enjoyed with Roops and Eliza absolutely delightful, though.

At the very least, I’m glad this film put Viveik Kalra on my radar, and I’ll be happy to see him onscreen again. I wouldn’t say no to more of those highly choreographed dance routines either.

Would my blog wife join in with this one’s all-denim dance numbers or fast-forward through the rest of the tracks? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

How to Build a Girl, or: High as a Kite

CW: self-harm

As it’s difficult to predict how 2021 will unfold (except that it will likely be challenging), it feels especially critical (or at least achievable) to determine how we’ll start off the new year here on the Blog Collab. Gritty drama? Experimental arthouse? Dark horror? Even shark films don’t feel appropriate right now, so we’re diving into waters we’ve really only dipped a toe into before: uplifting, feel-good pieces. We’re aiming for films as predictable as TV Christmas movies and as cozy as a weighted blanket.

Can we handle this long term–or at least for a month? We’ll ease into things this week with a coming of age comedy based on a Caitlin Moran novel (not that Moran herself is getting an open-ended seal of approval for all things). With our fave Beanie Feldstein starring, can our pick possibly be less than charming?

The Film:

How to Build a Girl

The Premise:

An awkward teen lands a job as a music critic for a trendy magazine, navigating the differences between career success and personal fulfillment.

The Ramble:

Johanna Morrigan, a teen growing up on a council estate in 1990s Wolverhampton, dreams of having the type of dramatic transformation and brilliant adventures of her heroes–figures like the Brontë sisters, Sigmund Freud, Cleopatra, Sylvia Plath, and Karl Marx. The trouble is, she’s exactly the kind of awkward straight-A student whose successes merely provide fodder for local bullies; in other words, she is unwittingly the vision of a 1990s heroine.

A dark-haired teen girl with glasses sits in a quiet library, looking with boredom out the window.

Though her family is full of too many siblings, a depressed mother, and a father still operating under the belief that he can make it as a pop star, Johanna’s best friend is her brother, Krissi, who is a gay Marxist armed with much cooler musical taste than anyone else around. One evening, preparing for the family viewing of Top of the Pops, Johanna’s life is set to change when her poem lands her a spot on a Midlands news program–though not in the ways she expects. An aspiring writer, her…er, quirky(?) performance on the show makes her even more of a target of ridicule, sending her to a decided low point.

In a darkened living room, a teen girl holds her younger baby brother, sitting on the floor next to her teen brother. In the corner, her father is seated at a drum set.

Luckily, Krissi is endlessly encouraging, urging Johanna to enter a competition to write for trendy music mag D&ME. Decidedly out of the loop on cool new music, Johanna opts to write with a sense of fun about “The Sun Will Come out Tomorrow,” which earns her a surprise interview in London. However, all of the pre-hipster ironic assholes at the magazine think Johanna’s entry was a joke, and they send her packing back home with only a free t-shirt to show for it. Unwilling to accept this, Johanna reminds the writers that the piece was strong, and she can learn all the rest about music trends on the job.

As luck would have it, one of the writers is less than enthusiastic about reviewing a gig in Birmingham, so Johanna goes along instead. Or, rather, Johanna’s alter ego Dolly Wilde arrives. After the publication of her article, Johanna is an overnight sensation (at least locally) with access to unreleased singles, swag, and the power to make or break a musical act. She may even finally help her dad’s music career take off, though he’s done himself no favors by calling his band Mayonnaise.

A teen girl with long, curly red hair and a top hat takes notes in a club as she looks with intensity at the musical act performing.

Inspired by her own success, Johanna plucks up the courage to ask for an interview assignment, landing a chance to chat with rising star John Kite. An earnest lover of music and pensive reflection among narcissists and posers, Johanna winds up totally smitten with Kite…and it shows in her work. D&ME refuses to publish her fangirl piece. In order to be taken seriously again, a fellow writer gives Johanna advice she takes to heart: unleash your inner bitch.

At a small table in a bar, a teen girl with long red hair sits across from a blonde man with a velvet coat. She has a cassette recorder and a soda on the table, while he has an ashtray and remnants of alcohol in a glass.

As it turns out, this has been the key to music criticism all along. Not only is Johanna earning more money than ever before, but she’s also enjoying power at last, as her word becomes gold. But, as always, there’s a price with all of this, and that price is being an insufferable little punk. As the family depends more and more on the work of Dolly Wilde, Johanna delights in rubbing their noses in her success. She talks back to teachers, leaves school, smokes and drinks to excess, and boasts about her sexual exploits to her brother (though has no time to hear about his romantic progress).

It all reaches a tipping point when Johanna wins Arsehole of the Year at a music industry awards night but is rejected by John Kite when she confesses her feelings to him. In a race to rock-bottom, Johanna strikes back at Kite by publishing a nasty article about him, then proceeds to alienate everyone remotely still on her side. Is it too late for Johanna to make amends with all of those she has wronged?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, there are no surprises here. This is a coming of age story tinged with sweetness and positivity, so it’s rather predictable. That being said, I enjoyed the film and its message in favor of awkward enthusiasm over aloof coolness. Beanie Feldstein hits all of the right notes here, even if there are times when her accent is a little inconsistent.

Throughout the film, there are a lot of elements that are fun but could have been pushed further to make things more interesting. First, Johanna is the only character who really gets any sort of development at all. I really liked the dynamic between her character and Krissi’s, but he ends up being quite one-dimensional. And it’s disappointing how often Johanna fails to be there for her brother, whose experiences as a gay teen on a 1990s council estate can’t have been easy…though this plot point is glossed over.

Additionally, the concept of Johanna seeking advice from her historical and fictional idols has potential, but it doesn’t happen frequently enough to feel necessary. All we get is a selection of celebrity cameos–none of which I’m mad about, but which do nothing particularly interesting for the story. They merely underscore the extent to which we’re meant to believe that this film and its protagonist are extremely quirky.

This leads me to my final issue with the film: the handling of Johanna’s self-harm scene and its aftermath. The film’s tone in these scenes is truly bizarre, and the writing is so loose that I’m not sure if it’s being played for laughs or just poorly developed. Either way, it isn’t well done and seems remarkably casual.

What I do appreciate about the film (and the novel) is its ability to negotiate the nuances of feminism (even if its real-life writer doesn’t always do this particularly well). Johanna is funny and fierce as she navigates the very male-oriented world of music criticism at a young age. To her credit, she begins to piece things together, realizing that being a trailblazing woman amongst men isn’t enough to make her actions feminist; she says and does a lot of problematic things for the benefit of her own career (and the male gaze). It’s not automatically a feminist quality to be outspoken, especially if your words are viciously attacking others simply because you can.

Would my blog wife tear this film a new one or fangirl about it all day long? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ladies in Black, or: Not an MIB Spinoff Franchise

As it turns out, this month’s theme could have easily been “Accents I Enjoy Listening To.” We’ve leapt from New Zealand to Ireland to France, and back to New Zealand’s neighbor to the west, Australia. As a bonus, my period drama loving heart gets to enjoy plenty of flouncy dresses along with all of those exclamations of “Struth!”

The Film:

Ladies in Black

The Premise:

16-year-old Lisa begins work at Goode’s department store as she dreams of attending university, befriending the colorful characters who work alongside her.

The Ramble:

In 1959 Sydney, the ladies who work at Goode’s department store all wear black, thus explaining our film’s title.

Lisa is the newest member of the team, working temporarily as she waits for her exam results and hopes to attend university, becoming a poet or actress. Her dad Ed is less than thrilled at this prospect, believing a university education is a waste of time.

A teenage girl dressed in black holds a pile of dresses as shop patrons stand before her.

As Lisa is helping out during he Christmas rush, the store is busy from open to close, and she starts out more or less as everyone’s errand bitch. Refugee Magda, who runs the exclusive dress shop within the store, recognizes Lisa as a clever and dedicated employee. Lisa begins helping Magda, and Magda in turn has all of the style advice to offer. Magda brings Lisa into the fold, inviting her over to enjoy exotic foods like rye bread(!) and Hungarian husband Stefan’s intellectual conversation about classic novels. As it happens, Lisa also experiences her first love in the form of a divine one-of-a-kind dress she can never possibly afford.

A woman dressed in black stands in a dress boutique with a teen girl holding a large book.

Meanwhile, coworker Patty is struggling to keep her marriage alive as she and her husband try for a baby. After a memorable evening with a sexy nightie, he leaves without a word for the stupidest fucking reason you will ever hear in your life.

Another of Lisa’s coworkers, Fay, is a hopeless romantic who is incredibly disillusioned with the fellas of Sydney. A sensitive soul, she cries during French films and yearns for the old world charm of a man who will kiss her on the hand and prove chivalry isn’t dead. As Lisa conspires to set up Fay with Magda’s continental friend Rudi, a Hungarian refugee, a New Year’s party seems the perfect place for things to fall into place. Nothing is as romantic as lively Hungarian folk dancing, after all.

A man and woman stroll next to a sparkling body of water.

As Fay and Rudi get to know each other, Patty’s husband returns from the ether, and Lisa does outstandingly well on her exams. Everything seems to be coming together so perfectly…but how can Lisa overcome the obstacle of her stubborn father?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a cozy fleece blanket of a film; it’s impossible not to root for the characters, who have quirks that make them seem real. I especially love the vibrancy of the small but mighty continental immigrant community here, even as their presence is a stark reminder of the persistence of xenophobia. It blows my mind that Australia, which was incredibly sparsely populated, resented the influx of WWII refugees to such a degree that it was a taboo to befriend–let alone date or marry–anyone of the community. And it wasn’t too long ago that SALAMI was considered ethnic food?!??!!

Thematically, this film couldn’t be more perfectly timed as the United States and many other countries have an opportunity to help refugees and consistently fail to do so. It’s disturbing to see the logic of 60 years ago applied to a situation that has only gotten worse as more conflicts and climate crises have left people without a home. It does make me appreciate greatly when Stefan reminds Magda not to expect too much from the Australians, who are, after all, descended from convicts.

On a minor note, I’m absolutely obsessed with Magda and her dynamic with Stefan, the ’50s aesthetic, and Fay’s dresses.

However, things do wrap up too neatly for basically every character in the film, and there’s not much conflict to speak of. Things are resolved too perfectly to make this a truly memorable film.

Would my well-dressed blog wife fight shoppers off for this fashionable film or leave it to the bargain bin? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Princess Cyd, or: Is It Too Late to Say Soirée?

I’m sad to wrap up Feminist February…even though, let’s be real–in this Blog Collab, it’s always Feminist February.  We’re back in our indie groove yet again for a film centered around female relationships and the ways they shape our leading ladies.

The Film:

Princess Cyd

The Premise:

A teen visits her novelist aunt for a summer, leading to discoveries about herself and several of the women in her life.

The Ramble:

Cyd, a seemingly well-adjusted teen living in South Carolina with her father, is currently driving everyone up the wall.  Under the pretense of checking out Chicago’s colleges, Cyd goes to stay with her aunt Miranda for a few weeks in the summer.

Miranda, a successful novelist, lives a relatively quiet life in the house where she grew up with Cyd’s mother.  Since Cyd’s mother died violently nearly 10 years before, the family has drifted out of touch.

Though Cyd has a boyfriend at home, she is immediately attracted to a barista she meets after getting lost on a run around the neighborhood.  When the barista, Katie, invites Cyd out for a walk, they later have to slow dance on a balcony for art.

Two teens walk side-by-side down a summer street.

Meanwhile, Cyd has deep conversations with her aunt about life, religion, sex, and death.  You know, polite family small talk.  Cyd encourages her aunt, who frequently writes about single, divorced, or unhappily partnered people, to date a longterm friend.  However, Miranda seems pretty keen on maintaining her solitary but fulfilled life.

Two middle-aged people stand in a room, looking at each other somewhat uncomfortably.
Sexual tension or awkwardly trying to get out of a conversation that just won’t end?

The two women get into the routine of sunbathing in Miranda’s garden, though initially Miranda claims she doesn’t even own a bathing suit.  Cyd, despite not being a reader, picks up Miranda’s books and starts to gain some insight into her aunt’s life.

A middle-aged woman in a one-piece swimsuit lies on a towel next to a teen in a two-piece bikini.
Everyone in this film always looks at least this flawless.

If the film can be said to have a structured plot, it’s all about Miranda’s soirée, a word she repeats approximately 4,835 times.  Cyd decides to make a splash at the party by borrowing a tux from Katie–damn, grrrrrrrl.  She pulls off the look.  She really fucking pulls off the look.

A young woman walks into a garden wearing an elegant tuxedo.
If Idris Elba isn’t the next James Bond…Cyd?

After the party, Cyd and Miranda get into a fight about Cyd’s actions, but it quickly delves into deeper philosophical and spiritual realms.  They are snapped back to reality when Katie experiences a crisis with her brother’s friend, and Cyd and Miranda are there for her.  It is through Katie that we learn the meaning behind the film’s title, as well as discover what really happened to Cyd’s mother (spoiler alert:  it’s really sad).

Will Cyd and Miranda allow the summer to change them or is it better to keep the past in the past?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First off, the aesthetic of this film is beautiful.  Jessie Pinnick (Cyd) is gorgeous, so there are tons and tons and tons of close-ups on her face.  At times this gets uncomfortable and starts to feel voyeuristic to me.  I do like our main 3 ladies a lot and enjoy that they all have unique perspectives and approaches to life that complement each other rather than conflict.

The thing I really appreciate about the dynamic between Cyd and Miranda is that they influence each other and draw out the best rather than transforming.  Cyd is incredibly direct and unafraid to ask questions, but she learns to do so in a way that’s inquisitive without diminishing viewpoints different from her own.  Miranda, in the act of sunbathing in her backyard with Cyd, embraces some of her carefree attitude and confidence in her body.  If this were a generic rom-com, Cyd would set Miranda up with her friend.  But instead, Cyd learns to accept her aunt’s independent, aromantic life is not equivalent to an empty existence.

Confession time:  while I liked the ideas and themes here, I did find the plot very meandering.  There was something that didn’t quite click for me–maybe since my last pick was a Disney film I was expecting bigger drama and more sentimentality.

Would my blog wife attend a soirée with this one or annoy it with a series of overly personal questions?  Find out in her review here!