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!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Spontaneous, or: Let’s Blow This Popsicle Stand

*Spoilers follow*

Another week, another group of teens facing nightmarish pseudo-apocalyptic scenarios. Mob rule? Trolls referred to only as goblins? This week, the worst horror anyone will encounter is the inner self. More specifically, the inner self very literally and suddenly becoming external.

The Film:

Spontaneous

The Ramble:

Drifting off during an especially dull class lecture, senior Mara Carlyle is in for a rude awakening when a classmate explodes before her very eyes. Not in the metaphorical sense; the girl sitting before her is human-shaped in one moment, a mere spatter of blood and guts the next.

Mara, a teen with wavy blonde hair, looks stunned as she sits in class. Behind her, students sit at desks looking horrified as they and the walls behind them are covered in blood.

After the incident, all of the students are rounded up for questioning and observation. Unbeknownst to Mara, her dry remark that the authorities are waiting for a similar accident to happen again is extremely prescient. Not only that, but her words act as a spark for her classmates to live life to the fullest as they face the dread of wondering who may be next.

Following the explosion, Mara navigates her feelings (badly) with bff Tess–making sarcastic cracks at various tributes to their classmate, lacing her coffee with a nausea-inducing amount of shrooms. While Mara decides seizing the day means making self-destructive decisions, classmate Dylan determines now could be the only opportunity to reveal his long-term crush on her. Holding back Mara’s hair while she throws up, their romance is off to a…dreamy(?) start.

In a diner booth, teenager Mara sits across from her friend Tess, a Black teen with natural hair. Both have coffee cups in front of them.

As Mara gets to know Dylan better, the unexpected explosions of their classmates seem to happen everywhere they go, from football games to parties. While school is cancelled, Dylan buys a vintage milk truck with his college savings and he officially becomes Mara’s boyfriend.

However, the explosions escalate, prompting the government to intervene by developing a new drug to cure the so-called Covington Curse. After weeks in a pop-up biomedical research facility, the cure seems to be available at last: a pill that all of the teens seem to be destined to take for the rest of their lives.

At the end of a driveway at night, Mara sits next to Dylan, a teen with shoulder-length hair. Dylan smiles at Mara, who is starting to smile.

It might be a nice conclusion for our main characters if things ended here, no? Sadly, the new pill isn’t quite as effective as promised, and it’s not long before another series of explosions rock the community.

How many more teens will blow up before they even make it to graduation?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve kept things vague as there are a number of important plot twists/tonal shifts (which you could easily look up) that I’m reluctant to dish on here. I can’t say they’re entirely unexpected, but they may not be where you imagine the film to go when you first dive in.

I like the premise here a lot, and the approach the film takes to examining the impact of the explosions rather than trying to unpack a reason why lends it some realism. I appreciate that we don’t get a satisfactory explanation for the explosions, though they could stand in for any number of existential issues teens struggle with as they try to imagine a future that’s not utterly terrifying. It’s powerful as well that so many of the teens blame themselves for these events that are beyond their control.

Mara’s sarcastic eye-rolling is immediately relatable, and she is very darkly funny. Her observations about the choice of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” to memorialize a classmate, as well as the dramatic peeling away of part of a stick figure family member car decal stand out most to me. However, after a while, Mara seems to be written as a character who is not especially feminist; she’s meant to be a cool girl who’s so chill that she would never stoop to calling you out for a “your mom” joke. There are a number of attitudes/lines of dialogue that seem written for a teen boy, or at the very least someone who claims to be a humanist rather than a feminist.

Overall, the characterization isn’t a strength of this film. The supporting characters are completely flat; it drives me nuts that Tess isn’t given anything to do except be the best friend who is immediately sidelined for a romantic plot (and the romance is a major focus of the film). There are some additional layers to unpack there considering Tess is the only person of color who gets a significant amount of screen time. And Dylan is a total sweetheart, but it’s irritating that he’s written to be a character who has absolutely no flaws. I’m automatically suspicious of a dude who seems perfect from the beginning.

There are some issues with tone here too, as the story struggles to blend Mara’s cynical sarcasm, the romance of first love, and the existential horror of living through disaster. It’s surprisingly poignant as things wrap up, but it doesn’t quite bring the different elements together smoothly.

That being said, I did enjoy this one quite a lot…and I’m never going to be mad about watching a film that on multiple occasions tells our most recent former US president to fuck off.

Would my blog wife peel off a stick figure family decal in this one’s honor or vindictively hope she’s around so see it spontaneously explode? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Judy & Punch, or: You Say Petrifying Forest Like It’s a Bad Thing

CW: abuse, infant death, animal death

You know, I’ve been worrying for some time that consuming dark, dismal films and TV could be a surefire way to feel even more miserable about our current world situation. There are quite a lot of days when the last thing I need is to see if it’s possible to expand the depression-sized pocket of my brain with an extra dose of bleakness.

However, this line of thinking has fundamentally failed to take into account the way I relate to the world. Sometimes (often), the only way I process darkness is to see it reflected in the media I consume. And while there is a fine line to walk here, the darkness can be a reminder that others see and experience similar fears and frustrations…and use that to make films about puppets, vengeance, and forest witches.

The Film:

Judy & Punch

The Premise:

A puppeteer seeks vengeance against her husband, an abusive man who leaves her for dead after the demise of their baby.

The Ramble:

In the village of Seaside (notably not by the sea), Judy is married to Punch, who declares himself the greatest puppeteer of all time. Once a week, the couple puts on a marionette show at a rather rowdy pub, hoping to catch the eye of a London talent scout one day.

Just like the real Punch & Judy show of old, the puppet show is violent in nature, handling themes of abuse in a hilarious(?) slapstick manner. However, the show is in good company, as its excitement finds a rival only in the periodic stoning to death of witches and heretics who have committed such reprehensible crimes as looking at the moon for a suspiciously long time. Stoning Day is essentially a public holiday, during which all of the villagers gather in their finest clothes (admittedly not all that fine) and unironically vie for the honor of casting the first stone.

At the top of a marionette theater on stage, a man (Punch) and woman (Judy) smile at each other after a successful show.

Despite the violence that permeates her world and the absence of much compassion for others, Judy does her best to care for her baby daughter, aging servants, and townsfolk in need. No one makes this particularly easy, as Punch is a violent drunk who routinely promises he’ll go sober, and even the well-meaning policeman cautions Judy against entertaining the local children with magic tricks lest she be mistaken for a witch.

Now Punch is the kind of self-serving male “genius” who chalks up all of his drunken brawls and frat bro behavior to being a tortured artist. He can’t possibly be expected to have patience with his ailing servants, take care of his daughter for even an hour, or cut back on the violence in the show–not when everything he does is a matter of the creative spirit moving him.

A blonde woman (Judy) stands in a crowd of people in period costume, holding a rock in one hand and a baby with her other arm.

Even with all of these drawbacks to life in the village with Punch, it beats the alternative of fleeing to the mysterious forest on the edge of town. At least, it does until Judy leaves Punch in charge of the baby for a short time. Predictably, Punch drinks to the point of passing out and reminds us all of the Parenting 101 lesson that you should never run while holding a baby.

After Judy returns and demands to know what happened, Punch callously tells her they should simply move on with their lives. When Judy has, I don’t know, a human reaction to the death of her child, Punch beats her to the point of believing she’s dead, burying her body in the creepy woods of doom.

From here on out, Punch proves he is full of nothing if not schemes. Framing his elderly servants for Judy’s murder, Punch reports his wife and child missing to the authorities. Though the local police officer argues for a thorough investigation that weighs all of the evidence, other leaders in the village dismiss this concept as radical, opting for a swift public hanging. You know, to make sure people don’t get bored.

Meanwhile, Judy’s dead body is decomposing in the forest…or is it? Obviously not. Several children who are part of a group of heretics living in the woods find Judy, delivering her to Dr. Goodtime, a woman who was barred from practicing medicine in the village. The doctor revives Judy, who remembers with a scream of rage all of the ways she has been wronged.

In a heavily wooded forest, a group primarily made up of women gathers around the body of an unconscious woman whose face is covered in blood.

While Judy adjusts to life in the forest and her new adopted family, it is her anger that fuels her. Dr. Goodtime warns Judy that she will eventually have to choose either to stay with the nomadic heretics or allow vengeance to consume her…and you can guess how well that goes over.

As the date of the execution draws nearer, Punch grows increasingly paranoid even as he is determined to revitalize the puppet show that owed much of its success to Judy’s organization and skill with the marionette. Can Judy help her former servants escape a death sentence, make Punch suffer for his crimes, and hold onto her newfound sense of belonging?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

My first 4 star review of 2021 reminds us to lean into the darkness. As my incredible blog wife and I discussed in detail, upbeat, feel-good pieces aren’t the kind of antidote we need in troubling times. Finding a film that reflects a bitter view of reality brings us the comfort of connecting with a kindred spirit.

I won’t say this film is free of problems. For a film that’s driven by Judy’s quest for revenge, Punch gets a lot of screen time. In some ways, his constant presence makes us really root for his comeuppance; at other points, it feels like the amount of attention he gets reinforces the problematic dynamic between the characters. Punch gets to dominate the screen and take away time that could have been more interestingly spent exploring Judy’s character or the lifestyle and dynamics of the group of heretics.

Additionally, there are some things that are wrapped up a bit too neatly. Judy gives an impassioned speech at the end of the story that seems to radically change how the villagers perceive outsiders. Not buying it. And speaking of groups on the fringes of society, it’s a bit convenient that we hear about the challenges of the heretics’ nomadic lifestyle with perhaps 20 minutes left of the film…and manage to get a satisfying conclusion to this dilemma.

But as a whole, this was exactly the kind of film I needed at the moment. You absolutely must enjoy dark humor to appreciate this one, though it is much more of a comedy than anything else (despite the dark premise). It feels a bit like a mashup of a less violent/sweary Quentin Tarantino and Sweeney Todd with an intentionally feminist bent, more self-awareness about the nature of violence, and a huge dose of unexpected humor. There are a lot of revenge films I don’t find particularly satisfying, but I was invested in this one and absolutely dying to see a horrible fate befall Punch.

Unsurprisingly, when women have a pagan-inspired bonfire in the woods (that has nothing to do with the Klan), I’m here for it.

Would my blog wife run off to join a band of forest-dwelling witches and heretics or–silly question. But find out her thoughts on the film in her review!

Film Reviews, TV Reviews

The Great…est of Period Drama Comedy

Lately, binge watching The Great has been giving me life. It’s a bit of a roller coaster as it tells the heavily fictionalized story of Catherine the Great’s rise to power by staging a coup only a few months into her husband’s reign (that part is true!). All of the things I love about a period drama are here: witty dialogue, petty schemes, and incredible costumes and scenery. Don’t get me wrong, though–the humor is pitch black and cynical AF, and there are some pretty disturbing murders, tortures, and the like.

Having consumed the series in its entirety (unless season 2 is in the cards?!), I’m having a bit of a meltdown about what to do with my life next. The time may be ripe to reexamine the rather niche comedy/period drama genre. Here are some suggestions in case you also promised to pace yourself on your latest TV series only to be confronted with your own deceit less than a week later.

Header image from Twitter account @TheGreatHulu

Film

Two woman stand side by side in glamorous dresses, looking directly at the camera.
Image copyright by BBC

Cold Comfort Farm

Based on a parody of the romantic pastoral novel, there is nothing subtle about this film adaptation, which features a stellar cast. In one of her first roles, Kate Beckinsale plays Flora Poste, a penniless young woman who goes to live with little known relatives in the English countryside. Absolutely every character is an over-the-top exaggeration, from Ian McKellen’s fire-and-brimstone preacher to Joanna Lumley’s glamorous socialite and Sheila Burrell’s embittered family matriarch who infamously “saw something nasty in the woodshed” long ago.

An Ideal Husband

Rupert Everett as the extremely Wilde-like Lord Goring is perfect casting. Actually, you can’t fault any of the cast here, which includes Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, and Julianne Moore. When a former lover arrives in town with a blackmail scheme that could ruin Lord Chiltern’s political career, it’s up to bff Goring to cleverly solve the problem, all while dodging marriages left and right. On reflection, this is a bit like a Jeeves and Wooster adventure, except Goring fills in for both characters, throwing in some cheerfully subversive wit for good measure.

Two women stand in a courtyard wearing Regency coats and hats.
Image by Ross McDonnell

Love and Friendship

Playing almost the polar opposite of her Cold Comfort Farm character, Kate Beckinsale brings the period drama charm again as the scheming social climber Lady Susan. A fairly young widow, Lady Susan seeks a wealthy husband for herself, as well as one for her daughter, and is perfectly fine with scandalizing all of polite society with her meddling. The thinly veiled insults and outraged indignation are incredibly entertaining. As an aside, I cannot wait to watch the new adaptation of Emma (actually, as a cheapskate, I can..but I’m not happy about it)!

Return of the Hero

A French language film for the list! Not going to lie, I tuned in mostly for Mélanie Laurent, but you can’t fault Jean Dujardin here either. Though Captain Neuville promises he will write to his fiancée every day when he goes off to war, it’s pretty clear to her sister Elisabeth that this is not going to happen. Recognizing what a tool the captain is, Elisabeth writes letters to her sister on his behalf, inventing all manner of heroic deeds he’s pulled off. This plan backfires terribly when, against all odds, Capt. Neuville survives the war and returns home, fully embraced by the family. Only Elisabeth knows what a fraud the captain is, but telling the truth will expose her own deception in this silly comedy.

A woman clasps a necklace behind a man's neck while he is shirtless and wearing heavy face makeup.
Image copyright 2004 by Lions Gate Films

Stage Beauty

Difficult as it is to imagine, our film takes place at a time when it was widely accepted that only men should appear on stage, even in female roles, and the idea of a woman acting was scandalous. As the most renowned actor playing female roles in Restoration-era England, Ned Kynaston’s star is falling just as Margaret Hughes rises. This is a bit of a period drama twist on A Star Is Born, except it’s quite funny and not a huge bummer (though I did quite like the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper/Sam Elliott’s moustache version).

Twelfth Night

Ah, the fluidity of gender roles: a classic Shakespearean theme. After a shipwreck leaves Viola stranded, her brother presumed dead, she adopts a man’s disguise to make her way in the local court. Though Imogen Stubbs stars, of course it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as Olivia, the clueless romantic in love with a disguised Viola; but, like any good period drama, the entire cast is excellent. Throw in more love triangles than you can shake a stick at, and you’ve got the heart and soul of a true Shakespearean comedy onscreen.

Television

American Princess

This one is cheating as it’s not a period drama; rather, it’s set rather uniquely at a modern-day Renaissance Faire. However, the parallels between time periods, the gorgeous costumes, and the interesting look at the hierarchy of the Ren Fair circuit should scratch the period drama itch for you–just be prepared for a lot of very Shakespearean humor (read: filthy). Word of caution: this was cancelled after only one season (so don’t get too attached), but things are wrapped up in a way that’s satisfying enough that it won’t leave you hanging.

A man wearing a crown smiles at the woman seated next to him, who is holding a bearded dragon.
The only relationship that matters to me in the series is the one between King Richard and lizard/dragon in disguise Tad Cooper; image copyright by ABC Studios.

Galavant

I’m honestly never going to get over the years of my life wasted caring about Once Upon a Time, aka the Disney Channel happy hour. But the couple of Galavant seasons we got during the show’s mid-season break almost make it all worth it. At once a sort of tribute to Monty Python and a parody of all things Disney, the comedy musical is ridiculously fun to watch (and the number of incredible cameos is unreal). With songs about poisoning the nobility, burning down villages with the help of a pet lizard (who’s secretly a dragon, of course), and how stupid feelings are, this seems like a distant cousin of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Jeeves and Wooster

This show never fails to make me laugh. I can’t imagine anyone more suited to the titular roles than Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie; their dynamic is so perfect in this series. As the painfully clueless Bertie Wooster stumbles into tricky situations (often where he ends up inadvertently engaged to a series of high society ladies), his valet Jeeves always manages to wrap things up neatly. One of my favorite episodes involves a scheme to steal an antique cow creamer, which could yield multiple broken engagements (and the wrath of the Nazi-esque Black Shorts) should it fail.

Six women dressed in Regency costume stand in a row with a man dressed in a soldier's uniform of the era.
Image copyright by Mammoth Screen

Lost in Austen

True confession: I’m not the biggest Austen fan, but I love an adaptation that underscores the social commentary and biting wit rather than romance. The story follows Amanda Price, a Londoner who magically switches places with Lizzie Bennett of Pride & Prejudice, which is clearly going to include a romantic plot here. Yet the unexpected twists and turns, fish out of water comedy, and backhanded compliments make for an amusing watch. In no other Austen adaptation will characters speak so openly about lesbians, reenacting the famous Darcy in the lake scene, or waxing pubic hair.

Vanity Fair

To be honest, I don’t think this adaptation is really what William Thackeray had in mind, but IDGAF. It’s virtually impossible not to like and even root for the incredibly manipulative Becky Sharp; through this interpretation of the novel, Becky is a survivor responding to narrowly defined morality, class structures, and gender roles. Olivia Cooke is such a delight to watch in this role, and the odd decision to have Michael Palin as Thackeray interjecting wry commentary while on a carousel just works for me.

A middle-aged man with a stethoscope and notebook stands next to a young man with identical accessories.
Image copyright 2012 by Big Talk Productions

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

Finally, one that’s set in Russia! Pitch black humor, some truly gruesome medical procedures on camera, and a familiar face (Adam Godley, the power-hungry Patriarch in The Great), this is perhaps the closest series to matching The Great in tone. No one is especially likeable, nor half as clever as they believe, but it’s all so satisfyingly dark. Plus Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe having deeply cynical conversations with each other as the younger and older versions of the protagonist is so fun to watch.

Honorable mentions too obvious to bring up previously

Clearly, The Favourite, written by The Great writer/creator Tony McNamara. Managing to balance the absurdity of the characters with their vulnerability, this film is so entertaining even as it’s quite heartbreaking (and absolutely packed with social and political commentary).

Additionally, any number of films by Mel Brooks or the Monty Python crew, as well as the entire run of Blackadder. I feel pretty confident that Lord Flashheart would be right at home in Peter III’s court.

I’d also add Jojo Rabbit even though it’s emotionally devastating at times. However, Taika Waititi’s mad sense of humor and appreciation for dark comedy are on par with the tone of The Great.

What are you watching to stay wryly amused, darkly entertained, or otherwise occupied?

TV Reviews

The End of an Era: Thoughts on the BoJack Horseman Finale

*Spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 6 below*

After a season 5 that didn’t thrill me, I confess the announcement that season 6 would be BoJack‘s last didn’t shock me. Beyond a vague annoyance about the splitting of the season into two parts, I didn’t feel particularly upset.

However, once the last few episodes were released on Netflix, I felt eager to dig in even as a sense of dread nestled in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, the animated show about an alcoholic, self-destructive former sitcom star (who happens to have the head of a horse and body of a human) has become one of my absolute favorites, and its finale really does seem to mark the end of an era. How did that happen?

One thing that sets the show apart is its surreal quality that reflects a deeply cynical reality; one that its creators clearly care about despite its profound flaws. The characters embody this spirit; it’s frequently very difficult to like the show’s protagonists. In fact, they consistently do things that disappoint me and remind me of my own shortcomings.

Though many of the characters are part animal, they feel authentically human. All of them are broken characters stumbling along blindly in a destructive industry. Sometimes they get better, sometimes worse. While there is hope at the beginning of season 6 that BoJack’s stint in rehab will set him on the right track, recovery–from alcoholism, mental illness, trauma–is not a linear path. As has been the case throughout the series, a singular action, or even a pattern, does not in itself indicate progress. There’s a constant back-and-forth as the characters and their circumstances change, but the show meanders with purpose.

A cartoon hybrid of a horse and man sits at the end of an elaborate dining room table, seated between a young woman and an elegantly dressed horse/woman.

What is both refreshing and troubling about this season is its focus on accountability. For the entirety of its run, BoJack has been interested in the tension in exploring a frequently toxic character’s inner workings. Having spent 6 years with BoJack and the characters who fall in and out of his orbit, understanding his motivations and his own victimization makes us feel closer to him and perhaps more inclined to overlook his bad actions. Yet, increasingly, we feel BoJack should still face the consequences of his actions; not only from the desire to believe in a sort of divine justice, but also because it’s the only chance he has to truly grow as a character.

Based on the damage BoJack has caused in the past (most frequently to women), will it make a difference at this point?

While tapping into the story of BoJack specifically, the final season continues to speak more broadly to our obsession with celebrity, connecting it to the existential dread that permeates everything we do in a world where we must necessarily create our own meaning. Even (and perhaps especially) fame doesn’t save the show’s characters from emptiness, vulnerability, fear, and death.

The season also continues to explore the inherent contradictions involved with human connection. Relationships of all kinds represent a way to build meaning in a world that feels lacking in purpose. However, leaning on others often leaves the characters disappointed and vulnerable. And many of the characters who shaped each other in early seasons barely (or never) interact now. This season seeks to make peace with the idea that a relationship can resonate for years after it ends, and the ending isn’t necessarily a failure.

A cartoon woman sits at a kitchen table in front of a laptop, a man with a bison head next to her.

On a side note, I absolutely loved Diane’s story this season. I don’t always like Diane; I relate to her depression, feelings of inadequacy, and worry that she’s not doing enough to make the world a better place–perhaps to an insufferable degree. But I appreciate so much that Diane started taking anti-depressants, compromised her artistic vision, and gained weight in season 6 (which never happens onscreen except as a signifier that a woman has let herself go). And this marked progress for Diane, as well as some degree of happiness. Having her life together in some ways didn’t mean everything else magically fell into place.

Now it’s over–the show featuring a darkly comic (and catchy) song about killing babies, a show biz sell-out version of J.D. Salinger, intergenerational trauma that lives on long after the characters who experienced it have died, a petty auto-erotic asphyxiation scheme, and a fake future story line that existed just to break our hearts. It’s hard to say goodbye to such a clever, carefully written, and nuanced show that was simultaneously cynical and hopeful. BoJack responded perfectly to the world we live in, questioning the fictional and real toxic men who occupy so much of our time and attention. How can we move forward when we continue to rationalize awful behavior–especially when we use these same excuses to justify our own misdeeds?

As the final moments of the show approached, I felt both dread and comfort in the cyclical nature of its last scene. Diane sits alone on a roof, smoking. When BoJack seeks her out and they sit down for a heart-to-heart filled with banter, their future looks inevitable yet uncertain. That seems to be the show’s answer, to the extent it’s willing to provide one: the way to find meaning is by living through the cycle, and, paradoxically, the cycle doesn’t end, nor can we even pin down where it begins.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shimmer Lake, or: Murder Most(ly) Foul

Watching films with a focus on mental health is a great idea, they said.  Movies about serious emotional issues will in no way be too real or fill you with existential dread, they said.

Predictably, they were wrong.  And by “they” I mean “we.”

This month returns us to an old favorite, Blog Free or Die Hard, which promises hours of mindless entertainment.  Or at least no more films about mental health care facilities in the UK (for now).

The Film:

Shimmer Lake

The Premise:

What is the truth behind a small-town bank robbery that has left a trail of bodies in its wake?  The answer may (or may not) surprise you.

The Ramble:

As viewers, we see the story of a small-town bank robbery gone wrong as it unfolds in reverse.  Sheriff Zeke’s concern at this point is finding his brother Andy, one of three suspects, before someone else does.  Zeke seems to be the only competent, upright citizen in the entire town–a rather thankless job.  As it turns out, Andy is hiding out in his own basement with the duffel bag full of cash he conspired to steal.  Great plan…?

a man speaks in a payphone booth that is located in front of a poorly maintained building
Because where else would you have a payphone if not by an abandoned, decrepit building?

In the robbery’s aftermath, Zeke is shot, 2 people are dead, 2 suspects are on the run, and many people seem to know more than they’re revealing.  Since the money in the vault was federally insured, FBI agents are involved with the investigation, though they create more problems than they solve.

Now on the run are Ed, the ringleader in all of this, and his wife Steph, who rendezvous with Andy to divvy up the cash and get out of town.  That is, until the passenger in Steph’s car shoots Andy and drives away.

As the story unfolds, we see how the conspirators used blackmail and violence to complete their plan (despite their overall incompetence).  It’s also clear Steph plays a much greater role than she initially appears to, lying to the police about threats from Ed and plans to flee to Mexico.  Or is she…?  Her relationship with Ed is tense, and she blames him for the death of their young son in an accident.  Whose side is Steph really on?

two police officers stare dramatically at two FBI agents
The Staring off Dramatically into the Distance Club met every Thursday…

Additionally, the judge is involved with the robbery as he’s being blackmailed over his much younger male lover just as he’s about to announce his campaign for Senate.  Things don’t end well for quite a few characters who end up being loose ends in this plan…is the judge one of them?

Like any good noir story, the mystery becomes even hazier as we learn that literally everyone in this town is despicable.

a man wearing camouflage walks away from a parked car with an Ohio license plate
Coincidentally, this seems to be set in Ohio (based on that license plate)…?

Which all leads us to…what really happened the night of the robbery.  It’s probably not what you think.  Or maybe it is; I’m not a mind reader.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, the biggest problem here is that I don’t know if this film is supposed to be funny or not.  There was one moment I recall that made me laugh–in fact, it was almost vaudeville sort of moment when Andy asks Chris to check the radio after the robbery has occurred and Chris turns on the radio to a rather upbeat jazzy tune.  There is unexpected humor throughout the film, but it doesn’t always feel at home.

The more I think about it, I wonder if this was a tactic to catch the viewer off-guard–would you really expect Rainn Wilson and Rob Corddry to work on a dark, gritty project with a dramatic twist?  However, this never completely commits to being funny nor to being a clever film noir; it exists mostly in limbo.

I hoped for more of an IDFAHITWA vibe, so perhaps this was destined to fall short in my eyes.  There’s no Melanie Lynskey (or Elijah Wood), and no one even remotely worth liking or rooting for.  Almost everyone in this film turns out to be utterly incompetent or a complete sociopath.  The female characters are also pretty sloppily written, and even the signature femme fatale manages to fall flat completely.

Main conclusions:

  1. The more I hear the name Zeke, the more I like it.  Potential name for my next cat.
  2. Netflix really, really needs to add more film noir to its streaming collection.  While this wasn’t terrible, I also wanted it to be so much better.

Did my blog wife come back for this one or take the money and run?  Find out by reading her review here!