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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Summer of Soul, or: Are You Ready?

Unintentionally, my picks this month have featured a subtheme of music and its power in political activism. They also connect Lin-Manuel Miranda and members of The Roots, as Lin-Manuel and his father are interviewed here (and Black Thought had a brief cameo in tick, tick…BOOM!). This week, however, our story isn’t inspired by a true story…it is a true story. Time for a documentary, the ideal film to bring up at cocktail parties and book clubs.

The Film:

Summer of Soul

Director:

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

The Premise:

This documentary tells the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a huge celebration of Black music and identity that was largely erased from history.

The Ramble:

When the Harlem Cultural Festival was held during the summer of 1969, it was the event for the Black community of New York City. A celebration of Black music and culture at a time when the Civil Rights movement was at a crossroads, the event was ultimately overshadowed by Woodstock. Largely forgotten until the making of this documentary, archival footage and contemporary interviews recreate the festival and underscore its significance.

Festival organizer Tony Lawrence performs onstage.

Starting off with an incredible lineup from Stevie Wonder to Mavis Staples, the 5th Dimension to Nina Simone, the festival wasn’t only an opportunity to hear a young Gladys Knight’s soulful sounds (though how amazing, right?). The massive gathering also represented an opportunity for the Black community of Harlem to come together and heal in light of trauma related to the Vietnam War and political assassinations of the decade, include the fairly recent murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the wake of grief, it was a time when the Civil Rights movement seemed to be splintering, and the fundamental split between violence and non-violence only deepened. There was a sense that revolution was coming, and a reevaluation of Blackness was on the horizon. Some speculated that the ultimate purpose of the festival was to ease tensions and prevent a riot.

Members of the Staple Singers perform onstage.

Tony Lawrence was the organizer and host of the festival, described as a hustler and schmoozer in the best sense. Through his influence, some of the biggest acts of the time performed at the festival, and the mayor of NYC at the time, John Lindsay, made an appearance.

In addition to the performances, there are some excellent interviews, including from artists and attendees. The commentary from the Fifth Dimension is particularly moving, as Marilyn McCoo explains it was meaningful for the group to perform as their music was often not considered “Black enough.” Mavis Staples’ perspective on her father’s Blues stylings and her own due with her hero Mahalia Jackson at the festival make for fascinating stories as well.

Nina Simone sings onstage, a band on various instruments standing behind her.

The documentary is great about interweaving cultural, artistic, and historical elements together to enhance our understanding of the festival. The crossover between Latin and African music, and Afro-Caribbean influences get attention and analysis. At the same time, we dive into perspectives on the moon landing, the heroin epidemic, and struggles for liberation in African nations at the time.

Because the festival was largely forgotten until this documentary was made, the film is both an artistic work and act of historical and cultural preservation.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Hmmmm, I’ve never felt more like I’ve written a book report on the blog than with this review. I find it much more difficult to review a documentary than other films, especially one about a time in history where I have a significant number of gaps in knowledge. There were a lot of performers I didn’t recognize at all, not aided by the fact that many have fallen into relative obscurity. Truthfully, I’m not into religion in the least, but I do love the gospel sound, and I did appreciate the songs in that vein.

What’s most impressive to me about this film is that it does a great deal to recreate the experience of being there at the festival in real time. Beyond that, it also contextualizes things so we can appreciate not only what the festival meant at the time, but the broader significance it holds. One criticism to this approach is that we really just skim the surface on certain themes and events, as the film runs slightly under 2 hours.

Would my blog wife squeeze her way to the front row or be okay with this one getting rained out? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

13th, or: Abolish the Police, Abolish Prisons

It’s maybe not terribly surprising that, as a middle-class white woman, I haven’t had many encounters with the police. Legitimately, the story that springs to mind most clearly is the time I had stopped after dark in a library parking lot with a friend after a hayride was closed (I recognize that this story is white AF). Lost, we pulled into the lot to regroup, and a police officer drove up…to ask if we were having car trouble.

There’s a reason my experience with law enforcement is completely different from the experiences of many people of color; comedian Amber Ruffin recently shared several of her encounters. And it’s much more intentional, insidious, and downright racist than you may realize (even knowing that the way the US handles crime or perceived crime is pretty fucking racist). Ava DuVernay’s modern classic documentary is this week’s film, and it outlines how the problem of mass incarceration grew to become a widely accepted form of slavery today.

The Film:

13th

The Premise:

Combining archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars, director Ava DuVernay’s examination of the U.S. prison system looks at how the country’s history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America.

The Ramble:

In a world where the prison population has skyrocketed from a bit over 350,000 to 2.3 million in less than 50 years, this documentary critically analyzes how and why the racist system of mass incarceration evolved in the United States.

As history professor Kevin Gannon reminds us, “History is not just stuff that happens by accident,” and the problem of mass incarceration is very much included, as the States represents approximately 5% of the world’s population yet houses 25% of the world’s prisoners.

The particular phrase making the incarceration of a disproportionate number of black people possible comes from a surprising place: the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. Key is the exception allowing the nation to deny freedom as punishment for a crime…and a system that frames free blacks as dangerous criminals who need to be locked away from the rest of society develops almost immediately following the Civil War.

Writer and activist Michelle Alexander sits for an interview
Michelle Alexander

While the racism of the KKK and Jim Crow segregation has its roots in the establishment of slavery in the States in 1619, the film The Birth of a Nation served as a spark igniting racist violence in the early 20th century. This film spawned many of our modern conceptions of the KKK, including cross burning and the narrative of the South as a place of noble martyrs. In addition to inspiring violence, the film was incredibly effective in communicating an idea that would shape policies leading to mass incarceration: that of the black man as a threat to white women.

As Jim Crow and segregation replaced lynchings as the primary method of inflicting racist violence on the black community, the Civil Rights movement gained momentum. Conveniently for racists, crime also happened to be on the rise at the time, thus creating an opportunity to spin the narrative that there was a relationship between civil rights, the black community, and violent lawbreaking.

Poet and activist Malkia Cyril sits for an interview
Malkia Cyril

Beginning with Nixon, politicians in the States felt empowered to promote law and order, aggressively pursuing criminal behavior, more often than not using “crime” to stand in for “race.” By framing the issue of crime around the chaos of major urban areas, the Republican party began to sway poor and working-class people to their way of thinking.

Escalating law and order policies, Reagan’s approach to the so-called War on Drugs led to even greater rates of incarceration in black and Latinx communities. The arbitrary distinction between crack and cocaine, along with mandatory sentencing, led to huge disparities in convictions between black and white people charged with possession.

During this time, the incredibly problematic phrase “super predator” emerges to describe criminals–very often, people of color. George H.W. Bush very likely won the presidency based on exploiting white fears surrounding one such individual who committed murder while out on a weekend prison pass.

Protestors carry signs and march in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin

But don’t worry if all of this seems like an unfair attack on conservatives (if you do, though, IDK what you expect from this blog): there are plenty of shameful policies and decisions the Democrats can take credit for. Bill Clinton really leaned into the image of being tough on crime, providing significantly greater funding to the police and incentivizing drug arrests, effectively building the modern infrastructure of the US police.

This leads us to the present, in which ALEC, a lobbying group, is responsible for a disturbing number of Republican bills related to crime and mass incarceration. One of the largest supporters of ALEC was a private prison corporation (CCA), which had an interest in keeping prisons full.

Activist and writer Bryan Stevenson sits for an interview
Bryan Stevenson

And this is really just the tip of the iceberg here. As an arrested person, you are under immense pressure to accept a plea deal rather than go to trial; as a result, 97% of incarcerated people never had a trial. In prison, it’s very possible you will work for abysmally low wages making products for many different private corporations. And, in some states, if you are convicted of a felony, you permanently lose the right to vote.

Suffice it to say, the president (affectionately known to many as Agent Orange) has done nothing but make the situation worse, frequently inciting violence in his speech and denying the conspicuous presence of racism in virtually every sector of society. One of our featured commentators puts our current reality in stark terms: there are more black people incarcerated today than who were enslaved in the States in the 1850s.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Just watch the film, won’t you? It’s streaming for free on YouTube (at least in the States), and contextualizes the issue of mass incarceration much more effectively than I do on this blog. The timing couldn’t be better for white people in particular to understand why protesters responding to police violence are so angry and why the black community is so tired of waiting for the rights they’ve been promised for generations.

With insight from Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Angela Davis, Van Jones, and many other thinkers and activists (including those formerly incarcerated), the expert analysis comes from historical, cultural, contemporary, and personal experiences. The impact of mass incarceration is revealed in stark numbers, but also through stories of individuals and communities whose lives have been irrevocably changed or ended as a result.

To learn more, I highly recommend Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and the podcast Ear Hustle, recorded (in non-pandemic times) inside San Quentin State Prison.

Would my blog wife abolish this one like it’s the U.S. prison system or travel back in time to award it the 2016 Oscar? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

What Happened, Miss Simone? or: Walking with Grace

We could be doing better to learn more about black history and activism to amplify the work of black folks and contribute to dismantling white supremacy. This month, we’ll be highlighting some of the lives and experiences of black people on the Blog Collab–and, going forward, being more intentional about the films, directors, and messages we give our time and attention. We’re kicking off the month with an absolute legend of music and black advocacy, Nina Simone.

The Film:

What Happened, Miss Simone?

The Premise:

The story of Nina Simone’s success, jeopardized by abuse, mental illness, and both public and industrial responses to her Civil Rights activism.

The Ramble:

“I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life.”

Nina Simone expressed her thoughts on freedom over 50 years ago, and they still ring all too real. Though she gained fame as one of the most talented jazz and blues performers ever, Simone was truly fired up by Civil Rights activism while battling abuse, mental illness, and rejection by the music industry. Our film gives us some insight into the complexity of Simone’s public and private lives.

Nina Simone, a young black woman, sings and plays piano in a dimly lit room with several people watching her performance.

Playing piano in church from a young age, Simone grew to believe she would be the first black woman to receive recognition for playing classical piano. When two white women noticed Simone’s talent, she gained the lessons and sponsorship to pursue this dream. However, at the same time, Simone grew lonely, belonging in neither the black neighborhood where she lived, nor the white neighborhood where she spent much of her time practicing.

After studying piano at Juilliard for a short time, Simone expected to continue her studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, but she was denied admission, very likely due to her race. Out of money to continue her education, Simone had no choice but to work in order to contribute to the rest of her family, who had relocated to be with her in Philly. Working in a club in Atlantic City and playing jazz her mother would never approve of, the girl born Eunice Waymon became the woman known as Nina Simone.

Nina Simone sits, one leg crossed over the other, smoking a cigarette, while she has a conversation with a couple of figures who are offscreen.

With her unique way of playing classically inspired jazz and singing with deep emotion, it isn’t long before Nina Simone records her first album, Little Girl Blue. To her surprise, her cover of “I Loves You, Porgy” is an instant hit. Soon after, Simone meets Andy Stroud, the man who will become her husband and manager.

After the birth of her daughter, Simone’s career begins to really take off. She plays Carnegie Hall, though in her mind isn’t playing music that measures up to the classical piano she grew up performing. Despite her success, it’s at this point that those around her notice the toll constant work takes on Simone’s well-being. Husband Andy is psychologically and physically abusive, spending a good deal of time in his managerial role encouraging her to always keep working. Simone is on several medications to deal with her depression and trouble sleeping, and suffers from drastic mood swings. At the heart of all of her work, there seems to be nothing; in spite of her achievements, Simone is still looking for meaning.

Nina Simone smiles at the young child (her daughter) she is holding, seated next to her husband.

Simone begins to find this meaning in activism. After the Birmingham church bombing that kills four young girls, Simone releases the controversial song “Mississippi Goddam.” Radios won’t play it as it’s too indecent because of the swearing…but, you know, white supremacist murder of black children is fine. Simone connects with the Civil Rights movement, finding purpose in fighting for the rights of black Americans. She connects with playwright Lorraine Hansberry in particular, and tells Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his face that she’s not nonviolent.

Fully committed to Civil Rights, Simone begins playing exclusively political songs. While she finds support in the movement, she gets none from her husband, who resents that she prioritizes politics over her (and his) career. Experiencing suicidal thoughts and seemingly having breakdowns at several times, the assassination of MLK, Jr. drives Simone from the States to Liberia. This time in her life seems to be a turning point as she feels happy in Liberia, but her relationship with her daughter suffers as Simone’s abusive behavior drives her away.

Nina Simone in later years, performing onstage while seated at the piano. She looks serious and focused.

With her finances in trouble, Simone jumps to Switzerland and then France to perform in clubs again. On the verge of a breakdown, several of Simone’s friends help her find a place to live and receive treatment for newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. But is that enough to help the woman who is, in the words of Qubilah Shabazz, African royalty? “How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?” she asks.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m really grateful this film exists and gives us some insight to Nina Simone’s brilliance. I knew she didn’t have a happy life before diving in, but I wasn’t prepared for all of the challenges she faced, as a performer, activist, and black woman. It’s impossible not to admire her courage as a Civil Rights activist during a time when much of white America dismissed or outright rejected its message. Her cultural and social influence is difficult to overstate as she looms so large in modern history.

To be honest, I was hoping for a bit more insight into Simone’s interiority than was presented in the film. Perhaps this is down to her struggles with mental illness and her own image–in one interview, Simone reveals that she believes the Civil Rights movement has failed, seeming to imply that she could have done more. I suppose what my brain wants is to see evidence of some peace for Miss Simone, but we can’t know if that was one of her many accomplishments, or even one she wanted.

Would my blog wife give this one a standing ovation or be that one person in the audience Miss Simone yells at to sit down? Find out in her review here!

two women holding cats and runner-up ribbons stand next to another woman holding a cat and grinning broadly
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Catwalk, or: A Fuckton of Cats

Let’s not think about the fact that the first month of 2019 is nearly over.  Instead, let’s focus on it being a week of purrfectly groomed felines, pawsitively delightful looks of kitty disdain, and inspiring tails of overcoming obstaclaws.  Don’t worry–I’ve officially gotten the cat puns out of my system meow.  Now.

The Film:

Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit

The Premise:

This documentary takes an inside look into the world of professional cat shows, the people who make them possible, and the competition for that coveted 1st place ribbon.

The Ramble:

Handlers, breeders, judges, and, of course, kitties:  we’ll get to know many of the quirky characters who keep the professional cat show circuit going.

Among those are judges who describe competitors as “the kind of cat that gives you goosebumps” and remark that particular cats never have a hair out of place.  We also get to know some of the breeders who care deeply about the animals they raise.  Though they get a bad rap, the breeders shown here take painstaking care of their babies:  precise grooming, special diets of raw meat and chicken hearts, custom-built catios.  There are so many people making these cat shows happen that the mind boggles.

a woman standing in a screened-in catio tries to get the attention of several Maine Coon cats

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the story driving this film is the fierce competition to win at the individual cat shows and ultimately rack up enough points to be the overall best cat of the year.

The top contender at the beginning of the season is Bobby, a Turkish Angora shown by cat handler Kim.  Every cat has a benching space (aka space for their little luxury trailers), and cats are called up by number to queue up for individual judging.  Though grooming is important depending on the breed, it does boil down to a cat beauty contest as judged by the standards of each breed.

a fluffy white cat lying on a sofa enjoys scratches from a human hand

While Bobby is a gorgeous cat, he runs into competition in the form of Oh La La, a red Persian making a comeback from retirement.  Her handler, Shirley, obviously takes great care with bathing and grooming the little ball of kitty fluff, resulting in stealing those 1st place ribbons from right under Bobby’s nose.  Kim and Shirley exchange some light-hearted banter, but it seems clear Kim is quite put out that her kitty’s chances of victory have vanished seemingly overnight.

a woman stands behind a very fluffy orange Persian cat, fluffing its fur

In addition to caring for and showing cats, Kim manages the additional hassle of coordinating a small local cat show.  It’s even more of a fiasco when the venue’s new management double books the space, and the time usually reserved to set up the cat show is now taken over by a wrestling event.  Additionally, many cats and their handlers are having bad luck with delayed flights, leading me to reflect in horror how much worse travel delays would be with a cat.  But the show must (and does) go on!

As the show season goes on, Bobby’s chances of victory narrow further with the arrival of another impeccably groomed cat, a Himalayan named Sandman.  When this cat steals 1st place, Oh La La is pushed to 2nd, and Bobby to 3rd.

Of course, it all comes down to the final show.  Which cat will take home the most important honor in the cat show community?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First of all, the cat facial expressions in this film give me life.  The filmmakers play to their advantage the naturally sarcastic glares cats have mastered.  It’s truly a joy to watch these cats in their element.

We also get some insight into the many wheels that must turn for cat shows to exist, and it makes me appreciate how much is happening behind the scenes for everything to run smoothly.  I have a little bit more understanding for why all of the mushed-face cats always seem to do so well in these types of competitions too–the impeccable grooming and care for some of these breeds can factor into cat show decisions.

However, the film really plays up the rivalry between Kim and Shirley, which I don’t like so much.  Many of the participants rave about the lovely, supportive cat show community, yet the film really underplays this element in favor of stirring up drama.  It also seems to ridicule its subjects at times, and I’m really not cool with that.  Cat ladies make the world go ’round.

Was this mewsic to my darling blog wife’s ears or did it end up in the doghouse?  Read her post here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shirkers, or: Ladies Before Men Who Are Shady

It’s November, meaning (1) I’ll be eating an excessive amount of turkey and (2) we’ll be doing what we want on the blog.  This week that means getting real via the medium of a documentary about a film about murder.

The Film:

Shirkers

The Premise:

A group of teens in Singapore make a film with their mentor only to suffer crushing disappointment when he and the film reels disappear.

The Ramble:

In 1992, Sandi and her friends Jasmine and Sophie took on the impressive feat of writing, shooting, and starring in a movie.  Sandi wrote the script and starred as a teenaged murderer.  Influenced by the experimental films of ’60s French cinema, the team made a film unlike anything else in Singapore.

Raised by her grandparents with high expectations for her future, Sandi felt more at home with Jasmine’s laid-back, undemanding family.  Bonding over their love of censored films, music, and all things punk, Sandi and Jasmine found a voice through the creation of their own zine.

The lives of Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophie change when they meet Georges, a filmmaker who will become their mentor.  An enigmatic man, Georges lies about his age, date of birth (including day of the month!), birthplace, and–bizarrely–about being the inspiration for James Spader’s character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

If Georges doesn’t already scream “major creep” to you at this point, he cranks up the dial by inviting Sandi on a road trip across the United States.  After the trip, Sandi is inspired to write the script for a film called Shirkers.

Determined to make the film and unleash it upon the world, Sandi and Georges drive production forward even when Sophie and Jasmine would prefer to wait.  By her own admission, Sandi is a bit of an asshole during production.  In addition to pouring their hearts into the film, Sandi and Sophie clear out their bank accounts to make it all happen.

At the end of the day, Georges is the one walking away with the film reels.  Sandi and her friends wait eagerly for news of the final product…but only receive a couple of messages from him before he disappears without a trace.

Years pass (23+ in fact) and Sandi feels over what happened with the film.  She has written a novel and gotten married in Vegas.  Sandi has given up all hope of seeing the film reels again when she gets a call from Georges’ wife.  George has passed away, and he’s left behind 70+ reels of film labelled “Shirkers.”

What will Sandi and her friends find on those reels?  And why the eff was Georges such a massive creep?  Answers to at least one of those questions revealed in the documentary.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love the girls in this, especially as Sandi and Jasmine embrace their weirdness and the spirit of punk.  This girl gang proudly marches to the beat of their own drum.  Sophie wisely points out that the experience created a unique bond among the three girls, who remain close because of the shared triumph and devastation of creating and losing their film.

However, a good chunk of this film is dedicated to the pursuit of understanding Georges and his decisions.  I can appreciate how this process is a strategy for Sandi to find closure…but sometimes when dudes act like assholes, it’s just because they’re fucking assholes.

Would my blog wife embrace this as part of her girl gang or hide it from the light of day?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

GLOW, or: Gorgeous Ladies of the Blog Collab

Sometimes (and always) we’re so in tune on the Blog Collab that we do the same things whether we intend to or not.  Our latest brainwave came in the form of the Netflix original GLOW.  We were there for the glam ‘80s hair and glitter, but stayed for the zany wrestling personas and the show’s surprising emotional depth.  This month is inspired by GLOW, and the documentary that spawned the TV show is kicking us off to celebrate the Gorgeous Ladies of the Blog Collab, or:  GLOBC…?  Doesn’t have quite the same ring as GLOW.

The Film:

GLOW:  The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Uncondensed Version:

In case you haven’t watched the original ‘80s show or the updated Netflix series, GLOW was the first women’s wrestling show on TV.  It was surprisingly successful, especially considering that it began as more or less one extended infomercial…with comedy sketch bits, song/dance numbers, and some rather cringey rapping.

Despite the blatant sexism and stereotyping, the women cast on GLOW consider it revolutionary as it allowed them to feel strong and empowered while looking and feeling fab.

women in colorful costumes proceed down a flight of stairs in a mall, glittery banners behind them
SO MUCH GLITTER.

The show did not begin with great promise–Mando, a real wrestler, trained the women (hired mostly based on looks rather than wrestling prowess) in a run-down gym without proper equipment or safety practices.  After training, things sped along quickly as the GLOW ladies were moved to a hotel in Vegas (because, honestly, where else would this have happened if not Vegas).  As depicted in the show, the ladies are supposed to always stay in character and obey strict rules on curfews and partying.

One of the few wrestlers on the show was Matilda the Hun, who had been trying in vain to find wrestling partners.  She was so hardcore she once literally wrestled a bear and may be my new personal hero.

a woman smiles, holding up a crown with the word "GLOW" written in red rhinestones
In case you’d like some glitter to go with that glitter.

Initially, the creator of the show clashed with the director, who envisioned an over-the-top, campy variety show.  These issues were quickly resolved as the director was also the one with the money behind him.  Some of the ladies look back fondly on their working relationship with the director, while others think he was borderline abusive.

Several of the more memorable personas were Big Bad Mama, a Louisiana voodoo priestess, and the Heavy Metal sisters, who cut things up with a chainsaw and lit shit on fire in the ring.  Ninotchka was the Russian stereotype whose confidence boosted the wrestler herself and made her feel powerful.  The wrestler shares a rather touching moment when she realized her boyfriend was in love with her persona’s confidence–not her.

several women wrestlers stand in an outdoor wrestling ring; the one at the center is a woman with teased '80s hair, wearing a skirt with floral print

Just as Machu Picchu is the heart and soul of the Netflix show, Mt. Fiji is the star of the original GLOW (and the documentary).  Fiji was an Olympian and by all accounts the sweetest lady on the show.  It’s heartbreaking to see her current health problems that have largely confined her to a hospital bed.  Many of the women suffered injuries and dead-end careers after GLOW‘s abrupt cancellation.  Several speculate the businessman funding the show stopped because of marital problems that arose as he spent so much time with all of the ladies of GLOW.

a large group of women poses for the camera in a hotel lobby
WHOEVER IS CHOPPING ONIONS RIGHT NOW NEEDS TO STOP.

Because the show ended so suddenly, no one felt a sense of closure…which is about to change when one of the wrestlers decides to host a reunion.  If you don’t get emotional seeing the ladies of GLOW reunited, you may have a heart of stone.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Like the new Netflix show, there is plenty of glitter and over-the-top wrestling mayhem along with lots of heart.  It’s really hard to see the physical and emotional toll the years of wrestling took on these women even though all seem to remember the show fondly whether they found happiness and success in later years or not.  Though all of the ladies were thrilled to be part of a ground-breaking series, they also suffered greatly at the hands of the entertainment industry.  Like most things to emerge from the ’80s:  come for the glitter, stay for the genuine heart.

Would my Gorgeous Lady of the Blog Collab hit it with a bodyslam and leave it down for the count…or crown it champion of the ring (and the collab)?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Wolfpack, or: Cereal Boxes and Yoga Mats

Christa has decided to ramp up the classiness of the blog collab with our first foray into documentary. Bear with me as I’ve never reviewed a documentary except maybe as a school assignment.

You will probably want to read Christa’s review here.  Not required reading, but it should be.

The Film:

The Wolfpack

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

In a small apartment on the Lower East Side, seven siblings who aren’t allowed to go outside live under the rule of a controlling father. This is almost a fairy tale, isn’t it?

The Uncondensed Version:

Homeschooled and permitted to leave their apartment on rare occasions (under adult supervision), the Angulo siblings reenact their favorite movies to pass the time.

four teenage boys sit in folding chairs laughing, with one holding a steering wheel and pretending to drive
Exhibit A: Reservoir Dogs

It’s quite impressive, as they have little access to technology and equipment. One of the brothers writes down every line as he watches films and types out scripts on a typewriter. He also makes a Batman costume from cereal boxes and yoga mats and talks about the magic of film. It’s quite adorable.

a teenage boy looks out of an apartment window, dressed in a detailed Batman costume
Seriously…cardboard and yoga mats.

Their parents are free spirits, giving the children Sanskrit names, long hair, and the sense of being a tribe. Or, as one of the brothers puts it, it’s like a prison. The tribal mentality seems to come from a rejection of the world and their father’s belief in his own enlightenment. This would be cooler if he weren’t so controlling and abusive to their mother.

However, the siblings use the power of film to escape until they begin to venture out on their own when the eldest is 15. As you might expect, the decision to go out exploring leads to some big changes in the way they see the world. The Angulos try to balance their longing for new experiences with the fear of strangers and the outside world instilled in them for the entirety of their lives.

I think the power of this documentary rests with getting to know the Angulo siblings and admiring how genuinely sweet and introspective they are, so I’m going to stop.

Also they have a cat.

a boy holds an orange and white cat
Cat!

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Quite moving, and those siblings are so adorable it hurts.

It’s so hard not to want to punch the father in the face, esp. when he starts talking about Jesus and forgiveness in the context of him being the Jesus figure, essentially.  It is the absolute worst part of this film.

Thankfully, this documentary focuses on the siblings and their creative power, which is really much more interesting than yet another controlling, emotionally manipulative middle-aged dude.

Does Christa agree? Read her review here to find out!