a man with a large false beard and a pipe holds a medium-sized dog
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Beginners, AKA Experts at Fashion and Shredding My Heart into Little Pieces

Last film of Hellraiser vs. McGregor month tips the balance squarely onto the McGregor side of the scales.  Pretty wins over evil.  Plus a Julia-less Hellraiser is #notmyHellraiser.

This week my pick is Beginners, which I was planning to watch this weekend and weep into my keyboard either way.  As the blog collab proves, it’s better not to attempt that kind of thing alone.

Can I just preface this by saying I went to see this in 2010 in Dayton’s indie theater whilst under the impression that it was a comedy?  The film’s poster does nothing to discourage the notion that there will be a lot of smiling, laughter, and adorable interactions between our 3 leads.  From the trailer I remember Ewan McGregor, a dog, a romantic relationship, and Ewan McGregor’s discovery that his father (Christopher Plummer!) is gay.  All of the aforementioned are elements of this film, along with his father DYING OF CANCER.  It is very sweet and honest about how complex family is, but significantly more heartbreaking than I was led to believe.

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

An artist comes to terms with learning his father is gay, dating a much younger man, and has terminal cancer while pursuing a romantic relationship of his own.

The Uncondensed Version:

This film alternates between several past storylines during Oliver’s childhood, his father’s terminal illness, and the “present” (2003).

In the present, Oliver is clearing out his father’s house and helping his dog, Arthur, adjust to a new life.  I’m not even a dog person, but the dog is fucking adorable.  Oliver, still reeling from the loss of his father, holds conversations with Arthur and introduces him to Oliver’s place.

Oliver is also still trying to make sense of the last few years, when his mother died, his father (Hal) revealed that he was gay, started dating a younger man, and became heavily involved with the gay community.  Also in the present, Oliver meets a young woman at a costume party (Melanie Laurent!) and wants to pursue a relationship with her but fears becoming his parents.

an older man in a club dances among a group of men
This looks way too boring to be a gay club.

So let’s move chronologically or this is going to get really fucking confusing.  Oliver remembers very little of his father during childhood, a consequence of his father both (a) working all the damn time and (b) actively concealing a major part of his identity.  As a result, Oliver mostly remembers his mother being alone and getting drunk at art galleries.  She always dodges questions about where Hal is and whether she is happy or not, but memorably tells him about the cathartic power of screaming.  When Oliver says he doesn’t feel like screaming, she tells him “You will.”

Bringing it forward to Hal’s big gay reveal, Oliver is really uncomfortable as it makes him question his parents’ relationship and his entire childhood.  Plus Hal’s boyfriend, Andy, is basically Oliver’s age, which has to be a bit strange for both of them.  Either way, Hal has many visitors, the most dedicated being Oliver and Andy.  When Hal gets the stage 4 cancer diagnosis, he hides the truth from Andy and, at a certain point, seems to forget he’s dying.  Hal buys a lot of nice clothes, books, and throws a lot of parties.  He really wants to see Oliver settle down, but offers the somewhat disheartening advice of “Don’t wait for the lion when you can settle for the giraffe.”

This part is way more heartbreaking than I’m making it sound.

And leads us to the present, in which Oliver is trying (and failing) to throw himself into his work as an artist so he won’t have to think about his father’s death.  Finally, upon the insistence of his friends, he attends a costume party (it seems like it should be a Halloween party, but it’s unclear if it actually is) as Freud, bringing along Arthur so he doesn’t get lonely.

a dog sits in the corner of a bathroom, thinking "Tell her the darkness is about to drown us unless something drastic happens right now"
Also because Arthur is a great wingman.

It turns out to be a fateful night, as he meets Anna, who looks impeccable in a suit and is very perceptive despite laryngitis leaving her without a voice.  After the party, Oliver calls her and they have a sort of date, which mostly involves Anna pointing at places where Oliver should drive.

The two begin dating for real even though Anna is an actress and due to return to NYC for an audition shortly.  It gets personal when Oliver tells her about what he’s been dealing with during the past few years, and Anna tells him her dad calls her when he’s having suicidal thoughts.  She used to find her life freeing, but now hates being in hotels all the time now and how easy it is to leave people.  Oliver very wisely tells her you can stay in the same place and still find ways to leave people, which is a blow below the emotional belt.

A man and woman lean over a book surrounded by disorganized shelves in a used bookstore. A dog sits at their feet.
This is pretty much porn to me.

After bonding over graffiti-ing a billboard, Oliver asks Anna to move in, which doesn’t go as smoothly as anticipated.  It’s a big step for both parties, and Oliver says this isn’t what he’s supposed to feel like.  Taking the hint, Anna decides to move back to NYC.  To borrow a page from Christa’s book and leave you hanging with a question, is that it for Anna and Oliver?  Will they change their minds or go their separate ways for good?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love this film and I would probably get into a fistfight about it.  The characters have very real reactions to their circumstances.  Oliver and Hal become closer during the last years of Hal’s life, but they never have a perfect relationship.  Throughout the film, Oliver carries around the burden of guilt and regret for the unhappiness and imperfection in his parents’ lives; however, he can acknowledge the past without becoming it.  Or can he???

You may be able to find out here in Christa’s review!  But maybe not.  She will probably leave you with a similar string of questions, won’t she???

On a side note, it’s only fair to warn you that Ewan has an American accent in this, which just isn’t as beautiful as his Scottish accent.  However, he does look really good in stripes, and that basically makes up for it.

a man looks off-camera while wearing a striped sweater
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Velvet Goldmine, or: Glitter Glitter Glitter Glitter

Christa’s pick this week continues the Ewan McGregor/Hellraiser takeover.  I’m really happy her pick was Velvet Goldmine, which has been on my list for a while now, but I hadn’t watched for whatever reason.  As it turns out, our film works quite nicely with Hellraiser, as our lead protagonists are Demon/Wilde.  That‘s a band name.

The Film:

Velvet Goldmine

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A David Bowie-esque pop star rises and falls in the 1970s music scene, complete with glitter, nudity, and an impeccable wardrobe.

The Uncondensed Version:

You know this film is going to be a bit on the pretentious side when it starts out with a line like “Histories, like ancient ruins, are the fictions of empires.”  …Are ancient ruins fictions?  Are they???  I know I’m getting way too literal with that line, but…Stonehenge.  Easter Island.  The Pyramids.  THEY’RE RIGHT FUCKING THERE.  …Fictions?  I could go on.

It’s also clear early on that it’s going to be insane.  The opening scene involves a baby left on a doorstep in Victorian London…seemingly by a UFO?  (We get confirmation later that it really was a UFO.)  This baby is Jack Fairy, destined for greatness as evidenced by (a) the whole UFO thing, (b) his magical shiny brooch,  (c) his dream of becoming a pop idol, and (d) rather impressively using his own blood as lipstick.  Flash forward 100 years to the 1970s…

Brian Slade, aka Maxwell Demon, is the biggest pop star in the world.  He is more than a bit reminiscent of David Bowie re:  individuality, costume design, sexual ambiguity, and general air of coolness.  All of this success is cut tragically short when Brian is shot onstage.  Or is it???  As we find out less than 10 minutes later, Brian is not dead—the entire assassination was a publicity stunt.  However, Brian’s career is never the same again, and he fades from the limelight.

a man stands onstage in a glittery skin-tight outfit with a collar of oversized feathers, heavy face makeup, and a short teased wig
The Bowie resemblance is quite subtle at times…

This begs the question of what happened to Brian and what led to his sudden decline.  Cue Arthur, played by a suuuuuuuper young Christian Bale (but everyone looks super young in this film), journalist and former Maxwell Demon/Curt Wilde (Ewan!) superfan.

a man with a mullet and a glittery jacket stands backstage with other glam rockers
Also rocked the glam look back in the day.

Inevitably, we must go back to go forward.  Arthur manages to track down Brian’s first manager, who discovered Brian singing in a bar.  Brian would perform while wearing a dress and sporting really well-kept flowing blonde hair.  There were very few fans of his performances besides his wife, Mandy (Toni Collette!).  With the help of his manager (whose name I completely forget), Brian starts to gain some recognition.

Around this time, he sees American rocker Curt Wilde perform—he’s a bit more on the edgy/punk spectrum, though he also really appreciates glitter.  He’s apparently the Iggy Pop of this film.  Curt had a rough childhood in which he was subjected to shock therapy after an encounter with his brother, which is supposedly the explanation for his extreme behavior every time he hears an electric guitar.  Brian is super into Curt’s performance, which involves him pouring glitter over himself, flipping the bird to haters, and getting completely naked.  Camera does not shy away from this scene at all.  AT ALL.

a shirtless man with eye makeup sings onstage, flipping off the audience
I’ve never been more attracted to him.

Anyway, as Brian becomes increasingly successful, he gets a sleazy new manager in the form of Eddie Izzard.  Brian is overexposed in the UK but incredibly popular; as such, Eddie (forget his character’s name) decides they should make the jump across the pond.  Brian seems cool with this mostly because it’s an opportunity to fuck be formally introduced to Curt Wilde.

Upon their introduction, Brian immediately proposes a collaboration.  Which is only like 75% about getting wild with Wilde (sorry, I’m done).

a man with long blonde hair and shiny pants sings onstage, shirtless
Not that I blame him.

So Brian and Curt are really great together onstage, and offstage they are H-O-T.  Actually, they’re hot onstage too, though they seem a bit surprised when the press catches on to the nature of their relationship?  This would be a bit more understandable if Brian didn’t basically give Curt a blowjob on stage.  Either way, the press coverage, pressure from Eddie Izzard, and clashing work styles all combine to tear Brian and Curt apart.

This leads to Brian’s fake assassination, drug abuse, divorce, and overall downward spiral.  Mandy and Curt still care about Brian, which is quite heartbreaking.  Mandy seems to be sort of a psychic who hangs around bars, and Curt spends quite a lot of his free time  looking moody at concerts and drinking.

a woman white wavy blonde hair and a shiny leopard print shirt holds a cigarette in manicured hand
Unintentional extension of Attractive People Smoking Month.

…Which brings us to the present, and we find out that what happened to Brian is a bit disappointing and completely unrealistic.

Oh, we do also get young Christian Bale’s story interwoven in this, and what an inspiration Brian and Curt were to him.  Arthur was growing up in the closet at the time, jacking off to pictures of Brian and Curt…until his parents caught him in the act.  Luckily, he escaped to London, then New York, became a hard-hitting journalist, and gave zero fucks.  I mean, sort of.  Not going to lie, rock star storyline > journalist storyline.  ALWAYS.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Sometimes it gets a bit pretentious, and I feel this would have been more fun before the world was post-Bowie.  Overall, I can’t complain—Ewan is naked and/or covered in glitter for the vast majority of this film, and his American accent is really cute.

Did Christa feel compelled to cover everything in glitter after this film or would she rather paint it black?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Little Voice, or: (Ray) Say My Name

This week’s pick ties in with our Ewan McGregor/Hellraiser theme for the month.  Or, as I like to think of it, our unofficial petition for the casting of Ewan McGregor as Pinhead in the next Hellraiser installment.  Also Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent are in this, so it has to be good, right?

The Film:

Little Voice

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

LV is a very shy woman with a troubled relationship with her mother and a talent for impersonating soulful singers.  Will various shady characters attempt to take advantage of the latter?  (Spoiler:  yes.)

The Uncondensed Version:

LV (Little Voice) is extremely shy, quiet, and possibly agoraphobic.  She rarely speaks to anyone, including her mother, and finds solace only in her old swing, jazz, and blues records.

Her mother, Mari, does not appreciate LV pumping up the jam day in and day out; however, she doesn’t particularly approve of anything LV does.  Mari is awful to her daughter, but she has very good taste in sweaters.

A woman wearing a cat sweater speaks to another woman in a residential neighborhood.
Cat sweater game on point.

Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor plays a character who installs phones, but whose true interest is in feeding pigeons.  The message both LV and Ewan (Bill in this film) receive is to grow up, focus, behave like a normal human being (whatever that means).  So it’s unsurprising that the two share a connection and Bill charms her by returning with promotional literature about phones after he helps install a phone for Mari.

A man stands outside of a bird enclosure with a bucket, smiling up at the sky.
Feed the biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirds…

In a storyline that is about to become incredibly relevant, Mari brags about how she scored with Ray Say (Michael Caine!), a talent agent of sorts.  Our plots converge when Ray hears LV’s Judy Garland impression and recognizes a situation he can profit from.

A man wearing a pink floral robe stands on a chair in a kitchen.
Has Michael Caine ever done drag?  He should totally do drag.

In the meantime, Bill does his own version of the boombox outside of the window by showing up at LV’s window in a cherry picker.  This is mostly endearing because he talks about his birds the whole time (in a fashion similar to me talking about my cat all the damn time) and has a really cute smile.

A man smiles, highlighting his sparkling blue eyes.
He has really pretty eyes too.

Ray convinces local nightclub owner, Mr. Boo (Jim Broadbent!), to listen for himself.  With the help of Mari, the two get LV to perform at the nightclub, where she draws a huge crowd with her wheel of musical impressions, as it were.

Is LV’s mom happy about this newfound success?  Of course she isn’t.  Does she take advantage of the situation and pressure LV into performing indefinitely?  Check and check.

A woman onstage emerges from a golden cage, the words "Little Voice" appearing in lights above her.
The screenwriters are just a little into the caged bird metaphor in this film.

LV, miserable in the spotlight, deeply hurt by her mother’s lies, and cracking under the pressure, refuses to go onstage again.  In response, Ray inadvertently starts a fire, acts like a huge dick, and embarrasses himself on stage.  I quite liked Michael Caine’s angry, embittered singing, honestly.  The rest of the film’s conclusion, however…has issues.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film has a great cast…Brenda Blethyn and Michael Caine are so worth watching in this.  Jim Broadbent and Ewan McGregor are almost playing their Moulin Rouge roles, and Jane Horrocks is especially impressive given that she performed all of the songs in this.

However, I did expect the story to be a bit more empowering, and LV was a character much in need of understanding.  It was troubling to see her constantly victimized in the film and unable to articulate her thoughts.  There was also very little nuance to the characters, IMHO—good characters LV and Bill were a bit too good to be believed, while Mari, Ray, and Mr. Boo were completely despicable.

But I think the moral of the story here is I will forgive a film most things if it includes a few McGregor grins.

Did this one make Christa raise her voice in song or was it completely off-key?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hellraiser IV, or: Past, Pinhead, Future

I don’t know what to call March except fantastic. This month’s features brought to you by Pinhead and Ewan McGregor. My personal hope is that Christa and I throwing these ideas together and sending them out into the universe, we will bring about the next major entertainment announcement of Ewan McGregor as Pinhead. You have no idea how thoroughly that would complete my life.

But you do. If you’ve made it to this point with this blog, you most decidedly do.

BTW, if you come up with an appropriate name for this month’s theme, I will be forever in your debt. Just be aware that I am already in a lot of debt.

The Film:

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Pinhead returns (again) in past, present, and future timelines to end the bloodline that created the original demon Rubik’s cube.

The Uncondensed Version:

I Googled this one a little (a lot) and realized that (a) this film is 20 years old, and (b) this is the last of the Hellraiser franchise to get a theatrical release. Bodes well, right?

The premise is somewhat complex(?) for the 3rd sequel in a horror franchise. Our story follows the Merchant family in 18th-century France, the present (ahem, 1996), and the future.

As the film opens on a spaceship that looks like a deconstructed Rubik’s cube (believe it or not, this is a critical detail that will become vitally important later), we meet the first Merchant. He appears to be using a robot to solve a Rubik’s cube/summon Pinhead. Just as he is about to accomplish this task, he’s rudely interrupted by the military space police.

Future Merchant has pulled a big no-no in taking over the ship, hijacking it, and pursuing his personal demon-fighting agenda. But since this film is practically an extended episode of Star Trek: TOS, don’t worry—Merchant is about to explain everything.

…Beginning with the first Merchant (chronologically), a French toymaker (not a euphemism, actually). This Merchant, aka LeMarchand, has created a masterfully crafted box (Rubik’s cube) on commission for a rather odd French aristocrat. When LeMarchand’s wife fails to appreciate the genius of his work, he storms off in a huff to deliver the box to the French aristocrat (also a magician because of course he fucking is).

A young man in period clothing smiles, holding up a gold puzzle-box that is intricately engraved.
To be fair, if only thing your invention does is summon demons, there is probably a very limited market for it.  Even among French aristocrats.

Unfortunately, LeMarchand gets a bit more than anticipated when he witnesses the magician and his assistant (Adam Scott [sporting ‘80s rocker hair]???) performing a satanic ritual to summon a demon, Angelique. If you were wondering, the ritual involves a lot of organ removal and blood draining.

LeMarchand is, understandably, quite disturbed, and vows to steal the box back. However, things don’t go quite as planned, and Adam Scott tells LeMarchand that his bloodline will be cursed as he helped unleash demons upon the world.

Actor Adam Scott has extremely long, flowing hair, and stands in a candelit room.

Flashforward to 1990s Merchant, aka John. John is an architect prone to recurring nightmares. Matters don’t improve when he receives an award for his work, drawing the attention of Angelique.

Angelique has a lot of potential as a character, but I inevitably kept comparing her to Julia off Hellraiser I and II. No one in this franchise is as cool as Julia. No one.

Angelique tricks this sleazy business dude into summoning Pinhead. She and Pinhead have a very odd, somewhat antagonistic relationship that also borders on being sadomasochistic. Very confusing, and leads to cryptic lines like “Temptation is illusion” and “I am pain.”

Pinhead, a demon wearing all-leather and with pins sticking out of his face and skull, looms above the camera, looking down.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that Pinhead and Angelique decide to kill John’s baby. As soon as someone threatens to kill a baby, I am out because all suspense is lost. You know that 98% of time in a Hollywood film, no one is actually going to kill a fucking baby.

Is that awful?

So there’s a showdown between Pinhead and John, which ends the way you might expect, mostly.

A man stands behind a woman in a dimly lit room; the woman is looking off to the side with an exasperated expression.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should always run when someone asks if you’d like to play a game.

And finally, we return to the future.

The officer who arrested Merchant, Rimmer (one of the writers had to be a huge sci-fi fan), releases future Merchant to stop Pinhead.

How will he ever manage that?

Let’s just say it’s no accident the ship looks like a deconstructed Rubik’s cube.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, I’m never going to hate a Hellraiser film, but I feel sorta bad that 1996 people paid money to see this.

I wanted the part in 18th century France to go on longer, but I will always want the historical period part to go on longer. The plot is very loosely tied together, and all 3 Merchants are so bland that it’s rather difficult to care about them.  Even when their children are threatened by demons.

Missed the presence of other Cenobites, as well as Julia (of course).

Did this film make Christa want to summon a demon or was she ready to send it straight to hell? Find out in her review here!