Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hellbender, or: A Worm Welcome

Sometimes we watch horror films that aren’t about witches…and I question this decision. Given the history of nonsense persecution for witchcraft, it’s deeply satisfying to imagine the mischief witches would get up to if they really did have dark magic. And, honestly, it just looks cool to see people get turned into dust onscreen every now and then.

Our film this month doesn’t necessarily fit well into the non-award-winning theme, but it did have decidedly mixed audience reactions upon release. Plus…witches.

The Film:

Hellbender

Directors:

John Adams, Zelda Adams, & Toby Poser

The Premise:

A mother and daughter who live alone in the woods have a family secret (spoiler: it’s witchcraft).

The Ramble:

Back in the day, a woman is solemnly hanged by a group of women and children in the woods. She seems to die initially, but it’s not long before her feet are twitching again, and she’s immune to even multiple gunshots to the head. When she flies into the air in a flaming burst, it seems like a worrying sign. More on that later.

In the present, a punk band mother/daughter duo live in alone in the woods. Izzy, who has an autoimmune disorder, is never allowed in town or around other people. This includes a random hiker walking through the woods who asks Izzy a question…unknowingly related to her own mother’s witchcraft! When her mother (unnamed in the film) discovers this scene, it doesn’t bode well for the hiker, who discovers how fatal the woman’s magic can be. Rather than relishing her power to destroy, Izzy’s mother seems deeply troubled.

As there isn’t much else to do, Izzy frequently wanders around the woods. Eventually, she stumbles across a young woman her own age, Amber. Happy to have a new friend, Izzy begins to break the rules, hanging around other people, using a neighbor’s pool without permission, and abandoning her strict vegetarian diet. It’s after eating a worm that Izzy suddenly falls into a trance-like state, choking Amber and wigging her the fuck out.

Noticing a marked change in her daughter, Izzy’s mom reveals that there is no autoimmune disorder but a very different family trait passed down across generations: witchcraft! The band’s name, Hellbender, also describes the family’s dark magic, some combination of witch, demon, and apex predator. Women in this lineage have self-reproduced for generations, drawing power from the fear of whatever creatures they kill. Izzy’s mother has been working for years to temper the destructive witchy tendencies within. As it turns out, Izzy has not been kept from society because she is ill, but because she may be a danger to others.

Izzy essentially begins witch training, demonstrating perhaps a little over-eagerness to consume animals and test the limits of her power. After time passes and people begin to ask questions about that hiker from earlier and his disappearance. When Izzy and her mother find an increasing number of picked clean deer skeletons in the woods, it feels like a red flag, but her mother simply comments that there’s no moral judgment; whatever happened is in the creature’s nature.

After facing rejection when attempting to make amends with Amber, will Izzy choose to embrace the darkness?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This isn’t a high budget film–in fact, it’s more or less a family’s passion project as John Adams (Hiker), Lulu Adams (Amber), Zelda Adams (Izzy), & Toby Poser (Mother) are all related. The filmmakers really do their best to make use of limited resources, allowing the creatively shot landscapes to work effectively in creating atmosphere. There are a number of what I presume are drone shots that are stunning, along with scenes where the camera is peeking out from behind trees, waterfalls, foxgloves. I adore how this film looks.

Additionally, the effects aren’t big budget either, but they work well and were genuinely striking and/or creepy quite often.

I appreciated our rather dark ending, though I think a few things being left too vague did prevent me from giving this a full 4 stars. I don’t really understand why Izzy’s mother wasn’t honest with her from the beginning and train her from an early age to manage her witch powers? Some of this would ruin the metaphorical coming of age story here I suppose. However, given that the two lived apart from society anyway, why should Izzy not have known from birth about her powers? I don’t think we got enough of an understanding of Izzy’s mother’s mind to get how & why she made this decision, leaving a pretty large plot hole in my opinion.

Despite this, I was never bored and really enjoyed watching Izzy’s…growth? I’ll be looking forward to the family’s next feature, particularly if there are more witches.

Would my blog wife drink tequila shots with this one or pick it clean like a deer carcass? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Humans, or: Family Togetherness

Somehow it’s March, and if that fills you with existential dread, you’ll certainly enjoy(?) this week’s film. Or at least connect to it on a spiritual and emotional level? It’s another free for all/blog free month on the Collab, and it wouldn’t be us without familial dysfunction and a healthy dose of despair.

The Film:

The Humans

Director:

Stephen Karam

The Premise:

Gathering for a Thanksgiving celebration in the youngest daughter’s new apartment, the cracks begin to show in both the building and the family members.

The Ramble:

As the Blake family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving feast, they anticipate a rather minimalist celebration. Youngest daughter Brigid is hosting despite having moved recently to a new apartment in Manhattan with serious boyfriend Richard–so recently that the majority of their furniture and belongings have yet to arrive.

Though the new place is in Manhattan, don’t be fooled: this isn’t exactly the Upper West Side with scenic views of Central Park. Rather, Brigid and Richard have found a place with an “interior courtyard” view, major structural cracks, and water stains that seem to be actively growing.

In the midst of this decay are the family members themselves: parents Erik and Deirdre, hardworking “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types who are struggling nevertheless. They bring along Erik’s mother, a woman with both physical and mental ailments that have progressed as she’s aged. Brigid’s sister Aimee joins the family as well, though she suffers from ulcerative colitis that has recently taken a turn, seeming to cost her job and relationship with long-term girlfriend Carol.

Both sisters have moved away from Scranton to the big city (Aimee to Philadelphia), which causes their parents some consternation as they fret over the rejection of their values and the unsafe streets of the city. It doesn’t help that Erik and Aimee were actually in Manhattan on September 11, with Aimee interviewing for a law job in the World Trade Center.

As the cracks in familial bonds are revealed, the lights begin to fail, and with no replacement bulbs, the apartment slowly descends into darkness. Dreams and memories seem to be the only things keeping the family together, though these don’t provide a particularly firm foundation. Can the Blakes survive the evening, admittedly in more of an existential sense?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t 100% know what to make of this one. Both compelling and frustrating, it seems to simultaneously draw in the viewer and push us away. There have been some descriptions of this film as horror or even comedy(!?!), but it’s very much an old-fashioned family drama in the spirit of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Fraught family relationships, the impossibility of connection, and an inevitable, slow decline create the film’s bleak tone.

The darkness is in the mundane, the day-to-day lives and relationships of our characters struggling to understand each other and manage their personal grief. There are physical and mental illnesses to navigate, much as Erik and other members of the family believe they are genetically immune to depression. Dread of illness, death, and decay inhabits the apartment, and the slowly encroaching darkness reflects this onscreen. The characters have the impulse to share vulnerable moments and be honest, but secrecy and isolation are the result of many of their choices.

Our film is all about atmosphere, the camera angles from afar distancing the viewer from the family as well as reflecting their own disconnectedness. The slow creep of cracks & water stains are the symbolic decay of the family, the sudden disgust of cockroaches and bodily functions a stand-in for their feelings towards themselves and each other.

There are admittedly times things get a bit heavy-handed & full of hipster nonsense, but the film is extremely effective in evoking an oppressive tone. I find the nuances of the familial relationships and the realistic dialogue well done too. Truly unsettling.

Would my blog wife fix this one up with a bit of joint compound or condemn this property immediately? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Jean of the Joneses, or: Bury Your Secrets

February brings the opportunity to observe multiple celebrations on the Collab: Black History Month & Feminist February! Rather than choose one, we’ve opted to embrace both of these elements in this month’s theme, which will highlight Black women filmmakers. Kicking off the month is a film by a multi-talented writer & director who I presume is going to have the descriptor “Oscar-winning” in front of her name someday. Hmmmm…if the Oscars can get its shit together.

The Film:

Jean of the Joneses

Director:

Stella Meghie

The Premise:

When her long-absent grandfather dies, Jean begins to uncover secrets that threaten to disrupt the already dysfunctional Jones family.

The Ramble:

Despite showing great promise as a young writer upon the publication of her first novel, Jean Jones’ life has been rather meandering since. After her live-in boyfriend suggests they take a break, Jean has no choice but to plead with the women of her Jamaican-American family to take pity on her.

At the same time, Jones family life is about to implode as the bunch gathers for dinner at grandma’s, only to be interrupted by the arrival of an elderly man, who promptly dies. Jean seems to be the only member of the family willing to help the man, taking an ambulance trip with his body and fatefully meeting paramedic Roy. Surprisingly (but also not at all), the man turns out to be absentee patriarch of the family and Jean’s grandfather, Gordan.

It should be noted that everyone in Jean’s family has opinions, and they’re usually quite critical. While Jean is shocked over her grandfather’s sudden reappearance and death, her grandmother Daphne is merely annoyed he inconvenienced her by dying on her doorstep.

Meanwhile, Jean learns that her favorite aunt Anne is pregnant with a doctor’s child. Because Anne knows the doctor doesn’t care about her or the news at all, she decides to have an abortion. Though in need of some emotional support, Anne has not the patience for Jean’s messy lifestyle, sending her to stay with her frequently difficult and cutting mother.

While rotating between her relative’s homes, Jean learns more and more family secrets, including where her grandfather has been for the past 20+ years, how many new undisclosed family members she has(!), and exactly who knew which secrets & for how long. Oh, the scandal, dished out with appropriate levels of bitterness and sarcasm! Jean is harboring secrets of her own as she stalks her ex and pursues an on-again/off-again casual fling with Roy.

Appropriately, things all come to the surface at Gordan’s funeral service. After so much strain, will the family bond survive?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The characters and their relationships are at the core of this story, and they keep things compelling. I think the subtle approach works very well here–despite all of the shocking revelations, the Jones women by and large have realistic reactions rather than melodramatic soap opera-style stares. Their love language is definitely sarcasm, and the ways this is both frustrating and endearing to Jean comes across well.

Possibly because I’m tired of living in pandemic-induced limbo, there are times when watching Jean’s indecisiveness is frustrating. She’s (probably eternally) relatable as a 20-something character trying to get her shit together and failing miserably…and the film is necessarily a story of her growth. Even so, I really wanted her to give up on her ex way earlier and stop being so rude to Roy. She also reveals someone else’s secret to the family in a fashion that I find pretty sketchy, and this is just glossed over.

One other criticism: there’s a lot of family and personal drama happening here, which makes some of the elements of the plot feel rushed or not fully explored. In particular, I don’t really understand the choices Anne makes, though her relationship with Jean is one of the most heartfelt of the film. Roy doesn’t always feel like a necessary character, to be honest, but he’s so charming that I won’t complain too much.

Overall, this is an insightful look at family grief and dysfunction that feels real yet hopeful.

Would my blog wife give this one a nice burial in a mahogany casket or let it rot away in a cardboard box? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Happiest Season, or: Harper’s a Lyre

Global pandemic, climate change, and political instability aside, we are truly living in a renaissance…for made-for-TV romantic Christmas romps. Though like most things streaming, we’re overwhelmed with options, this is also my favorite thing about the rise and rise of Christmas movies. This week’s pick is our 2nd LGBTQ pick of the month…which I don’t think would have even been possible 5 years ago.

The Film:

Happiest Season

The Premise:

A woman invites her girlfriend home for the holidays to meet her family…neglecting to tell anyone that her partner is anything more than a roommate.

The Ramble:

Since her parents died when she was just 19, Abby hasn’t been big on Christmas. She’s perfectly content staying at home to earn that sweet petsitting cash from all of the suckers who will be traveling for the holidays. However, when her girlfriend Harper impulsively invites Abby home to meet the family, she agrees, hoping to make better Christmas memories by proposing(!).

The character of Abby faces her girlfriend Harper as they hold hands at night, Christmas lights on the houses behind them. The two are arm-in-arm, smiling, and dressed warmly in coats and hats.

Though Abby has managed to convince her literary agent friend John to care for all of the pets while the couple is away, Harper suddenly reverses course the next day. She finally reveals on the drive to her parents’ home that the reason for her agitation is that she’s never come out to her family and is planning to introduce Abby as her roommate, not girlfriend. It will make things easier over the holidays with Harper’s high-strung family as they navigate her father’s mayoral campaign. Apparently.

The plan is complicated by Abby’s character flaw of being a terrible liar, though Harper’s family is so painfully heteronormative that the possibility of either woman being a lesbian never occurs to a single person. Harper’s parents even invite her ex and childhood friend Connor out for dinner with the family that Abby attends.

Harper and her family pose for a portrait that Abby is taking on a tablet. Harper, her parents, two sisters, brother-in-law, and young niece and nephew stand in formal wear in front of a Christmas tree.

In addition to contending with perfectionist parents who have made Harper the favorite, her sister Sloane is fiercely competitive. Seeming to have the perfect family that will look great for campaign photos, Sloane is proud and eager to prove she’s just as accomplished as Harper. Meanwhile, sister Jane plays the role of awkward weirdo, recapping the fantasy novel she’s writing to anyone who will listen, and not quite fitting in with the image-obsessed family.

While making her way around the small town and getting ditched by Harper at parties, Abby meets another of her girlfriend’s exes, Riley. Riley provides a calm & collected sounding board for Abby, who could use a break from Harper’s family…especially after a prank gone awry leads everyone of influence in town to believe Abby is a shoplifter.

Leaning against a living room bar, Abby holds a drink while standing next to the character of Riley, who looks at Abby with arms crossed.

Effectively ostracized from the family during their parties and campaign events, Abby begins to question how real her relationship with Harper can be, particularly since there seem to be two completely different sides to her girlfriend. At a certain point, the people-pleasing Harper will have to make a choice between her status as golden child and being true to herself…but will it be too late for her to find happiness?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before about this film, but Harper puts some unbelievably toxic behaviors on display, especially for a Christmas movie where we’re supposed to root for her relationship to work. I say this not only as a major fan of Aubrey Plaza, but as a proponent of functional relationships: Abby deserved better and probably should have ended up with Riley. The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Aubrey feels more believable, and the character of Riley is way less awful than Harper.

Because the character of Harper dances right up to the edge of ruining this film, we should spend some time dissecting her as a person. Since the POV is mostly Abby’s, Harper comes across as an absolute disaster. We don’t get enough interiority to understand her awful behavior–not that there’s necessarily enough explanation in the world to justify how she acts. The way Harper’s family treats Abby is one thing (and is extremely poor, btw), but the way Harper interacts with her own girlfriend is truly terrible.

Even though I’ve done nothing but complain in this review, I do give the film credit because it is actually well-cast and well-acted for the most part, and the writing for the supporting characters is great. Dan Levy of course steals every scene he’s in, and Mary Holland’s misfit Jane is a character I relate to so much. The saving grace of this film is that it’s surprisingly easy to ignore Harper for the most part since she’s off ditching her girlfriend and sucking up to political influencers. Kristen Stewart and the supporting cast really shine in this one and make it worth the watch.

Would my blog wife propose to this one or go out drinking with drag queens instead? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Red Christmas, or: Family Is a Blessing

Let the month of Christmas horror continue!  But maybe not with this film unless you’re up for…a rather confusing mixed bag.

The Film:

Red Christmas

The Premise:

A family’s Christmas together is cut short when a stranger appears on their doorstep with a mysterious letter…and an axe (naturally).

The Ramble:

From the get-go, our story is framed by the abortion debate as protesters clash outside of an abortion clinic.  An aborted fetus raises a bloody hand, alive…?  And, to the shock of no one, a key player in the events that unfold 20 years later.

The chaos of Christmas at home takes center stage now, as Diane gathers together her family for the doomed “best Christmas ever.”  This will be the last year in the family home in the Australian countryside, as Diane is selling the home in favor of a jaunt to Europe.  After her husband’s death from cancer, Diane has decided to do something for herself.  Diane’s children have differing opinions about this decision, which will become clear.

A family gathered in a large living room sits around in silence.
It’s all fun and games until…actually, it’s never fun and games.

The grown children at home for the holidays include an adopted daughter heading off to college soon, the token party girl (who is very pregnant), the uptight conservative Christian daughter, and Jerry, the only one of her children whose name I can remember.  Jerry, who has Down’s syndrome, will move to assisted living after the house is sold and seems pretty ok with this.  Also in town is Diane’s brother Joe, playing the role of the drunk uncle, and the spouses of the two oldest daughters.

Diane decides to put some of her money towards fertility treatments for the conservative daughter, who refuses.  Though she’d like to have a child, she believes God will help in that department.  Hey, if it worked for Mary I guess…

When the family all gathers, arguments inevitably arise about the house, sharing what they are most grateful for, and whether to say a prayer (good old Uncle Joe suggests a prayer to his god, medical marijuana).

The family quarrel is mercifully interrupted when a stranger dressed in a dark robe rings the doorbell.  He arrives with an envelope for his mother, which Diane suggests he hold onto.  Making what is likely the worst decision of her life, Diane invites the stranger inside to warm up.  She even gives him a present, though regrets this about 1 minute later when he insists on reading the letter to his mother.  His letter is highly critical of an abortion that happened 20 years ago…provoking an intense reaction from Diane.

A woman guides a stranger wearing a dark robe that covers their face into her home.
Good things always happen when you let strangers with dark hoods into your house.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, you might wonder.  Is the stranger…oh fuck it, you already know this.  Yes, the stranger is exactly who you think he is, aka the miraculously living fetus Diane aborted 20 years ago.  The baby had Down’s syndrome and would have arrived as Diane’s husband was undergoing chemotherapy, which proved too much for her to handle…though she has kept this secret from everyone in the family.

Before he can finish reading the letter, the family insists the stranger leave the house and never return.  They even add insult to injury by throwing his gift at him and threatening him with the rifle that I imagine all Australians have hidden somewhere in every room.

A woman with a firepoker looks out from her house, illuminated in blue by Christmas lights.
If you want to kill a presumed dead fetus the right way, you have to do it yourself.

Almost immediately, the family is back to that great Christmas tradition of getting into pointless arguments.  This distracts them from the first murder of one of their own.  When they discover the body, it does bring the family together, however briefly.  The family (mostly Diane, TBH) concocts several plans, one of which involves an abysmally bad response from law enforcement officers.

It becomes all too easy for the murderer to pick off members of the family one by one.  When all is said and done, which side of the family will survive?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

There are some successful moments in this film, but overall it’s quite a mess.  The tone is very uneven, at times almost a horror comedy, and at other times incredibly dark and low-budget gory.  Pointless family arguments are on the nose but feel out of place here with the grisly murders.  It’s also really difficult to care about 90% of the characters because they’re cookie cutter family stereotypes and they make THE worst horror movie decisions ever.  Diane is the exception to this as she proves herself to be quite a badass.  Too bad everyone else in the family is so incompetent.

I got a lot of mixed messages from this film too.  It was trying to be a bit more philosophical than your average slasher flick, but at a certain point just sort of gave up on conveying any sort of message.  When we finally see the murderer, he’s disfigured in an unexpected way that seems to be making a point about Down’s syndrome…but at the same time not really making sense.

Also, where the fuck was local law enforcement in all of this???  It takes about an hour for the cops to arrive with ONE officer who (spoiler) doesn’t live for very long or help in any way.  Surely this is not the way reports of armed murderers are handled in Australia unless the Australian version of law enforcement is just giving everyone a rifle and wishing them the best of luck?

Would my blog wife marry into this family or let them all meet the business end of an axe?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hello I Must Be Going, or: Lynskey on the Rocks

Though I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Melanie Lynskey May, I’m not sad that our desperate search for readily available ML films (with a heavy dose of artistic license) is over temporarily.  Here’s hoping we see her in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore 2 or at least a few more original films acquired by Netflix.

The Film:

Hello I Must Be Going

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime + Sundance

The Uncondensed Version:

This time around, ML is a majorly depressed young woman who hasn’t quite hit rock bottom but is just about there (seems a bit familiar for her, eh, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore?).  Her marriage over, her career non-existent, and having given up on everything else, Amy moves back in with parents in her mid-thirties.  It’s not a bad setup, except she can’t bring herself to change out of an old, dirty t-shirt or even leave the house, much to the dismay of her parents.  She spends a lot of her time looking at pictures sadly and crying to Marx Brothers movies, though her mother is constantly making well-meaning suggestions to improve herself and life.

A woman at a dining room table sits alone, head resting on crossed arms
Current mood.

When Amy’s father has clients to impress, she’s forced to get her act together (at least a little bit).  Her parents’ whirlwind tour across the globe depends on these clients, as well as her father’s retirement.  No pressure, though.

For the fancy dinner party to impress fancy lawyer types, Amy manages to scrounge up a nice dress and sit through several courses without sobbing openly.  After revealing she was a literature and photography student who never finished her Master’s thesis, she gets shit from some of the dinner guests.  The only person more uncomfortable through these proceedings is Jeremy, stepson of the man everyone is out to impress.  Jeremy lets his mother believe he’s gay and loves acting because it makes her feel better and in control.

After Amy has had enough of this bullshit dinner party, she shares a romantic moment with Jeremy even though he’s a tender 19 years old.  He’s very perceptive and emotionally mature for a 19-year-old to an almost unbelievable degree, but IDGAF.  I WANT TO BELIEVE.

A man and woman sit close together in a bedroom, facing each other

Their relationship moves quickly both physically and emotionally, with Amy sharing painful details about her husband’s affair and the divorce (which blindsided her), and Jeremy revealing his fears about being honest about what he wants with his parents.

Even though they are both adults, Amy is embarrassed about their age difference and fears an open relationship could cost her father his clients and retirement.  They keep the relationship secret…until Jeremy’s mother walks in on them planning a fantasy trip to Canada and skinny dipping.  Fortunately, delusions are a powerful thing and, convinced her son is gay, Jeremy’s mother completely denies the possibility of any romantic involvement between the two.

A man and woman in a swimming pool at night face each other, smiling
It was all fun and games until…GHOST SHARK.

The encounter is enough to leave Amy rattled, though, and she decides to end her non-relationship with Jeremy.  She agrees to go on a date her sister-in-law has set up, but quickly realizes she isn’t remotely interested in pursuing things further.  Though Amy misses Jeremy, she tries to find him and once again remembers their age difference.  After a ladies’ night out drinking, she literally does hit rock bottom and gets into a screaming fight with her mother.

A woman stands, embracing an upset older woman who is seated
Did I mention Blythe Danner plays ML’s mother in this?  Because she does and she’s fantastic.

Realizing her mother is in many ways just as lost and disappointed as Amy, there seems to be a breakthrough.  But will it make a difference in her relationship with her family, her non-boyfriend, and most importantly, herself?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

It starts out as a bit of a slow burner, but becomes a thoughtful reflection on family relationships, perception of others, and self-love.  Though Amy feels like a fuck-up who has quit everything she’s ever tried, she begins to put things in perspective by listening to the fears and disappointments of others.  She learns to accept responsibility for her life while moving on from blaming herself for all of her mistakes.  It’s great to see her grow as a character, know herself better, and love who she is.  Amy and Jeremy begin to grow up together and have a very sweet, believable connection.

ML is great in this, as is Blythe Danner, and pretty much everyone else.  I think ML has the most to work with, as she’s a multi-dimensional, relateable, and flawed character.  Her struggle to rise above all the bullshit, feel normal, and rediscover purpose in her life is so real.

Would Christa dive in the pool with this one or hit rock bottom (literally and figuratively)?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Rainbow Time, or: Pervs of All Abilities

Melanie Lynskey Month continues—long may she reign!

The Film:

Rainbow Time

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Uncondensed Version:

Shonzi is a young man who loves making films, staging doll and puppet shows, adopting a Fonzie persona, and annoying his brother.  He also happens to be developmentally disabled, living with his father, and spending too much time thinking about his brother Todd’s girlfriend (played by Queen Melanie).

With ML all set to meet the family, Todd is a nervous wreck who feels she is not adequately prepared to deal with some of Shonzi’s lewd tendencies.  Having little interaction with women, Shonzi frequently objectifies them and fails to recognize when he says something inappropriate.

A man in a leather jacket plays with two clay dolls
Yeah, this is 1 of about 3 seconds of this scene that could be considered G-rated.

ML and Todd initially have fun working on Shonzi’s movie, but he takes things too far when he films the two in a private moment.  While ML is upset, Todd is actually kind of into it–at least the idea of making a sex tape.  ML is pretty quick to shut this down.

As it turns out, the relationship between ML and Todd has its share of problems.  ML is still in the process of going through a divorce, and started dating Todd before her marriage was over.  She is still keeping their relationship a secret to a large degree, causing tension between them.

Things get even more complicated when Todd’s dad has a heart attack, prompting Shonzi to move in with the couple.  As ML gets a better picture of Shonzi’s attitudes towards women, she decides to spend time with him making a film so he can get to know at least one woman better.

A man speaks into a microphone while wearing a t-shirt with the words "Rainbow Time" and a rainbow logo.
Join us–we have t-shirts.

Inspired by a viral clip, ML and Shonzi approach the subject of cat calling, interviewing several women about their experiences and reactions in a segment they call Rainbow Time.  Just when ML seems to be making a breakthrough, the two interview Justine, a developmentally disabled woman whom Shonzi dismisses and calls ugly.

A man and woman seated next to each other eating from Chinese takeout containers pause and glare at a character off-screen.
You know it’s serious when a woman stops in the middle of eating Chinese food.

Shonzi continues to spy on ML and Todd until finally ML has had enough.  She decides to take a break from Todd as she’s never really had time to herself.  Frustrated with his brother, Todd pawns Shonzi off on another family member.  When a confrontation goes horribly awry, the police are involved, and no one believes Shonzi’s side of the story.  Will the family be able to bounce back after this episode?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Is it horrible that I felt the message of this film was that disabled people are just like everyone else—they can be huge pervs too.  I appreciate that the intention was to humanize Shonzi rather than make him a simple, naïve child-like figure who occasionally spouts out sage advice, as Hollywood is wont to do.  But the film took things a bit too far in the other direction IMHO, and he just ended up seeming creepy, gross, and not particularly likeable.

More than this, though, the film isn’t particularly memorable, and it gets boring in places because there’s no real opportunity to emotionally connect to the characters.

The highlights are the films Todd and Shonzi make together, and it seems like the actors are genuinely having fun at those times.  The segment ML and Shonzi do together as Rainbow Time is nice too, and I expected it to recur in the film (and was somewhat disappointed when it didn’t).  Maybe that’s just the influence of Welcome to Me?

Our girl ML shines as usual, and Timm Sharp has a nice grungy Jason Schwartzmann vibe going on.

Would Christa spend quality time with this one or run in the opposite direction?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Putzel, or: Poseidon, God of the Sea

The reign of Melanie Lynskey continues as we come full circle back to NYC after leaving it behind in last week’s film.  Once again, we’re in for a comedy/drama about family because that’s how ML rolls—though this week we get considerably more lox and unexpected guitar serenades.

The Film:

Putzel

Where to Watch:

Hoopla

The Uncondensed Version:

Welcome to Himmelstein’s House of Lox, a family business in the Upper West Side passed down from father to son…to nephew?  Walter, whom everyone in the neighborhood affectionately(?) calls Putzel, fully expects his uncle Sid to pass the business on to him any day now.  He’s built his 40 year plan around owning and operating the store for 40 years and determines to carry on his grandfather’s legacy…which is especially convenient considering Walter fears leaving the boundaries of the UWS.

A middle-aged man holds the face of his nephew outside of a shop entrance.
Walter was also waiting for the family’s telepathic abilities to kick in…

Everything seems to be lining up nicely with Sid and his wife Gilda retiring to Arizona…until our girl ML cruises into the fish store, dishing out impressive knowledge about lox and charming everyone in general with her Melanie Lynskey-ness.  She even scores free fish from Sid, almost unheard of from Walter’s grumpy uncle.

A woman in a deli interacts with two men working behind the counter.
Lox be a lady tonight? (Done, I promise.)

Suddenly everything is falling apart.  Not only does Sid plan to sell the store when he receives an outside offer, but Walter’s marriage also seems to be completely off the rails.  After sleeping with Hector, a neighborhood tough guy(/it was never entirely clear to me what he does), Willa seems determined to end the marriage–just as determined as Walter is to fix it.  Walter now has much scheming to do to keep his marriage problems a secret, stop Sid and ML (Sally) from getting closer, and guarantee the store’s succession.

Predictably, none of Walter’s plans work out the way he expects.  Even though Sid seems inclined to give Walter the store, he’s also more inclined to leave Gilda.  Complicating matters further, Walter is finding himself attracted to Sally because ML is a beautiful goddess.  When their relationship gets serious, Sally tries to distance herself from Walter as she’s always on the road as a dancer.

A man and woman sit across from each other in a restaurant.
I’ve always found a staring contest is the best way to establish your authority during a date.

It seems ML has swept out of the neighborhood as quickly as she swept in, but not before both Gilda and Sid figure out what’s been going on.

After a heart-to-heart with Sid about broken dreams and a few fish being thrown in Walter’s general direction, Walter seems to be getting everything he’s ever wanted.  …Right?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

My review has left out a lot of the awkward humor, genuinely funny dialogue, and sweetness of the Himmelstein family dysfunction.  Walter’s struggle to stay close to his family while no longer allowing their expectations to hold him back feels so relateable, and though the characters are exaggerated, they seem real.  I loved some of Walter’s self-deprecating lines, such as “I don’t want to know myself better, I want to know myself less” at the suggestion of seeing a therapist.

This became a 4 PPH film for me because of a few scenes–a sex scene involving shouts of “Poseidon,” a fight between Walter and a man dressed as a trout, and the scenes Walter shares with his aunt and uncle towards the end of the film.  ML is great in this, of course, and pulls off a compelling but vulnerable character.  The humor is done more convincingly than the moments of emotional depth, and (spoiler) the ending wraps things up a bit too neatly, but it’s still a fun watch that is well-written and features some memorable characters.

Biggest complaint is the missed opportunity for a pretzel shop in consideration of the nickname Putzel.  Perhaps in the sequel?

Does my blog wife find this lox-worthy or would she toss it back in the ocean?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tallulah: A Case Study

Hooray for fuck-ups!  At least that’s our theme this month (and let’s be honest—every month.  Every DAY).  This week’s pick is brought to you by Allison Janney and Ellen Page, but mostly Allison Janney.

The Film:

Tallulah

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Ellen Page steals a baby!  Also Allison Janney is in this.

The Uncondensed Version:

Tallulah (Lu) and her boyfriend Nico have been on the road, living out of a van for the last couple of years.  Things begin to fall apart when Nico suggests they settle down a bit, maybe even marry and have children.  Lu, much more of a free spirit, freaks out a bit, leading to a big fight and Nico’s departure.  With nothing to go on beyond Nico’s brief mention of going home, Lu heads to NYC to find his mom.

Nico’s mom, Margo, is played by Allison Janney (who in fact makes this movie).  In the midst of a divorce, fearing she will be kicked out of university-sponsored housing, and alienated from her son, Margo is not in a good place and not particularly welcoming.

After Margo sends her away, Lu goes to a hotel to scavenge and is mistaken for housekeeping.  An unhappy trophy wife asks Lu to watch the baby, Madison, while she goes on a date.  This woman, Carolyn, doesn’t seem to know the first thing about babies, letting her daughter toddle around naked, claiming she is already potty trained and doesn’t need diapers.

Carolyn is a pretty insufferable character and is accustomed to paying people to do anything she can’t or doesn’t want to do herself, including applying her makeup and putting her shoes on her feet.  She has a bit of a breakdown about how incompetent she is as a mother, but it was really difficult to sympathize.  Possibly because I find it difficult to sympathize, period.

a woman with wavy blonde hair sits on a chair, crying
Is it wrong that I’m also annoyed by how perfect her hair is?

By the time Carolyn returns home, she is drunk and passes out almost immediately.  When Madison reaches her arms out to Lu, she takes it as a sign and leaves the hotel with Madison.

a young woman holds a baby, who is playing with her necklace
The thing that scares me about babies is you never know if they just like shiny things or if they actually intend to choke you.

With nowhere else to go, Lu returns to Margo’s apartment and claims Madison is Nico’s daughter.  Margo agrees to let them stay for a night, which of course becomes longer.

Margo, Lu, and Madison bond a bit though mostly Margo yells at Lu for her complete incompetence as a mother.  We learn a bit more about Margo’s divorce, including the tidbit that she has yet to sign the divorce papers.  After many years of marriage, Margo’s husband came out as gay and left her for a man (Zachary Quinto).  Margo refuses to sign the papers in part because she’s angry that her husband is considered brave after so many years of lying and ultimately breaking up their family.

a woman sitting on the floor with a large abstract painting holds up a paint-covered hand
Why go to a paint ‘n wine class when you can get drunk and make bad paintings for free?

Lu, on the other hand, remains pretty mysterious.  The only thing she reveals is that she was named after a bar in the town where she grew up, and possibly hints that one or both of her parents were alcoholics.  When asked if she was raised by wolves, she responds “I wish.”

Meanwhile, Carolyn is frantic about her missing daughter, partially because her husband has no idea she is in NYC and will never forgive her for losing their daughter.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know if I like this one or not.  Allison Janney is amazing in this (duh).  There are moments that are very successful, and I like that it’s very focused on exploring themes rather than plot.

On the other hand, the tone strikes me as very uneven.  It’s a drama, but it has some lighter moments and (almost) a comedy ending.  I also didn’t really buy Margo and Lu’s bond—by the end, it was meant to be very strong, but I didn’t think enough time was spent establishing that.

My mom watched quite a chunk of this with me, and she thought the subtitle should be “A Psychologist’s Case Notes” or something along those lines.  It did seem to be a very clinical study of the characters’ personalities and motivations.

Even though she’s the titular character, I think Lu’s motivations remain the most obscure.  It’s odd that she takes the baby so soon after having a discussion with Nico insisting she doesn’t want to settle down and have a conventional life.  But the movie is all about deception and self-deception, so perhaps these are things Lu does want to some degree.  All of the characters seem to lack clarity regarding what how they’d like the future to look and instead try to replay old scenarios with a happier ending.  Lu may want to create the happy childhood she presumably never had without having to really commit to being a parent or leaning on others for help.

I like the exploration here, but not necessarily the execution.

Would Christa take the money and run or take the baby and…stun (rhyming is hard)?  Find out by reading her review here!