Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Firefly, or: No Weddings and a Funeral

It’s summer.  It’s hot.  We’re looking for a film with a bit less intensity than The Witch but with a message of female empowerment…and lesbians.  This month we’re highlighting films about same-sex relationships between women (and possibly men if we feel like it), which I’m informally referring to as the Summer of Love.  Month of Love?  Either way, count on many significant stares, secret meetings at night, and…the use of coffee to express feelings?

The Film:

The Firefly

The Premise:

Two women mourning the same man unexpectedly develop romantic feelings for each other.

The Ramble:

Though she has been quite happily married for 4 years, Lucia has decided to call it quits with husband Adrian.  Why?  Adrian’s recent promotion will take him to New York, while Lucia feels the need to stay in Bogota to support her brother and his fiancée.

Just a few days before, Lucia and her brother Andrés weren’t even on speaking terms–why the sudden change of heart?  A car accident on Andrés’ wedding day puts more than one plan on hold, leaving Lucia devastated.  Instead of attending the funeral for her brother, Lucia hides out in his apartment, discovering another mourner left behind:  Mariana, the fiancée.

The two women bond immediately over their shared grief.  Lucia is full of regrets over the way she treated her brother, calling him a monster during their final conversation.  However, through Mariana, Lucia hears about the last few years of her brother’s life and his happy relationship with Mariana.

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Rather than return home to her husband, Lucia stays with Mariana–that is, until movers come to clear out Andrés’ apartment.  In the empty apartment, the two women light candles (and drink copious amounts of wine) to honor Andrés.  On Lucia’s insistence, she and Mariana visit Andrés’ grave and bring him flowers.

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Though the two women return to their separate lives, they still feel a strong connection.  Somewhat impulsively, the two set out for the town where Lucia and Andrés grew up.  Staying together in a hotel room with one bed leads to a sudden change in their relationship status…but when Lucia regrets their night together, will it snuff out the spark before it’s had a chance to grow?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

My favorite part of this film is the relationship between Mariana and Lucia, which feels authentic and natural.  A scene where they communicate through slurps of a straw is unique and sweet without being sappy.

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Though the relationship feels real, it does take a long time for it to develop onscreen.  However, the biggest problem with the film is its melodramatic start.  Not only do we get a slow-mo car accident involving a shattered family portrait, but a dramatic bride running away from the church in tears.  Probably the first 20 minutes of the film are scenes of Lucia and/or Mariana crying…which I understand, but still gets to be a bit much.

The melodrama is undercut by Lucia having a rather petty reason for cutting herself off from her brother.  The futility of holding onto grudges is important to this film thematically, but it just sort of makes Lucia look like an asshole.

Overall, the chemistry between our two leads makes this one worth it.

Was Christa rooting for this one or waiting for it to die in a slow-mo car crash?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Holy Camp, or: I-E-I Will Always Love You

This week gives us a much-needed break from full-frontal scenes depicting the male (and female) anatomy, which is a feat unto itself.  Add Whitney Houston musical numbers, strong female friendships, and lesbian themes, and we’ve got…well, a film premise constructed from our dreams, essentially.

The Film:

Holy Camp! (La llamada)

The Premise:

Teen bffs at a religious summer camp must contend with secret parties, the crushing of their dreams, visits from an unexpectedly glittery God, and attractive nuns.

The Ramble:

Maria and Susana are besties for life reluctantly spending the summer at a religious camp for teens.  While initially planning to sneak out and party every night, Maria has lost interest in their schemes.  As it turns out, she has been meeting someone else at night–God.  And he seems to be a huge fan of Whitney Houston.

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This is your vision of God too, right?

After refusing to participate in a weekend canoe trip, Maria and Susana are effectively under house arrest with novice nun Milagros.  Though she tries to be stern, Milagros is too kind to be angry and bonds with Susana over their love of music.  Hmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps Milagros has a secret past as the lead singer of a band…

Milagros isn’t the only one keeping a secret.  Susana, upset about the newfound distance between the two friends, accuses Maria of leaving her hanging.  Maria, on the other hand, thinks it’s time to grow up and forget about their dream to become a world-famous girl band.

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Bestie love.

Meanwhile, Sister Bernarda is convinced she has the perfect solution for reining the girls in:  music.  Though Milagros appreciates the thought, she finds Sr. Bernarda’s taste in music…a bit dated.  This leads to perhaps the finest nun-centric musical number since The Sound of Music.

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No caption needed.

Still on the outs with her bff, Maria, confides in Sr. Bernarda that God speaks to her through the songs of Whitney Houston.  Sr. Bernarda is less than understanding initially, but does eventually believe and support Maria.  With the help of the Sister, Maria learns to pray so she can understand God’s message but keeps her newfound faith a secret.

Susana is also keeping her feelings a secret.  When she sees Milagros dress up and sing into a hairbrush, reminiscing about her days as a singer, Susana develops a bit of a crush.  But does Milagros have a clue?

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Right on, Mary.

Though now armed with the power of prayer, Maria feels farther than ever from God when he laughs at her efforts and walks away.  She becomes despondent after this until Susana finally visits her and the two make up.  Susana confesses to Milagros that she’s in love with her, leaving the novice stunned.

How will the two best friends heal their relationship with the ones they love?  And might it perhaps involve a choreographed glitter-suffused dance number?

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Without hesitation.

I feel bad now about some of the other films I haven’t given a full 5 stars that probably deserved it.  This one definitely deserves it as it’s so fucking joyous and refreshing in so many ways.  All 4 of our leading characters are women, one of whom is rather aged.  Though she’s a bit out of touch, she is a respected and compassionate while remaining remarkably free of judgment.  The ladies of this film support each other so much, and I support that support.

The way love is explored is powerful:  spiritual love, the love between friends, and romantic love.  Both Maria and Susana express their love for each other by being true to themselves and honest with each other.  I also like the message about religion even as a completely non-religious person.  The way the faithful choose to worship is their decision–music is just as valid as prayer.

If this is what church had been like when I was growing up, you can be pretty damn sure my ass would’ve been in the pews about 3,000x more.

Was Christa singing the gospel of this film or did she convert to another immediately?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Art of Loving, or: You Weren’t Found in a Cabbage Patch

It’s summer, so we’re doing what we want on the blog (in contrast to every other season).  This week we’re up for some education on sexual and reproductive health…in 1970s Poland.  Based on a true story!

The Film:

The Art of Loving

The Premise:

A renowned Polish gynecologist struggles to publish a book that addresses very real–and very taboo–sexual issues married couples experience.

The Ramble:

Michalina Wisłocka, having worked as a gynecologist for years in many parts of Poland, has long been an advocate for contraception and the demystification of sex. Now, in the 1970s, she is ready to publish a book to help married couples, and especially women, understand their reproductive health and sexual issues. Enter the Catholic Church, stage left. Also the Soviets. Plus the media. And throw in a few disgruntled misogynists too for good measure. Getting a book published on such a taboo topic is going to be a battle.

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…of wearing super chic boho-style headscarves.

As it turns out, Michalina has always been surrounded by controversy. After spying on a skinny dipping man with her bff Wanda, Michalina eventually ends up marrying him. In large part because of Wanda, Michalina and her husband Stach survive the war. Wanda goes to live with the couple, and they eventually become a threesome. Michalina thinks this will work out perfectly as Wanda fulfills Stach’s sexual needs, while Michalina will fulfill his emotional needs.

After the war is over, Michalina pursues a medical degree and the 3 live together in harmony. Of course, this doesn’t last—when both Michalina and Wanda become pregnant, things get rather complicated. As Wanda is an unmarried woman, Michalina claims both as her own children. This will be totally fine and never backfire as this unconventional family will be together forever…right?

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WWII lulz,

Yeah, maybe not. Wanda feels like a 3rd wheel and decides to leave with her son. This move will create absolutely no trauma for any parties involved…by which I mean SO much trauma for everyone. Wanda leaving triggers the dissolution of Michalina and Stach’s marriage, transforming a family of 5 into a party of 2.

Devastated, Michalina retreats to a small Polish village for the summer. Though she insists she’s taking a break from men, Michalina is nevertheless drawn to Jurek, a married sailor with a secret romantic streak.  From Jurek, Michalina gets her signature style of clothing made primarily from curtains.  She also feels encouraged to love and appreciate her body for the first time.  Unfortunately, Jurek is going to have to choose between his family and Michalina…3 guesses on how that turns out.

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We’ll always have Lubieniec…

In the present day (by which I mean the 1970s), Michalina is on the verge of publishing her book.  However, to avoid controversy, the chapter on female orgasms has been cut.  Following a ridiculous male rights conversation about men’s orgasms being important too (we know), Michalina walks with her book, refusing to compromise on this.

Will Michalina find a publisher and help thousands of Polish women reach their, er, full potential?  Related question:  is there a time in history when middle-aged white dudes are not trying to control women’s bodies?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I absolutely love the portrayal of Michalina in this (by Magdalena Boczarska).  She’s smart, confident, caring, and unwaveringly determined.  Some of her lines are absolutely brilliant–my favorites being “I am the sexual revolution and I’m coming,” and “You’re from a vagina; you weren’t found in a cabbage patch.”  What a woman.

However, there are a few things I find frustrating throughout the film.  The entire subplot of the secret baby mama feels melodramatic and disjointed.  Michalina is heartbroken when Wanda leaves with her child and believes both kids will be fucked up for life.  Yet after this scene, the film spends very little time exploring the effects on all parties and wrapping up this part of the story.

After the dissolution of the Michalina/Wanda/Stach relationship, the close bond between Michalina and Wanda disappears.  It’s frustrating to see such a genuine love vanish because of men–and indeed the extent to which Michalina’s early decisions are influenced by men.  While I adore Jurek and his surprisingly forward-thinking brand of 1970s Polish feminism, I dislike how much of the film revolves around Michalina’s relationships with men.

Would Christa flip straight to the dirty pictures or burn the manuscript?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Am Not a Witch, or: …Am I?

Rounding out May Mayhem is our first film set in Zambia, though absolutely not our first film about witches.  This is by far our most realistic witch film as we get a glimpse into the lives of women accused of witchcraft in present day Zambia.  Intrigued yet?  Let’s dive in.

The Film:

I Am Not a Witch

The Premise:

A young girl accused of witchcraft is sent to live on a witch camp, where she is expected to work, use her powers to help the government, and solve the ongoing drought.

The Ramble:

After an unnamed girl with no friends and no family arrives at a small Zambian village, she struggles to go quietly about her business.  The girl, later named Shula, is the scapegoat for accidental falls and even bad dreams, leading to the witch word being thrown in her direction.  Shula, who is virtually silent in all scenarios, neither confirms nor denies being a witch.

As a result, Mr. Banda, a government official declares she must be a witch since she doesn’t deny it.  Nevertheless, he has a witch doctor make an official analysis involving a chicken dying in or outside of a circle.  After this witch test, Shula is taken to live at a witch camp with other women who have been declared witches.

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At the witch camp, the women are expected to work by farming, breaking rocks, and completing other manual labor.  Each woman has a ribbon attached to a large spool, intended to keep the witches from running away.  While the witch camp seems to be largely an opportunity for the local government to recruit unpaid laborers, the women do what they can to make the best of things, caring for one another and forming their own family in exile.

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Shula soon learns that another duty of witches is to preside over court hearings and determine guilty parties in criminal cases.  Of course, Shula has no supernatural insight into who is telling the truth, but she quickly earns a reputation as being a fair and accurate judge.  While uncomfortable with this role, Shula must fulfill this role and condemn one of the suspects, whether guilty or not.

Because of Shula’s success, she spends some time with Mr. Banda and his wife at their obscenely gorgeous house.  Mrs. Banda reveals she was once considered a witch but gained respectability through marriage.  Shula must do as she is told and, if she is lucky, will end up in the same position.

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In a bid to make some extra cash, Mr. Banda appears on a talk show with Shula.  Once there, he tries to market special Shula eggs with magical properties.  However, unexpectedly, the talk show host inquires about Shula’s education, serving as the catalyst for her attendance at school.

All of this takes place in the midst of a horrible drought that Shula is expected to resolve.  After concerns that she isn’t prioritizing the drought, Shula is pulled from school despite quite enjoying it.  This sends her into a downward spiral quickly–what is Shula meant to do when her future looks like nothing but serving the whims of others?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s no doubt this is an utterly unique film and has an important story to tell.  So few films focus on African women, let alone those as marginalized as the witches in this story.  The ribbons are a beautiful symbol of the literal and metaphorical restraint these women experience as a result of baseless accusations against them.  An accusation of witchcraft seems to be a convenient opportunity for government officials to step in and recruit unpaid laborers (who also serve as a low-cost tourist attraction).

Shula herself exhibits an admirable strength of character despite the isolation and mistreatment she experiences.  One of the tragedies of this film is her brief introduction to childhood, learning, and playing with others her own age, which is cut short by the superstitions of others.  This to me is the turning point for Shula, when she experiences what her childhood could be only to have it snatched away–all of her quiet endurance seems to be for nothing.

That being said, I found the lack of narrative structure distracting.  Like Shula’s life, our experience in the film is disorienting as we see her shuffled around unexpectedly with little explanation.  The tone is uneven at times too, with much of the film being satirically funny but becoming incredibly bleak in the end.  I wasn’t expecting such a merciless ending for this one that turned my guts to stone.

Did this film impress my blog wife with its occult magic or leave her running around like a chicken with its head cut off?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tag, or: Pens Before Men(s)

This month on the Collab promises to be full of May…hem?  Eh eh?  Dad jokes aside, we will be fully embracing  films that, in the grand tradition of the blog, are more than a little strange, surreal, nonsensical, or odd.  As always,  there’s plenty of room for us to do whatever the fucking fuck we feel like unless, like the characters in this week’s film, destiny is playing a much stronger hand than we realize.

The Film:

Tag (2015)

The Premise:

A teen girl in Japan finds herself surrounded by horrifically gory, surreal murders as she experiences several dreams, realities, and/or versions of herself.

The Ramble:

On their merry way for a weekend trip, an all-girls school in Japan is in high spirits.  Singing, pillow fighting, and engaging in light-hearted mischief, things seem to be off to a great start.

The trip takes a very dark turn, however, when an accident kills all but one of the girls–rather gorily shearing almost all of them in half.  Mitsuko, the only survivor, was saved as she had knelt down to retrieve a pen knocked from her hands by a classmate.

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See what you get for messing with my pens, bitches.

Though she has survived the accident, Mitsuko isn’t in the clear yet as the whole ordeal seems to have been caused by…a murder wind?  I guess if Evil Dead can do it, why not this film?  Mitsuko does eventually escape to the woods, but not before the wind catches up with some unlucky joggers and bicyclists.  It just goes to show that absolutely no one can stand a bicyclist.

Stumbling across what seems to be another massacre at a river, Mitsuko shakily washes off the blood spatters and changes clothes.  She then comes across another school, where the students know her and believe she has a severe case of amnesia.  Luckily, her bff Aki explains who everyone is in their friend group and shows her where her classes are.

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Scenes from a horror film or a Behind the Music episode about a teen girl group?

Since Mitsuko is still terrified of the wind and incredibly confused, Aki and the 2 other girls in the friend group cut class to hang out by the river.  When they hear about Mitsuko’s earlier “dream,” the girls jokingly dismiss it–except for Sur, the vaguely punk rebel of the group, of course.  Sur insists it’s possible that the dream really happened and Mitsuko is experiencing one of many alternate realities.  It gets super philosophical here, but I feel the big takeaway is that fate can only be tricked with something dramatically and unexpectedly out of character.

When the girls return to school, terror strikes again when the enraged teachers suddenly open fire on the students, sending Mitsuko running for her life again.  She finds a police station and realizes she has transformed into Keiko, a 25-year-old woman on the way to her wedding.  Help arrives in the form of Aki, who seems to be completely off her rocker when she starts killing all bridesmaids in sight.  It’s clear Keiko and Aki are going to have to fight their way out of this one.

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We’ve all been to one of those weddings…

Having escaped the wedding, Mitsuko takes on another form, Izumi.  She finds herself in the middle of a race, running to the finish line yet seemingly trapped in another scenario that ends with everyone around her dead.

Is there no escape for Mitsuko from this horror show?  And who is she, anyway–Mitsuko, Keiko, or Izumi?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know what a fair rating for this one is as I’m still puzzling over it and (spoiler/not really a spoiler) I would’ve really liked a bit more clarity in the end.  But honestly, despite a lack of understanding, I had a lot of fun watching this.  It does sometimes beat us over the head with its message about destiny, control, and the surrealism of reality.  What saved this one for me was a willingness to counteract a serious message with fun B horror tropes and an improbable amount of gore.

The film is grounded by Mitsuko and Aki’s bond and the genuine affection between them as besties.  There is a hint of romance between the 2 girls, but the film leaves this open to interpretation for the aromantic among us.

In the end, the message of the film is surprisingly feminist as the nature of Mitsuko’s existence is revealed.  Big shocker–men are just the absolute worst.

Did Christa get on board with this girl gang or would she kick it back to another reality?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

East Side Sushi, or: Tako Taco

I love movies.  I love food.  How pleased am I when I find ways to happily bring these interests together?  Almost as pleased as I feel about the idea of Mexican/Japanese fusion cuisine, conveniently depicted in this week’s pick.

The Film:

East Side Sushi

The Premise:

A Latina single mother struggling to support her daughter is determined to master the art of sushi despite the objections of…I mean, pretty much everyone.

The Ramble:

Juana is a single mother living with her father in Oakland, California.  She is far from living the dream as she works odd jobs trying to make ends meet and fund her daughter’s education.  The family’s main source of income seems to be a fruit cart–that is, until one day Juana is robbed at gunpoint.

Disheartened and quite shaken, Juana’s luck takes a turn when she stumbles across a Help Wanted sign hanging in a sushi restaurant.  Though she’s a talented cook and has some serious skill with knives, the help needed is for a kitchen assistant–cleaning, washing dishes, making rice, and doing some other food prep.

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Insert super quick knife action here.

It’s not long before Juana gets a chance to show off her talents when the kitchen is short-staffed, and sushi chef Aki begins to respect her expertise.  Though initially Juana claims she has tried sushi and didn’t like it, she gives it another try and falls in love with the flavors.  Her father and daughter are less than thrilled, however, when Juana begins making sushi at home instead of their usual Mexican fare.  Juana’s father in particular remains stubbornly critical of her venture into Japanese cooking and her ambitions to master sushi.

Even as Juana makes progress at home, she is held back by the traditional views of the restaurant owner, Mr. Yoshida, and several of the sushi chefs, who claim women’s hands are too warm to make sushi(…?).  However, with the encouragement of Aki, she begins to observe the sushi chefs and pick up their techniques.  When the restaurant is down a sushi chef, Juana impresses Aki with her sushi making, but must create her sushi rolls in the stock room, out of sight of patrons and Mr. Yoshida.

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“Yeah, but is it gluten-free?”

On her own, Juana decides to enter a local sushi competition to prove her skills and perhaps win money for her daughter’s education.  At last, Juana’s father begins to support her efforts as he helps her film a video submission.  It doesn’t hurt at all that he gets to taste test her fusion sushi rolls, featuring jalapeños and poblano peppers.

Her sushi skills ever on the rise, Juana tires of receiving no recognition for her work and decides to make sushi up front with the other chefs.  Of course, this is not received well by Mr. Yoshida or by the bullshit white dudes who complain about the lack of authenticity.  After being denied the option to even apply for the open sushi chef position at the restaurant, Juana chooses to quit rather than endure the disrespect.

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Sake it to me? (Sorry/not sorry)

Once again working low-paying jobs, barely scraping by, and with no passion for sushi or any other kind of cooking, Juana feels utterly without hope.  Remember that sushi competition, though?  Maybe an opportunity will present itself when a mysterious envelope arrives from the organizers of the competition.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

As a somewhat belated disclaimer, I’m such a sucker for the formulaic following your dreams, overcoming adversity, feel-good film…especially if there’s food involved.  This does follow that formula pretty closely, but brings a unique perspective and presents its characters with nuance and care.  There’s a slow build, but the emotional impact of the film suddenly creeps up–when Juana’s father finally comes around (and gives her one of her mother’s scarves for luck), I had so many feels.  Diana Elizabeth Torres is an absolute gem as Juana, whose quiet determination, compassion, and curiosity come across beautifully on screen.

The film is very interested in questions of authenticity in the restaurant world, and to what extent those ideas are used to maintain the status quo.  In one of Juana’s rare outbursts, she points out the hypocrisy inherent in the sushi restaurant’s illusion of authenticity, as well as the irony that so many Latinos are behind the scenes in every great restaurant yet just one in public view is not accepted.

I also love the subtle yet sweet relationship between Juana and Aki.  Really all they do together is make and eat food, so I feel they have the ideal relationship.  Aki is adorable, supportive, and incredibly proud of Juana’s successes.  Refreshingly, the romance is very subtle and not at all the focus of this film.  It’s nice for Juana to have someone who’s always in her corner, though, and who gifts her with beautiful sharp knives.

However, I’m extremely angry that I can’t actually try any of the mouthwatering combinations Juana creates during this film.  Streaming this film should also come with at least a couple of sushi rolls.

Would Christa chop this one up and roll it into sushi or toss it with last week’s King Salmon? Find out here!

 

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Fits, or: Sequins Sequins Sequins

It’s time for March Madness, aka doing what the fuck we want on the Collab!  You know, in contrast, to every other month on the blog.  Though Feminist February is over, we’re still all about celebrating the achievements of ladies with this month’s pick.

The Film:

The Fits

The Premise:

The future of a dance drill team is in doubt when the girls on the team begin experiencing mysterious seizures.

The Ramble:

Toni is a quiet pre-teen who mostly keeps to herself.  She boxes with her brother until one day she sees her school’s dance drill team at practice.  The girls on the drill team are practically royalty, winning trophy after trophy, having each other’s back as a girl gang, and wearing phenomenally glittery sequined costumes.

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Sparkle sparkle sparkle sparkle.

When she shows up for practice, Toni gets a place to belong even while her brother feels disappointed and left behind.  Though Toni initially has trouble getting the moves down and demonstrating the poise that seems to come naturally to the other girls, she is persistent and practices constantly.  She also makes her first friend, which is flipping adorable.

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Friends don’t let friends wear dirty pants.

The girls are on track for their next competition until the girls on the team begin experiencing seizures–the titular fits.  Initially concerned parents believe the school’s contaminated water supply have caused these side effects, but tests find nothing amiss.  As the girls are struck with the fits one by one, they wonder with fear and excitement who will be next.  Will it be Toni?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ll be honest–I had real difficulties staying focused on the first half of this.  There are some wonderfully shot scenes, but there’s so little plot and not much dialogue either.  Toni is initially very closed-off, so it can be hard to feel overly invested in her character.

However, the last half is thoroughly absorbing and conveys the fear and excitement of girls growing up and embracing their strength.  I love the symbolism of the fits as black female power that draw out the girls’ confidence in themselves and each other.  The drill team becomes a force unto itself by the end of the film, and Toni stands successfully on her own and as part of the girl gang.

Also shout out to a film set and shot in Cincinnati, a mere stone’s throw from my hometown!

Did my blog wife get a case of the fits or would she say no to these sequins?  Find out here!