Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Slaxx, or: The Wrath of Couture

Not necessarily being a follower of high fashion, I don’t always understand the world of high-profile prestige brands. Luckily, this week’s film doesn’t require any insider knowledge of trending styles, though it does embody the spirit of exaggerations like “I’d die for those shoes” or “kill for that coat.” Maybe a bit too literally. Either way, brace yourself for the first groundbreaking killer jeans film on the Collab (and likely last unless a franchise is born).

The Film:

Slaxx

The Premise:

Just ahead of the launch of a major fashion company’s miraculous shaping jeans, a pair of the pants comes to life, driven by a thirst for vengeance and blood.

The Ramble:

Young tenderhearted Libby is eager to start a job with The Canadian Cotton Clothiers, a trendy yet ethical fashion brand. As they say in the South, bless her heart. Libby is a seasonal worker who has been hired by manager Craig to support the launch of Super Shapers, a revolutionary new product. These jeans are woven from cotton grown in experimental fields in India and promise to use heat-activated technology to mold themselves to the wearer’s shape in the most form-flattering way possible. By no means is this the stuff from which nightmares are made.

With a single-minded focus on the CCC brand and maintaining their own “ecosystems” (the section of the store they are responsible for), Libby’s coworkers are largely vain narcissists who have no time to help the new hire. The exception is Shruti, who is totally checked out of her job and unwilling to assist anyone, but in more of a Daria way than anything else.

Because the clothes at The CCC are on the cutting edge of fashion (and employees are required to buy and wear the brand while on the clock), theft is a major problem at the store. Though certainly the message of the film invites us to question who is stealing from whom. Craig often looks the other way on violations of company policy (particularly when he is perpetrating them), but draws the line when employee Jemma arrives for the launch wearing a pair of the currently unreleased jeans. Instructed to change clothes before the company’s CEO Harold arrives to deliver a stirring motivational speech, it turns out the pants are exactly the kind of fashion statement you would be caught dead in. Because the pants kill her.

Ahead of the launch day, the store will be on complete lockdown, with employees locked in the building and prohibited access to their devices as they prepare the store overnight. The one exception will be a visit from YouTube star & influencer Peyton Jewels, who will be granted an exclusive preview to promote the Super Shapers to her followers. This will allow for 10 minutes total when the lockdown is lifted as Peyton enters and leaves the premises, aka the setup of a classic horror dilemma.

Unsurprisingly, the bodies begin to pile up. When Libby finds the body of Jemma, Craig is determined to cover up the death until Super Shapers have launched. As a result, all hell breaks loose when Peyton visits and begins filming. When Libby and Shruti realize the jeans will temporarily stop the violent rampage to appreciate the sounds of Bollywood musical numbers, they learn the pants have a sort of humanity. Is this the key to declaring the new fashion trend officially over?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I will give this one a lot of credit for originality. Has there ever been a horror film about a killer pair of pants that’s also a critique of fast fashion and the questionable ethics of an industry built on exploiting extremely underpaid and highly dangerous labor? Well, this is the one.

On a technical note, I appreciate the…level of emotion the filmmakers are able to convey through the pants. Is a weird sentence to type. The, uh, green screen actor(?) gives authentic movement to the jeans, allowing them to convey menace and even joy as the scene demands. Lighting and sound effects work together to create genuine moments of suspense (and quite a few gory deaths).

All of this being said, there are some issues with the film’s approach. The short run time and the number of characters whose sole purpose is to die make it difficult to invest in the storyline. I can somewhat root for Shruti, but even she falls a bit flat for me. Libby is our lead and the way her youthful optimism is exaggerated is annoying AF. The majority of the other characters are so awful that it’s clear early on they will die, but none of these deaths really feel like a big payoff. I would have liked the story to focus in on these horrible characters, honestly, rather than trying to have it both ways.

While I always appreciate a piece with some social commentary, this one is extremely heavy-handed. The over-the-top dialogue gets old fast, and a lot of the representation of India and Indian characters comes off as pretty stereotypical. I got a little bit of a kick from the Super Shapers’ SS logo being a very clear nod to the scary Nazi death squads…but only the first couple of times it appeared onscreen. This also got pretty old, as did the lack of nuance or trust in the audience to connect the dots.

No regrets on watching this one, but it didn’t change my life like a pair of Super Shapers or even particularly challenge my participation in morally reprehensible systems of production. Though I will avoid purchasing new clothes for at least a week or two. Probably.

Would my blog wife still be first in line for a pair of killer trousers or refuse to even snag them from a secondhand clearance rack? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bad Hair, or: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

I’m happy to report that, despite concluding the Fear Street trilogy months ago, the opportunities to enjoy horror that embraces a late ’80s/early ’90s aesthetic are far from over. What’s more, this week’s feature is a Justin Simien film, which almost makes me forget that we’re fresh out of new seasons of Dear White People. Almost.

The Film:

Bad Hair

The Premise:

After a new weave opens up career possibilities for ambitious Anna, she quickly realizes her hair has its own horrific intentions.

The Ramble:

As a young girl, Anna’s older cousin helps her relax her hair for the first time, a process that involves strong chemicals that can damage the hair and scalp if not used correctly. Unfortunately for Anna, the process burns her scalp, leaving a permanent scar.

Years later, in 1989, Anna lives with the scar and wears a natural hairstyle. She works for TV channel Culture, which features music and programs by Black artists. After pressure from the higher ups to make the channel more profitable, Anna’s beloved boss is replaced with Zora, who is much less interested in challenging the status quo.

Quietly ambitious Anna manages to impress Zora with her ideas to shake up the channel, even as her friends fail to earn the respect of the new boss and Anna’s secret lover breaks her heart. The one thing holding back Anna from complete success? According to Zora, it’s her hair.

Upon the recommendation of Zora, Anna goes to salon to the stars, Virgie’s. Taking pity on Anna, Virgie accepts her as a client while providing the warning that the process will be extremely painful–to the point that Anna passes out during the styling. Virgie has special products of her own that she keeps secret, but are so reputable that Janet Jackson-like star Sandra is a client.

With her powerful new hair changing her career as promised, Anna isn’t too concerned about Virgie’s warnings that she must never let her hair get wet, nor is she bothered by the odd glow Sandra’s eyes have at times. Anna is sought after at work and in the glamorous parties she now attends, though her friends and coworkers aren’t so lucky.

While it’s somewhat alarming that Anna’s hair seems to have a will of its own that is particularly drawn to blood, it isn’t until her creepy landlord attacks her that the hair’s violent power becomes apparent. Does Anna control her new look…or does it control her?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I feel conflicted because, while I absolutely love Justin Simien’s work and am floored by the stellar cast of this film, I was…kind of bored at times? I think there are too many things this film aims to accomplish, so a lot of the elements receive only surface-level attention.

One of the major successes of Simien’s stellar series Dear White People is the attention given to character development; even at times when I’m frustrated by some of the character choices in the show, I appreciate and understand their motivations. Here, a lot of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and Anna is honestly not super interesting. She begins having a bit of an awkward nerd (aka Lionel Higgins) character arc, but instead of actually growing, it’s the hair that takes over her personality.

This connects to my confusion about the film’s message, which I want to be the empowering story about the uses of Black women’s anger that it could be. Some of the themes about beauty expectations are promising too, but they end up feeling at times like a criticism of individual choices rather than the effective social commentary they could have been. I would have liked for Anna’s hair to be a tool she uses to unleash her anger, however problematically. But Anna doesn’t control what her hair does, so the story is more or less that a woman lacking agency becomes a woman…still lacking agency. It’s a bleak message that doesn’t quite fit with the film’s tone, and not always compelling in this story.

Either way, I’ll absolutely be watching Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion reboot.

Would my blog wife literally kill in the name of good hair or let it run out of hair oil? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Censor, or: Big Brother Is Not Letting You Watch

It. Is. Horror Month! Though effectively every month can be Horror Month here on the Collab, there’s something special about embracing the genre as the leaves change, the evenings draw in, and the most wonderful time of the year approaches (aka Halloween).

This time around, we’re focusing in on horror that takes a feminist/psychological angle. I’m not sure if that’s a real film genre, but those seem to be the kinds of films that recur on the Collab anyway.

The Film:

Censor

The Premise:

A film censor begins to see connections between the work of a disturbing horror director and the childhood disappearance of her sister.

The Ramble:

As a film censor in 1980s Britain, solitary Enid takes pride in her work. Though the gruesome scenes of eye gouging, assault, and all manner of gory violence is not for the faint of heart, Enid’s analytical focus on the content as it relates to a specific viewer rating drives her to remain detached. After all, her lofty motivation is to protect the eyes of innocent children and minimize reckless violence on the lawless streets of England. Not only that, but the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) could be implicated for releasing pictures deemed too extreme or inappropriate.

Outside of work, Enid is troubled by the recent news from her parents that, after years as a missing person, her sister Nina has finally been declared legally dead. Enid, who seems to spot lookalikes of her sister quite frequently, believes Nina is still missing and will eventually be located.

Meanwhile, a murderer known as the Amnesiac Killer blames his crimes on a film that was approved by Enid and her coworker. An inside leak means journalists and members of the public alike are aware of her role in okaying the film, and she is harangued day and night as a result.

Moving on to the next project at the request of sleazy producer Doug Smart, Enid is deeply disturbed as she views Frederick North’s Don’t Go in the Church. Having trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality, the film’s premise bears striking resemblance to long-buried memories of what happened to Nina.

Drawing a connection between Nina’s appearance and that of leading lady Alice Lee, Enid becomes convinced that Alice is her missing sister all grown up. Determined to reconnect with her long-lost sibling, Enid makes her way to the film set where North’s final collaboration with Alice is being shot. Will Enid confront the man who seems to be responsible for her sister’s abduction and reunite the family at last?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is so effective at creating a moody, tense ambience and then bringing it all to a horrifying conclusion. Enid is a fascinating if not entirely sympathetic character, and her role itself makes for a very unsubtle (but interesting) commentary on violence, censorship, and paternalistic notions of safety. She makes me automatically suspicious–let’s face it, a censor is never the hero of a story. Yet understanding the character and her unraveling makes for a compelling film. I can’t help drawing connections between Enid and the traumatic experiences of modern day censors for social media platforms.

With the story’s focus on things that are intentionally stricken from the record–through abduction/murder, through censorship–the nature of reality and memory are essential themes. I find a lot of questions about what drives violent or monstrous behavior implicit here, as well as the ways art influences perception and vice versa. Like censorship itself, Enid is crafting her own reality…for better or worse.

There are some elements of the film that could have been woven together more effectively and fleshed out, but I enjoyed myself a lot here. I would happily watch more of director Prano Bailey-Bond’s work in the future.

Would my blog wife appreciate this one’s realistic eye gouges or strike it from the record altogether? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Saving Face, or: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Given the global pandemic still very much happening and its impact on my current mental/emotional state, I could probably keep watching horror for the next 500 years and still not satisfy that unique sense of dread and calm the genre inspires in me. I’m worried the world is an awful place but feel a certain tranquility when it shows its true colors.

Anyway.

It’s probably for the best to do a bit of a reset in September ahead of the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween). This week, we have a lesbian romance with hints of soap opera drama and a hearty dose of navigating cultural identity. Plus vending machine snacks.

The Film:

Saving Face

The Premise:

As a young Chinese-American surgeon pursues a romance with another woman, she learns her mother has been keeping a shocking secret of her own.

The Ramble:

Wil is a promising young surgeon who gives her mother Gao a lot of cred in their Chinese-American community in Queens. On the marriage front, Gao insists that Wil is much too busy and successful to date. Hmmmmm…dramatic secrets related to identity would suggest otherwise.

Wil, a young woman dressed casually in sweatpants, bends down to talk to her mother, Gao. Gao is sitting on a bed, eyes closed in meditation.

As Gao plays matchmaker at the community’s weekly gathering, she is unknowingly the source of her own gossip, as the widow of over 20 years is stunningly gorgeous and very single. A man by the name of Cho is quite clearly gearing up to make a move, though it’s taken years for him to work up the nerve.

One fateful night, Wil meets the one person her mother is decidedly not trying to set up her daughter with: a ballet dancer named Vivian. In a demonstration of how close-knit the community is, Vivian happens to be the daughter of Wil’s boss. But she’s quite attractive and her love language seems to be vending machine snacks, so poor Wil doesn’t stand a chance.

Wil, dressed in a loose-fitting button-down shirt, stands close in front of Vivian, who touches the sleeve of Wil's shirt.

Meanwhile, Wil realizes through shocking gossip that Gao is keeping even more secrets than her daughter. As it turns out, Gao is pregnant and refuses to divulge the father’s identity. Ooooooh, things are getting more scandalous than the Chinese soaps Gao watches religiously. Wil’s grandfather is especially disappointed, evicting his daughter from their shared apartment and telling her not to bother coming back without a husband. The tables are turned on Gao as Wil attempts to find her the perfect (and perhaps somewhat gullible) husband.

Wil reclines on a futon, arms behind her head. Her mother Gao sits next to her, knitting. Both are staring ahead at an offscreen television.

Now with the complication of having her mother as a roommate, Wil has to work double time to keep her own secret love hidden. A relatably awkward tomboy, Wil is quite sweet when bonding with Vivian. However, conducting their relationship as if it’s an illicit affair isn’t what Vivian has in mind. She begins actively considering an offer to dance ballet in Paris…even though her heart is with modern dance and with a certain socially graceless doctor.

After a number of horrible dates, Gao ultimately accepts a proposal from Cho. While Wil is initially relieved, she’s troubled that her mother still seems rather closed off and unhappy. What’s more, Wil’s grandmother experiences a health crisis, sending the family into a spiral just before the wedding. Taking a cue from Gao’s soaps, the discovery of a shocking letter on her wedding day could spell disaster…or might it lead two generations of Chinese-American women to carve out space for themselves within their own community?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed this. Our story feels real, slightly melodramatic twists and all. I think this is largely because the characters and their relationships ground the story. There’s an attention to detail and nuance that makes the love, especially between mother and daughter, convincing. It involves just enough tension for us to believe this is true with all of the messiness and conflict that comes along with family.

The tone is perfect; overall, this is a very sweet film. However, there is enough of a cultural and familial clash that I was somewhat concerned about how it would all turn out. I was relieved when (spoiler?) our leading ladies found a way to fully embrace their own unique identities and place them within Chinese-American culture, not as disparate pieces. I loved that even Wil was shocked by Gao’s secrets and made some of the same assumptions the Chinese community made since it is a part of her identity.

This is the kind of film where I respect the director, Alice Wu, even more as I learned about her process of making this movie a reality. Look it up! It was really a labor of love. My favorite fact so far is that studios really pushed to make all (including the leads!) or at least some characters white to bring more star power to the film, but Wu insisted on maintaining a Chinese cast.

Related: consider that this film was the first major US release since The Joy Luck Club and until Crazy Rich Asians to star an Asian cast. And while we do now have Shang-Chi to enjoy, we’ve still got a lot of progress to make for representation.

Would my blog wife romance this one with vending machine fare or leave it at the altar for another film? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Assassination Nation, or: Witches Get Shit Done

CW: violence, assault, homophobia, transphobia

Ah, youth. Dishing on the latest gossip, lounging by the pool, receiving menacing texts threatening to doxx you. There’s a good reason social media has become an increasingly popular subject for horror films: it’s fucking terrifying. And in this week’s film, it has the power to send a homicidal mob after you IRL.

The Film:

Assassination Nation

The Premise:

Following a hacker’s leak of personal messages and information, the residents of an entire town turn against 4 teen girls who seem to be at the center of it all.

The Ramble:

Let’s revisit a familiar chapter in US history: the time the town of Salem lost its fucking mind. No, not that time. This time, it’s all a case of leaked personal messages and the good old-fashioned scramble to cover one’s own ass.

To rewind a tiny bit to the before times, teen Lily is part of a close-knit group of friends: Bex, Sarah, and Em. Catching up with her girl gang, Lily learns that Bex has been sexting with Diamond, a gorgeous jock who dares not acknowledge his affection in public. Meanwhile, Lily continues to date her first “serious” boyfriend, Mark, while secretly sexting a man only known as Daddy. Sounds like a keeper.

A group of 5 teen girls lay in a circle on the floor, heads together at the center.

At the same time, an unknown hacker begins targeting the locals. The hacker begins by targeting the mayor, a man whose homophobic policies belie his hidden life hiring male escorts and wearing women’s lingerie.

During a high school party, Bex finally hooks up with Diamond, who insists they keep it a secret. At the same party, Lily continues to send revealing pictures of herself to Daddy. Blissfully unaware of the hacker’s intentions, things take a dark turn when the mayor, in lieu of making a verbal statement, opts to shoot himself publicly. Bex, a trans teen girl, has very little sympathy for a man who seemed to make it his life’s work to see LGBTQ people suffer. Unsurprisingly, the internet community has even less compassion, actively ridiculing videos of the public suicide.

Targeted next is the high school principal, whom Lily actually quite likes and respects. Because he has pictures of his 6-year-old daughter in the nude, the town as a whole concludes that Principal Turrell must be a pedophile. As Lily herself points out, there’s nothing overtly sexual about the pictures; nevertheless, Mr. Turrell is booed publicly and encouraged to resign.

4 teen girls lay upside down on a bed, shoulder to shoulder. They are all looking up towards the ceiling and wearing red PVC coats over their clothes.

It’s not long before Lily, Bex, and Nance, the mother of Sarah and Em, are targeted. Police ineffectively search for the hacker but come up with very few leads beyond Marty, a local teen and Anonymous supporter. Diamond hides in shame when the truth about his hook up with Bex is revealed. And it’s not long before Mark realizes that the pictures from Nick, aka Daddy’s, phone are of Lily. Nick is Lily’s 30-something neighbor and man whose kids she used to babysit.

Shortly thereafter, the victims of the hacker turn their ire towards the women and girls who are labelled whores and homewreckers. Of course, it’s their fault that these men engaged in behavior of which they are now ashamed. With no intervention from the FBI or any other authorities, the town begins to implode as isolated incidents of public shame and violence morph into organized militias committing acts of terror.

Dressed in red PVC trench coats, a group of 4 teen girls stand in a row, aiming firearms at an unseen group of boys.

When the police finally have more information, it’s revealed that the hacks seem to have come from Lily’s IP address. With the town turned firmly against her, a militia fueled almost entirely by toxic masculinity arrives at Nance’s house, where all 4 girls are currently staying.

Now that the battle has become girl gang vs. the entire town, who will survive the night?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

There are quite a few things about this film that work, and quite a few that…don’t. Things I enjoy include the commentary on accountability vs. victimization when it comes to the court of public opinion. I think the message here is surprisingly nuanced, highlighting that so-called cancel culture is a tool that can hold people in power to account but can serve to reinforce misogyny and other toxic systems when used against those without. Even I have heard about Chrissy Teigen’s half-hearted apology for her bullying of Courtney Stodden, and the parallels are spot-on, especially considering how Courtney was treated by the press and the public 10 years ago.

Things I didn’t enjoy so much: the cutesy “trigger warning” at the beginning of the film, which seems to merely mock the entire concept. Additionally, despite enjoying our female focus, I couldn’t tell you a single personality trait of any of our main 4, except that Lily was our lead and Bex was cool AF and featured in my favorite scene of the film (a tense underwater nail gun fight). Besides that, the characters are fairly bland and generic.

What’s more is the male gaze at work throughout the film. It’s satisfying to see our girl gang take charge, but there are really only about 10 minutes of their badassery for us to enjoy. For the vast majority of the film, there are a lot of scenes shaming, harassing, torturing, and otherwise attacking women. I would have liked to see less of that and quite a bit more empowerment for the film to better reflect its themes.

That being said, there are many truly terrifying scenes and scenarios here. It’s a little frustrating to have some of these moments undercut with the film’s insistence on making an ironic quip. Perhaps in light of the January Capitol insurrection that feels like 10,000 years ago, the idea of an organized militia targeting anyone who doesn’t have a MAGA hat in their wardrobe doesn’t feel so far-fetched. I would have liked for this one to be a bit more fun, though who knows if I even remember what that word means at this point.

Would my blog wife take this one’s secrets to the grave or leak them all for the lolz? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Promising Young Woman, or: You Know That You’re Toxic

CW: sexual assault

Phew, this month has been a solid reminder that films getting award nominations or buzz aren’t here to play. It’s been a rewarding but intense month on the Collab, and this week is no exception. Our pick this week aligns so well with some of the themes we most enjoy here and that we’ve been looking forward to reviewing for months. Will we love what this one does…even if it’s toxic?

The Film:

Promising Young Woman

The Premise:

Years after her best friend’s assault at a party, a medical school dropout seeks vengeance against the people and systems that failed her.

The Ramble:

It’s tough being a business bro these days, isn’t it? You can’t schmooze your clients at the strip club or even go to the men only golf club for meetings with all of those pesky women coworkers around. Not like the good ol’ days.

As they bemoan their plight, a group of aforementioned bros notice a woman so drunk she can barely remain conscious where she sits. While a couple of the guys joke about taking advantage of the woman’s state, ahem, “nice guy” Jerry approaches under the guise of ensuring she makes it home safely. Because the woman has lost her phone, she can’t use a rideshare app, and Jerry gallantly offers to share an Uber-like but not Uber ride home. Of course, the ride ends up at Jerry’s apartment, where he invites the woman up for a drink. Though she is on the brink of passing out and repeatedly asks what Jerry is doing, he is determined to take advantage of the situation…until the woman lets him know very clearly that she is perfectly sober.

In a nightclub featuring red furniture, a man sits next to Cassie, a blonde woman who appears to be very intoxicated.

The woman in this situation is Cassie, a former medical school student who acts out this saga nearly every night–most memorably with a coked-out novelist who insists that he’s such a nice guy. Why? Because during a party that many of the med school cohort attended, Cassie’s best friend Nina was raped, disbelieved, and dropped out of school. The events destroyed the futures of two promising young women, as Cassie dropped out soon after to care for her traumatized friend, who ultimately killed herself.

By day, Cassie lives a rather bleak life, to the point that she forgets her own 30th birthday. Living at home with her parents and working in a coffee shop, her parents and boss Gail worry that Cassie has no friends and no interests…beyond keeping color-coded tally of her evening activities in a notebook under her bed.

In a pink and blue pastel coffee shop called Make Me Coffee, Cassie and her supervisor, a Black woman with long curly hair, serve a customer.

Out of the blue, Ryan, a guy from Cassie’s med school class, stops in at the coffee shop and recognizes his former classmate. Now a doctor, Ryan clumsily admits that he had a crush on Cassie during school and always wondered why she dropped out. Though Cassie is skeptical, she eventually agrees to a lunch date with Ryan. As a bonus, Cassie learns about the exploits of her former classmates, including a former friend’s recent delivery of twins, and Nina’s rapist, Al, preparing for his upcoming wedding.

Cassie, wearing a white dress covered in roses, sits in a diner booth across from Ryan, a man wearing glasses and a plaid shirt.

Though Cassie finds Ryan’s awkward earnestness sweet, their relationship moves with stops and starts as she navigates giving a functional relationship a go. However, the surprisingly sweet rom-com style romance (including the mandatory karaoke-inspired scene) takes a definite backseat to Cassie’s schemes. With more information about her former classmates, she hones in on those who failed Nina the most: former friend Madison who didn’t believe Nina’s story, the dean who dismissed Nina’s claims, the lawyer who pressured Nina to drop her case, and, of course, Al.

Cassie has some pretty twisted schemes up her sleeve for those who have wronged Nina, including setting Madison up to wake up in a hotel room with a strange man and no memory of what’s happened, as well as making Dean Blackwell believe her daughter is alone at a wild frat party. Using the same logic that condemned Nina, Cassie’s vengeance underscores the dangers of dismissing victims’ accounts while giving the benefit of the doubt to abusers.

Cassie empties the last of a bottle of wine into a glass for Madison, a woman with short dark hair, over a restaurant table.

Briefly, Cassie seems to embrace the advice of Nina’s mother to move on at last. But can Cassie really set aside her revenge plans when she still has her biggest fish to fry in the form of Al? After Madison reveals one of Al’s friends made a video of Nina’s assault, Cassie learns some new details that unleash a fresh wave of rage. Striding into Al’s bachelor party as a sexy nurse accompanied by a killer instrumental version of Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” you know it’s going to be a memorable evening…though perhaps not in the ways anticipated.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s so much to like about this film. The themes that interrogate rape culture, complicity, and the failure of justice are powerful and very rarely receive much attention on film. I wonder if the persistent underrepresentation of women and people of color in director roles is at play here. *Shrug* And, truly, we are not worthy of the soundtrack and the beautiful, glossy colors contrasting with the awful behavior of the characters. I’m so happy to see Carey Mulligan onscreen again, and I can’t find fault with any of the performances, honestly. The dialogue is so sharp and made me laugh out loud at times.

However, there are some inconsistencies that prevent this film from being a new favorite for me. There are a lot of times this is frustrating to watch, as there are virtually no likeable characters here. If, like me, your cynical mind is always at work, you won’t be overly surprised by this…but you may still be annoyed that some characters are very close to doing the right thing only to easily backtrack into the convenient thing.

I feel like another broken record on the internet at this point, but I do take issue with the film’s ending as well, largely because of the abrupt tonal shift. There are some issues with tone throughout, as there are a lot of times during Cassie’s scenes with Ryan that we seem to be in a charming romantic comedy. We also get a number of satisfying revenge scenes with Cassie’s self-assured swagger, though admittedly some of her tactics are more unsettling than anything else. But both of these concepts give way to a bleak ending that really pulls the rug out from under the viewer and gives us the most dramatic tonal shift yet. It’s unsatisfying to feel that Cassie is a victim when she begins the film by reclaiming some degree of power, even though I suppose she is pulling the strings in the end. I can’t help feeling that if Billy Loomis can fake his own death in Scream, surely a scheming med school dropout could have done the same (does a spoiler from a 1996 movie count as a spoiler?).

I will say I got a lot of enjoyment from this film and will make plans to see Emerald Fennell’s next picture as soon as possible.

Would my darling blog wife plot an elaborate revenge scheme on this one’s behalf or pretend it never happened at all? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

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

CW: abuse, infant death, animal death

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

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

The Film:

Judy & Punch

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Am Not an Easy Man, or: Is a French Tootsie a Toot Suite?

Okay, it’s still January for a few more hours. But would anyone really object to wrapping up this month a little bit early? It’s already been a tough year, and it’s likely to remain challenging.

In the spirit of getting on with 2021 (and sparing us yet another uplifting film that merely makes us roll our eyes with disdain), we’re kicking off Feminist February now. Delightfully, we have the potential to get 5 films in during one of our favorite months of the Collab. Will this week’s pick bring in the month with a bang or a whimper?

The Film:

I Am Not an Easy Man

The Premise:

After waking up in an alternate reality, a chauvinist must contend with a matriarchal world in which women hold the power and influence.

The Ramble:

Absolutely epitomizing the word “sleaze,” Damien is a man thoroughly sexist and gross in every context. His most recent professional triumph is a proposal for an app that keeps data on a person’s sex life from year to year…and by “person” I mean “heterosexual man.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Damien’s behavior towards his female colleagues can only be described as harassment.

A man (Damien) leans against a display in a book shop, flirting with a smiling blonde woman.

Damien uses his free time to check out literally every woman he encounters and try to pick up every one he finds attractive. At a book signing for his old friend Christophe, Damien meets new assistant Alexandra. She is less than impressed with Damien’s slick moves, promising that the only way they would ever get together would be in another world. Hmmmm…prophetic.

Catching up with Christophe on the way home, Damien gets so distracted harassing women on the street that he walks face first into a street sign. After sustaining a nasty head bump, Damien wakes up to find female paramedics helping him, along with a concerned Christophe.

In the world Damien now lives, the order of the day is toxic matriarchy rather than patriarchy. Roles are reversed, so that Damien sports a much more revealing wardrobe and is constantly checked out by women on the street and at his female-dominated workplace.

It’s not long before Damien learns of the firm’s upcoming Vulvometer app, a spin on his brilliant(?) idea. Disgusted by the app, enraged that his idea has been stolen, and talked down to or harassed by virtually every woman at work, Damien has a meltdown that results in his firing.

A man (Damien) sits on the couch with a bag of frozen peas on his head, brushing his teeth and petting a cat sitting next to him.

After talking to a psychiatrist who dismisses Damien’s concerns that there’s something wrong, there’s nothing to do but try to score with all of the sexually liberated women in this new reality. However, this proves more difficult than anticipated, as the first woman he goes out with takes him to a male strip club and is horrified by Damien’s unwaxed chest.

Leaning on Christophe, now a struggling father trying to nurture his family, Damien shares his worries now that he’s unemployed. Luckily, Christophe has a connection; while he’s on parental leave, his writer boss is in need of an assistant. The writer? Alexandra, obviously.

Alexandra ticks off all of the boxes usually reserved for the male genius: self-absorbed, balancing a rotating string of men, constantly showing off her abs. In between constantly harassing her new assistant, Alexandra learns of Damien’s supposed delusions. Intrigued by the idea of a patriarchal society, she decides to get close to him…all in the name of gathering information for her new book.

A woman (Alexandra) sits up in bed, shirt open. A man (Damien) sleeps, his head resting in her lap.

Meanwhile, Damien gets involved with the men’s rights group, Tits for Tat. Advocating for greater opportunities and representation for men, the group shows up at female-focused events wearing fake breasts to…make some kind of point, apparently.

On top of this, Damien must contend with his parents, who wonder when he will stop being a pathetic single cat man. Everywhere he turns, there are images of men being sexualized. To make matters worse, Damien has a huge falling out with Christophe, who learns that his wife has cheated.

As Damien gets closer to Alexandra, she begins to develop genuine feelings for him. However, she is a woman of many secrets and dysfunctional patterns of behavior. Is love enough to change the heart of a female chauvinist?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Conceptually, I like this quite a lot. However, the execution leaves something to be desired. Tonally, this is a very odd film. It’s billed as a sort of romantic comedy, though I don’t think Damien and Alexandra are exactly #CoupleGoals in any reality. On the other hand, this is a satirical social commentary, and the ending is downright chilling, to be honest.

I think where things break down a bit is the film’s understanding of feminism and gender, both of which lack nuance. Our story is meant to teach Damien a lesson about his bad behavior, but I don’t think it does a whole lot to actually represent feminist values. After all, the point of feminism is not for women to switch places with men and inherit patriarchal systems of oppression. Nor is it to imply that there is one correct way to be a woman, man, or non-binary individual. I know this, darling Christa knows this, our film knows this. But does every viewer? Surely I need not remind you that there are actual men’s rights groups in this reality that genuinely believe they are being oppressed.

Depending on the gender binary too much creates a lot of problems in our film. There are times when the tone misses the mark, seeming to ridicule effeminate men–as if that’s not something that already happens quite a lot. Overall, there’s not a lot of imagination put into LGBTQ existence in this matriarchal world. Additionally, characters of color are noticeably absent. This may be for the best, truth told–the one scene that addresses the concept of Muslim veiled men is downright cringey.

I did laugh at some of the absurd role reversals, especially getting a kick out of Damien’s ludicrous chest hair. And, intentional or not, I found the unplugged version of “You’re the One That I Want” that played at a club hysterical.

Ultimately, I find this film’s literal role reversal less than true to the spirit of feminism. IMHO, Tootsie did it better.

Would my blog wife approve of this one’s form in its layers of shapewear or leave before it even wakes up? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Am Woman, or: You Were Nicer Before All the Coke

“Watch a series of uplifting, musically-oriented films to start the new year on a positive note,” we said (without intending to pun). “That will surely make us feel better about an already worrying year.” How little we know ourselves.

Conclusively, very few of our picks this month have actually made us feel better about the world we live in. We’re dark souls here, what can I say? Can one of our final films of January buck the trend and lift our spirits with a true story of success?

The Film:

I Am Woman

The Premise:

The story of Helen Reddy, singer/songwriter of “I Am Woman” fame, chronicles her challenges breaking into the music industry as a divorced single mother facing sexist and dismissive execs.

The Ramble:

In 1960s, a young Helen Reddy arrives in NYC from Australia. Jazzed about a promised recording contract after winning a contest, she’s brought her daughter Traci along for an opportunity that could launch her singing career.

Naturally, the studio has its bases covered in legal terms so that, while Helen did win the contest, in no way is she guaranteed any sort of contract or time in front of a mic. What’s more, she must suffer through an endless number of questions about how she managed to make such a long journey by plane all on her lonesome, with nary a single man to help her lift heavy suitcases or prevent her from getting lost with his impeccable sense of direction.

Frustrated and disappointed, Helen must nevertheless make money ASAP to support herself and her daughter. The sole bright spot in all this is making the acquaintance of journalist Lillian Roxon, who becomes her bff and primary source of encouragement. Matching Helen’s love of music, Lillian’s goal is to create an extensive encyclopedia of rock ‘n roll.

It’s not long before Helen starts to meet new friends because of the well-connected Lillian. During a party in honor of Helen’s birthday, she fatefully meets manager Jeff Wald. After dating for a short time, Jeff asks Helen for permission to be her manager. Since Los Angeles is the place to be, that’s where the couple will move, along with Traci. Sadly, this will mean leaving behind bestie Lillian, a person who has always believed in Helen.

However, the mere act of being in LA doesn’t yield the insta-success the couple anticipates. Jeff finally lands a small-time management job, but Helen has absolutely no gigs whatsoever. Jeff’s understanding that unemployed Helen’s role is to clean the house and make sure there’s always a full pint of milk in the fridge causes tension and would very likely have resulted in a scene where Jeff is floating in a pool of milk Sunset Boulevard-style if I had scripted this film.

Meanwhile, Lillian is living her best life, covering marches commemorating the suffrage movement, Shirley Chisholm’s campaign for President, and the push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Time is ticking on the bill, which must pass in 38 states by 1979 to be adopted. For some incomprehensible reason, this gives the film an excuse to namedrop Phyllis Schlafly 8,000 times–and I have yet to stream Mrs. America and witness what is undoubtedly another brilliant turn from Cate Blanchett because my brain shortcircuits with rage any time I have to think about that woman.

Finally fed up with playing the role of housewife, Helen demands Jeff put pressure on studio exec Dr. Spaceman from 30 Rock (Chris Parnell). After Jeff ties up the phone line for hours on Helen’s insistence, Dr. Spaceman finally agrees to let her record a single. Though initially nervous, Helen records a cover of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar that makes the charts. On a side note, it’s truly bizarre to think that, at the time, Jesus Christ Superstar was a trendy new musical people clamored to see. I suppose in 2070 or thereabouts, people will probably feel the same way about Hamilton, puzzling over how it ever seemed fresh or original enough to pay thousands of dollars for a ticket. Except for, reliably, worryingly intense theatre fans, who will enjoy working obscure references to it into everyday conversation.

At the same time, Traci is growing up and resenting taking kung fu classes instead of ballet. Concerned for her daughter, Helen despairingly realizes that all songs being released focus on how dreadful it is to be a woman, and/or how the love and approval of a man can turn around the most wretched female existence. Helen is inspired to write her famed feminist ballad, “I Am Woman,” which is instantly dismissed as “angry” and “man-hating.”

However, Jeff believes in the song and is convinced Helen can win over women listeners, who will call in and request the track on the radio. The strategy works, and Helen becomes a sensation. Leaping to stardom, Helen has a number one hit, gets her own show, and wins a Grammy. With her newfound success, Helen and Jeff have a baby and buy a swanky house. Cautious with money, Helen pays with everything using cash. Simultaneously, Jeff has picked up a cocaine habit, so you know things are never going to go wrong on that front.

As Helen rides the waves of fame, she forgets her old friends, refusing to return Lillian’s calls. It doesn’t help that, after a scathing review of Linda McCartney’s show, Jeff warns Helen that Lillian will do anything for a story. Yep, I’m sure your husband, out of his mind on coke, is full of sound advice. Shortly after a major fight with Lillian, Helen receives terrible news that leaves her wracked with guilt.

Like any episode of Behind the Music worth its salt, Helen’s star rises as her home life falls apart. Despite their partnership, Jeff feels emasculated by the perception that Helen is the breadwinner of the family. During coke-fueled benders, he spends more and more money and fights with his wife a lot. Meanwhile, Helen resents the lack of creative freedom the studio will grant and regrets being unable to spend more time with her children.

How much can Helen endure before her marriage fails…and she becomes fed up with the music industry altogether?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The oft-repeated refrain of the Blog Collab has become “Why make a 2-hour film when you have 90 minutes’ worth of plot (or less)?” And it applies here. This film did not need to be 2 hours. However, largely because I enjoyed the dynamic between Helen and Lillian so much, I’m willing to be fairly generous with this review. Btw, Lillian is played wonderfully by the extremely underrated Danielle Macdonald. The friendship between these characters is instantly believable, and the film setting up their relationship as one of the most profound and powerful of Helen’s life is a choice I support.

Still, once Helen and Jeff head off to LA, their marriage becomes a major focus of the story. And it’s kind of boring, honestly? The tale of Helen’s rise to fame feels the same as so many other stars of the ’60s and ’70s: a series of failures finally yields a lucky break, but sudden fame is so overwhelming that someone develops a coke habit and close relationships fall apart. Even though it pisses me off when biopics tell a story with a sense of inevitability that this extraordinary human was destined for greatness, it’s what I have come to expect from films based on a music star’s life. The way Helen Reddy’s story is told here, she’s more or less a stubborn person who really enjoyed singing…and I fail to believe that’s all there is to her.

That leads me to another frustration with the film: what is the point? Despite the marketing for this film, there’s minimal exploration of the feminist themes in Reddy’s now iconic anthem. I think that both Helen and Jeff were still living when this film was made, so it’s possible the filmmakers were playing it safe or needed approval to tell the story. Neither comes off looking thoroughly evil despite quite a lot of macho posturing from Jeff. The story recognizes he’s an addict, which I both appreciate and find frustrating (though, as is often the case, he’s a much nicer person before constantly snorting coke). When you watch a music biopic, you go in just wanting to hate the sleazy manager. It never feels that Helen is fighting against the odds, whether because of a difficult marriage, industry sexism, or personal struggles–and this is the only thing I want from a biopic! I crave drama.

Would my blog wife stand by this one or throw it all away for a line of coke? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Atlantics, or: Ghosting in the Literal Sense

Clearly, we’re always prepared for a horror film on the Blog Collab. Gory slashers, serial killers, creepy stalkers–all have been welcome here (at least as fictional characters). This week’s horror is a change of pace, much more in line with the eerie Gothic of another recent French film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. And, just as with that film, there are going to be several things that burn.

The Film:

Atlantics (Atlantique)

The Premise:

A young woman is haunted by her lover, a construction worker who disappeared after his boat overturned while seeking a different life in Spain.

The Ramble:

As construction wraps up on a looming skyscraper in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, the crew completing the job has had enough. The men who have built the tower haven’t been paid in months…and businessman Mr. Ndiaye, who owes the money, is conveniently out of contact. Sounds familiar, eh?

Young lovers Ada and Souleiman must deal with the additional complication of keeping their romance a secret. Ada is expected to marry a wealthier man, Omar, in a matter of days, though her heart belongs to Souleiman.

A young man and woman turn to face something happening off-camera to the left.

Though a childhood friend insists Souleiman is merely a test of her commitment to Omar, Ada continues to sneak around with her boyfriend, planning to meet him at a beachside bar at night. However, with nary a word of notice, Souleiman and several of the other construction workers have taken a boat in an attempt to reach Spain. After a terrible storm, all of the men are presumed dead.

Meanwhile, a depressed Ada proceeds with her wedding ceremony. The celebrations take a shocking turn when the couple’s marriage bed seems to spontaneously combust. But someone or something must have set the fire…right?

A group of young people gathers on a beach by the ocean at night.

To investigate the mysterious happenings, young detective Issa arrives and immediately suspects Souleiman, who has been spotted recently. As a result, Ada is suspected of aiding and abetting…but Souleiman can’t possibly have survived the shipwreck.

To make things worse, several characters, including Issa, are stricken with an unrelenting fever. The young women who suffer fevers during the day appear to be possessed at night, arriving at Mr. Ndiaye’s to demand the wages they are owed as the embodiment of the deceased construction crew.

A young woman with completely white eyes stands in a darkened living room, several other young women seated behind her.

As Ada receives texts from someone who claims to be Souleiman, she becomes increasingly convinced it’s the real deal. But how can that be true when Souleiman is dead?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I have to admit the meandering, rather unconnected plot for most of the film was a distraction for me. There’s not a ton of structure here, though the way the end ties everything together is eminently satisfying. And the Gothic ambience really steals the show here, what with the mysterious fires, ghostly appearances, and possessions.

The Atlantic Ocean is a huge part of this atmosphere, and its many moods reflect the film’s translated title, Atlantics. Then again, perhaps the marketing team simply wanted to make sure results from The Atlantic weren’t the only results when searching for the film’s title. Either way, it cannot be a coincidence that the Atlantic here promises a new life for those crossing the ocean. This, unsurprisingly, is a false promise, as it was historically for Africans transported by boat into slavery. The film’s themes of exploitation, labor, and capitalism weigh heavily on us as an audience.

Also impossible to ignore are director Mati Diop’s feminist themes. It’s refreshing to see Ada pursue what she wants rather than what her family and faith demand of her. I also have so much time for the way the young women in this film demand compensation for the deceased workers of the construction crew. Even though they are possessed by the spirits of men, it is the women Mr. Ndiaye must contend with, and whose physical bodies intimidate him into meeting their demands. Female power plays a vital role in seeing some measure of justice carried out.

Would my blog wife meet with this one in secret or set it ablaze like it’s a marriage bed? Find out in her review!