Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tigers Are Not Afraid, or: Feelings Are Very Dead

Watch whatever you want in November, they said. It will be fun, and you will in no way regret the gloomy weather reflecting the dark tone of your films, they said. Well, guess what: this week’s pick for the Collab is incredibly heavy, but (spoiler?), well worth the watch.

The Film:

Tigers Are Not Afraid

The Premise:

A group of children flee the leaders of a violent drug cartel after stealing a phone that stores incriminating information.

The Ramble:

In a small town in Mexico, warring drug cartels have unleashed violence on their enemies and bystanders alike. With classes suspended due to the violence, young Estrella has little to distract her from her mother’s disappearance. Gifted 3 pieces of chalk that will give her 3 wishes, Estrella first requests her mother come back.

Unfortunately, this wish goes badly as Estrella’s mother has died but now haunts her. As she waits in her empty house, a looter breaks into the house to steal anything left of value. The looter is Shine, a child no older than Estrella, advises her to leave as the only people who will return are the members of the Huascas cartel.

four children stand behind the tall bars of a white fence

Acknowledging that she can’t make it on her own, Estrella tracks down Shine and his crew, a group of orphaned boys living in a makeshift home on the streets. The group is in added danger at the moment as Shine has stolen the gun and phone of one of the Huascas–and there seems to be something on the phone they are none too keen to share on Instagram. After the group is ambushed for the phone, the Huascas abduct the youngest and cutest of the kids.

a girl sits in an improvised shelter outside, a boy next to her

To prove her trustworthiness and to get their brother back, Shine charges Estrella with taking out Caco, the man who is after them. Though armed with a gun, Estrella is fully prepared to use a wish to kill Caco; as it turns out, neither murder weapon is needed as he has already been shot. Estrella decides there’s no need for the others to know this and fudges the truth just a bit. Either way, the gang is back together again, though with some additional traumatized children stolen by the Huascas.

After Estrella has a dream about a mansion with a swimming pool and soccer field, she insists the group relocate–not least so they can hide from the Huascas. When they break into an abandoned mansion, it seems Estrella was right, and the children can briefly act like children.

a girl stands in a room of an abandoned house, walls stripped bare and floor covered with a muddy puddle

However, it’s not long before reality catches up to our group of orphans, and Estrella realizes they will have to take drastic action to escape the Huascas. Calling a truce with leader of the Huascas, Chino, Estrella promises to return the phone as long as the Huascas get off their back.

Is this truce the miraculous answer to their problems the children have waited for?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh, my heart. The story itself is devastating, made even more impactful by its telling through the eyes of children. The members of the Huascas cartel are merciless, interpreting all around them, including children, as either obstacles or products to be used or sold. Through all of this, the children struggle to make sense of the world and find hope despite the relentless terror they live with.

The cartel’s victims as ghosts seeking revenge is effective, and shows the real horror of humanity to be much more disturbing than restless spirits. More chilling is witnessing the children seeing violence on a daily basis and becoming immune to it. They also discuss murder quite casually, both as they see it and commit acts of violence themselves that test their innocence and resilience.

The titular tigers appear throughout the film as a bit of a magic realism, asking the question of what it means to be fierce and what a fighter looks like.

Well worth a watch, but you may need some tissues, comfort chocolate, and/or a fuzzy animal to cuddle.

Would my warrior blog wife give this one a gentle cuddle or a swift slash at the throat? Read her review here to find out!

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

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

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

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

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

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

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

The Uncondensed Version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

a man looks off-camera while wearing a striped sweater

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Kolya, or: I’m Czeching You Out

First pick of foreign film-athon! This one is Kolya, Czech film and winner of the Foreign Language Oscar in 1996. A well-deserved win? Mmmmmmm…we’ll see. I’m sure the fabulous Christa has many thoughts about this too!

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A curmudgeonly old cellist must take care of his Russian wife’s child after she ditches for West Germany.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Based on the trailer and the emotional, cloud-watching from an airplane at the beginning, I expected this movie to break my heart. And it did…it just took a long time. A reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally fucking long time.

Basically, the setup is that Louka is a grumpy old man who plays cello with a quartet, mostly for funerals. Though he used to play with the philharmonic, Louka now performs odd jobs, like restoring headstones because he’s been blacklisted for Communist reasons (I think?). He is also a full-time creep, whether to the woman singing with the quartet, women he tutors, or random young women on the street. I think we’re supposed to take away from this that he’s lonely…but seriously, if you’re going to be that creepy, you shouldn’t be shocked when women stay as far away from you as possible.

A man leans toward a woman in bed, telling her "Music means celibacy."
{Insert eye roll HERE}

So anyway…this is the gross version of The Concert (which is an excellent film AND stars Mélanie Laurent). That is until Louka’s friend offers him a way to make quick money: marry this young Russian lady who doesn’t want to get deported. Louka is super fucking skeptical at first, but ultimately agrees as the money will allow him to buy a new car. And in Soviet Czechoslovakia, “new” means “rust-free.” GUYS.

It takes almost 40 minutes for the ENTIRE PREMISE OF THE MOVIE to happen, but it’s pretty great when it does. The Russian lady’s son, Kolya, shows up on Louka’s doorstep as she suddenly left to be with her boyfriend in West Germany. Louka does his best to take care of the kid, but is at heart a bit of a grump. To be fair, the kid is kind of an asshole and won’t even take his hand to cross the street. SAFETY, kid.

An elderly man reads a magazine in bed as a child sleeps on the other end. He tells the child "Stop snivelling and sleep. One night won't kill you."
Really relating to Louka at this moment.

Louka pretty much decides to continue as usual with things like giving cello lessons and being really shady. I’m sorry, but what do women find attractive about this dude??? He looks like the Czech Hemingway.

One of Louka’s last attempts to pawn the kid off on someone else fails when Kolya’s grandmother dies. So we get some different montages of really cute days out, honestly, and Louka being nice. Like he buys 5 tickets to a Russian movie so Kolya can see it. And he even speaks broken Russian over a loudspeaker in order to find Kolya when he gets lost in the subway. Now when Louka is calling women late at night, he’s asking if they can read the kid a story in Russian.

An elderly man looks at a young boy, saying "I'll probably keep him.'"
One of many heart-slaying moments.

It turns out Kolya doesn’t know when his birthday is, so Louka invents one and gives him a violin. Everything is going just swimmingly, so of course this is when the social services office shows up regarding his claim from months before.

Not sure I’m selling this one particularly well, but the ending will rip your heart out and stomp all over it unless you are made of STONE. If you make it there.

The Critique:

The emotional moments of this film were so fucking successful, though it really doesn’t take much to overload my feelings right now. Let’s be generous and say it’s not me, it’s the film.

HOWEVER, if we hadn’t been watching for the blog, though, I probably would have given up way earlier and missed out on the emotional payoff. Louka was just such a fucking creep, and he didn’t really change that much through the course of the film. I expected the movie to focus a lot more on the evolution of the relationship between Louka and Kolya, but the growth was really just a series of montages (I need to stop using that word because now I have “Montage” from Team America stuck in my head). There were a lot of angry tirades about the Russians, the Czech government, and Communism in general. It had the warm fuzzies and political indignation of Billy Elliot, but I was totally lacking the context of what the hell was going on in the Czech Republic at the time.

A man crouches in front of a young boy, telling him "You're expansionists!"
Pretty sure you’re not really clearing anything up there, Louka.

Maybe if you’re less of a philistine or a better world citizen than I you will like this film.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Honestly, that is a rather arbitrary rating because I’m not sure how to feel about this movie.  When it was good, it was excellent…and when it was bad it was so damn directionless.

See what Christa thought here!