Film Reviews, Collaborative Blogging

The Banshees of Inisherin, or: We Are Not A-mulesed

Even though, as usual, this year’s Oscar nominations reflect some bullshit, there are always a few films genuinely worthy of recognition. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Everything Everywhere All at Once to go home with as many awards as it can…though I won’t be too upset if this week’s film picks up some wins.

The Film:

The Banshees of Inisherin

Director:

Martin McDonagh

The Premise:

Following years of friendship, a man living on a small Irish island finds his world rocked when his best friend abruptly decides to end their relationship.

The Ramble:

Pádraic is a happy, laid-back fellow content to lead a rather routine existence on a small island off the coast of Ireland. Though it’s 1923 and we’ve really only scratched the surface on all of the horrors unfolding in 20th century Ireland, life on the island seems so removed, wrapped up in its own everyday affairs.

While not renowned for his smarts (and frequently responding to questions with a clueless “Huh?”), Pádraic considers his reputation for being a nice guy more important. This makes it all the more shocking when, out of the blue, his best friend Colm upends their friendship by deciding it’s no longer worth his time. Perhaps equally upsetting, he disrupts their long-observed tradition of heading to the pub for a 2:00 drink.

For quite a while, Pádraic refuses to believe Colm is entirely serious, or that this matter can’t be resolved. After all, the two have always gotten along well despite their different personalities, and there’s no identifiable disagreement that has come between them. Pádraic’s sister Siobhán assures her brother the two bffs will patch things up, even temporarily overlooking Pádraic’s insistence on allowing their donkey, Jenny, inside the house for a cuddle.

As Inisherin is a tiny island, everyone knows everything going on–and has an opinion on it. The bartender at the local pub sympathizes, while scary old woman in a cloak Mrs. McCormick (my favorite character, honestly) offers only vaguely menacing predictions. With Colm no longer his friend, Pádraic has only police officer’s son Dominic to pal around with, despite him being somewhat of a creep.

Pádraic even goes so far as to encourage the local priest to intervene, leading to a memorable scene in which he refuses to absolve Colm following confession. From this point on, things really escalate as Colm puts down a hard boundary: any time Pádraic talks to him, Colm will cut off one of his own fingers and send it to him. Counterintuitively, this seems to be the only way for Colm to ensure he has the time to create a legacy: the fiddle music he will compose.

As the two men stubbornly draw their battle lines, their feud ripples across the island in unexpected ways, causing irreversible changes…and even death.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For such a sad story that in many ways stands in for the Irish Civil War, this is a surprisingly funny film–admittedly very darkly funny. There’s some excellent dialogue here, which more often than not reveals the absurdity of small-town life in Inisherin. I genuinely laughed at some of Pádraic’s interactions with Mrs. McCormick, and a scene where he convinces a student of Colm’s that a bread van has left his father in critical condition that is hilarious…if mean-spirited.

Both of our protagonists are vividly drawn, and despite their reputations undergo a tragic sort of reversal. Pádraic’s existence as a nice person who wants to quietly maintain the status quo is upended as he becomes cruelly calculating. Meanwhile, Colm’s standing as one of the island’s cleverest is questionable as he self-sabotages his plan for posthumous renown through song composition what with the finger severing. In exchanges with Siobhán, Colm also proves himself not to be as insightful or well-read as others on the island may believe.

It does hit close to home to imagine being confronted with the horrible reality that, all along, those closest to you can’t stand you. As much as I feel for Colin Farrell’s Pádraic with his big, sad eyebrows, Colm’s preference for something truthful and long-lasting over the status quo rings true as well. It does seem tragic that the answers lie somewhere in the middle, and there are some moments of tension when it seems things could be resolved. Yet both men ultimately take an extreme stance from which they will not budge.

As much as I enjoyed this one, though, I could have happily watched a movie exclusively focused on Jenny the donkey.

Would my blog wife cuddle this one like an indoor donkey or refuse to even sit in the same pub? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Wonder, or: Crimea River

In a free for all month on the Collab, some of the tonal shifts can be…jarring. This week’s film is one of our more extreme examples, veering from campy ’80s slasher to moody Irish period drama. What can I say? We’re a partnership with eclectic tastes.

The Film:

The Wonder

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

The Premise:

An English nurse takes a job in rural 19th-century Ireland, caring for a child who claims she no longer eats but instead survives miraculously on manna.

The Ramble:

Arriving on Irish shores just a few years after the potato famine, English nurse Elizabeth Wright fully anticipates the rather chilly welcome she receives. What comes as a surprise is the nature of the well-paid assignment she has accepted; rather than provide medical care, Mrs. Wright will be one of two “watchers” overseeing a unique case. Following reports of an 11-year-old girl who claims to live on manna from heaven rather than food, Elizabeth (Lib to her friends) brings a medical perspective; the other watcher is a nun, Sister Michael.

Taking a scientific approach to things, Lib immediately suspects the girl, Anna, of inventing stories. After all, it’s medically impossible for anyone to keep in such good health without eating for months. During their time together, Lib remains skeptical but begins to seek answers elsewhere as Anna truly believes she is experiencing a miracle. Who might have something to gain from the attention: the local officials, Anna’s doctor, her own family?

While Lib begins to unravel the mystery, she encounters a significant amount of sorrow, including her own. Anna’s brother died young, and his presence is very much haunting the family (though not in the literal horror movie way typical for this blog). The trauma of recent (and upcoming) Irish history looms large, as well as the legacy of colonialism across the globe. Closer to home, how much grief is Lib herself holding onto as she was a nurse in the Crimean War, now a widow, and keeps a hidden stash of laudanum to help her sleep at night.

Though Lib initially scorns journalist William’s investigation of the story, their conversations help her to process her theories. Suspecting that Anna’s mother secretly gives food to her child, Lib bans the family from visiting. As Anna’s health deteriorates quickly, it seems Lib is onto something–but whose convictions will prevail in this battle of wills?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s no secret that I love a period drama, and this one is done very well. In addition to the beautiful landscapes and social commentary I’d expect from a quality entry in the genre, there are some careful details that elevate this film. One: most of the characters have ONE outfit–which, as much as a I love a period costume, tracks. Lib’s dress in particular shows wear and tear, and the hem is always covered in mud.

The pace is deliberately slow and reflective, uncovering some of the deep sadness of Irish history and the characters we follow. I appreciate that some of the themes addressed here aren’t typical for a period drama, particularly the contemporary reflection on colonialism and the trauma behind Anna’s self-imposed starvation. No spoilers for this, but it’s quite tragic.

Not to say this is a miserable film devoid of joy; it’s actually quite hopeful in places. Florence Pugh, as always, is best when scheming, but she delivers a compelling performance throughout.

As far as criticism goes, I do find the opening and closing scenes reminding us this is a film rather pretentious and unnecessary. There are also SO MANY scenes of Lib eating in contrast to Anna’s fasting that it occasionally borders on parody. And, if I’m being honest, William comes across as more prop than human. However, these are fairly minor complaints in a film that tells its story well.

Would my blog wife wander the bogs with this one or secretly slip it some laudanum? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Handsome Devil, or: Rugby, Bloody Rugby

I’m not going to lie: I watched season 2 of Derry Girls way too quickly and have so many regrets. Where will I get my fix of lovely Irish accents and teenage hijinks now??? Luckily, it’s free for all month on the Blog Collab, and this week’s film checks all of those boxes and then some. Including rugby…?

The Film:

Handsome Devil

The Premise:

As seemingly the only boy at his school not obsessed with rugby, Ned is a loner who definitely doesn’t care to befriend his new roommate, transfer student and team captain Connor.

The Ramble:

The new school year is beginning at an elite Irish boarding school, and loner Ned is less than thrilled. Openly gay and openly not a fan of rugby, Ned has very few fans and quite a few bullies. Though clever, Ned chooses a quiet life of underachieving rather than expending much effort in class. Instead of writing personal poems for class, he opts for using lyrics from ’70s and ’80s alternative rock songs his stuffy English teacher will never recognize.

A teenage boy sitting in a classroom holds a rugby ball disdainfully.

Things are looking up when Ned surprisingly gets his own room for the year; however, it’s not long before transfer student Connor becomes his roomie. Expelled from his previous school for fighting and immediately crowned rugby captain of the new school, it seems Connor and Ned will never get along, let alone become friends. Ned decides to preempt any rejection from Connor by putting up a wall dividing their two sides of the room.

When a new English teacher Mr. Sherry (played by Andrew Scott, Moriarty from Sherlock, Sexy Priest from Fleabag, and Irish dreamboat) arrives at the school, he brings some big changes. Taking no shit, Mr. Sherry makes it clear bullying and homophobia will not be tolerated–nor will Ned’s habit of using others’ voices instead of his own.

A teacher stands in front of a classroom, hands held open.

After Ned and Connor bond over their shared interest in music, Ned takes the wall down. The two finally become friends when Mr Sherry encourages them to enter a talent show. However, guitar practice begins to interfere with rugby practice, which does not please the team.

The distraction isn’t enough to set the team back, and the lads all go out for celebratory drinks after a win. Hoping to surprise Connor with his interest in the rugby team’s victory, Ned glimpses his roomie entering a gay bar. There, Connor runs into none other than Mr. Sherry cozying up with his partner. Mr. Sherry becomes something of a sounding board for Connor, and the relationship between the two is quite sweet.

A man and teenage boy in school uniform sit, facing straight ahead, on an empty train.

The school’s homophobic rugby coach is none too happy about all of this distracting Connor from his commitment to the team. As Connor is very much in the closet, coach (I can’t be bothered to look up his name) depends on his anxiety about being associated with his gay roomie in order to drive them apart. Connor leaves Ned hanging before their talent show performance, and thus shots are fired.

All of this changes during a pep rally in which Ned is targeted by the rugby team to cheer. Angry with Connor and the entire team, Ned outs his roommate to the whole school at this point.

After this incident, Ned is expelled and Connor goes missing. Is there any way for the friendship between these two roomies to bounce back after this?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is quite a sweet addition to the LGBTQ high school genre. I really appreciate that the message is about friendship and acceptance rather than the only two gay kids in school magically being perfect soulmates. Ned and Connor are great friends, but there is never a sense that being gay and roommates means they’re meant to be romantically involved.

I also appreciate the way the film handles multiple identities and the ways we belong to different groups because of and in spite of them. Sometimes opting out because your group, team, community is imperfect robs you of the opportunity to enjoy and improve them. And the teachers in this film have things to learn from their students, without (all of them) coming across as completely incompetent.

The oddness of the film is that it’s told from Ned’s perspective even though the story is mostly about Connor. This has potential as Ned is a cute ginger and certainly grows as a character throughout the course of the film; however, Connor comes through all of this looking much better and acting like less of a jerk. I don’t feel that Ned’s outing of Connor is set up well enough in the film, so Ned ultimately looks very petty and vindictive. Not okay to out someone, and especially not out of malice.

I think it goes without saying that Andrew Scott is great in this, though our two young leads deserve a lot of credit. BTW, Roose Bolton is in this, being appropriately scummy as the rugby-obsessed headmaster determined to recapture his youth. Just in case that convinces you to watch (or not watch).

Would my dream roomie sing a duet with this one or tackle it immediately? Find out in her review here!

a woman in a dress talks to a woman wearing an oversized jacket as they sit in a bridal shop
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Date for Mad Mary, or: Quite Contrary

I think the overarching theme of this month is that it’s proven too real for us.  Our pick this week manages to be somewhat more uplifting while remaining emotionally devastating in a way we’ve come to expect (and enjoy to some degree–we’re pretty masochistic).

The Film:

A Date for Mad Mary

The Premise:

Immediately after release from prison seems as good a time as any to plan a wedding, dress up as characters from Mamma Mia, and make bold claims about fictional boyfriends.

The Ramble:

Mary has just been released from a brief stint in prison, a fact willfully ignored by her bff Charlene and just about everyone else.  There’s more important shit going down…like Charlene’s wedding in just a few short weeks.  In spite of all that’s happened, Mary is ready for her life to go back to the way it was and to get up to her usual antics with Charlene.

As we know, weddings are important, blah blah blah, but it’s all a bit much for Mary, who is so not into the frilly lace and passive-aggressive snarkiness of it all (the bride gives Mary a CD with elocution lessons—say what?).  What our girl Mary is really angling for is a carefree night at the club with her bestie, but there always seems to be some element of the wedding rudely sabotaging their friendship.  Or is it something that’s been festering for a long time?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

a woman lies in bed holding a cell phone to her ear
U up?

When Mary goes out to the club on her own, it’s obvious she has a bit of a temper.  Bouncers seem to have it in for her as the unexplained mystery of Mary’s prison sentence had something to do with a drunken night out and a short temper.  It’s not long before Mary is sent home without $200 for passing go.

Impulsively (as she does most things), Mary proclaims she’ll need a plus one for her super smokin’ hot boyfriend.  The problem, of course, being that Mary doesn’t have a boyfriend and seems to have very little interest in dating or attracting members of the opposite sex.  In fact, it becomes pretty clear that Mary may be more than a little bit in love with her bestie.  Or is she in love with the person Charlene used to be?

Two women sit outside on the steps of a building, eating ice cream
My milkshake brings all the girls to the stairs…

Either way, checking things off the massive wedding plan list has just become a lot more complicated.  Additional wrench thrown into the plan arrives in the form of Jess, the videographer for Charlene’s big day.  Having left things too late, Mary begs Jess to cancel the gig she has with her band that night.  Reluctantly, Jess agrees, but only because Mary’s a babe and the two share a connection.  *winky face*

a woman with a guitar case faces another woman on a dark street
Is that a guitar in your case or…oh, it is a guitar?

Mary does seem to finally have a date, though not the one Charlene is expecting.  Jess is willing to go along with this but balks when it becomes clear how often Mary’s sole purpose seems to be making Charlene angry and jealous.

Alone once again and falling back into old patterns, Mary decides to get her drink on and go pick a fight.  Is it too late for her to change her habits and accept herself the way she is?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really liked this one, so it probably deserves a better rating.  That being said, I was completely unable to separate my reaction to this film from my feelings toward Charlene, who is an utterly horrid person.  At the end of the day, the emphasis on Mary and Charlene’s relationship is that it has changed (necessarily), but my biggest takeaway was that she was a shit friend.  The elocution lessons CD was fucked up, then writing a maid of honor speech for her, along with the complete unwillingness to support her friend through a difficult time–all really fucked up things to do.

I feel this was a deliberate commentary on my ability to let go of things.  In this case, Mary and Charlene had a rather toxic friendship, but it was still hard to watch a one-sided relationship and see Mary’s realization that their friendship was no longer what it once was.

Would this be my blog wife’s plus one or would she tackle it in a drunken brawl?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Grabbers, or: Alcohol Is the Answer

New round of Jillian & Christa’s Great Blog Collab! Compare/contrast with Christa’s excellent review here on her blog.

(We’re just going to pretend it’s still Sunday or I have to acknowledge my role as the worst collaborator in history. Worse than the Nazi collaborators.)

The Film:

Grabbers

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Premise:

Alien tentacle monsters terrorize a small Irish island until everyone realizes liquor solves all of your problems. Or at least all of your alien tentacle monster problems.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

In the beginning, an ominous light streaks across the sky towards Earth (presumably aliens).

Whatever THE THING is (yeah, it’s aliens), when it crashes off the coast of Ireland, it takes out the entire crew of a fishing trawler (admittedly, a very small fishing trawler).

What will happen next??? Will we discover humanity is the true monster? (No, it’s the alien tentacle monster.)

Cut to eager young policewoman arriving on a small Irish island. A hungover cop is there to greet her/grumble and generally act like a dick.

Meanwhile, shots of the gorgeous Irish coast are interrupted by a significant number of small-ish whales washed up on the beach (immediately thought this would be a Star Trek IV rip-off, and the Enterprise crew would turn back time to save the whales). At this point, we get two stories of ocean life gone wrong—the first follows the whales, which the police and a marine ecologist investigate. Marine ecologist Russell Tovey (actual actor who has been in real movies; you have now entered the Twilight Zone of bad movies) says sometimes these pilot whales just wash ashore for reasons no one understands. The power of science has failed us, just like it’s failed to bring us a reliable method of teleportation.

This is by far the most gorgeous monster movie I’ve ever seen.

Other ocean life gone wrong story happens when a crusty old fisherman, Paddy, catches what he describes as a lobster. (In the words of another Irishman, “It’s no feckin’ lobster.”) Paddy VERY wisely decides to give the “lobster” a new home in his bathtub. Largely because he is in a constant state of intoxication, Paddy brags about his discovery to anyone who will listen, including that cop, O’Shea, who is not so secretly an alcoholic.

O’Shea is definitely really into new cop Nolan, which he makes embarrassingly clear by showing up at her door drunk and asking her out. She responds by putting him in lock-up for the night.

At the same time, the creatures kills at least 3-4 more people. The “lobster” in Paddy’s bathtub has migrated to the ceiling and attacks him (coincidentally, it looks quite a lot like the tentacle/vagina monster from Watchmen).

I decided not to use the tag “Vagina monster” for this post (to avoid [more] internet creep traffic), so I’ll make up for it now: vagina monster vagina monster vagina monster vagina monster vagina monster.
All of this is punctuated with some gorgeous shots of the island. Sea monster tentacle aliens or not, I want to live on this island.

Next day: Smith, the marine ecologist, is studying the grabber (as Paddy calls it). Based on the structure of its tongue, the grabber must attack its victims and drink their blood like a leech. It essentially just needs blood and water to survive. This particular specimen was pregnant and full of grabber baby eggs.

It was pregnant and full of grabber babies. Smith suspects the whales were killed and used as a food source for the spawn.

After investigating one of the grabber attacks, Nolan and O’Shea return to the lab, where they light the grabber on fire. That’s right—IN THE LAB, which triggers the sprinkler system. Remember how the grabbers just need blood and water to survive? As Smith comments, “You really are Irish” (apologies to the Irish).

a man examines a creature with octopus-like tentacles in a lab setting; a woman stands beside him with a fire extinguisher ready
At least Nolan is on stand-by with the fire extinguisher? However, everything else about this picture demonstrates terrible fire safety.

The grabber attacks O’Shea’s face so he becomes difficult to distinguish from Davy Jones in POTC. It then turns to Paddy, but shows little interest in his blood. The old drunk guy is still alive, and the thing wasn’t interested in him; so they realize Paddy’s blood-alcohol level would’ve been toxic to it.

Brilliant plan: have a lock-in at the pub, stay out of the way, and drink. The only problem is that Nolan doesn’t drink and doesn’t even know if she can get drunk, which leads to an inspirational speech from O’Shea. As it turns out, Nolan CAN get drunk. Slurry, giggly, stumbly drunk. After the island doctor injects the tentacle monster with Nolan’s blood, there is one less tentacle monster to worry about.

So the cops get everyone to the pub, and the small group of people that knows about the real reason for the party discusses defense plans.

When a supersized version of the tentacle monster crashes the party along with some of the tentacle monster babies, the cops move the party upstairs. A fight breaks out because of course it does; there are many drunk Irish people in a small, enclosed space (sorry again, Ireland).

When the islanders realize the reason for the party, they start brainstorming, coming up with some GREAT drunk ideas like throwing a bomb at the monster or pushing it off a cliff. TOTALLY going to work. Finally, Nolan comes up with the least terrible idea to catch it with a crane and leave it out to dry. Unfortunately, she also inadvertently lights the pub on fire.

Will the plan succeed??? Does this movie suddenly become The Towering Inferno??? Can the poor Irish villagers ever stop drinking???

For dramatic effect, I will leave these questions unanswered. Also because this post is already 1,000 words long, and I need to cut myself off.

Seriously, I think you should watch this.

The Critique:

This movie has way better production values that I expected; it’s an IFC Film, and the effects/acting/film techniques are decent to good. Even if this movie were totally awful, the beautiful shots of the Irish coast would make up for it (though this movie is far from awful). It was surprisingly subtle/non-exploitative, especially for a horror-comedy. As Christa notes, most of the time I was laughing with the movie rather than at it. The entire experience was like stepping into the Twilight Zone, but in a good way—like in that episode where the grandmother comes to live with the kids and everyone is pretty much okay when she turns out to be a robot.

a landscape shows houses sitting on the coast, rolling hills behind them
Seriously, the most charming fucking setting for a horror film ever.

Biggest complaint is that there were several times I had to turn on the captions, especially to understand Paddy and other drunk characters (plus there was a character named Tadhg, for feck’s sake. So many consonants, so few vowels).

Also one of the lessons of this movie is sorta that love solves all of your problems, including and especially, alcoholism. But hey, that’s Hollywood.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I know; this rating is losing all meaning because I use it for EVERY film.

Check out Christa’s review here.