Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Dark Song, or: Angels & Demons

As much as this month is about trashy horror, it wouldn’t be complete without a moody slow burner about dealing with grief through a countryside retreat to practice occult rituals.  With a man who is essentially an extremely ginger Paul Giamatti.

The Film:

A Dark Song

The Premise:

A woman hires an occultist to perform a ritual allowing her to communicate with her murdered son.

The Ramble:

Sophia has been mourning her son’s unsolved murder for a long time (understandably) and finally decides to do something about it.  Her solution?  Occult ritual to summon a guardian angel that will grant her a request.  Though she claims the request will be to speak with her child one ore time, does Sophia have ulterior motives?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

The occultist she meets with is Joseph, who has had a 1 in 3 success rate, which I guess isn’t too shabby in the occult world?  In order to complete the ritual, Sophia will have to follow Joseph’s instructions without question, some of which are pretty gnarly.  Joseph initially turns down her request, even for a shitload of money, but decides to take on the ritual when she convinces him her motives are pure.

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The film’s original pitch as a road trip comedy was less successful…

 

 

Joseph explains the ritual is basically a journey (I guess he’s a New Age occultist) in which they’ll travel through 5 circles, invoking the angel at all stages.  Most likely, the angel will materialize after the 4th or 5th step.  Of course, there are also really horrific tasks along the way for purification.  Sophia has to do things like shave Joseph’s body (what), spend hours to days reciting from one of the dark magic books (obv I totally know a lot about this kind of thing…) without food or sleep, drinking stemless wine glasses of Joseph’s blood, and getting naked in front of him so he can “purify” himself (gross gross gross).

 

There are some signs that the rituals are working like birds hitting the window and Sophia hearing her son’s voice speaking to her.  However, after a while, it becomes clear that they’re really not getting the intended results from all of the blood drinking and…uh, emergence of other bodily fluids.  As it turns out, Sophia’s real motive is to rain down vengeance on the teens who killed her son in a pseudo-occult ritual (and were never caught).  Joseph says it’s fine as a motive, but lying about it was distinctly not ok.

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Lying is impure, but cigarettes are fine.

 

 

For the ritual to work now, Joseph insists Sophia must be purified, which means nearly drowning her in a cold bath in the middle of the night.

After Sophia’s near-death experience, she’s angry with their lack of progress and lashes out at Joseph.  Things escalate rather quickly in ways that aren’t wonderful for Joseph.  After Sophia tries to leave the house, she discovers she can’t… and of course things get really sinister from here on out.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The eerie ambiance is perfect and burns so slowly, leading to a suspenseful ending.  Not a lot of horror can do what this film does.  However (as always), men ruined it for me.   I had trouble getting around Joseph being an asshole for 95% of his screen time.  Sophia isn’t necessarily the most likeable character ever, but she’s easier to understand and feel sympathy for.  The last 30 minutes or so of this are pure perfection, though, and  (SPOILER) blissfully Joseph-free (sorry, dude).

Would Christa complete an occult ritual with this one or let it drown in the bathtub? Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Cult of Chucky, or: Toy Story 7

The best month on the blog continues with a somewhat less…artistic film?  Unless you consider fake blood and slow-mo glass shattering to be fine artistry.

The Film:

Cult of Chucky

The Premise:

This feels redundant.

The Ramble:

Rather cringey and ill-timed opening conversation about guns aside, what you expect from this film is exactly what you get.  The serial killer-possessed doll is back (yet again) for mayhem and murder.  The first few minutes more or less catch us up to speed with the story so far, which is helpful for me as a viewer who has occasionally seen bits and pieces of the films (except in the way it pervades horror pop culture [is that a thing?]).

Andy, now an adult, has been haunted by Chucky since childhood.  It seems all of the years of murder/psychological warfare have made Andy a bit twisted, as he now keeps Chucky’s head in a safe and brings it out on wild nights to torture it a bit.  Let’s not get into the moral dilemma of this scenario, ok?

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Just another Friday night at home…

Meanwhile, another survivor of Chucky’s madness is suffering quite a bit herself.  Nica is a patient in a high security psychiatric hospital after allegedly going on a murder spree and blaming it all on Chucky.  She has MS and rolls around in a wheelchair (possibly the only horror heroine to do so?!??!).

After gaining better control over her delusions, Nica will move to a medium security facility that’s appropriately ominous.  Even though the nurse Carlos says he’s just doing a job, he seems to be fond of Nica and leaves her a gift of chewing gum.

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What other facility could better promote positive mental health?

The others in the hospital include a woman who claims to be a ghost, a man with multiple personalities, a woman who smothered her own child, and an arsonist who instantly dislikes Nica.  Everyone seems to know about Nica’s dodgy past, which seems like a major ethical violation…but that’s really the least of the psychiatrist’s offenses.

Things are going along, eh, reasonably well, until the ghost lady tells Nica that her niece isn’t doing well…and that Chucky is coming.  For some stupid fucking reason, the psychiatrist decides to bring out a Chucky doll as an exercise, which the patient missing her child instantly claims as her own.   Yeah, about .25 seconds later he’s wielding a knife.

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Still a better super team than the Avengers.

From this point, of course, the bodies start piling up.  And so do the Chucky dolls–in addition to the creepy Chucky head chilling with Andy, there are two dolls in the hospital.

Oh, also, Jennifer Tilly, Chucky’s girlfriend, has adopted Nica’s niece for whatever reason.  Mostly to torture Nica.

At a later point, the psychiatrist tries hypnosis with Nica and reveals what a goddamn sleaze he is.  Will Nica escape both the psychiatrist and Chucky?

And will Andy ever make it to the hospital?  I kind of forgot about him–did you?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is so much fun it’s hard not to like.  The plot avoids going in the direction you expect, and I appreciate the almost complete lack of romance in this (really expected a Nica/Andy hookup and was pleasantly surprised that this didn’t happen).  Most of the characters are really fun to watch and have at least some emotional depth.  The ending manages to surprise and makes the ride even more fun.

It’s also incredibly satisfying to watch a certain wannabe Freud finally fucking die (spoiler/not really a spoiler because you know it’s coming).

Note to filmmakers:  if your horror is set in a psych ward, odds of me liking it increase exponentially.  Also the representation of several of the psychological disorders here was not the worst (I mean, for a horror film).

Would Christa lock this one away or unleash its madness upon the world?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tangerine, or: Donut Underestimate Me

This month’s theme is Blog Free or Die Hard.  Unexpectedly, our secondary theme for this month is the importance of donuts in friendship.  Girl Asleep and Tangerine don’t have a lot in common…but they do share donuts.

The Film:

Tangerine

The Premise:

Remember that movie shot entirely on iPhones?  It’s also one of the first films to gain wide(ish) recognition for its representation of trans women of color.

The Ramble:

After serving a short prison sentence, Sin-Dee is catching up with her bff Alexandra over a donut on Christmas Eve.  Donut singular as Sin-Dee is broke as a joke after being unable to work for the past month.  Both ladies are trans sex workers in LA, which is a niche but pretty in-demand corner of the market.

Alexandra accidentally lets it slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend, Chester, couldn’t even go the past month without cheating on her with a cis white girl.  Enraged, Sin-Dee decides to track down the girl, Dinah, and make her regret the day she was born.

Meanwhile, Alexandra is promoting her event tonight, where she’ll sing at a dive bar.  She invites Razmik, a cab driver and regular client.  Razmik is Armenian with about 8 family members to support, including his wife and young child.

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Alexandra agrees to help Sin-Dee find Dinah and Chester as long as they don’t stir up too much drama.  Sin-Dee breaks this promise pretty quickly and heads off on her own to the food line, a motel, and a donut shop–pissing off virtually everyone she comes across.

When Sin-Dee does find Dinah, she drags her to the bar where Alexandra is performing in an effort to multi-task.  Though Sin-Dee and Dinah begin understandably at odds, they do bond over make-up and meth.

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Razmik tries to make it to the show but arrives too late.  Hoping to see Alexandra, he tells his family he needs to keep working on Christmas Eve.  Suspicious, his mother-in-law hires a cab driver to track Razmik down and uncover the truth.

In the mean time, Sin-Dee, Alexandra, and Dinah have finally managed to track down Chester.  Razmik has also caught up with our crew, along with his mother-in-law, wife, and child.  It’s all about to go down at Donut Time.

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If shit’s going down, it may as well be at a location reliably stocked with donuts.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I tried really hard to like Sin-Dee, but she annoyed me quite a lot throughout the film.  I liked Alexandra a lot better, and the dynamic between the two women made this worth watching–and Dinah makes a surprisingly fitting addition to the team.  Sin-Dee was a bit of an impulsive drama queen, while Alexandra was off in the corner making snide remarks (which I relate to on a fundamental level).

Chester is a total sleaze, but does add some unexpected humor to the film, delivering lines like “You get my ass thrown out of donut time?!” with conviction.  He’s not a likeable character but, like everyone in the film, feels multi-dimensional and real.  I would’ve liked to see him suffer a bit more, honestly (evidence that I’ve become a full-blown sociopath?).

This is a beautifully shot film, and you forget completely that it’s known primarily as the movie shot entirely with iPhones.  The characters are engaging and lively, and our two leads are absolutely the highlight.

Minor point of contention: I don’t remember the title being explained or anyone ever mentioning tangerines.  I’m sure I’m being too literal here, but it drives me nuts that I don’t understand the title.

Would Christa share a donut or two with this one or drag it around town with only one shoe?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Girl Asleep, or: Donuts > Growing Up

This week’s film gives our feelings a break for once as we are transported to an oddly surreal dream world that may or may not be real, aka high school in 1970s Australia.

The Film:

Girl Asleep

The Premise:

A girl’s 15th birthday party goes from awkwardly cringey to bizarrely surreal when a magical music box opens to another realm.

The Ramble:

Greta has recently started at a new school and, rather than trying to make friends, seems to be trying her best to keep a low profile.  Her plan fails when she is approached by two separate groups:  first, Elliot (who is adorable and relatably enthusiastic about donuts), and then the stereotypical “cool” girls.  Both groups want to fold her into their embrace, but Greta seems afraid to speak up about who she’d rather be friends with (though I’d usually encourage girls to stick together…always pick the friendship that begins with donuts).

Life at home seems fairly harmonious at first, but almost immediately the cracks begin to show.  Greta’s father is constantly making terrible dad jokes and trying to stop his youngest child from growing up.  Her mother throws her attention on her daughters as she doesn’t seem to like her husband’s sense of humor–or anything about him as a matter of fact.  Greta’s older sister Genevieve throws the delicate balance off completely by coming home late with a really smooth boyfriend who smokes and tries to give off a bit of a James Dean vibe.

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Have I mentioned that I love the ’70s aesthetic in this film?

After school, Greta invites Elliott over and shows him her favorite thing, a music box passed on to her from her mother.  She likes to imagine it’s from a secret realm.  Hmmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps this plot detail will be important in about 20 minutes.

Greta lives in fear of being the center of attention, so imagine her horror when her mother suggests throwing a big party for her birthday and inviting everyone at school.  The party causes a major fight between her parents, so Greta eventually agrees to have the party to keep the peace.

When the dreaded day of the party arrives, her mother gives her a dress that is very cute but so not her style, and she’s deeply uncomfortable when others tell her she looks so beautiful and grown up.

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I deeply understand this pre-party face.

As the party guests arrive, things begin to get slightly surreal with a pretty nice disco sequence.  The party doesn’t seem to be the nightmare Greta imagined it would be.  However, the cool girls arrive—two of whom are creepy twins who never say anything.  Their gift for Greta is a cassette tape that plays a really mean song about her…which feels like a somewhat sociopathic move, honestly.

Humiliated, Greta retreats to her room.  Her only real friend, Elliott, comforts her and also says he’d like to be more than friends.  This is remarkably bad timing, which causes Greta to freak out and push him away, calling him a homo (not cool, Greta).  Elliot is deeply offended that she considers this an insult in a way that I really appreciate.

To comfort herself, Greta opens up the music box, which seems to gain a life of its own and shocks her.  When she wakes up, there’s a thing from the other realm there that has claimed the music box.  It runs away into the woods (of course), and Greta gives chase.

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Come play with us…

Possibly not shockingly, things get really surreal from here on out.  A woman who lives in the forest helps Greta navigate the woods and steer clear of the scary dog thing that’s pursuing her.  It gets suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper Freudian when she encounters alternate versions of her mother and father, who are an ice queen and a sort of swamp guy, respectively.  There’s also a really unsettling bit with Genevieve’s boyfriend, who has some sort of French alter-ego and comes on strong to Greta.

What does this all mean, and will Greta ever make it back to the party? Does she even want to make it back?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a very gentle coming of age story.  Though it does tackle some heavier themes surrounding Greta’s home life and fear of attention, these receive only brief attention.  I might complain about this if I were in a different mood, but avoiding anything too deep was a breath of fresh air with some very sweet moments and surreal scenes (admittedly with somewhat mixed results).

Elliott is one of my favorite teen characters ever now, though he is perhaps way too nice to be believed.  I don’t care—I want to believe.  I want Elliott to be my best friend.

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Case in point.

The lack of depth is a bit frustrating at times—Greta quickly changes the subject when anyone tries to talk too much about the past, and the surreal scenes don’t really give us any insight into her psyche.  At a certain point they do cross over into artsy film school BS.

It doesn’t help that the real and dream worlds are kept separate—it would have been nice to see them woven together better.  Genevieve briefly alludes to what happened on her own 15th birthday, and as the music box is a gift from her mother, the whole experience could have been a shared experience.  I would’ve LOVED it if there were more time for female relationships in this movie.

However, I enjoyed the aesthetic and this was just whimsical and sweet enough for me to enjoy.

Would Christa share a donut with this one or leave it to get lost in the woods?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Buster’s Mal Heart, or: Manly Mountain Men

This week’s film asks important questions, such as whether those who walk around in their underwear are the most free among us.  Also if the universe is shaped like an apple or a sphincter.  For real.

The Film:

Buster’s Mal Heart

The Premise:

A mountain man who breaks into people’s vacation homes to survive cold winters has lived a very sad and rather non-linear life.

The Ramble:

Buster isn’t having the best New Year’s ever.  A fugitive running from the police for as yet undisclosed reasons, he seeks refuge in a cave in the woods.  It doesn’t take long for us to learn that Buster has been living off of the land for years, surviving winter by breaking in to empty vacation homes.  As New Year’s approaches, he makes increasingly erratic phone calls to local radio stations warning everyone that the inversion is coming.  Though his crimes are relatively low-level, he is nonetheless considered armed and dangerous by the authorities.

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Also seems to have an affinity for candles.

Of course, this isn’t what Buster’s life was always like.  Before his mountain man lifestyle, Buster’s name was Jonah, and he considered himself something of a worker drone.  As a concierge, Jonah works overnight on low pay and little sleep.  He dreams of buying a remote piece of land to live independently with his family.  The current situation for the family is less than ideal—Jonah, his wife, and daughter live with his parents-in-law, who throw a lot of shade his way.

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I’ll admit this scene was cute.

Things start to change when Jonah encounters a stranger at the hotel who approaches him in a suspiciously Christian-Slater-in-Mr. Robot kind of way.  The stranger lives off the grid, with no ID or credit card, but needs a room for the night.  Jonah initially denies this request, but finds himself listening to the stranger’s ideas.  The stranger warns Jonah about Y2K and the inversion and proclaims himself the last free man.  Instead of backing away slowly, Jonah eventually agrees to let the man stay.

Though Jonah loves his family, he feels something is wrong with his heart and fears becoming a slave to the system.  He begins to buy into the stranger’s odd, conspiratorial perspective that the universe is shaped like a sphincter.  When Y2K brings about the inversion, people will dive into that sphincter (from my understanding…?).

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Rami Malek’s audition for Castaway 2…?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his home life begins to crack, his professional life has been soul-crushing for a long time, and Jonah begins to have very dark hallucinations.  What pushed him over the edge to become a roving mountain man?  And will his history of minor crimes become all too serious when an elderly couple returns to find Buster in their house?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not sure I understood this one 100%, and there were times I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be funny?  Having a sphincter-shaped universe seems like more of a comedy element, but most of this film’s content is decidedly heavier.

Rami Malek is great as our conflicted and complex lead, who has so many more layers than we realize at first.  It’s hard not to feel sympathy for him even as [SPOILER] he does incredibly horrifying things.  We let the narrative convince us pretty easily that Buster is a victim even as we see a violent, unstable side of his personality.  The saddest part of this film is that he is a victim–but he also victimizes others.  This film unexpectedly tackles mental health issues in a way that doesn’t blame anyone, though neither does it offer easy answers about living with them.

I’d still sign up for the mountain man lifestyle, though.

Would Christa listen to this one’s conspiracy theories or send it back to the cave where it belongs?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Shimmer Lake, or: Murder Most(ly) Foul

Watching films with a focus on mental health is a great idea, they said.  Movies about serious emotional issues will in no way be too real or fill you with existential dread, they said.

Predictably, they were wrong.  And by “they” I mean “we.”

This month returns us to an old favorite, Blog Free or Die Hard, which promises hours of mindless entertainment.  Or at least no more films about mental health care facilities in the UK (for now).

The Film:

Shimmer Lake

The Premise:

What is the truth behind a small-town bank robbery that has left a trail of bodies in its wake?  The answer may (or may not) surprise you.

The Ramble:

As viewers, we see the story of a small-town bank robbery gone wrong as it unfolds in reverse.  Sheriff Zeke’s concern at this point is finding his brother Andy, one of three suspects, before someone else does.  Zeke seems to be the only competent, upright citizen in the entire town–a rather thankless job.  As it turns out, Andy is hiding out in his own basement with the duffel bag full of cash he conspired to steal.  Great plan…?

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Because where else would you have a payphone if not by an abandoned, decrepit building?

In the robbery’s aftermath, Zeke is shot, 2 people are dead, 2 suspects are on the run, and many people seem to know more than they’re revealing.  Since the money in the vault was federally insured, FBI agents are involved with the investigation, though they create more problems than they solve.

Now on the run are Ed, the ringleader in all of this, and his wife Steph, who rendezvous with Andy to divvy up the cash and get out of town.  That is, until the passenger in Steph’s car shoots Andy and drives away.

As the story unfolds, we see how the conspirators used blackmail and violence to complete their plan (despite their overall incompetence).  It’s also clear Steph plays a much greater role than she initially appears to, lying to the police about threats from Ed and plans to flee to Mexico.  Or is she…?  Her relationship with Ed is tense, and she blames him for the death of their young son in an accident.  Whose side is Steph really on?

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The Staring off Dramatically into the Distance Club met every Thursday…

Additionally, the judge is involved with the robbery as he’s being blackmailed over his much younger male lover just as he’s about to announce his campaign for Senate.  Things don’t end well for quite a few characters who end up being loose ends in this plan…is the judge one of them?

Like any good noir story, the mystery becomes even hazier as we learn that literally everyone in this town is despicable.

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Coincidentally, this seems to be set in Ohio (based on that license plate)…?

Which all leads us to…what really happened the night of the robbery.  It’s probably not what you think.  Or maybe it is; I’m not a mind reader.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, the biggest problem here is that I don’t know if this film is supposed to be funny or not.  There was one moment I recall that made me laugh–in fact, it was almost vaudeville sort of moment when Andy asks Chris to check the radio after the robbery has occurred and Chris turns on the radio to a rather upbeat jazzy tune.  There is unexpected humor throughout the film, but it doesn’t always feel at home.

The more I think about it, I wonder if this was a tactic to catch the viewer off-guard–would you really expect Rainn Wilson and Rob Corddry to work on a dark, gritty project with a dramatic twist?  However, this never completely commits to being funny nor to being a clever film noir; it exists mostly in limbo.

I hoped for more of an IDFAHITWA vibe, so perhaps this was destined to fall short in my eyes.  There’s no Melanie Lynskey (or Elijah Wood), and no one even remotely worth liking or rooting for.  Almost everyone in this film turns out to be utterly incompetent or a complete sociopath.  The female characters are also pretty sloppily written, and even the signature femme fatale manages to fall flat completely.

Main conclusions:

  1. The more I hear the name Zeke, the more I like it.  Potential name for my next cat.
  2. Netflix really, really needs to add more film noir to its streaming collection.  While this wasn’t terrible, I also wanted it to be so much better.

Did my blog wife come back for this one or take the money and run?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

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.

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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?

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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*

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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?  Find out here!