Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Beach Rats, or: Why, Teens

Though Gay July is technically over, we’re keeping the party going for one last film.  Much like the summer itself, this week’s pick is fine while it lasts…but it’s also ok when it ends.

The Film:

Beach Rats

The Premise:

A Brooklyn teen struggling with his sexuality and father’s terminal illness opts for summer distractions over facing reality.

The Ramble:

Frankie’s maybe not having the best summer ever in a sort of you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here way.

By day, he chills with his muscly Brooklyn bros on the beach.  By night, he gets turned on by naked dudes on Chatroulette.  Desperately trying to avoid thinking about his dying father or face his mother’s disapproval, Frankie spends most of his time out and about…a titular beach rat?

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Initially, Frankie seems interested in Simone, a girl he meets while at Coney Island watching fireworks he very symbolically finds dull.  I may be digging a bit too much for symbolism here, but he seems most intrigued by Simone when she’s literally wrapped in a large yellow python.

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Is that a python you’ve got or are you just happy to see me…?

Very much in the closet, Frankie is very hot and cold with Simone.  Wanting to keep up the facade of his macho straight dude act, Frankie tries to hold onto Simone without getting too close.  However, since he’s not at all interested in sex with Simone, this proves rather difficult.

At the same time, Frankie is very much interested in taking his Chatroulette adventures a step further and meeting up with men for sex.  This is done rather sketchily in parks at night, though frequently includes the bonus of getting high.

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When Frankie shares with his friends that he’s been pretending to be gay in order to get high, they predictably take this to a dark place, leaving Frankie morally conflicted.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Maybe it’s the muscle relaxers I’m on talking, but I’m falling asleep just thinking about this one.  Not a whole lot happens in terms of plot, character development, or relationship building.  Frankie is ok, but that’s about the strongest response I can convey about him.   His choices are understandable but frustrating to watch as they keep him emotionally distant from his friends, family, and sexual partners.  Though safe from rejection and homophobia, Frankie seems to have an emotionally empty life.

Also, I have come to the personal conclusion that I just don’t want full-frontal male nudity onscreen.  More asses would be fine, but definitely not more dicks.  What can I say–apparently I’m a PG-13 girl living in an R-rated world.

Would Christa meet this one in the dark or immediately block user?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Margarita with a Straw, or: La La La La Lai-la

I can’t believe we’re already starting to wrap up the Summer of Love, AKA Gay July.  This week’s film tells a story we usually don’t see on film about a young woman from India with cerebral palsy learning to love ladies, guys, and herself.

The Film:

Margarita with a Straw

The Premise:

A young Indian woman with cerebral palsy studies abroad in New York, where she develops her sense of self, interest in Apple products, and sexual identity.

The Ramble:

Laila is a young Indian woman living with her music-loving family:  dad who always sings off-key, brother constantly making snide remarks, and problem-solving mother who can seemingly do anything.  As a woman with cerebral palsy, Laila gets around in a wheelchair, hangs with her bestie Dhruv at school, and is never caught without a trusty (controversial?) plastic straw.  Laila is almost always smiling and happy, but she hides her feelings of insecurity and shame about her disability behind this facade.

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Though she doesn’t play an instrument, Laila loves music and writes lyrics for her band.  She’s somewhat confused when she finds herself attracted to two different members of the band, one of whom happens to be female.  It’s ultimately the lead singer, Nima, who Laila decides is the man of her dreams until she is rejected.  Not only that, but her band wins the top prize at a competition, which the announcer says to her face is because of her disability.

Too ashamed and discouraged to return to her school, Laila eagerly accepts her mother’s solution:  go to NYU and study creative writing on the scholarship she has recently earned.

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During her first class, Laila’s instructor assigns a student to help her type and take notes.  She initially declines help…until she realizes her assistant will be a rather attractive blonde Brit.

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Soon after, Laila is in for a shock when she happens across a protest against police violence.  As the protest intensifies, the police shut it down with tear gas, leaving behind Laila and another girl, Khanum.  A rebel with parents from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Khanum is blind and very interested in Laila.

As the girls explore the city together, Laila becomes attracted to Khanum, and they begin a relationship in secret.  While Khanum is out and secure in her identity, Laila feels less certain and has absolutely no desire to have that conversation with her family.  Laila’s mother has no clue the girls are more than friends when they decide to move in together.

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Though Laila loves Khanum, she is still attracted to Jared, her British assistant.  After impulsively sleeping with him, Laila keeps this a secret.  Probably for the best as both Laila and Khanum have been invited to spend the holidays with her family.

Inevitably, drama ensues.  Laila decides now is the time to be honest on all fronts, revealing her bisexuality to her mother and hook up with Jared to Khanum.  None of this goes well, but everything is put on hold when a much bigger family crisis emerges.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really love that this film was made–Laila is not a character we see too often on screen.  She feels like a very real character rather than the improbably saintly figure who triumphs over adversity that characters with disabilities often become.  Though she’s optimistic, Laila does feel insecure about how others perceive her disability.  Importantly, she makes mistakes that are frustrating at times but allow her to experience growth as a character.  Despite some of her questionable choices, it’s impossible not to root for Laila.

The character of Khanum is also excellent–what a badass.  She makes the whole Jared situation extra frustrating because he’s so fucking dull by comparison.  Her romance with Laila feels organic, though the main love story in this film is that of Laila with herself.  The relationship between Laila and her mother feels real too; it’s a beautiful relationship, but it’s not perfect.  Both women have emotional limitations that prevent them from connecting at times.

Biggest complaint here is the absence of a musical number about sexuality in the tradition of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Would my blog wife join the protest with this one or fly to New York just to get away from it?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Duck Butter, or: The Longest Day

Summer of Love/Gay July continues!  Though this week’s film definitely throws a huge bucket of water on the sparks of romance, we will continue to celebrate lesbians in the movies.  And lesbians in general, really.

The Film:

Duck Butter

The Premise:

Having met at a club the day before, 2 women embark on an experiment to spend a solid 24 hours together.

The Ramble:

Naima is an aspiring actress who has just landed a coveted gig in a Duplass brothers film (with Kumail Nanjiani in a brief cameo).  Upon her arrival on set, Naima feels immediately out of sync with the other actors and even fails to eat onion rings correctly in the eyes of the directors.  When Naima tells Mark and Jay that this isn’t working, they respond rather condescendingly.

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Later that night, Naima is going on a first date with a girl at some kind of singer-songwriter lesbian club?  (We don’t have these in Ohio.)  When Naima’s date goes off with another girl, Naima becomes fascinated by one of the singers, Sergio.  Sergio is a young woman who may not be the best singer, but she’s certainly the most passionate.  While Naima tries to argue with some older ladies about the bleak world they have left for millennials to inherit, Sergio interrupts with an invitation to dance.

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As the evening winds down, Naima goes back to Sergio’s place and meets the roomies and stray dogs.  After having sex, Naima jokingly suggests they just keep things as they are for the next 24 hours.  Sergio takes her up on this offer only to have Naima “Commitment Issues” McGee back out.

However, after receiving a heads up the next day that she’s being fired from the Duplass brothers film, Naima decides to go along with the plan to spend a solid 24 hours together, sharing absolutely everything.  As in leaving the bathroom door open when one has to take a piss.  Everything.  Oh, and they will have sex once every hour, which just sounds tiring.

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As the night goes on, Naima and Sergio have their ups and downs.  With Sergio’s encouragement, Naima sends a drunken email to the Duplass brothers, essentially telling them to fuck off.  They vent about their mothers, and Sergio rides a bike for the first time.  However, Sergio insults Naima’s fondness for song covers and is furious when she learns Naima changed her mind about the 24-hour experiment because she lost her job.

When Sergio’s mother arrives in town, will it bring Naima and Sergio together or tear them apart?  What about the suggestion of an orgy or the email response of the Duplass brothers?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Good lord, Naima is awful and utterly impossible to get attached to as her character remains so distant throughout the film.  Sergio is at least a bit more interesting, but grows tiresome quickly with all of her armchair psychologist advice that seems ripped from the pages of a paperback self-help book.  The characters are meant to be complex and layered, but they come across as completely unlikeable.

Worst of all, the film is just straight up boring.  The 24 hours Naima and Sergio spend together are the most mundane fucking hours of their lives.  Why lounge around and watch each other take a piss when presumably this is what people in long-term relationships have plenty of opportunities for after they’ve been together for a year?  I was hoping our leading ladies would at least bury a body together, but I would’ve settled for a road trip or taking a drive to the mall.

Color me surprised when the results of this rather boring experiment are…well, boring.

Would Christa spend 24 hours with this one or slam the bathroom door in its face immediately?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Firefly, or: No Weddings and a Funeral

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

The Film:

The Firefly

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

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

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

The Film:

Holy Camp! (La llamada)

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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This is your vision of God too, right?

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

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

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Bestie love.

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

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No caption needed.

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

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

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Right on, Mary.

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

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

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Without hesitation.

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Love, or: Full-Frontal Male Misogyny

In the history of the Blog Collab, there have been only a handful of films so hated that Christa and I cannot contain our rage about them.  This is one of those films.

The Film:

Gaspar Noé’s Love

The Premise:

An awful garbage human being reflects on how he fucked things up with the so-called love of his life.

The Ramble:

Our film begins ever so tastefully in the middle of a 3-minute full-frontal sex scene.  If this is the kind of thing you’re into, good news–you’ll see so many endless, gratuitous sex scenes with all of the nudity.  All of it.

As it turns out, the scene depicts our protagonist and resident misogynist Murphy with his ex-girlfriend and love of his life, Electra.  In the present, Murphy’s memories of her are all he has.  Murphy is unhappily married to a woman named Omi with whom he shares a young son (named Gaspar, JFC).  As the film opens, Murphy learns that Electra is missing and quite possibly dead.

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Can’t…contain…douchebaggery…much longer…

Let’s just pause to appreciate the nature of Murphy’s marriage and the almost superhuman amount of self-pity he feels.  He’d definitely be top pick for Marvel’s Improbably Self-Pitying Misogynist Man.  Murphy believes his wife, Omi, deliberately became pregnant to trap him.  He regularly thinks shit like “I’m sick of this bitch.  Take care of the baby and leave me alone,” “I’m married because of a broken condom,” and “I hope she doesn’t make my son gay.”  What a catch.

As Murphy reflects on his present, he becomes lost in memories of his past with Electra and–lucky for us–details the tragic story of how their relationship unraveled.  When Electra and Murphy meet at a party, he is a film student who wants to make movies out of “blood, sperm, and tears.”  He’s the obnoxious film guy who gets indignant when Electra admits she hasn’t seen 2001.  Give it a rest, bro.

Electra is a struggling artist with a drug problem and a complicated relationship with her parents.  Despite their issues, Electra and Murphy fall into a passionate relationship with an absolutely unnecessary number of sex scenes.  The two believe they will start a family and be together forever because their love is so twu.

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Yet another reason to be grossed out by PDA.

Unfortunately, cracks begin to show quite quickly in this relationship (and not just ass cracks).  Electra’s ex, Noé (eye roll), has a successful gallery whose position to help her makes Murphy super jealous.  As the couple fights more and more, they go to extreme measures to save their relationship.  Naturally, this includes a visit to a gross underground sex club (I almost vomited when I thought about people having to clean this place), hiring a trans sex worker, and a threesome with a pretty young neighbor, Omi…aka Murphy’s future wife.

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A rare moment of fully-clothedness.

What happened to drive the final nail in the coffin?  And will Electra ever be seen again?  Does anyone give a shit?

The Rating:

1/5 Angry Pink Panther Heads

Ugh, the only thing worse than seeing Murphy’s dick so many times that it stops looking real is hearing this douchebag’s internal monologue throughout the film.  I have absolutely no sympathy for this dude’s existential angst as everything bad that’s happened to him is his own fucking fault yet he still doesn’t learn to treat women better.

Just for fun, a selection of Murphy’s internal thoughts:

“A dick has only one purpose:  to fuck.”  (Dicks fuck assholes.)

“Men understand each other; we have respect for each other.”

“I’m not a slave to pussy.  Pussy is pussy.”

The nature of Murphy and Electra’s relationship is also horrific.  This film should’ve just been called Sex or Fucking because what they share is not love.  The two spend an insufferable amount of time talking about what a great couple they are, but they’re actually the worst.

Only watch this one if you want to watch a porno while insisting to your friends at a party that this is true art.

Would Christa have a self-pitying wallow with this one or cover it quickly with a towel (and/or kill it with fire)?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

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

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

The Film:

The Art of Loving

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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…of wearing super chic boho-style headscarves.

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

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

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WWII lulz,

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

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

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We’ll always have Lubieniec…

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

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

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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