Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Veronica, or: Smells Like Teen Spirits

As an absolute garbage month this year, September can go die in a dumpster fire as far as I’m concerned.  Praise be to all that is unholy it’s once again the most wonderful time of the year:  the month of October, Halloween, and…uh, Mean Girls Day?  You know what that means for the blog:  horror, horror, horror.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Film:

Veronica (2017)

The Premise:

After a Ouija board session gone wrong, 15-year-old Veronica must keep her younger siblings safe and send the demon she accidentally summoned back where it came from.

The Ramble:

The following events are based on a real police report filed in 1991 Madrid, as our film cautions us right out of the gate.  Oooooooooh, spooky!

Though Veronica is just 15 and still in braces, she is the main caretaker for her 3 younger siblings.  Since Veronica’s father died, her mother works long night shifts at a bar, leaving Veronica to get her siblings up and ready for school.  Some days go better than others, depending on Veronica’s alarm clock and the level of her siblings’ brattiness.

The Catholic school Veronica and her siblings attend is all abuzz about the upcoming solar eclipse.  Ominously, Veronica and her friends plan to contact her father using a Ouija board while the rest of the school views the eclipse.  And of course they have to call upon spirits in the creepiest space ever that for some reason is easily accessible to pretty much anyone who can climb down a few metal rungs and is not considered a safety hazard???

I’ve got to say, this made me so nostalgic for the days of actually using giant hulking reference books–for example, The Great Encyclopedia of the Occult consulted in the film.

three teenage girls surrounded by candles hold their fingers to a Ouija board

However, nothing else about the teens’ Ouija experience is as fun as occult reference materials when, instead of reaching the spirit of Veronica’s father, they summon a malevolent demon.  As the board breaks, book catches fire, and the lights flicker off, Veronica seems to be possessed.  When she lies on the floor whispering to herself, then suddenly sits up and screams, all bets are off.  Veronica’s friends are well and truly freaked the fuck out.

At home, things don’t get much better.  Veronica seems to have episodes of being possessed, and both sees and hears a presence in their apartment at different times.  The lights flicker, doors slam open and shut, the TV turns on by itself.  When Veronica gives her brother a bath, the faucet mysteriously turns on with scalding water, giving him burns on his body.

The next day at school, Veronica has a conversation with an elderly blind nun known as Sister Death, who also happens to be a chain smoker.  The Sister warns her there is a presence with her that she must send back from whence it came.  Veronica is also tasked with keeping her siblings safe from the demon she inadvertently summoned.

a blind nun smokes a cigarette in a dark basement

Veronica gets serious about using pagan symbols to protect her siblings and insists all 4 camp out together in the living room that night.  Riled up about demons in the house, the children are terrified when their mother comes home and demands to know what is going on.  Of course Veronica gets a stern lecture because parents just don’t understand.

Determined to be rid of the demon, Veronica tries to enlist the help of her friends in summoning it and sending it away.  Still traumatized by their Ouija session gone wrong, Veronica’s friends refuse to go near the board ever again.

a teenage girl stands with her younger siblings, holding up a cross

Still intending to stick with her plan, Veronica decides she will send the demon back with the help of her younger siblings.  And of course things go horribly, horribly wrong from there, resulting in the infamous real life police report.

What terrors in the report could have traumatized the lead detective on the case and spawned rumors that the house is haunted?  You’ll have to watch the film to find out!  Or I guess you could Google it.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise here is decent and not your formulaic teens who shouldn’t have fucked with a Ouija board horror.  Veronica has depth and is quite sympathetic as a protagonist who wants to connect with her father, later transformed into fierce older sister and protector of her siblings.

However, this just isn’t particularly scary.  There seems to be a checklist of cliche signs of a  demonic possession this film is determined to cross off.  Honestly, the creepiest scene for me was one where Veronica dreams her siblings are attacking and eating her…but we’ve all been there, right?

I absolutely loved Sister Death and her doom and gloom warnings–even if they are too little too late.  If we get a prequel about her, I will be on that so fast.

Would my blog wife summon this one again or send it back ASAP?  Read her review here to find out!

three women stand side by side on a rooftop at night
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bar Bahar (In Between), or: Roomies Before Groom…ies

Bad, United States.  Bad, bad United States.  For once, I’m not talking about the current state of our political affairs.  What is truly disturbing is the way some absolute gems of international cinema slip through the cracks and take months (if not years) to become widely available to a US audience, especially if we have to (god forbid) do some reading while we watch.  That explains how it took so long to get around this week’s film, which is beautifully bittersweet.

The Film:

Bar Bahar (In Between)

The Premise:

3 Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv attempt to navigate the forces of tradition and modernity on their lives and future plans.

The Ramble:

Our main 3 ladies are rather unlikely roommates facing unique challenges as modern Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv.

Leila comfortably bucks tradition, layering on the makeup for her job as a lawyer, and layering it on even thicker for nights at the club.  She is unapologetically living life to the fullest and reveling in her single glory.

a woman passes a cigarette to another woman, telling her "Here, burn your lungs like there's no tomorrow"

Her roommate Salma enjoys a good party too, but leads a double life.  Hailing from a small-town Christian community with a family planning her arranged marriage, Salma struggles to hold down a job but tells her parents she’s a teacher.  As it turns out, Salma is also keeping her sexual orientation a secret–she is a closet lesbian, which is…probably (definitely) going to cause some tension.

Throw Noor into the mix–a shy computer science student who wears a hijab and hails from a devout Muslim family–and there are bound to be some roomie fights over more than whose turn it is to wash the dishes.

a woman in a hijab faces a woman wearing a low-cut dress and a woman in a hoodie

Suspecting judgment from Noor and her fiance, Wissam, Leila and Salma are less than welcoming.  It’s not long before Leila and Salma realize Noor is an incredibly caring person and bond.  Though Wissam would like Noor to stay at home once they are married, Noor is not the traditional woman she appears to be.  She focuses on her studies but seems interested in the group of friends partying in the apartment on a regular basis.

a woman wearing a sweater raises an eyebrow at a woman in a leather jacket

One of the new faces in the group is that of Ziad, a cute and forward-thinking guy who Leila falls for.  She is contentedly in a monogamous relationship for the first time in a long while.  However, Leila wonders how progressive Ziad really is when he avoids introducing her to his family…unless she starts to make changes like giving up smoking (and for the first time in recorded history I say DON’T DO IT, GIRL).

Meanwhile, Salma has started a new job as a bartender, which is (conveniently) a great way to meet ladies.  After meeting Dounia, Salma brings her on a visit home for moral support, which can only end well, right…?

a female bartender raises a shot glass in toast with a female patron

Noor’s story takes a heartbreaking turn when Wissam turns out to be manipulative, controlling, and violent.  Luckily, Noor has her newfound friends to lean on, and the trio plots a way to get Wissam out of their lives for good.  Even after their plan is successful, will these friends be able to move forward, or will they forever be stuck in between?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Predictably, my favorite thing here is the relationship between the 3 women.  Though they don’t bond immediately, they do learn to appreciate the parallels in their lives and the challenges they face.  All 3 experience instant judgment based on their appearance and face scorn from different social groups.  They all must learn to live with many sets of identities and expectations and in the spaces in between.  (On a side note, they all have different body types that aren’t commented on–they just exist.  In the world!  Like women’s bodies do in real life!)

The idea of living in between works on so many levels here–between tradition and modernity, Israel and Palestine, work and marriage, family and self, law and justice, freedom and safety.  This idea lingers; there is some definite progress made by each of the ladies in terms of self-identity, but that doesn’t necessarily drive their lives forward as a whole or indicate they will have more control over their lives or self-expression.  Though a feminist film, we as an audience reflect on how far we have to go rather than how far we have come.

Would my blog wife join this posse or ditch without paying her rent for the month?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, or: Stranger Teens

Another week, another film that’s just whatever we feel like.  This week brings us to perhaps the only place as scary as our current political climate:  high school.

The Film:

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser

The Premise:

In a case of mistaken identity, band nerd Sierra begins a relationship via text with with popular yet sensitive quarterback Jamey.

The Ramble:

In the high school pecking order, Sierra Burgess is…well, nowhere near the top of the pyramid.  A legacy student at her exclusive high school, Sierra is smart and ambitious, but her insecurities are holding her back.  With a mother who is gorgeous and successful, and a father who is a writer of some renown, Sierra lives in the shadow of her parents.

Though Sierra is a talented writer and student of literature, she feels perpetually insufficient.  And, despite her good grades and involvement with the marching band, Sierra doesn’t stand out enough to make it to her dream school, Stanford.

a teen girl and boy sit next to each other in a school science lab

After resident mean girl Veronica gives new quarterback Jamey Sierra’s number, chaos ensues.  Jamey, believing he has Veronica’s number, strikes up a conversation via text.  Sierra, realizing Jamey has texted her mistakenly, decides to have fun with this and keep up the ruse.

Sierra’s impulsive decision becomes a lot more sustainable after Veronica’s college boyfriend breaks up with her.  When Sierra comforts her, she has a proposition:  Sierra will tutor Veronica to help her impress her ex, while Veronica will help Sierra keep up the charade.

As Sierra tutors Veronica, she realizes a difficult home life has made studying nearly impossible so far.  Veronica’s mother constantly body shames her and reminds her to be pretty for the boys.  Meanwhile, Veronica’s sisters, child beauty pageant contestants, are free to run wild and screaming around the house.  Sierra does manage to impart some sage advice anyway, such as that Nietzsche is comparable to a sexy German vampire.

two teen girls sit in a bedroom, one quizzing the other for a test

In exchange, Veronica provides selfies, Face Time sessions, and even a date IRL.  The whole premise becomes implausible so quickly, especially when Sierra switches places with Veronica and smooches Jamey without him noticing.  Seriously, dude, this is how people die in horror movies.

a teen boy in a school hallway holds a cellphone to his ear

However unlikely it may be, the plan is more or less working out.  Though Sierra repeatedly tells herself she will tell Jamey the truth, she continues to delay the inevitable.  The truth does out in an especially ugly way after Sierra witnesses a kiss between Jamey and Veronica.  As Sierra and Veronica have become good friends, Sierra feels utterly betrayed and lashes out in a very public arena.

Can Sierra make things right with Veronica and Jamey?  Can she beat the odds and get into Stanford?  Will she be able to embrace her gift with words?  Spoiler:  this isn’t exactly the kind of a film with a shocking twist ending.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ugh, teens.

I got really hung up (no pun intended) on Veronica’s ability to recall Sierra’s phone number from memory just to fuck with her.  Do you know anyone’s phone number at this point, let alone the phone number of someone you disdain utterly?

Also Jamey is straight up boring.  Sierra and Veronica’s relationship is way more compelling.  Even though I am in favor of strong female friendships that have no romantic undertones whatsoever, I am also strongly in favor of non-heteronormative relationships, and Sierra/Veronica have way more chemistry than Sierra/Jamey.  If the so-called gay agenda is to steal romantic films for their own stories, they have succeeded.  Hetero love is boring.

Perhaps the larger problem is how fucking creepy Sierra’s actions are.  In the age of internet dating where people (looking at you, men) deliberately mislead others and perpetrate acts of violence, Sierra’s choices feel especially problematic.  At a certain point, Sierra goes from sweet and awkward to manipulative and sketchy AF.  And even though the message is to some degree about not judging others based on their appearance, Jamey’s looks are initially the only thing Sierra knows about him.

In conclusion, I’m way too cynical for this shit.

Would my blog wife text this one back or ghost its creepy ass?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hurricane Bianca 2, or: I Will Kut-ya

As one hurricane approaches the US, another storms Russia in the form of a small-town science teacher by day, ferocious drag queen by night.  That’s right–since we covered the first film and we’re all about being thorough on the blog collab, we’re tackling the Hurricane Bianca sequel this week.

The Film:

Hurricane Bianca 2: From Russia with Hate

The Premise:

Richard Martinez, AKA Bianca Del Rio, travels to Russia with insults, false eyelashes, and the kind of glitter you still find under your fingernails months later.

The Ramble:

As a quick recap, the original film in the franchise(?) saw Debbie (Rachel Dratch), homophobic teacher determined to rid Texas of Bianca Del Rio, land in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a minor.  Now that she has been released, Debbie is consumed by her revenge fantasies and ready to carry them out.

A woman holding a bag with her possessions speaks to another woman in an office.

Starting out a cringeworthy plot that just gets cringier is Debbie’s, er, brilliant plan to lure Bianca to Russia, where she will surely be locked up for life.  With the newly appointed Minister of Homosexual Propaganda on the case, prospects for any openly LGBTQ+ person aren’t wonderful.

After Bianca receives an invitation to Russia to accept a science prize, she is skeptical but accepts anyway.  Tagging along is her friend Rex, who isn’t always the brightest.  Little do they know Debbie and her daughter Carly are watching their every move.

It’s not long before Bianca and Rex draw the attention of the Russian police, who interrogate the two about all of the women’s clothing and accessories in their possession.  After these items are confiscated, how can Bianca even exist to collect her prize?

When Bianca and Rex find a gay bar, they meet the witty and fierce owner of the bar, Katya.  Before Bianca can get to know Katya as well as she’d like, police raid the bar, arresting Rex and Carly, who has been spying.  Now it looks as though Bianca and Debbie will have to work together to bust their loved ones out of Russian prison.

A man talks to a blonde drag queen at a bar.

Meanwhile, Rex is in no hurry to be free from prison because of a surprise drag show and unexpected bonding with Carly.  Maybe Carly will even see the error of her ways and begin to change her opinion of the LGBTQ community?  (Also there’s a drag queen in prison called Vicki Leaks…perhaps the one joke in the film that actually lands.)

Bianca is nevertheless determined to bust Rex out of prison, and develops an elaborate plan involving her friend Stephen, help from Debbie, and of course impossibly voluminous wigs.  Can they pull off their plan, defeat the homophobes, and make the world a better place?

A drag queen wearing a sparkly turban laughs, a cloudy cityscape behind her.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I expected this to be a fun romp like the first film, but it was honestly…kind of a drag to get through.  Bah dum tsssssssssssss.

The jokes were predictable for a trashy comedy, and I was actually somewhat disappointed that, despite the message of LGBTQ rights and empowerment, it seemed to throw so many groups under the bus.  There were jokes about sex workers, STDs, fat shaming, and prison rape.  Call me a feminist killjoy, but I just don’t find that kind of comedy funny.

Another disappointment was the plot–which I acknowledge was really just a vehicle for the film’s message and vicious Bianca insults.  Even so, we kept hearing about the Minister of Homosexual Propaganda and got so little payoff on that storyline.  Dot Jones is completely wasted in this role and given almost nothing to do except stand around in a uniform looking disdainful.

Based on the title, I was also on some level hoping for a From Russia with Love parody but without the mud wrestling.  Keep your expectations low on this one or you might get your heart trampled on by glittery stilettos.

What did the drag queen of my heart think of this one–would she declare it the winner of an imaginary prize or banish it to Siberia?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Selfie from Hell, or: Horror Hodge-Podge

After a summer hiatus of nearly a month(!), we are back in the swing of things.  Appropriately, we mark our return to the blog collab with bad, low-budget horror.

The Film:

Selfie from Hell

The Premise:

Julia is a Youtube star, Instagram influencer, and all-around social media sensation.  That is, until she takes a selfie…FROM HELL.

The Ramble:

Ready to get away from it all and spend some time bonding with her cousin Hannah, social media pro Julia is ready to chill.  After Hannah picks her up from the airport, Julia becomes mysteriously panicked at the mention of her boyfriend, and even more freaked out at the suggestion of taking a selfie.  What gives?  Has her selfie-ing awakened a demonic presence that is now stalking her?  Seems like the logical conclusion, eh?

two young women sit in a car, one holding a cell phone as the other reaches for it

Before Julia has even had the chance to enjoy a nice cuppa at Hannah’s house, she senses something is wrong and begins to selfie.  In selfie mode, she manages to get a glimpse of a dark shadowy figure behind her…creeeeeeeeeepy!

Julia’s fun is cut short when she collapses suddenly, falling ill with what seems to be a very high fever.  Despite her condition, Julia appears to keep texting Hannah eerie messages and voice recordings.  Putting on her sleuthing cap, Hannah digs up some articles and disturbing images that reveal Julia’s death…?  In her final Youtube vid, Julia warns others not to view 13 selfies under any circumstances.

a young woman sits at an outside table, holding a cell phone

After becoming convinced someone else is in the house, Hannah brings her online hacker friend, Trevor, into the loop.  With Trevor’s help, Hannah manages to lurk around on the dark web, searching for the site with 13 selfies.  When she stumbles across the 13 selfies she’s absolutely not supposed to watch, guess what she immediately does.  Hannah also manages to give away all of her personal information to a cyberstalker, who insists he’s the only one who can help her.

a young man and woman in a dark room lean over a cell phone

Shocker–it turns out creepy internet lurker also has very dark connections to a demonic selfie monster.  Will Hannah live to selfie another day?

The Rating:

1.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Even though this was an objectively terrible, nonsensical film, I just can’t be bothered to give it 1 PPH.  I didn’t hate it, it was just very meh.  And you know what they say about the opposite of love as indifference.

There is virtually no set up to kick off this film, so it’s very hard to care about the characters or even remember their names.  We do get some super vague backstory about Hannah’s mom dying a year ago, and Julia being there in her hour of need…but so what?  I was hoping there would be some kind of connection to the horror elements Hannah and Julia faced, but this film just wasn’t organized enough for that.

I found this to be a bit of a horror genre mash-up–we had the house intruder trope, demonic possession, torture porn, psychotic kidnapper.  None of these were done particularly well, though there were some creepy dimly-lit house scenes and sinister selfies.

Would Christa pull a duck face and selfie with this one or crop it out of her profile pic?  Find out by reading her review here!

three shirtless men look out at ocean waves on a beach
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?

four shirtless men sit outside on concrete steps

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.

a man holds up a large yellow python near a woman who holds her hands back
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.

a shirtless man faces another man in the dark

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?  Read her review here to find out!

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.

An Indian family dances together in their dining room.

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.

A young woman rests her head on her mother's lap.

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.

A young woman in a wheelchair talks to a fellow student, a blonde man who is standing.

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.

Two young women sit side by side, one listening to music on headphones.

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 in her review here!