Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

And Breathe Normally, or: Cats Bring Us All Together

This week we’re leaping over to Iceland!  Don’t worry–our film is as bleak as its landscape.

The Film:

And Breathe Normally

The Premise:

A single mother in Iceland working as a border guard stops a woman with a forged passport, unknowingly changing both of their lives in unexpected ways.

The Ramble:

Lára is a struggling single mother to Eldar, whose father seems to be well out of the picture.  A recovering addict, Lára doesn’t have many people to lean on for help.  Having difficulty paying for groceries, let alone rent, Lára is relieved when a low-paying job as an airport border guard works out.

To give Eldar a friend to keep him company, Lára agrees to let him adopt a cat.  I’m so glad she does because the cat, in addition to being an important plot device, is so adorable.

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Things are starting to look up for the small but close family.  Lára, eager to impress the higher ups, manages to catch a tiny detail on a woman’s passport that likely means it’s a fake.  However, Lára begins to regret this choice as she has to follow through on this case, escorting the woman, Adja, to be questioned and ultimately detained.  Lára seems to be a naturally compassionate person, catching onto some subtle body language that reveals Adja is traveling with her daughter and sister.

After a brief trial, Adja is sentenced to 30 days in prison and must pay all legal fees associated with her case.  Later, the court will determine whether Adja will be allowed to continue on to her destination, Toronto, or be deported.

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Meanwhile, Lára and Eldar are evicted from their apartment and forced to make do with sleeping in the car.  As Lára sleeps, Eldar lets kitty Musi out to explore.  Not his wisest choice.  After losing sight of Musi, Eldar goes looking for his lost cat, sending Lára into a panic when she wakes up.

When Lára does find Eldar, he is with Adja, who has found the missing cat.  Feeling awkward, Lára bundles Eldar up without a glance back.  That is, until Eldar points out it would be polite to at least give Adja a ride since she reunited him with Musi.

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Lára returns and takes Adja back to the apartments where she is living in limbo.  After this ordeal, Lára and Eldar sleep with the car parked behind the building.  When Adja realizes this situation, she invites Lára and Eldar to sleep in her room, where they can at least stretch out and get warm.

The guarded Adja reveals she is fleeing Guinea-Bissau as a lesbian who was violently attacked when her sexuality was discovered.  Her partner did not survive the assault, and Adja fears returning to her home would be a death sentence.

When Adja gets the terrible news that she will be deported to Guinea-Bissau, Lára devises a plan to help her.  Can these two ladies beat a system so heavily stacked against them?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film builds slowly to a beautiful ending that is compassionate to both of our leads.  Adja is of course far from the job-stealing, drug-smuggling murderer that so many people are keen to believe of immigrants and refugees.  Like all refugees, Adja leaves behind all that is familiar because her life is at risk–not that being threatened with death is the only reason countries should accept more immigrants into the fold.  Lára is also very human, dealing with her own struggles but still showing a great deal of compassion for another woman facing circumstances beyond her control rather than being a nameless, faceless border guard.

The disadvantage here is the slow build means it does take a long time for the bond between Adja and Lára to form.  I do wish we had gotten more time with them, though the lasting impact of their chance encounter is highlighted by the short time they spend together.

Would my blog wife stamp this one’s passport or sound the alarm?  Find out here!

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Film Reviews

Thelma, or: Ha Det Bra 2018

Wrapping up this non-Collab month has turned into creepy horror with lesbian themes–perfect as this is exactly the kind of thing that happens organically as part of the blog collab.  This week’s film takes us from the humid streets of Brazil to the frigid landscape of Norway.

The Film:

Thelma

The Premise:

After moving to an Oslo university from small-town Norway, the titular Thelma begins to experience seizures that come with an ominous twist.

The Ramble:

As a child, Thelma’s father takes her out hunting in the woods that surround their small Norwegian hometown.  It isn’t long before family bonding time becomes sinister as Thelma’s father points out a deer…then turns to raise the rifle at the back of his daughter’s head.  Why? Just wait approximately 119 minutes and you’ll find out.

12 years later, Thelma finds university life in Oslo jarring after years of small-town, religious upbringing.  Thelma sees her parents as stern but loving even though she has memories of her hand being held over an open flame and is afraid of uttering “Jesus Satan” lest she offend the rather Old Testament God of her parents.

Thelma keeps to herself and spends many of her days studying quietly in the library.  That is, until the day she is sitting next to gorgeous fellow student Anja one moment and in the midst of a seizure the next.  Thelma keeps her medical issues a secret from her parents, though she gives doctors access to her medical records as they try to find the cause of her seizures.

Despite the challenges piling up for Thelma, she does manage to befriend Anja.  However, Thelma finds it rather unsettling when she seems to telepathically summon Anja over in the middle of the night and almost takes out several rows of theatergoers with her mind.  When the two share a romantic moment, Thelma panics and immediately severs ties with Anja.

Thelma joins a gospel choir, goes to parties with a boy, and pretty much tries to pray the gay away.  As Thelma suffers another seizure under observation, Anja suddenly disappears. The psychiatrist diagnoses Thelma with non-epileptic seizures, which are physical manifestations of her mental suppression.  No shit, dude.

As the memories flood back about the disappearance of her younger brother, Thelma realizes she caused Anja to vanish.  Returning home to ensure she doesn’t hurt anyone else, Thelma confesses all to her parents. Her parents are oddly nonplussed and agree to help rid her of the seizures and their unintended consequences.  Things start off on the wrong foot after Thelma’s parents lace her tea with a sedative–a pretty severe breach of teatime etiquette.

Is history repeating itself all over again?  And will Thelma manage to satisfyingly Carrie her horrible parents before they brainwash her completely?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a slow burn, and I really wish this hadn’t been marketed as a horror film.  Though it is haunting, the story is driven by its coming of age plotline and family drama rather than the supernatural elements.

However, I do love the very moody tone and the use of Thelma’s seizures to represent the suppression of her romantic feelings for Anja and her power as she becomes an adult independent from her parents.

After this review, I’ll most likely sign off until 2019.  See you when the Blog Collab returns for year 4?!?!?!?!?!!?  I can’t promise Christmas ’19 will be a festive one on the blog, but I can say quite confidently that we won’t serve you any tea containing sedatives without your consent.

Cheers to the dumpster fire that was 2018 being (nearly) over.

Film Reviews

Good Manners, or: Werewolf-ful Christmas Time

This month is all about taking a break.  My incredibly wise blog wife at A Voluptuous Mind suggested we take a step back from the Collab and focus on getting through the holidays.  Considering I can’t even get stoked about Christmas horror this year, this is perhaps the single greatest decision of our partnership.

No surprises here–I have still been watching seasonally inappropriate films all the damn time.  So I don’t get too rusty on my film blogging, I’ll still post a couple of reviews this month.

First up is a delightful film from Brazil featuring interracial lesbian romance, designer boots, and werewolves.

The Film:

Good Manners

The Premise:

Hired as a nanny for a wealthy pregnant woman, Clara discovers secrets about the baby as well as her employer’s wild nighttime activities.

The Ramble:

Though she started a nursing program, Clara was unable to complete her training due to money woes.  Cash-strapped and behind on her rent, she is desperate to land a job working as nanny for Ana, a wealthy pregnant woman–so desperate that Clara fabricates previous experience and references.  Luckily, starting that nursing program comes in handy as she helps Ana through painful stomach pangs.

Until the baby is born, Clara will take care of Ana, keeping her company as family and friends are nowhere to be found.  What happened to leave Ana so isolated?

On her birthday, Ana lets loose and tells the truth about her pregnancy–though she was engaged, the baby’s father was not her fiancé.  Scandalous! Not only is Ana’s baby the product of a one-night stand, he is the child of a werewolf father?! We’ve all been there, right?

Shortly after this revelation, Clara discovers Ana has a sleepwalking problem…and is also a werewolf.  Having fallen in love with Ana, Clara helps her even after she witnesses her murder and eat a feral cat. She breaks the news to Ana gently since all of her werewolf behavior happens as if in a trance, and the two ladies experiment with old remedies.

With Ana’s due date rapidly approaching, she feels increasing amounts of pain.  When the baby is born in pretty much the most horrific way possible, Clara is out tracking down pine nuts to satisfy Ana’s cravings.  When she returns, Clara finds a horrific scene, complete with newborn werewolf baby Joel. Though she tries to ditch the baby by the side of the road, Clara ultimately can’t leave behind her only remaining connection to Ana.

Fastforward several years and Clara is now a nurse celebrating her adopted son’s birthday.  Joel never craves sweets and isn’t allowed to eat meat, so he seems to subsist on bread alone.  Not a shabby existence, IMHO.

During a full moon, Joel sleeps in the so-called “little room,” which is essentially a dungeon.  Clara tucks him in at night and chains Joel to the wall so he can’t hurt himself or anyone else.

Their usual routine is disrupted when Joel begins to question things, chafing against the literal and figurative restraints Clara places on his life.  Already angry that he’s not allowed to go to a dance, Joel is furious when he discovers Clara’s story about finding him abandoned as a baby is a lie. When he finds clues that he believes will lead him to his father, Joel and his bff decide to track him down at the mall.  Things of course go horribly wrong when the two friends are locked in the mall overnight.

After tragedy strikes, how will Clara’s friends and neighbors react as they begin to connect the dots?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s start with the criticism: this feels like 2 separate films as the tone in the Clara/Ana narrative is very different from the Clara/Joel part. I would have liked to see these stories woven together more effectively rather than watch 2 halves of the film that in some ways don’t feel related. Since this clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there’s a lot here that could have been condensed to help the story flow.

However, spoiler alert: overall this is a beautiful film that I really enjoyed. The lead, Isabél Zuaa, is incredible as Clara. Though her character is fairly quiet, she is extremely expressive in her loving but painful relationships with Ana and Joel.

The relationship between Clara and Ana, though unlikely, feels genuine. Their bittersweet story is emotional without being manipulative. It’s quite refreshing how little men matter here (we give zero fucks about Ana’s father, fiancé, or baby daddy); we are firmly planted in woman world.

Moral of the story:  I. Am. Here. For. A.  Werewolf. Film.

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!