Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Death Drop Gorgeous, or: Divine Providence

“I will not stop using my blog until justice is served!”

Who said it: me or a character from this week’s film? Sadly, I can’t claim credit, though I stand by the spirit of these words. Things I will also not stop doing until justice is served: annoying cats, eating raw cookie dough, looking for my sunglasses when they’re on top of my head.

The Film:

Death Drop Gorgeous

Directors:

Brandon Perras, Michael J. Ahern, & Christopher Dalpe

The Premise:

As drag queens fight for the spotlight at the local drag club, a serial killer targets and murders those associated with the establishment.

The Ramble:

Things are off to an ominous start when a drug deal goes wrong in Providence, RI, leaving our first victim dead at the hands of a mysterious figure whose face is never seen (of course). The victim meets a rather gruesome end as he inhales drugs deliberately laced with a toxic substance, and ultimately receives a death blow from a screwdriver.

It’s highly suspect that former bartender Dwayne returns, looking for a job at drag bar The Outhouse, despite being visibly repulsed by drag queens. Dwayne has been burned after going into business with his ex, who left him high and dry. Luckily, sketchy bar owner Tony Two Fingers could use the help and hires Dwayne on the spot.

Celebrating with roommate Brian, Dwayne is persuaded to go enjoy a night out to see one of the famous local drag queens, though drag is decidedly not his scene. When a man at the club is murdered in a gruesome way (think sausage grinder) and discovered drained of blood…it’s highly suspicious.

As rather incompetent detectives with romantic undertones investigate, Two Fingers slides some cash their way to keep the bar out of the headlines. Hmmmmmm.

Meanwhile, queens new and old are determined to get the coveted Saturday night spot on stage, resorting to some pretty catty behavior as they undercut each other. Best of these are washed-up Gloria Hole, whose routine is now rather out of touch, and Tragedi, an unnervingly quiet and intense custodian. As Gloria competes with the younger queens, barbs are exchanged, including (memorably), “Every perfectly bleached asshole expires!”

As the blood drained bodies pile up, the murders become impossible for the detectives to ignore, and a serious investigation is under way. Unfortunately, absolutely no one is particularly helpful or observant when questioned. Can the killer be caught before there are no more drag queens around in Providence?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Wow, this one grew on me. The beginning doesn’t bode well as it’s apparent from the start that this is an extremely low budget feature. Additionally, characters like Two Fingers (insufferable) and Dwayne (boring) get a hell of a lot more screen time than merited. A lot of the dialogue is horrible, and some of the jokes don’t quite land. I also do NOT understand the accents here, which sound like cringey attempts at Boston. Admittedly I don’t know what a Providence accent actually sounds like.

However, the queens are memorably drawn, particularly Gloria and Tragedi. The petty digs between queens add a lot of fun to the proceedings, with Gloria’s lines especially standing out. Without being too spoiler-y, I frequently feel as jaded as Gloria and can’t entirely fault her for some of her choices. The script does do a reasonable job of setting up the mystery of the killer’s identity, as there are a number of red herrings. Even if I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, I was still interested in where things were heading.

Also I am completely obsessed with Tragedi, aka the fabulously named Complete Destruction.

Would my blog wife perfectly style this one’s two tone wig or trip it on the way to the stage? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Fire Island, or: Non-Hetero Nonsense

We must be in an alternate universe, as my pick this week is a Jane Austen retelling that I’ve been…looking forward to? Though a lesson for the Blog Collab is that queering a story increases the odds of our approval quite significantly. Either that or adding sharks. While sadly the all-shark adaptation of Pride & Prejudice doesn’t exist (yet), we’ll accept this week’s modern gay version on the blog.

The Film:

Fire Island

Director:

Andrew Ahn

The Premise:

While enjoying a vacation on Fire Island, Noah is determined to find an appropriately hot hookup for his best friend, while avoiding the most disagreeable man he’s ever met.

The Ramble:

Good-looking and carefree Noah is a single man most definitely not in search of a wife…though he’s not looking for a boyfriend either. Noah relishes commitment-free hookups, prioritizing above all else his relationship with his found family.

In the P&P tradition, we have along with Noah’s Lizzie, the wildly inappropriate party duo (Luke and Keegan), the weird one (Max), the bff (Howie), and the worrying mama (Mrs. Bennet). The crew is all heading to Fire Island for a week of gay merriment at mama Erin’s vacation home, acquired by luck rather than wealth.

Unfortunately for the family, Erin reveals that, due to poor investment, she’ll have to sell the house. This will be the last summer for the group to enjoy together on Fire Island, casting a certain gloom over the highly anticipated trip. Howie laments that he’s never had a real boyfriend or been able to find a hookup on the annual trip. Noah, feeling it’s his duty to help Howie make good memories on this last stay together, vows to hold off on his own pursuits until he finds Howie a gorgeous guy.

When Noah’s phone dies a tragic death after falling into a pool, he must face the added challenge of matchmaking for Howie IRL. As luck would have it, Howie notices an attractive stranger checking him out at the first party they attend. The new guy Charlie is a kind-hearted doctor who seems completely perfect…except for those in his friend group. Most irritating among these is the surly Will, our Mr. Darcy (of course).

As Howie and the group are invited to posh parties at Charlie’s house, they realize how out of their element they are as penniless gay men of color lacking six-pack abs. The highly protective Will is concerned for his friend Charlie, who can be too willing to trust. Naturally, Will says something rather insulting about Noah, who overhears and is greatly incensed.

After Howie doesn’t return home, Noah excitedly believes his plan has worked…only to discover his bff was in fact a victim of a hangover. While Howie insists that Charlie staying with him all night as he was violently ill is a sign of progress, Noah remains suspicious that Charlie isn’t remotely interested in his pal.

Thinking quickly to help Howie get closer to the object of his affections, Noah invites Charlie over for dinner at their house, inadvertently inviting all of his friends too. While picking up outrageously overpriced groceries, Noah meets the extremely good-looking Dex. When it seems Will despises Dex and warns Noah away from him, this only further strengthens his resolve to enjoy this new man’s company.

So why does Noah continue to spend the bulk of his vacation time quarreling with Will? Despite his abruptness and failure to understand pop culture references, could there be a depth to Will that Noah has been too…prejudiced to appreciate?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though I’m not a huge Pride & Prejudice fan, I did get a lot of enjoyment from this retelling. It works as a rom-com and as both a critique and celebration of the gay community. While the script contains 1000% more sex jokes than Austen, the wit and social commentary are completely spot-on for a film inspired by her most famous novel. The ways socioeconomic status, white supremacy, and fitness/diet culture make their way into all elements of life are addressed compellingly in the gay community here.

In addition to the writing, the performances are done well, with actors inclusive of different body types, race & ethnicity, and gender expression. The dynamic between Noah/Howie and Noah/Will are especially believable, and I appreciate that the family relationships are just as important as the romantic stories. I really enjoyed Will’s version of Mr. Darcy–high praise indeed, as I’m usually annoyed by his character (and not in the sexually tense way Lizzie is). It helps that a lot of the film’s approach emphasizes how painfully and comedically awkward the character is, from repeatedly throwing away ice cream cones to preserve his cool to unwillingly entering a dance-off.

Other updates to the story are done creatively; I was wondering what the Dex/Mr. Wickham twist would be, and it wasn’t quite what I expected. This is a rare retelling that brings a lot of originality and fun to a familiar story.

Would my blog wife steal a boat for this one or ruin its party by standing around looking sullen? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Happiest Season, or: Harper’s a Lyre

Global pandemic, climate change, and political instability aside, we are truly living in a renaissance…for made-for-TV romantic Christmas romps. Though like most things streaming, we’re overwhelmed with options, this is also my favorite thing about the rise and rise of Christmas movies. This week’s pick is our 2nd LGBTQ pick of the month…which I don’t think would have even been possible 5 years ago.

The Film:

Happiest Season

The Premise:

A woman invites her girlfriend home for the holidays to meet her family…neglecting to tell anyone that her partner is anything more than a roommate.

The Ramble:

Since her parents died when she was just 19, Abby hasn’t been big on Christmas. She’s perfectly content staying at home to earn that sweet petsitting cash from all of the suckers who will be traveling for the holidays. However, when her girlfriend Harper impulsively invites Abby home to meet the family, she agrees, hoping to make better Christmas memories by proposing(!).

The character of Abby faces her girlfriend Harper as they hold hands at night, Christmas lights on the houses behind them. The two are arm-in-arm, smiling, and dressed warmly in coats and hats.

Though Abby has managed to convince her literary agent friend John to care for all of the pets while the couple is away, Harper suddenly reverses course the next day. She finally reveals on the drive to her parents’ home that the reason for her agitation is that she’s never come out to her family and is planning to introduce Abby as her roommate, not girlfriend. It will make things easier over the holidays with Harper’s high-strung family as they navigate her father’s mayoral campaign. Apparently.

The plan is complicated by Abby’s character flaw of being a terrible liar, though Harper’s family is so painfully heteronormative that the possibility of either woman being a lesbian never occurs to a single person. Harper’s parents even invite her ex and childhood friend Connor out for dinner with the family that Abby attends.

Harper and her family pose for a portrait that Abby is taking on a tablet. Harper, her parents, two sisters, brother-in-law, and young niece and nephew stand in formal wear in front of a Christmas tree.

In addition to contending with perfectionist parents who have made Harper the favorite, her sister Sloane is fiercely competitive. Seeming to have the perfect family that will look great for campaign photos, Sloane is proud and eager to prove she’s just as accomplished as Harper. Meanwhile, sister Jane plays the role of awkward weirdo, recapping the fantasy novel she’s writing to anyone who will listen, and not quite fitting in with the image-obsessed family.

While making her way around the small town and getting ditched by Harper at parties, Abby meets another of her girlfriend’s exes, Riley. Riley provides a calm & collected sounding board for Abby, who could use a break from Harper’s family…especially after a prank gone awry leads everyone of influence in town to believe Abby is a shoplifter.

Leaning against a living room bar, Abby holds a drink while standing next to the character of Riley, who looks at Abby with arms crossed.

Effectively ostracized from the family during their parties and campaign events, Abby begins to question how real her relationship with Harper can be, particularly since there seem to be two completely different sides to her girlfriend. At a certain point, the people-pleasing Harper will have to make a choice between her status as golden child and being true to herself…but will it be too late for her to find happiness?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before about this film, but Harper puts some unbelievably toxic behaviors on display, especially for a Christmas movie where we’re supposed to root for her relationship to work. I say this not only as a major fan of Aubrey Plaza, but as a proponent of functional relationships: Abby deserved better and probably should have ended up with Riley. The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Aubrey feels more believable, and the character of Riley is way less awful than Harper.

Because the character of Harper dances right up to the edge of ruining this film, we should spend some time dissecting her as a person. Since the POV is mostly Abby’s, Harper comes across as an absolute disaster. We don’t get enough interiority to understand her awful behavior–not that there’s necessarily enough explanation in the world to justify how she acts. The way Harper’s family treats Abby is one thing (and is extremely poor, btw), but the way Harper interacts with her own girlfriend is truly terrible.

Even though I’ve done nothing but complain in this review, I do give the film credit because it is actually well-cast and well-acted for the most part, and the writing for the supporting characters is great. Dan Levy of course steals every scene he’s in, and Mary Holland’s misfit Jane is a character I relate to so much. The saving grace of this film is that it’s surprisingly easy to ignore Harper for the most part since she’s off ditching her girlfriend and sucking up to political influencers. Kristen Stewart and the supporting cast really shine in this one and make it worth the watch.

Would my blog wife propose to this one or go out drinking with drag queens instead? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Single All the Way, or: Just for Snow

The more time passes (particularly in our current pandemic existence), the less inclined I feel to embrace my inner Grinch around the holidays. And while I certainly don’t recommend pasting on a smile when you’re really not feeling it, sometimes the horrendous advice “fake it ’til you make it” does help me experience a bit of Christmas cheer even when I could stand to hibernate for the next 7 years at least.

Btw, fake it ’til you make it (and I really should emphasize again that I hate this expression) is advice that probably shouldn’t apply to relationships. But in the gumdrop fantasy Christmas land of feel-good holiday movies, that is the only appropriate approach to romance that lasts all season long.

The Film:

Single All the Way

The Premise:

At home for the holidays, single Peter agrees to a blind date setup while wondering if his roommate/bff could be the man he’s loved all along.

The Ramble:

After close to a decade living together in Los Angeles, bffs Peter and Nick have clearly iterated and reiterated that they absolutely 1000% have no romantic interest in each other. They have supported each other through Peter’s dissatisfaction with his vague, soulless social media advertising job, Nick’s writer’s block after writing a children’s bestseller, and countless breakups and disappointments. But there’s no way Peter and Nick would ever date, a statement that will definitely hold up well if we follow the conventions of similar gentle holiday-themed rom-coms.

Peter, a white man in his 30s with dark brown hair, stands next to his friend Nick, an African-American man with short dark hair and a perfectly groomed beard. Both are wearing a suit and tie at an evening party in a contemporary space decorated with lights for Christmas.

This holiday season promises radical change for Peter: instead of being the–horror of horrors–lone sadsack single in a family where everyone is coupled up, Peter is planning to bring home his boyfriend, a gorgeous cardiologist. Too bad the new boyfriend turns out to be shady AF, and meeting the family is quickly ruled out…but not before Peter has strongly implied he plans to bring home a major surprise for Christmas.

Good thing roommate and bff Nick is always there for Peter, and the inevitable fake boyfriend at Christmas scheme is hatched. However, immediately upon arriving in Peter’s small New Hampshire hometown, his mother reveals schemes of her own, namely a blind date with her spin instructor James. Relieved to dodge the fake relationship trope altogether, Nick is all too eager for Peter to go on the date…or is he?

Peter walks along a snowy street with James, Christmas lights behind them. They are dressed for the winter in dark coats and warm accessories.

Nick won’t have much time to think about it as Peter’s family keeps him busy, taking advantage of his many DIY skills to complete long-needed maintenance and make the family home look appropriately festive. I would venture the family, including Peter’s mom–who is so into the spirit of the season that she demands everyone in the family refer to her as “Christmas Carole”–quickly crosses the line into straight-up expecting their house guest to complete all of their minor household repairs in a way that feels underhanded even as Nick claims he loves doing this kind of work. I really hope no international viewers (including lovely Christa) think having hosts majorly exploit your labor is a normal expectation for Christmas visitors in the States.

Meanwhile, Peter is swanning around town with James, obliviously breaking Nick’s heart. Making matters worse, James is a conventionally attractive, kind-hearted athletic type regularly dishing out sage advice. Conveniently, James has moved to Peter’s hometown for ski season, just as our leading man is considering returning to the area for good and pursuing his dream of opening a small plant store. Not the kind as nightmare-inducing as in J-horror Pulse, ideally.

The character of Sandy, a middle-aged woman with voluminous blonde hair and brightly colored clothes, sits on a couch next to her niece, a blonde woman dressed more conservatively.

As members of Peter’s family scheme to set him up with Nick and James respectively, his former actor aunt Sandy is putting the final touches on the local Nativity play, a production she has personally scripted entitled “Jesus H. Christ.” With the rehearsals going less than well with Sandy’s exacting directorial style, Peter’s nieces put forward a win-win solution: have Peter and Nick assist with the play, thereby saving the day while spending precious holiday time together. Which, as I’ve underlined in several other rom-com reviews, feels like a better way to get stressed-out people to scream at each other rather than fall in love.

Throughout the proceedings, we check off a number of additional tropes, including Peter and Nick having to do a last-minute, dramatically important photo shoot, sharing a bed for pretty flimsy reasons, and doing silly choreographed dance moves. Is it enough for them to realize their long-simmering romantic feelings for each other?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was never going to get a 5-star rating from me. I will say the story is quite sweet, and it’s such a relief to have more LGBTQ+ stories regularly make their way into the Hallmark-type holiday rotation. Visually, our film looks so cozy and festive that it would be ideal for Netflix to provide a dusting of snow and a mug of hot cocoa for all viewers.

Beyond this, our film is so full of cliches and jam-packed with way more characters than necessary. Jennifer Coolidge is of course excellent as self-absorbed Hollywood stereotype Aunt Sandy and plays my favorite character by far. And not only because she manages to pull off an unexplained Glinda costume in the Nativity play. Many of the other supporting characters feel bland in comparison to be honest, and just kind of take up space.

I also happen to despise the “overbearing family believes your being single is the saddest story to be told while playing the world’s tiniest violin” trope that is this genre’s bread and butter. It comes across about as well as it does in any other of these holiday films, i.e. really manipulative and condescending AF. I’m glad that Peter’s sexuality is fully accepted by his family, but it’s slightly irritating that they can’t also accept his singledom.

Our leads are perfectly charming, though the annoying love triangle setup means Peter and Nick don’t actually get as much screen time together as you might expect…so I wasn’t overly invested in their relationship. That being said, I was definitely rooting for them, as James is one step away from being a walking Ken doll and is the type of blandly perfect man who usually turns out to be a murderer in Lifetime movies.

Despite the tone of this overly critical review, I did mostly enjoy this one, but not enough that I anticipate remembering much about it past this week.

Would my blog wife hit it off with this one on a blind date or scald it with boiling hot cocoa? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Perfection, or: Cello, Is It Me You’re Looking for?

I’m quite sad that LGBTQ month on the Collab is drawing to a close…until I remember that we are mere days away from October, a true time of festivity for our horror-loving hearts. It doesn’t hurt that this week strikes a happy medium between these two themes with a rather twisted lesbian romance at the center of an unexpectedly vomit-filled, bug-infested horror.

The Film:

The Perfection

The Premise:

When the former student of a prestigious music school reunites with the academy’s most famous pupil, so many ulterior motives are revealed.

The Ramble:

A former student of Bachoff, the World’s Most Prestigious Music School, Charlotte is in Shanghai to help judge a competition for the next open spot at the academy. Having suffered a fall from favor after leaving the school to care for her dying mother, Charlotte isn’t prepared to meet star pupil turned darling of the cello world Lizzie.

Lizzie, a young Black woman, converses with Charlotte, a young white woman. They are dressed formally, standing apart from groups of other people gathered for a reception.

While Charlotte fangirls over the world-renowned cellist, Lizzie herself reveals that she briefly met and idolized Charlotte when they were children. After judging the competition, Lizzie makes her intentions known by inviting Charlotte to perform a cello duet. Before spending the night together, the two witness one of the evening’s attendees suddenly become violently ill before collapsing onto the ground. Though concerned it may be a serious plague, Charlotte and Lizzie are mostly unconcerned.

Lizzie and Charlotte play a cello duet together for a small group, their backs turned away on stage from empty seats.

As the two women bond, Lizzie invites Charlotte to join her as she travels across the Chinese countryside for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the journey is off to an inauspicious start as Lizzie is extremely hungover. Determined to power through it, an increasingly agitated Lizzie boards a bus with Charlotte only to insist the bus stop shortly after. Lizzie becomes extremely ill, and the disconcerted bus passengers insists she disembark after she claims to see bugs in her vomit.

Sitting next to Charlotte on a bus, Lizzie looks unwell as she leans on the other woman's shoulder.

Left in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves, Lizzie only becomes more distressed as she sees bugs crawling under her skin and becomes convinced she’s dying. Because these bugs all seem to be beneath the flesh of her right arm, Charlotte presents Lizzie with the only logical option: immediately severing her arm with a meat cleaver. Say what now?

Weeks later, Lizzie returns to Bachoff missing an arm, and therefore is of no further use to head of the academy Anton. Unceremoniously removed from the institution, an enraged Lizzie blames Charlotte for the accident and is determined to make her pay. But who is really…pulling the strings in all of this (sorry not sorry)?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

More interested in setting up dramatic plot twists than telling a coherent story, this film is nevertheless quite fun to watch. The casting of Allison Williams means you know underhanded schemes will happen, and Logan Browning is great here too (as always).

Because this becomes a revenge film, it loses a lot of its effectiveness by going for shock value instead of clearly establishing the villain early on. I also wish the relationship between Charlotte and Lizzie had been better defined as the film’s conclusion left me wondering how well they knew each other as children, and not entirely convinced by their motives.

Would absolutely watch a horrendous sequel, though, if given the chance.

Would my blog wife perform a duet with this one or cut all of its strings? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, or: Warrior Queens

It would be a shame to let this month, focused on LGBTQIA+ films, pass by without a musical number and a drag queen or two, wouldn’t it? This week’s film checks off these boxes and more, serving up the fiercest looks on impossibly tall stilettos.

The Film:

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

The Premise:

Deciding to become a drag queen at age 16, Jamie prepares to debut his identity at prom while dodging discouragement from family, classmates, and school administrators.

The Ramble:

Leading a fairly quiet life in Sheffield, openly gay teen Jamie aspires to a glamorous life in the spotlight. In response to his unsupportive classmates and dreamcrushing teacher Miss Hedge, Jamie claims his plan is to be a performer, but this is only part of the story. Jamie really dreams of becoming a drag queen but is too nervous to admit this even to his bff Pritti.

Jamie, a teen with short bleach-blonde hair, sits across from his friend Pritti, a teen wearing glasses and a hijab.  She is looking at a pair of very high-heeled glittery red stilettos.

Luckily, Jamie’s mother Margaret and her own bestie Jay are extremely supportive. Knowing her son’s love of glittery fashion accessories, Margaret gifts Jamie with his first pair of stiletto heels for his 16th birthday. While it seems there are no secrets between mother and son, it’s clear pretty early on that Margaret is massively covering for Jamie’s absentee father, who has zero interest in being a part of his child’s life.

Disappointed in his father’s absenteeism yet again, Jamie is nonetheless thrilled with the heels in which he will take his first steps to success as a drag queen. Sharing the good shoe news with Pritti, Jamie finds his bff somewhat confused yet unshakably supportive. She encourages Jamie to show off his developing drag queen identity at prom, despite putdowns from cookie cutter homophobic bully Dean.

Jamie sits at a work table in the family kitchen, holding his mother's hand. Both look at each other as they sing.

By chance, it’s around this time that Jamie finds a local drag shop owned by Hugo Battersby, former drag queen Loco Chanelle. Along with some practical advice on preparing for and performing drag, Hugo gives Jamie a history lesson that contextualizes its significance for those involved, identifying earlier trailblazers as true warrior queens. Color me disappointed that none of the drag acts featured Boudica or even Xena, Warrior Princess.

Getting to work right away, Jamie starts saving money for fabulous drag gear, learning to apply makeup, and hoping in vain that his father will suddenly decide to support his son just a little bit. Ahead of prom, Jamie debuts his drag identity Mimi Me, despite attempts from Dean to derail the evening.

Jamie, wearing a robe, looks into a mirror as a drag queen applies makeup to his face. Three other drag queens prepare for their act as they sing to Jamie.

As Jamie begins to find confidence while in drag, he must contend with the fact that he feels ugly and insecure as himself. Complicating matters are the school administrators’ words of discouragement on learning that Jamie intends to wear a dress to prom. To top it all off, Jamie realizes with dismay that his mother has been lying about his father maintaining even a modest level of interest in his son’s life.

At a definite low point, Jamie turns to a night of binge drinking and antagonizing footballers. Now that he’s fallen from those very stylish heels, will Jamie be able to pick himself back up again?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is such a fun, upbeat film that it’s impossible not to find some charm in it. (So much better than the misguided The Prom, thank god). I enjoy the choreographed dance numbers so much, and it’s welcome to see a film with a heartfelt message, especially in the context of…everything. In terms of casting, our lead Max Harwood and (obviously) Richard E. Grant are so perfect here, and the brief Bianca del Rio cameo is superb. Richard E. Grant’s character and songs are firmly my favorites.

I cannot overstate how pleased I am that this film’s heart depends on family and friendship. And, most of all, that no one has a problematic romance with the class bully who was only terrible because he hated his own secret gay identity. I cannot tell you how tired I am with this trope, and we dodged it entirely, praise the lord.

What holds me back from a full 4 stars is how persistently light and upbeat this is, even when dealing with troubling themes. The story doesn’t fully explore these themes and suffers for it, at least in my opinion. I welcome affirming stories like this one, but I think pushing things into slightly more serious dramatic territory could have only made the emotional resonance more powerful. I loved the bejeezus out of the Richard E. Grant number “This Was Me” that celebrates drag and the LGTBQ community in the 1980s and would have wholeheartedly embraced more songs of this nature (speaking of which–the song was added for the film, and I could not imagine a stage production without this number).

Another issue is that, while the story is about Jamie’s identity, Jamie is a bit self-involved. The single-minded focus on his character means we don’t get to explore the nuances of more interesting supporting characters (okay–I’m primarily talking about Loco Chanelle). Every single non-Jamie character is either there to support or discourage him in cartoonishly awful ways, and he doesn’t always do much for them in return. Jamie is a bad friend to Pritti at times, though full credit for always having her back when faced with Dean. Honestly even Jamie’s character development isn’t that great, as there’s a lot of external focus on his appearance and not as much exploration as I would have liked about his internal motivations to do drag.

As a result of little secondary character exploration, I didn’t believe the change of heart so many characters have at the end. The school’s acceptance of Jamie is sweet but feels hollow and somewhat confusing too. Fully recognizing it’s possible to want contradictory things, I found it odd that Jamie seems to want to stand out but also for everyone to love him. Sure, I understand the impulse, but a bit more self-awareness from the character may have helped him recognize the impossibility of both of these things being true.

That being said, I would watch this 6 more times just for the brief scenes featuring Richard E. Grant in drag.

Would my blog wife help this one pencil in elegantly arched brows or snatch the tiara from atop its perfectly styled wig? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bound, or: Blood Money

It’s no secret that we L O V E film noir on the Blog Collab, particularly when our story involves a femme fatale who can expertly fire a pistol between drags on a cigarette perched in a dainty silver holder. This week, we have more than enough 1940s noir ambience to go around, along with a butch ex-con, illicit schemes and affairs, and elegantly crafted scenes of violence. Oh, and it’s the first film by the Wachowskis. Have we died and gone to heaven or, you know, been resurrected Matrix-style?

The Film:

Bound (1996)

The Premise:

A woman seeking freedom from the mafia begins an affair with another woman whose former life of crime may help them escape the mob with a case of stolen money.

The Ramble:

Out of prison and keeping a low profile, the excellently named Corky finds work renovating a recently vacant apartment and completing general building maintenance in Chicago. Quietly minding her own business doesn’t seem like a feasible option for long when Corky catches the eye of neighbor Violet, who lives with Caesar, a man who is quick to anger and heavily linked to the mafia. A winning combination indeed.

Corky, a woman with shaggy dark hair wearing a dirty A-shirt style tank top, leans against a kitchen sink. She is gazing intently into Violet's eyes, a woman wearing a low-cut black dress with a curly 1940s-style bob and makeup.

After Violet pulls the classic earring-down-the-sink maneuver, she and Corky begin a sexual relationship, sharing an unspoken and intense connection. Based on their understanding and Violet’s long-held desire to leave the mob life behind, she loops Corky in on a plan to fool everyone and escape the mafia with millions of dollars.

As Violet explains, recently tortured and murdered schemer Shelly was skimming money from his own mob crew with serious commitment–to the point that these funds fit nicely into a suitcase worth over $2 million. For a brief window, all of the money will be in Caesar and Violet’s apartment before big boss Gino Marzzone passes go and collects it. In a rather gruesome turn, all of the money has to be cleaned and air-dried first as Gino’s hothead son Johnnie shoots and kills Shelly, covering the cash in blood.

Wearing a black spaghetti strap top and dark red lipstick, Violet sits with one hand propping up her head. She is staring contemplatively at the many $100 bills clipped to fishing line as they air dry.

Like any film noir-style hard-boiled detective worth their salt, Corky is pretty fucking suspicious of Violet’s motives in all of this. However, the allure of both the money and Violet herself soon have Corky returning to her life of crime, outlining a brilliant, foolproof plan that of course could never go wrong in a million years.

Mob associate Caesar embraces Johnnie with a fake smile. Johnnie is wearing a bandage on his nose from an earlier punch Caesar gave him.

What follows is a very tense unraveling of the game plan as Caesar proves to be way more of an unhinged, trigger-happy murderer than expected. I will leave it there–but is it because I’m tired, bad at explaining heists, or terrible about planning my time this week? No doubt the answer to this question generates as much suspense as the film itself.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Violet’s character is the closest we get to a 1940s femme fatale in a 1990s setting, so she is now our new idol. At least I can only presume. What’s truly excellent about both of our leading ladies is their approaches to navigating a violent, male-dominated world; they each have different strategies, and they work together in perfect harmony. There’s no pitting these identities against each other or implying there’s a more appropriate way to be a woman and express one’s identity. Both Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are wonderfully cast.

From virtually the first minute of the film, suspense is driving the narrative forward, whether because of the tension between Violet and Corky or the increasingly troublesome case full of cash. As such, the pacing never slows down, and my interest as a viewer never waned. Some of the scenes are horrifically violent yet beautifully and even lovingly filmed. I’m such a fan of the last few scenes of the film and some of the brilliant one-liners these characters have…but also every scene, to be honest.

A couple of criticism do come to mind. First, though the film pivots on a lesbian relationship, the film is quite overwhelmed by white, male, and heterosexual characters. This film could pass the Bechdel test more comfortably as well as include more diversity, especially as it takes place in Chicago. Another drawback that comes to mind is that the relationship between Violet and Corky is a bit too easily established, and the trust between them not wholly earned. However, they’re so vividly drawn characters that it’s impossible to be mad about that. The romance between our two leads is hot (and definitely R rated) without being creepy or voyeuristic.

Would my blog wife devise a convoluted plan with this one or smoke a cigarette around it with no small measure of disdain? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Saving Face, or: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Given the global pandemic still very much happening and its impact on my current mental/emotional state, I could probably keep watching horror for the next 500 years and still not satisfy that unique sense of dread and calm the genre inspires in me. I’m worried the world is an awful place but feel a certain tranquility when it shows its true colors.

Anyway.

It’s probably for the best to do a bit of a reset in September ahead of the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween). This week, we have a lesbian romance with hints of soap opera drama and a hearty dose of navigating cultural identity. Plus vending machine snacks.

The Film:

Saving Face

The Premise:

As a young Chinese-American surgeon pursues a romance with another woman, she learns her mother has been keeping a shocking secret of her own.

The Ramble:

Wil is a promising young surgeon who gives her mother Gao a lot of cred in their Chinese-American community in Queens. On the marriage front, Gao insists that Wil is much too busy and successful to date. Hmmmmm…dramatic secrets related to identity would suggest otherwise.

Wil, a young woman dressed casually in sweatpants, bends down to talk to her mother, Gao. Gao is sitting on a bed, eyes closed in meditation.

As Gao plays matchmaker at the community’s weekly gathering, she is unknowingly the source of her own gossip, as the widow of over 20 years is stunningly gorgeous and very single. A man by the name of Cho is quite clearly gearing up to make a move, though it’s taken years for him to work up the nerve.

One fateful night, Wil meets the one person her mother is decidedly not trying to set up her daughter with: a ballet dancer named Vivian. In a demonstration of how close-knit the community is, Vivian happens to be the daughter of Wil’s boss. But she’s quite attractive and her love language seems to be vending machine snacks, so poor Wil doesn’t stand a chance.

Wil, dressed in a loose-fitting button-down shirt, stands close in front of Vivian, who touches the sleeve of Wil's shirt.

Meanwhile, Wil realizes through shocking gossip that Gao is keeping even more secrets than her daughter. As it turns out, Gao is pregnant and refuses to divulge the father’s identity. Ooooooh, things are getting more scandalous than the Chinese soaps Gao watches religiously. Wil’s grandfather is especially disappointed, evicting his daughter from their shared apartment and telling her not to bother coming back without a husband. The tables are turned on Gao as Wil attempts to find her the perfect (and perhaps somewhat gullible) husband.

Wil reclines on a futon, arms behind her head. Her mother Gao sits next to her, knitting. Both are staring ahead at an offscreen television.

Now with the complication of having her mother as a roommate, Wil has to work double time to keep her own secret love hidden. A relatably awkward tomboy, Wil is quite sweet when bonding with Vivian. However, conducting their relationship as if it’s an illicit affair isn’t what Vivian has in mind. She begins actively considering an offer to dance ballet in Paris…even though her heart is with modern dance and with a certain socially graceless doctor.

After a number of horrible dates, Gao ultimately accepts a proposal from Cho. While Wil is initially relieved, she’s troubled that her mother still seems rather closed off and unhappy. What’s more, Wil’s grandmother experiences a health crisis, sending the family into a spiral just before the wedding. Taking a cue from Gao’s soaps, the discovery of a shocking letter on her wedding day could spell disaster…or might it lead two generations of Chinese-American women to carve out space for themselves within their own community?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed this. Our story feels real, slightly melodramatic twists and all. I think this is largely because the characters and their relationships ground the story. There’s an attention to detail and nuance that makes the love, especially between mother and daughter, convincing. It involves just enough tension for us to believe this is true with all of the messiness and conflict that comes along with family.

The tone is perfect; overall, this is a very sweet film. However, there is enough of a cultural and familial clash that I was somewhat concerned about how it would all turn out. I was relieved when (spoiler?) our leading ladies found a way to fully embrace their own unique identities and place them within Chinese-American culture, not as disparate pieces. I loved that even Wil was shocked by Gao’s secrets and made some of the same assumptions the Chinese community made since it is a part of her identity.

This is the kind of film where I respect the director, Alice Wu, even more as I learned about her process of making this movie a reality. Look it up! It was really a labor of love. My favorite fact so far is that studios really pushed to make all (including the leads!) or at least some characters white to bring more star power to the film, but Wu insisted on maintaining a Chinese cast.

Related: consider that this film was the first major US release since The Joy Luck Club and until Crazy Rich Asians to star an Asian cast. And while we do now have Shang-Chi to enjoy, we’ve still got a lot of progress to make for representation.

Would my blog wife romance this one with vending machine fare or leave it at the altar for another film? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Fear Street Part Three: 1666, or: No Goode Deed

*Spoilers follow*

Sometimes it just seems foretold in a Satanic ritual book that you’re going to enjoy a film. Here, we’ve got witches, Puritan period costume, and human sacrifices that happen to stand in for a strong social commentary. On paper, these are exactly the elements that make the Blog Collab tick. When they combine with dramatic neons and a well thought-out murder scheme, it’s pure heaven. Or hell, to follow the logic of a film in which good is evil.

The Film:

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

The Premise:

In the conclusion to the Fear Street trilogy, Deena learns the truth about Sarah Fier’s legacy and is determined to finally end the curse afflicting Shadyside residents, including her girlfriend Sam.

The Ramble:

At the conclusion of Part Two, Deena experienced a sort of time jump/vision/learning through osmosis about Sarah Fier’s life when she reunited the witch’s body with her cursed hand. As we learn through Deena/Sarah, Sarah Fier was a young colonist in the Puritan settlement of Union, lending us a very Crucible-esque spin on events.

A teen girl looks at a book, while another girl sits next to her, observing her.

Though a fairly good-natured young woman who has a talent for caring for and delivering livestock, Sarah has her share of doubters, from the perpetually intoxicated Thomas who claims to see darkness in her to the pastor’s wife…as Sarah is not so subtly in love with her daughter. Luckily, Sarah has allies in the form of her father and brother, as well as Solomon Goode, a loner from a well-to-do family who has recently moved to the outskirts of town to farm the land. Sarah also has friends with familiar faces played by actors from other installments, including a too-brief cameo from my personal favorite, Kate.

When Sarah and her friends sneak away from the 17th-century equivalent of a rave, they aim to acquire hallucinogenic berries from a widow who lives in the woods. While they do meet their goal, the teens are disturbed when the widow also utters an ominous warning and is in possession of a rather Satan-y looking book.

A group of people in Puritan clothing stand outside in the dark, their faces illuminated by a fire.

After returning to the party, Sarah and her secret girlfriend Hannah dodge the advances of town creep Caleb by sneaking back to the woods. There, a romantic moment is interrupted when it seems someone has caught the two. Rather than confront them, the mystery person opts for the repressed Puritan tactic of starting a nasty rumor that will eventually lead to a shunning. Or worse.

The following day, Hannah is horrified when her pastor father acts completely unlike himself…almost as if he’s possessed. Meanwhile, pests and mold sprout from every food source, the well water is corrupted with a dead goat’s body, and the sow who recently birthed piglets eats all of her young. While Sarah worries that she and Hannah have provoked God’s wrath with their sinful behavior, Solomon reassures her that they couldn’t have summoned the devil by mistake as she fears.

Three men with long hair in Puritan garb stand facing an enemy offscreen, prepared to act.

Things escalate quite dramatically soon after when the pastor locks himself in the church with his congregation…all of whom ultimately end up dead, including Sarah’s brother. This doesn’t really feel much like the inciting event so much as the moment all of the paranoid dudes of Puritanville, USA have been waiting for: a chance to have a literal witch hunt. It doesn’t take long for creepy Caleb to blame Hannah and Sarah, and for everyone to get onboard with this idea.

Managing to escape, Sarah vows to find a way to save herself and Hannah, even if it means making the deal with the devil they’ve supposedly already made. When this plan fails, Sarah turns to her pal Solomon for help…only to uncover an extremely dark secret that will set the stage for the Goodes’ future prominence and Sunnyvale’s success.

Armed with the knowledge that she must take down Sheriff Nick Goode in order to end the deal with the devil that Sarah Fier took the fall for, Deena unites with her brother Josh, Ziggy, and custodian Martin. But can they defeat the forces of evil with some divine inspiration from Carrie in–you guessed it–a very neon-lit mall?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I had a lot of fun with this trilogy, particularly as the characters and history of the Shadyside/Sunnyvale divide were fleshed out. Having the context of previous films to create dramatic twists and a conspiracy that brings together many disparate elements in a cohesive way makes this final installment especially satisfying. I feel quite justified in my immediate suspicion of generically good-looking dudes in film who are extremely agreeable on the surface.

A continued criticism is that the films don’t always connect the different stories and characters well until the end. With Part Three, the film sometimes seems disconnected both from the other two and from the distinct halves. The choppiness does detract from the success of the trilogy, though it does allow for a pretty big reveal around the halfway mark of this film.

Possibly because I’m always a fan of a period drama, I did find the first half of this installment more satisfying than the conclusion. That being said, the final half is still a lot of fun to watch as the neons make the scenes vivid and disorienting, and it’s impossible not to root for our final characters to all make it through. And I think the plan Deena & co. develop is pretty inspired, especially considering they’re working under extreme pressure to evade multiple undead serial killers.

I would watch the fuck out of another trilogy like this, Netflix.

Would my blog wife put a curse on this one or embrace it like a long-lost severed hand? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Fear Street Part Two: 1978, or: Stayin’ Alive

As we make our way through the Fear Street trilogy, we’re only going back further in time and diving deeper into horror tropes and supernatural forces. Don’t worry, though–Part Two will deliver those vital horror elements: teens making questionable decisions, overly dramatic yet largely ignored warnings, and witches. Praise the Lord, so many witches.

The Film:

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

The Premise:

Following the events of Part One, teens in 1994 learn of a 1978 summer camp massacre that seems to have been the work of undead witch Sarah Fier.

The Ramble:

Following the events of Fear Street Part One, drugs are the official reason for the series of murders that decimated the population of Shadyside for approximately the 10,000th time in history. Keenly interested in the story is one C. Berman, previously revealed to be the survivor of a 1978 summer camp massacre. Desperate for a lead that will help possessed Sam, Deena and her brother Josh plead for C. Berman’s guidance…though, as her sad story reveals, there’s not much hope for those the witch Sarah Fier wants dead, including C. Berman’s own sister.

In 1978, Shadyside sisters Cindy and Ziggy couldn’t be more different. Cindy is an overachiever inclined to become extremely upset over stains on her shirts and the lack of enthusiasm for cleaning that burnouts Alice and Arnie express. Though once fun and free-spirited as one of Alice’s bffs, Cindy is pleased with her good girl reputation that can help her leave Shadyside behind forever.

Ziggy, a teen girl with long red hair, rolls her eyes as she walks away from her sister in a forested area.

On the other end of the spectrum is Ziggy, who is one strike away from being sent home from summer camp. After being caught stealing, mean girl Sheila takes it upon herself to make Ziggy pay, going so far as to string her up and burn her with a lighter. Camp counselors intervene, and future sheriff Nick Goode prevents Ziggy from getting sent home as his brother and future mayor Will would prefer. In all of this, there are no consequences for Sunnyvaler Sheila.

When Ziggy goes to see Nurse Lane for her burn, things get intense fast when Ziggy notices files about the witch in the nurse’s office. Nurse Lane discusses her daughter, who seemed to be a victim of the Shadyside curse when she murdered 7 people before killing herself. Cindy is dismissive of her sister’s concerns about the nurse…until Lane attempts to kill Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy soon after. With the ominous warning that Tommy will die that night, Nurse Lane is removed from the premises.

Teenager Ziggy talks to the camp nurse as she waits for her arm to be bandaged.

Now with an interest in following through on Ziggy’s concerns and finding a reasonable explanation for the disturbing happenings, Cindy tries to gather what information she can from her sister. However, it’s too little too late, and Cindy responds to Ziggy’s disdain with some harsh words that she’ll never end up regretting just a few hours later, of course. Ziggy has problems of her own as she contains to suffer harassment at the hands of Sheila and kindness from counselor Nick…who surprises her with some vengeful schemes up his sleeve.

As Cindy and Tommy investigate Nurse Lane’s dire warning further, they learn one of the tales around Sarah Fier’s life and undeath is her sacrifice of one hand in exchange for immortality. Theoretically, reuniting Sarah’s body with her skeletal hand may stop her at last…though no one has a clue where to find these remains. After prankster Alice runs off with Cindy’s purse, the team of Alice, Arnie, Cindy, and Tommy investigate a strange burial site that leads to an underground series of tunnels. It’s just around this time that Tommy begins to feel rather under the weather; (not so) coincidentally, he feels rather compelled to start swinging axes at skulls.

Cindy, a teen girl with dark hair, holds a flashlight to a book in a darkened room. Next to her, a teen boy and girl look over her shoulder.

After an encounter that unleashes a possessed Tommy on the unsuspecting campers, Cindy and Alice are stuck in the maze of tunnels in search of an escape route. Meanwhile, the campers are thoroughly engrossed in a Color War game of capture the flag–Shadyside vs. Sunnyvale, naturally. It’s really only the Shadyside kids who are in real danger, as the legend of Sarah Fier’s curse reveals that those from Sunnyvale aren’t targeted.

Teenager Ziggy looks into the eyes of teenager Nick as they sit side by side.

Much of the subsequent action unfolds as both Cindy/Alice and Ziggy/Nick try to track down the killer before more foreheads become closely acquainted with the business end of an axe. Even if Tommy is out of the picture (and, as he’s effectively a possessed corpse, that’s a big if), what of Sarah Fier herself and all of the ghouls under her power? And what does this all mean for our 1994 teens’ hope of freeing Sam from the witch’s grasp?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I had so much fun watching this installment, in part because of the clear interest in (respectfully) borrowing from other horror classics. Part Two continues to strike a good balance between disturbingly gory slasher and teen sleuthing adventure. Even though a lot of the characters are teen horror cliches, there is enough care taken with the backstory here that I’m invested in them anyway. Just as the relationship between Deena and Sam was the heart of Part One, the sister bond between Cindy and Ziggy is the driving force behind the story of Part Two.

I have to admit the “big twist” revealing who C. Berman was not that surprising to me…especially if you think of the personality alone of our leads. However, maybe this reveal is a genuine surprise to others?

As with the first installment, the aesthetic is gorgeous and the soundtrack is superb. Some of the ’70s hair is truly great, and there does seem to be more attention to creating a sense of time & place that was missing from Part One. However, I’m still not totally convinced about the setting as our characters are still rocking a mostly contemporary aesthetic and perspective IMHO.

Though our second installment does build upon the story established in Part One, I will say they don’t connect particularly effectively. There are times when this film almost feels like part of anthology series as we forget about the ’94 plotline completely except for the first and last 10 minutes or so. And, though we had several reminders about Nick Goode’s future as Sunnyvale sheriff, I totally forgot that his brother Will becomes the mayor. I could have used a few more character reminders for the non-sheriff characters, honestly.

Minor source of annoyance: despite what teen horror typically promises, we don’t actually get to see Sheila die a horrible death. As she’s a Sunnyvaler, this makes sense and is in line with the setup of the curse and all of the social commentary involved with it. But it’s still irritating as she was definitely the character I most wanted to see with an axe through her temple.

Overall, though, the trilogy has been a great deal of fun so far. My complaints with Part Two are relatively minor, and I can’t wait to dig in to Part Three, especially as we get the rare but excellent period drama horror setting.

Would my blog wife take an axe for this one or surprise it with a bucket full of cockroaches? Find out in her review!