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.
When the former student of a prestigious music school reunites with the academy’s most famous pupil, so many ulterior motives are revealed.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
Fear Street Part Three: 1666
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
What’s better than making a decision about the next film on the Collab? Making the next 3 decisions all at once. Much as a I enjoy a carefully thought-out decision about our next viewing experience, I’m happy to say we’ve already checked off that box for several weeks. Our attention will be turned entirely to the Fear Street trilogy on Netflix…unless the dark forces within prove too much. Or our Wi-fi signal is interrupted. Truly a chilling thought.
Fear Street Part One: 1994
In a town plagued by grisly murders for centuries, a group of teens must confront a witch who is out for blood.
There must be something in the water in Shadyside, a small town where the murder rate is staggeringly high. Could the rumors about a long-dead witch causing all of the mayhem be true…or is Shadyside really just a bad place to live that brings out the worst in people?
After the latest murder of a teenage bookstore employee by a close friend, the residents of Shadyside and the idyllic neighboring town of Sunnyvale are in mourning but not complete shock. Residents of both towns seem to spend a large part of their time waiting around for the next murder.
In the midst of this tragedy, depressed teen Deena is experiencing her own personal loss after breaking up with her girlfriend Sam. As Deena is the one who did the breaking up when Sam moved to Sunnyvale, Sam is indignant that her ex has the nerve to be jealous. It does seem problematic that Sam is now dating a football player as a way to mask her LGBTQ identity and forget all about Deena.
When tensions arise during a community vigil for the recently murdered teen, things escalate between Shadyside and Sunnyvale high schools pretty quickly. Sam’s boyfriend proves to be a poor decision maker, tailing the bus that carries Deena and her friends. Deena really raises the stakes on that front when she and one of her bffs, Kate, throw a bucket of ice at the car, causing it to careen off-road into the woods. Sam is injured in the accident but ultimately okay…though her blood manages to draw the attention of a supernatural being.
Shortly after, Deena and her brother experience a creepy encounter that she initially believes to be Sam’s boyfriend playing a prank. Deena’s brother Josh, on the other hand, is something of an expert on the local lore of Sarah Fier, the witch executed in 1666 who is supposedly responsible for the statistically improbable number of grisly murders in Shadyside. It turns out that Josh may be onto something, especially when Peter is soon ruled out as a suspect quite definitively.
The local police are predictably useless on this one. Deena’s friends Kate and Simon also experience some disturbing events, quickly realizing that the witch is indeed causing mayhem…all because she’s after Sam’s blood. Luring the witch out, the gang sends her to a fiery doom Hocus Pocus-style and all is well in the world.
Except of course it’s not. After learning of the 1978 case of C. Berman, who was pursued by the witch but managed to survive, the gang concludes they’ll have to employ some more strategic tactics. Along with some hooking up just in case this is really the end, they decide to outsmart the witch by killing Sam with an overdose…then bringing her back to life as soon as possible. A simple plan that could never go unexpectedly wrong, obviously.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a lot of fun, and the soundtrack is so perfect, but there are a few issues that prevent this one from earning a full 4 stars. Like many a Netflix acquisition, there are a lot of moments that feel very intentionally formulaic. Frequently, there are times when the characters, writing, style transparently evoke Stranger Things, Riverdale, and IT…along with a number of horror classics. Sometimes it works, but at other times it gets overwhelming and confusing.
I like our characters well enough, and it’s refreshing to have an LGBTQ romance so central to the story. Kate is probably the most fun as an ambitious yet rage-fueled drug-dealing cheerleader. But there are a lot of times that everything feels overly glossy and put together, and our teen characters are perhaps too much of a nod to classic horror tropes. This could be a consequence of having seen one too many low-budget shark films: all other production values seem flawless in comparison.
I think my biggest annoyance is that our film does view very much like one that’s setting up other installments. However, Gillian Jacobs does appear briefly and promise entertainment in volume 2, so I can’t be entirely upset. And, in my criticism, I have somewhat underrepresented how much fun this one is as a teen adventure, gory horror, romance, and coming-of-age story. Look out for round 2 next week!
We have good intentions with our themes, we really do. But sometimes, even when you think the innocuous film that’s not too taxing on the brain is what you need, you just have to go with the lesbian director of gay porn struggling to find a masked killer murdering her actors in 1970s Paris. Duh.
Knife + Heart
As a masked killer picks off the actors in her gay porn film, director Anne attempts to solve the murders, wrap filming, and impress ex-girlfriend Loïs with her brilliance.
A director of gay porn in ’70s Paris, Anne is…quite troubled and troubling, frankly. At times a very high-functioning alcoholic, Anne’s reliance on the bottle has finally destroyed her long-term relationship with girlfriend and editor Loïs for good. Certainly not too proud to beg, Anne calls from a pay phone after a night of drinking, but Loïs insists they remain work colleagues only.
Meanwhile, at one of the top surreal gay nightclubs of Paris, one of Anne’s young stars catches the eye of a man in a dark mask that covers his face completely. Though things start on a kinky note, they take a turn for the ominous when the masked figure brings out a dildo that’s also a switchblade.
Anne is rather unfazed, prowling a local quarry for another young gay star–or at least a man who has no qualms about performing gay sex on camera for the right price. So unmoved by actor Karl’s death is Anne that she even finds inspiration in his death for her next film, Anal Fury V…a reference to Karl being stabbed in the rear. The crew finds this all to be in rather poor taste.
After the murder of another of Anne’s regular actors (featuring a white-eyed grackle or possibly crow depending on the translation), the cast and crew is properly freaked the fuck out. However, Anne merely retitles the film Homocidal, determined to finish her greatest work yet and impress the hell out of Loïs. Unfortunately, it seems that Loïs has moved on with another woman, leaving Anne to drink alone at an incredibly surreal lesbian club.
When the filming is complete, Anne hosts a wrap party, aka an opportunity to wait around for Loïs to arrive. Soon after Loïs arrives, a white-eyed grackle lands on her shoulder, and a dramatic wind storm cuts the party short. As the party attendees flee, an actor left behind becomes another victim of the masked killer.
Following Loïs home, Anne confronts her ex, demanding that she continue to love her. Anne sexually assaults Loïs and, the next day, her former lover disappears and asks to be left alone.
When Anne learns of the latest death of one of her actors, she confronts the police about the absence of any leads whatsoever. Taking pity, a young police officer gives Anne a feather that has been found at each crime scene. As it turns out, the feathers come from…a white-eyed grackle, hailing from a forest in rural France, and supposedly victims of extinction hundreds of years ago.
To uncover the truth, cityslicker Anne packs her bags and heads to smalltown France. Will she discover the identity of the killer or just find a forest full of creepy birds?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
In the earlier segments of the film, I was confused and frustrated enough that I probably would have multi-tasked for the remainder of the film if it hadn’t been subtitled. There are a lot of artistic decisions here that come across as the work of auteur who thinks it’s your problem if you don’t understand their vision. Oh, you didn’t understand the oranges as a representation of the loss of childhood innocence and their evocation of early Russian silent films? That’s on you.
That being said, even if enjoyment doesn’t quite describe my feelings about this one, I admire the ambition. I don’t particularly like our lead, especially since she sexually assaults someone and claims it was love, but I’m ok with not liking Anne a whole lot. From a thematic perspective, the concept of becoming monstrous in the name of love draws a parallel between Anne’s actions, those of masked killer Guy, and even the actions of his father.
Appropriately, the cinematography is gorgeous and chaotic, playing with film noir blues and violent reds, as well as soft daylight glow.
I did find the look into some considerations of the porn industry at the time pretty fascinating. Interestingly, Anne takes pride in the artistic element of her work, and wants to create gay porn with a unique spin. Not to give the porn industry a free pass on a lot of its exploitative/problematic practices, but it’s nice that there’s no shame here for the cast and crew, and there’s even a sense of professional pride. That’s not the perspective we get about porn crews in a lot of other works.
In the end, I didn’t expect to find the unraveling of Guy’s story to be quite so moving. I wouldn’t call Guy a sympathetic figure, but the past does color his actions with tragedy and create a surprisingly emotional conclusion to our film. It has to be intentional that the setting is 1979, setting the stage for the AIDS crisis just a few years later.
Btw, if you’re just here for an extended and quite artistically shot orgy scene, skip to the last 5 minutes of the film.
This week’s film was the first from Kenya to feature at the Cannes Film Fest in 2018. I certainly hope not the last, but I can’t say I’ve noticed film festivals significantly diversifying since then. Because, in addition to #OscarsSoWhite, #FilmDirectorsSoWhite, #ProducersSoWhite, and #MediaSoWhiteEurocentric. It’s honestly at times a challenge to find films directed by women, let alone women of color to highlight on the Blog Collab. Can we please fund many more films created by women of color? Come on–we are currently slated to get more Transformers movies, but we can’t see even one more picture made by a Kenyan woman premiere at a film festival?*
*Though note that this film’s director, Wanuri Kahiu, is supposedly involved with an adaptation of Octavia Butler’s novel Wild Seed, and I could not be more excited.
Teen girls in Nairobi face rejection and disdain as they fall in love despite the rivalry between their families in a local election.
Just as tomboy Kena prepares to finish high school, her family implodes, making them the subject of unfavorable gossip and uncomfortable scrutiny. Following her parents’ divorce, Kena’s mother devotes her time to religion, while her father, John, remarries and is expecting a son with his wife. To further complicate matters, John lets gossip make its way to Kena rather than telling her anything directly. His reputation isn’t as stellar as it could be, especially considering John has decided to run against the incumbent in a local election.
Though Kena is usually content to chill with her small (and quite homophobic) group of guy friends, someone else has been catching her eye of late. The mysterious person in question is Ziki, the daughter of John’s political rival. Ziki seems different from Kena in every possible way: her colorful, feminine style, more affluent background, and comfort with being the center of attention. However, the two share an attraction and a rebellious dream of pursuing lives that are entirely their own.
Even as Kena and Ziki spend time together, they are under the watchful eye of town gossip Mama Atim, who owns the food kiosk Kena favors. As it becomes clear that the two will need to meet in secret, they carve out spaces that are hidden from anyone who may recognize them. Kena shares her dreams of being a nurse, though she has the grades to become a doctor; Ziki reveals that it’s her goal to travel as much as possible. While they don’t know what the future holds, they agree to make something real of it.
Despite all of the sneaking around at all hours of the night, gossip still makes its way to Kena’s dad, John. What’s more is the local pastor uses his sermons to rail against same-sex marriage. Ziki attempts to hold Kena’s hand during the service, causing their first fight. Though the two make up, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to hide their feelings. After an angry mob, led by none other than Mama Atim, finds Kena and Ziki together, the couple faces a brutal attack. John seems to be the only parent willing to stand by his daughter, while Ziki’s parents are determined to send her away to London.
Among so much resistance from their families and community, can the love between Kena and Ziki stay alive?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
This is a simple story beautifully told. The colors are vividly expressive, reflecting the sweet but intense romance between our two leads. I appreciate that Kena and Ziki have endearing personalities and aspirations outside of their relationship; one of the most frustrating patterns for me in a romance-driven plot is a bland character who is merely a canvas to project desires onto.
Actually, the characters as a whole are written with the nuance to seem real and for us to understand, even if we don’t always sympathize. Mama Atim, the town gossip, is extremely overbearing and frustrating, though there are elements of her character I quite like. In the end, she’s homophobic to the point of refusing treatment from Kena, now a doctor. However, at the same time, she inscrutably reveals to Kena when Ziki is back in town–and I’m not entirely sure how to interpret this. Could there be a grain of compassion in this action or is Mama Atim merely unable to resist gloating over a juicy piece of gossip?
Speaking of Mama Atim, who reflects a pattern of many of the women in our film, I do wish Kena had a single female ally. It’s incredibly touching to see John stand with his daughter at the risk of his political career. And there’s a beautiful moment between Kena and the gay character her friends constantly harass. Most of the women in our story lack the power and authority to stand with LGBTQ members of the community, instead keeping their heads down and maintaining the status quo. Ultimately, acceptance (or lack of acceptance) hinges largely on the reactions of Kena and Ziki’s fathers.
While quite a few heartbreaking and harrowing events unfold, it’s a relief that one of the film’s messages is hope. Director Wanuri Kahiu’s story mirrors the reality of homophobia and religious bigotry in the present yet imagines the possibility of open-mindedness and acceptance for the characters we grow to love in a short time.
Sequins and elaborate dance numbers have a special place in the Collab; partly as musicals feel written exclusively to lift our spirits (and ours alone), but largely because we are here for any and everything over-the-top. This week’s pick has plenty of sparkle and choreography for days–does it offer the degree of delight we anticipate from a Broadway adaptation?
After learning of an Indiana teen whose prom is cancelled after she asks another girl to the dance, several Broadway performers team up to save the day and demonstrate their selflessness as activists.
In small-town Indiana, the local PTA stirs up controversy by cancelling the year’s prom–a move widely regarded as all high schooler Emma’s fault. You see, Emma is the only out lesbian at her school. When she decided she’d like to invite another young woman to the dance as her date, PTA crusader Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) lost her damn mind. Rather than refuse Emma’s request and allow a same-sex couple at the prom, the PTA responds by cancelling the dance altogether (largely to avoid being sued in a clear-cut case of discrimination).
Meanwhile, Broadway stars Dee Dee and Barry are having an even more difficult time (apparently). As it turns out, their egos may be a teensy bit inflated and it’s possible they demonstrate more than one trait of a narcissistic personality disorder…which becomes painfully clear when yet another production (Eleanor: The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical, which, for the record, I would see) is cancelled on opening night because of its unlikeable stars.
As Dee Dee and Barry catch up with perpetual chorus girl Angie and bartender between gigs (and former sitcom star) Trent, they decide their best shot to make a comeback is through celebrity activism. Learning of Emma’s cause, they tag along with Trent’s non-union tour of Godspell, conveniently traveling right through the heart of Indiana. Or whichever region of Indiana it’s meant to be.
Before we move on, I feel it’s important to recognize that these characters are played by Meryl Streep (brilliant, obv), Andrew Rannells (exuding Broadway energy), Nicole Kidman (looking very much the part of dancer but in a role whose purpose I don’t fully understand), and…James Corden. (Keegan-Michael Key is in this too, but we haven’t gotten to him yet.) There are a lot of problems with this film that have nothing to do with James Corden. I can’t blame him for everything. However, I do believe it’s impossible to fully enjoy this film at all if you (a) think James Corden was horribly miscast and playing an uncomfortable stereotype, (b) find James Corden smug and irritating regardless of his role, or (c) all of the above. We will revisit this later (believe we will revisit this), but I think you really need to envision these actors to better appreciate the experience of watching this film. And the extent to which it attempts to ride on their coattails.
Returning to our regularly scheduled recap: our 4 Broadway performers make a grand entrance at a PTA meeting in an attempt to teach the small-minded folks of a backwards Indiana town the error of their ways. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this doesn’t have the intended effect. However, on the front of small personal victories, Principal Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key, no longer dressed as a dapper yet sinister nutcracker), lifelong Broadway fan, secretly thrills at meeting Dee Dee IRL.
While our team of 4 is determined to make Emma’s plight into a cause, Emma herself is less enthused about being in the spotlight. After the prom is back on, she is relieved that the fight is over. Meanwhile, Barry and the others are pleased to focus on important matters like Emma’s outfit for the dance. Though her date backs out, not yet ready to make their relationship public, Emma is nevertheless excited to celebrate with her newfound friends.
As Dee Dee learns more about Emma’s story, including being kicked out by her parents after coming out as a lesbian, she also learns about Tom’s reverence for the theater. Dee Dee is herself a small-town girl still recovering from a nasty divorce. Barry shares a difficult Midwestern past too, hailing from Ohio, where he was rejected by his parents after coming out as gay.
Just when things seem to be wrapping up nicely (and early!), the PTA pulls a total dick move and holds two proms: one that is “inclusive” for Emma to attend, and a real one for everyone else. Apparently the entire town gaslights Emma and doesn’t tell her the location of the real prom, leaving her all alone at the dance. With more loose threads to tie than ever before, can Barry find peace, Dee Dee and Tom happiness, an entire small town acceptance, and Emma her own form of expression to speak her truth? Phew.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
Ugh, I find James Corden so smug and irritating. And not in the period drama “I can’t stand him but secretly fantasize about him emerging from a pond in a white shirt” way. I just don’t like him, his sense of humor, or the attention-seeking vibes that ooze from him at all times (though I’ve gotten quite a lot of enjoyment from “Carpool Karaoke”). He’s gotten a lot of criticism for his role in The Prom, though I’ve got to question many of the parties involved who decided to cast him too. It’s disappointing to see a straight man play a total stereotype of a gay character in a movie about fairness for the LGBTQ community. I would have killed to see Titus Burgess in this role.
Beyond Corden, there are several other major problems I can’t overlook. First, there are really two different tones the film strives for, and they are essentially incompatible. The film wants to be a satirical take down of celebrity activists who are completely out of touch with reality. At the same time, it tries to teach (an incredibly heavy-handed) lesson about acceptance. These two conflicting goals constantly undercut each other by trying to poke fun at our characters while simultaneously humanizing them. I quite like the old “Hollywood winkingly underscores its own hypocrisy” theme, but it was insufferable here. Another person I would have liked to see involved with this project? Rachel Bloom. Some of Meryl Streep’s lines already felt right out of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
My other issue here is the number of characters, and it’s never really clear who is the star. I think(?) the star is supposed to be Emma, but she’s a less interesting character than any of the members of our Broadway troupe. But even among these characters, the focus is constantly shifting, attempting to give each a satisfying backstory that will bring them to life. The result is that most of them feel like sketches, and we don’t get to see any of the supposed growth they experience.
Finally, the film’s insistence on wrapping things up so tidily and sweetly grates on my nerves. I do support the film’s message, even if it’s approximately as subtle as gay fetus holiday classicA New York Christmas Wedding (RIP, Azrael Gabison). And I think it’s important to make films about LGBTQ characters that aren’t a total downer. But I can’t wholly enjoy an ending that sweeps everything under the rug so that all of the characters can have a fun musical number at the end. It’s all very cute, but it feels empty when seriously the only thing a bunch of homophobic teens needed to change their mind was a song about loving your neighbor. FFS, even Mrs. Greene is smiling at the end and throwing hugs around after she spent the entire film bullying, harassing, and discriminating against a teenager.
What I find most frustrating is seeing the potential of this film, but then watching as it ultimately falls flat.
However, I will give this film major points for my new favorite mantra, “picture a Xanax in your hand” (though it’s really a Broadway lyricist who deserves credit there). And the costumes and choreography are as stunning as you’d expect to see in a Broadway production. As an added bonus, perhaps this will be the first film that some people associate with Indiana, aka land of Mike Pence, from now on. It gives me perhaps a problematic level of enjoyment to think about how much that would pain him.
I could see how this could scratch the Broadway itch for people missing live theater at the moment; on the other hand, I could see how another type of theater fan would regret that they didn’t simply watch 42nd Street on Great Performances (again).
This hobby blog is dedicated to movie nerdom, nostalgia, and the occasional escape. In the late 90s, I worked at Blockbuster Video where they let me take home two free movies a day. I caught up on the classics and wrote movie reviews for Denver 'burbs newspapers and magazines. Currently, I am enjoying my new life as a new dad, but when there's free time, movies are standard. Comments and dialogue always encouraged. Happy Moviegoing!