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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

The Happiness of the Katakuris, or: Born This Clay

It wouldn’t be the Blog Collab if we weren’t pressing play on a horrible mismatch of genres that shouldn’t work. Horror, musical, comedy, claymation? Surely these elements can never combine in satisfying cinematic harmony. But we’re not necessarily seeking perfection here so much as that certain B-movie je ne sais quoi.

The Film:

The Happiness of the Katakuris

The Premise:

After an unlucky family covers up the suicide of their first inn guest, things…escalate.

The Ramble:

At a hotel restaurant in Japan, a young woman finds a horrible surprise in her meal: a little demonic creature that thinks her uvula looks like a delicious snack. After leaving the woman for dead, the creature undergoes a very quick life cycle, coming full circle as it’s snatched up in a crow’s beak. When an elderly man kills the crow, bringing it down mid-flight, you know ominous events are about to unfold.

A claymation woman screams as a small winged demon pries open her jaws.

The aforementioned man is our narrator’s great-grandfather Jinpei Katakuri, the head of a rather unfortunate family. His son, Masao, laid off from his job, made the seemingly sound decision to buy a remote property sure to transform into a popular tourist destination after the construction of a major road. Major setback to this plan? The road has yet to be built.

Masao’s daughter Shizue lives with the family, along with her brother Masayuki and daughter Yurie, the narrator. Shizue is divorced and falls in and out of love too quickly. Masayuki has a violent temper and is attempting to leave his criminal past behind. Yurie herself is a child but old enough to realize her family is leaning heavily on the dysfunctional side of the scale.

Four members of a family stand outside, looking unhappy and facing away from each other.

Just as the family is prepared to give up on making a living from the inn, they finally welcome their first guest on a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately, their guest is extremely depressed, ultimately dying by suicide when he stabs himself with a hotel key. When the family discovers the body, they decide to cover things up, fearing their first guest’s suicide will doom their business.

Four people in a dark room pause in the middle of a dance. They react in distress to the discovery of a body in the room.

Soon after, a man claiming to be a member of the British Royal Navy arrives, and Shizue is instantly smitten. It becomes increasingly clear that the man is not who he appears to be, especially as he makes ever more outlandish claims about his connections to the royal family. After he leaves, Shizue receives a call implying he has died…but is that the truth?

When a somewhat renowned Sumo wrestler arrives at the inn with a teen girl, it’s not long before both end up dead. Because of the suspicious number of bodies piling up, the family starts to believe Masayuki may be responsible due to his criminal past.

Add a few musical numbers to the mix, a plan to finally begin building the long-promised road, and some reanimating corpses, and you’ve got…a rather surreal experience.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise is irresistible, but the loose structure of the film itself is confusing and often frustrating. I appreciate the musical numbers so much, especially the extremely dark ones that discuss hiding the body of the first guest and discovering the exhumed bodies have become zombified.

I would have liked a bit more direction here, though, and some idea of what is to come. I expected more horror, but the film is more interested in exploring themes around family and social commentary about success/happiness and the perception of these…as well as just doing whatever the fuck it wants to. Some of these themes don’t work well when everyone in the family is problematic to some degree. I found it difficult to care about the characters and what happened to them as they spent most of their time being horrible, making questionable decisions, and having things go miraculously well despite their incompetence.

Props for weirdness, though. I’m struggling to think of a recent watch as unabashedly strange and visually daring as this one.

Would my blog wife save this one from an unexpected lava flow or bury it along with the other bodies? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Grease 2, or: Go Back to High School

Given this month is dedicated to good/bad B-movies, the time feels right to revisit another…classic? Though not one of my favorites, will a rewatch help change my tune, especially considering the intricately choreographed musical sequences and rather ’80s interpretations of early ’60s fashions?

The Film:

Grease 2

The Premise:

When English exchange student Michael falls for Pink Lady Stephanie, he adopts an alter ego as a cool biker to impress her.

The Ramble:

The gang’s all here for a sequel to the hit musical! If the characters from Grease you’re most invested in seeing again are Frenchy, Principal McGee and the secretary, the football coach, that one really dweeby guy, and the rival Scorpions gang member who’s an asshole for no reason.

Everyone else who’s back to school makes up an entirely new senior class, from the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds to the jocks and cheerleaders, and everyone in between. Geeky English import Michael has the misfortune to be the new kid just in time for senior year, though the recently reenrolled Frenchy has got his back. After all, Michael is cousin to Rydell High icon Sandy, who apparently had great things to say about the school? I guess if your high school experience ended with a literal ride in a flying car, you might look back fondly.

Michael, a teenager with hair styled in a pompadour, leans against a fence. On the other side of the fence, Frenchy, a young woman wearing a pink jacket, follows his gaze to an offscreen Stephanie.

I guess because he’s polite and wears sweaters frequently, Michael is immediately labelled a nerd and is bullied by the T-Birds. When Pink Ladies leader Stephanie checks on the new kid after an incident, he’s smitten. Unfortunately for Michael, independent Stephanie has recently broken up with T-Birds leader Johnny and will (famously) settle for nothing less than a cool rider. Also, it’s apparently a critically important rule that Pink Ladies only date T-Birds–so important that it never came up once in the first film.

Johnny, a teen with slicked-back hair and a black leather jacket, leans an arm against a wall close to Stephanie, a blonde teen wearing a pink jacket. He smiles, while she looks irritated.

After an innuendo-laden song about bowling, Stephanie is determined to demonstrate her freedom from Johnny, who has yet to accept their breakup. Boldly declaring she will kiss the next guy who walks in, Stephanie locks lips with Michael. Now (hopelessly) devoted to Stephanie, Michael vows to do everything in his power to join the T-Birds and become the man of her dreams. Too bad he’s just made a mortal enemy of Johnny and doesn’t know the first thing about motorcycles.

Making use of his nerdy reputation, Michael begins to write essays for his peers in exchange for cash. Eventually, Michael earns enough money to buy a fixer-upper bike and somehow learn to ride so well that he can do a motherfucking sidekick while driving by Scorpion leader Craterface just in time to save one of the lesser T-Birds from a rumble. Stephanie is extremely into this, especially when the mysterious cool rider eludes the cops and returns just in time to light her cigarette. Even as she proclaims her love to the unknown biker (after they’ve spent maybe half of a day together), she’s utterly uninterested in real life Michael.

Against the backdrop of an orange sunset, Stephanie leans close to Michael. He rests against a motorcycle, wearing all black leather and a dark helmet and goggles.

Meanwhile, the school talent show is on everyone’s mind, largely because the entire student body seems to be involved. Logically, the winners of the talent show will be crowned king and queen of the end of year luau, so the stakes are high. Stephanie’s main interest in the show is the opportunity to see her cool rider again. However, things take an unexpectedly tragic turn when the T-Birds chase off the biker, who takes a plunge from a cliff. Convinced she’s lost her love before even knowing his name, will Stephanie somehow see the mystery man of her dreams at the talent show, maybe in a dance sequence that’s not quite on the level of “Beauty School Dropout?”

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I enjoyed this a lot more than I remembered, but I’d still say the magic wasn’t quite there for me. Watching the sequel to Grease makes it even more apparent that the original musical/film was leaning so hard on its catchy AF soundtrack. There are a couple of reasonably memorable songs here, but they don’t hold a candle (or a lighter) to the first film’s songs.

Wisely, the film does get us the closest we will likely ever get to a Rizzo-centered sequel. Stephanie is very much a Rizzo type, living by her own rules and taking shit from no one. She’s such a feminist icon, dismissing the idea that she exists to be someone’s trophy. On the other hand, the Pink Ladies in this film don’t feel as much like a ride or die crew as those in the first film. We don’t get many of the bonding scenes that we did in Grease, and honestly the original one probably passes the Bechdel test more comfortably.

For better or worse, the comedy is played up here. Some of it falls flat, but we do get a more clear-cut criticism of the T-Birds and their ludicrous macho posturing. Johnny almost always looks like a complete tool, and the rest of the T-Birds are approximately on par.

I did make an intentional effort not to over-analyze this film, but the plot is stretched too thin to make much sense. The talent show gets almost an entire 30 mins–there’s that little going on here. And I feel even less of an understanding of motorcycle gangs as a result of this film. What is even the point of a motorcycle gang? Is it to be a man in your mid-30s (at a minimum) who exists solely to laugh intimidatingly and ruin teenagers’ parties? Because that’s the only thing the Scorpions do.

I will give credit to this film for the nonsensical but momentous return of Michael at the luau (though the luau itself is pretty cringey). I wish the rest of the film had been on the same melodramatic level, but I found most other facets not quite absurd enough to get invested in. On a side note, I don’t understand why the fuck Michael still wants to be a T-Bird by the end of the film, especially when Johnny and his friends psychotically pursued him to the point that they believed they were responsible for his murder (or at least manslaughter). If it had been me in Michael’s situation, I would have very quickly become a horror movie villain.

Possibly my favorite element of the entire film is that people treat Michael like he’s a complete alien who doesn’t know how to relate to people…all because he’s English. Obviously one of the more realistic plot points.

Would my blog wife buy a motorcycle to impress this one or shrug off its leather jacket with disdain? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Prom, or: The Theater, the Theater

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?

The Film:

The Prom

The Premise:

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.

The Ramble:

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).

A teen, Emma, stands smiling in a hotel lobby. The principal, Tom Hawkins, stands next to her in solidarity.

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.

Along a brightly lit Broadway street at night, four performers link arms and sing. Three of them are wearing sequined outfits, and one is wearing a red bartender's jacket.

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.

The character of Trent, a man wearing a Juilliard t-shirt stands in a mall, holding out his hands in shock. Behind him, several back-up dancers look on with similarly horrified expressions.

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.

A teenager in a softly lit room sits on her bed, playing a guitar. Her head is haloed by a rainbow decoration on her wall.

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.

The Rating:

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 classic A 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).

Would my blog wife attend the dance with this one or immediately shut it down? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Black Nativity, or: Angela Bassett We Have Heard on High

It’s our 2nd Forest Whitaker musical of the month, and I’m not complaining. Once again playing a rather stern figure who may need to rethink his priorities, will this week’s pick recapture the magic of Jingle Jangle? I mean, will anything?

The Film:

Black Nativity

The Premise:

Facing eviction ahead of the holidays, a Baltimore mother sends her son to stay with his grandparents as he unravels family secrets and inevitably learns the true meaning of Christmas.

The Ramble:

Named for the Harlem Renaissance poet (and playwright who scripted the inspiration for our film), our young hero Langston is experiencing a rather unhappy Christmas season. On the brink of eviction from their Baltimore home, his mother Naima sends Langston to stay with his estranged grandparents in Harlem for the holidays. Promising to join her son soon, it seems impossible that Naima will follow through on this.

Less than stoked to spend time with his grandparents, who share a troubled relationship with their daughter, Langston’s trip goes from bad to worse when he steps off the bus and immediately loses his backpack to a thief. Even more aggravating is his arrest after being accused of stealing a guest’s wallet in a hotel lobby.

A Black grandfather shows a picture to his grandson, a small collection of antiques and photos in the room behind them.

Luckily, Langston’s grandfather, the Reverend Cornell Cobbs, picks him up from jail…though is less than understanding. Langston fails to score points as a grandchild by expressing confusion that the family says grace before eating. Even so, the Rev shows Langston some family heirlooms related to their proud history of involvement in the Civil Rights movement, including a pocket watch that belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.

A Black teenager speaks on the phone with a disappointed look, his grandmother and grandfather looking with concern in the room behind him.

Unfortunately, Langston sees the pocket watch as a way to earn money to pay down the rent his mother owes by selling it at the nearest pawn shop. As luck would have it, the pawn shop owner knows Rev. Cobbs and that he would never voluntarily part with the piece.

Though he strikes out with the watch, Langston encounters a man on the street who can set him up with anything he needs, including a handgun. Langston begins to set the wheels in motion in an extremely misguided attempt to get the money needed to stop the eviction.

As he gets to know his grandparents better, Langston begins to unravel the family’s secrets. While reluctantly attending the Christmas Eve service and hearing the Nativity story at church, Langston offers a place to sit to young expecting couple Maria and Jo Jo. Get it? But do you get it since it’s incredibly subtle?

A young Black man and woman look down at their newborn, who is in an improvised manger with light shining down on him.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Christmas miracle of Naima managing to reunite with her family occurs…but does it mean the truth will surface and the power of forgiveness will smooth over past disagreements?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

To me, there are three stages of watching this film (in no particular order): boredom, annoyance, state of awe of Angela Bassett.

Despite the incredible cast (Angela Bassett! Forest Whitaker! Jennifer Hudson! Mary J. Blige!), this is a surprisingly boring and disjointed film. The main plot line involving the family’s history and Langston’s poor decisions is quite predictable, and our talented cast don’t have nearly enough to do. Add to this the well-known Nativity story that’s not done in a particularly interesting or novel way, songs that are forgettable, and increasingly poor decisions by Langston (who TALKS BACK to Angela Bassett), and there’s not a lot going for it.

We do get strong vocal performances from just about everyone in our film, even if the songs themselves aren’t that interesting. And Angela Bassett in particular does rock the role, especially considering what she’s given to work with. However, there was a major missed opportunity for a Dreamgirls mash-up, especially a scene near the end where a reprise of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” wouldn’t have hurt at all.

All of this being said, I still teared up a little at the extremely predictable end.

Would my blog wife greet this one with open arms or pawn it off as soon as humanly possible? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, or: Hark the Herald Androids Sing

It’s December with less than 3 weeks until Christmas, and you can bet we’re keeping things festive on the Blog Collab. Don’t worry–this week’s pick features no fetus angels, alternate timelines, or public outings of multiple LGBTQ folks. However, you’d better be prepared for plenty of song and dance, flying robots, and a colorful steampunk aesthetic this time around.

The Film:

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

The Premise:

Years after betrayal from his apprentice and the tragic death of his wife, a curmudgeonly inventor struggles to connect with his granddaughter as he works on creating a toy that could save his career and family.

The Ramble:

In the present day (which feels close to the early 20th century except steampunk), young siblings have a disagreement about whether the dancing figures that seem to appear in the fireplace are real…or if Christmas magic is well and truly dead. Their knowing grandmother is fully prepared to entertain the children with a special story, The Invention of Jeronicus Jangle. And perhaps the story will contain its own lessons about Christmas magic along the way.

Beside a Christmas tree, an elderly woman sits in an armchair, holding a book. On either side of her sits a child looking on with anticipation.

As the story goes, Jeronicus Jangle (disappointingly, no one in this film was actually christened with the name Jingle Jangle) was a genius inventor who oversaw the most wonderful toy shop around. Along with his wife Joanne and daughter Jessica, Jeronicus created rather steampunk inventions. His latest is a matador-inspired doll that comes to life and happens to be the most stereotypical caricature of a Spaniard…so it’s no surprise that its name is Don Juan Diego. Now a sentient being, Don Juan has an extremely existential crisis when he discovers the toymaker’s plan is to mass-produce millions of his clones. I also have a lot of questions about this, honestly.

A mean wearing goggles in a gadget-filled workshop unveils his latest toy invention as a woman and girl look on excitedly.

Quite cunningly, Don Juan catches onto the resentment of apprentice Gustafson and uses the situation to his advantage, manipulating the young man to take off with all of Jangle’s plans that really should have been copyrighted by now. Shortly after the betrayal, Jangle falls into despair when his wife dies. Stalled as an inventor and neglectful as a father, Jangle ends up all alone and with no inspiration for new ideas. He vows to never create another invention again.

A man dressed elegantly looks angrily at a toy, a figure dressed in a blue matador costume that is moving on its own.

Decades later, Gustafson has set up an even more successful shop, getting away with his theft for…reasons. Though Don Juan is the toy, it becomes pretty obvious he’s the one pulling the strings in this operation. However, the team has now gone through every blueprint in Jangle’s massive book of plans, and they struggle to come up with original ideas that will work.

Meanwhile, Jangle operates a pawnbroker’s shop with the help of his chipper young assistant Edison. Postal worker Ms. Johnston seems to be one of the few folks around who actually likes Jangle, encouraging him to smile (and pay her some attention). But Jangle is focused completely on inventing, as he’s been given a deadline by the bank to come up with a product or face massive debt. Why is money suddenly a sufficient incentive for Jangle to dig out the inventor’s toolkit? Again…reasons.

Around this time, Jangle’s granddaughter Journey decides it’s past time that she met her legendary grandfather. Still embittered after his experience with Gustafson, Jangle requires Journey to sign a legally binding agreement before she can even stay with him.

A man walks along a 19th century street in winter, reading a book. A girl walks next to him.

It’s not long before Journey meets Edison, and the two uncover a long-forgotten invention of Jangle’s, an ominous-sounding robot named the Buddy 3000. The two children managed to bring the robot (which can fly!) to life because they believe in it enough. A cynic might roll their eyes just a little bit here.

Unsurprisingly, Jangle is a bit more reluctant to believe in Christmas magic. He’s rather more annoyed that Journey and Edison have disrupted his workspace, and he doesn’t believe for a second that the robot is actually working as intended.

It’s not long before Gustafson discovers the nature of Jangle’s latest creation and steals it for himself. After Journey and Edison learn of the theft, they are determined to reclaim Buddy and save the future of Jangle’s shop. But can they succeed in their quest without shenanigans? Probably not.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, I enjoyed this for around 90 minutes, but our film clocks in at nearly 2 hours (excluding the delightfully animated end credits, which add at least 10 minutes to the film’s runtime). There are repeated moments towards the film’s conclusion when I expected the credits to roll…only to realize we STILL had anywhere from 30 to 15 minutes remaining. I question how readily a young child would sit down for 2 HOURS and follow the somewhat convoluted plot.

I will grant that the film has a lot going for it, and is the most enjoyable recent Christmas film I can think of (I also liked last year’s animated film Klaus a lot). The cast is incredible, from Forest Whitaker to Anika Noni Rose, Keegan-Michael Key, Ricky Martin, Phylicia Rashad, and newcomer Madalen Mills.

The film also looks great–the costumes are wonderfully colorful, and the sets and elaborate choreography reflect the sort of Dickens steampunk on Broadway aesthetic you start to expect after only a few minutes of viewing. Forest Whitaker as Jangle in particular has the coziest looking coat/robe that I would buy immediately should the Jingle Jangle fashion line take off. The songs aren’t super memorable, but the scenes make them come alive in a way that’s absorbing enough so that you may only occasionally think about the number of feats that would be next to impossible in the world of mid-pandemic film production.

I will say that there’s too much going on for the story to really feel like a progression, which disappoints me a bit. There’s not necessarily a feeling that Jangle grows as a person; he’s just suddenly no longer a jerk.

And I got needlessly distracted (as I do) by (1) Don Juan Diego’s portrayal as a complete stereotype and (2) the ethical implications of not only cloning a sentient being, but more or less murdering it. Overthinking this? Most likely. However, I think the arc of Don Juan Diego is increasingly dark and Frankenstein-ian the more you think about it. You’re heading into thoroughly gray area when creating lifeforms and then expecting them to do your bidding.

That being said, I did overall find this film sweet, charming, and full of Christmas cheer.

Would my festive blog wife bring this film to life with her belief or scrap the blueprints before it could be built? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Been So Long, or: I’ll Buy You a Kebab

Two things I’m up for at almost any time: movie musicals and kebabs. Fortuitously, this week’s film brings together both of these interests. Added bonus is the leading role for the multi-talented Michaela Coel, whose star seems very much on the rise of late. But do all of these elements create something greater than the sum of its parts or do they mix as well as orange juice and toothpaste?

The Film:

Been So Long

The Premise:

A single mother who has been burned before connects with a man who has recently been paroled but fears opening up her heart again.

The Ramble:

Simone is a single mother struggling to balance working as a hairdresser with caring for her daughter who uses a wheelchair. In contrast to her more relaxed mother and carefree bff Yvonne, Simone is very tightly wound. She very rarely makes time for herself or agrees to a night out…and Yvonne is sick of this nonsense.

A woman walks next to her daughter in a wheelchair as they move through a crowd in Camden Market.

Meanwhile, recently paroled Raymond is hoping to reconnect with friends after 3 years incarcerated. Everyone seems to have moved on with their lives, though, and he’s stuck at home with his mother and an ankle monitor. The one person who hasn’t moved on seems to be a mysterious and mentally unstable man following Raymond. Who is this man and what’s the deal with his obsession?

A woman with brightly colored hair drinks champagne at a bar while another woman looks incredulously at her.

After her mother steps in to babysit, Simone reluctantly heads out for a night on the town with Yvonne. Their first stop is the neighborhood bar, Bar Arizona, which has certainly seen better days. After Yvonne catches the attention of Raymond, the only other customer there, she sets him up with Simone.

As it turns out, Simone and Raymond have a bit of a connection, though she is keen to avoid the mere possibility of a romantic relationship. When she realizes Raymond has been recently released from prison, Simone pushes him away…but they reconnect when they end up on the same bus later that night.

Sitting on either side of a draughts board in a dimly lit bar, a man and woman smile at each other.

Eventually, we learn that Raymond was incarcerated largely because of a friend’s drunken decisions, though he accepts responsibility for his own choices. Not proud of his past, Raymond is also embarrassed by his current work as a street sweeper and binman.

Rewinding to 3 years ago, we also learn that Raymond’s stalker, now wielding a kebab knife, instantly fell in love with Raymond’s girlfriend at the time. No other mention of this woman or what happened to her…so to say this plot point is stretched too thin is an understatement.

A man stands in front of the counter at a kebab shop, oblivious to a man in a hoodie staring at him intensely.

Simone is also contending with mistakes from the past meeting the present as her daughter’s father, Kestrel, hopes to spend time with their child. Because Kestrel is a recovering addict who wasn’t around for the earlier years of his daughter’s life, Simone doesn’t trust him at all and insists he stay away.

Throughout, Simone seems to be trapped in a cycle as she gets close to Raymond only to push him away.

In the end, are kebabs powerful enough to bring this couple together once and for all?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know where to begin–there are a LOT of issues with this film. Perhaps the most frustrating is its failure to fill in details. Rather than create suspense, the vagueness is distracting and makes it difficult to get invested in our characters and their lives.

Related is the ordinariness of the film’s plot. The stories feel too unremarkable for a musical, so it’s frequently underwhelming. Seriously, a knife-wielding, mentally disturbed homeless man wants to kill someone because he fell in love with his girlfriend 3 years ago based on seeing her ONCE? And then changes his mind because he just wants someone to sympathize with the idea of love being difficult? What a WEAK story line.

Simone and Raymond’s past experiences also feel underdeveloped. We don’t get to see these experiences and their emotional impact on the characters, so it’s difficult to believe that their trauma explains their current behavior. It seems to me that Simone may have some mental health issues or some additional experiences that have shaped her life, but the film doesn’t explore these possibilities.

Speaking of mental health, the way Gil’s (aka kebab knife dude) mental health is handled is rather cringey at times. The balance of comedy/drama is way off there. Sometimes Gil is treated as genuinely dangerous and in need of help, and at other times he exists only for comic relief. I really felt for him even as I was annoyed by his stupid love at first sight plot line.

Because the characters and their issues don’t feel real, it’s impossible to feel the supposed instantaneous connection between Simone and Raymond. It’s also difficult to feel like Simone has undergone the changes the film tells us she has.

It’s refreshing to see a mostly Black cast of Londoners in a musical. And I do like that we can hear the London accents in the songs. However, everything else about the musical numbers is largely forgettable. The one I remember best is Gil’s soulful song “Been Too Long,” but even that one I mostly forget. It doesn’t help this film at all that I’ve recently been listening to the Kinky Boots soundtrack on repeat, which is both much more fun and emotionally resonant.

Honestly, without Michaela Coel in a leading role, this film would have gotten a much lower rating from me. She’s great, but this is kind of a mess.

Would my darling blog wife share a kebab with this one or use the closest sharp object to keep it at bay? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Emo the Musical, or: Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

It’s not quite July, but I’m ready to lean into our next theme so hard: freaks, fuck-ups, misfits, and general weirdos. Conveniently, this theme also encapsulates most of the films featured in the Blog Collab, and what better place to find rejects and outsiders than a good old Australian high school?

The Film:

Emo the Musical

The Premise:

New kid in school and proud emo, teenager Ethan struggles to impress his fellow emos while fighting an attraction to church girl Trinity.

The Ramble:

Ethan is the new kid in school, having been expelled from his previous school. As an emo, he is looking for someone to be unhappy with, and is pleasantly surprised to discover a small but thriving emo scene at the new school.

However, Ethan is majorly conflicted when he meets peppy church girl Trinity and shares a connection with her. In addition to being an atheist, Ethan wants to impress the school’s emo band, so falling in with the church crowd seems ill-advised.

A teenage boy dressed in dark clothing and plaid walks next to a smiling girl in a school hallway.

Luckily, it seems pretty easy to gain favor with the emos; all Ethan has to do is show that he doesn’t care about anything. When auditioning for the band, he writes and sings a song entirely about how little he cares about being part of the band–which, of course, works like a charm. It doesn’t hurt that Ethan has a tragic backstory behind his expulsion: he tried to hang himself at the school where he was expelled. The band’s current purpose is to make it to a competition they would usually describe as lame, if not for the involvement of Doug Skeleton, hardcore emo and indie rock icon.

Three teenagers sit and look in disbelief at a character who is off-screen.

Upon his acceptance into the band, fellow emo Roz informs Ethan that they are now dating. However, sparks continue to fly between Ethan and Trinity when they are assigned to write a love song together for homework. When band leader Bradley steals the church group’s booking of the music room, karma bites back as a religious band forms to challenge the emos in competition.

The feud between the emos and the church group escalates as Bradley learns the truth about Ethan and Trinity’s relationship. Ethan must prove his loyalty by burning Trinity’s bible and breaking up with her. This is easier for him when it seems she has revealed the truth about his suicide attempt: Ethan never came close to suicide, and tried to work himself up to an attempt on 6 occasions (which still seems rather troubling?).

A band of four teeangers dressed in black with noose patterns around their necks performs a song.

After the emos burn down the chapel, the school, now funded by a drug company that makes serotonin supplements, mandates all references to drugs, suicide, and general unhappiness must be replaced with more positive messages. Clearly, the emos struggle with this and try to even out the odds. Discovering that the Christian band’s guitarist is in the closet, Bradley arranges for the rest of the group to find out so the band will be missing a guitarist.

Caught between loyalty to the band and basic human decency, how will Ethan stay true to himself and to the gospel of emo?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wanted to like this, but so much emphasis is on Ethan and Trinity’s relationship, which I care about not at all. I get that this is a Romeo & Juliet scenario, but I still find the instant attraction difficult to believe, and the idea that the Christian and emo factions are somehow mortal enemies. Not only that, but Ethan and Trinity spend the majority of their relationship sneaking around and being horrible to each other (and Ethan is also terrible to Roz). Not buying it.

Nothing about the film’s admittedly flimsy plot is helped by Ethan being a complete tool. It takes OUTING another student for him to realize maybe the emo band is full of douchebags??? I HATED Bradley and wanted there to be consequences for him, but he more or less gets away with being awful. Maybe I’m just overly vengeful, though, IDK.

The satirical elements have potential here, but they ultimately give way to silly teen drama. I love the concept of the drug company taking over the school and insisting everyone be happy all the time and wish the film had done more with this. The commentary on both the mainstream church group and the “cool” outsider emos is funny at times too, but not especially insightful. And I really feel everything surrounding Ethan’s suicide attempt was handled really badly.

Moral of the story is you should always just respect other people’s room reservations.

Would my blog wife confess all of her deep emo feelings to this one or insist it take several doses of serotonin supplements? Find out in her review here!