Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Yeh Ballet, or: Fair Plié

Sometimes my brain can predict perfectly when an inspiring, feel-good film will be exactly the ticket. Possibly because, lately, there’s never been a time when I haven’t needed a bit of a lift. Either way, I’d like to take the time to say good call, brain.

I’m not sure why, but films about ballet have a special power to inspire me and break my damn heart. As a child, I quit ballet even faster than I quit soccer, so there are no fond memories there. But I can’t help admire the quiet strength and beautiful grace of ballet dancers, especially when it means shaking up the status quo in all of the best ways as it does in this week’s film.

The Film:

Yeh Ballet

The Premise:

Two young men in modern day Mumbai pursue a love of ballet despite discouragement from their loved ones, an emotionally volatile teacher, and significant financial obstacles.

The Ramble:

In a Mumbai slum, teen breakdancer Asif dreams of a life where his family isn’t barely scraping by. Rebellious and always seeking out a party, Asif shakes his unruly hair all around during Holi. The problem? His strict religious uncle is keen to remind Asif that they are Muslim, and participating in a Hindu festival is highly inappropriate.

A young man stands outside in the middle of a circle of people, his hands raised triumphantly in fists.

Lacking the funds–and the freedom–to pursue his love for dance, the closest Asif can get to making a career of his passion is through watching a reality show competition on TV.

One of the competitors on the show is another aspiring dancer, Nishu. Though eliminated from the competition, Nishu manages to snag the audience favorite award, the Hat of Destiny. When he learns of a prestigious dance school run by a famous American, Nishu is eager to attend. However, Nishu’s parents disapprove of this non-traditional career path and worry he won’t be able to provide for his ailing sister in the future.

A man with a microphone rests an arm on the shoulders of a young man who is dressed all in gold and wears a gold hat.

Through lies and omissions, both Asif and Nishu end up as students in the dance school. The boys dislike each other instantly, and fare no better with the instructor Saul, who turns out to be a total diva. In his rebellious, impulsive style, Asif manages to earn the teacher’s attention after literally tripping him up in the hallway. Asif certainly has style, but does he have the discipline to follow through in learning a new art form: ballet?

Meanwhile, Nishu takes the hardworking nerd approach, asking a classmate to catch him up on all of the ballet moves others have already learned. Nishu grows more and more skilled, but Saul doesn’t have the time or interest in anyone but Asif.

A middle-aged man looks angrily at a smirking teenager in the middle of a dance class.

For his part, Asif faces setbacks as his friends tease him relentlessly about his new hobby. Tragedy strikes when a friend dies suddenly in a gang-related incident, for which Asif blames himself. Faced with this wake-up call, Asif vows to commit himself fully to ballet, dedicating the time and focus needed to truly learn and hone the art.

Nishu’s problems also escalate after his father discovers where his college fund has really been going. When his parents kick him out of the house, Nishu agrees to be the school’s unpaid custodian in exchange for a stay in a creepy windowless basement (which includes utilities, aka a bucket of water collected from the building’s A/C unit).

A young man faces off with another young man, grabbing the other's shirt in a hallway.

Further complications arise when Asif falls for a Hindu girl whose family disapproves of his Muslim faith. Meanwhile, Nishu’s sister’s condition worsens and she ends up in the hospital.

Things start to look up when Saul insists Asif move in to train 24/7 for US ballet school auditions, with Nishu as a chaperone. The arrangement could be beneficial to both boys…if they’d stop fighting long enough to recognize it. However, even if the two dancers do manage to gain acceptance to a program, can they afford to go? And will the States even let them into the country to pursue their dreams?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: damn, Holi looks so fun. Maybe not right now. But in other, non-pandemic times.

The rest of the film is just as fun, full of energy, hope, and some killer dance moves. While the concept of the movie sounds a bit like Slumdog Millionaire meets Billy Elliott, it has managed to carve out a space with its originality and heart, plus challenging of traditional gender norms. Our story looks into the lives of characters in extreme poverty, but it never takes a condescending or overly romanticized approach to their challenges. And approximately the last half made me cry my fucking eyes out.

There’s added interest here in the social and religious commentary of the film–first, the religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India, as well as the use of religion to police others’ decisions. The States’ immigration policies get an examination from this film, as well as the idea that bringing in a white man adds authority to any endeavor in former colonies. Saul never really gets that his abysmal behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in any other context, but he’s experiencing some serious white privilege in India.

While I’ve neglected Asif’s love interest, who is a fairly minor character, she brings an energy to the film that I just love. A tough breakdancer in her own right, Asha is stubborn without being an infuriating rom-com stereotype. Would absolutely watch a spin-off (no pun intended) about her.

Honestly, though, it’s the journey Asif and Nishu experience that makes this film compelling: both individually and as reluctant friends. I wish they had been friends a bit earlier on in the film as it’s so sweet when they do finally stick up for each other. On the bright side, to me this means one thing only: Yeh Ballet 2: 2 Fast, Tutu Furious MUST be in the works.

Would my blogging/dance partner twirl with this one or deliberately step on its toes? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Land of Steady Habits, or: Turtle Recall

Ah, to be a mediocre white man. To never question that you are the star of the narrative, and your story is so compelling it’s only natural you’d get such attention. Unless, of course, your story were one of character growth…sort of. You could still get away with a lot of shit, though, like putting up tacky Christmas decorations and having in-depth discussions about turtles, especially if you were the lead in this week’s film.

The Film:

The Land of Steady Habits

The Premise:

In the throes of a mid-life crisis, a newly single man who has taken an early retirement struggles to find the better life he’s in search of.

The Ramble:

The setting: a small town Bed Bath & Beyond. It’s only when faced with the impossible task of decorating empty shelves that you realize how daunting a task it is to make a decision amidst endless rows of home goods. Such is Anders’ lot in life as a newly separated man who has opted for an early retirement from his soulless Wall St. job. In the process, Anders has managed to alienate virtually everyone in town, including adult son Preston (and yes–there are apparently people so white they will unironically name their child Preston).

Despite his midlife-crisis-induced decision to pursue a different, more fulfilling life, Anders doesn’t seem to be any closer to his lofty goal. Through a rotating series of one-night stands, Anders is often unable to perform and continues to feel alone. Desperate for a connection to his former life, Anders accepts the open invite to a party hosted by a family friend–one that ex-wife Helene will most definitely attend (with her live-in boyfriend).

A man and woman stand at the edge of a living room in front of a door frame, facing each other. In the background is a small group of people.

Ostracized by the other adults at the party, Anders wanders outside and encounters his fellow kids. Believing Charlie, a friend of Preston’s, is out smoking weed with the group, Anders casually joins in–only to learn moments later that he’s actually done PCP. When Charlie overdoses later during the party, Anders feels enough remorse to visit him at the hospital.

A middle-aged man sits outside in a dark back yard, surrounded by a group of teenagers and 20-somethings. The man is holding a pumpkin-shaped bong.

Meanwhile, Anders regrets his decision to let Helene keep the house as part of their settlement. As it turns out, Anders can’t afford the mortgage and his early retirement, so it won’t be long before Helene loses the house anyway. However, Anders can’t bring himself to tell Helene the truth–mostly because he doesn’t want to get chewed out yet again for his terrible judgment.

Preston isn’t about to let his father make all of the awful decisions here, choosing to gamble with money from one of the ESL students he teaches. Helene is none too pleased as she was able to wrangle the job for her son in the first place only to end up firing him. It all hits the fan when Helene kicks Preston out of the house, and Preston reveals that, soon enough, Helene may not have anywhere to live either.

A man in his 20s faces a middle-aged man and woman whose backs are to the camera. In the background, a small group of people sit around a table with cards.

As Anders finally meets a woman he’d actually like to spend time with, he reconnects with Charlie. Since Charlie’s parents are forcing him to go to rehab, he asks Anders to take care of his pet turtle. After Anders agrees to take care of the turtle, Charlie runs away, rejecting rehab.

In a rather cruel twist, Preston, who went through his own addiction issues with alcohol, is now making deliveries for a liquor store. When he’s encountered with a classmate who seems to have his life completely together, Preston decides to end his sobriety…until discovering something horrible has happened to Charlie.

After the truth comes out about Anders’ questionable choices in enabling Charlie, our hero once again decides to leave his life behind. Will Anders ever stick around anywhere long enough to face the consequences of his actions?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s difficult to fault the performances here, even if Edie Falco is almost criminally underutilized in this film.

However, there’s not much going on beyond the actors’ commitment to their roles. The meandering plot is understandable given the character-driven nature of this piece…but it’s frequently very difficult to care about our lead (or any of the characters, honestly). Anders is the focus of our character study, but IDK if he really deserves our attention. He constantly makes bad decisions and rarely has to deal with the consequences. It’s frustrating to see him do everything except much-needed self-reflection to process his emotions. And Preston follows a similar pattern despite all of the support and love he receives from Edie Falco!

What I’m trying to say here is Edie Falco deserves a better fictional husband and son. And a better role, while we’re at it.

Would my blog wife take care of this one like it’s a pet turtle or drive away as quick as she can? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Horse Girl, or: Surrounded by Neigh-Sayers

It’s never a bad thing to see more films written and directed by women, especially during Feminist February. This week’s pick stars and was co-written by Netflix legend Alison Brie (of GLOW, BoJack, and the show we don’t talk about on Netflix, Community). Qualification for Feminist February met. Qualification for fun evening of light entertainment? Er…very much dependent on your definition of fun.

The Film:

Horse Girl

The Premise:

A familial history of mental illness and increasingly paranoid conspiracy theories take over the life of a quiet craft store employee and horse enthusiast.

The Ramble:

A quiet woman who keeps to herself, Sarah is a craft store employee by day, obsessive fan of the TV show Purgatory by night, and lover of horses at all hours. Though she is friendly with boss Molly Shannon and roommate Nikki, Sarah prefers to keep some distance between herself and others. At any given moment, it seems Sarah would much rather be spending time with the horse she used to ride or with her favorite TV characters.

Two women stand inside next to a store window, wearing light blue apron uniforms over their everyday clothes.

When her birthday shakes her out of the usual routine, Sarah meets Darren, a friend of Nikki’s boyfriend. Both Sarah and Darren are rather awkward, with Darren droning on incessantly about concept albums and his horrible ex. Sarah, meanwhile, has been experiencing more and more strange symptoms–one of which is a nosebleed during their date. But Darren thinks Sarah is cute, and Sarah considers his name–shared with one of the lead characters of Purgatory–a sign that they’re meant to be.

After drinking too much and throwing up, Sarah has a strange dream in which she’s lying in a white room, two people sleeping on either side of her. When she wakes up the next morning, there are strange scratches on the walls, though Sarah has no recollection of how they got there.

A man and woman sit close together in a small, dimly lit dining area, facing each other from separate dining chairs.

Odd incidents begin happening more frequently during Sarah’s waking and dreaming life. Her car is stolen and, when it is found, the facts don’t quite add up. The key is in the car’s ignition, and the steering wheel lock sits unlocked on the passenger seat. Worried about the increasing number of times Sarah is forgetting things, she fears the mental illnesses that overtook her mother and grandmother’s lives may affect her too.

The alternative explanation that Sarah begins to embrace is that she is losing time due to alien abduction, and her vivid dreams are not dreams at all. Because she looks so much like her grandmother, Sarah begins to believe she is a clone created by aliens. When she sees the man from her dream in real life, Sarah becomes convinced her theory is the truth and is obsessed with tracking him down. She even goes as far as hiring his company to do unnecessary pipe replacement and follows him to his home one evening.

A woman in a dark room looks down. She is covered from head to toe in a light pink outfit that covers everything except for her face.

When she meets Darren for another date, Sarah begins explaining her theories to him, and their discussion turns more broadly to conspiracies. It’s only when Sarah shows Darren her mother’s grave and tells him they need to dig her up to compare their DNA that he realizes how deeply she believes in her own conspiracy theories.

After performing a series of rituals at home to trick the aliens, Sarah wanders into the craft store completely naked. She is taken into a psychiatric care facility, but only becomes more convinced that she’s been right all along during her stay there, and less able to distinguish between reality and dreams. Will psychiatric care help Sarah be well at this point…and does she even want to?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Alison Brie deserves so much credit for this role–as with many of the characters she plays, here a seemingly innocuous person is more complex and disturbed than she initially appears. Brie makes Sarah a sympathetic character whose odd behavior at the beginning of the film merely scratches the surface on the delusions and feelings she experiences later. And the extreme thoughts and feelings Sarah has are out of touch with reality, but they never feel laughable–they are unquestionably real to her.

This concept is what makes the film so compelling, and at times scary to watch. It’s very interested in asking to what extent biology is destiny: does the mental illness or trauma we inherit from our families predict our own dysfunction? And, perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to manage mental illness? Sarah’s delusions seem to give her a sense of real conviction for the first time in her life. It seems likely that her dedication to the show Purgatory and need for her life to have some sort of narrative structure plays a role in her willingness to believe in her own version of reality. But would her DNA have led her down the same path regardless?

The film itself can be difficult to follow at times, as its structure is somewhat loose, and uses this to blur the lines between dream and reality (and, honestly, the tone is quite wonky as well). This quality does keep things interesting as we continue to hope Sarah can heal; however, it’s increasingly impossible to imagine an ending in which she finds both peace and clarity. I feel fairly certain this film will haunt anyone who has experienced mental illness.

Would my blog wife don matching alien-proof body suits with this one or run away while it’s distracted with a marathon of Ancient Aliens? Read her review here to find out!

TV Reviews

The End of an Era: Thoughts on the BoJack Horseman Finale

*Spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 6 below*

After a season 5 that didn’t thrill me, I confess the announcement that season 6 would be BoJack‘s last didn’t shock me. Beyond a vague annoyance about the splitting of the season into two parts, I didn’t feel particularly upset.

However, once the last few episodes were released on Netflix, I felt eager to dig in even as a sense of dread nestled in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, the animated show about an alcoholic, self-destructive former sitcom star (who happens to have the head of a horse and body of a human) has become one of my absolute favorites, and its finale really does seem to mark the end of an era. How did that happen?

One thing that sets the show apart is its surreal quality that reflects a deeply cynical reality; one that its creators clearly care about despite its profound flaws. The characters embody this spirit; it’s frequently very difficult to like the show’s protagonists. In fact, they consistently do things that disappoint me and remind me of my own shortcomings.

Though many of the characters are part animal, they feel authentically human. All of them are broken characters stumbling along blindly in a destructive industry. Sometimes they get better, sometimes worse. While there is hope at the beginning of season 6 that BoJack’s stint in rehab will set him on the right track, recovery–from alcoholism, mental illness, trauma–is not a linear path. As has been the case throughout the series, a singular action, or even a pattern, does not in itself indicate progress. There’s a constant back-and-forth as the characters and their circumstances change, but the show meanders with purpose.

A cartoon hybrid of a horse and man sits at the end of an elaborate dining room table, seated between a young woman and an elegantly dressed horse/woman.

What is both refreshing and troubling about this season is its focus on accountability. For the entirety of its run, BoJack has been interested in the tension in exploring a frequently toxic character’s inner workings. Having spent 6 years with BoJack and the characters who fall in and out of his orbit, understanding his motivations and his own victimization makes us feel closer to him and perhaps more inclined to overlook his bad actions. Yet, increasingly, we feel BoJack should still face the consequences of his actions; not only from the desire to believe in a sort of divine justice, but also because it’s the only chance he has to truly grow as a character.

Based on the damage BoJack has caused in the past (most frequently to women), will it make a difference at this point?

While tapping into the story of BoJack specifically, the final season continues to speak more broadly to our obsession with celebrity, connecting it to the existential dread that permeates everything we do in a world where we must necessarily create our own meaning. Even (and perhaps especially) fame doesn’t save the show’s characters from emptiness, vulnerability, fear, and death.

The season also continues to explore the inherent contradictions involved with human connection. Relationships of all kinds represent a way to build meaning in a world that feels lacking in purpose. However, leaning on others often leaves the characters disappointed and vulnerable. And many of the characters who shaped each other in early seasons barely (or never) interact now. This season seeks to make peace with the idea that a relationship can resonate for years after it ends, and the ending isn’t necessarily a failure.

A cartoon woman sits at a kitchen table in front of a laptop, a man with a bison head next to her.

On a side note, I absolutely loved Diane’s story this season. I don’t always like Diane; I relate to her depression, feelings of inadequacy, and worry that she’s not doing enough to make the world a better place–perhaps to an insufferable degree. But I appreciate so much that Diane started taking anti-depressants, compromised her artistic vision, and gained weight in season 6 (which never happens onscreen except as a signifier that a woman has let herself go). And this marked progress for Diane, as well as some degree of happiness. Having her life together in some ways didn’t mean everything else magically fell into place.

Now it’s over–the show featuring a darkly comic (and catchy) song about killing babies, a show biz sell-out version of J.D. Salinger, intergenerational trauma that lives on long after the characters who experienced it have died, a petty auto-erotic asphyxiation scheme, and a fake future story line that existed just to break our hearts. It’s hard to say goodbye to such a clever, carefully written, and nuanced show that was simultaneously cynical and hopeful. BoJack responded perfectly to the world we live in, questioning the fictional and real toxic men who occupy so much of our time and attention. How can we move forward when we continue to rationalize awful behavior–especially when we use these same excuses to justify our own misdeeds?

As the final moments of the show approached, I felt both dread and comfort in the cyclical nature of its last scene. Diane sits alone on a roof, smoking. When BoJack seeks her out and they sit down for a heart-to-heart filled with banter, their future looks inevitable yet uncertain. That seems to be the show’s answer, to the extent it’s willing to provide one: the way to find meaning is by living through the cycle, and, paradoxically, the cycle doesn’t end, nor can we even pin down where it begins.

Collaborative Blogging, TV Reviews

Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: Jolene, or: Hallmark Christmas Lite

This year, we’ve endured sadistic nuns, swarms of cockroaches, Instagram stalkers, and zombies frequenting strip clubs, but it was the Christmas Collab that just about broke us. Luckily, our health and happiness always comes before sticking strictly to a theme; and a TV series based on the songs of Dolly Parton seems like the most perfect reason to disrupt a monthly theme. Though, strictly speaking, the TV episode we watched this week is as close as you can get to a Hallmark Christmas movie without actually mentioning Christmas.

The Show:

Heartstrings episode 1: “Jolene”

The Premise:

Inspired by the Dolly Parton song of the same name, Jolene is a flirty troublemaker whose insecurities attract men but ruin her female friendships.

The Ramble:

Based on the classic Dolly Parton song, Jolene fully lives up to her reputation as a gorgeous, self-confident charmer who has a smile for every man she sees. After being fired from her day job at a bank, Jolene is looking forward to letting loose in her evening job at sleazy honky tonk bar Baby Blues.

Meanwhile, housewife Emily struggles to care for her preteen son, keep her marriage alive, and organize the community’s upcoming harvest festival. Looking for some spice in her life (and in lieu of the actual Spice Girls), Emily hears from her gossipy co-organizers about the sketchy bar and plans to meet husband Aaron there for date night.

a woman stands in a living room, surrounded by seven seated women

When Aaron stands up Emily for date night (again), she intends to leave right away until friendly bartender Jolene convinces her to stay. An aspiring singer/songwriter, Jolene performs a duet with club owner Babe (none other than Dolly herself)–and she’s good! After Jolene saves Emily from a creepy bar patron, the two are friends for life. Emily is eager to stay in touch with Jolene and offers her a job teaching guitar to son Jed.

an older woman with teased blond hair sings onstage next to a woman who sings and plays the guitar

All the while, Jolene is having an affair with a married man. In fact, Jolene’s type seems to be complete scumbag, which has Babe worried. Abandoned by her mother as a child, Jolene is quite keen to avoid any sort of emotional attachment, opting instead to focus on her dream of moving to Nashville and making it big as a country music star.

Unlike most of her friendships with other women, Jolene’s relationship with Emily feels very easy and natural. Emily folds Jolene into the family, even though Aaron seems a bit too keen to spend time with the talented young singer with an encyclopedic knowledge of dad music.

a man, woman, and child sit at a table in a crowded bar

With advice from Jolene, Emily attempts to make her love life more interesting. For her part, Emily asks Jolene to perform at the harvest festival–as long as the organizers approve. It’s at this fateful audition that Jolene recognizes her married lover, the husband of one of the women on the board. Disappointed when Jolene tells her the truth, Emily feels caught between her friendships with both women. Worse, Emily begins to feel paranoid that Jolene would be willing to cross the line and have an affair with her own husband, Aaron.

As the harvest festival approaches, Emily distances herself from Jolene and becomes increasingly convinced her husband is having an affair with her former friend. After being heckled during her performance, Jolene confronts Emily, making for the uncomfortably personal fight that can only happen between good friends who know each other well.

Is it too late for Emily and Jolene’s friendship to blossom?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I didn’t hate this; Dolly swanning in and dispensing words of wisdom every now and then was very welcome.

Based on this first episode, the series seems to be a condensed version of a Hallmark Channel movie. The obvious advantage to this approach is that the episodes are shorter than a film, thus avoiding the problem of a thin plot making the run time feel endless.

The plot here is a bit flimsy, but it’s enough to keep the hour interesting, and there are enough melodramatic twists and turns to entertain. And the emphasis on the friendship between Emily and Jolene may have been predictable to a fault, but it was a refreshing take on the song’s story. It’s a little aggravating to see Jolene feeling sorry for herself because she’s too attractive and charming, but this episode does touch on some of the truths behind female competition and the highs and lows of friendships between women.

What elevates this is the production values–the show looks and sounds good, and the cast works well with the material they have. Above all, the sassy presence of Dolly makes the first episode a good time, even if the story itself isn’t particularly memorable.

Did my blog wife give in to this one’s Southern charm or chase it out of town? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Let It Snow, or: The Spanx of Weather

As we discovered last week, there is no trace of romance in my wintry heart–though I blame our film’s deliberate lack of intelligence and originality for my stoic reaction. This week’s pick on the Christmas Collab throws teens into the mix. Surely things can only improve as a result?

The Film:

Let It Snow

The Premise:

The stories of teens in a small town at Christmas time intertwine as they experience romance, friendship, disappointment, and the magic of the season.

The Ramble:

Laurel, Illinois: the folksy Midwestern town that seems perpetually covered under a dusting of fluffy snow and probably smells of just-baked gingerbread. As the magical holiday season begins, the teenagers of this town are in for a roller coaster ride of emotions. Even more so than usual.

Among the local teens are Angie and Tobin, who have been besties since the age of 5. Just as Tobin works up the nerve to let Angie know he likes her as more than a friend, sensitive college jock JP enters the picture. Instead of enjoying a chill day watching movies together, Tobin ends up attending JP’s party, a questionable and somewhat dangerous mix of broomball and beer.

a teen boy and girl stand side by side with a snowy landscape behind them

Unfortunately for Tobin, JP seems to be the perfect combination of sweet, conventionally handsome, and masculine in a non-toxic sort of way. After stealing a keg from the college party, the trio are on the run from the twins (rumored to have a criminal record) hosting the event. As the day goes on, Tobin’s tolerance for Angie’s new romantic interest wears thin, and the two friends end up fighting.

Meanwhile, bffs Dorrie and Addie are focused on romances of their own. Dorrie is excited to begin a new relationship with Kerry after a single but perfect date. On the other hand, Addie is laser-focused on keeping her boyfriend’s attention though he doesn’t seem especially worth the effort.

standing in a restaurant, a teen girl holds a small pig, facing another teen girl

When Dorrie dishes out harsh truths about Addie’s poor decisions and addiction to drama, shots are fired (effectively). Additionally, Kerry shows up with her friends during Dorrie’s shift at Waffle Town and refuses to acknowledge her–even when Dorrie brings her an adorable Harry Potter-themed plate of waffles. What gives?

Just outside of the city limits are local girl Julie and famous singer Stuart, both traveling by train. When the snow strands them, the two make their way to the old standby for breakfast, Waffle Town. Lonely during the holidays, Stuart tags along to Julie’s Christmas celebrations, which include a rather New Age pageant and assembling a miniature Christmas village. Though Julie enjoys spending the season with her family, she is conflicted: just as she has been accepted to Columbia with a generous scholarship, her mother has been diagnosed with a serious illness.

two teens sled down a snowy hill

Truly, Waffle Town is the thread tying these stories together–along with the party aspiring DJ Keon plans for that evening. Add to this mix Tin Foil Lady (played by darling of the blog Joan Cusack), local legend and weirdo, and we’ve checked off all items on the list of quirky and charming Christmas characters.

Will this assortment of characters get the merry Christmas season they’ve wished for?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

You know, not that much happens in this film–and what does happen is predictable AF (and most likely forgettable AF). That being said, I didn’t hate this, and here’s why.

The emphasis here is decidedly on romance, but it’s not the only type of relationship valued in our film. Friendship is important too, as well as family, self-respect, and open-mindedness. Addie, who admittedly annoyed the bejeezus out of me, begins to recognize toxic patterns and behaviors, which I always find incredibly cathartic. The Julie/Stuart story line is also a bit aggravating as it’s the most melodramatic and least believable. Nevertheless, I was actually rooting for most of the characters to arrive at their (inevitable) realizations–even the ones who annoyed me.

Biggest complaint is the character names are impossible to keep track of except for the ones wearing name tags in Waffle Town. I dare you to fight me on this.

Would my wintry blog wife hop on a sled with this one or leave it out in the cold? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Secret Obsession, or: Pics or It Didn’t Happen?

Sometimes we celebrate freaks and weirdos on the blog. At other times, we wait for them to die. In this week’s film, the latter is appropriate for our stalker, murderer, and buyer of lye in bulk.

The Film:

Secret Obsession

The Premise:

After an accident wipes out her memories, Jennifer returns to her life as a newlywed with her husband…or at least the man who claims to be her husband.

The Ramble:

Running in terror from an unknown assailant, Jennifer is hit by a car when she runs out onto a dark and stormy road. After being rushed to the hospital, a man who claims to be her husband arrives, waiting for news on her condition. Conveniently, everyone just believes him and never asks for proof of his identity (beyond knowing Jennifer’s name and her tattoos???).

A man sits next to a woman lying in a hospital bed, who is wearing several bandages and casts.

Meanwhile, the Allstate guy plays a detective sent to investigate Jennifer’s accident (perhaps appropriately as the face of an insurance company?). Because his daughter disappeared at the age of 10, Detective Frank is determined to solve Jennifer’s case(?). Yeah, I’m not seeing the connection either, TBH.

When it becomes clear that Jennifer’s head trauma has affected her memory, it’s up to husband Russell to fill in the gaps. Or, conveniently, for an impostor to plant a bunch of fake memories in her brain. Don’t worry, though–he has the pictures to back it up. According to Russell, he and Jennifer are newlyweds who have recently moved to a remote cabin. Her parents died a couple of years ago in a fire, and Jennifer has quit her job to start a family with Russell…leaving no connections left in the world.

After making enough progress to return home, Jennifer discovers their house is not even remotely ADA compliant and struggles to get around with a healing leg. Russell is ever so nicely willing to help her get around, carrying her up to their room while leaving her without a wheelchair.

A man carries a woman up a wooden staircase.

Discovering a witness (or something?) trying to contact Jennifer, Russell makes the obvious next move of following and killing this dude (even though I honestly don’t understand who he is or why he’s around). Of course, this leaves Russell with a body to bury…and he naturally chooses the backyard. Suspicious when she spots him digging around the garden late at night, Jennifer starts investigating.

A woman picks a lock with hairpin.

What she uncovers is a bunch of Photoshopped pictures–in fact, all of the images in their wedding album have been altered. On top of this, Jennifer has a flashback while in bed with Russell, so she pumps the brakes on rekindling their relationship. Losing his temper, Russell reveals his dark and creepy side (or, rather, yet another dark and creepy side).

When we catch up with Detective Frank, we discover that (shocker) Russell provided a fake address to the police. Frank also connects the dots on a white pick-up truck that was spotted at the scene of the accident…and security footage of Russell arriving at the hospital in a white pick-up truck. After identifying Jennifer’s back tattoo as some sort of symbol for the name Allen(?!??!?!?!), Frank is able to locate her parents’ home. Surprise surprise, the occupants of the home are no longer in this world and have been mummified or something? They didn’t have pleasant deaths is the moral of the story. (Which surely would merit, IDK, having more than ONE dude investigating this shit???)

A man in a suit sits in front of a computer, working in a police station.

As it turns out, Russell is really Jennifer’s coworker Ryan, who was obsessed with her. After years of yearning for Jennifer from afar, it’s Russell who pulls off the office romance and marries her. On the night of Jennifer’s accident, Ryan attacked the newlyweds, killing Russell and terrorizing Jennifer.

Realizing how fucking creepy her so-called husband is, Jennifer tries to leave the house, but Ryan is one step ahead of her. When Frank manages to track Ryan down, he is caught off-guard with this psycho’s signature move: whacking people in the back of the head. To be fair, it’s a pretty solid choice for a stalker and murderer.

Will Jennifer and Frank be able to take down the unhinged Ryan before he can make use of all of that lye he bought on sale?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

JFC, this film is bland and not at all suspenseful. It’s very PG-13 for a film dealing with such a horrific concept, and conveniently ignores reality whenever it moves the plot along. For example, neither the hospital nor the police seem too concerned with verifying shit like people’s names and addresses. For fuck’s sake, I have to show my ID to pick up mail–there’s no way Ryan is skating through so many offices without having to prove his identity.

I feel for Jennifer, of course, but she’s so completely devoid of personality that it’s difficult to care about her a whole lot beyond just generally taking a feminist stance against, you know, stalking and murdering people. It may have helped to get more glimpses into her life before the accident, but IDK…Jennifer was probably boring then too.

The most offensive part of this film to me is the absolute pointlessness of Frank’s story. His fictional daughter’s kidnapping has nothing to do with this case, and it’s a major stretch to connect these two events. If you follow the thriller formula, Frank’s daughter should have been murdered by Ryan or at the very least Frank should have known Jennifer in some way. Beyond that, Frank is just a cop doing his job, and that doesn’t make for a good story.

The “closure” that Jennifer gets at the end (and Frank for that matter) is absolute garbage too. I wanted a more badass ending for her, but we were never going to get that. This is the ending of a TV movie that doesn’t lean into its trashiness–and all I ask from a TV movie is for it to embrace its own nonsense.

Would my 100% real and unedited blog wife follow this one to the ends of the earth or push it in front of a fast-moving vehicle? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Always Be My Maybe, or: Quail Egg Parfait

I love a food movie. I love a story of a career woman stepping all over dirtbag men on her way to the top. And I love an unexpected celebrity cameo. All of these interests combine in this week’s pick–though do they complement each other perfectly or fight for dominance in the dish that is this film? Read on to find out!

The Film:

Always Be My Maybe

The Premise:

Childhood besties Sasha and Mike seemed destined to end up together but missed their chance years ago. Will history repeat itself 16 years later?

The Ramble:

Growing up in San Francisco in the 1990s, Sasha and Mike are inseparable friends who also sport a lot of plaid and shaggy boy band hair. With frequently absent parents, Sasha naturally becomes part of Mike’s family, even learning to cook from his mom Judy.

Two Asian-American kids are dressed as characters from the movie Wayne's World.

Everything changes when an accident ends Judy’s life, leaving both Sasha and Mike devastated. Mike decides he won’t go to college in favor of staying home and focusing on his band, while Sasha seeks comfort by taking their relationship to the next level.

Their romance isn’t meant to last, as a fight immediately after their hookup leads to a falling out. Sasha leaves San Francisco without looking back, and the two don’t speak for 16 years.

In the present, Sasha is a rising celebrity chef with a successful fiancé who also promotes her brand. Just before leaving New York to open a new restaurant in San Francisco, Sasha’s fiancé decides to accept a role that will take him to India with other celebrity chefs. Upset but trying to make the best of things, Sasha agrees to their temporary separation.

A man and woman sit in the back of a limousine, looking at their phones instead of each other.

When she arrives in San Francisco, Sasha rents a gorgeous house that is conspicuously missing an A/C unit. Childhood friend Veronica, who now works for Sasha, hires Mike’s father Harry to work on the A/C installation. Little does she know that Mike is now working with his father, setting up an awkward reunion between Sasha and Mike. Sasha is completely uninterested when she’s invited to Mike’s gig, but attending gets her out of the house and gives her a chance to avoid her parents.

After the gig, Mike’s girlfriend Jenny cooks dinner for Sasha and constantly calls Mike “babe.” Sasha loudly and rudely breaks up with her fiancé over the phone at a child’s birthday party, leaving Jenny as the only obstacle between her and Mike. However, Sasha ends up with a celebrity boyfriend after catering a ritzy event, with hilariously devastating results.

At a fancy party, a woman dressed in a gold dress holds the elbow of a man in a t-shirt and oversized jacket.

Even though you can easily Google the celebrity cameo here that truly makes the film, I won’t spoil it here. A double date between the two couples predictably ends badly…though it brings Sasha and Mike together again.

However, their relationship seems doomed to fail when Sasha is determined to leave for New York as planned, while Mike considers San Francisco home–and resents his new role as purse holder for Sasha at fancy black tie events.

Can Sasha and Mike find a way past these obstacles and back to each other?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I appreciate the surprising thoughtfulness of this film about success, ambition, and the difference between being satisfied and simply settling. These themes are analyzed through a feminist lens, as we take a look at Mike’s reluctance to support Sasha’s career and be a “regular guy.” We are immersed in the Asian-American culture of San Francisco too, without feeling like spectators doing cultural tourism. And the take on high-end restaurants and the culture of celebrity chefs is quite sharp (and the quail egg parfait Mike is repeatedly offered sounds vile).

I also absolutely love Mike’s father and his sideplot romance with a Diana Ross impersonator. Most of the other minor characters don’t feel as fully realized, however. Overall, I wanted this to be funnier. The celebrity cameo is the absolute highlight of the film and is genuinely hysterical, but I feel it should have a lot more going for it considering the talent involved. Not a bad way to spend an hour and a half(ish), though.

Would my darling blog wife stalk this one’s Facebook profile in secret or pretend not to know it in public? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hold the Dark, or: Men, Manly Men

Although our absolute favorite month on the blog is over, there’s no reason we can’t celebrate November by doing whatever we like.  This month, we’ll be returning to our old stand-by:  the free for all.  We’re starting out with a reminder that it’s going to get chilly before too long, though hopefully not as cold as Alaska.

The Film:

Hold the Dark

The Premise:

Arriving in smalltown Alaska to hunt a killer wolf, a writer/wolf expert quickly becomes embroiled in a shocking murder case.

The Ramble:

After Medora’s son is taken by wolves in Alaska, she writes to that guy from Westworld (Jeffrey Wright), famed for his writings about living with wolves.  Her son is not the first victim of the wolves, but the authorities have done little to prevent further attacks.

Unexpectedly, wolf expert extraordinaire Russell responds to the letter, promising to find the wolf that brought an untimely end to more than one life.  While he won’t receive pay for his services, Russell hopes the trip will give him an opportunity to reconnect with his daughter, a teacher in Anchorage.  He must be pretty damn committed as he’s not swayed even when an Inuit woman warns him that Medora knows evil.

A man and woman, bundled in warm coats, stand in a snowy forest, facing each other.

Meanwhile, Medora’s husband Vernon is off at war, completely unaware of the tragedy that has happened at home.  After killing a fellow soldier who assaulted a local woman, Vernon has a near miss with death when he is shot in the neck.  His injuries are so severe he is sent home in critical condition.

A man leans against a vehicle, holding his neck, which is bleeding profusely.

Soon after Russell begins his search, he returns to Medora’s home to find her missing.  Decidedly not missing but also no longer living is Bailey, the child supposedly stolen by wolves.  This leads police to the horrible but undeniable conclusion that Medora, having killed her child, invented the wolf story to cover her tracks.  When Vernon discovers the truth, he kills multiple cops, steals the case file on his son’s murder, and swears revenge on his wife.

So begins a rather tedious round of searches:  police search for Vernon, Medora searches for a place to hide, and everyone searches for Medora.

Two men stand in a dimly lit cabin, facing each other.

If Vernon taking out people one by one as he treks across Alaska isn’t enough excitement for you, just wait until his friend Cheeon joins in.  Cheeon’s daughter is one of the victims of the supposed wolf attacks and really, really doesn’t like the police.  After a standoff, Cheeon manages to wipe out a good 75% of the police force.

This is, of course, all leading up to a confrontation between Vernon, Medora, and Russell/the police.  Who will find Medora first–and who will survive the reunion?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The desolate Alaskan landscape matches this film’s bleak atmosphere perfectly.  Somehow I feel more inclined to visit Alaska while also never wanting to go there.  Survival is an impressive feat for all of the characters here, contending with the extreme climate, packs of wolves, and dark human intentions.

However, there are a lot of problems with this film.  I’m left with so many more questions than answers.  All of our characters are kept at a distance–we don’t get to see much into their brains and dissect their motives, feelings, or histories.  Failing to get a motive for any of our leads–Russell, Medora, and Vernon–is unsatisfying and leaves me thinking “So what?”  As a result, most of the events of this film seem loosely connected by strings of random violence.

There are also times when the film seems to become a parody of masculinity, though this is at no point a funny movie.  Something about Vernon tramping around in a wolf mask, killing people left and right, seem to belong more in the realm of a supervillain.  And he straight up stabs a guy in the skull at one point–dude must have a sharp fucking knife.

This also brings me to the point of why the fuck so many people had to die???  So many of the violent deaths here are so senseless and could have been easily avoided, yet the message of the film doesn’t seem to comment on the violence.  There seems to be some attempt at a social justice message involving the police, the Inuit people, and violence.  But this never feels fleshed out, and I can’t help drawing a negative comparison to Wind River in my mind.  Whereas Wind River has a clear message about violence against Native American women and delves into the grief characters experience after a horrific murder, Hold the Dark feels somewhat hollow as it doesn’t explore its characters’ emotions or have a message underneath that frigid Alaskan landscape.

Would my blog wife cozy up around the fire with this one or track it to the ends of the Earth and stab it in the skull?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Roxanne, Roxanne, or: Queen of Queens

March Madness continues with a throwback to the ’80s–chunky earrings, high-waisted jeans, and mink coats included.

The Film:

Roxanne, Roxanne

The Premise:

Roxanne Shante, a teen in 1980s Queens, paves the way for women in hip-hop as an overnight rap sensation.

The Ramble:

Initially facing off in rap battles to earn money for her family, Shante is unbeatable by the age of 9.  As she grows into her teens, she continues to compete to support her young sisters and struggling single mom, Peggy.  At least Shante has her bff, Ranita, who is essentially her DJ and hype (wo)man.

A black teen stands at the front of a group of teens as she looks disdainfully at a character off-screen.

Things go from bad to worse when Peggy’s boyfriend runs off with the family’s savings.  Peggy, who has always been hard on Shante, leans on alcohol and bitterness to carry her through.  Shante rarely shows up for school as her focus is on keeping the family afloat.  According to her mom, no school = no home, and Shante must find another place to live before too long.

A teenager in a nice dress sits outside on a bench next to her younger sisters, who are also dressed up.

It’s not long before Shante returns, attempting to make money and keep up with chores.  As she is washing laundry, a neighbor asks her to do a quick recording in his studio.  They do a single take, and history is made–seemingly overnight, Shante is a rap star.

A young woman raps onstage in front of a crowd.

As Shante’s success takes off, she enjoys the ride but makes almost no money from her endeavors.  She happily takes gifts from fans, but has a falling out with her DJ over it.  During this time, Shante’s long-term relationship with the waaaaaaaaaay older Cross begins to unravel as he becomes increasingly abusive.

Will Shante rise above these challenges and find success, peace, or all of the above?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Eh, this was a bit of non-story in terms of plot.  Shante’s story is worth telling, but the way it’s told here could be more compelling.  Chanté Adams, Nia Long, and Mahershala Ali all stand out in their roles, though I really hated what a sleaze Cross was.  It’s hard to watch Cross treat Shante so badly for so much of this film.  We don’t ever really get inside of Shante’s head–perhaps as a survival technique, she remains quite aloof.

That being said, I do love the relationship between Shante and her bff, as well as a very brief scene between Shante and her “rival” Sparky D.  I think I could’ve gotten behind this more with a focus on those strong female bonds, but instead we see Shante’s dysfunctional relationships dominate the story.

As a side note, this is also somewhat light on actual rap scenes for a film about a rapper.

Was my blog wife feeling the beat or would she send this one off with a mic drop?  Find out in her review here!