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!

a woman in a red dress stands at a party while men in suits and a photographer look on
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Christmas Inheritance, or: Snow Falling on CEOs

We couldn’t wrap up the current theme properly without at least one heartwarming film about Christmas, even though we’ve overshot by a week.  If this film teaches us anything, though, it’s that Christmas is every day because it’s always in your heart, family is a blessing, season of giving, etc.

The Film:

Christmas Inheritance

The Premise:

A young woman set to inherit her father’s company must return to his hometown to learn a lesson about family, love, and (surprise, surprise) Christmas.

The Ramble:

Set to inherit her father’s company after his retirement, Ellen seems to have it all.  However, after one party stunt too many, she has earned a reputation as the “party heiress,” embarrassing her father and the company alike.  Finally fed up with Ellen’s behavior, her father devises a plan to remind her of the good timey old-fashioned family values of the company.  (On a side note:  everyone keeps referring to the company as a gift company, whatever the fuck that means.)

a woman stands alone in an empty boardroom
The company board was composed exclusively of invisible people.

Ellen must complete the annual delivery of Christmas letters to her uncle in Snow Falls, the small town where her father grew up.  To make matters more challenging, Ellen is allowed to spend only $100 while there, and no one can know her true identity as heiress to a company worth millions.

For the first time in her life, Ellen must ride the bus and navigate a town with minimal cell phone reception.  Disaster strikes almost immediately when the almost unbelievably clumsy Ellen loses her suitcase to a taxi cab accident.

The taxi driver, Jake, tries to make amends by giving Ellen a lift to the inn, though they’ve really started things off on the wrong foot.  You can have 3 guesses on who Ellen’s main love interest is here.

a man and woman wearing coats walk along a snowy sidewalk decorated with Christmas lights
Nope, nothing to see here.

Conveniently, Jake also works at the local inn and helps Ellen get a room there.  Less than conveniently, her uncle Zeke is nowhere to be found.  It looks like Ellen will be spending more time than anticipated in the small town of Snow Falls, though she can’t afford to pay for another night at the inn.  Taking pity on her, Jake allows her to stay as long as she fills in for the maid.  Given her previously established clumsiness, this does not end well.

Since Ellen claims to be a baker upon arrival in Snow Falls, she heads next door to the diner instead.  She’ll help Jake’s aunt (Andie MacDowell???) with the holiday baking, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that she has no idea what she’s doing.  Putting 2 and 2 together, Aunt Debbie recognizes Ellen as Jim Langford’s daughter but agrees to keep her identity secret.  She also reveals Jake’s tragic backstory as a small town boy living in a lonely world.  Oh, wait–that’s almost a Journey song.  Apparently Jake lived in NYC with a stock broker fiancée who left him for a millionaire.  Since then, he’s avoided city slickers and romantic interests of any kind.

a woman in an apron holds out an egg to another woman
Forget baking–let’s go egg all the houses in this town.

Unless he meets a nice lady who helps the homeless, volunteers to share her room with a family during a power outage, and bakes cookies in exchange for donations to a charity auction?  Mayhap?

Just as Jake gets close to Ellen–even showing her the ice sculptures he designed (not a euphemism)–her fiancé Gray arrives in town.  Will Gray’s arrival erase everything Ellen has learned from the charming small-town folks or will she hold onto the true spirit of Christmas?  Just like Hamlet, we’re asking the important questions here.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Predictable, cheesy, and incredibly dependent on stereotypes, this is still reasonably entertaining.  As far as wholesome, Hallmark-style movies about what Christmas really means, you could do worse.  The characters are fine if rather bland.  Ellen is actually fairly likeable as a protagonist even though I don’t 100% understand how her behavior at parties is considered so scandalous or why her father is so upset.  The first thing we see her do is a series of vaults at a charity fundraiser, which I feel is not enough to merit her picture appearing in tabloids all the damn time.  Part of me is also disappointed that she didn’t have to do vaults at the end of the movie to save Christmas.

On an unrelated note, I tried really hard to get beyond Jake having the hairstyle and wardrobe of Donald Trump Jr.’s “just a regular guy who’s into flannel” photo shoot in the woods, but mostly failed.  (You can Google it–no one in that family is ever having their picture featured here.)  He’s likeable enough as a love interest if annoyingly perfect.  I mean, minus the DJT Jr. vibes.

Was my blog wife feeling the small town charm or would she take the money and run?  Find out in her review here!

A room full of police officers seated at tables face the front of a meeting room. Among many humans, one officer is a blue orc.
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bright, or: Just the Two of Orcs

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Christmas programming for what is the greatest Christmas gift of all on the blog:  a terrible Netflix original movie about cops, orcs, prophecies, and CGI creatures completely real mythical beings.

The Film:

Bright

The Premise:

Two members of the LAPD–one orc, one Will Smith–team up to prevent the prophesied return of the generic medieval fantasy-type dark wizard.

The Ramble:

Like any fantasy worth its weight in …unicorn dust(?), this one begins with a vague prophecy that attempts to be intriguing but is really just minorly irritating.  I can’t even remember what it is at this point.  Magic, magic, Dark Lord, orcs, you’re a wizard Harry.  Something along those lines.  Surely these words won’t affect our unsuspecting protagonists in modern day Los Angeles.

Note that modern day Los Angeles is a place where humans coexist with all manner of fantasy creatures:  orcs, elves, centaurs, fairies, dragons, and the like.  As one would expect, there’s an established hierarchy, with orcs as essentially the lowest of the low.  Elves, on the other hand, are akin to the 1% and even have their own district with way nicer cars and cleaner streets.  Humans seem to fall somewhere in the middle of all this.

This includes Will Smith, an officer with the LAPD.  After dramatically being shot by an orc, Will (aka Daryl Ward) is returning for his first day of work in months.  His partner Nick Jakoby is the only orc on the force, and as such is under constant suspicion by the other cops.  The situation for Nick hasn’t improved since an orc shot his partner and then escaped.

a woman in police uniform talks to a police officer
BTW, Margaret Cho is in this.

Though Ward tries to keep things professional, he obviously holds a grudge towards Nick, constantly shutting down his partner and trying to undermine him.  Not cool.  When Internal Affairs gets involved with the investigation of Ward’s shooting, he’s ready to be rid of his partner but would rather do so without any shady schemes.  The Internal Affairs reps persuade him to record his conversations with Nick and draw a career ending confession from him.

Meanwhile, Ward and Nick respond to a disturbance downtown in which a crazy guy with a sword is saying shit about the prophecy and making threats.  After they take him into custody, he tells Nick the Dark Lord is returning to claim orc hearts.  This guy is later interrogated by an elf and humans that are part of the FBI for magic.

a grubby man without a shirt blocks a busy intersection, brandishing a sword
You shall not…park here!

It may also interest you or at least be relevant for you to know that 3 wands are needed to resurrect the Dark Lord.  The catch is that only a bright can wield a wand without dying painfully.  Most brights are elves, but it is possible for a human to be a bright.  Any human, you say?  Even a cynical policeman whose life thus far has shown no indication of any magical tendencies?

Our story doesn’t go along too much further before Ward and Nick encounter a bright with a wand, an elf named Tikka.  Since the wand comes with so much power and is so valuable, the cops decide to kill Nick and take the wand for themselves.  They pressure Ward to go along with this plan, but of course he ends up being just too honorable.

a human and an orc in police uniforms walk into a dark room, guns drawn
Collateral Blue-ty?  That’s the one Will Smith movie pun I’ve got for this post.

Just when Ward and Nick escape the corrupt cops, they encounter members of a gang who make their intentions clear with incredibly painful street talk.  Ah-eh-eh-em:  “Word on the street, there’s a wand in this ‘hood” and “The wand belongs to the barrio” are 2 shining examples.

Basically, the point here is that everyone wants the wand.  Ward, Nick, and Tikka must dodge all of their rivals and prevent their worst enemy from rising in the form of the Dark Lord.

This, of course, leads to a showdown between our 3 heroes and the evil group of elves who want to bring the Dark Lord back to wreak havoc, destruction, etc on the world.  Who will emerge triumphant?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though it promises a genre-bending thrill ride, this one is sadly forgettable.  Most of the plot feels like a carbon copy of all other police dramas, and it’s too reluctant to fully embrace its weirdness.  The fantasy elements seem tacked on unnecessarily rather than fresh or fun.  That’s one of the biggest disappointments of this film–for such an off-the-wall premise, there’s a distinct lack of fun here.

The social commentary about racism tries really hard, but it doesn’t feel particularly noteworthy, nor half as clever as it thinks it is.  In fact, some of the especially cringeworthy gang stereotypes undermine that message.  I want to give this film props for trying, but it gets a lot wrong and handles things too clumsily for it to succeed.

Additionally, the characters and character relationships fall flat.  I think(?) Ward is supposed to be the grizzled old timer and Nick the wide-eyed rookie cop, but both feel bland and tired.  I guess they’re so boring they deserve each other, but at the same time I didn’t get a sense of a genuine connection between the two.  There’s never a time when the relationship between Ward and Nick shifts, even after facing countless near death experiences together.  Beyond that, the minor characters are pretty uninteresting too, and Ward’s wife and daughter are basically props.

There’s nothing to mark this as a blight to film making; on the other hand, there’s nothing much to remember about this one at all.

Would Christa raise this one from the dead as prophesied or push it down a bottomless pit?  Find out in her review here!

a man with unkempt hair and beard serves food to an elderly couple at a table, who are both tied to their chairs with Christmas string lights
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Buster’s Mal Heart, or: Manly Mountain Men

This week’s film asks important questions, such as whether those who walk around in their underwear are the most free among us.  Also if the universe is shaped like an apple or a sphincter.  For real.

The Film:

Buster’s Mal Heart

The Premise:

A mountain man who breaks into people’s vacation homes to survive cold winters has lived a very sad and rather non-linear life.

The Ramble:

Buster isn’t having the best New Year’s ever.  A fugitive running from the police for as yet undisclosed reasons, he seeks refuge in a cave in the woods.  It doesn’t take long for us to learn that Buster has been living off of the land for years, surviving winter by breaking in to empty vacation homes.  As New Year’s approaches, he makes increasingly erratic phone calls to local radio stations warning everyone that the inversion is coming.  Though his crimes are relatively low-level, he is nonetheless considered armed and dangerous by the authorities.

a man with an unkempt beard and hair eats from several plates by candlelight
Also seems to have an affinity for candles.

Of course, this isn’t what Buster’s life was always like.  Before his mountain man lifestyle, Buster’s name was Jonah, and he considered himself something of a worker drone.  As a concierge, Jonah works overnight on low pay and little sleep.  He dreams of buying a remote piece of land to live independently with his family.  The current situation for the family is less than ideal—Jonah, his wife, and daughter live with his parents-in-law, who throw a lot of shade his way.

a man makes faces at a toddler eating breakfast
I’ll admit this scene was cute.

Things start to change when Jonah encounters a stranger at the hotel who approaches him in a suspiciously Christian-Slater-in-Mr. Robot kind of way.  The stranger lives off the grid, with no ID or credit card, but needs a room for the night.  Jonah initially denies this request, but finds himself listening to the stranger’s ideas.  The stranger warns Jonah about Y2K and the inversion and proclaims himself the last free man.  Instead of backing away slowly, Jonah eventually agrees to let the man stay.

Though Jonah loves his family, he feels something is wrong with his heart and fears becoming a slave to the system.  He begins to buy into the stranger’s odd, conspiratorial perspective that the universe is shaped like a sphincter.  When Y2K brings about the inversion, people will dive into that sphincter (from my understanding…?).

a man with unkempt hair and beard looks over the side of the rowboat he sits in, surrounded by water
Rami Malek’s audition for Castaway 2…?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his home life begins to crack, his professional life has been soul-crushing for a long time, and Jonah begins to have very dark hallucinations.  What pushed him over the edge to become a roving mountain man?  And will his history of minor crimes become all too serious when an elderly couple returns to find Buster in their house?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not sure I understood this one 100%, and there were times I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be funny?  Having a sphincter-shaped universe seems like more of a comedy element, but most of this film’s content is decidedly heavier.

Rami Malek is great as our conflicted and complex lead, who has so many more layers than we realize at first.  It’s hard not to feel sympathy for him even as [SPOILER] he does incredibly horrifying things.  We let the narrative convince us pretty easily that Buster is a victim even as we see a violent, unstable side of his personality.  The saddest part of this film is that he is a victim–but he also victimizes others.  This film unexpectedly tackles mental health issues in a way that doesn’t blame anyone, though neither does it offer easy answers about living with them.

I’d still sign up for the mountain man lifestyle, though.

Would Christa listen to this one’s conspiracy theories or send it back to the cave where it belongs?  Find out in her post here!