Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Madame Bovary, or: Arsenic and Gold Plates

November is the month of love on the blog–specifically love for the Blog Collab and our partnership.  In line with age-old tradition, our theme for this month revolves around choosing films that remind us of each other.  This week is Christa’s pick, and I think I’ve done well for myself if period dramas are the films immediately associated with me.

The Film:

Madame Bovary (2014)

The Premise:

France.  Extramarital affairs.  Massive debts as a result of too many gold encased centerpieces.  You know the drill.

The Ramble:

If 150+ years isn’t long enough to catch up on the basic plot of this story, this film considerately drops a few hints right away that it doesn’t end super well for the titular Madame Bovary.  Guess what?  Being a middle class married woman in the 19th century French countryside isn’t usually the most fun in literature.

Short diversion:  though set in France, this adaptation feels English AF, and the accents are confusing.  We have pseudo-French, British, American, and a few I couldn’t identify super easily.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want to hear actors in a French story at least make an attempt to put on a terrible French accent.

Returning to our story–almost immediately after her education in what looks like the world’s most boring martial arts school (but is actually a French convent), Emma marries a youngish doctor and moves to a small town outside of Rouen.  Everyone is stoked about the good match she’s made and predicts she’ll enjoy a comfortable, quiet life with her husband.  A ha ha.  Ha.

They see me rollin’…

For whatever reason, Paul Giamatti has a small role in this as a pharmacist/unintentional wingman for Emma.  He introduces Emma to a young legal clerk, Leon, with the dubious honor of being the last romantic in France.  Though Emma is really into this guy, the most scandalous thing she’s willing to do is walk slowly through a golden field with him.  That seems to be the end of that (at least for now).

Period drama requirements satisfied in this scene:  bonnets, sideburns, symbolically wild/flowy hair on men, walking in fields.

Bored with the countryside, Emma tries to convince her husband to move to a city with more excitement or at least some more dudes to scope out.  Sorry, Emma–not going to happen.  Her only consolation is buying expensive shit on credit so she’ll have a shiny new wardrobe and extravagant decor.

After some time, Emma meets a marquis at a really fancy fox hunting party (which also makes this story feel even more fucking English).  Though initially Emma only offers friendship to the Marquis, she becomes tired with the constant disappointment that is life and begins an affair with him.  Eventually, Emma plans to run away to Paris with the Marquis, but…that doesn’t work out very well for her.  She does get some apricots out of it, though.

Break-up note accompanied by food is…not the worst idea, actually.

Luckily, Leon shows up again around this time.  However, Emma has also amassed much more debt than her husband can ever pay off by this point.  Unless Emma can rustle up 10,000 francs, she will lose everything.  Guess who’s there for her in her hour of need?

Spoiler:  it rhymes with marsenic.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I do always love the scenery, costumes, and symbolism of a period drama.  The sweeping landscape shots are beautiful, though (again), there’s something about all of this that feels so English.

However, we’re sorely missing a glimpse into Emma’s inner workings.  We see her reacting to feelings of emptiness and boredom without understanding where these feelings come from or what drives her to spending money and conducting affairs.  She’s also described as intelligent yet overly romantic, but neither of these characteristics shines through.  In this adaptation, Emma is actually somewhat boring herself and honestly not the brightest.  As a result, there is very little redeeming about her character, and it’s difficult to be sad when she meets an unhappy end.

At a certain point, this film ends up feeling like it’s crossing off items on the period drama checklist:  furtive glances at church, melancholy walks in the countryside, forbidden meetings at night.  You can get all that and more from so many other period dramas, in addition to more fully developed characters and deeper significance (plus less confusing accents).

Would Christa plate this one in gold or send it away to walk alone in the woods?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Amour Fou, or: Romantic Romantics

This week is brought to you by aristocratic dogs, Romantic poetry, and rich people who hate democracy and paying taxes.  Period drama + social commentary?  I’m in.

The Film:

Amour Fou

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A German Romantic poet just wants to find a nice young woman who will agree to die with him.  Not a euphemism.

The Uncondensed Version:

The setting is early 19th century Berlin, and a small group of aristocrats are all abuzz that a famous Romantic poet will soon be in their midst.  This poet is Heinrich von Kleist, melancholy, melodramatic pursuer of love who fancies himself extremely attuned to the emotional states of others.  Or rather, desperate to find a kindred spirit to enter into a murder-suicide pact with him.  Whoa, dude.  You’ve got to start out with some polite small talk first.

No, Mrs. Vogel, I expect you to DIE.

Heinrich’s ideal partner is his cousin Marie, but she’s not ready to die young for love.  Go figure.

A rather distant second arrives in the form of Henriette, the wife of one of Heinrich’s acquaintances.  Based on my limited experiences with 19th century period dramas, apparently the only form of entertainment was standing around someone’s drawing room while a member of your crowd signs and/or plays the piano.  If this was really what a good time looked like back in the day, no wonder Heinrich wanted to blow his brains out.  (Sorry.  Ish.)  My rather roundabout point here is that Henriette has a nice singing voice and likes Heinrich’s poetry, both of which are qualities he admires immensely.

Meanwhile, with the French Revolution fresh in the minds of German aristocrats, the topic on everyone’s mind is the horror of taxes, democracy, and rights for peasants.  Heinrich is in favor of being free and doomed—no surprise there.

Do you think anyone’s noticed that I only have one hat?

After getting to know Henriette for maybe a week or so, Heinrich decides to make his rather unconventional proposal to die with him instead of living with her husband, daughter, and mother.  Henriette rejects him but seems interested in the idea, even though his speech comes complete with unconvincing logic about the nature of love and absence of real love in Henriette’s life.  Because it’s not real love unless you’d kill yourself and/or others…?  Sorry, romantic ballads of the ‘80s, but I’m not buying it.

Rather conveniently for Heinrich, Henriette becomes seriously ill shortly after all of this.  After receiving a total BS diagnosis of a “spiritual ailment,” it’s eventually clear that she has an inoperable tumor that is killing her.  Finally ready to die with Heinrich, Henriette asks if his offer still stands and he changes his goddamn mind because he doesn’t think her motives are pure enough.  For fuck’s sake, dude.

It should be mentioned that Henriette’s husband is quite sweet through all of this.  He basically tells her to leave him for another man if that will make her happy in her last days, and he never stops trying to find a trendy cure in Paris.

To be fair, it’s pretty easy to look like the sane/normal one when you’re the one who did NOT propose a murder-suicide pact.

You can easily look up the true story if you want to know what happens in the end.  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s not a particularly happy one.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I thought this would be a comedy for some reason…and there is the occasional bleakly funny scenario, but it’s overall a serious, melancholy film.  I like the completely unromantic take on Romanticism and unsentimental period drama this is.  Heinrich was the absolute worst, and I couldn’t help realize this must have been exactly what it was like to talk to me as a teenager.  I do like the Romantics, but it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything even remotely ordinary if they were thinking about love, death, and King Arthur’s court as much as they did in their poetry.

There’s no sense that the filmmakers approve of the romantic determination to live fast, die young.  It’s actually quite pathetic to die so young for love, and it doesn’t feel like it’s truly an act of love to ask that of another person.

It also seems pretty absurd that Heinrich feels he’s taking control of his life by ending it, which is highlighted in a moment when he struggles with a gun that’s out of bullets.  Henriette’s decision to die is based on avoiding a prolonged painful death, but it’s clear from the beginning no one is going to find a peaceful death by slowly sailing off into the mist like it’s LOTR (sorry/not sorry, Christa).  Death is death, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how it happens.

Happy Feminist February?

Would Christa travel to the countryside with this one under false pretenses or repeatedly back away from serious commitments to it?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

12 Days of Terror, or: Torpedo Is the Only Possible Explanation

Sadly, Shark Week is officially over, but in the true spirit of taking things to an unnecessary extreme that no one really wanted, this blog collab officially recognizes July as Shark Month.  What could possibly be more American than that?

I stand by my decision to start out the month with—I kid you not—a made-for-tv shark attack period drama.  It’s as glorious as it sounds.

The Film:

12 Days of Terror

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

According to the trailer, this movie is based on true events that happened in 1916 off the Jersey Shore, which also sort of inspired Jaws.

The Uncondensed Version:

We follow Alex, a strapping young lifeguard who seems to be metaphorically floating along without much thought for the future.  It’s clear pretty quickly that Alex is still really into Louise, his friend Stan’s fiancée (and, coincidentally, former girlfriend of Alex).  Because wedding shit is apparently super important, Louise and Stan have ulterior motives for visiting Alex—Louise absolutely must make a decision about the color of the flowers on the wedding cake.

Early clues that Alex is sweet but not the brightest:  he picks GREEN flowers because they match Louise’s BROWN eyes.  WTF, dude?  Green flowers are just suspicious, aren’t they?  Esp. on food.

Why were green flowers even an option to begin with?  I am NOT letting this go.

Anyway, this film gets right to the point because after about 10 minutes of exposition, the moment we’ve been waiting for happens—SHARK ATTACK.  We’re just not sad at all, though, as the victim was this overly confident upper-class twit.  Alex immediately jumps in to save the man, but the shark already took a big enough bite for the first life to be lost.

Commence the frustratingly oblivious officials and politicians who will dominate the inaction of the remaining hour and 15 minutes of the film.

Even though Alex insists the man who died was a victim of a shark attack, there is literally no other logical human in New Jersey, so no one believes him.  It is, ahem, “scientific fact” that killer sharks don’t swim near the shore, and they’re not aggressive towards humans.  Besides, President Wilson is just about to visit the small beach town, which no one wants to jeopardize.  Plus there are many business interests involved that would be hurt if anyone admitted the beach might not be safe.  So nothing happens and, in fact, the prime suspect in all of this is a stray torpedo, it being WWI and whatnot.  DUDE, can you even hear yourself???

It really blows to be Alex at this point because the only person who takes his side is a drunk old sea captain/mentor who gives advice like “If ever your dog got hold of a chicken, you’d have to shoot it.”

Yarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…fish…grog…sea beasties…

However, what can he do besides keep calm and lifeguard on?  Alex continues working and biting his tongue.  That is, until one of the other lifeguards falls victim to the shark, yet the official reports keep denying the existence of aforementioned shark.  This move is widely frowned upon, and even Stan says Alex looks like a coward for quitting his job.  Dammit, Stan.  Remember the war’s out there.

Now that Alex doesn’t have a lot to do except feel bad about all of his life decisions, he joins up with the sea captain to basically build a fence that will keep the shark away from the beach.  Yeah, good luck with that one.  The whole construction of the fence is actually quite impressive, though, as there’s absolutely no snorkeling gear involved.

It was an almost impossible choice for the captain to declare a winner of the wet t-shirt contest.

Things seem to be going okay until the shark makes its way up a creek, where there are children swimming.  The captain yells at the boys to get out of the water, and do they fucking listen?  I’ll give you a hint:  they’re boys.  Stupid, stupid boys.

In an effort to save the boys, Stan jumps in to the water, which you can imagine isn’t going to end well.  After things take a turn for the bloody, Alex is out for revenge.  …Against the shark.  Clearly.  Because that’s a language sharks understand.

Either way, the last few scenes of the film are actually quite tense and emotional.  I think you’ll end up feeling sorry for the people as well as the shark unless your heart is made of stone.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s really difficult to go wrong with a shark film, even (especially?) a made-for-tv period piece based on true events.  I unabashedly enjoyed this one even though it’s really annoying to (1) watch so many fuckheads go into the water even with repeated warnings NOT to and (2) see all of the so-called experts claim there’s no possible way the attacks could’ve been the work of shark despite an increasing amount of evidence supporting exactly that point.

Alex was so sincere (and, ahem, didn’t look at all bad whilst emerging from the ocean) that I couldn’t help wanting him to succeed.  But being the only sane person amidst cripplingly incompetent assholes can boost your likeability factor immensely.

Did Christa jump on board with this or does she prefer to deny its existence?  Find out here!

Full disclosure:  I had to stop halfway through this and watch Jersey Shore Gone Wilde clips because of the number of times characters said “Jersey Shore.”  Zero regrets.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Machine, a Film by Energy Beam Brontë*

*Stolen from an article on The Toast

Second week of Sci-Fi/Fantasy-a-Thon with Christa!

This week I picked The Machine.

True story:  I am having such a Monday that I was finished with this post by 4:00 PM EST but forgot to post until now.

The Film:

The Machine

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Mr. Rochester A scientist builds a self-aware cyborg in a cold war arms race. Moody staring ensues.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

I’m warning you now that this post is largely me freaking out about Toby Stephens, but if you can’t appreciate the man who is the closest living embodiment of Mr. Rochester, you are not welcome on this blog (yes, you are. Mostly).

Soooooooooooooo at an unspecified time in the future there’s a cold war between the UK and China. Probably the US as well b/c we really don’t like to be left out of that kind of thing. Just as in the earlier cold war, the two chief weapons are fear, espionage, and cyborgs. Three. Our three chief weapons are fear, espionage, and cyborgs. Apparently whoever builds the most badass cyborg wins the war and everyone can go home.

Toby Stephens, god love him, is just way too committed to scientific research to live in a time of war. He’s helping develop a self-aware cyborg, but he doesn’t want it to be a robot Nazi superweapon. We get our first glimpse of Rochester Vincent working on Paul, one of his experiments. Paul wakes up to a gentle hand on his shoulder and Toby Stephens asking, “Hello, do you know your name?”

No, I don’t. Please remind me.

Paul is a man who was shot in the head and has gotten a cyborg brain implant. Rochester VINCENT is giving him cyborg awareness tests involving empathy when Paul gives him a hug…and a stab in the chest!


Okay, but damn…it’s unfair how good Toby Stephens looks even after being fake stabbed in the chest.
Okay, but damn…it’s unfair how good Toby Stephens looks even after being fake stabbed in the chest.

Like any good movie scientist, being stabbed just motivates him even MORE. Somewhat unethically, Vincent makes up a fake grant so he can recruit people with the most promising cyborgs. Basically everyone sucks except for blonde young American Ava. Weird that I don’t want him to hook up with blondie largely b/of blonde Blanche in the 2006 Jane Eyre?

Also Jarndyce from Bleak House is his boss; I think I need to drop everything and marathon Jane Eyre/Bleak House. If I started now I could be done by…10 am tomorrow morning.

Vincent doesn’t really care that much about cyborgs, honestly, but he thinks the technology can help his daughter with a rare genetic disorder. He and Ava make some progress until suddenly the Chinese assassinate her, which Jarndyce may have participated in.

So Vincent decides to make a robot version of Ava even though she didn’t want her face to be used in any of the cyborg inventions. IDK, I wouldn’t really have a problem with my face being used on assassin robots when I’m dead.

Welllllllllll, until they decide to fuck with her emotions and put a spider jar over her face. Also they have a dude in a clown mask approach her and she fucking kills him, DUH. For some reason Vincent is surprised/upset that she killed the fucker in a clown mask. SHE’S MORE HUMAN THAN ANY OF YOU. THIS IS LIKE BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ALL OVER AGAIN.


Also it’s becoming apparent that Ava is suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper into Vincent and he does not reciprocate. It’s so very cringeworthy.

At this point, the plot takes a sinister turn as Jarndyce manipulates Ava and Vincent in order to create a perfect killing machine.

That’s all I will say because at some point between Toby Stephens scenes, I realized I was actually enjoying this one quite a bit. There were times when the plot could’ve been more fast-paced, and the action scenes were kind of terrible. Honestly, I thought this was just going to be another bad cyborg flick, but it was reasonably interesting and…thought-provoking even?

The Critique:

Important Toby Stephens Moments Ranked by Rochester-iness:

5.  After Ava goes exploring in the top-secret military base, Toby Stephens tells her not to get “lost” again: “There are a lot of secrets down here in the dark, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” This is practically verbatim what Rochester tells Jane EVERY TIME she has a fucking question.

4.  Any time he says the word “fuck.” I know Mr. Rochester never actually said the word fuck in Brontë’s final draft (those damn censors, man), but I suspect he would really understand and appreciate the value of yelling the word “fuck.”

3. When Ava the cyborg does a fucking naked dance in front of him and he’s just kind of like “eh.” It’s Bertha Mason all over again. YOU’RE KILLING HER WITH YOUR INDIFFERENCE.

2.  Vincent to Ava: “Some people can’t give up hope even though deep down they know it’s hopeless.” THAT IS ON THE ROCHESTER FAMILY FUCKING CREST, I SWEAR TO GOD. Along with “Any suspicious thud you hear is a drunk old woman, NOT a crazy wife secretly living in the attic. Unless you have written documentation.”

1.  Every time he looks moodily at a wall or out a window (in terms of screen time, probably at least 1/3 of this movie).


The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Robots + Mr. Rochester. I feel angels crafted this movie from my dreams.

See what Christa thinks here!