Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Witch, or: Which Witch

If last week brought us closer to God (in the form of a glitter-covered Whitney Houston crooner), with this week’s film we are taking a hard right turn in the other direction.  Witchcraft, creepy twins, wild accusations, and fiendish goats are all in store for us this week.

The Film:

The Witch

The Premise:

A Puritan family banished from their New England community struggles to survive despite being cursed…by witches?

The Ramble:

It’s maybe not the best day ever for Thomasin and her family.  Recent arrivals to New England, head of the family William is banished for his outspoken opposition to accepted religious doctrine.  Big no-no for the Puritans.

Left to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar land, the family seems to be exceptionally unlucky with a rotting corn crop, empty traps in the woods, and very little of value to sell or trade.  In fact, the family is so unlucky they seem to be…cursed?  Perhaps by witches?

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The family’s troubles take an even more sinister turn when Thomasin, playing a game of peek-a-boo with her baby brother Samuel, witnesses him vanishing before her eyes.  After this incident, Thomasin’s mother and younger siblings become suspicious of her, even believing she gave the baby to witches.  It should be mentioned these two children are the creepiest twins since The Shining and are constantly singing to Black Philip, the family’s Satanic goat.

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Pretty much the only one still on Thomasin’s side is her brother Caleb.  She’s going to need the support as her mother decides the time has come for Thomasin to go into town and serve one of the respectable Puritan families.  Overhearing this plan, Caleb comes up with a solution to help Thomasin.  When the two venture into the woods, shit obviously goes horribly wrong.

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After disappearing, Caleb emerges from the woods naked and shivering in the rain.  He becomes seriously ill–an illness his mother is convinced is a sign of witchcraft.  Accusations fly all around in the direction of Thomasin and the twins.  Tired of this nonsense, William makes an executive decision to lock the children in with the goats for the night.

Who among these suspects is a witch?  And will any of them survive the night?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a revisit for both Christa and I this time around.  I remember enjoying the film the first time I watched, but I got a lot more out of it with a second viewing.

The film is beautifully moody, eerie, and overcast, mirroring the bleak future ahead for the family.  While it is faith that drives William’s decisions, it is also his faith that dooms the family and sends them on a course that is almost the complete opposite of what he wants.  Proud to a fault, William constantly chooses his own beliefs over the well-being of his family, who are forced to follow the path he creates.

It’s hard to like many of the characters, but it is fascinating to watch them react to their environment and fall into chaos.  The twins are truly terrifying and do a great deal in creating the film’s foreboding atmosphere suffused with dread.

There’s also a decided theme of women and power–specifically the fear of this combination.  It’s no coincidence that the accusations of witchcraft swirl around Thomasin as she is growing into adulthood.  The family fears Thomasin’s power as both witch and woman…which of course doesn’t hold up thematically in our world in any way…

Would Christa shun this one or grab a broom and unite with its coven?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Holy Camp, or: I-E-I Will Always Love You

This week gives us a much-needed break from full-frontal scenes depicting the male (and female) anatomy, which is a feat unto itself.  Add Whitney Houston musical numbers, strong female friendships, and lesbian themes, and we’ve got…well, a film premise constructed from our dreams, essentially.

The Film:

Holy Camp! (La llamada)

The Premise:

Teen bffs at a religious summer camp must contend with secret parties, the crushing of their dreams, visits from an unexpectedly glittery God, and attractive nuns.

The Ramble:

Maria and Susana are besties for life reluctantly spending the summer at a religious camp for teens.  While initially planning to sneak out and party every night, Maria has lost interest in their schemes.  As it turns out, she has been meeting someone else at night–God.  And he seems to be a huge fan of Whitney Houston.

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This is your vision of God too, right?

After refusing to participate in a weekend canoe trip, Maria and Susana are effectively under house arrest with novice nun Milagros.  Though she tries to be stern, Milagros is too kind to be angry and bonds with Susana over their love of music.  Hmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps Milagros has a secret past as the lead singer of a band…

Milagros isn’t the only one keeping a secret.  Susana, upset about the newfound distance between the two friends, accuses Maria of leaving her hanging.  Maria, on the other hand, thinks it’s time to grow up and forget about their dream to become a world-famous girl band.

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Bestie love.

Meanwhile, Sister Bernarda is convinced she has the perfect solution for reining the girls in:  music.  Though Milagros appreciates the thought, she finds Sr. Bernarda’s taste in music…a bit dated.  This leads to perhaps the finest nun-centric musical number since The Sound of Music.

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No caption needed.

Still on the outs with her bff, Maria, confides in Sr. Bernarda that God speaks to her through the songs of Whitney Houston.  Sr. Bernarda is less than understanding initially, but does eventually believe and support Maria.  With the help of the Sister, Maria learns to pray so she can understand God’s message but keeps her newfound faith a secret.

Susana is also keeping her feelings a secret.  When she sees Milagros dress up and sing into a hairbrush, reminiscing about her days as a singer, Susana develops a bit of a crush.  But does Milagros have a clue?

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Right on, Mary.

Though now armed with the power of prayer, Maria feels farther than ever from God when he laughs at her efforts and walks away.  She becomes despondent after this until Susana finally visits her and the two make up.  Susana confesses to Milagros that she’s in love with her, leaving the novice stunned.

How will the two best friends heal their relationship with the ones they love?  And might it perhaps involve a choreographed glitter-suffused dance number?

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Without hesitation.

I feel bad now about some of the other films I haven’t given a full 5 stars that probably deserved it.  This one definitely deserves it as it’s so fucking joyous and refreshing in so many ways.  All 4 of our leading characters are women, one of whom is rather aged.  Though she’s a bit out of touch, she is a respected and compassionate while remaining remarkably free of judgment.  The ladies of this film support each other so much, and I support that support.

The way love is explored is powerful:  spiritual love, the love between friends, and romantic love.  Both Maria and Susana express their love for each other by being true to themselves and honest with each other.  I also like the message about religion even as a completely non-religious person.  The way the faithful choose to worship is their decision–music is just as valid as prayer.

If this is what church had been like when I was growing up, you can be pretty damn sure my ass would’ve been in the pews about 3,000x more.

Was Christa singing the gospel of this film or did she convert to another immediately?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Dark Song, or: Angels & Demons

As much as this month is about trashy horror, it wouldn’t be complete without a moody slow burner about dealing with grief through a countryside retreat to practice occult rituals.  With a man who is essentially an extremely ginger Paul Giamatti.

The Film:

A Dark Song

The Premise:

A woman hires an occultist to perform a ritual allowing her to communicate with her murdered son.

The Ramble:

Sophia has been mourning her son’s unsolved murder for a long time (understandably) and finally decides to do something about it.  Her solution?  Occult ritual to summon a guardian angel that will grant her a request.  Though she claims the request will be to speak with her child one ore time, does Sophia have ulterior motives?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

The occultist she meets with is Joseph, who has had a 1 in 3 success rate, which I guess isn’t too shabby in the occult world?  In order to complete the ritual, Sophia will have to follow Joseph’s instructions without question, some of which are pretty gnarly.  Joseph initially turns down her request, even for a shitload of money, but decides to take on the ritual when she convinces him her motives are pure.

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The film’s original pitch as a road trip comedy was less successful…

Joseph explains the ritual is basically a journey (I guess he’s a New Age occultist) in which they’ll travel through 5 circles, invoking the angel at all stages.  Most likely, the angel will materialize after the 4th or 5th step.  Of course, there are also really horrific tasks along the way for purification.  Sophia has to do things like shave Joseph’s body (what), spend hours to days reciting from one of the dark magic books (obv I totally know a lot about this kind of thing…) without food or sleep, drinking stemless wine glasses of Joseph’s blood, and getting naked in front of him so he can “purify” himself (gross gross gross).

There are some signs that the rituals are working like birds hitting the window and Sophia hearing her son’s voice speaking to her.  However, after a while, it becomes clear that they’re really not getting the intended results from all of the blood drinking and…uh, emergence of other bodily fluids.  As it turns out, Sophia’s real motive is to rain down vengeance on the teens who killed her son in a pseudo-occult ritual (and were never caught).  Joseph says it’s fine as a motive, but lying about it was distinctly not ok.

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Lying is impure, but cigarettes are fine.

For the ritual to work now, Joseph insists Sophia must be purified, which means nearly drowning her in a cold bath in the middle of the night.

After Sophia’s near-death experience, she’s angry with their lack of progress and lashes out at Joseph.  Things escalate rather quickly in ways that aren’t wonderful for Joseph.  After Sophia tries to leave the house, she discovers she can’t… and of course things get really sinister from here on out.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The eerie ambiance is perfect and burns so slowly, leading to a suspenseful ending.  Not a lot of horror can do what this film does.  However (as always), men ruined it for me.   I had trouble getting around Joseph being an asshole for 95% of his screen time.  Sophia isn’t necessarily the most likeable character ever, but she’s easier to understand and feel sympathy for.  The last 30 minutes or so of this are pure perfection, though, and  (SPOILER) blissfully Joseph-free (sorry, dude).

Would Christa complete an occult ritual with this one or let it drown in the bathtub? Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

A Date for Mad Mary, or: Quite Contrary

I think the overarching theme of this month is that it’s proven too real for us.  Our pick this week manages to be somewhat more uplifting while remaining emotionally devastating in a way we’ve come to expect (and enjoy to some degree–we’re pretty masochistic).

The Film:

A Date for Mad Mary

The Premise:

Immediately after release from prison seems as good a time as any to plan a wedding, dress up as characters from Mamma Mia, and make bold claims about fictional boyfriends.

The Ramble:

Mary has just been released from a brief stint in prison, a fact willfully ignored by her bff Charlene and just about everyone else.  There’s more important shit going down…like Charlene’s wedding in just a few short weeks.  In spite of all that’s happened, Mary is ready for her life to go back to the way it was and to get up to her usual antics with Charlene.

As we know, weddings are important, blah blah blah, but it’s all a bit much for Mary, who is so not into the frilly lace and passive-aggressive snarkiness of it all (the bride gives Mary a CD with elocution lessons—say what?).  What our girl Mary is really angling for is a carefree night at the club with her bestie, but there always seems to be some element of the wedding rudely sabotaging their friendship.  Or is it something that’s been festering for a long time?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

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U up?

When Mary goes out to the club on her own, it’s obvious she has a bit of a temper.  Bouncers seem to have it in for her as the unexplained mystery of Mary’s prison sentence had something to do with a drunken night out and a short temper.  It’s not long before Mary is sent home without $200 for passing go.

Impulsively (as she does most things), Mary proclaims she’ll need a plus one for her super smokin’ hot boyfriend.  The problem, of course, being that Mary doesn’t have a boyfriend and seems to have very little interest in dating or attracting members of the opposite sex.  In fact, it becomes pretty clear that Mary may be more than a little bit in love with her bestie.  Or is she in love with the person Charlene used to be?

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My milkshake brings all the girls to the stairs…

Either way, checking things off the massive wedding plan list has just become a lot more complicated.  Additional wrench thrown into the plan arrives in the form of Jess, the videographer for Charlene’s big day.  Having left things too late, Mary begs Jess to cancel the gig she has with her band that night.  Reluctantly, Jess agrees, but only because Mary’s a babe and the two share a connection.  *winky face*

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Is that a guitar in your case or…oh, it is a guitar?

Mary does seem to finally have a date, though not the one Charlene is expecting.  Jess is willing to go along with this but balks when it becomes clear how often Mary’s sole purpose seems to be making Charlene angry and jealous.

Alone once again and falling back into old patterns, Mary decides to get her drink on and go pick a fight.  Is it too late for her to change her habits and accept herself the way she is?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really liked this one, so it probably deserves a better rating.  That being said, I was completely unable to separate my reaction to this film from my feelings toward Charlene, who is an utterly horrid person.  At the end of the day, the emphasis on Mary and Charlene’s relationship is that it has changed (necessarily), but my biggest takeaway was that she was a shit friend.  The elocution lessons CD was fucked up, then writing a maid of honor speech for her, along with the complete unwillingness to support her friend through a difficult time–all really fucked up things to do.

I feel this was a deliberate commentary on my ability to let go of things.  In this case, Mary and Charlene had a rather toxic friendship, but it was still hard to watch a one-sided relationship and see Mary’s realization that their friendship was no longer what it once was.

Would this be my blog wife’s plus one or would she tackle it in a drunken brawl?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Excuse My French, or: Children Don’t Make Sense

This week’s film takes us to Egypt, and that universally terrifying place:  a boys’ middle school.  The horror!

The Film:  Excuse My French

Where to Watch:  Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

As our film opens, Hany is the only child in a wealthy Egyptian family.  He attends private school, where he excels academically and is quite popular.  Hany’s family is Christian, and he enjoys attending church.  He is something of an Anglophile, supporting Manchester United and imagining himself the Egyptian Harry Potter.  All seems to be well in Hany’s life until his father suddenly dies, leaving Hany and his cellist mother with very little income.

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Can we get an Egyptian version of Harry Potter, though?  I think it would be pretty stellar.

Since the family can no longer afford Hany’s expensive private school, he will attend the local public school for boys, whose students are almost all Muslim.  His mother gives him 2 instructions:  1.  Don’t make friends, and 2.  Don’t talk about religion.

Hany is off to an unfortunate start, sticking out like a sore thumb when he corrects the English teacher’s grammar and points out “Hasta la vista, baby,” is not English, nor is it a line from a classic novel.

The structure of this film is a bit loose, but revolves mostly around Hany’s efforts to fit in with the other students while hiding his identity as a religious minority.  He manages to make a friend in Mo’men, though he makes a decided enemy in the form of Aly, bully and overall unpleasant character.  He is thrilled when his crush, science teacher Nelly, encourages him to develop and present a scientific project to the school.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, not a single student is impressed by such nerdy feats of engineering.

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[Insert requisite scene introducing the shocking nightmare that is public school]
Hany is able to fly under the radar for a long time despite skipping out on afternoon prayer and hearing from Mo’men that he can tell a Christian from a mile away.  Of course it’s not until Hany gains power and popularity that things start to unravel.  Hany is named class president despite never running for the position–this school does not do elections the same way my school did.

To fit in better, Hany begins participating in prayer at school, and even enters a religious chanting competition.

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I’d also like to see an Egyptian version of Boy Meets World b/c the actor playing Hany looks so much like young Ben Savage.

The situation begins to deteriorate when Hany overhears some older boys planning to follow and grope Nelly.  Typical boy, Hany advises her to dress more modestly rather than reporting the boys to the principal (RAGE).  After the incident, the boys are expelled, but the trouble is only beginning.  Kids are getting beaten up left and right, and I lost track a bit of who and why.

Shortly after, Hany’s identity as a Christian is revealed, he begins taking judo, and he deliberately antagonizes Aly.  Why and what does he hope to accomplish?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really looked forward to seeing a perspective on being a religious minority that is the majority for the US, but I felt a lot of the emphasis was on the behavior of the boys as little creeps rather than as Muslims/Christians.

Also not quite as uplifting as expected?  This isn’t really a heartwarming story of acceptance and religious tolerance–Hany’s classmates never try to be particularly welcoming to him.  However, Hany is a little asshole for so much of the movie, and deliberately bringing in sandwiches to eat during Ramadan is a pretty fucked up thing to do.  I hoped there would be quite  lot of time dedicated to Hany’s relationship with his mother as well.  Though they get along well, there seems to be a lack of emotional depth in their relationship.

Overall, I think watching this film proves irrefutably that I don’t understand children.

Would Christa share a Riesen with this one or abandon it after discovering its true nature?  Find out here!