Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Nightingale, or: Bloody White People

There’s nothing like a revenge film to make me grateful most infractions against me are fairly minor, and I can brush them off and continue on binge watching Netflix shows in my sweatpants. It just looks so tiring, doesn’t it? And in this case, trekking through the Tasmanian wilderness, getting eaten alive by leeches, catching and preparing roasted wallaby for dinner–it makes me want to simply forget and forgive. However, when the offenses you’ve experienced are rape, murder, denial of your freedom, and witnessing genocidal war, sometimes the path of vengeance is the route you have to take.

The Film:

The Nightingale

The Premise:

With the help of an Aboriginal guide, a young Irish convict in Tasmania seeks vengeance on the soldiers who destroyed her family.

The Ramble:

Set during the Black War, Irish convict Clare is just one of many living in and around violence in colonial Tasmania. She has carved out a difficult life for herself alongside husband Aidan and a young daughter even as she faces violence, rape, and the denial of her freedom from irredeemably awful Lieutenant Hawkins.

See, Clare’s sentence actually ended months ago; however, because Hawkins is unwilling to sign off on the paperwork that will recognize this fact, she is stuck in limbo. Instead, she is to continue cooking, cleaning, entertaining the troops with her lovely singing voice, and enduring sexual assault, with no end in sight.

a young woman lies in bed next to a baby

Surely something will happen to change Clare’s life for the better? Alas, no. The arrival of a superior officer is meant to signal Hawkins’ promotion to a northern post. But since Hawkins is a horrendous person and a less than inspiring leader, he is denied the promotion. Worse, the final mark against him seems to be the fistfight he and Aidan engage in after Hawkins refuses to sign off on Clare’s papers.

Blaming Clare and Aidan for his own failure to get the promotion, Hawkins pays a visit to their cottage with a couple of loyal soldiers. In an absolutely brutal scene, Clare loses her husband and daughter, is repeatedly assaulted, and left for dead. When she learns that Hawkins and a couple of men have headed north to apply for the promotion in person, Clare swears to track them down and seek revenge.

Clare recruits Aboriginal tracker Billy to help her find the soldiers. In order to persuade him, Clare offers Billy a shilling now and additional payment later, telling him the lie that she’s seeking a reunion with her husband, who is traveling with the group. Billy has become jaded from guiding white soldiers in the past, but he reluctantly agrees to help Clare.

a man in military uniform looks ahead in a forested area, with two men and a boy following close behind

Meanwhile, Hawkins has recruited several convicts to help him, along with Billy’s uncle to lead their party. One of the soldiers encounters Lowanna, an Aboriginal woman, abducting her and repeatedly raping her.

Truth be told, though Clare doesn’t commit acts of physical violence, she is quite contemptuous in her initial treatment of Billy. Though he is a knowledgeable guide, she disregards his advice, constantly calls him “boy,” and seems incapable of recognizing his own pain (i.e. murder of his family) at the hands of the English. In a scene I’m not super comfortable with, Clare tells Billy she’s Irish, not English, and therefore implicitly has nothing to do with the genocide happening all around her. Clare finally checks her attitude a bit, but only after Billy fucking saves her from drowning when she attempts to cross a river he literally just told her not to cross because of the strong current.

Shortly before Clare and Billy catch up with Hawkins, the soldiers face a group of Aboriginal trackers attempting to reunite with Lowanna. The soldier who killed Clare’s baby is injured by a spear, and limps away. When Clare tracks him down, it becomes clear her mission isn’t the innocent goal of finding her husband as she brutally shoots, stabs, and beats the man to death. I’m not saying I felt any pity for this man, but the disturbing violence of the scene makes it difficult to find much satisfaction in this revenge.

an Aboriginal man and a woman covered in blood stand next to each other in the woods, a horse beside them

Clare’s revenge is cut short when the rest of the soldiers escape and another group stumbles upon the murder scene. Add to this mix an illness, a moment of hesitation, and a separation from Billy, and things are looking pretty bleak for Clare. Will she complete her mission of vengeance…even if the cost is Billy’s life?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

A social justice-oriented period drama about a woman seeking vengeance against genocidal misogynists? Sounds like a film plucked right from my dreams. Perhaps my disappointment is one reason I disliked this film so intensely, but here are some other reasons this one just didn’t click for me.

First off, I do not believe in censorship; however, I find it tough to believe that repeated, explicit scenes of sexual violence are necessary. There are so many rape scenes in this film, and they are much more graphic than I feel is needed. The rape of Lowanna is especially mishandled as she is a rather flat character, onscreen exclusively to suffer and die. In comparison with Clare’s story, Lowanna’s assault feels set up to be a lesser, secondary pain. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way this narrative is set up and the way Lowanna is a plot device rather than a person.

I’m also unconvinced that the way race is addressed in this film as a whole works particularly well. It takes Clare a really long time to recognize Billy’s humanity. She treats him so badly throughout the film, while Billy must consistently play the role of exceptional man of color, proving he excels in tracking and survival skills. Though Billy and Clare ultimately develop a deeply felt mutual understanding, it’s gross that Billy has to prove himself multiple times and face mortal wounds just to be recognized as a human being.

I will credit this film for casting Aboriginal actors to play Aboriginal characters. Additionally, as this was shot on location in Tasmania, the cinematography is stunning.

Overall, the brutal and unflinching violence of this film is off-putting to me rather than effective. At worst, it feels voyeuristic; at best, it lacks subtlety. For me, the explicit violence replaces the sense of psychological terror that may have served this film better.

Would my blog wife lead this one safely across a rushing river or unleash violent revenge upon it? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Coffy, or: Cream & Sugar

I can’t believe this free blogging month is nearly over–though, of course, October is truly the most wonderful time of the year on the Blog Collab. The challenge this year will be out-doing a film featuring Pam Grier with a shotgun; honestly, should we just call it a day and try again in 2020?

The Film:

Coffy

The Premise:

A woman seeks revenge against the drug ring responsible for her sister’s heroin addiction.

The Ramble:

If you can’t handle a ‘70s vibe, get out of this kitchen, as this is possibly the most ’70s film you will watch.

Outside of an extremely retro nightclub, a junkie waits for the big time drug dealer inside.  She will do anything to get a hit—a rather more appealing prospect to the dealer when it turns out the junkie is Coffy, played by Pam Grier.

Upon retiring to a private apartment, Coffy reveals she’s had an ulterior motive all along:  rather than a junkie, she is a woman seeking vengeance against those she holds responsible for her sister’s addiction to heroin.  Both the dealer and his driver fail to live past this night.

A nurse by day, Coffy visits her sister in rehab every week–not the typical stone-hearted killer. Though in a relationship with Howard, a hopeful for an upcoming congressional race, her boyfriend is keen to keep their relationship out of the public eye. Perhaps his reasons for the secrecy move beyond commitment issues? (Hint: they totally do.)

After her ex-boyfriend cop, Carter, is put in a coma, Coffy has added incentive to take down the drug dealers, police officers, and political insiders victimizing the black community. When she confronts a sex worker, Coffy gains intel about the local drug ring and the role of dealer and pimp King George–aka the most stereotypically ’70s pimp to ever grace the silver screen.

Posing as a sex worker, Coffy uses her connection with King George to root out the creeps at the top of the pyramid. Though she has things all sorted out to take care of dealer Vitroni (including gun smuggled in a child’s stuffed lion), Coffy’s plan is foiled when Carter’s partner, a corrupt cop, recognizes her and tips off his boss.

Out of her depth and with no friends to be found, how will Coffy manage to save the day and take down a massive drug ring all by herself?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ll start with the jarring elements of the film: there is a LOT of nudity here that feels EXTREMELY male gaze-y. The standouts here are the cringey cat fight between Coffy and one of the sex workers, as well as the gross scene after Carter is beaten where one of the assailants rather casually attempts to rape Coffy.

As a blaxploitation film, there are some ways in which race is addressed well…and others that feel incredibly problematic. A leading contributor to this is the weirdness of a mostly black cast in a film written and directed by a white man. The way King George meets his end, being dragged behind a car with a noose, is the absolute worst. And while the film’s message isn’t to endorse racism, it does have a voyeuristic feel that makes me wonder if there are people today who genuinely enjoy this scene.

However, the film is very much ahead of its time in its anti-drug themes, and the way it connects these to structural racism in politics and law enforcement. It’s truly tragic the way these ideas will be completely ignored during and in the aftermath of the war on drugs.

The real highlight is, of course, Pam Grier. She succeeds in being a tough but tender lead who is as comfortable wielding a shotgun as caring for her sister. Additionally, she’s a genius at hiding sharp objects in her ‘fro.

I give maximum points for this film’s tagline:   “They call her Coffy, and she’ll cream you.”

Would my tough as nails blog wife give this one a cuddle or bring on the shotgun? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Lady J, or: Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Soft laughter echoing across marble stairs.  Gently twirling parasols.  Delicate lace sleeves.  More hats than you could wear in a lifetime.  It can only be period drama month on the Blog Collab.

The Film:

Lady J

The Premise:

A woman of the French nobility seeks revenge on the libertine who broke her heart.

The Ramble:

The Marquis des Arcis is a piece of work, let me tell you.  A libertine who claims to love all of his conquests, the Marquis has his sights set on widowed Madame de La Pommeraye.

Fully aware of his terrible reputation, Pommeraye resists his advances, proclaiming her belief in friendship only, not love.  However, the Marquis and his charm begin to take effect, and the two become lovers.

A man kisses the hand of a woman dressed in fashionable pink dress and hat.

Even from the French countryside, news travels fast, and Pommeraye becomes the subject of nasty gossip in Paris.  Unconcerned as their love is so pure, Pommeraye prances merrily along.

When the Marquis must travel for business, so our troubles begin.  As he travels more frequently, he becomes increasingly distant.  Unable to take it any longer, Pommeraye confronts the Marquis about the lack of love between them.  Heartbroken over their breakup, Pommeraye nevertheless remains friends with her ex…while also doing some scheming.  Of course there’s scheming.

A woman with a parasol touches the shoulder of a man while they walk in a forested area.

After hearing some scandalous gossip from her bestie, Pommeraye hatches an inspired plan.  The scandal involves a woman born out of wedlock who nevertheless makes a good match to a member of the nobility.  As it turns out, her fiancé is a next-level schemer, and arranges for a fake wedding.  When she takes him to court, this woman inevitably loses, and turns with her daughter to a den of vice (le gasp) where they earn a living through sex work.

Inspired to seek vengeance against the Marquis with these two women, Pommeraye sets them up in a flat of their own as long as they follow the path of righteousness.

After introducing the Marquis to her pious friend and lovely daughter, he becomes obsessed.  So consumed with his thoughts of Mademoiselle J, the Marquis begs Pommeraye to reunite them.  Pommeraye at last allows him to join them for dinner when he “happens to be in the neighborhood.”  During dinner, Pommeraye grills him on the questionable morality of libertines and prods him to speak in praise of living by the words of Christ.

A man and woman dressed elegantly talk to a woman and her teenage daughter, who are dressed somberly.

Hiring the equivalent of 19th century PIs, the Marquis tracks down Mademoiselle J and propositions her repeatedly.  He writes romantic letters, offering jewels, houses, monthly income, and significant amounts of his fortune.

Pommeraye, intercepting his letters, urges Madame J to reject all of these offers as they are not enough.  Finally, the Marquis realizes the only acceptable offer is one of marriage, which Mademoiselle J is reluctant to accept.  Conflicted about lying about her past and her feelings for the Marquis, Mademoiselle J eventually accepts as a way to provide for her mother.

A woman in an elaborate yellow dress reads a letter in an elegant room as servants look on.

Shortly after the wedding, Pommeraye takes Madame J and the newlyweds on a fun day trip…to the den of vice (dun dun dun).  How will the Marquis react when he learns the truth about Mademoiselle J’s past and Pommeraye’s present schemes?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I am always here for a period drama.  The scenery, the costumes, the melodrama, the passive-aggressive lines of dialogue–I love it so much.

Though the obvious comparison is probably Dangerous Liaisons, this is actually quite sweet for a revenge film. Pommeraye herself starts out as a somewhat sympathetic character, but her schemes ultimately have the power to hurt a lot of people and she gives zero fucks.

I appreciate that this is reasonably progressive concerning women’s sexuality, especially where period dramas are concerned.  The Marquis is of course a bit of a douche when it comes to Mademoiselle J’s past as a sex worker, but the story resists the idea that she is somehow unclean or immoral.  Meanwhile, Pommeraye’s schemes actually do, as promised, ensure that a man no longer acts as a libertine (though not necessarily in the way she intends).

There’s also quite a lot of farcical fun here.  The scene at dinner cracked me up with all of the uncomfortable squirming the Marquis endured.  The amount of times he unconvincingly just happens to bump into Madame J and her daughter is quite entertaining too.

Would my blog wife remain steadfast or plan an elaborate fake wedding just to get this one off her case?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Peppermint, or: So Vanilla

I love any month when we do what we want on the blog–which to be honest, is every month.  This time around, doubly so.  It’s free for all month, so be prepared for a series of film selections connected only by our unpredictable impulses.  First up is a film that makes me glad my impulses typically involve watching bad movies and eating cheese rather than going on murderous rampages.

The Film:

Peppermint

The Premise:

After witnessing the murder of her family, a woman seeks vengeance against the drug cartel responsible.

The Ramble:

Present day:  a badass Riley North fights with and ultimately kills a gang member in his own car, leaving him for police to find.  She asks before he dies if he remembers her…

Flashback to Riley’s happy home life 5 years before.  Riley is a busy mom working full-time and trying to dodge her passive-aggressive neighbor.  After no one comes to her daughter Carly’s birthday party, the family goes out for pizza and fun at the local carnival.  Seem like a fun night out, eh?

A man and woman pose in a photobooth with their young daughter.

What Riley doesn’t know is her husband Chris has been exploring alternative sources of income, including serving as a getaway driver for the robbery of Mexican drug lord García.  Having discovered that Chris is considering messing with García, a hit is put out on him…a hit that is carried out at the carnival.  In a matter of moments, Riley has lost her family and suffered a serious gunshot wound to the head.

Upon waking from a coma, Riley is able to identify the perpetrators of this crime, but Diego “Guillotina” García’s influence prevents any consequences for his crew.  Having bought the judge, district attorney, and some of the police force, García ensures the killers go free.  Riley, understandably distraught, loses it in the courthouse and is remanded to psychiatric care.  After managing to escape custody, Riley disappears…for 5 years anyway.

A woman testifies in a courtroom while a judge looks on.

5 YEARS LATER…

Mysteriously, those involved with the murder of Riley’s family and the sham trial have all shown up dead.  It would appear Riley has used the past few years productively, accumulating identities and becoming skilled in hand-to-hand combat, weaponry, and explosives.

As García’s cartel puts a price on Riley’s head, the police attempt to find her and bring her into custody.  Riley seems to be taking out the gang one by one, first taking out a PIÑATA STORE that serves as a front for the operation.  SERIOUSLY.

A woman with a gun dives down onto a room of suspended piñatas.

Next stop:  giant secret warehouse full of drugs.  Will Riley have the chance to complete her vengeance or will the cops get there first?

The Rating:

1/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know what to say except I hated this.  Jennifer Garner is pretty badass taken at face value, but it’s problematic AF that 95% of the people she’s killing are Mexican-American.  She even hangs the corpses of the 3 gang members responsible for her family’s deaths from a Ferris wheel, as if no one who made this film had any clue about the racist tradition of displaying the bodies of victimized black and brown people?!?!?!  This film just feels like one giant hate crime.

In addition to all of the racist stereotypes this film employs, it’s also just a badly set up revenge film.  I watched Riley see her entire family murdered and felt no pity for her.  There’s also a weird impersonality to the murders, so it’s difficult to get any sense of satisfaction as Riley seeks vengeance–it’s definitely horrific that Chris and Carly died so senselessly.  Yet drug cartels senselessly kill many other, ahem, non-white people all the time.  It’s not a great look that Riley’s entire family is murdered and she still doesn’t care a whole lot about other victims of gang violence.

Add to this that the entire dialogue of this film is a bunch of police drama clichés put together, and it’s downright painful.  This is a film that’s much more vanilla than peppermint.

Would my blog wife take this one around the Ferris wheel or rain down bloody vengeance upon it?  Read her review here to find out!