Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Greener Grass, or: Something in the Water

*Spoilers follow*

It can’t be too much of a surprise at this point that, left to our own devices (and the open-endedness of a month without a theme), things tend to take a turn towards the darkness on the Collab. B-horror is our origin story, after all.

This week’s pick, not necessarily classified as a horror film, certainly borrows a feeling of dread from the genre that accompanies the slow realization that all is not well. And, no surprises here, one of the most terrifying places on film is our setting: a seemingly peaceful and quaint US suburb.

The Film:

Greener Grass

Directors:

Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe

The Premise:

A suburban mother in a surreal town begins to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect…a fact that her closest friend is prepared to use to her advantage.

The Ramble:

A children’s game of soccer in a suburban neighborhood park is not the most thrilling time for anyone involved, but opting out seems impossible. For long-term frenemies Jill and Lisa, the game represents an opportunity to show off their parenting skills and catch up on the most shocking gossip. The latest scandal to rock the town is the murder of a young yoga instructor, though the majority of locals are most concerned with whether or not the suspect bagged their groceries.

As Lisa envies her friend’s seemingly perfect life and crushes on her husband Nick, even the queen bee has worries. Jill is secretly frustrated with her son Julian, who she frequently brags about. People pleasing to a fault, Jill is constantly smiling and trying to live up to absolutely everyone’s expectations, clearly an impossibility. Behind her braces-lined smile (which, btw, all the adults in this town wear), Jill is crumbling beneath the pressure of being a flawless Stepford-style wife and mother.

Impulsively, Jill gives her baby Madison to Lisa to raise as her own, and things just get stranger from here. Jill and Nick’s awkward child Julian transforms into a golden retriever after falling into the pool during Nick’s 40th birthday party. Nick, already obsessed with the pool water’s taste, becomes increasingly fixated on drinking only water that has come from the family pool.

Meanwhile, Lisa and her husband Dennis contend with the increasingly bad behavior of their son Bob, and welcome an unexpectedly odd new baby into their home. As Julian is no longer enrolled in an accelerated math program or allowed to participate in soccer (no Air Bud rules here), Jill feels like a failure as a parent, particularly as she has no human children left.

As all of these events unfold, Jill unknowingly has a stalker who periodically drives by in a golf cart (like the braces thing, all of the adults drive golf carts). What does it all mean? If anything, that is.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The vast majority of the time, all that I ask of a film is that it be weird. This one certainly fits the bill, and it makes quirky observations & social commentary while doing this. Based on the limited amount I knew about this film, it seemed inevitable that I would either love or hate it.

While this is usually described as a dark comedy, its interest in portraying the suburban dream transformed into an unending nightmare aligns this one quite closely with horror. There is always something slightly jarring about the smiles, bright colors, and non-sequitur dialogue that Jill tries to make sense of and belong in. Friendship, marriage, parenthood, divorce–all of these prove to be empty social signifiers above anything else.

No one is particularly likeable, and almost all of the characters are so self-absorbed that they don’t even know what’s going on around them, unless it can be used to their advantage. The humor is pitch-black, and I legitimately laughed at some of the shows within shows the characters watched–shows like a reality baking competition where contestants are judged on others’ bakes or a taboo children’s show called Kids with Knives. Nick’s obsession with pool water is so odd but is never not funny to me, and the scenes he shares with Julian (both in dog and child form) are silly but sharp.

This doesn’t even touch the storyline of Lisa’s new baby being an actual soccer ball, or the children’s teacher (D’Arcy Carden!)’s repeated references to her mother’s murder of the other members of her immediate family.

I will say the film does lack cohesion in some regards, but this didn’t impact my enjoyment. What’s more, some of the approaches that come across as pretentious hipster bullshit in other contexts work quite well here.

Coincidentally, this is the 2nd social satire of the Collab featuring a human to dog transformation (though not quite as literally with Bitch). I’d watch more in this subgenre, honestly.

Would my blog wife love this one like her own child dog or flunk it out of accelerated math? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bitch, or: Who Let the Dogs Out?

#feminism. Like all things trendy, sometimes the tag truly reflects a message of female empowerment, and other times it misses the mark entirely. This week’s film–written, directed by, and starring Marianna Palka–addresses feminist themes, but is it feminist? The answer is a resounding “sort of.”

TW: suicide attempt

The Film:

Bitch

The Premise:

After being pushed too far, a depressed wife and mother finally snaps, adopting the behavior and mannerisms of a female dog.

The Ramble:

With her artistic ambitions crushed by the burden of caring for her children as her useless husband spends nights with his secretary, Jill’s future looks pretty bleak. So bleak, in fact, that she attempts to hang herself from a chandelier in the family’s suburban home.

Haunted by an ever-present neighborhood dog, overwhelmed with running around for the children, and failing to get any support beyond throwing pills at the problem, Jill mentally calls it quits. After initially ceasing to respond to her children at all, it later becomes clear that Jill isn’t exactly herself. She is, in fact, now behaving like a dog, barking and walking around on all fours included.

A woman with an extremely dirty face looks over her shoulder, baring her teeth threateningly.

Husband Bill is not so much concerned as highly annoyed with Jill’s selfishness. Not only is he now responsible for figuring out the kids’ needs and routines, but he also needs to keep things afloat at work amid massive layoffs. In need of back up, Bill reaches out to Jill’s sister Beth. However, even with the support of Beth and a number of mental health specialists, Jill remains a snarling mass growling around in the basement.

A group of four children sit in the hallway of their home. An older boy sits by himself, while an older girl covers the ears of her younger brother, who in turn covers his younger sister's ears.

After a rather dysfunctional Christmas with unhappy children and a welfare check from the police, Bill breaks down and momentarily splits. When he comes back home, Bill seems to understand the blame that was constantly hurled at Jill when she didn’t keep everything at home running smoothly…only to reveal how clueless he is when he blames all of his problems on his much too enormous penis.

Things go from bad to worse when Bill loses his job, Jill escapes, and he is caught (admittedly breaking up) with his mistress. It takes losing Jill to the care of her family to make Bill regret the way he treated her before. But that doesn’t make life suddenly a walk in the dog park. Is it too late to save their marriage or even bring Jill back to her usual self?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I credit this film for its ambition. The incredibly dark comedy premise here is brilliant as it approaches the concept of a woman perceived as a bitch on a literal level. I appreciate the satire here as a woman who has repeatedly heard that she can and should have it all is pushed to the breaking point–and considered selfish when experiencing mental illness.

However, there are a lot of moments that fall short of this film’s promise. Jill’s mental illness is initially treated as something inconvenient or in need of a quick fix, though the members of her family eventually accept the new version of Jill. This doesn’t quite work for me as Jill clearly is very ill and not in control of her actions. There’s a sort of odd fairy tale quality to the logic of the story in which Bill’s revelation that he’s been fucking up this entire time is needed to restore Jill’s sanity, and that’s…problematic, to say the least.

I think this gets to the film’s biggest issue: despite playing the titular bitch and serving as the catalyst setting up the rest of the film, Jill isn’t really the focus here. Rather, it is Bill who must unlearn his toxic habits. And while he does need to suffer here to appreciate the worth of Jill’s labor and love, it feels unintentionally bleak that this is the only way for him to learn. Additionally, the idea that the power rests with Bill to change their relationship for the better undermines the entire point of this film.

It’s also difficult that one of Bill’s big moments to show his growth as a character happens when he acts like a dog in a dog park. This scene is stuck somewhere between funny and uplifting, and just ends up feeling uncanny. There’s something profoundly sad about a man barking around on all fours in public, even if he is putting on this performance as encouragement for his wife.

This may say more about me as a person than the nature of this film, but I could’ve happily seen Bill end up with a much darker fate. It would be such a shame if he could no longer blame that big dick for all of his problems.

Would my blog wife take this film for its daily walk or snarl at it from a dimly lit basement? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

No Men Beyond This Point, or: No One Wants a Picture of a Man Hanging Over the Fireplace

This week’s film is a perfect example of humor that may be less than amusing after tomorrow’s election.  And another reason we deserve a simultaneously laughing and crying emoji for the world we live in.  Until then, we do what we want.  That’s right–it’s another free-for-all month.

The Film:

No Men Beyond This Point

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

This mockumentary-style film examines gender roles in an alternate history where men are no longer needed for reproduction.

The Uncondensed Version:

As the story unfolds, we follow Andrew and the women he works for.  The last man ever born, he is a second-class citizen and is relieved he is employable as essentially a mother for several families.  One of the women comments she acknowledges that convention cautions against having a man around to negatively impact her children, but she chooses to rise above this generalization.  At the same time, his maternal role is much better paid and more appreciated than women doing this work.  Glass ceiling/escalator again, eh?

To understand how this state of affairs came about, we learn about events around the 1950s, when a record number of women reported virgin births.  One of my favorite things about these sections is they are frequently narrated by a men’s history expert, who is, of course, a woman.  The social commentary is strong with this one.

A woman is interviewed in an empty lecture hall. She is identified as Ajala Bhatt, Professor of Men's History at Oxford University.

A former academic is interviewed and gives the expert opinion that there was only one explanation—all of these women were lying.  Later, tests are developed to support the stories these women tell, but initially they are shamed.

As time passes, the number of virgin births means both a dramatic increase in the female population and the undeniable fact that men and sex are no longer needed for reproduction.  Social progress is rapid–the first female president is elected, men are sent to live in separate sanctuaries, and all women’s menstrual cycles are synchronized, necessitating a monthly holiday.  Men, of course, are extremely resistant to the changes and hold a few whiny protests to demonstrate their displeasure.

Men chant angrily at a demonstration, holding a banner that reads "Male Liberation Organization."

There are down sides to this–the government stops pursuing the space program (which was played for humor, but still felt like a bit of a stretch), and women are discouraged from forming romantic relationships.  While there are still some women having sex, the stereotype of women not having a sex drive is reinforced in this version of the future.  Sadly, this man-free future is not the utopia I need it to be.

Returning to Andrew’s story line, we find one of his employers, Iris, expressing interest in him as a man.  She has painted just a few detailed portraits of him and is constantly watching .  Iris tries to brush off her work as not a big deal, claiming “no one wants a picture of a man hanging over the fireplace.”  Lines like that make this film.

A woman wearing a shirt with paint streaks stands in a studio in front of several portraits of a man.

When Iris and Andrew pursue a sexual relationship, they are shunned and Andrew sent to a sanctuary for men.  As one woman puts it, “Of course, there are still women who are attracted to men and don’t want them to perish, but they are a small part of the population.”  Coincidentally, women who don’t want men to perish make up a small part of my friend group as well.

Will Iris and Andrew shake up the new status quo, or is their relationship doomed to fail?  Maybe a bit of both?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise is stellar, but the execution is a bit lacking IMHO.  I’m just not overly taken with mockumentaries as a whole and wanted more time for character development and for the stories to weave together more smoothly.  The dialogue is excellent, though, and so sharp.

I will say this: I really feel like watching Pleasantville now.  But maybe an alternate version where all the men get chased out of town at the end.

Would Christa want this film to perish or would she allow it to live its final days in a peaceful sanctuary?  Read her review here to find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Look Who’s Back (Hint: Not Slim Shady)

This week’s film is our last feature of April’s Blog Free or Die Hard series.  I’ve been so intrigued ever since the book, Er ist wieder da, became a bestseller.  A satirical novel, it imagines Hitler’s return to Germany in the present and follows its citizens’ reactions to his ideology.

I confess I stopped reading the book, in part because I didn’t want all of my work colleagues to suspect me of being a neo-Nazi.  I know—I’ve become that person who hasn’t read the book but watched the movie.

The Film:

Look Who’s Back

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

In this mockumentary-style film, Adolf Hitler returns to modern day Germany and enjoys (unintended) success as a comedian.

The Uncondensed Version:

As mentioned above, the film follows Hitler, who has seemingly pulled a Rip Van Winkle when he wakes unchanged in 2014.  Instead of being revered, Hitler is astonished that no one pays him the proper respect, preferring rather to selfie with him.  It doesn’t take long for Hitler to become disgusted with the current state of Germany and draw the conclusion that democracy has failed.  Somewhat unexpectedly, he identifies most strongly with the Green party, which makes an increasing amount of sense when you think about the fanaticism of vegans.

A man in Nazi military uniform with Hitler moustaches poses for a selfie with a smiling woman. He asks, "What...what is that?"
Not on team iPhone, apparently.

Meanwhile, at a commercial TV station, Katja Bellini has just gotten the big promotion her colleague Sensenbrink fully expected would be his.  In a moment of rage, Sensenbrink fires relatively innocent bystander Sawatzki for a poorly timed comment.  These men are too emotional for leadership positions.  Suddenly out of a job, Sawatzki (which is, ahem, very close to being an anagram for a certain Nazi symbol) is looking for a big scoop.  I WONDER what story he’ll find…

Sadly, Sawatzki’s big idea is just touring the country with Hitler and filming their exploits.  I feel this kind of thing has been done before and isn’t especially noteworthy?  However, what’s remarkable to Sawatzki is how spot-on the impression is and Hitler’s talent for ad-libbing (that was a weird phrase to write).

A man speaks to a blonde woman, telling her "Let us save Germany together."
Definition, please.

Hitler and Sawatzki go around Germany with surprisingly mixed results.  I felt most conflicted when I identified with Hitler’s annoyance at reality TV programs.  Most of them are objectively bad, though.

It gets a bit too real when some Germans speak with Hitler about the immigrant problem, the government that doesn’t represent their interests, and some fucking insane football hooligans beat the shit out of someone who doesn’t support Germany.  Hitler starts blowing up on social media and getting a scary number of followers.

A man who looks like Hitler makes an entrance on a set, introduced with the line "Give a warm welcome to...Adolf Hitler!"
Basically never ok to utter this sentence.

All of this brings Hitler to Bellini’s attention, and she’s impressed with his supposed comedy routine.  She gives him the chance to appear on a live sketch show, where he starts improvising rather than following the cue cards.

At first the audience thinks Hitler’s routine is funny, but at a certain point the applause becomes genuine and the audience finds many of his ideas appealing.  The tried and true method of telling everyone the country is going to shit and only he has the answers works wonders and he goes viral.  (Many of the words he utters have honestly come out of Trump’s [Drumpf] mouth.)

A man who has Hitler's hairstyle and moustache tells another man, "To make Germany great again, and secure the survival of the Germans."
For real, though, “Who Said It: Hitler or Trump?” MUST be a Buzzfeed quiz.

Meanwhile, Sensenbrink is trying to discredit Hitler in order to steal Bellini’s job, but nothing seems to do the trick.  What will it take to stop Hitler—or is history doomed to repeat itself?

The Rating:

This film is very interested in Hitler’s legacy on German politics and, by extension, world politics.  Its title is Look Who’s Back, but it implies that Hitler never really left the world stage.  The effects of fascist, xenophobic hate groups have lingered, though they sometimes disguise themselves behind smiles and charisma.  Look Who’s Back doesn’t shy away from drawing a correlation between Hitler and groups opposed to immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and outsiders.  It encourages viewers to examine this relationship rather than bury it.

Although it’s a satire, a lot of the humor is derived from physical comedy, and it gets a bit didactic at the end and sort of shakes its finger at the audience (there was a pretty great parody of that famous rant scene in Downfall, though).  I don’t dispute that certain political groups are in need of a bit of shaming, but it did feel a bit condescending at times.  That being said, it does make the film much darker and more thought-provoking than I’d anticipated.

But sometimes you just want to laugh at Hitler.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Would Christa go on a cross-country tour with this one or kill it with fire?  Find out in her review here!

Film Reviews

Fido, a Romantic Zomedy

Hello blogging compadres!  I’ll be heading to merry old England for a couple of weeks and probably won’t post much while I’m away.  I realized my last couple of posts have been about movies I’ve hated, so I thought I’d leave you on a positive note (for once) with a movie I adore.  Part satire, part romantic comedy.  With zombies (of course).

The Film:

Fido

Where to Watch:

Netflix, Prime

The Premise:

A boy forms an unlikely friendship with the family’s new pet zombie, Fido, in an alternate 1950s.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens with a 1950s-style educational video about the Zombie Wars. The discovery that zombies could be controlled through remote-controlled collars made by Zomcon turned the Zombie Wars around. When zombies wear the collar, they become docile servants, and thus can be trained to perform basic household chores. Zomcon also provides burials complete with a head coffin, guaranteeing a burial you won’t wake up from.

A black and white film shows a scientist smiling next to a zombie with electrodes on his head
The educational video alone makes this movie worth watching.

Like all 1950s-set movies made after Grease (and, in my opinion, including Grease [shudder]), there is something dark and sinister lurking beneath the seemingly perfect suburban life. Timmy, our protagonist, and the other elementary school children receive training on loading and firing guns. He can’t help noticing Cindy, the daughter of Zomcon’s new security chief, is a total badass. Timmy, on the other hand, is pretty terrible at target practice, which earns him some teasing from the class bullies, two Zomcon cadets.

Though a zombie is a status symbol, Timmy’s father, Bill is strongly opposed to having a zombie after traumatic experiences in the Zombie Wars (it’s later revealed that he had to kill his father at the age of 11 when he turned into a zombie). However, in an effort to impress the new neighbors, Timmy’s mother, Helen acquires a zombie, the titular Fido (played by Billy Connolly!).

At first, Timmy treats Fido like a servant or pet with no feelings. Soon, however, Fido is Timmy’s only companion, as he has no friends at school and his parents have little time for him.

A boy in the park smiles up at a zombie wearing a collar
This has to be the most adorable zombie movie ever made.

One day, Timmy takes Fido to the park. Fido defends him when the bullies arrive and threaten to shoot him with a BB gun. Timmy and Fido play catch, which ends in tragedy when Fido’s collar malfunctions, leading him to kill and eat Mrs. Henderson, the elderly woman who lives across the street. Luckily, when Timmy finds him, his collar has switched back on.

That night, Mrs. Henderson rises and kills a man out walking his dog, beginning a minor zombie outbreak. Timmy returns to the park and manages to find and decapitate Mrs. Henderson with a shovel, burying her under a flowerbed.

Fido’s collar stops functioning again later that night, and Timmy is trying to calm him down when Mr. Theopolis appears and helps Timmy fix the collar. One of the more eccentric neighbors, Mr. Theopolis, used to work for Zomcon. His zombie, Tammy, is pretty much his girlfriend, though Zomcon discourages people from getting overly attached to their zombies. I think he gets turned on whenever she tries to eat him?

Later, Timmy goes on a long walk with Fido through a meadow when they encounter the bullies, who are armed. They tie Timmy and Fido to trees and break Fido’s collar. Their plan is to set Fido free and kill him before he reaches Timmy in an effort to paint themselves as heroes; however, one is shot accidentally, and Fido kills the other. Fido returns to Timmy and tries to set him free, but is too clumsy to unknot the ropes. Fido brings Helen to help.

When she notices his collar isn’t working and wonders why, he makes significant eye contact. I think this may be the first romantic zombie movie. Helen and Fido arrive, locking the zombie boys in a shed and setting it on fire (I promise this movie is much funnier than it sounds. If you have a very twisted sense of humor like me).

A boy tied to a tree and a woman smile at a zombie man
Nothing brings a family together like killing zombies and lighting their corpses on fire.

Meanwhile, Zomcon discovers the body of Mrs. Henderson in the park, and Cindy’s dad, Mr. Bottoms realizes Fido is responsible for the outbreak. Fido is taken away to be put down.

Bill tries to give Timmy some words of wisdom, but this backfires horribly because he is the typical 1950s male who doesn’t know how to talk about emotions. “I know when you’re a kid you feel things. A lot of…feelings. But you have to get over that.” TRUTH. At this point, Bill gives up and gives Timmy his first handgun.

Cindy, who has befriended Timmy, tells him that Fido is still alive in Zomcon headquarters. They enlist the help of Mr. Theopolis to break Fido out. Mr. Bottoms discovers what Timmy has done and locks him outside of the fence, in the wild zone. Meanwhile, Bill discovers Timmy’s plan and rushes to Zomcon to help him. After Mr. Bottoms shoots Bill, Fido attacks and kills Mr. Bottoms.

Bill, who had a mortal fear of becoming a zombie, gets a funeral complete with head coffin as he requested. Mr. Bottoms becomes a zombie and a much nicer human being.

A girl holds a leash that is connected to a middle-aged zombie man
And they all lived happily ever after. Or whatever it is zombies do.

The Critique:

The concept sounds terrible, but the satire and dark humor of this movie work really well.

It’s also interspersed with these 1950s-style commercials for horrific things like funerals with head coffins and the Zomcon version of Life Alert. “The elderly—they seem friendly enough, but can you really trust them? No.” That’s why you need Life Alert, which contacts Zomcon as soon as the heart stops.

The only thing that still puzzles me about this film is the logic behind Zomcon’s cover-ups. I suppose in a satirical film, government cover-ups can occur for no apparent reason, but it was still an unsatisfactory element of the movie. After the outbreak at Zomcon, the news reports that a random security guard was responsible. Why blame the security guard? To maintain the status quo and uphold the idea that Zomcon always has its shit together?

Maybe I’m overanalyzing. But that’s unlikely because I NEVER do that. EVER. It just felt like there was some kind of conspiracy theory in the script that was either cut or never fully developed.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther4/5 Pink Panther heads

I flipping love this movie. It’s like Lassie or maybe Pleasantville with zombies. What’s not to love?