Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Licorice Pizza, or: Slow Your Roll (Downhill)

Based on the strength of the trailer alone, I was excited for this week’s film; admittedly, it’s difficult to go wrong with a well-timed David Bowie song. Considering our picture is written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and features Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) in their first starring roles, it would seem destined for classic status.

To be upfront, this is my second viewing, as I was looking forward to this so much that I watched in theaters and risked contracting Covid for it (though the risk was relatively low at the time, and theaters have been pretty [depressingly] empty of late). Was it worth all of that trouble, or at least the trouble of sitting at home in loungewear for another showing?

The Film:

Licorice Pizza


Paul Thomas Anderson

The Premise:

While experiencing the 1970s in the Valley, a former child actor hustles and schemes while falling for a stubborn woman in her mid-20s.

The Ramble:

Alana Kane is a Grump, and she’s not having any nonsense from the greasy, unkempt teenagers roaming the halls on picture day. Working for a local photography studio that specializes in school pictures, 25-year-old Alana is extremely bored with her job, which almost entirely involves offering a mirror and comb to the teens waiting in line for a picture.

A teenager smiles at a young woman in a high school gym.

Included on the list of people Alana is very uninterested in speaking with is Gary Valentine, a 15-year-old actor and businessman who seems to be on a mission to charm the world. Impulsively asking Alana to meet him for dinner, Gary is astonished when the young woman actually shows up that evening. Unlike most other teenagers, Gary is driven, seemingly always on the lookout for his next opportunity. Along with his acting career, Gary manages a PR company, designing ad campaigns for local businesses.

Alana, eager to escape the Valley, feels stuck in a rut, destined to stay in the same dead-end job for the rest of her life. Gary senses an opportunity for both of them when he’s in need of a chaperone for a press tour as he’s underage (ay). Alana is attracted to Gary’s costar, Lance, and eventually invites him home to meet her family. Unfortunately, Lance blows his chances when he proclaims he’s an atheist in front of Alana’s observant Jewish father. (This does lead to probably my favorite exchange of the film, in which Alana’s sister advises her “You’ve got to stop fighting with everyone all the time,” and receives the realistic sibling response, “Oh, fuck OFF, Danielle!”)

A Jewish family sits around a dinner table, waiting expectantly for a young man to say a blessing.

Meanwhile, Gary is up to his next scheme as his charm as a child actor seems to have worn off. Since it’s 1970s Los Angeles, waterbeds are set to be all the rage. One step ahead of the trend, Gary starts up a waterbed business, eventually recruiting Alana to help with sales. This is only briefly disrupted when Gary is wrongfully arrested for murder after wearing the same shirt as the suspect.

Hijinks ensue as Alana attempts to land a breakthrough acting gig only to fall from a motorcycle in a pointless stunt gone awry, and the waterbed company makes a sale to Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend during the oil crisis. This leads to the most dramatically tense scene reversing a truck down a hill I’ve seen on film.

A young woman drives a large truck, a middle aged man looking at her, with a young man sitting uncomfortably between them.

What is a moment of victory for Gary is a sort of turning point for Alana, who recognizes how little she has done with her life so far. Joining the political campaign for an idealistic young councilman, Alana seems poised to re-learn an essential lesson of this film: there’s always an ulterior motive involved.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh, wow. I sort of liked this the first watch through, and didn’t particularly appreciate it this time around. I had a lot less patience for the rambling, unfocused plot full of asides, and the (over)commitment to ambience & niche references. The title itself (which I had to look up as it’s never explained in the film) is another name for an LP and an homage to a ’70s-era record store in Southern California. To me, this goes well past the line from knowing nudge to extremely specific/condescending insider reference.

One of the challenges of this film is the rather vague character interactions to go along with the vague plot. There is frequent casual sexual harassment and racism, which is sort of presented as factual information rather than making commentary either way. Some of these elements (like the widely discussed scenes related to a Japanese restaurant and their anti-Asian racism) take on a supposedly comedic edge that just falls horrendously flat.

Based on the interactions between Gary and Alana as well, I don’t know if I’m supposed to like them, root for them as a couple, or feel the ever-present discomfort of knowing an adult woman is dating a teenager. The film consistently reminds us of this reality as its very setup relies on the strangeness of the Alana/Gary dynamic. Alana is an interesting character whose annoyance I appreciate, but it does indeed strike me as odd that she hangs around with teenage boys during her free time.

This brings me to Gary, who still in many ways seems the sketchier one in all of this (I KNOW). On first viewing, I was willing to give PSH’s son the benefit of the doubt with his earnest face and floppy ’70s hair. (And still no shade at all on the acting from either of our leads, who are both excellent.) However, Gary seems so much more manipulative upon closer examination, fully committed to getting the things he wants without respect for boundaries or at times integrity. This seems to be a reflection of Hollywood culture, then and now, though again presented confusingly free of commentary.

The focus is primarily on recreating a very specific youthful 1970s feel in the Valley…failing to make the specific seem universal in the process. It does succeed aesthetically, though I am baffled by the Oscar nominations (but also not because Hollywood). Who knows if PTA even gives a fuck if you like this or not, honestly.

Would my blog wife run around town with this one or wait until it’s…hmmm…legally an adult? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Fear Street Part Two: 1978, or: Stayin’ Alive

As we make our way through the Fear Street trilogy, we’re only going back further in time and diving deeper into horror tropes and supernatural forces. Don’t worry, though–Part Two will deliver those vital horror elements: teens making questionable decisions, overly dramatic yet largely ignored warnings, and witches. Praise the Lord, so many witches.

The Film:

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

The Premise:

Following the events of Part One, teens in 1994 learn of a 1978 summer camp massacre that seems to have been the work of undead witch Sarah Fier.

The Ramble:

Following the events of Fear Street Part One, drugs are the official reason for the series of murders that decimated the population of Shadyside for approximately the 10,000th time in history. Keenly interested in the story is one C. Berman, previously revealed to be the survivor of a 1978 summer camp massacre. Desperate for a lead that will help possessed Sam, Deena and her brother Josh plead for C. Berman’s guidance…though, as her sad story reveals, there’s not much hope for those the witch Sarah Fier wants dead, including C. Berman’s own sister.

In 1978, Shadyside sisters Cindy and Ziggy couldn’t be more different. Cindy is an overachiever inclined to become extremely upset over stains on her shirts and the lack of enthusiasm for cleaning that burnouts Alice and Arnie express. Though once fun and free-spirited as one of Alice’s bffs, Cindy is pleased with her good girl reputation that can help her leave Shadyside behind forever.

Ziggy, a teen girl with long red hair, rolls her eyes as she walks away from her sister in a forested area.

On the other end of the spectrum is Ziggy, who is one strike away from being sent home from summer camp. After being caught stealing, mean girl Sheila takes it upon herself to make Ziggy pay, going so far as to string her up and burn her with a lighter. Camp counselors intervene, and future sheriff Nick Goode prevents Ziggy from getting sent home as his brother and future mayor Will would prefer. In all of this, there are no consequences for Sunnyvaler Sheila.

When Ziggy goes to see Nurse Lane for her burn, things get intense fast when Ziggy notices files about the witch in the nurse’s office. Nurse Lane discusses her daughter, who seemed to be a victim of the Shadyside curse when she murdered 7 people before killing herself. Cindy is dismissive of her sister’s concerns about the nurse…until Lane attempts to kill Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy soon after. With the ominous warning that Tommy will die that night, Nurse Lane is removed from the premises.

Teenager Ziggy talks to the camp nurse as she waits for her arm to be bandaged.

Now with an interest in following through on Ziggy’s concerns and finding a reasonable explanation for the disturbing happenings, Cindy tries to gather what information she can from her sister. However, it’s too little too late, and Cindy responds to Ziggy’s disdain with some harsh words that she’ll never end up regretting just a few hours later, of course. Ziggy has problems of her own as she contains to suffer harassment at the hands of Sheila and kindness from counselor Nick…who surprises her with some vengeful schemes up his sleeve.

As Cindy and Tommy investigate Nurse Lane’s dire warning further, they learn one of the tales around Sarah Fier’s life and undeath is her sacrifice of one hand in exchange for immortality. Theoretically, reuniting Sarah’s body with her skeletal hand may stop her at last…though no one has a clue where to find these remains. After prankster Alice runs off with Cindy’s purse, the team of Alice, Arnie, Cindy, and Tommy investigate a strange burial site that leads to an underground series of tunnels. It’s just around this time that Tommy begins to feel rather under the weather; (not so) coincidentally, he feels rather compelled to start swinging axes at skulls.

Cindy, a teen girl with dark hair, holds a flashlight to a book in a darkened room. Next to her, a teen boy and girl look over her shoulder.

After an encounter that unleashes a possessed Tommy on the unsuspecting campers, Cindy and Alice are stuck in the maze of tunnels in search of an escape route. Meanwhile, the campers are thoroughly engrossed in a Color War game of capture the flag–Shadyside vs. Sunnyvale, naturally. It’s really only the Shadyside kids who are in real danger, as the legend of Sarah Fier’s curse reveals that those from Sunnyvale aren’t targeted.

Teenager Ziggy looks into the eyes of teenager Nick as they sit side by side.

Much of the subsequent action unfolds as both Cindy/Alice and Ziggy/Nick try to track down the killer before more foreheads become closely acquainted with the business end of an axe. Even if Tommy is out of the picture (and, as he’s effectively a possessed corpse, that’s a big if), what of Sarah Fier herself and all of the ghouls under her power? And what does this all mean for our 1994 teens’ hope of freeing Sam from the witch’s grasp?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I had so much fun watching this installment, in part because of the clear interest in (respectfully) borrowing from other horror classics. Part Two continues to strike a good balance between disturbingly gory slasher and teen sleuthing adventure. Even though a lot of the characters are teen horror cliches, there is enough care taken with the backstory here that I’m invested in them anyway. Just as the relationship between Deena and Sam was the heart of Part One, the sister bond between Cindy and Ziggy is the driving force behind the story of Part Two.

I have to admit the “big twist” revealing who C. Berman was not that surprising to me…especially if you think of the personality alone of our leads. However, maybe this reveal is a genuine surprise to others?

As with the first installment, the aesthetic is gorgeous and the soundtrack is superb. Some of the ’70s hair is truly great, and there does seem to be more attention to creating a sense of time & place that was missing from Part One. However, I’m still not totally convinced about the setting as our characters are still rocking a mostly contemporary aesthetic and perspective IMHO.

Though our second installment does build upon the story established in Part One, I will say they don’t connect particularly effectively. There are times when this film almost feels like part of anthology series as we forget about the ’94 plotline completely except for the first and last 10 minutes or so. And, though we had several reminders about Nick Goode’s future as Sunnyvale sheriff, I totally forgot that his brother Will becomes the mayor. I could have used a few more character reminders for the non-sheriff characters, honestly.

Minor source of annoyance: despite what teen horror typically promises, we don’t actually get to see Sheila die a horrible death. As she’s a Sunnyvaler, this makes sense and is in line with the setup of the curse and all of the social commentary involved with it. But it’s still irritating as she was definitely the character I most wanted to see with an axe through her temple.

Overall, though, the trilogy has been a great deal of fun so far. My complaints with Part Two are relatively minor, and I can’t wait to dig in to Part Three, especially as we get the rare but excellent period drama horror setting.

Would my blog wife take an axe for this one or surprise it with a bucket full of cockroaches? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I’m Your Woman, or: I’ve Got You, Babe…y

As the Oscars approach, this means…not a whole lot on the Collab historically. However, being largely at home in my free time during a global pandemic seems like as good a time as any to check out some of 2020’s buzzworthy films. This week’s pick didn’t receive any nominations, but it must have been a close call. After all, we’ve got worryingly vague criminal enterprises, abrupt and disturbing acts of violence, and so many funky ’70s vibes.

The Film:

I’m Your Woman

The Premise:

After things go awry with her husband’s life in organized crime, a woman must go on the run with her baby.

The Ramble:

Happily(?) married Jean is a 1970s housewife whose sole occupation seems to be lounging around and smoking, looking unutterably glamorous. Jean would much rather spend her time raising a child; sadly, after multiple miscarriages, it seems clear that delivering a child isn’t a possibility for Jean. Due to husband Eddie’s rather illicit activities, adoption is out of the question too. The solution? Buy a baby from a teen with an unwanted pregnancy (perhaps from the baby merchant)! Clearly.

The character Jean, a woman with long blonde hair, wears oversized sunglasses while sitting outside and smoking a cigarette.

Too stoked to ask too many questions, Jean eagerly cares for baby Harry as her own. While she occasionally worries about how Eddie makes a living, Jean is usually happy to remain unaware.

That is, until one of Eddie’s work buddies arrives at the house in the middle of the night. Sharing few details, he insists that Jean throw together a few belongings and leave immediately. Taken to a motel to meet with another man, Cal, Jean understands very little of her new life, except that Eddie is in some very deep shit indeed. It’s now Cal’s job to take care of Jean; luckily, he also knows a thing or two about soothing fussy babies.

The character Cal, a Black man wearing a turtleneck, comforts Jean's baby. Jean looks on with some concern as they stand in a dimly lit motel room.

However, in this case, Harry’s endless cries are worrying. Despite Cal’s warnings, Jean insists that Harry must go to the hospital for a fever that won’t break. Their hospital visit is cut short when a couple of dudes arrive and give Cal a bad feeling. After escaping the hospital, Cal and Jean sleep in the car with baby Harry, earning a questioning from the police. Jean’s quick thinking saves the day, as she claims Cal is her husband and they pulled over after driving late into the night to get to their new house.

Luckily, there is a safe house for Jean and Harry in a quiet neighborhood. Cal instructs Jean to stay put and talk to no one until he can return. There is a phone and secret number in the house for Jean to use in case of emergency only.

For quite a while, Jean learns to live in virtual isolation, doing nothing but taking Harry out for walks at night and reheating frozen dinners. Things escalate very quickly after Jean, starved of companionship, allows a neighbor with a casserole to stop in for a visit. Extremely suspicious of the visitor, Jean is panicked when, later that night, she hears an uninvited guest downstairs. Hoping for help from neighbor Evelyn, Jean is shocked to find the woman tied up and questioned by former associates of Eddie’s.

Jean sits cross-legged on a bed with the handset of a pink rotary phone to her ear.

Luckily, Call arrives just in time to intervene. Jean objects to his methods, including shooting Evelyn to leave no witnesses–though he does point out that Jean has no way of knowing if Evelyn was involved in the plot. With their safe house busted, Cal takes Jean and Harry to a new location, a one-room cabin in the countryside. Jean connects the dots and realizes this is Cal’s childhood home. Though Cal remains reluctant to talk about his own life, he does reveal that Eddie killed the crime boss he worked for…as a contract killer?! That definitely can’t be true at all…can it?

After time passes, Jean is surprised when she hears a car arrive at the remote cabin. The visitors, rather than members of a criminal organization, are Cal’s family: wife, child, and father. Cal’s wife, Teri, seems impossibly independent, strong, and quick-witted–traits Jean envies with a passion. As Jean falls into the family’s rhythms, she learns some shocking truths about Eddie’s past, while feeling a growing sense of unease about Cal’s extended absence. What will happen when Jean insists she go along with Teri to find Cal?

Jean and Teri, a Black woman, sit outside of a rustic cabin, wrapped in blankets and looking out into the distance.

All you know for sure is that shit. Will. Go. Down.

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There is a LOT to like about this film, but I almost never feel a 2-hour runtime is justified for a film. This one is an extremely slow burn, so it took me some time to become fully invested here.

However, I do love the concept of a gangster film that focuses on the women who are typically props–if they appear onscreen at all. I also really enjoy seeing Jean’s growth as a character; from being a woman who is largely sidelined and extremely sheltered, Jean learns to trust her own instincts and navigate a shockingly violent world.

Unsurprisingly, I adore the relationship between Teri and Jean. I think one of my issues with the pacing of the film is how long it takes for Teri, who is truly iconic, to enter the picture. Though certainly not without complications, the trust that evolves between the two feels real. Jean seems to aspire to channel Teri’s detached calm under pressure, yet this doesn’t create a rivalry. The people most marginalized in our film–people of color and women (including women of color)–stick together against those with the most power to inflict harm (mostly white dudes, TBH).

To me, where the film is most successful is in its exploration of themes not usually tackled in a film about organized crime. We focus in on Jean’s grief and loneliness quite a lot–partly a result of her husband’s willingness to shut her out of significant parts of his life, but also due to her many miscarriages and despair that she may never be a mother. Jean literally needs Cal and Teri to survive; she needs them on a human level too, after living in isolation long before hiding from a gang. When it comes down to it, a life lounging around looking fabulous does not replace the bond Jean finds in her surrogate family, where she experiences need and is needed.

On a side note, the cinematography is stunning. My favorite part of any period piece is typically the fashion, and this film is no exception. I am also very much here for the ’70s grooves in the soundtrack. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Brosnahan in Mrs. Maisel, and I appreciate her transformation in this role, tapping into a much darker place than I associate with her. I was here for the Rachel Brosnahan content, but I stayed for the tensely written plot and the supporting characters.

Would my blog wife hide this one under the floorboards or put a bullet through its skull at point-blank range? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bones, or: Dog Eat Dogg

Renovating an old home can be a nightmare even when your main concerns are restoring the original hardwood flooring, replacing the ugly formica countertops, or finding vintage pieces that perfectly capture a feeling of rustic country charm. But DIY-ing a home haunted by the spirit of a wrongfully murdered man that may hide a direct connection to hell in the basement? Truly a situation where home renovation…can be murder. Which is a missed opportunity for this film’s tagline IMHO, though perhaps lacking some of the dog/Snoop Dogg puns central to this week’s film.

The Film:


The Premise:

After his mysterious death in the late ’70s, the spirit of local legend Jimmy Bones returns seeking vengeance on those responsible.

The Ramble:

In a once-thriving neighborhood, drug deals go down regularly, cops patrol the streets, and a black dog terrorizes the residents. Longtime resident of the neighborhood Shotgun narrowly escapes the dog’s jaws, but witnesses the dog turn its attention on two frat boys hiding from the cops after a drug deal. Could there be something…supernatural about this dog’s appearance? That’s a definite yes.

A graffiti-ed van is parked on the street in front of a 2-story brick house with a Gothic facade.

The dog seems to operate in and close proximity to the creepiest house around (naturally): an abandoned Gothic-style house that has fallen into disrepair. When young Patrick buys the property in the hopes of transforming it into a trendy nightclub along with his siblings and bff, the group may get much more than they bargained for.

As it turns out, the last owner of the property was one Jimmy Bones, played by none other than Snoop Dogg. In 1979, he was a legend in the neighborhood, even earning a song about his tough but fair protection of his own. What went wrong to leave the house in shambles and the angry ghost of Bones in the form of a dog haunting the neighborhood?

A group of four young people crowd around a spot on the floor of a dark, dusty room.

Though Patrick and his friends remain clueless, they can sense something isn’t quite right about the house. Neighbor Pearl (Pam Grier), a psychic, conceals her connection to Jimmy Bones, warning the friends to no avail while cautioning her daughter Cynthia to keep her distance. Of course, Cynthia pays no mind, especially since she finds Patrick quite charming.

A woman with an afro and a feather boa holds hands with a man wearing a wide-brimmed fedora and pinstripe suit.

When Patrick, Bill, Tia, and unofficial member of the family Maurice announce the big news at home, it doesn’t go over well. Father and head of the household Jeremiah once lived in the very neighborhood of Jimmy Bones but has long since traded it all in for a comfortable life in the ‘burbs. Clearly disdainful of the ‘hood culture he believes has corrupted the old neighborhood, Jeremiah discourages his children from having any association with that part of town. Could Jeremiah be hiding a terrible secret related to the fall of Jimmy Bones?

Meanwhile, corrupt cop Lupovich and drug dealer Eddie Mack seem to have run the neighborhood since Bones has been out of the picture. Do they have an unsavory past to hide as they seized control?

A young man rests on a bed, eyes closed, headphones on, as shiny black hands surround him.

The moral of the story here is that the house holds a secret that no one wants to surface…especially since the body of Jimmy Bones has the power to reanimate as his vengeful spirit dog consumes flesh.

However, the only thing that becomes increasingly clear throughout our story is that Jimmy Bones will be back, and he will very definitely seek out those who did wrong. And he’s absolutely dedicated to dramatic entrances that involve maggots and fire raining from the sky.

Will anyone survive Jimmy Bones’s revenge?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there were never going to be any Oscar nominations for this film. But it’s so entertainingly pulpy and over the top, with some unexpectedly relevant commentary on Black neighborhoods with a bad reputation. Drug dealers and law enforcement earn our disdain here, but so do members of the Black community who seek middle-class respectability at the expense of their friends and neighbors.

Of course, having a cast that includes the onscreen pairing of Pam Grier and Snoop Dogg, which I never knew I needed, doesn’t hurt. Plus Katharine Isabelle gets a supporting role, and I will never complain about that.

Even though the film is very much a tribute to campy B horror and blaxploitation, it’s truly creepy at times. There are effects that look incredibly low-budget, but there are also genuinely gross scenes with maggots and rotting flesh that are truly horrifying. Director Ernest Dickerson pulls no punches here, condemning several characters to grisly deaths and an eternity in hell.

But in a fun way?

Would my blog wife light a candle in this one’s memory or condemn it to hell for all time? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shaft, or: We Can Dig It

Going into this week’s film, the only thing I could’ve told you for sure is that it has an incredibly catchy theme. Can the film Shaft keep up with its theme song…and will I ever be able to return to a time when its melody isn’t echoing in my brain?

The Film:

Shaft (1971)

The Premise:

A 1970s private eye searches for the missing daughter of a local mobster while trying to uncover the truth about a brewing race war.

The Ramble:

As the theme song tells us right off the bat, Shaft is a Black private eye, sex machine, and all-around bad mother. Currently, Shaft is watching his back as a couple of so-called cats from Harlem have been trying to track him down. Add to this a relationship with the police that oscillates between peace and hostility, and the situation is downright precarious.

A Black man with a small afro and large moustache walks while talking to a white detective in a trench coat.

It turns out there have been quite a few violent clashes between gangs lately, but the police have been unable to determine what exactly is brewing. When Shaft catches up with Flashy Plaid Coat and his partner, who have been tasked with tracking him down, it becomes clear that local mobster Bumpy Jonas is involved.

Because he sent one of Bumpy’s guys hurling through a window, Shaft is pressured by the police to find out what he can and fill in the details for them. At the same time, he’s an independent investigator and wants to maintain distance from the cops whenever possible.

Two Black men talk to another Black man who is seated in a cushioned office chair, smoking a cigar.

The pieces start to come together when Bumpy arrives at Shaft’s office and pleads for his help. As it turns out, Bumpy’s daughter has gone missing. Bumpy suspects Black Power activist Ben Buford is involved…though, of course, his whereabouts are unknown.

After finally locating Ben, Shaft is followed, and a shootout ensues. Five of Ben’s allies are now dead, and he believes this was all orchestrated by Shaft. However, it turns out Shaft was the target of the attack. Teaming up with Ben to find out the truth, Shaft learns that a race war between rival Black and Italian gangs is building…and that Bumpy knew all along Ben had nothing to do with the kidnapping.

A Black man covers the microphone end of a phone as he talks to a white woman next to him.

More sleuthing happens, Shaft shares a steamy shower scene with a random white lady, and our leading detective takes out his fridge gun for a final confrontation with the kidnappers. Can a complicated man save the day, prevent a race war, and still find time to be a sex machine?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

To be honest, the plot and supporting characters aren’t doing a lot to earn points for this film. However, it’s impossible not to enjoy the iconic theme, the film’s groovy ’70s feel, and Richard Roundtree in the now classic role. The music, the clothes, the hair, everyone calling each other “cat”–it instantly immerses us in the ’70s.

One of the few Blaxploitation films with a Black director, Shaft is refreshingly confident and cool. Watching the film now, nearly 50 years after its release, it’s clear how ready Black audiences must have been for the character of Shaft. Proud of his Blackness, able to slip between Black neighborhoods and white police detectives with ease, and shooting down racist taunts with clever comebacks, the character is one of a kind. There’s never any doubt in our minds that Shaft is going to coast through any and all trouble that comes his way.

I will admit this is certainly not a feminist masterpiece. There are love scenes with two different women, both of which exist to show what a sex machine Shaft is. And he is constantly trading banter about his love life and plans to get laid, which gets pretty tiresome. I guess “sex machine to all the chicks” makes for a catchier verse than “treats his sexual partners with respect and recognizes when discussions about relationship expectations are needed.”

Does my blog wife agree this one is a bad mother or think it would cop out when there’s danger about? Find out in her review!

A woman sits at a table, interviewing a woman holding a chicken. A cage containing four additional chickens rests on the table between them.
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Christine, or: Chickens vs. Serial Killers

Gorgeous Ladies of the Blog Collab takes an unexpectedly dark turn this week.  Chickens, mental health, and sensationalizing local news are all wrapped up neatly (or not so neatly) by Rebecca Hall.

The Film:

Christine (2016)

The Uncondensed Version:

Right from the start, it’s clear that Christine is a brilliant yet deeply self-critical and complex young woman.  In both her personal life and professional career as a local TV news reporter, she frequently second-guesses herself and looks for opportunities to confirm her flaws in the eyes of others.

a woman in a news studio sits at a table facing an empty chair
“I can’t help feeling you’re a bit detached for this interview…”

After a year working for a Sarasota Springs station, Christine is ready for the next move in her career.  Having a non-existent sex life, her mother as a roommate, and an impending 30th birthday only make it clearer that she’s much in need of change.

When the opportunity arises for a promotion that will take her to Baltimore, Christine is eager to prove she’s up for the challenge.  However, this won’t be easy as the new marching orders from the station execs are to cover sensational, violent stories over the thoughtful human interest pieces Christine favors.  Her work crush, Dexter George, agrees with her objections, but it’s not long before the reporters are tripping over themselves to get in line with the changes.

Meanwhile, Christine has been experiencing major stomach pains that she shrugs off as stress-related.  I’m apparently way more of a wimp than Christine because I’d be at the doctor’s so quickly or at least popping more than the recommended dose of Extra Strength Advil 24/7.

These factors seem to be creating the perfect storm for Christine to suffer a repeat of Boston, which her mother mysteriously alludes to.  The mother/daughter relationship is volatile to say the least; Christine reacts very badly to change and seems to be threatened by her mother’s series of unsuccessful relationships.  There’s so much to unpack here that their relationship doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other facets of Christine’s life, but I would have loved to see more.

an older woman embraces a younger woman who is crying
For once, I have nothing cynical to say.

The stress begins to wear at Christine as it turns out the stomach pains are more serious than initially thought and may impact her ability to have children.  After receiving the news, she has a bit of a melt-down at work.  It’s frustrating to see self-care as a continuously low priority for Christine, though of course there are mental health and other issues at play too.  However, even when her sole work friend Jean suggests they take the rest of the day of and eat ice cream, Christine insists on pressing on.

Later, she does an ill-advised piece on a gun enthusiast who warns her that threats are everywhere.  He encourages her to carry around a gun for a few weeks to see if it makes her feel different and more in control.  Seems like…maybe not the best idea?

Though Christine tries to tow the new party line, her ideas are constantly shut down and she is usually at odds with her boss.  Finally, she is forced to take time off when she’s sent home early after an especially tense disagreement.

Just as her professional life is falling apart, Christine’s personal life seems to be lining up for once.  George asks her out to dinner, which is a major breakthrough as she seems to be convinced they have a future together…or at least the possibility of Christine’s first sexual relationship.  At the same time, George has some important news to share—news that will prove deeply upsetting to Christine.

a man with an open shirt faces a woman standing next to a floor lamp
I’ll give you 3 tries to guess the number of murders I’ve committed.

If you are familiar with the story of Christine Chubbuck, there will be no surprises for you here.  I was not and didn’t expect the ending at all…though it does have a sad logic that made me think I should have seen it coming.  Much like the real story I imagine.

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not sure I’d want to revisit this one, but it definitely earned at least a solid 4.  Infinite PPHs for Rebecca Hall’s performance, as she manages to portray mental health issues with such a depth and range of emotion without becoming melodramatic.  Christine comes across as extremely bold and intelligent while pulling back a few layers to reveal the pain of living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and a devastating lack of confidence.  It’s time for Rebecca Hall to be a household name–she’s so talented.

Special shout-out to Christine’s closest work friend, Jean, and chicken lady, who I didn’t give a lot of attention here but who also deserve recognition.

Did this one hold Christa’s interest or was it too sensational?  Find out by reading her review here!

A group of four teenage boys and two teenage girls dressed in 1970s attire stand in front of a football field
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Dazed and Confused: Film Title or Current Emotional State?

This week concludes high school month, which is somewhat bittersweet.  Largely because we don’t have a theme for next month, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Don’t worry—we’ll do some research BEFORE making our minds up unlike some, ahem, recent decisions internationally (sorry, Christa, I’ll cool it with the political asides).

The Film:

Dazed and Confused

The Premise:

Teens celebrate the beginning of the summer of ’76 with the timeless American traditions of beating people up, driving pick-up trucks, and smoking weed.  A lot of weed.

The Uncondensed Version:

This is about teenagers, so of course everyone’s big concern is what they will be doing tonight, the first night of summer.  Will it be another night of hanging with the guys, going to the big party, finding some weed, or just sort of being an asshole for no reason?  Yes.

But that’s not really the point of this film so much as taking a snapshot of what it was like to be in high school in the ‘70s.  Fortunately, remembering all of the characters’ names also not really the point.

You have your jocks, of course, as in every high school movie.  Half of them, including Ben Affleck with the most ‘70s hair in existence, spend the bulk of this film chasing around freshmen and spanking them with a paddle (not a euphemism).  We also follow the freshmen Ben Affleck torments, who continuously outsmart him and manage to make a pretty great night of it.

A man with a feathered haircut wields a cricket bat
What do you mean you didn’t like Batman vs. Superman??!???!

On the other end of the jock spectrum is some dude whose name as a character and as an actor I don’t remember.  Whoever he is, he’s the last holdout on this new policy—all sports ball players must sign an agreement not to smoke a lot of weed, amongst other nefarious activities.  This guy is just one hair’s breadth away from becoming a conscientious objector as he is extremely reluctant to sign the agreement.  Which is pretty admirable, TBH, especially when you consider how many papers I sign without actually reading them.

Anyway, so school ends and the freshman hazing begins.  This means getting the shit beaten out of you if you’re a dude, and for some reason sitting in the back of a pick-up truck with a pacifier if you’re a girl?  Whatever, I didn’t make the rules.  The girls also have to lie on the ground while the upperclassmen pour ketchup, mustard, flour, eggs, etc. on them.  My biggest takeaway from this movie is that kids are mean fuckers (I could’ve told you that for free, man).

Teenage girls lie on the ground while being covered with condiments
Ah, the…good old days?

Yet another part of the hazing involves the freshman girls proposing marriage to various guys, one of whom has sort of a blonde John Lennon vibe.  If that even makes sense.  I know there’s only a 3-4 year age gap at most, but he looks SO much older than this freshman girl.  But I’ll try to be more open-minded.  (No, I won’t.)

This, of course, is all before Matthew McConaughey and his signature “Alright alright alright”s show up.  I feel like 50% of people watch this movie solely for the alrights, so I’ll wrap it up here.

A blonde man with a moustache drives a car with two passengers
Mr. Alright Alright himself looking…er, pretty shady with that ’70s ‘stache.

The Rating:

I just didn’t really get this one honestly, though I confess I wasn’t paying the most attention ever because I was also catching up with GoT this weekend.

But beyond that, I wonder if this is a kind of “You had to be there” thing?  I have no particular objections to being a teenager in the ‘70s, but if everyone was that much of an asshole, I’m really glad I wasn’t.  My general feelings of not giving a fuck about high school and not so much pausing for a backward glance probably don’t contribute in a positive sort of way.

I just felt kind of “eh” about this one and wanted to kick a lot of these kids in the shins.

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Was Christa similarly dazed and confused or…perceptive and…lucid?  Find out by reading her review here!

Film Reviews

Wolfen, the Citizen Kane of Werewolf Movies

“My goal is to update weekly” is a direct quote I posted on Facebook regarding this blog.

Then I started watching Battlestar Galactica.

I’m almost done, so I am again striving to meet the (somewhat realistic) goals I’ve made for myself.  Here’s my review of Wolfen, which I meant to post over a week ago.  It’s a bizarre one, guys.

The Film:


The Premise:

Someone or something is brutally murdering the people of New York City.  Albert Finney is the totally retro detective who investigates the murders and stares into a lot of mirrors.  Inevitably, there are wolves, conspiracies, and cults explained by a young Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama from Battlestar Galactica!).

The Uncondensed Version:

Our movie opens with the demolition of a building in a really rundown part of the Bronx.  Then we get footage of these Native American guys (one of whom is EJO) standing on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Apparently this film was revolutionary because of the camera technique used to see from the predator’s perspective, which is part thermal camera, part acid trip.  I just found it really distracting and it made me question if this is really how wolves see.  Has there been any scientific research about how wolves see?  (Nobody had better ask me this at the ref desk.)

So anyway, when we have our first murders, they are trippy as fuck.  For whatever reason, the governor and his wife have their chauffeur drive them all to Battery Park at 4 in the morning.  Because they’re dumb.  In true horror movie fashion, the black guy is the first to die, but the governor and his wife follow shortly after.

a woman in an evening gown walks towards a car in the park, the image and colors distorted
This is the way wolves see you before you DIE.

We finally meet the detective, Albert Finney, who is all ‘70s glam in this movie, when he goes to investigate the murders the next morning.  He is eating something the entire time, which is incredibly distracting.  He is also eating a COOKIE while he watches the autopsies being performed.  It made me never want to eat a cookie again.  For about 3 minutes.

a man with curly hair pushed back by a headband holds the receiver of a payphone next to his ear
Note the headband.

Then we meet a criminal psychologist who will be working with Albert Finney.  They go on a date, which I thought would only end in tears, but is actually not a catastrophic mistake.  In a move made specifically to garner the interest of librarians (read:  cat ladies), the psychologist has a cat!

At this point I started to lose interest because I wanted to see some fucking werewolves, so this may not be the most accurate plot synopsis on the web.  There’s an eco-terrorist group the governor’s niece is involved with called the Götterdämmerung (seriously, is it a requirement to mention Götterdämmerung in every bad movie?).  I think the assumption is that they’re somehow involved, but Albert Finney continues to investigate.

He talks to EJO, who kind of fucks with him by pretending to be a werewolf.  EJO gets naked, runs around the beach, and does some pretty wonderful crazy eyes as part of his “transforming” face.

a shirtless man looks around him intensely, wide-eyed in the dark
This makes me wish Adama were secretly a werewolf.

One of the werewolves FINALLY appears after an hour and a half; it’s just a black wolf.  HIGHLY DISAPPOINTING.

Then EJO and the other Native American guy explain the Wolfen, who are a really old group of wolves with special abilities and may or may not be gods.  This is when the movie gets really philosophical and pushes an environmental message that comes out of nowhere with lines including:

“Reality is just a state of mind.”

“To them, you are the savages.”

“In the end, it is all for hunting ground.”

“You don’t have the eyes of a hunter.  You have the eyes of the dead.”

This is some heavy shit for a werewolf movie.  Albert Finney seems to agree, as he just kind of slowly unravels for the remainder of the film.  He stares into fragmented mirrors A LOT and thinks about wind chimes.  He also repeats series of words to himself, such as “territory, terrorism, terror,” and thinks about demolition, urban renewal projects, and loss of land.  The last 20 minutes of this film is basically just Albert Finney repeating words to himself.

a sweaty man's face is distorted in a mirror
Fragmentation. Broken society. Koyaanisqatsi.

When Albert Finney, the chief of police, and the psychologist go outside one evening, it’s foggy, atmospheric, and suddenly…wolves!  EVERYWHERE.  The police chief gets murdered, then his car explodes for no apparent reason.

a man in a suit holds a police radio in his car, looking in terror at the wolf behind him in the backseat

Now Albert Finney REALLY loses it.  He’s just kind of sitting in a corner holding a wolf pelt, occasionally repeating random words to himself.  The Wolfen are watching; they break through the glass to kill him and the psychologist.  Albert Finney aims his gun at one of the wolves, then lowers it and empties the bullets.  He then destroys the scale model of a new development, and the police arrive, opening fire.  The wolves suddenly VANISH.

Last lines of this film really drive home the environmental message of this movie:

“In arrogance man knows nothing of what exists. There exists on this earth such as we dare not imagine; life as certain as our death, life that will prey on us as surely as we prey on this earth.”

The Critique:

This is the Citizen Kane of werewolf movies.  Or at least it wants to be.  It was also sort of trying to be a film noir, so it resulted in a lot of shots of characters walking along alleyways in the dark, which became a bit tiresome.

There are so many wind chimes, reflections, and repetitions in this film that I didn’t find particularly effective.  The movie ends as it began—with a demolition.  The writer/director probably loved that this reinforced the cyclical nature of our existence, the inevitable destruction that accompanies our way of life, the damage we bring upon ourselves and our environment over and over again, but I didn’t think it was that clever.

A werewolf movie is the last place I would have expected the message to overwhelm the story, but it did.  I anticipated terror and werewolves, and this film didn’t deliver.

My biggest takeaway from this film is that BSG is always relevant.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther2/5 Pink Panther heads

It would probably be 1/5, but I threw in a bonus Pink Panther for EJO running around naked.

I thought this movie would click for me at some point, but it never really did.  It was just really strange and pretentious.  Plus I wanted werewolves!  Footage of wolves ≠ werewolves.

FDR, American Badass is coming up, I swear to god.