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

The Knight Before Christmas, or: Orange You Glad It’s December?

It’s Christmas time on the Collab, so prepare yourself for picturesque snowy scenes, story lines so sweet they’ll give you a cavity, and one or two sarcastic quips. Make that a lot of sarcasm, especially when so many of our Netflix offerings for Christmas are…quite different from our usual fare.

The Film:

The Knight Before Christmas

The Premise:

A medieval knight is sent forward in time to present day Ohio, where he meets an unlucky in love teacher.

The Ramble:

Merry Olde England, 1334. Not that this matters–what’s important is that you know our opening scene is medieval AF complete with chain mail and full tankards of ale all around. The Christmas celebrations here revolve around hunting, though the hunt will be short-lived for knight Sir Cole with probably a dozen middle names and a surname I forget. When he encounters an old crone in the woods, Cole is thrown forward in time with a prophecy regarding his destiny: the knight has until the end of Christmas Day to figure things out or he never will. Which, all things considered, is pretty shitty as all of this is supposedly a reward for his kindness.

a man in chainmail armor stands in front of a Christmas light display

In the present (in a made up town in Ohio), high school teacher, devoted aunt and sister, and all-around goody two-shoes Brooke is soaking in all of the Christmas spirit yet feels there’s something missing. Could it be she’s missing her deceased parents? Still nursing a broken heart after ditching her cheating ex-boyfriend? Clearly yes, but obviously the biggest problem here is that she’s given up on the idea of true love.

a woman stands in a classroom, facing a teenager

This changes when, on a snowy evening, Brooke hits a stranger with her car–none other than Sir Cole, her literal knight in shining armor. Believing Cole is sweet but the victim of temporary amnesia, Brooke invites him to stay in her guest house. However, when Brooke’s guest goes hunting for skunks and lights a bonfire in the front lawn, it becomes clear that Cole is more than just slightly quirky in a charming sort of way. Cole manages to redeem himself with those most beautiful words in the English language: “What say you and I binge watch together?”

As one might expect, Christmas activities abound, providing ample opportunity for Brooke and Cole to get to know each other while having virtually zero chemistry. Cole gets involved with the charity event Brooke is hosting because of course she fucking is. But even after an unnecessary subplot in which Cole saves Brooke’s niece from falling into a frozen lake, he is no closer to discovering his quest of destiny or even getting some onscreen action. At least he gets 50 cents and an orange as a Christmas present from Brooke (there is a reason for this as explained in the film, but for fuck’s sake–anyone who tried this with me would get an orange chucked at their head).

a man and woman walk through a Christmas-themed park, linking arms

With the deadline to make Cole’s dreams come true rapidly approaching, our knight in shining armor seems destined to return to his own time. But surely he’s coming back for those fancy armor gloves he left behind? Oh, right–and true love?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I hated everyone in this film even as this makes me question the person I’ve become. Admittedly this film was a bit of a roller coaster, as I enjoyed the first few minutes and the fun premise. However, I started watching the clock before we were even halfway through this adventure, which wastes a cute setup to cross off all of the made-for-TV Christmas movie cliches.

I found the message about charity insufferable and honestly rather gross. One of the characters in need of support throughout the film is a single dad who works about 200 hours a week yet still finds the time to give back by volunteering. Brooke decides she will use the charity evening to appreciate this dude’s hard work and straight up gives him a huge chunk of the money raised. This is supposed to be heartwarming, but to me came across as incredibly condescending and embarrassing. Honestly, this kind of public gesture feels more about seeking praise than actually helping people in need. And I don’t even know where to begin with the idea of charity being essentially synonymous with giving money.

As a lover of period dramas, I recognize the hypocrisy in this statement, but I found romanticizing the medieval period an odd choice. Seriously, Cole’s hygiene would have been so much worse than depicted, and he would have been virtually incomprehensible–and, most likely, wildly inappropriate. And I’ve seen my share of technical challenges on Bake Off; medieval baking was disgusting, and there’s no way Cole would’ve managed to make anything remotely appetizing by our standards during his Christmas baking session.

I fully accept how strange and perhaps worrying it is that I’m so angry about this innocuous film. I’m sure that, at least in part, this film is a victim of the lack of clear focus for my anger in our topsy-turvy world. Either way, I gave zero fucks about the characters in this film or their ludicrous devotion to the concept of true love. Which is totally something a villain in this film would say–if there had been even a hint of conflict during the entire run time.

Is this the year I finally glow from within because my Christmas spirit is so bright?  Methinks not.

Would my lady blog wife travel across time itself for this one or throw its 50 cent Christmas gift back in its face? Find out in her review here!

two shirtless men sleep side by side with arms around each other
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Am Michael, or: To Be Gay or Not to Be

What sounds like a more interesting film:  one in which a legendary Chilean poet evades the law and narrowly escapes the cops or one about a man who moves to Canada and leans into Christian fundamentalism?  Subjectivity aside, the latter also features Zachary Quinto’s excellent eyebrow acting and the approach of a Lifetime movie to its subject matter.  And honestly, a film earns a lot of credit from me when it avoids heavy-handed narration.

The Film:

I Am Michael

The Premise:

The story of a gay activist who ultimately rejects his sexuality in favor of Christianity.

The Ramble:

“If you’re a moral person, you’ll choose to be straight.”  Not exactly the opener you’d expect for a film about a gay activist.  Except this activist is Michael Glatze, a man who edited a gay magazine in San Francisco before renouncing his sexuality in favor of Christianity.  That’s a lot to process, no?  Let’s back up a few years.

Before coming out as straight, Michael (played by James Franco) was in a serious relationship with love of my life Spock Zachary Quinto Bennett.  Michael is very much part of the gay community:  attending all-night raves, mourning traumatic events including the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Three men cheer amidst a larger group of people at a club. The men are wearing glow in the dark necklaces and bracelets as accessories.

When Bennett gets a job in Halifax, Michael’s life changes dramatically.  Instead of dedicating his time to the magazine, he gives talks to local schools, writes a lot of blog content, and eventually begins working in a soul-crushing office job.

After a year passes, Michael doesn’t feel any better adjusted to his new life.  When he fights with Bennett, Michael goes off in search of dudes, and picks up a cute young guy named Tyler.  Michael and Bennett begin an open relationship with Tyler, eventually traveling across the country with him to complete a documentary.

Two men walk through a meadow of white wildflowers. The man in front holds a flower and wears a backwards red baseball cap, blue t-shirt and jeans. The man behind him has blond hair, and wears a red t-shirt and jeans.

While filming the documentary about queer youth in the U.S., the three encounter a gay student at Liberty University (I’m sorry, but gross gross gross gross gross; I’m so creeped out by Liberty).  Though he identifies as gay, the student embraces his Christian identity and begins praying with his troubled friend.

Michael begins to wonder if he can have it all, identifying as both a gay man and a Christian.  However, he opts for living quietly with his doubts, going to church and reading the Bible in secret.

A group of people meditate on rugs in a large room with wooden floors and walls. They sit with crossed legs and eyes closed, and a man in a blue tank top and black shorts is the most prominent.

Meanwhile, Michael becomes increasingly preoccupied with his mortality and fears above all that the afterlife is just nothingness.  After a panic attack, he becomes convinced he has the heart condition that killed his father.

When he insists there’s a lot of love in the Bible, Michael earns some eyebrow raises from Bennett and Tyler.  He explores the Mormon church and Buddhism, drawn to their clear visions of the afterlife and potential to solve his so-called homosexual problem.  After moving out, he claims he is no longer gay.

What’s up with that?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s something about this film that stays with me.  It may not be brilliant, but Zachary Quinto is great as ever and even James Franco gives a decent performance.  Possibly because he plays a character who’s a bit of an asshole?

It makes me sad that Michael broke Bennett’s heart, and it’s disturbing to think about the number of people who still have to lie about who they are in order to have the job and life they want.  To be clear:  I do not sympathize with people who claim they’re persecuted for their Christian beliefs in predominantly Christian nations.  It’s also troubling how Michael buys into the false dichotomy of being part of gay culture or living as the squarest straight dude alive.  I like to think we’re getting better at recognizing the many different ways to identify as LGBTQ, but clearly we still have a long way to go.

Narratively, I wish we’d spent a little more time on the impact of Michael’s actions on Bennett and the gay community as a whole.  I don’t really care if someone’s sexual orientation changes (though obv the idea that you can choose this is problematic AF), but the really shitty thing Michael did was perpetuate a horrible culture that tells young people their sexuality is a sin to be corrected.  I also feel we could use some more insight into Michael’s interiority while recognizing that I don’t ever want to know what’s really going on inside this guy’s head.

The only thing certain is that blonde James Franco is the douchiest James Franco.

Would my blog wife accept this one as it is or ditch it faster than a blonde James Franco?  Read her review here to find out!

Life Rants

Forever a Loan: Reflections on Higher Ed and Debt

As a librarian in higher ed, the cost of college has been on my mind a lot lately.  In his Netflix series Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj recently did a really great episode about the awful business of student loans and those who profit from them.

Because my student loan payments are set to increase another $50/month soon, I do admit my feelings of anxiety and resentment are amplified just thinking about it. And it does make me sad that I may not be able to buy a house or feel confident that I can retire comfortably in part because of student loans (and partly because our world is so fucked).  It’s frustrating (not to mention unsustainable) that it’s become accepted and expected to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans for an education.  It holds back progress in so many ways when talented, passionate graduates have trouble making a living wage or even finding a job at all–not to mention sending an incredibly damaging message about who deserves to learn and succeed in our world.

I have a friend on another social media platform who regularly rants about how people who can’t afford college shouldn’t take out loans, and it drives me up the wall.  To give you some context, this is also a person who says fat people should be kicked off of health insurance to make it more affordable for everyone else…

And I absolutely urge people taking out private loans to consider how unforgiving debt collectors are in that arena—the government as a lender is bad enough, yet it doesn’t engage in some of the more extreme practices of predatory private lenders.

It’s helped me immensely to think about student loans as medicine; like all meds, there will be side effects, but sometimes you need to take them.  Even with the cost and the side effects, ask yourself what you gain by taking them, and whether those benefits outweigh the negative consequences.

kyle-glenn-350542-unsplash
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I do find it frustrating that 5 years after earning my master’s degree, I still don’t have a long-term contract.  I’m not sure what I’m doing after July of this year.  But I love the profession of librarianship, and I love the number of thoughtful, caring, social justice-oriented colleagues I’ve met.  I should have perhaps waited to have more experience before pursuing my master’s degree, and I don’t love the amount of money it cost me.  But I do love this profession, and I love the path that earning my master’s degree has led me on.  I know librarians are stereotyped as joyless authorities who demand complete silence—and I’ll be honest, we generally do like rules.  However, just mention banning a book or the profession’s problem with race or demonstrators protesting drag queen story hour and you’ll see there is a solid foundation of strong convictions behind the work we do.

I have seen the emotional and financial burden student loans have placed on current students, and I bitterly regret that.  And college isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be expected that everyone attend college–though this is really a problem with the fucked up ways that we value different kinds of work.

But honestly telling people not to pursue college because they can’t afford it is another way of saying “I have very much bought into our current social order and am committed to maintaining it.”  The problem is not with the students taking out loans—it’s with the entire higher ed system and the business of student loans now inseparable from everyday college functions.  And, more broadly, it’s a problem with a capitalist society that commodifies education and undervalues the work of the public service sectors.

I do wish I could be more financially stable, even as I acknowledge I enjoy an amount of financial stability that places me in an extremely privileged position.  And there’s a lot of BS in higher ed, I fully recognize that.  But I would never work on Wall Street or as a part of the military industrial complex or in any number of jobs that benefit a small group of people while actively making the world a worse place for everyone else.  I wouldn’t change where I am or how I’ve gotten here.  And it will be people who push the boundaries, who reach for things that they cannot afford, that were never meant for them—they will be the ones to show that they are not wrong, that they do not need to change, but it’s the world around them that needs to change so it can catch up to them.

That being said–sign me the fuck up for free college if I ever live to see it happen.

Header image by Good Free Photos on Unsplash
Life Rants

#Goals

I’ve been blogging here for over 4 years now.  And while it’s been so worth it in terms of meeting my blogging partner and internet love of my life, A Voluptuous Mind, I haven’t become a social media influencer, the voice of a generation, or even the kind of blogger who every now and then gets free samples of all-natural snacks to review.

According to a widget on my blog’s side bar, I have 172 followers, a number I don’t understand (but choose not to question).  What I do know is this number in no way accurately reflects the number of people who regularly read this blog, which is approximately 3% of that number (looking at you, whoever is Googling “hillbilly woman murderer from the 1800’s” and “does the cat die in hush”).

I can’t say I’m sad about the lack of a following most of the time, since any large group on the internet seems to be composed of about 30% (or more) trolls and/or Russian bots.  But I do at times aim to write and post more on this blog than I do, and I wonder if that lack of followers holds me back in spite of myself.  One of the first questions people usually ask about my blog is how many readers it has.

Tim Wu has written this wonderful article, “In Praise of Mediocrity,” that asserts the way we talk about hobbies has gotten absolutely out of control.  It’s not enough to dabble in sketching; you must illustrate and animate a 12-minute short film to prove you have a true passion for your hobby.  And it’s out of the question you keep at something even when all evidence suggests you may not have any talent for it whatsoever.

I keep meaning to write more, but I worry what I write will be garbage.  I have been telling myself to do more sketching or actually focus on a fucking practical hobby like knitting or give sailing a go since I’m surrounded by water now.

And admittedly, I’ve had a lot going on lately and am trying to be patient with myself.  But I also want to avoid falling into a routine before I’ve had the opportunity to try different things and absorb new experiences.

Wu writes “to permit yourself to do only that which you are good at is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment.”

There are a lot of chances I haven’t taken because I was too busy feeling like shit about myself or worried that others would see too clearly what a talentless hack I was.  But goddamnit, I want to learn to sail.

Photo by chuttersnap

Activism, Life Rants

Bad Dreams

This week brought to you by vivid dreams about drowning in water parks and having incredibly detailed screaming fights with members of my family (admittedly the latter isn’t always an invention of my unconscious).

Among other things, last week’s shitshow of a Supreme Court hearing has really gotten under my skin.  Accompanied by a sense of doom ahead of November’s midterm elections, this hasn’t been great for my psyche (or the tension headaches that lie in wait when they can sense I’m feeling overwhelmed).

I don’t have anything to add on the Kavanaugh hearings and the composure of Dr. Blasey Ford that hasn’t been said by others much more eloquently:  here, here, and here to name a few.  But (geographically) closer to home another disturbing political development has been on my mind.

This weekend saw my alma mater, Kent State, unwillingly become a rallying place for ahem, “grassroots” gun rights activists very much sponsored by extremist right-wing groups.

Coverage of the event is detailed by the student news site, Kent Wired:  http://www.kentwired.com/latest_updates/article_998c22ac-c597-11e8-a33d-bf61db148c4d.html

If the name Kent State is familiar to you, it’s likely because of the infamous Kent State shootings of 1970 in which members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War, fatally wounding 4.  As a place of historic importance, the area where the shootings occurred looks almost identical to its appearance in the 1970s, and there is a center on campus dedicated solely to educating students and visitors about the tragedy.

Of course I take issue with the idea that more guns are needed on college campuses in light of the number of students who have opened fire on their classmates in recent years.  And of course I take issue with the idea that the so-called Constitutional right to bear arms should receive so much coverage when the growing number of college students who are homeless or regularly go without enough food are much more pressing concerns for anyone in higher ed.

But honestly it’s most concerning to me that some of the protest signs suggested the Kent State shootings could have been prevented if the victims had been armed.  I understand this type of statement is meant to provoke outrage rather than make sense, but to me nonviolent protest is an integral part of democracy and the identity of the United States.  Civil disobedience is a value to strive for rather than scorn–whether or not those participating in acts of civil disobedience receive civil treatment in return.  I find it disturbing on a fundamental level that the appropriate response to threats of violence seems to be more threats of violence.

If there’s one silver lining here in a very troubling story, it’s that many students on campus expressed opposition or annoyance in response to the protestors.  Students rallied with signs and chants, forming a human wall to prevent the march from proceeding across campus.  As a librarian, my favorite response was one student’s sign indicating outrage that the library was closed as a safety precaution.  Image is on Twitter:

 

Stay golden, library sign boy.

Featured image by Michael Weidner on Unsplash
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Selfie from Hell, or: Horror Hodge-Podge

After a summer hiatus of nearly a month(!), we are back in the swing of things.  Appropriately, we mark our return to the blog collab with bad, low-budget horror.

The Film:

Selfie from Hell

The Premise:

Julia is a Youtube star, Instagram influencer, and all-around social media sensation.  That is, until she takes a selfie…FROM HELL.

The Ramble:

Ready to get away from it all and spend some time bonding with her cousin Hannah, social media pro Julia is ready to chill.  After Hannah picks her up from the airport, Julia becomes mysteriously panicked at the mention of her boyfriend, and even more freaked out at the suggestion of taking a selfie.  What gives?  Has her selfie-ing awakened a demonic presence that is now stalking her?  Seems like the logical conclusion, eh?

two young women sit in a car, one holding a cell phone as the other reaches for it

Before Julia has even had the chance to enjoy a nice cuppa at Hannah’s house, she senses something is wrong and begins to selfie.  In selfie mode, she manages to get a glimpse of a dark shadowy figure behind her…creeeeeeeeeepy!

Julia’s fun is cut short when she collapses suddenly, falling ill with what seems to be a very high fever.  Despite her condition, Julia appears to keep texting Hannah eerie messages and voice recordings.  Putting on her sleuthing cap, Hannah digs up some articles and disturbing images that reveal Julia’s death…?  In her final Youtube vid, Julia warns others not to view 13 selfies under any circumstances.

a young woman sits at an outside table, holding a cell phone

After becoming convinced someone else is in the house, Hannah brings her online hacker friend, Trevor, into the loop.  With Trevor’s help, Hannah manages to lurk around on the dark web, searching for the site with 13 selfies.  When she stumbles across the 13 selfies she’s absolutely not supposed to watch, guess what she immediately does.  Hannah also manages to give away all of her personal information to a cyberstalker, who insists he’s the only one who can help her.

a young man and woman in a dark room lean over a cell phone

Shocker–it turns out creepy internet lurker also has very dark connections to a demonic selfie monster.  Will Hannah live to selfie another day?

The Rating:

1.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Even though this was an objectively terrible, nonsensical film, I just can’t be bothered to give it 1 PPH.  I didn’t hate it, it was just very meh.  And you know what they say about the opposite of love as indifference.

There is virtually no set up to kick off this film, so it’s very hard to care about the characters or even remember their names.  We do get some super vague backstory about Hannah’s mom dying a year ago, and Julia being there in her hour of need…but so what?  I was hoping there would be some kind of connection to the horror elements Hannah and Julia faced, but this film just wasn’t organized enough for that.

I found this to be a bit of a horror genre mash-up–we had the house intruder trope, demonic possession, torture porn, psychotic kidnapper.  None of these were done particularly well, though there were some creepy dimly-lit house scenes and sinister selfies.

Would Christa pull a duck face and selfie with this one or crop it out of her profile pic?  Find out by reading her review here!