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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ouija Shark, or: Exit, Pursued by Ghost Shark

So bad it’s good or so bad it’s…bad? It’s a fine line to walk in B-movie land, and an extremely subjective one.

Except when it’s not. No spoilers (yet), but this week’s film is called Ouija Shark. And I’m guessing there aren’t a whole lot of people in the world who consider it a masterpiece of modern filmmaking.

The Film:

Ouija Shark

The Premise:

After summoning the angry spirit of a shark, a group of teens struggle to stay alive long enough to defeat the creature.

The Ramble:

Young Jill is looking forward to a weekend chilling at the pool with seemingly her only friend, Kim. At least, I think it’s Kim. The character names I remember from this film are as follows: 1. Jill.

However, due to her friend’s horrible directions, Jill ends up at a secluded beach. Rather than imagine she may have ended up at the wrong location, Jill jumps into the water for a splash…and emerges with a mysterious Ouija board floating beside her. Obviously she takes the board with her. Obviously.

3 young women sit in a circle on a grassy lawn. A Ouija board is in the center between them.

When Jill finally meets up with Kim and a group of friends housesitting, it seems Jill is something of the odd one out. It doesn’t take long for shared interests to unite the group: daydrinking and lounging around the backyard pool. In a subplot that has little (i.e. zero) relevance, one of the girls takes an interest in the neighbor washing his car and disappears for most of the film’s proceedings.

Meanwhile, the other girls have found it necessary to pace themselves on the daydrinking, shifting gears a bit to bring out the Ouija board. Though most of the group is skeptical, it takes only a few questions about the spirit’s intentions for the girls to be properly creeped out.

Jill later realizes she may have taken things a step too far with the summoning spirits thing when she has a shark-themed nightmare. After calling her dad, he solemnly vows to look into the shark dream and let her know if it’s connected to the Ouija board spirit. To his credit, he actually does do research on this ranging from internet searches to tarot readings, and even consults a medium about it. And, I mean, I’m sure mediums have gotten some odd requests, but communing with the spirit of a shark must be one of the more extreme.

A man sits at a table in the kitchen, looking intently at a laptop screen as he researches. A stack of articles related to sharks and the occult sits next to the computer.

Things escalate pretty quickly from here, with people falling victim to the ghost shark left and right. As the girls fail to make proper use of the buddy system, the shark…eats them? De-materializes them? There’s a lot of murder but very little blood is all I’m saying.

A young woman sitting at the edge of an outdoor swimming pool looks in surprise at the ghostly figure of an oversized Great White Shark.

As the police get involved with the disappearances, Jill’s father offers the sage(?) advice that she must stop denying her family’s history with the occult(?) and find the original owner of the Ouija board(???). You know that, whatever happens, Jill means business as she gets a black leather wardrobe change and acquires a shotgun. But, even when dressed in significantly more badass attire, does she stand a chance against a rather poorly defined spirit shark?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

That’s being generous, honestly. This film is extremely low budget, and it shows in everything from the script, pacing, sound/picture quality, acting, to the special effects. A nonsense plot only becomes more absurd as the film goes on. Mercifully, this film’s runtime is just over an hour.

I can’t really say this is so bad it’s good, but I will give the film some credit. I appreciate when people do make truly small budget indie films, especially given that the landscape for anyone not making a blockbuster looks so tough at the moment. The setup here is not the worst, and could have actually been reasonably interesting with better characterization and exposition. It’s nice to see something unpolished, including a cast that appears to all be wearing whatever they already had in their wardrobe.

While none of the cast here are getting award nominations, I have a special place in my heart for the performance of Jill’s dad onscreen. I get the impression that he’s the parent of one of the filmmakers and only appeared as a favor to his child. Legitimately, I did enjoy some elements of his scenes with the medium and the ghost shark.

One thing I overanalyzed: if you got eaten/dematerialized by a ghost shark, would you ever be declared legally dead or just missing forever? Would people keep looking for you? And would shitty insurance companies use the absence of a dead body as a reason not to pay out any kind of accidental death payment to your loved ones?

Chilling, right?

Finally, because I collect bad movie dialogue, here are some highlights:

  • “Dreams can be a doorway to the unconscious mind; I’ve told you that before.”
  • “Is that a shark or a ghost?”
  • “Thank god [the shark]’s going after him first.”
  • “Why would anyone want to summon a shark?”
  • “It’s unnaturally cold.”
  • “Oh no, I’m dead!”
  • “I’ve got to use my occult training. Mystic shield!”

Would my blog wife summon this one with a Ouija board or track it down, armed with a shotgun she casually keeps in her car (at all times apparently)? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Knife + Heart, or: Crow Me a River

*Spoilers below*

CW: sexual assault

We have good intentions with our themes, we really do. But sometimes, even when you think the innocuous film that’s not too taxing on the brain is what you need, you just have to go with the lesbian director of gay porn struggling to find a masked killer murdering her actors in 1970s Paris. Duh.

The Film:

Knife + Heart

The Premise:

As a masked killer picks off the actors in her gay porn film, director Anne attempts to solve the murders, wrap filming, and impress ex-girlfriend Loïs with her brilliance.

The Ramble:

A director of gay porn in ’70s Paris, Anne is…quite troubled and troubling, frankly. At times a very high-functioning alcoholic, Anne’s reliance on the bottle has finally destroyed her long-term relationship with girlfriend and editor Loïs for good. Certainly not too proud to beg, Anne calls from a pay phone after a night of drinking, but Loïs insists they remain work colleagues only.

A blonde woman in a black leather trench coat stands in a phone booth at night, looking down dejectedly.

Meanwhile, at one of the top surreal gay nightclubs of Paris, one of Anne’s young stars catches the eye of a man in a dark mask that covers his face completely. Though things start on a kinky note, they take a turn for the ominous when the masked figure brings out a dildo that’s also a switchblade.

In a dark night club illuminated in blue, a young man looks off into the distance while dancing with a group of men.

Anne is rather unfazed, prowling a local quarry for another young gay star–or at least a man who has no qualms about performing gay sex on camera for the right price. So unmoved by actor Karl’s death is Anne that she even finds inspiration in his death for her next film, Anal Fury V…a reference to Karl being stabbed in the rear. The crew finds this all to be in rather poor taste.

After the murder of another of Anne’s regular actors (featuring a white-eyed grackle or possibly crow depending on the translation), the cast and crew is properly freaked the fuck out. However, Anne merely retitles the film Homocidal, determined to finish her greatest work yet and impress the hell out of Loïs. Unfortunately, it seems that Loïs has moved on with another woman, leaving Anne to drink alone at an incredibly surreal lesbian club.

Loïs, a white woman wearing a sheer dark dress, dances in a nightclub with a Black woman wearing a metallic dress.

When the filming is complete, Anne hosts a wrap party, aka an opportunity to wait around for Loïs to arrive. Soon after Loïs arrives, a white-eyed grackle lands on her shoulder, and a dramatic wind storm cuts the party short. As the party attendees flee, an actor left behind becomes another victim of the masked killer.

Following Loïs home, Anne confronts her ex, demanding that she continue to love her. Anne sexually assaults Loïs and, the next day, her former lover disappears and asks to be left alone.

When Anne learns of the latest death of one of her actors, she confronts the police about the absence of any leads whatsoever. Taking pity, a young police officer gives Anne a feather that has been found at each crime scene. As it turns out, the feathers come from…a white-eyed grackle, hailing from a forest in rural France, and supposedly victims of extinction hundreds of years ago.

To uncover the truth, cityslicker Anne packs her bags and heads to smalltown France. Will she discover the identity of the killer or just find a forest full of creepy birds?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

In the earlier segments of the film, I was confused and frustrated enough that I probably would have multi-tasked for the remainder of the film if it hadn’t been subtitled. There are a lot of artistic decisions here that come across as the work of auteur who thinks it’s your problem if you don’t understand their vision. Oh, you didn’t understand the oranges as a representation of the loss of childhood innocence and their evocation of early Russian silent films? That’s on you.

That being said, even if enjoyment doesn’t quite describe my feelings about this one, I admire the ambition. I don’t particularly like our lead, especially since she sexually assaults someone and claims it was love, but I’m ok with not liking Anne a whole lot. From a thematic perspective, the concept of becoming monstrous in the name of love draws a parallel between Anne’s actions, those of masked killer Guy, and even the actions of his father.

Appropriately, the cinematography is gorgeous and chaotic, playing with film noir blues and violent reds, as well as soft daylight glow.

I did find the look into some considerations of the porn industry at the time pretty fascinating. Interestingly, Anne takes pride in the artistic element of her work, and wants to create gay porn with a unique spin. Not to give the porn industry a free pass on a lot of its exploitative/problematic practices, but it’s nice that there’s no shame here for the cast and crew, and there’s even a sense of professional pride. That’s not the perspective we get about porn crews in a lot of other works.

In the end, I didn’t expect to find the unraveling of Guy’s story to be quite so moving. I wouldn’t call Guy a sympathetic figure, but the past does color his actions with tragedy and create a surprisingly emotional conclusion to our film. It has to be intentional that the setting is 1979, setting the stage for the AIDS crisis just a few years later.

Btw, if you’re just here for an extended and quite artistically shot orgy scene, skip to the last 5 minutes of the film.

Would my blog wife cast this one in a porn film immediately or leave it to a forest of white-eyed grackles? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ganja & Hess, or: Don’t Cross Me

In terms of tone, this week’s film is about as far from last week’s Tales from the Hood 2 as possible while staying (more or less) in the horror genre. An independent art house film from the 1970s, there was never any chance Ganja & Hess would be franchised (though Spike Lee did remake it in 2014). Let’s at least try to follow along, shall we?

The Film:

Ganja & Hess

The Premise:

After he is stabbed 3 times with a dagger, anthropologist Dr. Hess Green gets a second chance to live…as a vampire.

The Ramble:

Don’t expect our film’s theme song to give you any spoiler warnings: it tells us right off the bat that there have always been creatures addicted to blood who roam the Earth. Many enslaved people were victims of this addiction, condemned to experience the life of a vampire (though this word is never used) until Christianity–specifically the shadow of the Cross–drives them away.

A Black man walks down the aisle between crowded church pews, eyes closed.

One such modern vampire is Dr. Hess Green, an anthropologist whose addiction to blood seems to be the only force that drives him. According to his driver, Reverend Luther Williams, Dr. Green is a victim. It was after Green’s former assistant Meda stabbed him three times with a ceremonial dagger that he became a vampire. Once Green rose from the dead, he craved Meda’s blood, spilled all over the bathroom floor after he killed himself.

Green’s new craving quickly escalates from hunger to need. Virtually everything Green does is to find and consume blood, whether that means absconding with bags of donated blood or bringing home strangers from bars.

A man pours himself a glass of water while seated in front of a fireplace. Across from him, another man speaks with intensity.

That is, until Meda’s wife Ganja arrives with many questions about her husband’s whereabouts. It’s not long before she forgets all about her husband as she becomes Hess’s lover. Confusingly, it seems to be a minor setback when Ganja discovers her husband’s decomposing body. Concluding that Hess is psychotic, Ganja makes the obvious next move of…marrying him?

Hess decides quickly that he doesn’t want to live without Ganja, turning her into a vampire on their wedding night. Soon after, they “have a guest for dinner,” which involves both sex and murder.

A Black man and woman sit at a small table outside. The man speaks with a servant standing in uniform, whose face cannot be seen.

Just as Ganja begins to embrace the vampire lifestyle, Hess starts to turn from it in favor of the church. Hmmmm…vampires and crucifixes. That can’t end well, right?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I must admit that overall…I don’t get it. The aesthetic is stunning, but the loose narrative structure makes for a confusing couple of hours. Apparently director Bill Gunn denounced the film as it was released because a new director was brought in to make major changes, including cutting it down to less than 80 minutes. And it’s difficult to blame the studio entirely; this is a challenging film to sell to an audience.

What is fascinating about the film is its commitment to its message. Gunn intentionally connects vampirism with slavery right from the start of the film so the themes of race and social justice frame everything that we experience as an audience. The film is in some ways a plea for unity within the Black community, as it’s one Black man’s attack on another that transforms Hess into a vampire. As Rev. Williams reminds us, Hess is a victim. Gunn doesn’t forget that problems related to drug abuse relate to larger social structures and racial inequity.

The importance of faith and community in healing is central to the plot as well. Thinking of the gaps in government agencies and social services, it’s no wonder the church has become such a vital institution in many Black communities. However, it’s unclear if Hess ultimately gains salvation through the church or merely an end to his life.

It’s similarly unclear if we’re rooting for any of our characters here. Ganja and Hess do obtain a sort of power through their vampirism, but this in itself isn’t necessarily empowering. There are a lot of scenes involving a servant bringing food to the couple and generally being a nameless, faceless employee. He does nothing onscreen but work, while Ganja and Hess do almost anything but work. These scenes are uncomfortable, but Gunn leaves things ambiguous in terms of what we as an audience are meant to think.

I’m glad we watched this film as it’s considered a classic of Black filmmaking. I can’t say I would have followed through with the entire run time if it hadn’t been “homework,” though.

Would my blog wife share a glass of warm blood with this one or stab it with a dagger too many times for it to resurrect? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shark Lake, or: Who’s Ever Heard of a Shark in a Lake?

Current world events have created the paradox in which I’m ready for this month to be over while hoping it never ends–primarily because it’s shark month on the blog. If anything can distract you from a global pandemic, it’s the familiar sight of a fin cutting through the water and the inevitable bloody thrashing. RIP, all of those who overacted in minor roles as shark attack victims. It’s the last film of Shark Month, so let’s enjoy those committed performances while we can.

The Film:

Shark Lake

The Premise:

A small town sheriff attempts to save unsuspecting locals from a shark living in Lake Tahoe.

The Ramble:

In a small town on the edge of Lake Tahoe, there are shady dealings aplenty. Included is some kind of exotic animal smuggling operation that petty criminal Clint Gray (played by Dolph Lundgren who couldn’t be bothered to read the script, probably) has gotten mixed up in. When his place is busted by the law, Clint gets caught up in a high-speed chase, which ends with his van in the lake. Does the van also happen to contain a bull shark that was meant for a local mobster? I mean, duh.

On the night Clint is arrested by sheriff Meredith Hernandez, his young daughter will presumably become a ward of the state. However, feeling a connection with the little girl, Meredith somehow manages to adopt her or become her legal guardian or something along those lines? Look, I won’t claim to understand the adoption process on any level, but this feels doomed to fail if this kind of thing is typically allowed.

Two police officers in uniform look out across a lake.

Five years later, Clint is released from prison, which has Meredith freaking out. Though Clint is determined to leave his old life behind, it’s going to take more than a low thrill fight scene to keep the mob off his back. Concerned about Clint’s criminal record, Meredith has every intention of keeping him as far away from his daughter, Carly, as possible.

If that weren’t enough to keep Meredith busy, there seems to be a bear on the loose that has attacked and killed a man at the lake. Or could it be…something else?

Clearly it’s a shark causing trouble at the lake–if this film’s title weren’t enough to clue you in, the “well, actually…” guy at the bar puts on his oddly specific bear facts face and dazzles Meredith with his brilliance. He has a PhD, just so you know. And the kind of person who brags about having a PhD about 8 seconds after you meet them is obviously a winner. However, Dr. It’s Not a Bear does manage to help Meredith reach the conclusion that, against all odds, the culprit behind the attacks is a bull shark. How is this possible? Apparently bull sharks are the rare species that can adapt to the level of salinity in their surroundings.

A man in glasses sits at a bar, turning to speak with a woman sitting at a nearby table.

Unfortunately, this conclusion arrives too late for an unlucky couple of parasailers, who suffer a shark attack just as Meredith arrives with the instructions for everyone to clear out of the lake.

Meanwhile, a smarmy British shark expert arrives, proposing to solve the town’s shark problem as long as he can turn the results into his own personal reality show. This ends approximately as well as you’d imagine, though the film recorded does reveal there are not one, but three sharks living in the lake; the bull shark released 5 years ago was pregnant with 2 pups.

The drama really ramps up when Meredith’s mother nearly becomes a victim of the shark after the family’s dog makes a dash for the lake. So, yeah, this does prove that a dog really can help make you more active, but at what cost? Carly is kind of an idiot and uses this as an opportunity to find her father and enjoy some quality bonding time.

A man stands in a wooded area, clutching his bleeding shoulder.

It doesn’t take much for the cops to leap to the assumption that Clint has kidnapped his daughter and intends to flee to Canada with her (even though Mexico would be significantly closer). Clint takes off on his boat to bring Carly home, with Meredith in pursuit in a dinky little speedboat. What could possibly go wrong? And will the situation call for Clint to actually haul off and punch a shark in the nose?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I would like a written apology from the marketing team for this film, which features Dolph Lundgren prominently in all of the posters, trailers, and credits. Honestly, Dolph gets very little screen time, and his character feels almost tacked on to the main plot of the film.

And let’s talk about the “main plot” while we’re at it–god, is it a mess. This film isn’t really a shark film so much as a police procedural; an incredibly stupid police procedural. Not only are the writing and the plot really stupid, but the police themselves are so stupid that you could reasonably expect them to rush into the lake, commanding the sharks to freeze in their eagerness to make an arrest. The cops spend a significant amount of the film assuming they’re looking for a bear (and congratulating themselves for catching it) based on absolutely no evidence. And Meredith legitimately has a conversation in which she accuses the shark of being evil. Like…I honestly don’t know what to say? Hopefully she’s a vegetarian or Meredith is going to have a serious reckoning with herself about the nature of evil when she thinks about all of the cows she’s killed.

Things I still don’t understand after giving this film a reasonable amount of attention while viewing:

  • how/why Meredith had custody of Carly in the first place
  • what the mafia actually does in this town besides bitch about never receiving the shipments of live sharks they were promised
  • what the fuck the mafia is going to do with live sharks (and if the answer is feed snitches to them, why did we not get to see this???)
  • why Clint didn’t tell the police about the whole sharks in the lake thing earlier; surely there’s some sort of anonymous hotline he could’ve used?
  • why the sharks haven’t been chomping on human legs for the entirety of the past 5 years
  • what Clint’s relationship with the mafia is/was
  • whether Clint has any interest in actually seeing his daughter because of all the toxic masculinity/macho bullshit his character is made of

However, I will give this film credit for giving us a rather satisfying fight scene between Dolph Lundgren and a shark. You do have to wait for it, though. And suffer through the line “We cleaned up the lake and the street.”

Would my blog wife set this one loose to swim freely or punch it swiftly in the snout? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, or: A Yeti Falls in the Woods

We’ve had some classy period dramas on the blog lately–a phenomenon I greatly enjoy, though it seems high time we got back to our bad B-movie roots. Sam Elliott, Hitler, Bigfoot: it’s like this week’s film was made for us. …Or was it?

The Film:

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

The Premise:

The man who killed Hitler is recruited for a mission to the wilds of Canada in the 1980s. Spoiler: it involves Bigfoot.

The Ramble:

Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott!) is a gentle man who keeps to himself with the exception of the adorable golden retriever always by his side. His only hobbies seem to be drinking alone at the local bar and sitting at home, listening to the hum of voices on the TV. Who would ever guess he’s…the man who killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot?

An older man with a moustache drives a car, while a dog in the backseat leans forward towards him.

As a young man, Calvin enlisted in the US army to serve in WWII. Gifted with languages, incredibly skilled in carrying out missions, and quite good at remaining calm in oddly intense shaving scenes, it doesn’t take long before Calvin is recruited for the ultimate top secret mission: killing Hitler. Though he recognizes the necessity of his actions, Calvin abhors violence and murder, making him a rather conflicted man.

A young man in a German uniform sits on a freight train, a dog next to him.

When he enlisted, Calvin left behind his schoolteacher girlfriend, Maxine–the love of his life and woman he keeps trying to propose to(!). After the war, Calvin isn’t allowed to communicate with Maxine or his family for…reasons. I wasn’t paying the most attention ever, but it was incredibly unclear to me why Calvin couldn’t return home or write to his loved ones. Either way, it sucks, and Maxine can’t wait around forever when her mother falls ill back home.

A young man and woman dressed formally sit in a dimly lit restaurant, toasting each other with their drinks.

In the present day (some time in the ’80s?), Calvin prefers to be alone and stay out of trouble. His only remaining family is his brother Ed, though the two aren’t particularly close, largely because of Calvin’s standoffish nature. Rather disillusioned with the whole idea of heroism, Calvin rejects FBI agents who want to recruit him for a mission to essentially save the world.

The scenario in which the world needs saving happens when Bigfoot is unleashed on Canada, carrying a disease that stands to wipe out humanity. Unless Bigfoot can be tracked down and killed, the U.S. Army will nuke Canada, taking out a chunk of both countries and probably devastating the world. As the only surviving person immune to the disease, Calvin is Earth’s last hope.

An older man leans against a tree in the woods, holding a walkie-talkie and propping up a rifle with his leg.

Of course, Calvin comes around eventually, but by no means enjoys his role. Though he tracks down Bigfoot fairly easily, his prey is resilient and tricky. Bigfoot manages to do quite a lot of damage to Calvin in a dramatic fight–will the man who killed Bigfoot also be the man killed by Bigfoot?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

As promised in the title, this is indeed the story of the man who killed Hitler and the Bigfoot. However, I feel the title implies a certain level of campy fun, senseless violence, and/or terrible special effects, but it fails to deliver on any of this.

This is more of a character study, which is fine considering the character is played by Sam Elliott (accompanied by the cutest dog). It feels quite a lot like a Western too, given Calvin’s ambivalence towards heroism, status as a legend and rugged loner, and old-fashioned sense of honor. There’s an element of romantic drama here as well–but like all of the other genres this film falls into, it almost gets there but never quite works as any of these stories. It’s rather disjointed and feels like several unrelated stories.

It doesn’t help that the supporting characters are so pointless. Admittedly, it’s virtually impossible to measure up to Sam Elliott, but these characters are so 2-dimensional it hurts. Maxine is ridiculously boring, the FBI agents are aggravating, and even Calvin’s brother Ed isn’t particularly memorable. Standing ovation for that dog, though.

Would my blog wife wander ruggedly around with this one or kill it like it’s Hitler (and Bigfoot)? Find out by reading 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!

A room full of police officers seated at tables face the front of a meeting room. Among many humans, one officer is a blue orc.
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bright, or: Just the Two of Orcs

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Christmas programming for what is the greatest Christmas gift of all on the blog:  a terrible Netflix original movie about cops, orcs, prophecies, and CGI creatures completely real mythical beings.

The Film:

Bright

The Premise:

Two members of the LAPD–one orc, one Will Smith–team up to prevent the prophesied return of the generic medieval fantasy-type dark wizard.

The Ramble:

Like any fantasy worth its weight in …unicorn dust(?), this one begins with a vague prophecy that attempts to be intriguing but is really just minorly irritating.  I can’t even remember what it is at this point.  Magic, magic, Dark Lord, orcs, you’re a wizard Harry.  Something along those lines.  Surely these words won’t affect our unsuspecting protagonists in modern day Los Angeles.

Note that modern day Los Angeles is a place where humans coexist with all manner of fantasy creatures:  orcs, elves, centaurs, fairies, dragons, and the like.  As one would expect, there’s an established hierarchy, with orcs as essentially the lowest of the low.  Elves, on the other hand, are akin to the 1% and even have their own district with way nicer cars and cleaner streets.  Humans seem to fall somewhere in the middle of all this.

This includes Will Smith, an officer with the LAPD.  After dramatically being shot by an orc, Will (aka Daryl Ward) is returning for his first day of work in months.  His partner Nick Jakoby is the only orc on the force, and as such is under constant suspicion by the other cops.  The situation for Nick hasn’t improved since an orc shot his partner and then escaped.

a woman in police uniform talks to a police officer
BTW, Margaret Cho is in this.

Though Ward tries to keep things professional, he obviously holds a grudge towards Nick, constantly shutting down his partner and trying to undermine him.  Not cool.  When Internal Affairs gets involved with the investigation of Ward’s shooting, he’s ready to be rid of his partner but would rather do so without any shady schemes.  The Internal Affairs reps persuade him to record his conversations with Nick and draw a career ending confession from him.

Meanwhile, Ward and Nick respond to a disturbance downtown in which a crazy guy with a sword is saying shit about the prophecy and making threats.  After they take him into custody, he tells Nick the Dark Lord is returning to claim orc hearts.  This guy is later interrogated by an elf and humans that are part of the FBI for magic.

a grubby man without a shirt blocks a busy intersection, brandishing a sword
You shall not…park here!

It may also interest you or at least be relevant for you to know that 3 wands are needed to resurrect the Dark Lord.  The catch is that only a bright can wield a wand without dying painfully.  Most brights are elves, but it is possible for a human to be a bright.  Any human, you say?  Even a cynical policeman whose life thus far has shown no indication of any magical tendencies?

Our story doesn’t go along too much further before Ward and Nick encounter a bright with a wand, an elf named Tikka.  Since the wand comes with so much power and is so valuable, the cops decide to kill Nick and take the wand for themselves.  They pressure Ward to go along with this plan, but of course he ends up being just too honorable.

a human and an orc in police uniforms walk into a dark room, guns drawn
Collateral Blue-ty?  That’s the one Will Smith movie pun I’ve got for this post.

Just when Ward and Nick escape the corrupt cops, they encounter members of a gang who make their intentions clear with incredibly painful street talk.  Ah-eh-eh-em:  “Word on the street, there’s a wand in this ‘hood” and “The wand belongs to the barrio” are 2 shining examples.

Basically, the point here is that everyone wants the wand.  Ward, Nick, and Tikka must dodge all of their rivals and prevent their worst enemy from rising in the form of the Dark Lord.

This, of course, leads to a showdown between our 3 heroes and the evil group of elves who want to bring the Dark Lord back to wreak havoc, destruction, etc on the world.  Who will emerge triumphant?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though it promises a genre-bending thrill ride, this one is sadly forgettable.  Most of the plot feels like a carbon copy of all other police dramas, and it’s too reluctant to fully embrace its weirdness.  The fantasy elements seem tacked on unnecessarily rather than fresh or fun.  That’s one of the biggest disappointments of this film–for such an off-the-wall premise, there’s a distinct lack of fun here.

The social commentary about racism tries really hard, but it doesn’t feel particularly noteworthy, nor half as clever as it thinks it is.  In fact, some of the especially cringeworthy gang stereotypes undermine that message.  I want to give this film props for trying, but it gets a lot wrong and handles things too clumsily for it to succeed.

Additionally, the characters and character relationships fall flat.  I think(?) Ward is supposed to be the grizzled old timer and Nick the wide-eyed rookie cop, but both feel bland and tired.  I guess they’re so boring they deserve each other, but at the same time I didn’t get a sense of a genuine connection between the two.  There’s never a time when the relationship between Ward and Nick shifts, even after facing countless near death experiences together.  Beyond that, the minor characters are pretty uninteresting too, and Ward’s wife and daughter are basically props.

There’s nothing to mark this as a blight to film making; on the other hand, there’s nothing much to remember about this one at all.

Would Christa raise this one from the dead as prophesied or push it down a bottomless pit?  Find out in 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

Where to Watch:

You’re on your own

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!