Saturday, August 22, 2020

This Is The Zodiac Speaking: A Retrospective of David Fincher's Zodiac

 Movies: Zodiac

I recently re-watched David Fincher's 2007 masterpiece, Zodiac, twice. Meaning, I re-watched it and then re-watched it again. And I realized that I've watched this movie about 10 or 11 times and have never reviewed it. The film, about the serial killer who named himself "Zodiac" in the late-60s through late 70s, is extremely compelling to me. It's a movie about research, obsession, and the torment only a cold case can cause. 

Nearly everything about this film is perfect. From the top-notch performances from a number of actors in their prime--Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chloe Sevigny, and John Carroll Lynch among others--to the funky and mellow soundtrack featuring hits of the time period (you'll never listen to Donavan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" without thinking of this film once you've seen it), Zodiac is a finely tuned masterpiece. There's just no other word for this film.


Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist working at the San Francisco Chronicle (the film is based on the book he wrote about the Zodiac which was published in 1986). Graysmith sits in on a meeting of the editorial board after the Chronicle receives a letter from a person who claims to be the man who killed a couple, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau, on July 4th 1969, as well as Betty Lou Jensen and Arthur Faraday on December 20th, 1968. The letter contains information the police never released to the public, as well as a part of a cipher and a demand that the Chronicle print the cipher or more lives will be taken. 

Graysmith follows the investigation, which is assigned to Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) after the Zodiac takes credit for shooting a taxi driver within San Francisco's jurisdiction. Additionally, Graysmith pesters Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), the crime reporter at the Chronicle, for updates and information. The first half of the film mostly focuses on the hunt for the Zodiac, which leads to dead end after dead end. The second half focuses on Graysmith's obsession with the case, leading him to play citizen detective and ultimately write a book about the case in which he posits that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) was the Zodiac, even though all the evidence tying Allen to the murders were circumstantial. Graysmith's wife (played by Chloe Sevigny) left him due to his intense fixation on solving the case.

Zodiac is a perfect blend of creepiness and looming dread without gratuitous violence, wry humor, and brain candy (lots of searching in archives and trips to the library). It's a very Ficherian film: dark, gripping, compelling, and compulsively rewatchable. Looking at Fincher's filmography, I realize that he is one of my all-time favorite directors. His films Gone Girl, Se7en, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and his TV show Mindhunter are all works of art I've watched multiple times and introduced to others. I like dark movies, but especially if they are also smart movies and Fincher hits the nail on the head. 

Zodiac was never the most prolific or most violent serial killer, but his cat-and-mouse games with the cops and newspapers make him memorable. If you're a true crime buff or a movie buff, this is one film you don't want to miss.

Grade: A+



Sunday, August 16, 2020

The COVID Diaries: HORROR-STAVAGANZA

 Movies: a lot


Readers! I have been watching movies at a rate too quickly to review in a timely manner. To remedy the situation, I welcome you to... ***HORROR-STAVAGANZA***

In this blog entry, I will review all of the horror/thriller movies I've watched in the past couple months. We're talking 17 muthafuckin films. Now, I will try to stick to a few sentences per review, but if I am particularly passionate about a film, it might stray beyond the bounds.

Additionally, to further organize my thoughts, I will be review in order from best to worst (in my opinion). I will try to avoid spoilers, but in general if you want a totally clean slate going into a film on this list, I can't make any promises.

Buckle up, chucklekfucks, it's going to be a spoopy ride.

***

Buried

Kicking things off is this tight (literally) thriller starring Ryan Reynolds. Directed by Rodrigo Cortes, the film plays on one of humankind's most visceral fears: being buried alive. Paul Conroy (Reynolds) is a contracted truck driver in Iraq in 2006. After an attack on his truck, he wakes up to find that he's been buried in box. The box contains a cell phone, on which a kidnapper informs him that he better somehow get 5 million dollars in a couple hours or they'll just leave him there. The film is just Reynolds in a box, dealing with the hell that is the United States military industrial complex, company bureaucracy, and, oh you know, being buried fucking alive

Warning: Buried is one of the few movies that has made me extremely upset, and that's saying a lot! It's a great movie on every level but it is NOT for the faint of heart.

Grade: A-

***

We Summon the Darkness

Recently released on Netflix, We Summon the Darkness is a fun horror-comedy that turns the Satanic Panic fears of the 1980s on its head. Alexis, Val, and Bev are three young women on their way to a heavy metal show in 1988. They meet three guys at the show who seem pretty cool. The gals invite them back to Alexis' McMansion for an after party. Liquor and a game of "Never Have I Ever" take a dark turn when sinister intentions are revealed and the evening gets bloody.


I can't say much more, lest I give too much away. But I can say that between the realistic behavior and dialog of the characters, the surprising plot twists, and a cameo by Johnny Knoxville, We Summon the Darkness is wildly entertaining. 

Grade: B+

***

Host 

A Shudder exclusive, Host was conceived of, filmed, edited an released in just 12 weeks. The film, which is a short 57 minutes long, takes place entirely in the context of a Zoom call between friends who are stuck at home during the COVID pandemic. Haley, the host of the Zoom call, hires a medium to lead a seance, thinking it will be a fun, spooky activity to pass the time. You can probably guess where this is going.

While the seance does not go as planned due to some of the people on the call not taking it seriously, it appears to actually work in that some kind of spirit starts creeping on the friends in their individual homes. And, unfortunately, this entity is hostile. 

In the spirit of the Unfriended films (see below!), Host feels intimate (like we're on the Zoom call!) which only ramps up the terror. And like all found footage horror films, I was searching the screen constantly for the next jump scare. Reader, I watched this movie between my fingers. Highly recommended!

Grade: B

***

Hostel 2

For years, I was too scared to delve in the world of "torture porn" films. But as my tolerance for horror and violence increases, I decided to rip off the band-aid with one of the classics. I'm talking about Eli Roth's Hostel, which sucked and you can read about it below. BUT...Roth came out with a sequel that in a bizarre twist no one saw coming is actually WAY better than the original. It's nearly the same plot: three young people (in this movie, women) are in Europe for a vacation and get tricked/lured into a warehouse where they are served up as torture toys to elite buyers who pay to torture and kill people. 

Unlike the original, the sequel is funnier, campier, and even plays with some gender dynamics. For example, two of the buyers are American businessmen Todd and Stuart. Todd is the aggressive, domineering alpha male and Stuart his meek, henpecked beta friend. Well, guess which one of them turns to the be waaaaaay more into torture than the other one?! Ok, it's not exactly groundbreaking commentary on masculinity but at least it's something. Especially given than Hostel 2 didn't need to be good. It just needed to be bloody. But if you go in with low expectations you might be surprised at how fun it is to watch a girl chop a dude's genitals off right after he calls her a "cunt". (It's very fun). 

Grade: B

***

Relic

This recently released film, starring Emily Mortimer, is a supernatural twist on an all-too-normal fear: aging parents, whose bodies are slowing down and whose minds are slipping away. Mortimer plays Kay, who returns to her childhood home when her mother goes missing. After a couple days gone, Kay's mother shows up, covered in mud and with a giant bruise on her chest, but otherwise acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Relic has a slow build to an intense climax in which the house literally becomes oppressive to Kay, her mother, and her teenage daughter. 

I didn't find Relic to be particularly groundbreaking, or even that scary, but it's an empathic take on a real monster: Alzheimer's disease. I don't want to give too much away, but in the end Relic manages to walk the line between horror and sympathy in the recognization that death comes for us all.

Grade: B

***

She Dies Tomorrow

Like Relic, She Dies Tomorrow is another horror movie that takes a normal thing (in this case, anxiety and general existential dread) and adds a supernatural twist. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) wakes up one morning convinced she will die tomorrow. She spends her day listening to Mozart's "Lacrimosa" on repeat, drinking (she's a recovering alcoholic, but who cares about falling off the wagon if you're dying tomorrow), and researching how to have her dead body made into a leather jacket. When her friend Jane (Jane Addams, wonderful as always) comes over to check on her, Amy passes her fear onto Jane. And then Jane, consumed with the absolute knowledge that she will die tomorrow, goes to her brother's party, where she infects all the guests.

As an idea, She Dies Tomorrow is fascinating. I would ask 'what if delusions are catching?', but lol we live in 2020 so of course we know that delusions are catching (what's Q been up to lately?). But a delusion as specific, personal, and dread-inducing as believing you'll die tomorrow? The film succeeds in capturing what anxiety feels like: you know what you're thinking doesn't make logical sense, but it still keeps gnawing at you and *feels* real. However, She Dies Tomorrow is very slow. And anti-climatic. Director Amy Seimetz was clearly going for a more philosophical pace rather than a fast-moving thriller. And while I understand that the film isn't meant to be a "traditional" horror film, I have to say that the slow pace and ambiguous ending worked against it. It's good, but not a rewatch.

Grade: B-

***

Lights Out

And yet another film in which mental illness is the monster. Lights Out got a lot of acclaim when it came out in 2016. It was praised for its take on depression as a supernatural monster. However, those who have seen it know that the ending is *very* controversial.

My take is that, yes, it's a good horror film. Lights Out is tight (81 minutes), scary (the monster is truly creepy), and creative. But man, the ending is REALLY not cool. You want me to spoil it? Ok, you twisted my arm:

SPOILER AND TRIGGER WARNING-- 


The mom in the film, Sophie (Maria Bello), is haunted by a manifestation of her depression, whom she calls Diana after a little girl she was friends with when she was in a mental institution as a child. At the very end, Sophie realizes that Diana is going after her children and will not stop until...well, Sophie dies. So she kills herself. The implication, whether intended or not, is that people suffering from chronic depression can help their families by, you know, not being alive. While the director claimed he was not trying to say this, it's an upsetting and dangerous idea because those who struggle with suicidal ideation have to fight against the belief that suicide would somehow be better for their loved ones. While Lights Out is "just a movie" and it's up to everyone to make smart choices about what they watch, the film's ending could do more harm than good. On the other hand, I don't have chronic depression, so maybe I don't know what I'm taking about. /SPOILER

Overall: if you are sensitive to depictions of mental illness and self-harm on screen, especially if they are triggering to you, I'd sit this one out. Otherwise, see it and decide for yourself what you think of the ending.

Grade: B-

***

Unfriended: Dark Web

Unfriended was the first movie that was filmed with the entire focus on a computer screen. Since then, similar movies like Searching and Host have come out. But Unfriended was first. I wasn't crazy about it (see below). However, the sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, is actually a smidge better. The premise is ridiculous but the characters are much more interesting and sympathetic.

Basically, a dude named Matias discovers an abandoned laptop and takes it home. As he goes about his evening, he gets messages from someone named Erica claiming to be the friend of the person whose laptop Matias stole. Matias and his friends (over Skype) do some digging into the laptop and discover a cache of snuff porn films as well as access to what appears to be a sort of "Silk Road" type website. So Matias was unlucky enough to steal the laptop of someone involved in gruesome, ritual crimes. Pretty soon, everyone on the Skype call is the target of a mysterious group called The Circle. Ok, yes, it's ridiculous and would never happen, but I liked the premise of the film more than Unfriended, which was supernatural (a ghost fucking with people as opposed to real people fucking with people). And as I said, the characters are a little older, more mature, more interesting, and more sympathetic that the characters in Unfriended.

Grade: B-

***

Last House on the Left

Released in 1972, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left was considered one of the sickest movies to ever be released in its time. By today's standards, it's fucking nothing. In fact, I was shocked at how campy, funny, and just...bad this movie was. The soundtrack itself is a wild ride: not only does it have upbeat music at wildly inappropriate times, some of the original songs (which are goofy AF, btw) were written by David Hess, who plays the main bad guy in the movie. Just listen to this fucking ridiculous song (lyrics start at 1:30) and imagine it playing knowing two girls about about to get raped and murdered.


The plot: two teen girls are on their way to a concert when the ask a guy standing on the sidewalk if he has pot. He brings them into his apartment, where two other men and a woman--violent killers who are wanted and on the lam--await. They take the girls out to the woods and rape and kill them. Then, because their car broke down, they knock on the door of the closest house, not knowing it's the home of one of the girls. Once everyone beds down for the night, Mom and Dad realize that these folks killed their girl and decide to take their revenge. Chaos and penis-biting ensue.

While the scenes of rape are as rough and painful to watch as one might expect, the actual violence in the film is more on par with what an R-rated Home Alone might look like: trip wires and electrified doorknobs. What was considered so frightening and disgusting that people would pass out in the theater in 1972 would now be considered a "soft R" rating. Hell, if you take out some cusswords and tweak some scenes, it could practically be PG-13. I can only recommend it to horror buffs who want to pay their dues to horror legend Wes Craven. Otherwise, it's just a campy, weird flick.

Grade: C+

***

Child's Play

I have been afraid of dolls since I was a child. Therefore, I avoided the entire Child's Play franchise for years. I ended up watching Bride of Chucky years ago and found it to be a really fun and silly movie. So, to finally face my fears of the red-headed hellion doll, I settled in with a friend using Netflix Party to watch the original film. It was a lot funnier, campier, and over-the-top than I ever would have imagined. Can I just list some of the bizarre shit that happens in this film?

  • A bad guy just happens to know a voodoo spell that allows him the enter the body of a doll.
  • A mom buys the doll for her son from some creepy, back-alley seller. When she goes back to confront him after realizing the doll is alive and evil, that same dude tries to sexually assault her in public! I was not expecting this.
  • The kid who plays Andy is REALLY young. He's literally six. It's weird to see a kid in a horror film who isn't extremely precocious and actually acts like a child.
  • The kid ends up in a psychiatric unit that literally has bars on the doors and windows.
Child's Play did not scare me. It made me laugh a lot and go "what the fuck?" a bunch of times, but I did not lose one minute of sleep over that potty-mouthed doll. I can't say the movie was "good" but it was definitely fun.

Grade: C+

***

Unfriended

As mentioned above, Unfriended is the first movie to be filmed from the perspective of someone watching a computer screen. That alone makes it worth a watch, if you're into that kind of thriller/horror (which I am). The plot is also pretty intriguing: a group of friends are seemingly haunted by a girl who killed herself after a video was posted of her passed out in her own feces after getting drunk at a party.

The problem is that these characters are vile--they're bratty, disingenuous teenagers who all played a role in harming the dead girl. The ghost, or whatever it is, forces them to play a game of Never Have I Ever which reveals their secrets and what horrible assholes they all are. I mean, are we supposed to be rooting for the ghost here? While the gimmick of the film is super fun, the characters kind of ruin it. Check out Host instead.

Grade: C

***

Underwater

Underwater has an irresistible concept: what if the deepest, darkest part of the ocean contained creepy-ass monsters?? Let's be real: the ocean is terrifying. Man has walked on the moon and yet much of the ocean remains unexplored since it's so difficult and dangerous to dive to the deepest parts. 

This film, starring Kristen Stewart (who does NOT do a good acting job here. This is basically a Twilight-level performance), opens on a drilling facility stationed at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. An earthquake destroys most of the facility but a group of employees plus the captain manage to survive. In order to get to escape pods they are forced to put on deep diving gear and actually walk across the ocean floor to where the pods are housed. On the way they face crushing pressure levels and--holy shit!--creepy alien-like things living down there in the depths. This sounds like a premise for a great horror film! Sadly, it has some problems:

  • The black guy dies first. Ok, come on, why do horror directors still do this? Fuck that. Strike one!
  • The film "stars" TJ Miller in the funny guy role, but he is SO not funny. Strike two.
  • I mean, I get that the ocean is dark, but you basically can't see anything for half the move. Strike three. 
  • The movie has voiceover narration done by Kristen Stewart and tries to sound profound. Strike four.
Basically, it's just a bad movie. Cool idea, a few scenes of spooky shit, but overall not good.

Grade: C

***

Vivarium

Another film with a cool premise that ends up being disappointing. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots play a couple looking to buy a house. When they wander into an office selling plots for a new development called "Yonder", the very strange real estate agent offers to show them around the development, which turns out to be filled with identical houses. As they try to leave, the couple realize that they are unable to find their way out of the neighborhood and always end up right back where they started.

There's more to the movie that this, but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Vivarium is definitely unsettling and creepy, but it's also boring and overlong. The director doesn't hold tension very well and we're stuck waiting for a payoff that never really comes. I'd only recommend this one to horror fans looking for new content while waiting out the quarantine.

Grade: C

***

Crawl

I was surprised at how much I didn't like Crawl given that it got mostly positive reviews when it came out. I think it's because I'm not crazy about "creature features" as a sub-genre and Crawl is definitely that. Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is an aspiring swimmer. She goes to check on her estranged dad as a category 5 hurricane is about to hit Florida. She finds him passed out and injured in the crawl space of his house. But if an injured dad and a powerful hurricane weren't enough trouble, it turns out that two enormous alligators are basically chilling in the crawl space as well...with more lurking right outside. Haley and her dad have to find a way past the alligators before the crawl space floods. 

Crawl is fine. I'm glad I didn't pay 12 bucks to see it in theaters. If you're into horror movies where Mother Nature is the bad guy you might really enjoy it. Also: the dog DOESN'T die.

Grade: C

***

Come to Daddy

This is a truly bizarre horror-comedy directed by Ant Timpson and starring Elijah Wood as Norval Greenwood, a fey musician who gets a letter from his estranged, alcoholic father asking him to visit. Norval shows up at his dad's huge house which is right on the coast of Oregon. His father, Brian, very quickly becomes aggressive and eventually physically violent, calling Norval a "cunt" and attempting to kill him. In the ensuing struggle, Brian has a heart attack and dies. 


Norval stays in his dad's home and after hearing some creepy noises, discovers a basement where, lo and behold, his real father is being kept prisoner. Apparently his real dad, the man who died of a heart attack (Gordon), and a third man named Jethro were all involved in kidnapping in Thailand. Brian took all of the ransom money and ran. So Jethro and Gordon hunted him down to kill him and reclaim their money. So now, Norval (who, remember, is Elijah Wood-sized), who hasn't seen his father since he was a toddler, is obliged to help fight off multiple violent criminals to help his (also a criminal) dad. 

Come to Daddy is just a weird movie overall. The scenes between Norval and the man pretending to be his father at the beginning of the film are excruciatingly tense and not in a fun way. The film from that point on is a wild ride of bloody mayhem. I think horror fans, especially those who are into sick comedy, will like this one, or at least admire its weirdness. But I can't say I'll be revisiting it any time soon.

Grade: C

***

Hostel

After avoiding Hostel like the plague for over a decade, afraid that this torture porn classic might somehow destroy me, I was amused to find that 1) it's not super scary, 2) the special effects are ridiculous, and 3) it's not a very good movie. As I point out above, the sequel is much better (and partially that's because I had such low expectations of it after watching the first one). 

Hostel is about two college friends, Paxton and Josh, who are backpacking through Europe with their Icelandic friend, Oli. In Amsterdam, they get a tip from a guy whose house they crash at for the night that they should go to Slovakia and stay in a particular hostel where there are extremely beautiful women (who apparently will fuck annoying American college students). So they go and, indeed, the hostel is filled with very comely women. 

Do I really need to relay the infamous plot? The guys get tricked into going into a factory where wealthy men pay to torture and kill people. We are treated to stabbings, achilles heel-cuttings, and eyeball-gouging before Paxton is able to make an escape. 

So why did I hate it so much? Unlike in Hostel 2, which has *some* attempt at character building, Hostel's characters are one dimensional to the max. The torturers are all nameless, faceless men whose motivations we aren't privy to. Josh, Paxton, and Oli have two defining characteristics apiece: Paxton is bro-y and horny, Josh is nice and horny, and Oli is Icelandic and horny. I basically hated them all and were ok with them dying--especially Paxton. This being an Eli Roth joint, the script is littered with slurs, specifically "retarded" and "fag"/"gay", making the movie sound like it was written by a 9th grader. That's something I've always loathed about Roth. While Hostel 2 has a little bit of this language, Hostel is drowning in it, making me absolutely hate Paxton (the alpha male bro). 

I can only recommend this movie to hard core horror buffs who want to watch it for its place in the horror cannon as one of the films that kicked off the torture porn obsession in the early aughts. Otherwise, skip it.

Grade: C-

***

Ma

Oh man, what a weird movie this is. Directed by aggressively mediocre filmmaker Tate Taylor (same guy who directed The Help), Ma is about a group of teenagers in a small town in Ohio who are looking to get loaded. When they ask Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) to buy them alcohol, she agrees under one condition: they have to drink it in her basement so that she can keep an eye on them and make sure they are safe and don't drive home drunk. The teens agree and party nights at Sue Ann's (who prefers to go by "Ma") become a regular thing.

But Sue Ann isn't content to just be a cool auntie who lets teens illegally get wasted in her house. She wants to be one of them. She's down there doing shots with the rest of them. The teens humor her, but quickly get annoyed that Ma wants to party every night so they start ignoring her calls. That's when shit goes down.

I feel like Ma had some real potential but just chose to be a weird, fucked up movie instead. There is a lot to explore here: white teens, older (not old, but older) black woman who is an outcast in the very town she grew up in. There's a depressing backstory about Ma, who was tricked/sexually assaulted in high school by the parents of some of the teens. Instead of exploring how Ma has been treated like garbage her whole life, the movie decides to make her a "crazy" woman out for revenge. I resent a film that brings up a character's sexual assault as a way to be like "oh, that's why she's bat shit crazy" whereas the perpetrators of the assault are seen as the victims of this nutty woman.

Ma is trash. Octavia Spencer deserves better than this role, which is steeped in racism, ageism, and sexism. My recommendation? Skip it.

Grade: C-


Sunday, August 2, 2020

The COVID Diaries--Part 9

Movies: various

Here is what I am watching (so far) during the quarantine for COVID-19.

***

Palm Springs

This new release, which is also a Hulu original film, is one of the best new movies I've seen this year (sadly, a year with slimmer pickings than most, given, uh, *gestures around broadly*). The film did not nearly have to be as good as it is. Basically: imagine Groundhog Day, but with Andy Samberg and he also has a partner to relive his day over and over with. Samberg stars as Nyles, the boyfriend of a bridesmaid at a wedding in the titular Palm Springs, CA. When the movie begins, Nyles is already years-deep into reliving the same damn day over and over, and he has come to terms with his fate (every night when he falls asleep, he wakes up in the same bed on the same day. And yes, he's tried to kill himself and that doesn't work). He's decided that the best way to deal with his unique circumstances is the accept that he can't change it, and drink a lot.


But one day, he accidentally drags another poor soul into the time vortex with him: older sister of the bride and black sheep of the family Sarah (Cristin Milioti, so funny and beautiful and perfect in this role). On the downside, Nyles has to break the news to Sarah that she is stuck in this same day for eternity. On the upside, someone to get into trouble with!

Palm Springs is funny, sweet, heartfelt, has a great soundtrack, and even stars the excellent JK Simmons in a darkly funny side role. The film manages to take a gimmick that has been used before in movies and TV and create a fresh take on it. Definitely recommended.

Grade: A-

***

Bringing Out the Dead

This often overlooked Martin Scorsese film starring Nic Cage, Patricia Arquette, Ving Rhames, and John Goodman is a dark and surprisingly gripping little piece of 90's nostalgia. Cage is in one of his "good' roles here, reminding us all that the dude CAN act. He plays Frank Pierce, a paramedic in New York City who works the graveyard shift and is losing his grip on reality. He barely sleeps and hasn't saved anyone's life in months. He is haunted by a young woman whom he couldn't save and sees her face transposed on other people's faces everywhere he goes.



He befriends a woman, Mary Burke (Arquette), whose father is hospitalized for cardiac arrest. Mary is a stable presence in Frank's otherwise chaotic world, filled with eccentric ambulance partners, a super strong street drug called "Red Death", and hallucinations brought on by too little sleep and too much guilt.

Written by Paul Schrader, who also wrote one of my favorite recent films, First Reformed, Bringing Out the Dead has been accurately compared to Taxi Driver (with Schrader also wrote, and Scorsese also directed) only with more supernatural elements. It depicts NYC as gritty, dirty, and filled with eccentric and colorful characters. Highly recommended.

Grade: A-

***

Warrior

I only watched this super cheesy (though good-hearted) film after seeing an opinion piece in Pajiba.com claiming "The Last Ten Minutes of Warrior is the Best Film Ever Made". I love when individuals have their pet favorite movies, especially when those movies aren't the ones that typically make the "best of" lists. So when I saw that Warrior was streaming on Hulu, I decided to give it a shot.

It's a very cliche-ridden film about two estranged brothers--Tommy Conlon and Brendan Conlon (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, respectively)--who are both down on their luck, recovering from an abusive childhood, and end up signing up for the same mixed martial arts competition with a grand prize of $5 million. Surprise, surprise--the final match pits the two men against each other. Also, Nick Nolte plays their dad, a recovering alcoholic who beat them and their mom and, years later, is hoping desperately for forgiveness and redemption. In other words, Warrior is a movie that will make you roll your eyes, but also tug at your heartstrings.

And sure enough, the ending IS very good. Warrior is a fine film if you like stories of redemption and families that are brought back together after being torn asunder. If you're a cynic like me, you'll probably groan at some of the corny lines and "boxer movie" tropes, like the long-suffering wife who doesn't want hubby to get beaten up for a living. But I'll admit that Warrior *almost* brought a tear to my eye.

Grade: B-

***

Vera Drake

Now, for a movie that brought actual tears to my eyes. Vera Drake is the movie that put Imelda Staunton on the map years before she played the fascist in pink, Dolores Umbridge, in Harry Potter. Directed by the masterful Mike Leigh, the film is about a working class British woman in the early 1950s who spends he days cleaning richer women's houses and her spare time giving young women illegal abortions.

Vera Drake is a devastating, but very important film about reproductive rights in the era before abortion was legalized in the UK. After a rare botched abortion, which nearly kills a teenager, Vera is arrested and brought in for questioning. The police are astonished to learn that Vera takes no payment for her services. She truly believes she is "helping young girls" as she puts it. (and reader, if you know me, you know that I am firmly, adamantly, and proudly pro-choice. Women like Vera did, in fact, help a lot of people who needed it...even if sometimes their services lead to illness or death).

Though the film ends with the tiniest sliver of hope, Vera's actions affect her entire family who are shocked when they learn that the sweet, quiet matriarch has been performing at-home abortions for decades. Although the pro-choice viewer will sympathize with Vera, the film shows that no good deed goes unpunished.

I highly recommend this movie, both because it is an excellent and beautifully acted film, but also because it serves as a reminder of what we stand to lose if we don't stand up for reproductive rights.

Grade: A-








Monday, July 6, 2020

The COVID Diaries--Part 8

Movies: various

Here is what I am watching (so far) during the quarantine for COVID-19.

***
Uncut Gems

Josh and Benny Safdie's Uncut Gems has proven to be a film that elicits strong feelings regardless of whether or not the viewer thinks the film is "good". I've seen people say they absolutely hate this movie, and others say it's one of the best films of 2019. Still others appreciate the craftsmanship of the film while also hating the film itself. It is a loud, nerve-wracking, edge of your seat film with a "protagonist" who is deeply unlikeable played by a talented actor (Adam Sandler) who is also deeply unlikeable (in my humble opinion). And yet, I fall on the side of enjoying the hell out of this wild ride of a movie.

Sandler, who is GREAT in this movie, plays Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner in New York City and a gambling addict. He purchases a rare black opal from Ethiopia and plans to auction it off for $1 million dollars so he can pay off his gambling debts. His associate, Demany (Lakeith Stanfield, also great) brings basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) to the store and when Ratner shows Garnett the opal, mostly just to brag, Garnett insists on borrowing it as a good luck charm to help him play better. Ratner reluctantly agrees, asking for Garnett's NBA Championship ring as collateral. This triggers a series of events far too complicated to describe here, but suffice it to say that Ratner's insatiable greed, hare-brained schemes, and gambling addiction cause him to dig himself in a deeper and deeper hole, losing friends and making enemies along the way.



Uncut Gems is a fast-paced thriller where people constantly shout and talk over each other and the constant threat of violence hangs in the air. It is a complete sensory overload with characters that are not particularly empathetic. But it is also wildly entertaining, hilarious at times, and just a plain old masterpiece in my opinion. It's a rare film in which Adam Sandler shows off his acting chops and it's worth watching just to see whether you hate it, love it, or love to hate it.

Grade: A-

***
The Last Black Man in San Francisco

This artful, quiet, contemplative film directed by Joe Talbot takes the issue of gentrification and makes it feel personal. The semi-autobiographical story is credited to Jimmie Fails who also plays a semi-fictional version of himself in the film. Jimmie lives in Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco, in a small home with his best friend, Mont Allen (Jonathan Majors), and Mont's blind grandfather (Danny Glover). However, Jimmie's passion is taking care of a Victorian style home his grandfather built in 1946.

The only problem is that Jimmie doesn't own that home--a couple, whom Jimmie feels are letting the house fall into disrepair, own it. So Jimmie skateboards to the Fillmore District, where he is a rare black face in a sea of white faces, nearly everyday to sneakily do repairs to the home when the homeowners are away. They often come home to find Jimmie painting the house and threaten to call the police, but never do. After a death in the family, the homeowners move out temporarily as the wife and her sister get into a legal battle over who owns the home. After they leave, Jimmie and Mont move in and restore the house to its former glory, knowing that this dream of truly owning the home can't last forever.


The Last Black Man in San Francisco is light on plot and heavy on feeling. It implicitly asks open-ended questions like "what is a home?" "Is a home the same thing as a house?". Jimmie is clearly more devoted to the house than the homeowners are, and he takes pride in making the house look beautiful. But is it really his "home"? Or is his home wherever he is with Mont--whether that's in Mont's tiny, overcrowded duplex, or the vast Victorian home the two take over.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco isn't the most exciting film, and it doesn't offer solutions to the problems of gentrification and racism, but it does put a human face on what is often seen as a boring or esoteric problem.

Grade: B

***
Shirley

Directed by impressionistic director Josephine Decker, Shirley is a biopic about Shirley Jackson that plays fast and loose with the timeline and facts of Jackson's life in order to tell a juicy story. Taking place around 1950, Jackson lives with her husband, Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg, who is so good at playing insufferable academic types), a professor at Bennington College in Vermont. Jackson, played by the magnificent Elisabeth Moss, is not well. In 2020, we would diagnose her with agoraphobia and alcoholism. But in the 1950s, she was simply a strange woman (and probably considered a very bad wife) who got mean at cocktail hour and never left her home.

A young couple, Rose and Fred Nesmer, rent a room from Shirley and Stanley. Fred (Logan Lerman) is assisting Professor Hyman in his teaching and angling to get a class to teach himself. Rose (Odessa Young) is asked (told) by the men to help Shirley around the home. Essentially, she is to be an unpaid maid and companion to Shirley, who can barely tolerate the young woman she sees as an interloper in her home.


Meanwhile, Shirley is fascinated by the disappearance of a young girl, Paula. She decides that Paula's disappearance will be the subject of her newest novel, Hangsaman. As she writes, she falls deeper into a psychosexual madness and pulls Rose down with her. The film has strong queer subtext as the two women circle each other like a cat and mouse, with Shirley at times being cruel to Rose and at times treating her like the intelligent and vibrant young woman the men in her life fail to see.

Overall, Shirley is just ok. If the idea of a 1950s-set lesbian pyschodrama sounds like catnip to you, you'll probably enjoy it even if you don't love it.

Grade: B-

***
Sea Fever

Sea Fever is the perfect pandemic film, as it is about being stuck in a small space and being paranoid about infestation. Directed by Neasa Hardiman, the film is set on a fishing trawler off the Irish coast. Skipper Gerard (Dougray Scott) and his wife Freya (Connie Nielsen) just want to make their living by bringing in a huge haul of fish. They're not too excited to have Siobhan (Hermione Corfield), a graduate student studying the behavioral patterns of sea fauna, on board and even less excited when they see that Siobhan is a redhead, since redheads are apparently bad luck.

The crew run into problems when it seems that their trawler is caught on something. Siobhan, who brought her scuba gear, dives in to see what's up and what she sees shocks her: a giant animal, possibly an enormous squid, has taken hold of the boat. Its tentacles seem to be secreting a blue liquid that eats through the wood of the boat (and of course, everyone touches the blue goop because it's a horror movie and everyone is dumb!). Eventually, the "squid" or whatever it is lets go, but the damage is already done. The goop that it secreted turns out to be filled with highly contagious parasites that cause blindness (and eyeball explosion...yikes!) and eventually kill the person or animal unlucky enough to be infected.

Sea Fever sets up a conflict between the science-minded Siobhan who wants to make sure none of the crew are infected before they step off the ship and back onto dry land and the superstitious, salt-of-the earth crew who already don't like the redhead and are even more disinclined to like her when she suggests a temporary quarantine (see? Perfect pandemic movie). Sea Fever is a fun horror/sci-fi film that could have been even better in my opinion. But it's worth the rental fee of 5 bucks if you like scary movies in claustrophobic settings and don't mind a little body horror.


Grade: B-




Sunday, May 31, 2020

The COVID Diaries--Part 7

Movies: various

Here is what I am watching (so far) during the quarantine for COVID-19.

***
Mrs. America

This Hulu original mini-series is about the fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and the women involved on both the pro- and anti- side. In particular, the series, which spans the 1970s, focuses on Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative homemaker/lawyer/political wonk who fought viciously to stop the ERA from being ratified--and succeeded.

Cate Blanchett plays Schlafly to perfection. She perfectly captures Schlafly's mannerisms and her charisma. Schlafly was a hateful person, yet undeniably intelligent. She was also a person into "alternative facts" long before Trump was elected (her final book, published right before her death, is titled The Conservative Case for Trump). The series portrays Schlafly as a woman who wanted it both ways: she wanted power, influence, and to be acknowledged publicly for her work, while also fighting against women's equality in the political, economic, and social spheres. If you're a fan of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, Serena Joy is clearly modeled after Schlafly.



But the series also follows Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan in their efforts to push the women's liberation movement forward. Looking back, both Schlafly and the feminists had a huge influence on the women's rights movement. Even though the ERA was not ratified until 2020 (with my home state of Virginia being the 38th state to ratify the amendment) and still isn't enshrined in our Constitution, we have made great strides. We have a lonnnnng way to go, though, and conservative presidents such as Reagan, Bushes Sr. and Jr., and Trump have pushed back our progress.

Mrs. America is an almost perfect show. It fails to honor the full extent to which black and brown women, as well as queer women, contributed to the women's liberation movement. There is an episode dedicated to Shirley Chisholm (played wonderfully by Uzo Aduba), but all the other episodes focus on the white, straight women involved. I've read some criticism that suggests it goes easy Phyllis Schlafly, but I didn't see that. I think it shows her for the conniving, "want to have my cake and eat it too" woman she was. True, it portrays her as human with imperfections, motivations, and strengths. But most people who fall on the wrong side of history were not monsters--they were all too human.

Grade: A-

***
Sinister

Sinister is a bad horror movie that came out in 2012. I watched it with a fellow horror-lover using Netflix Party, which is the only way to watch it because we tore it to shreds. Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt (I'm assuming the scriptwriter likes Patton Oswalt and Harlan Ellison), a true crime writer who hasn't had a bestselling book in a decade. He moves his family into a *murder house*, where an entire family--except for one daughter--was killed by hanging. Ellison doesn't tell his wife he is moving them into a murder house because he obviously doesn't respect her.

He discovers a box of film reels and a projector in the attic. As he watches them, he realizes they are essentially snuff films showing the murder of other families. After doing some digging, he realizes that all of these families were killed, leaving one child behind who went missing. He also discovers that the Stevensons (the family that was hanged) used to live in the house of one of the other murdered families.

So, it's pretty clear at this point that each family lived in the house of the previous murdered family, and there is some sort of being or curse following the families who move into the murder homes of the other families. So, in short, Ellison fucked his own family over: they now carry the curse.

I won't tell you what happens, but I will say that this movie is so full of cliches, it's bursting at the seams. It has: an alcoholic writer who wears oversize, knitted sweaters and lies to his wife; an older cop who tries to warn the family from moving in; a professor of the occult who tries to explain the weird symbology in the films to Ellison; and a young, annoying cop who ends up cracking the code and telling Ellison his family is the next set of victims for this curse. As my friend said "Are we watching a movie about a movie?" and "Is this movie fucking with us"? Sadly, it was not fucking with us...it was just a bad, cliched movie. Feel free to skip, or watch while mocking.

Grade: C-

***
Little Children

Little Children is a movie I saw many years ago and recently rewatched. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, it's about suburban ennui. Kate Winslet plays Sarah, a stay-at-home mom who clearly regrets her choices and resents her daughter and philandering husband. She meets Brad (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home dad whom the other moms on the playground dub "the Prom King". Brad and Sarah begin an affair.



Meanwhile, a sexual offender, Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley, excellent in this difficult role), moves back in with his mother after serving time for indecent exposure. Ronnie provides a convenient scapegoat for the neighborhood and in particular, Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), a washed up former cop who is looking for someone to hurt.

Fans of Perrotta's novels will enjoy this film, with its moral ambiguity and simultaneous empathy and disgust for the human condition. That's kind of Perrotta's jam: his books are filled with unlikable, but highly empathetic characters. Little Children is the kind of film that asks you to feel bad for a pedophile while still knowing he's sick and a danger to society. If you're not a fan of movies that live in the gray area, this isn't the one for you.

Grade: B

***
Groundhog Day

Here's another movie--a classic, in fact--that I rewatched. It's very appropriate for These Strange Times (tm) since it's about a man living the same day over and over, which is what like feels like right now.

If you haven't seen Groundhog Day, what are you even doing? Just go watch it. The only reason I'm not giving it an "A" is that it isn't quite as funny as I remembered it being when I was a kid. But the grade is sort of irrelevant here. It's Groundhog Day and it is required watching.

Grade: B+

***
Good Will Hunting

And yet another movie I felt compelled to rewatch. Good Will Hunting is what I call an "autumnal" film. It's set in/around a college, the color palate is filled with browns and beiges, and it feels as comfortable and familiar as an old, unraveling sweater. Elsewhere, I've referred to it as similar to mashed potatoes: warm, comforting, and hella white.

Probably everyone knows the plot: Matt Damon is Will Hunting, a 20 year old janitor from south Boston who grew up in foster care. He's also a genius. Like, the type who can solve impossible equations and also has a photographic memory. Stellan Skarsgard is Gerald Lambeau, a math professor at Harvard who realizes Will's genius and, as a condition of not serving jail time for attacking a cop, has Will agree to study mathematics under his tutelage and see a counselor.



The only counselor who is able to deal with Will's bullshit is Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, excellent except for his non-existent Boston accent), a warm, understanding therapist who has issues of his own. He was also Lambeau's college roommate and is someone Lambeau looks down on because he didn't live up to his potential.

So, these two men basically go to war for Will's talent and soul: Maguire wants Will to choose the life he will lead and knows that forcing him into a box will push him away; Lambeau wants to essentially require Will to use his considerable talents in a high-paying government job. He is sickened at the idea of Will "wasting his talent" and being told "failure is an option". This is a tough movie for anyone with "Tiger parents" to watch. Hell, I felt some old resentment towards my parents rising up as I watched it and, overall, I have a good relationship with them.

Other than the fact that this movie is nearly 100% male and white, Good Will Hunting holds up relatively well. It's a bit cliche and over-the-top, but it still works well as a comfort food movie. And the soundtrack, featuring many songs by Elliot Smith, is bitchin'.

Grade: B

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Look at all these stupid cunts" -- a Ghost World retrospective

Movie: Ghost World

So, I randomly decided to rewatch Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World last night since it's on the Criterion Channel. Five minutes in, I knew I had to allot a special review just to this dark, hilarious, depressing masterpiece.

Ghost World is a movie that takes me right back to late high school/early college. A time where I was technically an adult, but still a naive baby. I loved cinema, I thought I was smarter than everyone else, despite the fact that I, to paraphrase Cher Horowitz, was a virgin who was too scared to drive on highways. Ghost World really speaks to the precocious and naive among us. As Enid and Rebecca move beyond high school--a mini-universe that allows them to gloat about being better than everyone else--to the real world, they are faced with the tough realities that actually no one is special and making fun of people doesn't feel all that good in the end.



For those who haven't seen Ghost World or read the graphic novel by Dan Clowes, it's a pretty simple plot: Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are best friends who graduate high school. They don't plan to go to college. Enid is one part hipster, one part punk, and two parts clearly depressed. Rebecca could be called "basic", but of the two she's more prepared to grow up, find a job, and become an adult.

Enid and Rebecca see an ad in the personals and decide to do the early-aughts version of catfishing: they call the guy who placed the ad and pretend to be the blonde he "had a moment" with. Then they wait and spy on the poor guy as he shows up at the restaurant and drinks a milkshake by himself before leaving. This is Seymour, a sad forty-something (or thirty-something? Steve Buscemi plays Seymour and the dude was born looking old so who knows how old this character is) whose main joy in life is collecting old blues and jazz records.

Despite the catfishing incident, Enid makes tentative steps to befriend Seymour. She buys a blues record from him and ends up loving it. The closer she gets to Seymour, the more she pushes Rebecca away.

But Ghost World isn't a romance and it isn't a happy movie. There are a lot of different messages to take away from the film. It's about the limits of non-conformity. It's about how life goes on whether you decide to participate or not. It's about how people who are hurt hurt other people, even if they ultimately feel shitty doing it. In short: it's a very misanthropic film that also captures some very true (if not flattering) realities about people. People are selfish, confused, lonely. People who are outsiders still think they're better than other outsiders.



In short, 20 year old Jenny was like "inject that shit right into my veeeeiiinnnns".

But there is a lot of beautiful moments in Ghost World as well: the opening sequence where Enid dances along to a wacky Bollywood movie. The dude with the nun-chucks who hangs out at the local convenience mart and says shit like "It's America, dude, learn the rules!" (I thought this was the funniest/best line in the movie back in college...still do). Josh, the sweet guy Enid and Rebecca like to tease--played by Brad Renfro, a promising actor who died too young. The CLOTHES everyone wears.

Ghost World, in my opinion, holds up twenty years later. Despite the fact that we have Tinder instead of personal ads, smartphones instead of the landlines Enid and Rebecca use, and that Thora Birch has fallen off the face of the earth while ScarJo is a superstar (a fucking crime, in my opinion), we still live in Ghost World. And even though I am no longer a virgin, no longer scared to drive on highways, and only *somewhat* think I'm better/smarter than others, Ghost World speaks to the person I am deep down inside--something essential that hasn't changed in 20 years. And if you're a fan of this film, I think you'll find that it still accurately reflects the sick, sad, yet beautiful world we live in.

Grade: A+


Saturday, May 23, 2020

The COVID Diaries--Part 6

Movies: various

Here is what I am watching (so far) during the quarantine for COVID-19.

***
Velvet Buzzsaw

This Netflix original film was a happy surprise for me. A friend of mine who is a fellow horror-lover recommended it and I was not disappointed. Directed by Dan Gilroy, Velvet Buzzsaw is a horror-satire set in the Miami's high art scene. Jake Gyllenhaal plays art critic Morf Vanderwalt, a man whose negative art review can make the difference between a piece selling for millions or gathering dust in a storage facility. Morf's best friend and sometimes lover, Josephina (Zawe Ashton) works for Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), owner of Haze Galleries. Josephina comes across an unexpected windfall in the form of hundreds of eerie paintings left behind by a resident in her apartment building whom she finds dead in the stairwell one night. The old man is Vetril Dease, and Josephina rescues (steals) his paintings from his apartment before the authorities can come and destroy them--which was the instruction Dease left in his will.



Both Morf and Rhodora are enraptured by Dease's artwork. Other art world folks, such as Jon Dondon, (Tom Sturridge), a rival gallery owner, and Gretchen (Toni Collette), an art curator, get wind of the Dease paintings and try to get in on what appears to be a winning lottery number in the art world.

But when strange occurrences start piling up (I'll leave it pretty vague), Morf begins to research Dease and his discoveries are shocking. Morf begins to lose his mind as he is drawn deeper into the horrific backstory and strange power Dease's art seems to have over others. Recommended for horror lovers, especially those of indie horror movies.

Grade: A-

***
The Green Inferno

*Loud sigh* Oh, The Green Inferno. More proof that Eli Roth can't direct for shit. I remember being really disappointed in Roth's Cabin Fever. Well, The Green Inferno is no better than Cabin Fever and arguably much worse. Inspired by the controversial cannibal films of the 1970s and 80s, such as Cannibal Holocaust, you can only imagine how the lives of indigenous people are handled in Roth's sophomoric and extremely white hands. I'll say it right off the bat: this movie is racist as fuck. It also, very interestingly, happens to be about white saviorism. So it manages to both condemn white saviors while also banking on the most extreme and unflattering stereotypes about non-white people.

The plot: a bunch of "woke" college students, including protagonist Justine (Lorena Izzo), decide to travel to the Amazon to protest the bulldozing of a chunk of land inhabited by the Yajes tribe, which has pretty much been untouched by outside civilization indefinitely. They do this in the stupidest, whitest manner possible by following the lead of hot guy Alejandro (Ariel Levy) who essentially puts a bunch of lives in danger to make a name for himself. Once they do the protest, they get in a tiny plane out of the Amazon, it crashes, and the survivors are captured by the Yajes. This is where the fun (and racism) truly begin.



Surprise, surprise, the tribe is a bunch of violent cannibals. They also practice female genital mutilation, which Justine conveniently had a class about earlier in the film, making FGM the most inappropriate "Chekov's gun" ever. The first thing the Yajes do is is slowly dismember Jonah (Aaron Burns), the "fat guy" of the group, and roast the poor sumbitch and eat him.

I'll give The Green Inferno this: it certainly is effective at "horror". The grisly and creative violence makes one feel a sense of horror, as does the communication gap between prisoners and captors. But otherwise, the film is just a mess. The acting is terrible, the dialogue is inane, the racism is so blatant that one wonders if Roth was making a point (and then one remembers that this is just a shitty Eli Roth torture porn movie and the guy ain't a critical race theorist). The Green Inferno is just gross and has no payoff. While I could see someone making an argument that Roth uses gross stereotypes to actually mock and jeer at white people, he does so with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. There are better horror movies and better racial satire films--seek those out instead.

Grade: C-

***
Joker

Todd Phillips' Joker is A Lot. Joker is basically the movie version of a very intelligent 15 year old boy who reads philosophy but hasn't had any actual life experiences or hardships. On the one hand, you're kind of impressed, but on the other you just can't help but roll your eyes.

There was no way to go into Joker without a pre-formed opinion based on the number of think pieces on this film. I will say that Joker wasn't quite the celebration of toxic white masculinity I thought it was going to be. It's a condemnation of rich, white men who keep "everyone" (in this case, a poor, mentally ill, white man) down. So, in a way, Joker's heart is in the right place. It's "politics" are correct. The movie says: rich people fuck over society and that leads to desperate people engaging in violence. Correct. But like The Green Inferno above, Phillips decides to hit you over the head with a hammer with this message instead of trying to say anything interesting that we didn't already know. This is a film that tells you rather than shows you. Despite its grittiness, Joker is *very much* a superhero/villain story in that its morals and worldview are simple and obvious.



Joaquin Phoenix is undeniably great in this film. He is the only reason to see this movie. Any fan of Phoenix knows that he plays men at the extremes of life very well, and his character, Arthur Fleck, is at the very edge. Arthur is extremely mentally ill, has no support system, little money, and a childhood filled with violence and rejection.  We are meant to empathize with Arthur and even root for him. He is a man "abandoned by society" who finally snaps.

Joker reminded me of a more nuanced and more high quality version of the 2004 movie Crash. This issue with Crash is that in its quest to explore complex race relations, it ended up having the depth of a required training module you might complete at work. It proposed the radical idea that sometimes good people do bad things and sometimes bad people do good things, while erasing any historical and cultural context that might serve to explain what racism is, why it exists, why it can only go one way (at least at a systemic level), and why it's so damn hard to overcome societally. Joker is the same, but with masculinity and class. But if you're looking for nuance, perhaps a super villain movie isn't the place to look.

I recommend Joker if you can see it for free/on streaming.

Grade: B-

***
But I'm a Cheerleader

I've seen But I'm a Cheerleader multiple times but have never reviewed it. I rewatched it the other day and it is a masterpiece. Directed by Jamie Babbit and clearly inspired by John Waters (it even stars John Waters' regular Mink Stole), BIAC is a queer cultural hallmark.

Natasha Lyonne plays Megan, a cheerleader who harbors a secret that she doesn't hide very well. Her parents and friends suspect she's gay since she has pictures of women in her locker and is vegetarian. She is packed off and sent to "True Directions", a gay conversion camp lead by Mary (Cathy Moriarty) and Mike (RuPaul, out of drag).


The girls and boys of True Directions are forced into comically stereotypical "straight" situations with the girls vacuuming and the boys trying to learn to fix a car. But secretly, as horny teens often do, they are hooking up behind the counselor's backs.

But I'm a Cheerleader is the rare film that fully embraces its campiness but also has a serious and heartfelt message. Megan gets very close to Graham (Clea Duvall) and both of them have so much to lose by being together, which makes their romance all the sweeter.

If you haven't seen But I'm a Cheerleader, this is not one to miss. Panned when it first came out, the film is now a rare cult classic that is also just a darn good movie. And I'm being straight with you there.

Grade: A

***