#52FilmsbyWomen

REVIEW: Cherry (2022)

After discovering she’s almost 11 weeks pregnant, Cherry (Alexandria Threwhitt) has a big decision to make in just 24 hours, whether or not to keep this unplanned pregnancy.

Films about women’s access (or lack thereof) to essential healthcare like abortions and the morning after pill are becoming more common nowadays as women’s right to choose is still being debated – and in some places being outright denied. Personally, I’m a fan of this timely sub-genre, whether it’s a dramatic period piece or a teen road trip comedy as no matter what the central characters decide it’s a huge decision and the circumstances of their pregnancy can be so different.

Cherry is in her early twenties and has had a load of dead-end jobs, is still mostly living with her mother and has no real direction in her life. Her life is a bit of a mess and while some of this is down to her, it’s also obvious that everyone has their own things they’re going through and when people are absent it’s sometimes not because of maliciousness. Alexandria Threwhitt gives a great and compelling performance as Cherry. She bounces between her family, her friends who she sort of ditched and her not so serious boyfriend/the would-be baby’s father a she tries to figure out if motherhood right now is for her while finding it increasingly difficult to talk to the people in her life about what’s going on with her.

As Cherry tries to decide what to do, she talks to her parents about parenthood in a roundabout way, trying to get their advice and guidance without telling them why she’s suddenly so interested in about the circumstances of her own conception and birth. The scenes with her dad (Charlie S. Jensen) are especially good as it’s clear they both have different ideas of what it is to be a parent and support their family. Her father said he was a good father because he worked all the time so they could be secure but to Cherry that meant he was never around and their awkward relationship is testament to that.

I want to mention the doctor Cherry sees, played by Sandy Duarte, quickly. Perhaps it’s because some of the films I’ve watched recently that deal with this topic have had doctors that have been judgmental or unhelpful, but it was so refreshing to see this doctor – who herself was clearly very pregnant, be kind and non-judgemental towards Cherry. She gave her all the information she needed, talked her through all her options and refused to judge her no matter what decision she made but was still firm that Cherry needed to decide one way or another as there was no ignoring what was happening to her body.

Cherry is one of those wonderfully short (its runtime is less than 75 minutes) but poignant and funny indie dramas. It has a great soundtrack and the sunny streets of LA and Cherry’s shiny red roller-skates help give this film almost a sense of whimsy even though Cherry has big choices ahead of her. 4/5.

REVIEW: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

High school cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) starts killing and eating her male classmates after she’s possessed by a hungry demon and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is the only one that can see something’s not right.

Jennifer’s Body is one of those films that seem to have gained cult status over the years and while it wasn’t particularly well received upon release, it’s now often used in feminist analysis and is deemed ahead of its time. For a film nearly 15 years old it hasn’t aged too badly and only has the odd inappropriate gay joke and the use of the word “retard” semi-frequently isn’t great.

Considering Needy and Jennifer’s friendship is at the core of this film, it never really feels truly fleshed out and believable. There’s the usual trope of the popular, pretty cheerleader having a best friend who is just pretty average and while there’s flashbacks to the two of them as little kids to try and show how and why they’ve been friends for so long it doesn’t feel like enough. You don’t get to see them as friends when they’re teens before everything goes weird for them both. Plus, the moments you do see, Jennifer is pushy and kind of mean towards Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), not making it that easy to like her or her friendship with Needy.

There are a few stylistic moments in Jennifer’s Body and one that really sticks out is when Needy is running through the woods in her prom dress to stop Jennifer. The imagery is perfectly gothic and is something that feels familiar in how often it’s used in horror films but it still works really well in the moment.

I have to say the music in Jennifer’s Body is great. As the film progresses the music and choice of bands and songs – both real and fictional – add to the tone of the film and makes it feel of its time in a good way.

I think Jennifer’s Body is never quite as funny or as scary as it tries to be so it’s not a truly excellent horror-comedy. Needy is a pretty good hero and the bookends of the film surprised me, giving me the answer to “what happens after the horror madness stops” that I often wonder about when I do watch a horror movie. I liked that aspect a lot. Overall, I’m pleased I’ve finally watched Jennifer’s Body and I can see why it’s so loved by certain audiences but there wasn’t enough in it to make it a personal favourite. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Middle Ages (2022)

Life under lockdown for a well-to-do yet dysfunctional Argentinian family leads to the parents struggling to maintain their creativity while their eight-year-old daughter Cleo (Cleo Moguillansky) plans to sell household items in order to buy herself a telescope.

Pandemic-set films can be hit or miss and while covid is certainly still a thing, there’s at least some distance now from when the outbreak began and all the fear, confusion, and uncertainty was almost all consuming. The fact that The Middle Ages semi-autobiographical makes the depictions of lockdowns and a family in close confinement a bit more relatable and less

The Middle Ages is written and directed by Alejo Moguillansky and Luciana Acuña who play versions of themselves, as does their daughter Cleo. It’s an interesting premise and as Alejo attempts to direct a Samuel Beckett play over Zoom and Luciana tries to teach online dance classes one has to wonder if this was what lockdown was really like for this family. The chaos of multiple family members being on Zoom calls, either trying to work or in Cleo’s case trying to get through her school lessons is relatable and it is a realistic dynamic as these three people begin to feel suffocated by each other’s presence.

Personally, I preferred the first half of The Middle Ages as it was a humorous take on life in lockdown as family members got annoyed with one another, or they struggled to earn money or keep their sanity as their usual jobs could no longer be done due to everything shutting down. The little moments of humanity and relatability were often the funniest.

When things got a bit surreal in the second half of the film, that’s when it lost me a bit. For instance, there’s a sequence of Clara shooting her mother with a toy gun and her mother than getting blood stains on her shirt as she dramatically flails around the house, is this in either of their imaginations? Are they play acting? What is going on?

The Middle Ages has an interesting concept and a strong start but as things take on an almost dreamlike quality in their home, the characters become less interesting and the film loses what relatable charm it had. 2/5.

REVIEW: Call Jane (2022)

Chicago, 1968. Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a housewife, is expecting her second child but when she learns that continuing her pregnancy could kill her in a time when abortions are illegal in America, she finds help in an unlikely place and goes on to work with the group of suburban women who helped her.

Call Jane does a great job at tackling a tough topic with both sensitivity and humour though never makes light of the dangers these women are in. Both the group known as Jane themselves as they organise illegal abortions, and the women who are having the abortions could face jail, and then potentially lose their jobs or families because of their actions.

The humour and candour in Call Jane works because the situation of women having to illegally procure abortions aka basic healthcare, is the kind of situation where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Listening to male doctors talk about Joy as if she’s not in the room and not of value because the unborn child is seen as more important is laughable and frustrating.

Personally, I tend to think of Elizabeth Banks as a comedic actor so to see her as a lead in a more dramatic role was really different and she did a great job and is the heart of this story. Joy is an interesting character as she has her own biases that she’s never really considered before as she does have a more privileged background compared to some of the other women who come looking for abortions. It’s great to see how her attitude changes over time and how she almost gets a new lease of life as she does something meaningful and becomes more than a housewife and a mother – not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things.

Sigourney Weaver and Wunmi Mosaku play two of the prominent women in this underground abortion group that Joy meets. Weaver is especially brilliant and has pretty much all of the best lines and while the socio-economic factors of who has to get illegal abortions is mostly glossed over, Mosaku’s Gwen is an important Black voice in a group of well-meaning but white women.

The ending of Call Jane is quite abrupt and almost rushed which is a shame as the rest of the film was pretty well-paced and has an engaging script that does well to avoid some fo the clichés. It’s as if they didn’t quite know how to wrap things up or end this story without having a time jump. That being said, overall Call Jane is an enjoyable and unfortunately a timely film. If women could do this in the 1960s, what can they do today in order to have the freedom to chose what should happen to their bodies? 4/5.

As a sidenote, I highly recommend the documentary The Janes which goes more into depth about this group of women and the near misses they had with both the cops and the mob.

REVIEW: Hidden Letters (2022)

Documentary about how in modern day China, two women strive to preserve Nushu, an ancient secret language which bonded generations of Chinese women together through centuries of oppression in a clandestine support system of sisterhood and survival.

Hidden Letters paints a somewhat bittersweet picture of how the Nushu language is trying to be preserved and how the women preserving it are doing their best to keep their independence in a modern world. Hidden Letters covers culture, history, language, and how women fit into all of that.

Needless to say, I’d never heard of Nushu before and Hidden Letters was an interesting and informative documentary. There’s not a lot about how Nushu was invented as a language as it was something that was only came to light in the 1980s and often women had their writings buried with them when they died. It’s a secret language where they could talk about the hopes and fears when they were often kept locked in their chambers with their feet bound. It speaks of women’s strength when they refuse to be silent even when awful things are happening to them.

One of the young women the documentary follows is Hu Xin, a young divorcee, but even though her husband abused her, she feels like a failure as she’s neither a wife nor a mother and she feels like the whole point of being a woman is being a mother. It’s kind of sad that she feels this way but her friendship with He Yanxin, an older woman and an expert in Nushu, is lovely and continues the tradition of sisterhood that is such a big component of the language.

Simu Wu is the other young woman Hidden Letters follows and she faces similar difficulties when trying to find love. She sees the value in learning Nushu and the artwork she creates where the language is the focus and it’s a hobby she enjoys. Her fiancé on the other hand, sees it as frivolous and wants her to instead get a second job as getting enough money for them to buy a house and have a child is the only thing that matters to him. Her surprisingly progressive parents though are pretty awesome though.

It’s equal parts frustrating and farcical seeing how men just don’t understand the importance of Nushu and how it’s a uniquely feminine thing. At one point a group of two men and two women discuss on how to make Nushu more mainstream and one of the men says that Nushu has value but the main this is “how to exploit that value so it can be better marketed”. When one of the women pushes back on that idea and she’s quickly shut down. Sure, it’s a huge generalisation but women see the beauty and the cultural significance of the language as while things are certainly better compared to their ancestors, they can still relate to the horrible things the women experienced. Meanwhile, the men just want to find a way to commercialise Nushu and make money from it – exploiting women’s secret language like women have been exploited for generations.

Hidden Letters is a thoughtful and interesting documentary. Its observations are poignant as it shows how important and impressive Nushu is and that women and their voices still struggle to be heard today. 4/5.

REVIEW: Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Twenty-nine years after the Black Flame Candle was last lit, two friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern day Salem and they must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.

I am definitely of the generation that grew up watching Hocus Pocus pretty much every Halloween and I still rewatch it each year, so I was definitely equal parts excited and apprehensive about a sequel to a childhood favourite. Thankfully, I really enjoyed Hocus Pocus 2. It has the charm of the original without overly relying on nostalgia and the same jokes or plot points as the first film.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all look like they’re having a blast as Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson. Honestly most of the fun and joy of this film is seeing these three comedic actresses back in these iconic roles and just going for it full throttle. There are a couple of new songs and seeing how the Sanderson Sisters can still be duped by modern technology but they aren’t so naïve as when they first arrived in the 1990s because they do remember the things they saw and learnt then was a nice touch.

Have to give a shoutout to the three young actresses who play younger versions of the Sanderson Sisters at the beginning of the film. Taylor Henderson, Juju Journey Brener, and Nina Kitchen are all brilliant. They each embody the various little quirks each sister has so well that it’s easy to imagine these girls grow up to be the witches we know so well.

The new young heroes are pretty great too. The friendship between Becca, Izzy, and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) is believable and as they’ve grown up in Salem on stories of the Sanderson Sisters, they quickly jump into action rather than have any doubts or disbelief.

Sure, I might be blinded by nostalgia for the original when watching Hocus Pocus 2 but I really did have a good time with it. It’s a fun children’s film and the kind of kids film that adults can enjoy and don’t find any of the jokes or references that annoying. It’s a fun film and a worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Craft: Legacy (2020)

When Lily (Cailee Spaeny) moves into a new town with her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan), she surprises them both by quickly making friends. They are outsiders Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna), and Tabby (Lovie Simone) who invite Lily to join their coven and together the four of them explore their powers and witchcraft.

I watched and reviewed the original The Craft last time I did blogtober so thought this was the perfect time to get around to watching the (very loose) sequel. It is definitely the kind of sequel where you don’t have to have seen the original to understand it.

While they’re not the focus of the film, I did really like Lily and her mum’s relationship. They were a very believable mother/daughter duo and I liked how Helen stuck up for Lily against her new partner Adam (David Duchovny) and his stricter parenting style. The young cast have great chemistry and every scene the four girls are together is good fun. Lily is definitely the protagonist of the film and it is a shame that the other three girls only get the most superficial of character descriptions and each fit a kind of archetype to make them recognisable. Perhaps unfortunately one of the most compelling characters is Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), a boy in their class who goes from stupid jock to a sensitive guy when magic gets involved. For a film that’s big on feminist messages, to mixed results, it’s simultaneously interesting and regrettable that a male character and their arc almost has the most to say.

The Craft: Legacy does have some things to say about feminism and toxic masculinity which I wasn’t expecting. It sure is heavy-handed at times but it’s still an interesting inclusion. In the latter half of the film especially there’s stuff like when teen girls embrace witchcraft aka their power and agency, men want to control or take away that power as they feel women shouldn’t have it and shouldn’t be more powerful than men.

The Craft: Legacy is a 90-minute film which is so often a great thing as it’s always nice to watch a film in less than two hours, but in this instance, I think The Craft: Legacy could’ve used at least 10 minutes more. The final act/big reveal seems very rushed and I’d have liked to have learnt more about the potential repercussions for the girls’ actions.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Craft: Legacy. It’s probably not technically the greatest film, but it’s fun and seeing the power of female friendship on screen is always a good time. 3/5.

REVIEW: Sea Fever (2019)

Marine biology student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) joins a trawler crew to conduct research as part of her studies but things soon go awry as she and the crew, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply.

Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman Sea Fever is one of those more subtle, quietly haunting horror films. It has a great script and cast but one thing I think it really has going in its favour is it doesn’t try and overly explain the creature. You just see glimpses and Siobhán has theories based on science but nothing is ever proven. Sometimes with “creature features” having to have answers for everything leads to plot holes and an unsatisfying threat. Sea Fever embraces the mystery and having the creature, the parasites and how it functions being an unknown quantity means that there’s always a danger to every decision the characters make.

Though there’s hints of more of a gruesome outcome for the crew, the third act focuses in on the horrors of panicking people rather than the horrors of some unknown creature. Siobhán is a scientist first and foremost and believes everyone should quarantine and not get ashore as soon as possible for fear of infecting others, while the rest of the crew just want to get home and be safe, even if they don’t know whether or not they’ve already been infected. Personally, I thought that worked really well as sometimes a group of people are their own worst enemy. Seeing how these characters react in close confinement and when and how they turn on each other was riveting.

Sea Fever is super atmospheric little Irish indie film and one that I’m really glad I watched. The sound design is great too as is the score by Christoffer Franzén. It suits the tone of the film perfectly and never oversells a moment. 4/5.

REVIEW: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a typical popular cheerleader, oblivious to the strange things happening in her town. That is until a strange man called Merrick (Donald Sutherland) enters her life and tells her she’s the chosen one and is destined to battle vampires.

Confession time, I have never watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think I was too young for it when it starting showing in the UK and the few bits I do remember catching on TV scared me as I have always been a wuss. Side note, I remember catching bits of Roswell around the same time and that also freaked me out. Anyway. Though I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer the show, I do know some of the basics thanks to pop culture osmosis, mainly character names, but I’m definitely aware of the show and the phenomenon it was.

So though I’ve never watched the show it was still a bit weird watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie as I’m so used to Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular character and a bunch of other faces/names that don’t appear in this film. There’s still a lot of familiar faces in this film though like Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Thomas Jane and even Ben Affleck is a high school basketball player which was very jarring.

I feel like for a film that has a runtime of less than 90 minutes, the pacing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is somehow simultaneously too fast and too slow. Relationships that you’re clearly supposed to care about like Buffy and Merrick aren’t given enough time to really feel anything for, and the constant back and forth Buffy goes through of being a vampire hunter and wanting to be a normal teenage girl is, while understandable not that interesting after a while. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is written but Joss Whedon, who would go on to create the show, and there’s hints of the kind of humour he’s known for sprinkled throughout the film but the script is never funny enough, tight enough, or dramatic enough to make its big ideas work.

To be honest, it’s as if Whedon didn’t know what he wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be. Sometimes it’s a campy comedy, sometimes it tries to be horror movie, and then it’s also a coming-of-age story and a teen girl trying to find her own path – is it her “destiny” and everything Merrick says, or is it what her friends think she should be interested in? It veers wildly between each tone and none of them work together or separately.

Kristy Swanson is pretty good as Buffy; she’s got the physicality and a charm to her that eventually starts to shine through. Though I wish she and her friends weren’t the typical mean girls. Sure, Buffy goes through a character arc but it is hard to really root for her to begin with when she is so materialistic and is very much a dumb popular blonde stereotype.

Honestly, I think my favourite thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Pike (Luke Perry). It’s always fun having a guy as the damsel in distress type role and Pike was great at being a supportive friend to Buffy and just generally rolling with all the weirdness he encounters. He’s not useless but it’s also clear that Buffy is more skilled than him when it comes to fighting the undead which was good.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a great film but I think it’s an interesting jumping off point for what became a hugely successful TV show. 2/5.

REVIEW: Language Lessons (2021)

After his husband gifts him 100 Spanish lessons, Adam (Mark Duplass) and his teacher Cariño (Natalie Morales) form an unexpected friendship.

Gosh I love this film. I watched and loved half of it online at London Film Festival last year but missed the latter half due to a power cut so it’s been a long time coming for me to finally see the complete film and see if it was as good as I remembered. I’m very happy to find that it is indeed as sweet, funny, and touching as a remembered and seeing how Adam and Cariño’s relationship panned out was a joy.

During the pandemic there’s been a fair few “lockdown movies” whether that’s films where a group of people are stuck in the same place together for an extended period of time or it’s a story told via Zoom calls. Language Lessons fits into the second version but at the same time, it’s a story that never mentions the pandemic and it could’ve happened anytime as Adam lives in America while Cariño is in Costa Rica and they find connection via the Spanish lessons.

Language Lessons is shot entirely as if the characters are either on a Zoom call or are sending each other video messages and it’s a gimmick that really works. There are moments where the video quality isn’t great or it jumps a bit and that along with the script, co-written by the two stars, makes everything feel so natural. Considering you only see Adam and Cariño during these calls or messages, like the characters you’re left filling in the gaps of their lives and making assumptions based on the limited information given to you. With that, there’s a lot of surprises but none of them feel cheap or farfetched and instead you see different sides to the characters. Cariño especially is interesting as she struggles to keep the student/teacher boundary and when she does start to put that barrier back up, Adam starts to see through it.

Language Lessons is a film about platonic love and there are so few films that put the importance of friendship on an almost pedestal like this. Sure, there’s the teen films where there’s ride or die best friends but films about adults, and adults of different genders especially, and how their friendship works and matters to them aren’t that common.

At a swift 90 minutes, Language Lessons is a film that covers just about every facet of human emotion. It’s an incredibly poignant film and it’s the kind of film that mad me laugh and made me cry. It really is just a perfect gem of a movie. It’s both heart-breaking and heart-warming and both actors do a fantastic job at portraying this unconventional friendship. It’s one of those films I’ll be recommending to everyone and though it was sad at times, it also felt like a comforting hug because throughout it all both Adam and Cariño are both so incredibly kind and it’s the kind of story that gives you faith in human connection. 5/5.

Side note: With all the discussions about how no media is safe when it’s just available online and that physical media is the only way to make sure you have your favourite films, I wish I could get a physical copy of Language Lessons here in the UK. At the moment I’ll have to do with a digital copy as there doesn’t appear to be DVD/Blu-Ray available here and this is a film I will be revisiting.