The Lunatic Ship (Olga Forsh)

The Lunatic Ship is a novel by Olga Forsh. I read the German translation (Russisches Narrenschiff) by Christiane Pöhlmann.
Finished on: 30.1.2020

There is a house in Saint Petersburg in the 1920s that is home to the big artists of the time. As one can imagine, things are not necessarily very ordered there – with the colorful and idiosyncratic inhabitants as much as with the new Soviet regime, there’s a lot going on – and the House of Art is caught up in the waves of all that dynamic.

Forsh’s novel has all but disappeared – in Russian as well as in other languages. The German translation only came out this year – and what a good thing that is. I was really impressed with the novel as well as with the translation. It’s beautifully written, evocative, surreal and has a sharp eye for the absurdities of (early) Soviet Russia.

The book cover showing a collage of house parts and author portraits.
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The Boss (ed. by Temptation Press)

The Boss is a short story collection edited by Temptation Press (I couldn’t find a person named as editor).
Finished on: 27.1.2020
[I won this book in a librarything Early Reviewer give-away.]

The seven stories in this short collection are all concerned with bosses in some way and with sex. Other than that, they very widely in tone and pairings – there are even queer stories. What they do have in common, though, is that they all would have needed more editing. I guess there is a reason that no editor is named here. For me, the collection was mostly okay, but it could have been much better.

[Read more about each of the stories after the jump.]

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Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo Rabbit
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Taika Waititi
Based on: Christine Leunens‘s book Caging Skies
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates
Seen on: 26.1.2020

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has two best friends in the world: Yorki (Archie Yates) and Adolf (Taika Waititi) – as in Hitler. Of course, Jojo knows that Adolf is imaginary, but that doesn’t make him any less real to him and Adolf’s encouragement as Jojo joins the Hitler Youth is invaluable to him. But Jojo’s life takes a sharp turn after an accident that leaves him unable to be part of the Hitler Youth and he discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

I went into Jojo Rabbit with very high expectations. So far, I very much enjoyed Waititi’s films, reviews of the films have been very positive and the trailer looked great. And maybe my expectations were too high, but I left the film with a sinking feeling of disappointment.

The film poster showing the film's main characters.
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1917 (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Richard McCabe, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
Seen on: 26.1.2020

Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are called on by their superior officer General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to go on a special mission: they learned about a trap set for another battalion and if they aren’t warned, it will mean the death of 1,600 men. As Blake’s brother would be one of them, it falls to Blake and with him Schofield to deliver the message about the trap. The only problem is that they have to do it on foot and moving through enemy territory and if they don’t get there by morning, it will be too late.

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see 1917 at all, as my interest in war movies is limited. But I went to see it anyway (because Mendes, Deakins, that cast) and it’s definitely a film that hits home, despite some of my reservations about the general set-up.

The film poster showing two soldiers running into the sunset.
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Hair Love (2019)

Hair Love
Director: Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr., Bruce W. Smith
Writer: Matthew A. Cherry
Cast: Issa Rae
Seen on: 23.1.2020
[You can watch it here!]

A little girl tries to get her hair ready for school with the help of a video tutorial. But this isn’t as easy as it looks. When her father sees her attempts, he tries to help – but it’s not like he has much more capabilities in that regard either.

Hair Love is a supercute, touching short film that shows black fatherhood in a very different way from what we usually get to see in media: as a caring, gender-boundary breaking love. It has a nice sense of humor, too, and manages to get very emotional in such a short runtime. The only thing that I would have loved is if they hadn’t gotten rid of the mom so permanently to tell this story. But that’s really just nitpicking and I’d give the film all the stars, if I gave stars at all.

The film poster showing the drawing of a father standing behind his daughter looking nonplussed at her hair, a giant afro.

7500 (2019)

Director: Patrick Vollrath
Writer: Patrick Vollrath
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Max Schimmelpfennig, Murathan Muslu
Seen on: 22.1.2020

Content Note: (anti-muslim) racism

Tobias (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the co-pilot for a flight from Berlin. Everything is going fine with the preparations, but as soon as the machine is up in the air, all hell breaks loose. A few men try to take over the plane. There are strict protocols for a situation like this, but as Tobias quickly learns when you’re actually faced with having to apply those protocols, things are far from clear-cut.

7500 is a tight thriller with an excellent performance by Gordon-Levitt that taps into an often-conjured scenario in a realistic way. I am a little hesitant if it really manages to work against the anti-muslim sentiments that come with that scenario, but at least it tries very much to do so.

The film poster showing the co-pilot Tobias (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the cockpit.
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What Love Looks Like (2020)

What Love Looks Like
Director: Alex Magaña
Writer: Alex Magaña
Cast: Margo Graff, Josh Gilmer, Tevy Poe, Connor Wilkins, Kate Durocher, Nathan Kohnen, Taylor Alexa Frank, Trevor Sean, Ashley Rose McKenna, Jamie Shelnitz, Jack Menzies, Kyle Meck, Ana Ming Bostwick-Singer, Gabriella Wisdom, Kylee Wofford, Ian Nemser
Seen on: 1.2.2020
[Screener review.]

Dating is hard and there are many different ways in which it can be hard. Summer (Jamie Shelnitz) and Calvin (Connor Wilkins) are trying their hands at online dating. Sam (Nathan Kohnen) has difficulties getting over Willow (Gabriella Wisdom) who left a big hole in his life. Nicole (Kate Durocher) would just like her boyfriend Owen’s (Josh Gilmer) attention for once. Theodore (Jack Menzies) thinks that Bailey (Ana Ming Bostwick-Singer) is the most beautiful girl ever, but that doesn’t mean he can just go and talk to her. And when Finn (Kyle Meck) finally gets up his courage to talk to Penelope (Taylor Alexa Frank), it’s only to discover that she is returning to London soon. Will all of them figure out ways to deal?

What Love Looks Like is a sweet film. Given its episodic nature, at least one of the stories is bound to resonate with you, most likely scratching any romantic itch you might have. I enjoyed it, though I didn’t completely love it.

The film poster showing five romantic constellations.
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Judy (2019)

Director: Rupert Goold
Writer: Tom Edge
Based on: Peter Quilter‘s play End of the Rainbow
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Darci Shaw, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Richard Cordery, Royce Pierreson, Andy Nyman, Daniel Cerqueira, Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd
Seen on: 22.1.2020

To say Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) has seen better days is putting it pretty mildly: the glory days of the former child star (Darci Shaw) are over. Now she’s fighting her ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) for the custody of their children (Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd). But since she has no money, no home and practically no work, she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Begrudgingly, she therefore accepts an invitation to do a show in London, even if it means separation from the kids for now – and probably more pressure than she can actually handle.

Judy is, I’d say, okay as a film but elevated above and beyond its overall quality by Zellweger’s amazing performance and the fascination Judy Garland herself can inspire without actually being present herself in the film.

The film poster showing Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger)
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Heart of a Dog (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Heart of a Dog is a novella by Mikhail Bulgakov. I read the English translation by Avril Pyman.
Finished on: 16.1.2020

Professor Preobrazhensky finds a hurt dog on the streets of Moscow and takes it home. The dog quickly gets used to the good life he has as Sharik with the Professor, but the Professor and his assistant Doctor Bormenthal are actually working on a project – and for that project, they need the dog. When the circumstances are just right, the dog will be the subject of their experiment.

Heart of a Dog is a bit like a Russian take on Frankenstein, with a healthy dose of satire and criticism of the Soviet political system/Stalinism. I enjoyed it a lot.

The book cover showing a dog in a suit.


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The Grudge (2020)

The Grudge
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Writer: Nicolas Pesce
Sequel to/Reboot of: The Grudge (2004)
Remake of: Ju-on (2002)
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver, Frankie Faison, William Sadler, Tara Westwood, David Lawrence Brown, Zoe Fish, Betty Gilpin, John J. Hansen
Seen on: 16.1.2020

Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) just moved to the area with her son Burke (John J. Hansen). They are slowly getting settled, when Muldoon and her partner Goodman (Demián Bichir) are called to the site of a car accident that has remained undiscovered for a while. Their investigation leads them to a particular house that Goodman has come across in previous investigations and refuses to enter. Muldoon’s interest is piqued when she learns of the house’s history and Goodman’s refusal. She actually goes there and brings the curse that lies on it back out – like many families before her.

The Grudge is a mess of a film – and a boring one at that. Compared to Pesce’s last film Piercing and the Grudge films that came before (as I remember them at least), this one is, unfortunately, a disappointment.

The film poster showing a hand coming out of the back of Peter's (John Cho) head as he takes a shower.
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