Mutterschoß (Elea Brandt)

Mutterschoß (literally: Mother’s Lap) is a novel by Elea Brandt, set in Ghor-el-Chras. It was not (yet) translated into English.
Finished on: 10.6.2021
[I received a copy of this book to review, or, as they say in German, this post is Unbezahlte Werbung.]

Content Note (for this review): ableism, abortion, slavery
[there is a complete list included in the book itself and available at the author’s homepage]

Plot:
Ajeri is a midwife. Since she also performs abortion and is a former slave, her standing is difficult, but she likes her work. One of her clients, Midena, is just about to give birth – hoping it will be finally the heir her husband Bailak, head of the slaver’s guild, has been waiting for. But Midena has been plagued by nightmares recently, and when her labor comes early, everything goes wrong very quickly. Ajeri calls for a doctor to help. To her dismay, it’s Shiran who shows up – arrogant doctor’s apprentice and an old acquaintance of Ajeri. They start fightnig for Midena’s life, but it’s too late for her. The child is alive, but it is not right. Ajeri finds herself on the run, blamed for what happened, while Shiran is tasked by Bailak to figure everything out or risk losing everything himself. Ajeri and Shiran both realize soon that there is a dark force after the pregnant women of the city.

Mutterschoß is a good read with an openly feminist message, which I always appreciate. But I struggled a little with how the book deals with ableism, so I couldn’t love it unreservedly.

(c) Chaos Pony Verlag
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Love Bite (Azure)

Love Bite is a short story by Azure (available here).
Finished on: 10.6.2021

Plot:
Mercy and Brooke have been dating for a while, but recently Brooke has been going through some changes, turning into a vampire due to a genetic condition. Alienated from her own body and unwilling to drink blood, she has been a cause of worry for Mercy. But Mercy has a plan to get her girlfriend back in touch with herself and her needs. All she needs is a bit of creativity and kink.

Love Bite is a kinky short story with a nice sense of humor and really lovely characters. I was a little disappointed that it’s only a short story – I wouldn’t have minded to spend more time with Mercy and Brooke (kinky or otherwise). The two are just a lovely couple and so vividly brought to life in just those few pages. I loved that Mercy is trans and that her body is described so lovingly. I also really enjoyed this take on vampirism and the artful connections that are made between the lore and BDSM. In short, this story is a whole lot of fun. I can only recommend it.

The book cover showing a woman dressed in a blue nightshirt and panties, holding a black tie into which roses are worked. There are bite marks on her inner thigh.

Leading Ladies (2021)

Leading Ladies
Director: Ruth Caudeli
Cast: Diana Wiswell, Silvia Varón, Ana María Cuellar, Marcela Robledo, Ana María Otálora
Part of: Transition Film Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2021

Plot:
Five friends are coming together for dinner – Ana (Ana María Otálora) and Diana (Diana Wiswell) are hosting Silvia (Silvia Varón), Ana María (Ana María Cuellar) and Marce (Marcela Robledo). It’s the first time they are coming together in a while – after Marce abruptly left for two months to travel Europe. But as the evening gets underway, tensions and secrets start to appear.

Leading Ladies is a largely improvised film that starts off interesting enough, but then becomes ever more confusing and falls apart bit by bit.

The film poster showing the faces of the five women next to each other, but separated by stripes in yellow and green.
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Sheer Qorma (2020)

Sheer Qorma
Director: Faraz Ansari
Writer: Faraz Ansari
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Swara Bhaskar, Divya Dutta, Jitin Gulati, Priya Malik, Kalyanee Mulay
Part of: Transition Film Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) queermisia

Plot:
After more than a decade of living abroad, Saira (Divya Dutta) has returned to India to finally introduce their wife Sitara (Swara Bhaskar) to their mother (Shabana Azmi). The separation of Saira and their mother was long because she didn’t handle their queerness very well. But after their brother Shahnawaz’ (Jitin Gulati) intervention, Saira is hoping that this time, things will be different. But things don’t go particularly well at the Eid dinner.

Sheer Qorma is a beautiful film that puts the finger where it hurts, showing just how painful it is to not be accepted as the person you are, especially within your own family. But then the film also gives us the release of experiencing the family coming together, soothing and healing. It’s perfectly set in scene with lots of clever touches – like the very beginning of the film or the (translated! I don’t think I ever saw subtitles for it before) call of the muezzin – and a spot-on cast. I shed a tear or five. What a wonderful way to start the Transition Film Festival.

The film poster showing Saira (Divya Dutta) and Ammi (Shabana Azmi) hugging.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls
Director: Herk Harvey
Writer: John Clifford, Herk Harvey
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt, Herk Harvey
Seen on: 6.6.2021

Plot:
After a terrible car accident that leaves Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) the only survivor, she is ready to leave town. Fortunately she has a job offer as an organ player in Utah. As she makes her way there, she sees a long abandoned building that used to house a carnival. And a man (Herk Harvey) seems to follow her around. Mary tries to settle in, but she becomes increasingly disconcerted, sure that the man has something to do with the carnival.

Carnival of Souls is an atmospheric film that needs very little to become pretty creepy. Definitely worth visiting cinematic history with this one.

The film poster showing a drawing of a woman running from something. Behind her we can see a carnival building with dancers in front of it. Below her is the woman in a car that is half-submerged in water, as well as the head of a man.
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Birthmarked (2018)

Birthmarked
Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Writer: Marc Tulin, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Cast: Matthew Goode, Toni Collette, Andreas Apergis, Jordan Poole, Megan O’Kelly, Anton Gillis-Adelman, Michael Smiley, Fionnula Flanagan, Suzanne Clément
Seen on: 5.6.2021

Plot:
Catherine (Toni Collette) and Ben (Matthew Goode) are scientists. It seems to them that their careers were pretty much fated, which gave them an interest in studying where the line between nature and nurture might lie. To that end, they are planning an experiment with their own unborn child and two other children they mean to adopt to raise them against what their nature seems to be. Rich science aficionado Gertz (Michael Smiley) agrees to fund that experiment. But 12 years in, just when the kids Luke (Jordan Poole), Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman) and Maya (Megan O’Kelly) are getting really difficult, Gertz suddenly demands more conclusive results and fast. This tips the balance of their household and the entire experiment into dangerous directions.

Birthmarked is an incredibly weird film, but unforunately not in a particularly charming way, more in a disturbing way. I kept turining it over in my head, but ultimately I have to say that I didn’t like it.

The film poster showing Catherine (Toni Collette), Ben (Matthew Goode), Luke (Jordan Poole), Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman) and Maya (Megan O'Kelly) in winter gear, standing outside.
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This Is How You Lose the Time War (Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone)

This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epistolary novella by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Finished on: 04.6.2021

Plot:
Red is an agent of the Commandant, Blue is an agent of Garden, two sides in a war that spans all times. It is both Red’s and Blue’s job to make sure that certain events happen or don’t happen in the course of time to benefit their respective sides. After one of these missions, Red finds a letter on the battlefield. A letter from Blue. A letter taunting her. Red hesitates at first, but then replies and the ensuing back-and-forth between two enemy agents turns them into something else.

It took me a bit to get into This is How You Lose the Time War, but once I did, I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautifully written and inventive story that takes you somewhere else.

The book cover showing two birds, one red, one blue, standing with their claws to each other. Both birds are cut in several pieces, with the pieces being slightly out of alignment.
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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Writer: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachman, Sung Kang
Seen on: 2.6.2021

Plot:
There used to be one country called Kumandra. But after a terrible plague, the Druun, that turned everybody it touched to stone, and that could only be stopped with the dragons – who all turned to stone themselves – the country split into five realms: Fang, Tail, Talon, Heart and Spine. The last of the dragon powers in form of a stone is in Heart, guarded by King Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Benja would like to bring the five realms together again, but his plans don’t come to fruition. Instead, the magic stone is broken and the Druun return. There is only one hope for Raya now: finding Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon who supposedly was just lost and not turned to stone.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautifully animated, emotionally touching film. It is pretty much what you hope for when you go to watch a Disney princess film – an absolutely satisfying experience.

The film poster showing Raya standing in the middle, with Sisu above her. The rest of the image is separated in five parts, four representing one of the film countries and the fifth showing Raya and Namaari charging each other.
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Re-Watch: My Girl (1991)

My Girl
Director: Howard Zieff
Writer: Laurice Elehwany
Cast: Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Richard Masur, Griffin Dunne, Ann Nelson
Seen on: 1.6.2021

Plot:
Vada (Anna Chlumsky) is a bit of a strange child. Her father Harry (Dan Aykroyd) runs a funeral parlor from their home, her grandmother (Ann Nelson) has dementia, and her mother tried when Vada was born. This has given Vada an obsession with death, constantly thinking that she will be dying soon. She spends her summer cycling around town with her best friend Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin), trying to impress her teacher Mr Bixler (Griffin Dunne) with whom she is in love, and also watching her father fall in love with the new make-up artist he hired, Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis). After this summer, life will never be the same again for her.

My Girl is a sweet – maybe at times too sweet – film that carries quite an emotional punch. But despite the difficult things, it’s a warm film that seems to insist that despite everything, life is good and full of beauty.

The film poster showing Vada (Anna Chlumsky) and Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) laughing.
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Faster (2010)

Faster
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Tom Berenger, Matt Gerald, Mike Epps, Moon Bloodgood, Jennifer Carpenter, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Seen on: 31.5.2021

Plot:
The Driver (Dwayne Johnson) spent ten years in prison after a bank robbery, but now he is finally being released – and he has people to go after. He immediately goes for it, too. Leaving the investigating detectives (Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino) puzzling over his motives. Meanwhile, a bored billionaire and killer-for-hire (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is sent after the Driver as well. The Driver doesn’t have much time to finish his business.

Faster was probably the worst Dwayne Johnson film I ever saw. I mean, usually his films are, if not exactly good, at least entertaining all the way. But this one was just dreary and trying way too hard.

The film poster showing the Driver (Dwayne Johnson) standing tall, revolver in hand.
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