Una mujer fantástica [A Fantastic Woman] (2017)

Una mujer fantástica
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Writer: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Trinidad González, Néstor Cantillana
Seen on: 20.9.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) transmisia

Plot:
Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) have been dating for a while, and despite their considerable age difference, they are very happy. In fact, Marina is just moving in with Orlando. When Orlando suddenly dies, Marina’s world suddenly shatters. On top of her lover dying, she has to also deal with Orlando’s family who can’t accept Marina and the fact that she is trans.

Una mujer fantástica is an intense film about transmisia and the resilience that trans people have to develop in the face of it. Except survival, it has not much space for positivity though.

The film poster showing Marina (Daniela Vega) in a prism of colorful light.
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Madeo [Mother] (2009)

Madeo
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Writer: Eun-kyo Park, Bong Joon Ho
Cast: Hye-ja Kim, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Je-mun Yun, Mi-seon Jeon, Sae-byeok Song, Hee-ra Mun, Woo-hee Chun
Seen on: 19.9.2021

Content Note: cripping up, (partly critical treatment of) ableism and whoremisia

Plot:
Do-joon (Won Bin) is everything for his mother (Hye-ja Kim) who has a fiercely protective streak, despite him being grown up. But he also has a learning disability, and tends to get in trouble together with his best friend Jin-tae (Jin Goo), so she has good reasons not to let go. When a neighborhood girl turns up dead, and a golf ball with Do-joon’s name is found next to her, he is arrested. His mother is certain that Do-joon is being framed and is determined to get to the bottom of things.

Mother is an unusual crime movie. Unusual in the way it is told, but also unusual in the story it tells. This unusualness makes it enjoyable for crime fans and those (like me) who aren’t that much into crime as a genre.

The film poster showing Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin) huddling behind his mother (Hye-ja Kim).
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Tigerland (2000)

Tigerland
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Ross Klavan, Michael McGruther
Cast: Colin Farrell, Matthew Davis, Clifton Collins Jr., Tom Guiry, Shea Whigham, Russell Richardson, Nick Searcy, Afemo Omilami, James MacDonald, Keith Ewell, Matt Gerald, Stephen Fulton, Michael Shannon, Cole Hauser
Seen on: 18.9.2021

Content Note: slurs abound, especially racist and misogynistic ones

Plot:
It’s 1971 and a fresh batch of recruits has come together to be trained for the Vietnam war. Their reasons for being there differ greatly, but only a select few of them chose to join the military. Jim Paxton (Matthew Davis) is one of them, hoping the experience will give him fodder for a book. Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell), on the other hand, was drafted and uses every opportunity he can find to subvert the training. Bozz tries to keep his distance from everybody else, but Paxton is too intrigued by him to stay away. And he is not the only one paying close attention to everything Bozz does as the military machine tries its best to whittle him down to size.

Tigerland is an unusual war movie in that we never ever make it to the war. Instead the film is entirely focused on dismantling both the army itself and, a little less successfully, hero narratives. I was really impressed by it and especially Farrell in it.

The film poster showing Bozz (Colin Farrell) in military garb, behind him other soldiers in a splash of ink.
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Dune (2021)

Dune
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
Based on: Frank Herbert‘s novel
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chen Chang, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Babs Olusanmokun, Benjamin Clémentine
Seen on: 18.9.2021

Content Note: fatmisia, colonialism, racism

Plot:
Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is the son and heir of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac) and Bene Gesserit Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). By decree of the Emperor, the Atreides clan just received stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis, home to the valuable spice that keeps interstellar travel going. That means relieving the Harkonnens, led by their Baron (Stellan Skarsgård), of their post there – and the resulting wealth. If the Harkonnens hadn’t already been the Atreides’ mortal enemies, they would be now. Just before the Atreides family is moving to Arrakis, the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit (Charlotte Rampling) comes to test Paul, seeing great potential in him, whose fate seems to be intertwined not only with Arrakis, but the entire universe.

Dune is pretty much the epitome of an epic hero’s journey – with all the advantages and disadvantages of that. It’s a faithful adaptation with only few modernizations in the story and characters – and that, too, comes with its own problems. I guess, how much you like this film will strongly depend on how much you like the source material and how much you like the colors grey, brown and beige.

The film poster showing a moon, science fiction machinery, sand and a sandworm as a background. In the foreground, Leto (Oscar Isaac), Paul (Timothée Chalamet), Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Chani (Zendaya), Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and Gurney (Josh Brolin) as floating heads in different sizes.
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Mayak [The Lighthouse] (2006)

Mayak
Director: Mariya Saakyan
Writer: Givi Shavgulidze
Cast: Anna Kapaleva, Olga Yakovleva, Sos Sargsyan, Sofiko Chiaureli, Ruzana Avetisyan, Mikhail Bogdasarov, Sergei Daniyelyan, Anastasiya Grebennikova, Albina Matveyeva, Mikhail Silantev
Seen on: 15.9.2021

Plot:
It’s the 90s and Lena (Anna Kapaleva) is returning to her home village in Armenia for the first timme in a long time. She is visiting her grandparents (Olga Yakovleva, Sos Sargysan) who have stayed behind in the village despite it being in the middle of a warzone. Lena tries desperately to convince them to go away to safety with her. Instead, Lena stays longer and longer than she anticipated.

Mayak is a melancholic piece if cinema that shows us the daily routine of war for the people who aren’t really involved in it. It isn’t always easy to watch, but it is very interesting.

The film poster showing a childish drawing of a house and a figure walking towards it over a red path through a wave of water.
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Malignant (2021)

Malignant
Director: James Wan
Writer: Akela Cooper, James Wan, Ingrid Bisu
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Ingrid Bisu, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Jake Abel, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Clemenson, Amir AboulEla, Zoë Bell
Seen on: 13.9.2021

Content Note: domestic violence, miscarriage

Plot:
Maddie (Annabelle Wallis) and her boyfriend Derek (Jake Abel) are expecting a baby, but things aren’t great between them, to say the least. After he gets aggressive with her again and slams her into a wall, a dark figure shows up in their home and kills Derek. Maddie is hurt herself and loses her baby. Deep in shock, she is unable to answer her sister Sydney’s (Maddie Hasson) or police detective Shaw’s (George Young) questions. When Maddie finally gets home from the hospital, she wants to start fresh. Instead she is haunted by nightmarish visions – that turn out to be of real murders. If Maddie doesn’t figure out what is going on soon, more people will die.

Malignant is expertly set in scene – as you’d expect from a Wan horror movie. But I was not sold on the story that meanders somewhere between psychological character study and B-movie shlock. Both can be good, but the combination here does both a disservice.

THe film poster showing the drawing of a woman in profile lying on her back. A shadow is over her face that looks like a face and a bloody knife is above them.
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The Father (2020)

The Father
Director: Florian Zeller
Writer: Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller
Based on: Florian Zeller’s play Le père
Cast: Olivia Colman, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Ayesha Dharker
Seen on: 13.9.2021

Plot:
Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is getting older. But that doesn’t mean that he wants any help. After managing to scare off yet another caretaker, his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) gets more desperate. She tries to convince him to try with another nurse, Laura (Imogen Poots), but Anthony doesn’t trust Anne. And he realizes that he can’t trust what he sees, either.

The Father is not the first movie about a character with dementia, but it is one of the most effective ones in taking on the perspective of someone who isn’t sure about their reality anymore (without ever resorting to fantasy). It’s touching, unsettling and beautifully made.

The film poster showing Anne (Olivia Colman) and Anthony (Anthony Hopkins).
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Sul più bello [Out of My League] (2020)

Sul più bello
Director: Alice Filippi
Writer: Roberto Proia, Michela Straniero
Cast: Ludovica Francesconi, Giuseppe Maggio, Gaja Masciale, Jozef Gjura, Eleonora Gaggero
Seen on: 12.9.2021

Content Note: stalking, ableism

Plot:
Marta (Ludovica Francesconi) has always had one dream: getting married to the love of her life. Unfortunately she does not have the best cards in life. Orphaned at a young age, not the prettiest and chronically ill (Mucoviscidosis) with the outlook of dying early, finding a partner has been difficult for her. Until she sees Arturo (Giuseppe Maggio) and knows that he is the one for her. Only, he doesn’t know it – yet.

Sul più bello looked like a sweet RomCom without too much substance. And that is not entirely wrong, but it has so little substance, and a couple of issues, that it doesn’t satisfy.

The film poster showing Arturo (Giuseppe Maggio) holding Marta (Ludovica Francesconi).
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Catfight (2016)

Catfight
Director: Onur Tukel
Writer: Onur Tukel
Cast: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Amy Hill, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Ariel Kavoussi, Damian Young, Stephen Gevedon, Giullian Yao Gioiello, Tituss Burgess, Peter Jacobson
Seen on: 10.9.2021

Content Note: alcoholism, misogyny, (critical treatment of) queermisia

Plot:
Vanessa (Sandra Oh) has a good life, a husband (Damian Young), a son (Giullian Yao Gioiello) and loads of money. So what if she has a bit of drinking problem, too? One night at a party, she runs into Ashley (Anne Heche). Ashley and Vanessa used to be in college together and hated each other back then. And, really, nothing has changed. Ashley is an artist now, helping out her caterer girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone), and horrified at the bourgeois life Vanessa leads, while Vanessa doesn’t take Ashley’s art seriously and finds her anti-establishment rants ridiculous. Their simple small talk quickly turns into a series of barbs and finally things get so out of hand that their lives are forever changed by the encounter.

Catfight, to me, was an utterly bleak and joyless film. I just couldn’t bring myself to like it.

The film poster showing Ashley (Anne Heche) holding Vanessa (Sandra Oh) in a chokehold.
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Buster’s Mal Heart (2016)

Buster’s Mal Heart
Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writer: Sarah Adina Smith
Cast: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Sukha Belle Potter, Toby Huss, Lin Shaye, Lily Gladstone
Seen on: 9.9.2021

Plot:
Buster (Rami Malek) has made a name for himself by taking over summer holiday homes during winter. He’s been at it for years and has managed to evade capture so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Before that, he used to be Jonah. Jonah worked as a night receptionist in a hotel, trying to care for his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and daughter Roxy (Sukha Belle Potter). But the constant night-shifts and the lack of sleep were starting to get to him. To get through the dreary nights, he starts talking to a guest who simply refers to himself as The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) and believes that The Inversion is coming.

I saw Sarah Adina Smith’s first film The Midnight Swim many years ago, but it’s really one of those films that absolutely stayed with me. So, when I realized that her second film – Buster’s Mal Heart – was available on Netflix, I had to watch it immediately. And while it wasn’t quite as captivating as The Midnight Swim for me, it was absolutely captivating enough.

The film poster showing Buster (Rami Malek), his face distorted as if caught on a crappy videotape.
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