Weapons of Math Destruction (Cathy O’Neil)

Weapons of Math Destruction is a non-fiction book by Cathy O’Neil.
Finished on: 15.12.2021

Algorithms are practically everywhere now, running evaluation programs, deciding about search results or job applications. But they are far from the objective tool people would like it to be, and often they are harmful instead of helpful. O’Neil examines algorithms in this book and how they go from simple mathematics to Weapons of Math Destruction.

Weapons of Math Destruction is a very readable and very comprehensive look at the effect of algorithms, tracing both the areas in which they are used in a general way, and personalizing the effects with stories of particular people. It’s definitely a good primer on the subject.

The book cover in yellow, showing a flow diagram in the shape of a skull and bones.
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Totul nu va fi bine [Everything Will Not Be Fine] (2020)

Totul nu va fi bine
Director: Helena Maksyom, Adrian Pirvu
Writer: Helena Maksyom, Adrian Pirvu
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 13.12.2021

Just before Adrian Pirvu was born, his mother traveled from Romania to Ukraine on a business trip. Unfortunately that was just when the nuclear accident in Chernobyl struck, exposing both his mother and Adrian to radiation. As a result, Adrian almost lost his eyesight entirely. Doctors were able to save one eye, though. Now an adult, Adrian starts looking for people who are suffering similarly from long-term effects of the disaster. He finds Ukranian Helena Maksyom whose spine causes her problems and chronic pain. As they work on the documentary together, tracing Chernobyl’s lasting effects, the two fall in love.

Totul nu va fi bine is an usual film, and a surprisingly personal one. While it is a bit of a pity that the actual Chernobyl disaster takes a backseat to the relationship of the two filmmakers, there is something precious about the resulting film.

The film poster showing the top of a high-rise with two people walking along it, but the image is turned 90 degrees. There is also a smaller image of Helena Maksyom and Adrian Pirvu cuddled together.
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Forever After (Ashley R. King)

Forever After is the first book in the Vampire Reality Show series by Ashley R. King.
Finished on: 12.12.2021
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer give-away.]

Autumn has spent her entire life in her hometown where she works as the librarian. She needs a change, so when the bachelor-style reality show Forever After, where the eligible bachelor happens to be a vampire, comes to her town, she applies as a contestant – and makes the cut. The show is about to start shooting when Autumn runs into the bachelor, Oliver. Sparks immediately fly – but they are sparks of dislike. Still, Autumn is determined to stick to her decision and have as much fun as she can. Meanwhile Oliver, who decided to do the show to save his family estate in England, tries his best to get into the spirit of the show at all. When the show starts spinning out of control and people turn up dead, Autumn and Oliver try to figure everything out together.

Forever After is a fun, quick read that didn’t quite blow me away but kept me entertained enough. I’m not sure if I will seek out the rest of the series once it comes out, but I definitely didn’t mind reading this one.

The book cover showing a man in a suit holding a red rose and a woman in a red dress who is baring her neck.
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Eva-Maria (2021)

Director: Lukas Ladner
Writer: Lukas Ladner
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 10.12.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) ableism

Eva-Maria is spastic and so has been using a wheelchair for pretty much all of her life. Now she is in her 30s, works as an assistant, and she would like to have a child. That she doesn’t have a partner doesn’t keep her from seeking fertility treatment and attempting to have a child on her own. That’s easier said than done, though.

Eva-Maria is a nice documentary that follows its protagonist over quite a long time, making it a very personal portrait that could have touched on systemic issues a little more. But either way, it shows us what it can mean to be a disabled parent, and that is something we need to see more of, I think.

The film poster showing a drawing of a pregnant woman in an electric wheel chair.
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Shadow Game (2021)

Shadow Game
Director: Eefje Blankevoort, Els van Driel
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 9.12.2021

Every year, or rather every day, more refugees attempt to get to Europe for a bit of safety and hope for a future. Among them are a lot of teenage boys, who have crafted a “game” out of their attempts to cross various borders within Europe, hoping to finally get to the countries where they can stay.

Shadow Game follows a handful of teenage boys from the Middle East and Africa who are on their ways into Europe, or stranded along the way, painting a harrowing picture of the inhumane and shameful policies and practices of the European countries. It’s not easy to take, but even more important for it.

The film poster showing a teenage boy looking down at the camera, above him just blue sky.
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Fly So Far (2021)

Fly So Far
Director: Celina Escher
Writer: Celina Escher
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 9.12.2021

Content Note: abortion, miscarriage

Teodora Vásquez had a miscarriage under the most dramatic circumstance, shortly before the baby was due to be born. Since she lives in El Salvador with some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, she faced murder charges next and was sentenced to decades in prison. There she connected with other women imprisoned for the same “crime” of losing a child, and together they started fighting for a change.

Fly So Far is an emphatic call to action and solidarity in the feminist fight. I can very much recommend it.

The film poster showing Teodora Vásquez in front of some microphones. Behind her we can see a barbwire fence.
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Tintentod (Cornelia Funke)

Tintentod, translated as Inkdeath, is the third book in the Inkworld Trilogy by Cornelia Funke.
Finished on: 8.12.2021
[Here are my reviews of the other two books.]

Things in the Inkworld are still pretty dire. Politically, Mo’s plan has backfired severely, and Mo himself becomes the Bluejay more and more, much to Resa’s and Meggie’s worry. Farid is still desperately trying to bring Dustfinger back to life, and has pledged himself to Orpheus in the hope that he can achieve it. Fenoglio is still unable to write. And for all the people in the Inkworld, the Adderhead and his people become increasingly more dangerous. Something has got to change and very soon, or it will be too late.

Tintentod is a really great ending for the story, that makes good use of the pieces it put into play and gives satisfaction – despite a couple of issues I had with it.

The book cover showing a mosaic of illustrated letters like at chapter beginnings. There's ea caste in the midle of a lake, a snowy forest, a unicorn jumping out of the pages of a book and a woman walking along a pillar hallway.
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Cargo (2017)

Director: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Writer: Yolanda Ramke
Cast: Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Susie Porter, Bruce R. Carter, Kris McQuade, Natasha Wanganeen, David Gulpilil, Anthony Hayes, Caren Pistorius
Seen on: 4.12.2021

Content Note: (mention of) rape, (critical treatment of) racism

Andy (Martin Freeman), his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and their baby Rosie are one of the few unaffected survivors of a pandemic that turned most of humanity into zombies. They survived by staying on their houseboat and far away from others. But then the rest of the world catches up to them and Andy finds himself alone with Rosie – and infected. Now he is on a tight deadline. If he doesn’t find somebody to take care of Rosie within 48 hours, she is doomed. In his search, he crosses path with teenager Thoomi (Simone Landers) who is trying to protect her family in her own way.

Cargo is an entertaining zombie movie that sticks more with the drama than with the horror. It does have a couple of pacing issues, but overall it’s a good watch.

The film poster showing Andy (Martin Freeman) walking through the outback with a baby on his back. He is holding a machete and behind him are three zombies in the distance.
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Alice Júnior (2019)

Alice Júnior
Director: Gil Baroni
Writer: Luiz Bertazzo, Adriel Nizer Silva
Cast: Anna Celestino Mota, Emmanuel Rosset, Thaís Schier, Surya Amitrano, Matheus Moura, Katia Horn, Igor Augustho, Marcel Szymanski, Cida Rolim
Seen on: 2.12.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) transmisia

Alice Júnior (Anna Celestino Mota) was the first trans participant in Brazil’s Teenage Top Model and has built quite a social media following from there. She is well-accepted in her school and she hopes to finally get her first kiss soon. That’s when her father Jean Genet (Emmanuel Rosset) announces that he got a new job and that they’d have to move to the middle of nowhere. Alice Júnior is horrified at the idea of leaving her life behind, but she doesn’t have much of a choice. Settling into a new place is hard enough as is, but harder still when you unwillingly leave a good place and land in a school where transmisia is still alive and well. Fortunately, though, Alice Júnior is not easily discouraged, and there are some nice people in the new place as well.

Alice Júnior is a fun, sweet film with an engaging heroine. It is also a take on being a trans teenager that is different from the (few) stories we usually get to see about this topic. I really enjoyed it.

The film poster showing a pink and blue headshot of Alice Júnior (Anna Celestino Mota).
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Lazzaro felice [Happy as Lazzaro] (2018)

Lazzaro felice
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Writer: Alice Rohrwacher
Cast: Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani, Tommaso Ragno, Sergi López, Natalino Balasso, Carlo Tarmati, Pasqualina Scuncia, Nicoletta Braschi
Seen on: 30.11.2021

Content Note: ableism

Inviolata is a small, secluded village that is pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. The people there live poorly and work hard as tobacco farmers for the Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna (Nicoletta Braschi) who comes to her estate only rarely. Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is one of the workers, a sweet and obedient young man who is always pleasant and does whatever he is told – and he is told to do a lot. On one of the Marchesa’s visits, Lazzaro meets her son Tancredi (Luca Chikovani). Tancredi sees an opportunity in using Lazzaro to pretend that he was kidnapped, but that ruse backfires and changes all of their lives forever.

Lazzaro felice is interesting in many ways, but it did lose me along the way at some point – around the same time that it seemed to lose track of what story it is trying to tell in the first place.

The film poster showing Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) half hidden behind tobacco leaves.
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