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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Re-Read: Tintenblut (Cornelia Funke)

Tintenblut, translated as Inkspell, is the second book in the Inkworld Trilogy by Cornelia Funke.
Finished on: 9.9.2021
[Here’s my review of the first book.]
[Here’s my first review of this book.]

Plot:
Dustfinger has finally found somebody who promises to read him back into his book – Orpheus. Orpheus keeps his promise, but also double-crosses him. So Farid stays behind and the book falls into the hand of Mortola and Basta. Farid knows he has to catch up with Dustfinger to warn him, so he returns to Meggie who lives with her parents Mo and Resa, as well as her aunt Elinor and the reader Darius in Elinor’s estate. When Farid tells her about Dustfinger returning, Meggie is dead-set on going to the Inkworld herself – together with Farid, of course. But she’s not the only one looking for a way in. And once in, the Inkworld is not without its own dangers.

Much like the first novel, Tintenblut is not the easiest read and it does take a while to get through it (and that’s not just because it’s a pretty long book). But I did like how Funke continues her world and her characters. I’m looking forward to the grand finale.

The book cover showing a mosaic of illustrated letters like at chapter beginnings. There's also twi figures under a tree at night, a portrait of a lady, the toers of a castle, a bird sitting on an open book, and a few figures around an open fire in the forest.
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Die verdammte Karte: Dawid vs. Goliath (J.S. Hartmann)

Die verdammte Karte: Dawid vs. Goliath [literally: The Damned Card: Dawid vs. Goliath] is the first novel in the Die verdammte Karte trilogy by J.S. Hartmann. [As far as I know, there is no English translation yet.]
Finished on: 6.9.2021
[I received a copy of this book to review, or, as they say in German, this post is Unbezahlte Werbung.]

Plot:
Dawid is kind of famous in Russia – as a freeclimber, he has a very popular youtube channel where he climbs stuff, the higher the better, legality is optional. During his most recent endeavor, he falls, though – and wakes up in Germany instead of Russia, his legs buried in the asphalt of a busy road. Not surprisingly, this circumstance draws attention. On the one hand, there are Nora and Salim who work with Popov and who seem pretty worried about Dawid, but also don’t tell him much. On the other hand, there is the psychologist Dr. Manthey who Nora, Salim and Popov insist has sinister motives. Really, Dawid doesn’t want to know about magic or special abilities, he just wants to go home. But it doesn’t appear that he has this option anymore.

Die verdammte Karte: Dawid vs. Goliath is a good read with likeable characters in an interesting world. I enjoyed it – and I’m looking forward to the next installment that is due to be released soon.

The book cover is drawn like a playing card with white lines on black background. We can see the King of Diamonds, holding a card that shows himself in one hand and a pocket watch in the other. He is wearing a top hat and a monocle and mirrored at the waist.
(c) Chaos Pony Verlag
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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writer: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Based on: Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin‘s character
Cast: Simu Liu, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Wah Yuen, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Benedict Wong, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson
Part of: Marvel movies
Seen on: 6.9.2021

Plot:
Shaun (Simu Liu) tried to built a life for himself, away from his father Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and Wenwu’s private army, the Ten Rings – including actual ten rings that give Wenwu awesome powers. And for the last decade, Shaun has been pretty successful in his endeavor. Not even his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) suspects that there is more to him than a party-loving valet. Until a group of fighters led by Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) attack Shaun and he has to finally confront his past, his family, and his future. Not without Katy, though.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a thoroughly enjoyable film with a good mix of fighting, emotions and humor. I had a very good time with it.

The film poster showing Shaun (Simu Liu), his father Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) looming large behind him, wearing the ten rings. The two can be seen fighting as smaller figures in the front. Other important characters are arranged around them.
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Isi & Ossi (2020)

Isi & Ossi
Director: Oliver Kienle
Writer: Oliver Kienle
Cast: Lisa Vicari, Dennis Mojen, Ernst Stötzner, Walid Al-Atiyat, Zoe Straub, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Christina Hecke, Lisa Hagmeister, André Eisermann
Seen on: 5.9.2021

Content Note: ableism, classism, racism

Plot:
Isi (Lisa Vicari) grew up very rich indeed and her parents (Hans-Jochen Wagner, Christina Hecke) have a very clear idea of where she should go next once she finally gets through school – a bit of a struggle for Isi: getting a finance degree and then going into the family business. But Isi has other ideas: she would love nothing more than become a cook and is looking to go to a prestigious culinary arts class in New York. But she needs money for that, and her parents are unwilling to give it. When she meets Ossi (Dennis Mojen) by chance, she thinks she may have found a way to force her parents’ hands. Because Ossi is everything she is not: he grew up rough and poor. Most importantly, he is in need of money to secure a fight that could finally get his boxing career going. So the two strike a deal: Isi will give Ossi the money he needs, while they pretend to date until Isi’s parents give in. Easier said than done, though.

I love fake dating stories, so I definitely wanted to check out Isi & Ossi, but unfortunately I was pretty disappointed with this iteration of that trope. I found much of the film offensive and I just didn’t buy it.

The film poster showing polaroids of Isi (Lisa Vicari) and Ossi (Dennis Mojen)  that are stuck together with a piece of tape.
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