Ham on Rye (2019)

Ham on Rye
Director: Tyler Taormina
Writer: Tyler Taormina, Eric Berger
Cast: Haley Bodell, Audrey Boos, Gabriella Herrera, Adam Torres, Luke Darga, Sam Hernandez, Blake Borders, Cole Devine, Timothy Taylor, Gregory Falatek
Seen on: 6.4.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) ableism

Plot:
Haley (Haley Bodell), Gwen (Audrey Boos) and Trish (Gabriella Herrera) are preparing for a ritual in the town’s diner. They, and every other kid their age, are donning the clothes of their grandparents and walk to the diner. Something big is going to happen, something that will change the course of their lives forever. At least, if they are chosen.

Ham on Rye builds on an interesting idea, but lacks a bit of focus and narrative clarity. Still, it’s definitely unusual.

The film poster showing 11 the fists of 11 teens, holding their thumbs in up or down positions.
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Unrelated (2007)

Unrelated
Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Kathryn Worth, Tom Hiddleston, Harry Kershaw, Emma Hiddleston, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Mary Roscoe, Michael Hadley, David Rintoul
Seen on: 5.4.2021

Plot:
Anna (Kathryn Worth) arrives in Italy. The plan was that she and her husband Alex would spend a nice holiday with her oldest friend Verena (Mary Roscoe) and her family – husband Charles (Michael Hadley) and three children, Archie (Harry Kershaw), Badge (Emma Hiddleston) and Jack (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), as well as Mary’s friend George (David Rintoul) and his son Oakley (Tom Hiddleston). But after a fight with Alex, Anna decided to travel on her own, to take a break. Much to Verena’s consternation, Anna doesn’t share what’s going on and doesn’t even spend a lot of time with her. Instead she rather hangs out with the kids, especially Oakley.

Unrelated feels almost like a documentary in its approach to its story, and this sense of detachment coupled with Worth’s personal performance allows it to both empathize with Anna while casting a critical glance at her environment, and also at Anna herself. I really enoyed it.

The film poster showing Anna (Kathryn Worth) sitting on the shore of a river or lake. Behind her, we can see Oakley (Tom Hiddleston) talking to Verena (Mary Roscoe).
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Work It (2020)

Work It
Director: Laura Terruso
Writer: Alison Peck
Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Liza Koshy, Jordan Fisher, Keiynan Lonsdale, Briana Andrade-Gomes, Kalliane Brémault, Naomi Snieckus, Bianca Asilo, Neil Robles, Nathaniel Scarlette, Tyler Hutchings, Indiana Mehta, Drew Ray Tanner, Michelle Buteau
Seen on: 4.4.2021

Plot:
Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter) knows exactly what she wants: to go to the college her late father went to. She has been honing her CV just so, filling it with the right extracurricular activities and the right grades to get accepted. When she finally has her interview, though, the admissions officer (Michelle Buteau) is looking for something more unusual, though. Seeing her dreams float away, Quinn fibs that she is part of her high school’s award-winning dance team the Thunderbirds – she did their lighting after all. This seems to be the ticket, but now Quinn has to actually dance at the competition. Asking her best friend and Thunderbird Jasmine (Liza Koshy) for help, she starts training, but even so, the Thunderbirds don’t want her. So Quinn decides that she has to form a dance crew of her own.

Ah, dance movies… I will always fall into their trap and then shake my head at their ridiculousness while mostly enjoying them. Work It is a decent member of that particular genre, maybe slightly more on the ridiculous side than on the enjoyable one, but overall it delivers what you want and expect from a dance movie.

The film poster showing all the main characters in fierce poses as a dance crew.
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The Story of a New Name (Elena Ferrante)

The Story of a New Name is the second of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I read the German translation (Die Geschichte eines neuen Namens) by Karin Krieger.
Finished on: 4.4.2021
[Here’s my review of the first novel.]

Content Note: rape, domestic violence, abuse

Plot:
With Lila’s marriage, she and Elena develop away from each other even more. But at the same time, they cannot let go of each other. Elena watches from a distance as Lila’s abusive marriage to Stefano turns ever more complicated by her husband’s business relations. Meanwhile Elena is dating Antonio more out of a sense of obligation, while still yearning for Nino who seems to be everything she aspires to. After Lila has a miscarriage, she asks Elena to accompany on a holiday to get her strength back. During that holiday, their paths cross with Nino and everything changes.

After reading My Brilliant Friend, I was reluctant but curious to continue, not quite sure what apparently millions of other people saw in the novel. The same thing is still true for The Story of a New Name. I read it, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either and I am still scratching my head as to why this series has gotten quite this big.

The book cover showing an illustration of a woman in a bridal gown standing on a balcony over the sea, her veil blowing in the wind together with petals from her bouquet.
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Dead Pigs (2018)

Dead Pigs
Director: Cathy Yan
Writer: Cathy Yan
Cast: Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, David Rysdahl, Zazie Beetz
Seen on: 4.4.2021

Plot:
Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) runs a hairsalon and owns the last house in the neighborhood she grew up in. Everything else was torn down to make way for a large building project helmed by architect Sean Landry (David Rysdahl). Candy’s brother Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) is a pig farmer in constant money trouble. Now more so than ever, because his pigs have mysteriously died, just like most of the pigs in the area. Those dead pigs start floating down Shanghai river because nobody knows what else to do with them. Meanwhile Wang’s son Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) works in the city as a busboy, hoping to make a better life for himself and maybe catch the attention of his rich customer Xia Xia (Meng Li).

Dead Pigs rolls a lot of criticism into a protective layer of jokes that make its critical stance look surprisingly light, but not necessarily soft. It’s a bittersweet, very engaging film.

The film poster showing two piggy banks, one shattered with very little money inside.
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All Together Now (2020)

All Together Now
Director: Brett Haley
Writer: Matthew Quick, Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Based on: Matthew Quick‘s novel Sorta Like a Rockstar
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Rhenzy Feliz, Justina Machado, Judy Reyes, Anthony Jacques, Gerald Isaac Waters, Taylor Richardson, Fred Armisen, Carol Burnett
Seen on: 2.4.2021

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Amber (Auli’i Cravalho) is a friendly teenager who always looks at the bright side, even though her mother Becky (Justina Machado) fell on hard times and they are currently homeless, sleeping in the school bus Becky drives. Nevertheless, Amber still finds the time to work in a senior residence, give pay-as-you-wish English lessons and helps take care of a neurodiverse teen who is one of her best friends, Ricky (Anthony Jacques). Ricky, Ty (Rhenzy Feliz), Chad (Gerald Isaac Waters) and Jordan (Taylor Richardson) are Amber’s social net, but they don’t know how difficult things are for her at the moment because Amber has a hard time accepting help. When things get even worse, though, and it looks like Amber may have to give up on her dream of going to Carnegie Mellon, something has to give.

All Together Now is incredibly cheesy and Auli’i Cravalho is almost the only thing that makes all that cheese bearable.

The film poster showing Amber (Auli'i Cravalho) in a van surrounded by her friends. All are laughing.
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Bastard (2010)

Bastard
Director: Kirsten Dunst
Writer: Kirsten Dunst, Sasha Sagan
Cast: Juno Temple, Brian Geraghty, Lukas Haas, Lee Thompson Young, Joel David Moore, L.M. Kit Carson, Callie Hardy
Seen on: 2.4.2021

Plot:
A girl (Juno Temple) and a man (Brian Geraghty) are making their way through the desert. They are looking for shelter, while some men in a car (Lukas Haas, Lee Thompson Young, Joel David Moore) are looking for them.

I saw that Juno Temple was in Bastard and decided to watch it, so I was a little surprised by the Christianity of it. Your mileage will probably vary regarding that. I felt that the film was a bit sensationalistic. But Juno Temple is still wonderful.

The film poster showing the girl (Juno Temple), her face hidden behind her hair, her shoulders drawn high, underneath a red haze.

Re-Watch: Never Been Kissed (1999)

Never Been Kissed
Director: Raja Gosnell
Writer: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Cast: Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Michael Vartan, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Garry Marshall, Sean Whalen, Cress Williams, Octavia Spencer, Leelee Sobieski, Jeremy Jordan, Jessica Alba, Marley Shelton, Jordan Ladd, Katie Lansdale, Branden Williams, James Franco
Seen on: 1.4.2021

Plot:
Josie (Drew Barrymore) is a copyeditor at the Sun-Times, but she would like to be a reporter. Her chance comes quite surprisingly when her unpredictable boss (Garry Marshall) tells her to go undercover at a high school to figure out what kids these days are up to. Josie is so excited about the opportunity, she doesn’t remember that she was bullied in high school. But once she is back, all her old memories flood back again. Maybe this time, though, Josie has a chance to do better.

It has been many years that I watched Never Been Kissed, but I remembered it very fondly. I’m happy to report that it is still an utterly charming film with a cute love story.

The film poster showing Josie (Drew Barrymore) sitting on the floor, one of her knees pulled to her chest.
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Tu mérites un amour [You Deserve a Lover] (2019)

Tu mérites un amour
Director: Hafsia Herzi
Writer: Hafsia Herzi
Cast: Hafsia Herzi, Djanis Bouzyani, Jérémie Laheurte, Anthony Bajon, Sylvie Verheyde, Karim Ait M’Hand, Myriam Djeljeli, Alexander Ferrario, Jonathan Eap, Sophie Garagnon, Brice Dulin, Mouna Soualem, Lina Soualem, Abdelkader Hoggui, Donia Bouzyani
Seen on: 31.3.2021

Plot:
When Lila (Hafsia Herzi) finds out that her boyfriend Rémi (Jérèmie Laheurte) cheated on her with his ex-girlfriend Myriam (Myriam Djeljeli), she is devastated. Lila and Rémi break up, but at the same time, they aren’t actually willing to let go of each other. So, while Rémi heads to Bolivia to clear his head, Lila starts flirting with other men, hoping to find more luck with them.

Tu mérites un amour sounds like it should be right up my alley – a story about a woman trying to find her footing in the world? I like those – but it just didn’t work for me because Lila and her development didn’t work for me.

The film poster showing Lila (Hafsia Herzi) lying half-naked on a bed.
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Les héros ne meurent jamais [Heroes Don’t Die] (2019)

Les héros ne meurent jamais
Director: Aude Léa Rapin
Writer: Jonathan Couzinié, Aude Léa Rapin
Cast: Adèle Haenel, Jonathan Couzinié, Antonia Buresi, Hasija Boric, Vesna Stilinovic, Damir Kustura, Slaven Vidak, Haris Devic, Midhat Slatina
Seen on: 31.3.2021

Plot:
After Joachim (Jonathan Couzinié) has an apparently random encounter with somebody on the street who gives him the idea that he is the reincarnation of a Zoran who appears to not have been a good person, he convinces his friend Alice (Adèle Haenel) to go to Sarajevo with him and find out more about his past life. Alice, a filmmaker who shot a documentary about Srebrenica and its aftermath, decides to make a film out of Joachim’s search as well. Together with soundmaster Virginie (Antonia Buresi) and cameraman Paul (Paul Guilhaume) they leave to find out who Zoran/Joachim was.

Heroes Don’t Die is an interesting, metafictional film that takes its seemingly fantastic premise to say something about how to live in the face of mortality – be it your own personal mortality, or the mortality of people around you, be it a single death or the masses who died in the war. I found it very intriguing.

The film poster showing Alice (Adèle Haenel) with her arm around Joachim (Jonathan Couzinié), a van can be seen behind them.
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