The Juniper Tree (1990)

The Juniper Tree
Director: Nietzchka Keene
Writer: Nietzchka Keene
Based on: the Brothers Grimm fairy tale
Cast: Björk, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir, Valdimar Örn Flygenring, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Geirlaug Sunna Þormar
Seen on: 19.11.2021

Plot:
Margit (Björk) and her older sister Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir) had to leave their home after their mother (Guðrún Gísladóttir) was killed for being a witch. Desperate to find a new home, Katla bewitches Jóhann (Valdimar Örn Flygenring), a widowed farmer. Jóhann already has a son, Jónas (Geirlaug Sunna Þormar), who is unwilling to accept Katla, and Katla has little love for him either. As Margit becomes friends with Jónas, she finds herself conflicted in their fight.

The Juniper Tree is probably the most famout Icelandic movie, a gorgeously restored black-and-white fairy tale adaptation that shies away from the clear-cut morality of the original fairy tale.

The film poster showing a black-and-white image of a kneeling Margit (Björk) looking desperately up.
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A Spark of Light (Jodi Picoult)

A Spark of Light is a novel by Jodi Picoult.
Finished on: 19.11.2021

Content Note: abortion, anti-abortion terrorism

Plot:
A hostage situation at the last reproductive health clinic in Mississipi that performs abortions is coming to an end. People have died and the situation is tense, as one can imagine. For hostage negotiator Hugh McElroy they are even more tense than usual – because he realized that his own daughter, Wren, is one of the patients held captive. And his sister Bex, who accompanied her, was already brought to the hospital with a potentially deadly gunshot wound. As Hugh desperately tries to find a connection with hostage taker George, and as the hostages inside – all in the clinic for different reasons, as patients and workers and even as spies for the anti-abortion camp – try to get through the terror, things start to move very quickly.

A Spark of Light is a really good read. A layered look at the complexities around the topic of abortion that gives everyone a say, but still remains firmly in the pro-choice camp. And it chose an interesting structure to tell its story.

The book cover showing the title on an off-white background. At the very bottom are three blots of color.
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Eternals (2021)

Eternals
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writer: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Based on: Jack Kirby‘s comic
Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Harish Patel, Bill Skarsgård, Harry Styles, Patton Oswalt
Part of: Marvel movies
Seen on: 18.11.2021

Plot:
Three thousand years ago, a group of humanoid aliens were sent to Earth to protect it and its humans from the deviants – monsters that love to eat them. Led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), they are a fierce group of warriors, all with their special talents. 500 years ago, they got rid of the last deviant and dispersed, waiting to be called back to their home planet. Sersi (Gemma Chan) ended up in London where she is dating the human Dane (Kit Harington) after a break-up with her fellow Eternal Ikaris (Richard Madden). Sprite (Lia McHugh), another of the Eternals, lives with her. Things appear pretty settled – until they are unexpectedly attacked by a deviant that already drew Ikaris’ attention. It appears that the Eternals have to come back together as their mission isn’t over yet.

Eternals gets many things right, even if it doesn’t fit easily with the rest of the MCU. Be that as it may, I enjoyed a lot about it, but not without some reservations.

THe film poster, showing the ten Eternals standing on a river shore in their armor.
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Ceniza negra [Land of Ashes] (2019)

Ceniza negra
Director: Sofía Quirós
Writer: Sofía Quirós
Cast: Smashleen Gutiérrez, Humberto Samuels, Hortensia Smith, Keha Brown, Yulius Melvin Brown Rudolf, Adeysha Garrido Morales, Krisly Hernández Harris, Danna Murillo Carpio
Seen on: 13.11.2021

Plot:
Selva (Smashleen Gutiérrez) lives with her tata, her grandfather (Humberto Samuels) and his girlfriend Elena (Hortensia Smith). The relationship between 13-year-old Selva and Elena is tense, and her tata isn’t all that fit anymore. When she can, Selva escapes into the forest for games that feel almost ritualisitc with her friend Winter (Keha Brown). When Elena disappears, Selva has to shoulder even more.

Ceniza Negra is an interesting film. It’s highly symbolic and therefore also a little vague – sometimes maybe a little too much so. But altogether it is a very nice character study.

The film poster showing Selva (Smashleen Gutiérrez) in profile, almost just a silhouette, in front of a blue background. Above her head are light spots that look painted.
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Die Vergiftung [The Poisoning] (Maria Lazar)

Die Vergiftung is the first novel by Maria Lazar [German link]. [I am not aware of an English translation of the novel.]
Finished on: 12.11.2021

Plot:
Ruth is 20 years old. She lives with her mother, her brother and her sister, but she doesn’t get along with any of them. Nor does she like their striving for the bourgeois ideals, or at least the appearance of those ideals. The only member of her family she relates to, at least a little, is her Uncle Gustav. Ruth herself just broke up with her older lover, a chemist, and is reeling, even more so when she realizes that her mother had an affair with the same man. With nobody to really turn to and feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere, Ruth drifts through encounters shaped by ambivalence.

Die Vergiftung is an excellent novel, a strong debut with evocative language in a lyrical style that makes sure you feel everything that Ruth is feeling. I was really impressed by it.

The dark blue book cover with the silhouette of a woman with a billowing skirt in a slightly lighter blue. The "I" in the book title is a syringe.
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Supernova (2020)

Supernova
Director: Harry Macqueen
Writer: Harry Macqueen
Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen
Seen on: 8.11.2021

Plot:
Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are setting off on a road trip together, towards a concert Sam will be giving, the first in a long time. On the way there, they are determined to visit important places and people of their life together. Since Tusker was diagnosed with dementia and is lapsing more and more, their trip is something like a farewell tour, too.

Supernova is a beautiful and sad film with great performances and a devastating soundtrack (thank you, Keaton Henson). It should not be missed.

The film poster showing Sam (Colin Firth) with his arm around Tusker (Stanley Tucci) as they stand on the shore of a lake.
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The Starling (2021)

The Starling
Director: Theodore Melfi
Writer: Matt Harris
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline, Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, Skyler Gisondo, Laura Harrier
Seen on: 5.11.2021

Plot:
Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) used to be very happy, but they aren’t anymore. Jack is in a psychiatric hospital, and Lilly is barely holding it together at work and at home. When a starling takes up residence in her garden and starts attacking her to defend its nest, Lilly can’t handle this at all. But her rage at the bird also sets things in motion again for her, and maybe even for Jack.

The Starling is sweet, touching and even funny, despite the very heavy topic it takes on. But it does so with a constant sense of hope, even at the worst time, and it’s just really beautiful to watch.

The film poster showing Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) lying on a lounge chair outside in the garden, a starling sitting on her shoulder.
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Puddin’ (Julie Murphy)

Puddin’ is a novel by Julie Murphy. It’s a companion to Dumplin’.
Finished on: 4.11.2021

Plot:
Millie Michalchuk has spent every summer at fat camp, not that it had much effect on her being fat. And really, she is quite alright with being fat, but her mom isn’t, and so the threat of fat camp hangs over her head yet again. But this year, Millie has other plans. She just doesn’t know yet how to tell her mom about it. That entire thing takes a backseat though when the gym that Millie works at and that belongs to her uncle is vandalized. Millie realizes that one of the perpetrators is Callie Reyes. Popular, beautiful and mean, and now, apparently a criminal, Callie is everything that Millie is not. When Millie’s uncle decides that Callie can work off the damages at the gym, neither Millie nor Callie are thrilled to be working with the other. But Millie is determined to make a friend out of Callie yet, despite everything. And somehow, things start moving.

Puddin’ is a super cute and sweet read that I enjoyed a lot, even though I was a little disappointed because I was hoping for this turn into a romance between Millie and Callie. It does not. But it does tell a very nice story about platonic friendship and that is great, too.

The book cover showing an illustration of two girls, a white fat girl in a black dress with white flowers and a Brown thin girl in a dance uniform.
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Horse Girl (2020)

Horse Girl
Director: Jeff Baena
Writer: Jeff Baena, Alison Brie
Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Debby Ryan, John Reynolds, John Ortiz, Lauren Weedman, Hazel Armenante, Jake Picking, Toby Huss, Robin Tunney, Matthew Gray Gubler
Seen on: 3.11.2021

Content Note: cripping up

Plot:
Sarah (Alison Brie) lives a very quiet life. She works at an arts and craft store with Joan (Molly Shannon) and very much likes crafts herself. She lives with a roommate, Nikki (Debby Ryan), who keeps inviting her to go out a little more, but she rather stays home to watch a supernatural TV show about Agatha (Robin Tunney) and Darren (Matthew Gray Gubler). In her time off, she likes to visit a horse that used to be hers. But Sarah finds herself having strange dreams and zoning out more and more. There is something going on that she just can’t grasp.

Horse Girl is a very well-made film that is serious beneath its soft appearance and its sense of humor. With a fantastic performance by Brie, we get a character study that packs a punch after a soft beginning.

The film poster showing an ultra close-up of Sarah (Alison Brie) .
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Re-Watch: The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

The Matrix Revolutions
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Writer: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Sequel to: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Harry Lennix, Harold Perrineau, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gina Torres, Mary Alice, Nathaniel Lees, Helmut Bakaitis, Lambert Wilson, Monica Bellucci, Collin Chou, Essie Davis, Nona Gaye, Cornel West, Bruce Spence
Seen on: 1.11.2021

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Zion is still under threat, and their time is running out. Meanwhile Neo (Keanu Reeves) is unconscious, and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) suspect that he is still in the Matrix, although his body isn’t plugged in. They start a desperate search for him. Meanwhile Neo learns more about The Matrix and his connection to it – knowledge that will hopefully lead to an end of the war between humans and machines. But whether he can achieve his goal before Zion is destroyed completely is still questionable.

Where The Matrix Reloaded was a step-down from The Matrix, The Matrix Revolutions is a plunge down for several stories. It’s a boring film that gives us an unsatisfying ending of the trilogy. I really hope that the new film will make up for it a little.

The film poster showiing Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the rain, but the raindrops are actually strings of Matrix.
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