Leading Ladies (2021)

Leading Ladies
Director: Ruth Caudeli
Cast: Diana Wiswell, Silvia Varón, Ana María Cuellar, Marcela Robledo, Ana María Otálora
Part of: Transition Film Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2021

Plot:
Five friends are coming together for dinner – Ana (Ana María Otálora) and Diana (Diana Wiswell) are hosting Silvia (Silvia Varón), Ana María (Ana María Cuellar) and Marce (Marcela Robledo). It’s the first time they are coming together in a while – after Marce abruptly left for two months to travel Europe. But as the evening gets underway, tensions and secrets start to appear.

Leading Ladies is a largely improvised film that starts off interesting enough, but then becomes ever more confusing and falls apart bit by bit.

The film poster showing the faces of the five women next to each other, but separated by stripes in yellow and green.
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Sheer Qorma (2020)

Sheer Qorma
Director: Faraz Ansari
Writer: Faraz Ansari
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Swara Bhaskar, Divya Dutta, Jitin Gulati, Priya Malik, Kalyanee Mulay
Part of: Transition Film Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) queermisia

Plot:
After more than a decade of living abroad, Saira (Divya Dutta) has returned to India to finally introduce their wife Sitara (Swara Bhaskar) to their mother (Shabana Azmi). The separation of Saira and their mother was long because she didn’t handle their queerness very well. But after their brother Shahnawaz’ (Jitin Gulati) intervention, Saira is hoping that this time, things will be different. But things don’t go particularly well at the Eid dinner.

Sheer Qorma is a beautiful film that puts the finger where it hurts, showing just how painful it is to not be accepted as the person you are, especially within your own family. But then the film also gives us the release of experiencing the family coming together, soothing and healing. It’s perfectly set in scene with lots of clever touches – like the very beginning of the film or the (translated! I don’t think I ever saw subtitles for it before) call of the muezzin – and a spot-on cast. I shed a tear or five. What a wonderful way to start the Transition Film Festival.

The film poster showing Saira (Divya Dutta) and Ammi (Shabana Azmi) hugging.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Carnival of Souls
Director: Herk Harvey
Writer: John Clifford, Herk Harvey
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt, Herk Harvey
Seen on: 6.6.2021

Plot:
After a terrible car accident that leaves Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) the only survivor, she is ready to leave town. Fortunately she has a job offer as an organ player in Utah. As she makes her way there, she sees a long abandoned building that used to house a carnival. And a man (Herk Harvey) seems to follow her around. Mary tries to settle in, but she becomes increasingly disconcerted, sure that the man has something to do with the carnival.

Carnival of Souls is an atmospheric film that needs very little to become pretty creepy. Definitely worth visiting cinematic history with this one.

The film poster showing a drawing of a woman running from something. Behind her we can see a carnival building with dancers in front of it. Below her is the woman in a car that is half-submerged in water, as well as the head of a man.
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Birthmarked (2018)

Birthmarked
Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Writer: Marc Tulin, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Cast: Matthew Goode, Toni Collette, Andreas Apergis, Jordan Poole, Megan O’Kelly, Anton Gillis-Adelman, Michael Smiley, Fionnula Flanagan, Suzanne Clément
Seen on: 5.6.2021

Plot:
Catherine (Toni Collette) and Ben (Matthew Goode) are scientists. It seems to them that their careers were pretty much fated, which gave them an interest in studying where the line between nature and nurture might lie. To that end, they are planning an experiment with their own unborn child and two other children they mean to adopt to raise them against what their nature seems to be. Rich science aficionado Gertz (Michael Smiley) agrees to fund that experiment. But 12 years in, just when the kids Luke (Jordan Poole), Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman) and Maya (Megan O’Kelly) are getting really difficult, Gertz suddenly demands more conclusive results and fast. This tips the balance of their household and the entire experiment into dangerous directions.

Birthmarked is an incredibly weird film, but unforunately not in a particularly charming way, more in a disturbing way. I kept turining it over in my head, but ultimately I have to say that I didn’t like it.

The film poster showing Catherine (Toni Collette), Ben (Matthew Goode), Luke (Jordan Poole), Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman) and Maya (Megan O'Kelly) in winter gear, standing outside.
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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Writer: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachman, Sung Kang
Seen on: 2.6.2021

Plot:
There used to be one country called Kumandra. But after a terrible plague, the Druun, that turned everybody it touched to stone, and that could only be stopped with the dragons – who all turned to stone themselves – the country split into five realms: Fang, Tail, Talon, Heart and Spine. The last of the dragon powers in form of a stone is in Heart, guarded by King Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Benja would like to bring the five realms together again, but his plans don’t come to fruition. Instead, the magic stone is broken and the Druun return. There is only one hope for Raya now: finding Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon who supposedly was just lost and not turned to stone.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautifully animated, emotionally touching film. It is pretty much what you hope for when you go to watch a Disney princess film – an absolutely satisfying experience.

The film poster showing Raya standing in the middle, with Sisu above her. The rest of the image is separated in five parts, four representing one of the film countries and the fifth showing Raya and Namaari charging each other.
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Re-Watch: My Girl (1991)

My Girl
Director: Howard Zieff
Writer: Laurice Elehwany
Cast: Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Richard Masur, Griffin Dunne, Ann Nelson
Seen on: 1.6.2021

Plot:
Vada (Anna Chlumsky) is a bit of a strange child. Her father Harry (Dan Aykroyd) runs a funeral parlor from their home, her grandmother (Ann Nelson) has dementia, and her mother tried when Vada was born. This has given Vada an obsession with death, constantly thinking that she will be dying soon. She spends her summer cycling around town with her best friend Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin), trying to impress her teacher Mr Bixler (Griffin Dunne) with whom she is in love, and also watching her father fall in love with the new make-up artist he hired, Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis). After this summer, life will never be the same again for her.

My Girl is a sweet – maybe at times too sweet – film that carries quite an emotional punch. But despite the difficult things, it’s a warm film that seems to insist that despite everything, life is good and full of beauty.

The film poster showing Vada (Anna Chlumsky) and Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) laughing.
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Faster (2010)

Faster
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Tom Berenger, Matt Gerald, Mike Epps, Moon Bloodgood, Jennifer Carpenter, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Seen on: 31.5.2021

Plot:
The Driver (Dwayne Johnson) spent ten years in prison after a bank robbery, but now he is finally being released – and he has people to go after. He immediately goes for it, too. Leaving the investigating detectives (Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino) puzzling over his motives. Meanwhile, a bored billionaire and killer-for-hire (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is sent after the Driver as well. The Driver doesn’t have much time to finish his business.

Faster was probably the worst Dwayne Johnson film I ever saw. I mean, usually his films are, if not exactly good, at least entertaining all the way. But this one was just dreary and trying way too hard.

The film poster showing the Driver (Dwayne Johnson) standing tall, revolver in hand.
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I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (2017)

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
Director: Macon Blair
Writer: Macon Blair
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, Devon Graye, David Yow, Jane Levy, Myron Natwick, Gary Anthony Williams, Lee Eddy, Macon Blair, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet
Seen on: 30.5.2021

Plot:
Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is a nursing assistant. Meek and quiet, she has a hard time standing up for herself. But when she finds her house robbed one day and the police absolutely unhelpful, she decides to embark on her own investigation. She asks the neighborhood weirdo Tony (Elijah Wood) for help, and they try to figure out who took Ruth’s things.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. is a quirky film that doesn’t forget that quirkiness isn’t a substitute for actual characterization. It could have profited from a little more tonal consistency, but I did enjoy it for the most part.

The film poster showing Tony (Elijah Wood) and Ruth (Melanie Linskey) standing with very serious looks in front of a garden fence.
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Gaby Baby Doll (2014)

Gaby Baby Doll
Director: Sophie Letourneur
Writer: Sophie Letourneur, Anne-Louise Trividic
Cast: Lolita Chammah, Benjamin Biolay, Félix Moati
Seen on: 29.5.2021

Content Note: attempted rape

Plot:
Gaby (Lolita Chammah) just moved into a big country house to get some rest. She is anxious, afraid of everything and can’t sleep alone. That’s why her boyfriend Vincent (Félix Moati) is supposed to stay with her. But Vincent feels used by Gabby, more like her handler than her boyfriend and soon takes off. Gaby desperately looks for anybody to stay with her overnight and finally latches herself onto Nico (Benjamin Biolay) who lives like a hermit in the garden shack of a grand estate nearby. Nico just wants to be alone, but despite himself, Gaby gets to him.

I have to admit that I struggled with Gaby Baby Doll, especially with Gaby. While I’m usually here for the portrayal of difficult women, the way she constantly blazed past any boundary really didn’t work for me. Especially since the story proved her right in the end.

The film poster showing Nico (Benjamin Biolay), Gaby (Lolita Chammah) and Nico's Dog sitting in the grass in the sun.
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Post Grad (2009)

Post Grad
Director: Vicky Jenson
Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Bobby Coleman, Carol Burnett, Rodrigo Santoro, Catherine Reitman, Mary Anne McGarry, J.K. Simmons, Craig Robinson, Fred Armisen
Seen on: 28.5.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Ryden (Alexis Bledel) is just about to graduate and she knows exactly how things are going to go from there. She will get her dream job at a big publishing house and live in an awesome apartment. She has both lined up already. Her best friend Adam (Zach Gilford) is less sure about what to do, but he knows that he would like to romance Ryden, but she is not interested. But after Ryden does not get the job, and she has to move back home with her eccentric family (Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Bobby Coleman, Carol Burnett), she needs to rethink her life entirely. Maybe with the help of her hot neighbor David (Rodrigo Santoro)?

Post Grad is not a great film, but it is cute and funny and light. There’s really nothing weighing it down, not even particular emotional depth. If you want to just float through 90 minutes, it’s the film you should choose.

The film poster showing Ryden (Alexis Bledel) wearing a graduation cap askew, looking worried.
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