Home (2008)

Home
Director: Ursula Meier
Writer: Ursula Meier, Antoine Jaccoud, Raphaëlle Desplechin, Gilles Taurand, Olivier Lorelle, Alice Winocour
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Adélaïde Leroux, Madeleine Budd, Kacey Mottet Klein
Seen on: 11.4.2021

Plot:
Marthe (Isabelle Huppert), Michel (Olivier Gourmet) and their children Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), Marion (Madeleine Budd) and Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) live right next to a piece of unfinished highway. The highway has remained unfinished for a decade and has become their personal playground, separating them from their mailbox and the road that lead to the next town. Much to their surprise, though, overnight the highway is finished and opened, completely disrupting the life they built together.

Home is an intriguing film with an unusual setting that grows increasingly more absurd and remains captivating throughout. I really enjoyed it.

The film poster showing Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) standing in her kitchen with a truck rushing past just outside her window. Behind her on the lawn is her daughter Judith (Adélaïde Leroux) giving the truck the finger.
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Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Velvet Buzzsaw
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Pat Healy
Seen on: 11.4.2021

Plot:
Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an art critic, always looking for something new and good. But currently, he is rather more occupied with Josephina (Zawe Ashton). She works in the gallery run by Rhodora (Rene Russo), hoping to become a successful agent herself, and Morf is deeply in love with her, despite having a boyfriend. When Josephina finds out that a recently deceased tenant in her building was an artist who wanted to have all his art destroyed upon his death, she is convinced that his art is something special. She is not wrong, though she couldn’t have foreseen what kind of special it really is.

Velvet Buzzsaw is visually engaging, and has a great cast who obviously had a lot of fun chewing the scenery in this one. But the metaphor at its heart feels a little flimsy and could have done with a little more work.

The film poster showing a white frame on a white wall with the words Velvet Buzzsaw spraypainted across it, the red paint dripping down and over the frame.
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We Go Way Back (2006)

We Go Way Back
Director: Lynn Shelton
Writer: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Maggie Brown, Amber Hubert, Lynn Shelton, Robert Hamilton Wright, Aaron Blakely, Alycia Delmore, Matthew M. Bianchi, Basil Harris
Seen on: 10.4.2021

Plot:
Kate (Amber Hubert) is an actress, hoping to finally get her break, but so far mostly just running errands for her theater. On her 23rd birthday, she opens a letter that she wrote to herself when she was 13 (Maggie Brown). The hopeful words of the letter stand in stark contrast to the feeling of being stuck that Kate has at the moment. Even when the theater director (Robert Hamilton Wright) finally offers Kate a leading role, it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as Kate had hoped. And so her 13-year-old self keeps haunting her.

We Go Way Back is a captivating mix of sad and funny that gives us a thoughtful portrayal of an unhappy young woman without descending completely into doom and gloom. I really enjoyed it.

The film poster showing Kate-at-23 (Amber Hubert) and Kate-at-13 (Maggie Brown).
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Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)

Vampires vs. the Bronx
Director: Oz Rodriguez
Writer: Oz Rodriguez, Blaise Hemingway
Cast: Jaden Michael, Gerald Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Sarah Gadon, Method Man, Shea Whigham, Coco Jones, The Kid Mero, Zoe Saldana
Seen on: 9.4.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Miguel (Jaden Michael) loves the Bronx. So he tries to organize a fundraising event for the local bodega run by Tony (The Kid Mero) that is close to shutting down. It’s not just a bodega, it’s also a safe space for Miguel and his best friends Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) and Bobby (Gerald Jones III). Part of the bodega’s problems is the gentrification that is slowly but surely reaching the Bronx, pushed forward by Murnau Real Estate. But Miguel soon realizes that there is more to the company – they aren’t just there for the profit, they actually are vampires. So Miguel gathers Luis and Bobby to fight for the Bronx.

Vampires vs. the Bronx is sweet and fun, but it stumbles a little over its own political metaphors and a little too conventional narrative structure. Still, it is a very entertaining romp.

The film poster showing the four main kids as stylized images. Miguel (Jaden Michael) is at the top, clutching a cross and screaming.
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The Drowning (2016)

The Drowning
Director: Bette Gordon
Writer: Stephen Molton, Frank Pugliese
Based on: Pat Barker‘s novel Border Crossing
Cast: Josh Charles, Avan Jogia, Julia Stiles, Tracie Thoms, John C. McGinley
Seen on: 8.4.2021

Content Note: attempted suicide, stalking, saneism

Plot:
Psychiatrist Tom (Josh Charles) and his wife Lauren (Julia Stiles), an art teacher and artist, have arranged themselves with their different wishes for how their lives should be. So, Tom spends his time in a small town in New Jersey to enjoy the relative quiet and work on his newest book, while Lauren enjoys the art and culture of New York, but goes to New Jersey whenever she can. On one of her visits, the two go for a walk and see a young man (Avian Jogia) just about to commit suicide by drowning himself. Tom is quick to react, throwing himself into the water and pulling him out. The next day, Tom realizes that he knows the man – Danny used to be his patient when he was a child and Tom’s assessment led to him being incarcerated for murder when he was just eleven years old. Now, Danny obviously wants to reconnect with Tom, but Tom doubts his intentions.

The Drowning is a rather drab paint-by-numbers affair that never quite achieves the tension it would need to pull off its plot. Despite the cast, it remains a very average film.

The film poster showing a blurry male shape looking out over the water in dusk at what could be a tower under the moon.
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Escape Room (2019)

Escape Room
Director: Adam Robitel
Writer: Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik
Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Nik Dodani, Yorick van Wageningen
Seen on: 7.4.2021

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Zoey (Taylor Russell), Ben (Logan Miller), Jason (Jay Ellis), Mike (Tyler Labine), Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), and Danny (Nik Dodani) have all received an invitiation to a very special Escape Room – one that promises 10,000 dollars to the winner. It doesn’t take long for them to realize, though, that the game is literally one of life and death.

Escape Room feels pretty uninspired. A tired rehash of pieces we have all seen before, combined with bland characters. I was quickly bored and basically only finished the film out of lethargy.

The film poster showing the players in a cube-like room with several doors. Zoey's (Taylor Russell) can be seen in the background divided in puzzle peaces of which a few are missing.
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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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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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