Freaks Out (2021)

Freaks Out
Director: Gabriele Mainetti
Writer: Nicola Guaglianone, Gabriele Mainetti
Cast: Claudio Santamaria, Aurora Giovinazzo, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini, Giorgio Tirabassi, Max Mazzotta, Franz Rogowski
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Filmfestival
Seen on: 7.5.2022

Content Note: sexual assault, sexism, (critical treatment of) ableism, medical experiments

Plot:
1943 in Italy. Israel (Giorgio Tirabassi) runs a circus with his four artists Cencio (Pietro Castellitto), Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), Fulvio (Claudio Santamaria) and Mario (Giancarlo Martini) – who actually all have supernatural powers that fuel their performances. The five try their best to stay out of the Nazis’ way, though there is the Circus Berlin stationed in Rome – supposedly the best circus in the world, headed by Franz (Franz Rogowski), a pianist with 12 fingers. Franz has superpowers of his own: he has seen the future and knows that it doesn’t look good for the Nazis. He is convinced that he has to find four superpowered people to prevent the Nazis from losing and he will do anything to find them.

I enjoyed Freaks Out for the most part. It is marred by the male gaze, but it’s entertaining and manages to combine comedy and Nazi horrors in a good way.

The film poster showing the four "freaks" in their performance poses, as well as Franz (Franz Rogowski) wearing a Nazi robe.
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Kung Fu Zohra (2022)

Kung Fu Zohra
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Writer: Mabrouk El Mechri
Cast: Sabrina Ouazani, Ramzy Bedia, Eye Haidara, Tien Shue, Lina Hachani
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Filmfestival
Seen on: 5.5.2022

Content Note: domestic violence

Plot:
When Zohra (Sabrina Ouazani) meets Omar (Ramzy Bedia), they connect over a shared love for kung fu movies. It doesn’t take long until they are married and Zohra finds herself in a new city with a new job and a new friend in Binta (Eye Haidara). But after a rather smooth start, things get bumpy. Omar starts hitting Zohra and she finds herself unable to leave him. Instead she finds strength in training her fighting skills.

Kung Fu Zohra is probably the funniest film about domestic violence in existence, combining a martial arts comedy with astute commentary on DV – a combination that shouldn’t work but does somehow.

The film poster showing Zohra (Sabrina Ouazani) in a fighting pose wearing a red kimono-like shirt with an arab letter on the back.
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Luzifer (2021)

Luzifer
Director: Peter Brunner
Writer: Peter Brunner
Cast: Susanne Jensen, Franz Rogowski, Monika Hinterhuber, Theo Blaickner
Seen on: 26.4.2022

Content Note: ableism/cripping up, abuse

Plot:
Maria (Susanne Jensen) lives off the grid in the mountains with her son Johannes (Franz Rogowski) who has a learning disability. They spend their days mostly quietly and calmly with a lot of prayer and Johannes’ birds of prey. But their idyllic existence is threatened when plans are made to create a skiing area around them – and the developers are desperate to buy their land, unwilling to accept that Maria won’t sell. An evil is coming for Maria and Johannes.

My history with Peter Brunner movies isn’t without its issues, but I have liked his films increasingly more – and Luzifer is probably the one I liked the most so far. It doesn’t always work, but it is definitely engaging.

The film poster showing Maria (Susanne Jensen) sitting on Johannes' (Franz Rogowski) shoulders. Both have their arms spread wide. Behind them is a mountain.
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Rimini (2022)

Rimini
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Writer: Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl
Cast: Michael Thomas, Tessa Göttlicher, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Inge Maux, Claudia Martini, Georg Friedrich
Seen on: 23.4.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism, fascism

Plot:
Richie Bravo (Michael Thomas) is a “schlager” singer whose heyday has long been over. He lives in Rimini now where he barely gets by with performances for busloads of German-speaking tourists, the occasional sex work and renting out his house to fans while he himself goes to stay in a shabby room in one of the many hotels that are empty for winter. When his estranged daughter Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher) shows up to demand money from him, Richie needs all his (more or less sleazy) survival skills to comply with her request.

Rimini is a typical Seidl movie in a way, but there is an almost optimistic note at the end of the film that is rather untypical. In any case, it’s the portrait of a sleazy man that spares nothing, as it is the portrait of a tourist town without tourists.

The film poster showing Richie Bravo (Michael Thomas) performing on an empty stage in front of a glitter curtain.
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Maurice (1987)

Maurice
Director: James Ivory
Writer: Kit Hesketh-Harvey, James Ivory
Based on: E. M. Forster‘s novel
Cast: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Judy Parfitt, Phoebe Nicholls, Patrick Godfrey, Mark Tandy, Ben Kingsley, Kitty Aldridge, Helena Michell, Catherine Rabett
Seen on: 22.4.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia, classism

Plot:
Maurice (James Wilby) meets Clive (Hugh Grant) at Cambridge University where they connect over philosophy and music. Their friendship quickly deepens and when Clive confesses his love for Maurice, Maurice is thrown at first but finally able to admit his love for Clive as well. Only that Clive wants to keep sex out of their relationship, especially since homosexuality is still forbidden in the UK. Trapped between (internalized) denial and a longing for happiness, Maurice and Clive have to make some important decisions.

Maurice is a beautifully crafted film that – given the time it is set in – I thought would be much sadder. Instead it is a powerful and very romantic call to live your truth.

The film poster showing Maurice (James Wilby) leaning over Clive (Hugh Grant) who is turning his face away.
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Red Rocket (2021)

Red Rocket
Director: Sean Baker
Writer: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Cast: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Suzanna Son, Ethan Darbone, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez, Shih-Ching Tsou
Seen on: 19.4.2022

Content Note: grooming

Plot:
Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) used to be a rather successful porn actor, but the tides have turned for him recently. Not knowing where to turn, he ends up in his Texas hometown, on the steps of the house where his (ex-)wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss) live. Despite knowing better, the two allow him to stay, at least for a while. Mikey immediately tries to find his footing again, but only really comes to life when he meets 17-year-old Raylee, called Strawberry (Suzanna Son). In her, Mikey sees the possibility of a new start.

Red Rocket may not have won me over quite as much as Baker’s earlier films, but it is astonishing in how it manages to show all of Mikey’s despicable qualities and not excusing his actions, but still keeping him kind of likeable. It’s a difficult balance to pull off, and Red Rocket does so exquisitely.

The film poster showing a naked Mikey (Simon Rex), his hands covering his dick, stuck in a giant pink donut around his midriff.
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Shortbus (2006)

Shortbus
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Writer: John Cameron Mitchell (together with the cast)
Cast: Paul Dawson, Sook-Yin Lee, PJ DeBoy, Lindsay Beamish, Jay Brannan, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Seen on: 18.4.2022

Content Note: stalking

Plot:
Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a couples’ counselor. She herself is happily married to Rob (Raphael Barker). But in her first session with James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy), she has a bit of a breakdown and finally confides in them that she has never had an orgasm herself. James and Jamie, who actually wanted help with the growing distance between them, in part due to James’ depression, and were thinking of opening up their relationship, invite Sofia to Shortbus, a club run by Justin Bond (Mx Justin Vivian Bond) filled with queerness, art and sex. That invitatione sets all of them on new paths.

Shortbus is a movie made for queer people, extending a kind of safe space for the audience where everybody is welcome and free to explore. A part of that is also sexual exploration, but that’s only one part of a grander vision of queer community.

The film poster showing about 20 (clothed) people lying together in a pile.
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De uskyldige [The Innocents] (2021)

De uskyldige
Director: Eskil Vogt
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Cast: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lisa Tønne
Seen on: 14.4.2022

Content Note: ableism, racism, animal abuse and death

Plot:
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), her autistic sister Anna (Alba Brynsmo Ramstad) and their parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit) just moved into a giant apartment complex. Ida is not particularly happy about it, or the attention her parents pay her sister who she likes to hurt, convinced that Anna doesn’t feel pain because she can’t express it. When Ida sets out to explore her new home, she meets Ben (Sam Ashraf) with whom she shares her cruel streak. Ben also appears to have special powers, able to move a bottle cap by thought alone. And Ben isn’t the only one there with powers, it seems. There is also Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who has a telepathic connection with Anna. The four set out to explore their abilities, but things start to spiral out of control.

De uskyldige is a tense and atmospheric film with excellent performances by the children, but also a couple of pretty problematic tropes and an ending that was a bit of a let-down.

The film poster showing Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) lying on a tire swing looking up, only that the swing rack and the ground are above her.
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Afterlife of the Party (2021)

Afterlife of the Party
Director: Stephen Herek
Writer: Carrie Freedle
Cast: Victoria Justice, Midori Francis, Robyn Scott, Adam Garcia, Timothy Renouf, Gloria Garcia
Seen on: 24.3.2022

Plot:
Cassie (Victoria Justice) loves to party and to not take things seriously. This puts her at odds with her best friend since forever, Lisa (Midori Francis) who maybe takes things too seriously. On the occasion of Cassie’s birthday, they go out together with some of Cassie’s friends. When Lisa wants to head home, Cassie is upset and the two of them fight. The thing is: this is Cassie’s last night on Earth. Next thing she knows, it’s a year later and Cassie has to fix things with the most important people in her life – Lisa, her father (Adam Garcia) and her mother (Gloria Garcia) or she will have to spend her afterlife in hell instead of heaven. Fixing things is easier said than done, though.

Afterlife of the Party is okay. It’s not exactly great cinema but it is fun enough. I was a little disappointed, though, how the film interpreted “fixing things” with Lisa.

The film poster showing Cassie (Victoria Justice) in a sparkling dress raising a martini glass. Behind her are neon wings and a halo.
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Cyrano (2021)

Cyrano
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Erica Schmidt
Based on: Edmond Rostand‘s play
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Monica Dolan, Bashir Salahuddin, Joshua James, Anjana Vasan, Ruth Sheen, Glen Hansard, Mark Benton, Richard McCabe, Peter Wight
Seen on: 15.3.2022
[Here’s my review of the stage adaptation.]

Plot:
Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is a poet and soldier, known for being short, and his hot temper that earns him a certain respect and fear. Cyrano is very much in love with Roxane (Haley Bennett) with whom he connects over their shared love of poetry. But he has never told her, fearing that she couldn’t possibly love him because of his looks. When she tells him that she is in love with the newly arrived soldier Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and asks him for help, he is reluctant. But when he learns that Christian also loves Roxane, but has trouble with words, he suggests that he could help him find the right ones to court her.

Cyrano is a bit of a mixed bag of beans. Some parts of it work very well, others not so much. I enjoyed it, but it just can’t keep up with the stage version I only saw recently.

The film poster showing a big close-up of Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) looking into the distance, with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr. ) and Roxanne (Haley Bennett) holding each other in a smaller image beneath him.
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