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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The Northman (2022)

The Northman
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Sjón, Robert Eggers
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gustav Lindh, Elliott Rose, Willem Dafoe, Björk
Seen on: 26.4.2022

Content Note: rape

Plot:
Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) only barely escaped with his life when his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) murdered his brother, Amleth’s father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) and took over the kingdom. Amleth, only a boy then, had to leave his mother Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) behind, but swore to save her and take his revenge. Now he is grown up and makes his living as a viking. During a raid, he hears news from his uncle and, pretending to be a slave like Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and many others, lets himself be carted off to finally fulfill the promise he gave as a boy.

I was hoping for The Northman to be a bit of a bloodfest, knowing that with Eggers, I’d probably get a bit of a challenge as well. But unfortunately, mostly what I got with The Northman is darkness – and I mean that quite literally. It’s a film we barely see and that was pretty boring to boot.

The film poster showing Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) standing on a cliff, watching a fleet in the sea.
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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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Death on the Nile (2022)

Death on the Nile
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Michael Green
Based on: Agatha Christie‘s novel
Sequel to: Murder on the Orient Express
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Emma Mackey, Letitia Wright, Sophie Okonedo, Annette Bening, Rose Leslie, Ali Fazal, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Russell Brand
Seen on: 14.2.2022

Plot:
Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is in Egypt on holiday when he runs into his old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who is traveling with his mohter (Annette Bening). They are in the country for the wedding of Simon (Armie Hammer) and Linette (Gal Gadot) who have invited their wedding party to Egypt. But not only their guests have come to the Nile, but also Jacqueline (Emma Mackey) who used to be Simon’s fiancée until she introduced him to Linette. When Linette is killed shortly afterwards, Poirot has to untangle the net of personal relationships that surround them all to find the murderer.

Death on the Nile really isn’t good, despite a fantastic cast. But with a bad script, a weird look and some very questionable choices by Branagh in his role as director of the film, not even a good cast can save this film.

The film poster showing the large cast of characters on a staemer on the Nile, behind them the pyramids and the sphynx.
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Al Berto (2017)

Al Berto
Director: Vicente Alves do Ó
Writer: Vicente Alves do Ó
Cast: Ricardo Teixeira, José Pimentão, Raquel Rocha Vieira, José Leite, Joana Almeida, João Villas-Boas, Gabriela Barros, Ana Vilela da Costa, Duarte Grilo
Part of: Transition International Queer Minority Film Festival
Seen on: 5.2.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Plot:
Al Berto (Ricardo Teixeira) left Portugal some time ago, but after the Carnation Revolution, he dares to return to Sines, where he takes up residence in his family’s now empty estate and utterly commits to the Bohemian lifestyle, surrounded by artists, partying a lot and falling in love with João Maria (José Pimentão). But with or without the revolution, Portugal may not be quite ready for Al Berto’s way of doing things and resentment starts growing.

Al Berto is an interesting biopic that captures the spirit of the time, at least as I imagine it. It does get distracted a little too much by the sex and romance things, though.

The film poster showing a large close-up of Al Berto (Ricardo Teixeira). Below that we see him partying with João Maria (José Pimentão), at the beach with friends and João Maria holding Sara (Raquel Rocha Vieira) naked.
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Dramarama (2020)

Dramarama
Director: Jonathan Wysocki
Writer: Jonathan Wysocki
Cast: Nick Pugliese, Anna Grace Barlow, Nico Greetham, Megan Suri, Danielle Kay, Zak Henri
Part of: Transition International Queer Minorities Film Festival
Seen on: 30.1.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Plot:
It’s 1994. Gene (Nick Pugliese) has been friends with Ally (Danielle Kay), Oscar (Nico Greetham), Rose (Anna Grace Barlow) and Claire (Megan Suri) for pretty much all of high school, brought together by their love for all things dramatic, though all in different ways. Now high school is over and everyone but Gene is preparing to leave town for college. Rose has invited them all for a Victorian Murder Mystery / farewell party and Gene is dreading it a little bit as he hopes to finally come out to the group, and is very doubtful that his Christian friends will accept it easily. But when the final clue to the mystery goes missing and pizza is delivered by older, and way cooler high school drop-out JD (Zak Henri) who stirs up some resentments within the group, things become a little more dramatic than anticipated.

Dramarama is a funny and extremely sweet film that doesn’t work like your usual coming out film – and I loved that. As I loved the entire film.

The film poster showing Oscar (Nico Greetham) dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, Claire (Megan Suri) dressed up as Alice, Rose (Anna Grace Barlow) dressed up as Miss Havisham, Ally (Danielle Kay) dressed up as Mina Harker and Gene (Nick Pugliese) dressed up as Doctor Jekyll.
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Miss Julie (2014)

Miss Julie
Director: Liv Ullmann
Writer: Liv Ullmann
Based on: August Strindberg‘s play
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
Seen on: 1.1.2022

Content Note: dubious consent

Plot:
It’s midsummer night and Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain) is alone at home. That is, her father the Baron is gone and most of the servants are at the festivities, but Jean (Colin Farrell) and Kathleen (Samantha Morton) have stayed behind. Jean and Kathleen are an item and they are rather disturbed by Julie’s presence in their kitchen. Jean, with the power of propriety, tries at first to push Julie away, but when Julie, with the power of her social position, pushes back, both of them get caught in a sexually charged power struggle.

Miss Julie is an intense film with extraordinary performances that fails to subvert its heteronormative perspective in the slightest, thus becoming too hopeless for its own good.

The film poster showing Jean (Colin Farrell) standing behind Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain).
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Mid90s (2018)

Mid90s
Director: Jonah Hill
Writer: Jonah Hill
Cast: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin
Seen on: 30.12.2021

Content Note: domestic violence, child abuse, homomisic and ableist slurs

Plot:
Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives with his mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and his bigger brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). Things aren’t easy at home. Stevie gets beaten up regularly by Ian, and Dabney is rarely present, usually caught up with some man or another. When Stevie stumbles upon a group of skaters, he hopes to find the community there that he lacks at home. He takes up skating and gets to know the boys. But they are older and wilder than him.

For some reason, I thought that Mid90s would be a light-hearted film. It is not, and it disabused me of that notion within the first 30 seconds or so. Once I readjusted my expectations, I found it quite good in many ways.

The film poster showing Stevie (Sunny Suljic) photographed slightly from below against a blue sky with white clouds.
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Große Freiheit [Great Freedom] (2021)

Große Freiheit
Director: Sebastian Meise
Writer: Sebastian Meise, Thomas Reider
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Anton von Lucke, Thomas Prenn
Seen on: 19.12.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Plot:
It’s the 60s and Hans (Franz Rogowski) is once more arrested and imprisoned for “sexual deviancy”, for having sex with other men. It’s not the first time, and back in prison, he quickly settles into the routine when he sees two familiar faces. One is Leo (Anton von Lucke), one of the men Hans had sex with, a young teacher utterly lost in prison life. The other is Viktor (Georg Friedrich) with whom Hans shares a long history, and a connection that runs deep – and becomes deeper still.

Große Freiheit is a sensitive film with great performances about a horrific part of (German) legal history. And it’s also a beautiful love story.

The film poster showing Hans (Franz Rogowski) desperately holding on to Viktor (Georg Friedrich).
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Passing (2021)

Passing
Director: Rebecca Hall
Writer: Rebecca Hall
Based on: Nella Larsen‘s novel
Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alexander Skarsgård
Seen on: 24.11.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) used to be close friends in school, but haven’t seen each other in years. When they run into each other, they discover that their loves have taken very different paths. While Irene married a Black man (André Holland) and is involved in charity projects to help the Black population, Clare married a white man (Alexander Skarsgård) and her entire social circle, including him, thinks she’s white herself. Irene is taken aback and a little afraid that Clare will be discovered through her, while Clare is desperate to reconnect with the Black community she lost. One thing is for sure, though:they are both inexorably drawn to each other.

Passing is an excellently crafted and above all beautifully acted film that manages to get the most out of its story, although I can’t quite forgive its ending.

The film poster showing Irene (Tessa Thompson) in front of a black background and Clare (Ruth Negga) in front of a white background. Both have their backs turned to each other.
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