Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2021)

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Jeon Jong-seo, Evan Whitten, Kate Hudson, Ed Skrein, Craig Robinson
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Filmfestival
Seen on: 6.5.2022

Plot:
Mona (Jeon Jong-seo) has been locked away in a psychiatric facility because she has special powers – she can control others with her mind. But now she is finally able to escape and makes her way to the next city, New Orleans. Unused to dealing with the world, she stands out. When she meets stripper Bonnie (Kate Hudson) and Bonnie realizes what she is capable of, she takes her under her wing and together, they start a more or less new life.

So far, I didn’t really like Amirpour’s movies, but I’m happy to say that I very much enjoyed Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon that is a film that is a) not as obsessed with style as her other features and b) doesn’t take itself all that seriously. That means, it’s a film that has room for heart – and that’s just what I like to see.

Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-seo) pressing against the window of a diner.
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Upurga (2021) – DNF

Upurga
Director: Ugis Olte
Writer: Ugis Olte, Bojana Babic, Lucas Abrahão
Cast: Igors Selegovskis, Inga Tropa, Reinis Boters, Rihards Sniegs, Elvita Ragovska, Morten Traavik
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Filmfestival
Seen on: 5./6.5.2022

Plot:
Andrejs (Igors Selegovskis) works in an outdoor store. His sister Eva (Inga Tropa) is an actress who is planning to shoot a commercial with her boyfriend Oskars (Reinis Boters) behind the camera, Matiass (Rihards Sniegs) starring alongside her and Mara (Elvita Ragovska) directing – though everything is supposed to look like Eva and Matiass were alone in the wild. When Andrejs learns that they actually plan to go to Upurga to kayak without any guide, he is appalled – and offers his services. So the five go to the river together. But strange things soon start happening.

Upurga does a good job setting up its mystery and then not such a great job with keeping the tension or unraveling the story. Ultimately, I fell asleep and missed the last third or so, but I can’t say I regret not finishing the film.

The film poster showing an upsode down image of water. In the water we can see a female silhouette. Andrejs (Igors Selegovskis) runs along the watershore, upside down as well.
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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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Lapsis (2020)

Lapsis
Director: Noah Hutton
Writer: Noah Hutton
Cast: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard, Ivory Aquino, Dora Madison, James McDaniel, Frank Wood, Arliss Howard
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 24.9.2021
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Plot:
Ray (Dean Imperial) tries to take care of his brother Jamie (Babe Howard) who suffers from a mysterious illness. Treatments for this illness are expensive and experimental, but Ray is determined to get his brother help. Even if that means having to go cabling – that is, laying miles and miles of cables through the forest on foot, a requirement for the new quantum technology that is taking over the world. Ray is suspicious of the technology and he needs to take an illegal short-cut to start working soon, but in his desperation, he will do anything.

Lapsis is a unique and very entertaining film. I really enjoyed it and its off the beaten path thinking and style.

The film poster showing a big golden cube with various cables potruding from it.
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Buster’s Mal Heart (2016)

Buster’s Mal Heart
Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writer: Sarah Adina Smith
Cast: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Sukha Belle Potter, Toby Huss, Lin Shaye, Lily Gladstone
Seen on: 9.9.2021

Plot:
Buster (Rami Malek) has made a name for himself by taking over summer holiday homes during winter. He’s been at it for years and has managed to evade capture so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Before that, he used to be Jonah. Jonah worked as a night receptionist in a hotel, trying to care for his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and daughter Roxy (Sukha Belle Potter). But the constant night-shifts and the lack of sleep were starting to get to him. To get through the dreary nights, he starts talking to a guest who simply refers to himself as The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) and believes that The Inversion is coming.

I saw Sarah Adina Smith’s first film The Midnight Swim many years ago, but it’s really one of those films that absolutely stayed with me. So, when I realized that her second film – Buster’s Mal Heart – was available on Netflix, I had to watch it immediately. And while it wasn’t quite as captivating as The Midnight Swim for me, it was absolutely captivating enough.

The film poster showing Buster (Rami Malek), his face distorted as if caught on a crappy videotape.
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Reminiscence (2021)

Reminiscence
Director: Lisa Joy
Writer: Lisa Joy
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Cliff Curtis, Marina de Tavira, Daniel Wu, Mojean Aria, Brett Cullen, Natalie Martinez, Angela Sarafyan
Seen on: 31.8.2021

Plot:
In a Miami almost entirely drowned Nick (Hugh Jackman) and his employee Watts (Thandiwe Newton) run a small reminiscence business. Their clients come to relive their memories in the most realistic way possible with them. Everything changes for Nick the day that Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes in, hoping to find her lost keys. Nick and Mae become very close – until Mae disappears, leaving Nick scrambling to understand what happened with her, with them. Unable to let go, he digs into her past and uncovers more than he bargained for.

I had not realized going into the film that it was a noir set in the future. If I had, I may have liked it a little better, but fact is, I usually don’t like noirs and Reminiscence reminded me again why that is.

The film poster showing Nick (Hugh Jackman) standing with a gun in his hand, pointed at the floor. Behind him is a half-submerged street with boats and the other main characters are superimposed over the setting orange sun.
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Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse [The Testament of Dr. Mabuse] (1933)

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse
Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Thea von Harbou
Based on: Norbert Jacquescharacter
Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gustav Diessl, Rudolf Schündler, Otto Wernicke, Oscar Beregi Sr., Oskar Höcker, Wera Liessem, Theodor Loos, Karl Meixner
Seen on: 26.7.2021

Plot:
Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) knows that he is on the trail of something big – something that could get him back into the good graces of Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke). There is a man who controls the crime in the city and Hofmeister has discovered his name: Mabuse. Only before he can tell Lohmann all about it, Hofmeister is attacked. And Mabuse is a psychiatric patient under the care of Professor Baum (Oscar Beregi Sr.) with a brilliant criminal mind, but no way to communicate with anyone, much less outside the hospital. Lohmann can’t make heads or tails of this story – but the crimes continue.

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse is a German cinema classic and it’s easy to see why, even apart from its political history. Mabuse is an interesting character – kind of a proto-Joker, I’d say – and the film has very imaginative cinematography.

The film poster showing a drawing of a face within a face.
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Possessor (2020)

Possessor
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland, Gabrielle Graham, Tuppence Middleton, Raoul Bhaneja, Sean Bean
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Festival
Seen on: 20.6.2021
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Content Note: suicide

Plot:
Tasya (Andrea Riseborough) has a very special job: she takes over people’s bodies, using them to fulfill her company’s missions – usually assassinations. It’s a job that doesn’t allow for errors, and it definitely doesn’t allow its operatives to lose sight of who they are. But Tasya has had some troubles recently, and her new job – taking over Colin (Christopher Abbott) – might be more than she can handle.

Possessor has a really good concept and came with some accolades, but ultimately I’m afraid that I expected a little more than it delivered. Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t an engaging and thoughtful film worth your time.

The film poster showing somebody wearing a mask that looks like a melted face and holding a knife.
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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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Butter on the Latch (2013)

Butter on the Latch
Director: Josephine Decker
Writer: Josephine Decker
Cast: Sarah Small, Isolde Chae-Lawrence, Charlie Hewson, Emily Decker, Stephan Goldbach, Yury Yakor
Seen on: 13.3.2021

Plot:
Sarah (Sarah Small) lives the hectic New York Life behind for a few days to spend it with her friend Isolde (Isolde Chae-Lawrence) at a Balkan song and dance camp that takes place in the middle of a forest. They spend their days talking and drumming and singing and talking some more – until they have a falling out over an apparent triviality and Sarah starts pursuing Steph (Charlie Hewson).

Butter on the Latch is Decker’s debut feature and having seen (almost all) her films now in (almost) reverse chronological order, it is clear how much she has grown as a filmmaker since her first film. But that doesn’t mean that Butter on the Latch doesn’t have good qualities. It is still a very strong debut.

The film poster showing a drawing of two women holding each other surrounded by swirls and swirls of hair.
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