Catfight (2016)

Catfight
Director: Onur Tukel
Writer: Onur Tukel
Cast: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Amy Hill, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Ariel Kavoussi, Damian Young, Stephen Gevedon, Giullian Yao Gioiello, Tituss Burgess, Peter Jacobson
Seen on: 10.9.2021

Content Note: alcoholism, misogyny, (critical treatment of) queermisia

Plot:
Vanessa (Sandra Oh) has a good life, a husband (Damian Young), a son (Giullian Yao Gioiello) and loads of money. So what if she has a bit of drinking problem, too? One night at a party, she runs into Ashley (Anne Heche). Ashley and Vanessa used to be in college together and hated each other back then. And, really, nothing has changed. Ashley is an artist now, helping out her caterer girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone), and horrified at the bourgeois life Vanessa leads, while Vanessa doesn’t take Ashley’s art seriously and finds her anti-establishment rants ridiculous. Their simple small talk quickly turns into a series of barbs and finally things get so out of hand that their lives are forever changed by the encounter.

Catfight, to me, was an utterly bleak and joyless film. I just couldn’t bring myself to like it.

The film poster showing Ashley (Anne Heche) holding Vanessa (Sandra Oh) in a chokehold.
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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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Die Mitte der Welt [Center of My World] (2016)

Die Mitte der Welt
Director: Jakob M. Erwa
Writer: Jakob M. Erwa
Based on: Andreas Steinhöfel‘s novel
Cast: Louis Hofmann, Sabine Timoteo, Ada Philine Stappenbeck, Inka Friedrich, Svenja Jung, Jannik Schümann, Nina Proll, Clemens Rehbein, Sascha Alexander Gersak
Seen on: 29.8.2021

Content Note: bimisia

Plot:
Phil (Louis Hofmann) lives with his mother Glass (Sabine Timoteo) and his sister Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck) in an old mansion at the edge of town, but he just spent the summer abroad. Returning home, he finds that things between Glass and Dianne are tense and Dianne is barely talking to him. Fortunately, there is still his best friend Kat (Svenja Jung) with whom he can still have fun. When school starts, it brings a new student to their class, Nicholas (Jannik Schümann). Phil is convinced that he met Nicholas once already, but in any case, he feels very drawn to him. And Nicholas seems to return his interest. Between family, friends and first love, Phil has to figure out where he stands.

Die Mitte der Welt felt a little bit more like wish fulfilment and fantasy than I would have liked, but other than that, and the usual bimisic trope of the bisexual just not being able to be content with one person, it was nice enough.

The film poster showing Phil (Louis Hofmann) lying between Nicholas (Jannik Schümann) and Kat (Svenja Jung), but they are upside down. Below them, the rest of the central cast can be seen much smaller, standing in a group.
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The Forest (2016)

The Forest
Director: Jason Zada
Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Rina Takasaki
Seen on: 18.8.2021

Content Note: suicide, racism

Plot:
Sara’s (Natalie Dormer) twin sister Jess (Natalie Dormer) has disappeared in Japan. Everyone seems to assume that she is dead as she was last seen in Aokigahara forest, a spot known for people to go to kill themselves. But Sara is convinced that Jess isn’t dead, just lost. So she goes to Japan to find her. She meets journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who is about to write about Aokigahara and invites her to join his exploration with local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), if she lets him use her story. Sara agrees. As they head into the forest, they soon realize that there is more to it than they thought at first.

Sometimes I want to kick myself for my memory and for my tendency to not read much about films before seeing them. If my memory had been better, I would have remembered why I hadn’t watched The Forest before, and if I had read more about it, I probably would have remembered better or realized anew. Because The Forest is one fucking racist mess and it isn’t even subtle or debatable. It’s just really, really racist. And even apart from that, it’s not particularly good.

The film poster showing Sara's (Natalie Dormer) face, the lower half dissolving into a series of nooses below a line of trees.
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Blue Jay (2016)

Blue Jay
Director: Alex Lehmann
Writer: Mark Duplass
Cast: Mark Duplass, Sarah Paulson, Clu Gulager
Seen on: 28.4.2021

Plot:
Jim (Mark Duplass) has returned to his hometown after his mother’s death to clean out her house. Amanda (Sarah Paulson), too, has returned home to visit her sister. When the two run into each other by chance, they carefully reconnect. When they were in high school, they were a couple, convinced that they would grow old together. But life happened differently for them. Seeing each other again, though, makes them wonder why and how.

Blue Jay is quite gripping, relying entirely on Paulson and Duplass who really are perfect. I was completely taken with it.

The film poster showing Amanda (Sarah Paulson) and Jim (Mark Duplass) holding each other close.
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No Light and No Land Anywhere (2016)

No Light and No Land Anywhere
Director: Amber Sealey
Writer: Amber Sealey
Cast: Gemma Brockis, Jennifer Lafleur, David Sullivan, Kent Osborne, Jade Sealey, Richard Sealey, Deborah Dopp
Seen on: 27.4.2021

Plot:
Lexi (Gemma Brockis) has left London in a hurry. After her mother’s death and with her marriage crumbling, she decided to go to Los Angeles to find her father. He left her mother and her when Lexi was just three years old and she hasn’t seen him since. But there are a couple of breadcrumbs that she can follow. She rents a room in a seedy motel and starts the search.

No Light and No Land Anywhere isn’t always easy to watch but that’s just because it is so effective in transporting Lexi’s emotions. So, even if it isn’t easy, it’s certainly worth to work for it.

The film poster showing a close-up of Lexi (Gemma Brockis) with tears in her eyes, all in shades of pink.
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Cézanne et moi [Cezanne and I] (2016)

Cézanne et moi
Director: Danièle Thompson
Writer: Danièle Thompson
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Déborah François, Pierre Yvon, Sabine Azéma, Gérard Meylan, Laurent Stocker, Isabelle Candelier
Seen on: 25.4.2021

Content Note: sexism, misogyny

Plot:
Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) have known each other since they were children. But as they grew older, they grew apart from each other. But now Cézanne has come to visit Zola and both are excited to see each other again. Once they get to talking, though, tensions between the two become obvious: Zola wrote a novel that draws on their life and Cézanne is unhappy with how he was portrayed in it. As both reflect on their relationship with each other, their lives and their women, it is unclear whether they can move past that tension and the very different way their lives developed.

Oh boy, Cézanne et moi was an absolutely boring movie. It moves slowly and spends most of its time dwelling on the sexism and misogyny those two men exhibit, while still wanting us to like them. That equation doesn’t work, nor does the film.

The film poster showing Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) walking through a landscape that looks like it was painted by Cézanne.
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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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Hush (2016)

Hush
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel
Cast: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Samantha Sloyan, Michael Trucco, Emma Graves
Seen on: 4.3.2021

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a writer who decided to move to a remote area after a bad break-up to finish her book. She befriended her neighbor Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), but other than Sarah and her boyfriend, there is nobody around. Living that alone is made a little more complicated by the fact that Maddie lost both her hearing and her voice due to an infection many years earlier. It’s nothing she can’t cope with – until a masked man (John Gallagher Jr.) shows up on her doorstep, obviously out to kill her. But Maddie is a fighter.

I didn’t do my homework when it comes to Hush – I was just in the mood for something horrory and it was already rather late, so I wanted it to be a short film, and this was the first likely candidate. Had I known that it was a film built on cripping up, I would have skipped it – and I wouldn’t have missed much.

The film poster showing Maddie (Kate Siegel) with scared eyes, behind her a masked man (John Gallagher Jr.). A knofe is glinting between them.
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Die Kinder der Villa Emma [The Children of Villa Emma] (2016)

Die Kinder der Villa Emma
Director: Nikolaus Leytner
Writer: Agnes Pluch
Cast: Sophie Stockinger, Ludwig Trepte, Nina Proll, Muriel Wimmer, Laurence Rupp, August Zirner, Christian Dolezal, Maximilian Paier, Juri Zanger, Haris Begic, Justus Schlingensiepen, Enzo Gaier, Leon Orlandianyi
Seen on: 20.1.2021

Plot:
Betty (Sophie Stockinger) lives in Vienna in 1941. As a Jewish girl, that is not the greatest place to be, so her father (Christian Dolezal) makes sure that Betty gets on a train with a group of children led by Helga (Nina Proll) and Georg (August Zirner). They hope to bring the children safely to Palestine. But the way there is dangerous and takes a lot of time.

Die Kinder der Villa Emma tells a good story, but it doesn’t tell it very well, I’m afraid. It doesn’t tell it badly, either, but there was something missing.

The film poster showing a group of children running towards a big mansion as well as several characters from the film.
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