13th (2016)

13th
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay
Seen on: 25.7.2017
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“Plot”:
Ava DuVernay set out to make a film about the prison-industrial complex. 25% of the world’s prison population is USAmerican, although only 5% of the world’s population is. People of color are disproportionately imprisoned. And prisoners are used for cheap labor for which they barely see any money. But in her research, DuVernay discovered more and more, how tightly the USAmerican prison system is tied to the 13th amendment to the constitution: the amendment that abolished slavery, but left a backdoor open: as a punishment of crime, slavery and involuntary servitude are still permitted.

13th is a fascinating, well-structured and incendiary film. It’s pretty much a perfect documentary: delivering a slew of information in a way that never gets overbearing and connects different islands of knowledge to show the underlying structure of inequality.

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Embrace (2016)

Embrace
Director: Taryn Brumfitt
Writer: Taryn Brumfitt
Seen on: 21.7.2017
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“Plot”:
Taryn Brumfitt struggled with her body and the way it looked. She tried to keep in shape with body building, she considered surgery. But then in 2013, she posted a naked photo of herself online, showing her stretchmarks, her belly, her imperfections. The photo started something: not only were there many women who reacted strongly – and positively – to it, it sent Brumfitt on a journey of self-acceptance and activism that is chronicled in this documentary.

Much of what Embrace talks about is important and touching, but unfortunately it just doesn’t go far enough for me.

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Their Finest (2016)

Their Finest
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Gaby Chiappe
Based on: Lissa Evans‘ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half
Cast: Gemma ArtertonSam ClaflinBill NighyRichard E. GrantHenry GoodmanRachael StirlingJack HustonAmanda RootEddie MarsanHelen McCroryJeremy Irons
Seen on: 19.7.2017
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Plot:
It’s the middle of World War II, times are tough and Catrin (Gemma Arterton) needs a job as her husband Ellis (Jack Huston), an artist, doesn’t make enough money to keep them afloat. She gets hired as a scriptwriter for propaganda films and quickly gets saddled with the task of writing the supposedly unimportant women’s dialogue. When she hears about a story about two young women who participated in the Dunkirk evacuation, she brings the idea for an entire film – which makes her co-author to Tom (Sam Claflin) and handler to the aging star Ambrose (Bill Nighy).

Their Finest is a beautiful, fantastic film that touches on many things, but most of all it pulls on heartstrings in the perfect way.

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I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

I Am Not Your Negro
Director: Raoul Peck
Writer: James Baldwin, Raoul Peck
Based on: James Baldwin‘s unfinished manuscript Remember This House
Narrated by: Samuel L. Jackson
Seen on: 6.7.2017
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“Plot”:
James Baldwin was not only a political activist himself, but was also close to civil rights leaders Medgar EversMalcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the manuscript he never finished, he tried to tell their story, as well as the general history of the USA, especially with regard to race. Peck builds on the manuscript and crafts a documentary from it that chronicles the civil rights movement and race relations in the US.

I Am Not Your Negro sheds a fascinating light on USAmerican history. Baldwin was a sharp observer and obviously had a way with words – I loved to discover his perspective.

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Grave [Raw] (2016)

Grave [literally: grave in the sense of severe, not in the sense of burial]
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance MarillierElla RumpfRabah Nait OufellaLaurent LucasJoana Preiss
Seen on: 1.7.2017
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Plot:
Justine (Garance Marillier) is excited: she finally gets to follow her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) to university to study veterinary medicine. But the Alexia Justine meets there is not the sister she remembers, and she’s definitely no help with the hazing rituals that mean that strict vegetarian Justine is forced to eat meat. Eating meat has unforeseen consequences for Justine and starts a transformation process for her.

Grave had me hooked from the get-go and I found it extremely engaging, even when not everything about it worked for me. But it’s a strong film, especially for a first feature, and definitely worth seeing.

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This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

This Beautiful Fantastic
Director: Simon Aboud
Writer: Simon Aboud
Cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Davies
Seen on: 26.6.2017
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Plot:
Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) works at a library and dreams of writing children’s books. But first, she has to get a handle on her life because it’s currently falling apart: because she has to check her locks a lot to make sure they’re really closed, she’s always late to work and her grumpy neighbor Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) has sicced her landlord on her who threatens to evict her if she doesn’t clean up her garden. The only trouble is that Bella really doesn’t like plants. But fortunately she can win over Alfie’s cook Vernon (Andrew Scott) to help her out. And there’s also the befuddled library patron and inventor Billy (Jeremy Irvine) who takes a liking to her and vice versa.

This Beautiful Fantastic tries very hard to be Amélie but fails on almost all levels, becoming sickly sweet and so very twee that I could barely stand it.

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Mãe Só Há Uma [Don’t Call Me Son] (2016)

Mãe Só Há Uma (literally: You Only Have One Mother)
Director: Anna Muylaert
Writer: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Naomi NeroDaniel BotelhoDani NefussiMatheus NachtergaeleLais DiasLuciana PaesHelena AlbergariaLuciano BortoluzziJune DantasRenan Tenca
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2017
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Plot:
Pierre (Naomi Nero) gets along well with his mom Aracy (Dani Nefussi) and his sister Jaqueline (Lais Dias). He spends most of his time with his band, taking advantage of the small bit of fame by having lots of sex with both boys and girls, while working out his (gender) identity. But then Pierre is informed that Aracy, the woman he has always known as his mother, actually stole him from Gloria (Dani Nefussi) and Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele), and she stole his sister, too. As Gloria and Matheus try to reconnect with their son – who they insist on calling Felipe – Pierre can’t accept this new version of his family.

Mãe Só Há Uma tells a pretty incredible story with a lot of sensitivity and insight. It’s sometimes a little long and the ending felt a little frustrating, but it’s definitely worth it regardless.

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AWOL (2016)

AWOL
Director: Deb Shoval
Writer: Deb Shoval, Karolina Waclawiak
Cast: Lola KirkeBreeda WoolDale SoulesBill SageTed WelchBritne OldfordLibby GeorgeCharlotte Maltby
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2017
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Plot:
Joey (Lola Kirke) doesn’t really have many options in her small hometown. One of the few ways to get out is to join the army, so that’s what she does. It is just then when Joey meets Rayna (Breeda Wool) and falls in love with her. And Rayna seems to like Joey, too. But she’s also married and has two children, which spells trouble for everyone involved.

AWOL has an interesting setting and Kirke is really strong, but other than that, I pretty much ended up hating the film.

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Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (2016)

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Director: Deborah S. Esquenazi
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2017
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“Plot”:
In the early 90s, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez, all around 19 and 20 years old, were accused of gang-raping two young girls. Despite the fact that there was no evidence, the fact that the four are lesbians and latinas, coupled with the Satanic Panic, they were swiftly convicted for 15 years, Ramirez even for almost 40 years. But they continued to fight to prove their innocence.

Southwest of Salem tells an absolutely shocking story for which Esquenazi finds the right tone – not an easy achievement.

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Spa Night (2016)

Spa Night
Director: Andrew Ahn
Writer: Andrew Ahn
Cast: Joe SeoYoun Ho ChoHaerry KimTopher ParkJose A. SolorioIl AhnLinda HanHo Young Chung
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2017
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Plot:
David (Joe Seo) comes from a traditional Korean-American family and he’s a good son, expected to work at the family restaurant and to attend college and make a better life for himself. But when they have to close the restaurant, their carefully laid dreams and plans fall apart. That circumstance gives David a little freedom, though, to make his own choices. Without his parents’ knowledge, he ditches his SAT course and gets a part-time job in a Korean spa where he discovers a thriving gay subculture that speaks to him.

Spa Night is an incredibly heavy film. It’s not the most pleasant experience to watch it, but it’s extremely good cinema.

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