All Together Now (2020)

All Together Now
Director: Brett Haley
Writer: Matthew Quick, Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Based on: Matthew Quick‘s novel Sorta Like a Rockstar
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Rhenzy Feliz, Justina Machado, Judy Reyes, Anthony Jacques, Gerald Isaac Waters, Taylor Richardson, Fred Armisen, Carol Burnett
Seen on: 2.4.2021

Content Note: ableism

Amber (Auli’i Cravalho) is a friendly teenager who always looks at the bright side, even though her mother Becky (Justina Machado) fell on hard times and they are currently homeless, sleeping in the school bus Becky drives. Nevertheless, Amber still finds the time to work in a senior residence, give pay-as-you-wish English lessons and helps take care of a neurodiverse teen who is one of her best friends, Ricky (Anthony Jacques). Ricky, Ty (Rhenzy Feliz), Chad (Gerald Isaac Waters) and Jordan (Taylor Richardson) are Amber’s social net, but they don’t know how difficult things are for her at the moment because Amber has a hard time accepting help. When things get even worse, though, and it looks like Amber may have to give up on her dream of going to Carnegie Mellon, something has to give.

All Together Now is incredibly cheesy and Auli’i Cravalho is almost the only thing that makes all that cheese bearable.

The film poster showing Amber (Auli'i Cravalho) in a van surrounded by her friends. All are laughing.
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Rebecca (2020)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Based on: Daphne du Maurier’s novel
Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ann Dowd, Tom Goodman-Hill, John Hollingworth, Keeley Hawes, Sam Riley, Bill Paterson
Seen on: 20.2.2021

Working as a companion to Mrs van Hopper (Ann Dowd) has brought the unnamed protagonist (Lily James) to Monte Carlo where Mrs van Hopper spies Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), whose somewhat tragic story precedes him: he is a widower and lives at the grand estate of Manderley, now all alone. When Mrs van Hopper falls ill, the protagonist and Maxim de Winter start to spend more time with each other and finally he asks her to marry him. But living in Manderley, where the shadow of Maxim’s deceased wife Rebecca hangs over everything and her housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) makes sure it doesn’t leave, proves quite a challenge for them.

Rebecca is an okay adaptation of a really excellent novel. That squandered potential leaves a film that is decidedly meh, but very pretty.

The film poster showing Maxim (Armie Hammer) looking into the distance as he holds the protagonist's (Lily James) face. She is looking up at him.
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Was wir wollten [What We Wanted] (2020)

Was wir wollten
Director: Ulrike Kofler
Writer: Sandra Bohle, Ulrike Kofler, Marie Kreutzer
Based on: Peter Stamm‘s short story Der Lauf der Dinge
Cast: Lavinia Wilson, Elyas M’Barek, Anna Unterberger, Lukas Spisser, Iva Höpperger, Fedor Teyml, Marta Manduca, Maria Hofstätter
Seen on: 3.1.2021

Content Note: (attempted) suicide, abortion

After several rounds of IVF and no success, Alice (Lavinia Wilson) and Niklas (Elyas M’Barek) may have to face the fact that they probably will never have a child of their own. Their gynecologist (Maria Hofstätter) suggest that they take a holiday to take some of the pressure off. They decide to return to Sardinia – the place where they already spent a beautiful holiday earlier in their relationship. Everything would be okay, if not for the family next door to their bungalow. The parents Christl and Romed (Anna Unterberger, Lukas Spisser) are not only loud and seeking conversation, but they also have two children, a sullen teenager David (Fedor Teyml) and a boundary disrespecting girl Denise (Iva Höpperger). Instantly Alice and Niklas’ vacation turns into a field filled with landmines.

Was wir wollten is an excellent character drama that is a little heavy-handed at times and that goes for a plot twist at the end that I didn’t love. But with excellent performances and Kofler’s eye for tension, it is still worth a watch.

The film poster showing Alice (Lavinia Wilson) and Niklas (Elyas M'Barek) cuddled together and swimming in the sea.
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Sister Tempest (2020)

Sister Tempest
Director: Joe Badon
Writer: Joe Badon, Jason Kruppa
Cast: Kali Russell, Holly Bonney, Linnea Gregg, Alex Stage, Taylor Guarisco, Nadia Eiler, Aubrey Elise, Andre LaSalle, Collin Galyean
Seen on: 30.1.2021
[Screener Review.]

Anne (Kali Russell) has been taking care of her sister Karen (Holly Bonney) ever since they were children (Nadia Eiler, Aubrey Elise) and their parents died. But Karen has started dating drug dealer Chris (Taylor Guarisco) and things have been tense between the sisters ever since. When Chris gets shot and Karen goes missing, Anne’s life completely unravels and she finds herself in front of an alien tribunal tasked with finding out what happened.

Sister Tempest is a strange film, to say the least. It wraps the two sisters’ story into a surreal package of aliens, vampire-cannibals and angels. I enjoyed that approach a lot. Though there were a couple of things that I didn’t love, overall the film is an experience you should go for.

The film poster showing drawings of Anne and Karen both as adults and children in front of a much bigger drawing of an astronaut.
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Coded Bias (2020)

Coded Bias
Director: Shalini Kantayya
Writer: Shalini Kantayya
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 13.12.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

When MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini started working with facial recognition software for a class, she didn’t expect to discover that the AI is absolutely biased. She dug into the matter, uncovering more and more problems. Meanwhile facial recognition is used more all the time, for surveillance and police work, regardless of the problems that still aren’t solved.

Coded Bias takes on a very timely topic, considering the racist and also sexist bias in apparently neutral software and algorithms and its implications for police work, amont other things. It’s interesting, well-argued and so well-structured that time flies by and yet you never feel overwhelmed by the topic. It was the perfect choice of final film for the this human world Film Festival.

The film poster showing a white mask in front of a black background. Around the eyes you can see that a Black person is wearing the mask.
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Glory to the Queen (2020)

Glory to the Queen
Director: Tatia Skhirtladze, Anna Khazaradze
Writer: Ina Ivanceanu, Tatia Skhirtladze
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 13.12.2020

Nona Gaprindashvili, Maia Chiburdanidze, Nana Alexandria and Nana Ioseliani are all world-class Georgian chess players. Their careers changed chess forever, and all four of them are still active teaching and playing chess. But even outside of that, they became feminist icons in Georgia and beyond.

Glory to the Queen tells the story of four very different women who happened to have the same knack for chess. Combining historical footage and current images, it tries to show what their achievements in chess meant to them, to the world, to women, especially the women of Georgia. Unfortunately it isn’t always as clear in its storytelling as it should have been.

The film poster showing drawings of the four women walking over a chess board.
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La casa dell’amore [The House of Love] (2020)

La casa dell’amore
Director: Luca Ferri
Writer: Luca Ferri
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 13.12.2020

Bianca Dolce Miele is a trans sex worker in Milan. She works at home and the film shares her space and her work for a while.

I had issues with La casa dell’amore. It seems more interested in undressing Bianca and showing her at work than giving us an idea of her as a person.

The film poster showing Bianca half-naked, sitting on a whie cube, wearing nothing but a white skirt and white furry boots. A black cat's but is also in the picture in the corner.
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Bring Down the Walls (2020)

Bring Down the Walls
Director: Phil Collins
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 12.12.2020

Right in Manhattan, there is an old firestation that has been transformed into a communal center. During the day, it is an educational space, offering political workshops and talks. During the night, it becomes a club playing house music. The thing that unites those halves is the prison-industrial complex in the USA as the center gives space to former inmates to share their experiences, to activists to campaign for prison abolishment and traces the way house music was developed by Black and Latinx communities as a form of liberation.

Bring Down the Walls takes a look at the strength that lies in community, activism and music, especially when they come together. It is an unusual perspective on the prison-industrial complex, but a welcome one.

The film poster showing the back of a Black head with short hair.
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Meu Nome é Bagdá [My Name Is Baghdad] (2020)

Meu Nome é Bagdá
Director: Caru Alves de Souza
Writer: Caru Alves de Souza, Josefina Trotta
Cast: Grace Orsato, Karina Buhr, Marie Maymone, Helena Luz, Gilda Nomacce, Paulette Pink, Emílio Serrano, William Costa, João Paulo Bienermann, Nick Batista
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 12.12.2020

Content Note: sexualized violence, police brutality

Baghdad (Grace Orsato) cruises the streets of Sao Paulo with her skateboarding crew. When she isn’t out and about she hangs with her single mother (Karina Buhr) and little sister (Marie Maymone), and her mothers friends. Baghdad is little interested in school or anything but improving her skating abilities. But her group of friends is mostly boys, except for her and Vanessa (Nick Batista). Until they meet another group of female skaters.

My Name Is Baghdad is a wonderful film that takes a sharp look at how a girl really can’t ever be one of the boys – but she can be lucky to be one of the girls. It’s sweet and touching and has great energy.

The film poster showing Bagdá (Grace Orsato) hugging her skateboard.
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Las ranas [The Frogs] (2020)

Las ranas
Director: Edgardo Castro
Writer: Edgardo Castro
Cast: Barbara Elisabeth Stanganelli, Nahuel Cabral, Gabriela Illarregui, María Eugenia Stillo
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 12.12.2020

Barbara (Barbara Elisabeth Stanganelli) is one of the women called Las ranas – the frogs. That means she visits her boyfriend (Nahuel Cabral) in prison as much as she can. The prison is far and the visits are a strenuous addition to her everyday struggle to raise enough funds just to live. But she unfailingly goes, bringing food and whatever else is allowed and even what isn’t. Sometimes she also brings their daughter.

Las ranas is a fiction film that feels very much like a documentary. That has advantages but also disadvantages, and here and there I was wishing it would stick more to narrative conventions for fiction.

The film poster in simple grass green with a black frog on it.
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