Sheer Qorma (2020)

Sheer Qorma
Director: Faraz Ansari
Writer: Faraz Ansari
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Swara Bhaskar, Divya Dutta, Jitin Gulati, Priya Malik, Kalyanee Mulay
Part of: Transition Film Festival
Seen on: 10.6.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) queermisia

Plot:
After more than a decade of living abroad, Saira (Divya Dutta) has returned to India to finally introduce their wife Sitara (Swara Bhaskar) to their mother (Shabana Azmi). The separation of Saira and their mother was long because she didn’t handle their queerness very well. But after their brother Shahnawaz’ (Jitin Gulati) intervention, Saira is hoping that this time, things will be different. But things don’t go particularly well at the Eid dinner.

Sheer Qorma is a beautiful film that puts the finger where it hurts, showing just how painful it is to not be accepted as the person you are, especially within your own family. But then the film also gives us the release of experiencing the family coming together, soothing and healing. It’s perfectly set in scene with lots of clever touches – like the very beginning of the film or the (translated! I don’t think I ever saw subtitles for it before) call of the muezzin – and a spot-on cast. I shed a tear or five. What a wonderful way to start the Transition Film Festival.

The film poster showing Saira (Divya Dutta) and Ammi (Shabana Azmi) hugging.

His House (2020)

His House
Director: Remi Weekes
Writer: Remi Weekes
Cast: Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Malaika Wakoli-Abigaba, Matt Smith
Seen on: 27.5.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) managed to come from Sudan to the UK, and finally their time in the detention center is up, at least on a probationary basis. They are given a rather ramshackle house with their case worker Mark (Matt Smith) insisting how lucky they are – not even his house is that big. But as if adjusting to their new life wasn’t difficult enough, Bol and Rial soon realize that there is something wrong with the house, just behind the walls.

I was really impressed with His House. It’s not often that horror movies actually scare me, but this one certainly did. But it’s not only scary, it’s also a thoughtful examination of the horrors that are part of fleeing a country and settling in another.

The film poster showing Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku)  having dinner in a piece of kitchen that is floating on water.
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Kiss Me Before It Blows Up (2020)

Kiss Me Before It Blows Up
Director: Shirel Peleg
Writer: Shirel Peleg
Cast: Moran Rosenblatt, Luise Wolfram, Rivka Michaeli, Juliane Köhler, Bernhard Schütz, Irit Kaplan, Salim Dau, Eyal Shikratzi, Aviv Pinkas, John Carroll Lynch
Seen on: 23.5.2021

Plot:
Shira (Moran Rosenblatt) is just about to move in with her girlfriend Maria (Luise Wolfram). Shira having long been out and proud, her family doesn’t have an issue with Maria being a woman, but they struggle much more with the facts that a) Maria is not Jewish and b) she is German. Especially Shira’s revered grandmother Berta (Rivka Michaeli) doesn’t handle the news very well – much to Shira’s surprise because she was sure that Berta would understand as she is in love with a Palestinian man, Ibrahim (Salim Dau), herself. When Maria’s parents announce a visit, the chaos becomes even bigger.

More often than not, culture clash comedies are more cringeworthy than anything else, a regurgitation of stereotypes instead of their subversion. I found Kiss Me Before it Blows Up (unfortunately named Kiss Me Kosher in German) a welcome change from that. Now it might be that I saw it with rose-tinted glasses because it was the first cinema visit for me since November 1, 2020 (202 days without cinema, I cry), but I thought it was entertaining and very well observed.

The film poster showing Shira (Maron Rosenblatt) and Maria (Luise Wolfram) sitting on a couch, Maria's legs across Shira's lap and Shira stroking Maria's hair.
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Lost Girls (2020)

Lost Girls
Director: Liz Garbus
Writer: Michael Werwie
Based on: Robert Kolker‘s book
Cast: Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Gabriel Byrne, Lola Kirke, Oona Laurence, Dean Winters, Molly Brown, Miriam Shor, Ana Reeder, Grace Capeless, Reed Birney, Kevin Corrigan
Seen on: 13.5.2021

Content Note: whoremisia

Plot:
Mari (Amy Ryan) is waiting at home with her two daughters Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie) and Sarra (Oona Laurence) for her oldest daughter Shannan to arrive. But she never comes. When she doesn’t here from Shannan for a few days, Mari tries to activate the police to search for her. But the officer (Dean Winters) shows little interest in the disappearance of a sex worker, despite the fact that they have a frantic 911 call from Shannan on record. But when they find four bodies close to the gated community where Shannan was last seen, things gather a little more momentum and Mari does everything she can to make sure that there actually is an investigation.

Lost Girls is based on a real case of a serial killer that hasn’t been solved yet (they make sure at the beginning that you know the case is unsolved). It’s usually not my kind of film, but I found myself in the mood for it. And it’s okay, but it didn’t surprise me that I didn’t really love it.

The film poster showing a close-up of Mari (Amy Ryan) and below her a car driving behind a girl running along a street in the dark.
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Love and Monsters (2020)

Love and Monsters
Director: Michael Matthews
Writer: Brian Duffield, Matthew Robinson
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Dan Ewing, Ariana Greenblatt, Ellen Hollman, Tre Hale, Pacharo Mzembe, Senie Priti, Amali Golden, Te Kohe Tuhaka
Seen on: 25.4.2021

Plot:
7 years ago, the world basically ended. There was a meteorite heading towards earth. To stop it, humanity blew it up, but the chemicals that got blown back to earth changed things forever, creating monsters and forcing people underground. Joel (Dylan O’Brien) is one of those people, living in a community in a bunker. Joel is not a fighter, so he hasn’t actually left the bunker, but through a radio, he has found Aimee (Jessica Henwick), the girl he dated when everything went down. Her colony is only a week or so away, but a week among monsters is a very long way. But after the radio dies, Joel decides that he has had it – he will make the trek and find Aimee. Easier said than done, though.

Love and Monsters is cute enough. Not great and probably not a film that will become a favorite of mine, but I enjoyed it while it lasted for sure.

The film poster showing the main characters, including a dog, in various sizes in front of a desolate landscape.
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Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)

Vampires vs. the Bronx
Director: Oz Rodriguez
Writer: Oz Rodriguez, Blaise Hemingway
Cast: Jaden Michael, Gerald Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, Sarah Gadon, Method Man, Shea Whigham, Coco Jones, The Kid Mero, Zoe Saldana
Seen on: 9.4.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Miguel (Jaden Michael) loves the Bronx. So he tries to organize a fundraising event for the local bodega run by Tony (The Kid Mero) that is close to shutting down. It’s not just a bodega, it’s also a safe space for Miguel and his best friends Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) and Bobby (Gerald Jones III). Part of the bodega’s problems is the gentrification that is slowly but surely reaching the Bronx, pushed forward by Murnau Real Estate. But Miguel soon realizes that there is more to the company – they aren’t just there for the profit, they actually are vampires. So Miguel gathers Luis and Bobby to fight for the Bronx.

Vampires vs. the Bronx is sweet and fun, but it stumbles a little over its own political metaphors and a little too conventional narrative structure. Still, it is a very entertaining romp.

The film poster showing the four main kids as stylized images. Miguel (Jaden Michael) is at the top, clutching a cross and screaming.
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Work It (2020)

Work It
Director: Laura Terruso
Writer: Alison Peck
Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Liza Koshy, Jordan Fisher, Keiynan Lonsdale, Briana Andrade-Gomes, Kalliane Brémault, Naomi Snieckus, Bianca Asilo, Neil Robles, Nathaniel Scarlette, Tyler Hutchings, Indiana Mehta, Drew Ray Tanner, Michelle Buteau
Seen on: 4.4.2021

Plot:
Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter) knows exactly what she wants: to go to the college her late father went to. She has been honing her CV just so, filling it with the right extracurricular activities and the right grades to get accepted. When she finally has her interview, though, the admissions officer (Michelle Buteau) is looking for something more unusual, though. Seeing her dreams float away, Quinn fibs that she is part of her high school’s award-winning dance team the Thunderbirds – she did their lighting after all. This seems to be the ticket, but now Quinn has to actually dance at the competition. Asking her best friend and Thunderbird Jasmine (Liza Koshy) for help, she starts training, but even so, the Thunderbirds don’t want her. So Quinn decides that she has to form a dance crew of her own.

Ah, dance movies… I will always fall into their trap and then shake my head at their ridiculousness while mostly enjoying them. Work It is a decent member of that particular genre, maybe slightly more on the ridiculous side than on the enjoyable one, but overall it delivers what you want and expect from a dance movie.

The film poster showing all the main characters in fierce poses as a dance crew.
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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

Plot:
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)

Rebecca
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

Plot:
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

Plot:
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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