Freaks Out (2021)

Freaks Out
Director: Gabriele Mainetti
Writer: Nicola Guaglianone, Gabriele Mainetti
Cast: Claudio Santamaria, Aurora Giovinazzo, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini, Giorgio Tirabassi, Max Mazzotta, Franz Rogowski
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Filmfestival
Seen on: 7.5.2022

Content Note: sexual assault, sexism, (critical treatment of) ableism, medical experiments

Plot:
1943 in Italy. Israel (Giorgio Tirabassi) runs a circus with his four artists Cencio (Pietro Castellitto), Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), Fulvio (Claudio Santamaria) and Mario (Giancarlo Martini) – who actually all have supernatural powers that fuel their performances. The five try their best to stay out of the Nazis’ way, though there is the Circus Berlin stationed in Rome – supposedly the best circus in the world, headed by Franz (Franz Rogowski), a pianist with 12 fingers. Franz has superpowers of his own: he has seen the future and knows that it doesn’t look good for the Nazis. He is convinced that he has to find four superpowered people to prevent the Nazis from losing and he will do anything to find them.

I enjoyed Freaks Out for the most part. It is marred by the male gaze, but it’s entertaining and manages to combine comedy and Nazi horrors in a good way.

The film poster showing the four "freaks" in their performance poses, as well as Franz (Franz Rogowski) wearing a Nazi robe.
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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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Inexorable (2021)

Inexorable
Director: Fabrice du Welz
Writer: Joséphine Darcy Hopkins, Aurélien Molas, Fabrice du Welz
Cast: Benoît Poelvoorde, Mélanie Doutey, Alba Gaïa Bellugi, Janaina Halloy, Anaël Snoek, Jackie Berroyer, Sam Louwyck
Part of: SLASH 1/2 Filmfestival
Seen on: 6.5.2022

Content Note: misogyny, animal death/cruelty, incest

Plot:
Marcel (Benoît Poelvoorde) is an author, supposed to be working on his next book that has been a long time coming. Together with his publisher and wife Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey) and their daughter Lucie (Janaina Halloy), they decide to withdraw to Jeanne’s family estate in the country for a bit of calm. Shortly after their arrival, Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) turns up, bringing back the family dog that ran off. Quickly, Gloria finds a place in their home as a housekeeper and friend to Lucie. But her presence has an unsettling effect on the family.

Inexorable had me rolling my eyes so much because it is, on the one hand, boringly familiar, and on the other hand, enragingly misogynistic.

The film poster showing Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) and Marcel (Benoît Poelvoorde) grabbing each other by the throat in a sexy way. He is turning around in suspicion. Behind them we see Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey) on the staircase in the distance.
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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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Luzifer (2021)

Luzifer
Director: Peter Brunner
Writer: Peter Brunner
Cast: Susanne Jensen, Franz Rogowski, Monika Hinterhuber, Theo Blaickner
Seen on: 26.4.2022

Content Note: ableism/cripping up, abuse

Plot:
Maria (Susanne Jensen) lives off the grid in the mountains with her son Johannes (Franz Rogowski) who has a learning disability. They spend their days mostly quietly and calmly with a lot of prayer and Johannes’ birds of prey. But their idyllic existence is threatened when plans are made to create a skiing area around them – and the developers are desperate to buy their land, unwilling to accept that Maria won’t sell. An evil is coming for Maria and Johannes.

My history with Peter Brunner movies isn’t without its issues, but I have liked his films increasingly more – and Luzifer is probably the one I liked the most so far. It doesn’t always work, but it is definitely engaging.

The film poster showing Maria (Susanne Jensen) sitting on Johannes' (Franz Rogowski) shoulders. Both have their arms spread wide. Behind them is a mountain.
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Red Rocket (2021)

Red Rocket
Director: Sean Baker
Writer: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Cast: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Brenda Deiss, Suzanna Son, Ethan Darbone, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez, Shih-Ching Tsou
Seen on: 19.4.2022

Content Note: grooming

Plot:
Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) used to be a rather successful porn actor, but the tides have turned for him recently. Not knowing where to turn, he ends up in his Texas hometown, on the steps of the house where his (ex-)wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) and her mother Lil (Brenda Deiss) live. Despite knowing better, the two allow him to stay, at least for a while. Mikey immediately tries to find his footing again, but only really comes to life when he meets 17-year-old Raylee, called Strawberry (Suzanna Son). In her, Mikey sees the possibility of a new start.

Red Rocket may not have won me over quite as much as Baker’s earlier films, but it is astonishing in how it manages to show all of Mikey’s despicable qualities and not excusing his actions, but still keeping him kind of likeable. It’s a difficult balance to pull off, and Red Rocket does so exquisitely.

The film poster showing a naked Mikey (Simon Rex), his hands covering his dick, stuck in a giant pink donut around his midriff.
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De uskyldige [The Innocents] (2021)

De uskyldige
Director: Eskil Vogt
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Cast: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lisa Tønne
Seen on: 14.4.2022

Content Note: ableism, racism, animal abuse and death

Plot:
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), her autistic sister Anna (Alba Brynsmo Ramstad) and their parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit) just moved into a giant apartment complex. Ida is not particularly happy about it, or the attention her parents pay her sister who she likes to hurt, convinced that Anna doesn’t feel pain because she can’t express it. When Ida sets out to explore her new home, she meets Ben (Sam Ashraf) with whom she shares her cruel streak. Ben also appears to have special powers, able to move a bottle cap by thought alone. And Ben isn’t the only one there with powers, it seems. There is also Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who has a telepathic connection with Anna. The four set out to explore their abilities, but things start to spiral out of control.

De uskyldige is a tense and atmospheric film with excellent performances by the children, but also a couple of pretty problematic tropes and an ending that was a bit of a let-down.

The film poster showing Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) lying on a tire swing looking up, only that the swing rack and the ground are above her.
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Afterlife of the Party (2021)

Afterlife of the Party
Director: Stephen Herek
Writer: Carrie Freedle
Cast: Victoria Justice, Midori Francis, Robyn Scott, Adam Garcia, Timothy Renouf, Gloria Garcia
Seen on: 24.3.2022

Plot:
Cassie (Victoria Justice) loves to party and to not take things seriously. This puts her at odds with her best friend since forever, Lisa (Midori Francis) who maybe takes things too seriously. On the occasion of Cassie’s birthday, they go out together with some of Cassie’s friends. When Lisa wants to head home, Cassie is upset and the two of them fight. The thing is: this is Cassie’s last night on Earth. Next thing she knows, it’s a year later and Cassie has to fix things with the most important people in her life – Lisa, her father (Adam Garcia) and her mother (Gloria Garcia) or she will have to spend her afterlife in hell instead of heaven. Fixing things is easier said than done, though.

Afterlife of the Party is okay. It’s not exactly great cinema but it is fun enough. I was a little disappointed, though, how the film interpreted “fixing things” with Lisa.

The film poster showing Cassie (Victoria Justice) in a sparkling dress raising a martini glass. Behind her are neon wings and a halo.
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Cyrano (2021)

Cyrano
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Erica Schmidt
Based on: Edmond Rostand‘s play
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn, Monica Dolan, Bashir Salahuddin, Joshua James, Anjana Vasan, Ruth Sheen, Glen Hansard, Mark Benton, Richard McCabe, Peter Wight
Seen on: 15.3.2022
[Here’s my review of the stage adaptation.]

Plot:
Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is a poet and soldier, known for being short, and his hot temper that earns him a certain respect and fear. Cyrano is very much in love with Roxane (Haley Bennett) with whom he connects over their shared love of poetry. But he has never told her, fearing that she couldn’t possibly love him because of his looks. When she tells him that she is in love with the newly arrived soldier Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and asks him for help, he is reluctant. But when he learns that Christian also loves Roxane, but has trouble with words, he suggests that he could help him find the right ones to court her.

Cyrano is a bit of a mixed bag of beans. Some parts of it work very well, others not so much. I enjoyed it, but it just can’t keep up with the stage version I only saw recently.

The film poster showing a big close-up of Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) looking into the distance, with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr. ) and Roxanne (Haley Bennett) holding each other in a smaller image beneath him.
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The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Power of the Dog
Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Jane Campion
Based on: Thomas Savage‘s book
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Thomasin McKenzie, Alice Englert, Peter Carroll, Frances Conroy, Keith Carradine, Alison Bruce
Seen on: 6.3.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia, misogyny

Plot:
Rose (Kirsten Dunst) is a widow who runs a restaurant with the help of her son Pete (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Their restaurant lies on the herding trail of brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). When they stop at Rose’s restaurant, Phil starts making fun of Pete’s softness, while George starts courting Rose. After they actually marry, and move to the brothers’ farm, Phil is taken aback and does his best to make Rose feel utterly uncomfortable. When Pete joins them during the summer break from school, things start to shift, though.

The Power of the Dog both ambles through a sprawling landscape taking its time, and it is a sharp analysis of power when it comes to gender and sexual orientation. I thought it was really interesting.

The film poster showing a rope tied to a saddle.

[Slight SPOILERS]

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