/slash 2016 – Day 5: Belladonna of Sadness (Kanashimi no Beradonna)

belladonna-of-sadnessBelladonna of Sadness
Japan 2016
Written by Yoshiyuki Fukuda & Eiichi Yamamoto
Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto
Watched on 26.09.2016

“Belladonna of Sadness” offers a great tale told in a very unique animation style, and is going to stay with me for a while. My only complaint were the more surreal scenes that seem to invite substance abuse, and which started to get on my nerves a little bit the more and more the film progresses, due to their increasing rate and length. Otherwise, it’s equally beautiful, fascinating and disturbing.

The animation was absolutely beautiful. Yes, it’s noticeable – especially in the beginning – that they ran out of money, and thus couldn’t finish some sequences, instead just showing still drawings that are panned over, but they really made a virtue out of necessity. Said style, together with the great story that takes a tragic turn right at the beginning, drew me in right away. The rest of the movie is absolutely beautiful to look at, often times giving preference to rather surreal, suggestive and/or symbolic images and animations that really brought this sad tale to life. As mentioned before, I could have done without the more psychedelic scenes, which also occasionally went on for too long, but otherwise, the visuals of “Belladonna of Sadness” were absolutely stunning and unique. Same can be said about the songs and the music, which accompanied this movie really well. I especially loved the gloomy, melancholic main theme, but the rest was also beautiful to listen to. And the story was great too. “Belladonna of Sadness” tells such a sad and tragic tale, which also entails a nice, feministic message. I also loved how freely interpretable it is. Is the devil something that is brought upon us by other men? Is it something that we invite into our lives? Or is there no devil, and it’s just symbolic of Jeanna losing herself more and more? The only thing that I didn’t quite get was her ultimate decision when talking to the baron. The movie could have made it a little clearer why she (re)acts the way she does. Nevertheless, it ultimately lead to a sorrowful ending that I very much enjoyed. All in all, I’m very glad that I finally had the opportunity to watch it. Its shortcomings may prevent this from being an outright masterpiece, but the greatest tragedy of “Belladonna of Sadness” is how forgotten and overlooked it became in the intervening years – something that it definitely doesn’t deserve.


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/slash 2016 – Day 4: Ballad in Blood

Ballad in Blood
Italy 2016
Written by Ruggero Deodato, Jacopo Mazzuoli & Angelo Orlando
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Watched on 25.09.2016

One of the best and sometimes also worst things of the /slash filmfestival are the occasional visits from filmmakers. Best because it’s always interesting to meet the people behind the project, who often also give some interesting background information concerning a certain film. Worst because sometimes, you think they are really nice and charming, but you end up not liking their movies all that much – which makes writing said reviews absolutely no fun at all.

I have no prior experience with Ruggero Deodato’s work (no, not even the infamous “Cannibal Holocaust”), and I’m sorry to say that “Ballad in Blood” didn’t really urge me to check out his previous work. Seemingly based on the Amanda Knox-case, which created a stir internationally a couple of years back, it’s the story of a Halloween-party going extremely wrong, with three people – Lenka, Arden and Leo – who were more or less acquainted with each other, suddenly discovering the corpse of Lenka’s close friend Elizabeth. What happened? Who is responsible? In “Hangover”-like fashion, no one seems to remember, at least at first. Which, given the later resolution of what actually happened, already felt incredibly implausible to me. I mean, come on. Who would ever forget that? I mean, if maybe one of them was that intoxicated, and doesn’t recall it, ok, I’d buy that. But not all three of them. What’s worse, I didn’t care for any of them. They all seemed like complete assholes, and I even didn’t care that much about the victim, given her latent racism. [SPOILERS]Please don’t get me wrong, it of course has to be up to each and only one of us, and only us, who we want to sleep with. So I’m not saying they were right in forcing her to do so. But if you flat out refuse to have sex with a black person, I’ll have a hard time sympathizing with you, sorry [/SPOILERS]. Thus, the whole movie just dragged along, without me being interested in either what happened in the apartment, nor the aftermath. I also don’t think that the actors and actresses involved were particularly good. I’ve seen worse, but especially Carlotta Morelle to me seemed to have been cast first and foremost for her looks, and not much else. There were a couple of interesting visuals (like the location of the party), and since I’m a (heterosexual) man, the amount of bare (female) skin definitely helped to reduce my level of boredom. Nevertheless, “Ballad in Blood” just went on for far too long (even though it only has a reasonable running time of just 90 minutes anyway), and given my disinterest if not flat-out dislike of the protagonists, it ended up to be rather tiresome. And even though I freely admit that the movie marathon that already lay behind me at that time probably didn’t help, I don’t think that I would have liked it any more when seen under less strenuous circumstances.


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/slash 2016 – Day 4: The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi)

the-handmaidenThe Handmaiden
South Korea 2016
Written by Seo-Kyung Chung & Chan-wook Park
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Watched on 25.09.2016

“The Handmaiden” is the latest movie from Chan-wook Park. After his Revenge-trilogy, “Thirst” and “Stoker”, my expectations were incredibly high, and even though “The Handmaiden” might not have met them completely, it nevertheless is another great entry on his filmography.

I haven’t read the novel yet on which this movie is based on, so I can’t compare the two. However, I’m now very curious to read it (even though it might take me a while to get there), which is always a good sign. I really liked the story, and especially the way it was told here (however, I obviously can’t say if the structure is the same in the book, or if that was an invention of the script). We start off from Sook-Hee’s point of view, up until the first of many twist, which in my opinion also was by far its best one. That really left me completely stunned and with my mouth open. Then, the movie doubles back, and retells the story from Lady Hideko’s perspective, and what was really masterful about that is that we suddenly get to see the other side of things and/or scenes before and after what we’ve seen before which complete the picture, even though before I didn’t really have the impression that anything was missing. The closest example than I can come up with are lenticular images, which show one picture when you look at them from one side, and then, when you tilt them, you suddenly see a different view of the same motif (like night and day, for example). That’s “The Handmaiden” in a nutshell, and one of the things that made it so fascinating for me.

“The Handmaiden” is also extremely erotic. Whether it’s the arousing sex-scenes themselves, or the stories that are read in the book club (which are sometimes enacted in some sort of dream sequences, and sometimes left to our imagination), I found “The Handmaiden” to be a highly sensual experience. Chan-wook Park’s direction was gorgeous as always, telling the story in incredibly beautiful, haunting visuals. The score was also great, and fit the movie perfectly with its elegance. It’s also incredibly well acted, with the two leading ladies standing out in particular. Both were absolutely great in their particular roles, giving many facets to their characters, and also making them very likeable so that I ended up really rooting for them. My only major complaint is the scene where they destroyed all these poor books. While I understood why they did it, it was a little bit too close to the mindset of, for example, conservatives screaming for the banning or censorship of certain books which they deem to be too dirty, unworthy, trashy or whatever – which I simply couldn’t get behind. And like so many movies at this year’s /slash Filmfestival, it was just a tad too long for its own good. Nevertheless, “The Handmaiden” is an absolutely mesmerizing film that reaffirms Chan-wook Park as one of the modern masters of cinema.


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/slash 2016 – Day 4: The Mermaid (Mei ren yu)

the-mermaidThe Mermaid
China 2016
Written by Hing-Ka Chan, Stephen Chow, Chi Keung Fung, Miu-Kei Ho, Ivy Kong, Si-Cheun Lee, Zhengyu Lu & Kan-Cheung Tsang
Directed by Stephen Chow
Watched on 25.09.2016

“The Mermaid” was incredibly sweet, funny and entertaining. It may not be the deepest movie ever, but I definitely had a blast with it. And despite all the humor, there’s an important message about the protection and preservation of the environment that I also very much appreciated.

On the other hand, I’m afraid I haven’t got that much to say about it. It’s very slight entertainment, even though there’s a serious message at its core. Nothing about the way the story progresses will surprise you, but as long as the said story is as entertaining as here, I don’t mind. I really liked the love story of the mermaid falling in love with the man she’s supposed to kill. Yes, it was predictable, clichéd and corny, but both of them were likeable enough to still make me root for them. Also, the octopus-man was a really great idea; that really was something new, at least for me. Its biggest strength, however, is the humor. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so much and so hard in a movie theatre, and I don’t expect to see a funnier scene this year than the one at the police station. That one really had me in stitches; I laughed so hard that I could barely breathe. Granted, there’s the occasional head-scratching moment (Why doesn’t the old mermaid interfere sooner? Why is Liu Xuan walking along the entire jetty instead of dropping her into the water to his left or right?), but I don’t want to be a spoil-sport. If you’re looking for very funny, romantic, slight and entertaining cinematic fare, look no further than “The Mermaid”.


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/slash 2016 – Day 4: Fantastic Shorts Competition

In its seventh year, the /slash Filmfestival is going to give out an audience award for the first time, for the best short film. The winner wasn’t announced yet (I’ll update this post as soon as we know), but below you’ll find very short reviews for each and every one of them.

Night of the Slasher
Easily my favorite one from the entire selection. A nice and funny homage to slasher-flicks in general and “Halloween” in particular (the killer’s mask alone was brilliant), it had a great and intriguing concept, and was really entertaining from start to finish. Probably its major strength for me, however, was its impression of having been shot in one single take. I guess they could have hidden cuts in those quick tracking shots, but as long as they aren’t noticeable, I don’t mind.

Eat my Shit
Actually, the idea itself wasn’t too bad, and it told a nice misfit-story. But ultimately, the basic idea was already to gross for me, and the final scene didn’t help with that one bit. Those you can stomach – or might even enjoy – potty humor may like it more.

The Procedure
The second-worst of the selection for me. I don’t find farts particularly funny, and the screaming as well as the alarm got on my nerves very quickly. At least it’s really very short, with just four minutes, but ultimately, it’s also completely pointless.

Tiny Creatures
Sweet desserts (cupcakes etc.) are fighting against fruit (I know which side I would pick!) in this very funny, charming and – dare I say it – sweet stop motion-animated short film.

Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight
While I liked the message that this very strange animated movie arguably tried to convey, it ultimately just was too weird for me, and was just the first animated short film that seemed to invite LSD-consumption. Nah.

Another weak and totally worthless entry, “Heaven” features 13 minutes of varied shots of nature (mostly insects), accompanied by loud breathing sounds. What the actual fuck? Ok, granted, the shots in itself were nice to look at, but that’s about it. Ultimately, it just went on for far too long, and sooner rather than later, I just waited for it to finally be over.

Definitely one of the better entries. Extremely well shot and thus offering a couple of beautiful images, and then telling a nice, gripping story in itself! Only the constant slow motion got a little tiresome after a while.

At first, I thought that this would be about the pigs that are slaughtered, who are the voiceless victims who, through this short film, are given a voice. Instead, it went into a totally different direction, and while said shift was pleasingly surprising, it was also a little weird. However, it also was beautifully shot, mostly black and white, but with speckles of color here and there (a particular style that so far, I haven’t grown tired yet).

The make-up of the witch was great, and I loved how it worked with sounds to let certain images (for which they didn’t have the budget) come up in your mind. Nevertheless, it was quire thin on the plot-front.

Together with “Tiny Creatures”, the funniest of these short films. A neat little story, told in just a couple of minutes, but ultimately, also rather inconsequential.

Don’t Tell Mom
Those crazy Japanese guys strike again, with yet another far out animated film that had me wish I would have brought some controlled substances. Again, far too weird for me, but at least it was short enough to not get too irritating.

The idea might have been interesting, and it was pretty to look at. But ultimately, I didn’t have much use for it.

Wild Skin
My third-favorite of the short films presented here, and I wouldn’t be surprise (let alone upset) if this should turn out to be the winner. The setup reminded me a little bit of Dominik Hartl’s brilliant “Spitzendeckchen” (if you haven’t seen it, check it out). It was a nice idea and story, told really well in just a couple of minutes, and carried by an enthralling lead performance by Marilyn Castonguay. Mesmerizing!

The Laughing Spider
Strike three for crazy Japanese animation. In this case, I found it quite reminiscent of the clips of Monty Python – but without their elegance. With a running time of seven minutes, it was also way too long for its own good, and thus turned out to be the worst of the three, at least in my book.

Voice of Apocalypse
A great short musical about the last night before the end of the world, and how the guests of a club have to decide who of them will get a second chance on life, thanks to the time machine of a brilliant scientist (however, unfortunately not brilliant enough to make it usable for more than two people). Great songs, a nice love story, and a sublime final twist. Brilliant!

As much as I’d like to support local filmmakers, I’m sorry to say that in my book, “Lost” was clearly the worst of the short films presented here. Mostly because it felt so lazy. I may not have like some of the rest, but at least they put some real effort in. This no-budget attempt, however, really seemed like a sorry excuse to be able to participate in this competition, and ultimately didn’t work for me at all.

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/slash 2016 – Day 2: Sadako v Kayako

sadako-vs-kayakoSadako v Kayako
Japan 2016
Written by Takashi Shimizu & Kôji Suzuki
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi
Watched on 24.09.2016

Sadako v Kavako merges the two main J-horror-franchises that became popular around the turn of the century. I’m familiar with both of them (even though I can’t claim to have seen all their prequels, sequels, sidequels, whatever) and hold their respective first parts, “Ringu” and “Ju-on”, in very high regard. Both of them scared the shit out of me when I watched them back in the day, offered fresh, unique and memorable ideas, and stayed with me for quite a while. This mashup of both franchises, however, which comes at least 10 years too late anyway, is a disappointingly lazy attempt to cash in on their popularity.

Actually, the idea itself was quite promising. And I like the way how they reintroduced the curse of the video tape, with it having become some sort of infamous urban legend, is talked about during a lecture, and then two female students stumble upon it by chance, finding it in an old VCR they bought to digitize a wedding video. Spelled out like that it may sound strained, but it actually worked quite well for me. I also liked the idea of what would happen if such a video would be found today, with the modern technology (like the internet) at our disposal. Too bad, however, that they hardly did anything with that idea, which could have been really interesting. Nevertheless, that was at least one of the very few new ideas they had to offer, so kudos for that. And even though it might have been hardly original, when they repeated the most iconic scares and moments, they still worked for me (surprisingly enough). Which is also the main reason why, despite all its shortcomings and frustrating elements, I can’t trash it completely.

Nevertheless, the bad unfortunately far outweighs the good. For example, I really could have done without all that possession-crap. I loved the idea that when you watch the video, 2 days later Sadako will come and kill you (or make you kill yourself), but that she’s some sort of demon that possesses you as soon as you’ve seen the video… nah. That whole excorcism-like scene was strange, like out of a completely different movie, and I also didn’t care for the possession expert (who should have been a little older in my book) and his young, blind female sidekick. And what was up with the weird way he moved his hand around all the time? That just looked incredibly silly. I also will never understand what got into them to decide to change the video so drastically. The old one was really creepy and very mysterious. The new one was just lame. I guess they mostly wanted to lose the well so that it would be a “new” image (at least as far as the movie itself is concerned) during the finale, but that alone is no reason to change the entire video. And especially not to substitute it with such a weak effort.

If you get the impression that I’m neglecting the “Ju-on”-part of this movie, it’s because that’s pretty much what the filmmakers did, too. “Sadako v Kayako” mostly revolves around Sadako’s cursed video tape, with everything about Kayako and the cursed house feeling like an afterthought (it wouldn’t surprise me if this project originally started off as a flat-out sequel to “Ringu”, and nothing else). Yes, there’s the bit with the school boys who enter the house, as well as the school girl who gets haunted by Kayako, but overall, the “Ju-on”-based story barely registered. It then all boils down to an incredibly disappointing showdown. One should think that if you plan on having two J-horror icons face off on-screen, you would also have some interesting and cool ways how they might fight each other up your sleeve. Nope. They’re struggling a little bit on the floor, Sadako uses her hair as a weapon, and that’s about it. And as if that wouldn’t already be bad enough, they then kinda merged into this crappily made CGI-monster. That was easily the worst part of the movie, and just an incredible letdown. Add to that a frustrating conclusion – the movie rather stops than ends – and you’ve got a totally disposable and unnecessary crossover that ultimately does wrong by both franchises which it tries to squeeze some easy bucks from.


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/slash 2016 – Day 3: Spring Break Zombie Massacre

spring-break-zombie-massacreSpring Break Zombie Massacre
USA 2016
Written by Sam Suchmann & Mattie Zufelt
Directed by Robert Carnevale
Watched on 25.09.2016

It is really difficult for me to write about this movie, since there’s such a strong disparity between what I think about the idea behind it, and the result. I absolutely love the fact that these two guys with Down’s syndrome wrote and starred in this movie, and thus got the opportunity to live their dream, both behind and in front of the camera. I very much hope they’ll be able to continue to do so, and that this experience helped them feel more like a part of a society that unfortunately so often marginalizes them. Unfortunately, the fact that I loved the story behind the movie doesn’t necessarily mean that I also enjoyed the movie in its own right.

“Spring Break Zombie Massacre” goes on for just 45 minutes, and weirdly enough, it felt both too long and too short. Too long because after a while, the whole zombie, demons and devil-business got a little tiresome, and too short because we’re thrown into the proceedings without hardly getting to know any of the characters. There are also a couple of really weird choices, like having this zombie apocalypse take place over the course of many months, with life seemingly mostly uninterrupted. That was very strange. And of course, the way how Sam and Mattie portray woman is not ok – even though it’s very telling of the kind of society we live in. As much as I can understand their desire to be desired, I found that to be rather sad and tragic. Also, the movie is a little uneven, and also quite erratic at times. And the showdown was a little too weird for my taste. However, given the fact how much I appreciate that those two had a chance to make this movie – put in plain terms: They have just as much right to make bad movies with sexist undertones as the next guy – I have a hard time slamming it completely, even though I personally didn’t have much use for it. Thus, even though for me, it’s more of an oddity than a successful experiment in its own right, I very much recommend you watching it, even though it’s more to support the idea behind the movie, than the movie itself.


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