Viennale 2016 – Day 2: Hidden Reserves (Stille Reserven)

stille-reservenStille Reserven
Austria 2016
Written by Valentin Hitz
Directed by Valentin Hitz
Watched on 21.10.2016

While Austria isn’t quite such a desert wasteland when it comes to genre movies as Germany, we hardly ever have a try at science fiction. So when such an attempt finally surfaces, that already is a big plus, at least from my point of view as an Austrian as well as a huge fan of the genre. I also really liked how international “Stille Reserven” looked. If it weren’t for the setting in a futuristic Vienna, this might as well have come directly out of Hollywood. The acting, the look of the movie, the cinematography, the digital color grading… all of that made it look and feel very American. Mind you, I don’t mind Austrian movies that wear their local origin on their sleeve, but it’s nice to see that if we want to, we’re also capable of making a movie that visually doesn’t have to hide away from the international competition. The setting also was quite nice, and – even though I don’t claim to know every SF-story ever written, or film ever made – also seemed quite fresh and original to me. I liked this vision of a futuristic Vienna, and the first third of the movie was quite promising.

Unfortunately, the more the movie progressed, the more it fell apart for me. It already starts with the central idea of selling and buying “death insurance”. Yes, it might be a rather new and imaginative idea, but unfortunately, since I personally couldn’t care less about what will happen to and with my body once I’ve died, it didn’t really have an impact on me. Thus, the dystopian part of the movie fell a little flat for me. I could appreciate it from an academic point of view, but didn’t find it particularly abhorrent. Also, as the story progresses, it gets quite clichéd and thus predictable, and also rather boring. A couple of scenes seem superfluous, and some also went on for far too long. I also didn’t really feel any connection to the characters. And the music was a little repetitive, and even though in itself it was quite nice, many a time it didn’t really fit the images and the content all too well. Add to that the fact that the movie needed some huge coincidences here and there to progress in the way the filmmakers wanted it to, and you have a movie that, unfortunately, wastes a lot of its potential. Nevertheless, it was nice to see an original science fiction-film from Austria, and I hope that there will be more of those in the future – and also, that they will fare better than this laudable, but ultimately unsatisfying attempt.
5/10


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Viennale 2016 – Day 2: Alone (Hon-ja)

aloneAlone (Hon-ja)
South Korea 2015
Written by Hye-jin Cha & Hong-min Park
Directed by Hong-min Park
Watched on 21.10.2016

Every year there are a couple of movies that end up on my “maybe”-list. Sometimes, I decide to give them a chance, and sometimes I skip them. This year “Hon-ja” was the last one of the movies on my “maybe”-list that made the cut (the others on which I decided afterwards all got discarded), which should already make it clear that I was quite sceptical about it. Unfortunately, in this case, I wasn’t really rewarded for taking a chance on it.

The beginning was quite intriguing and promising. I liked the POV-sequence, and was also very excited about the scene directly afterwards, where Su-min witnesses a crime and captures its perpetrators on camera. However, he catches their eye, and they take up the chase. The entire sequence is shot in one single, continuous take – or at least, it gives that impression – and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Thus, that scene was really gripping, and had me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, as soon as he wakes up, “Hon-ja” increasingly lost itself in its twists and turns, ended up being far too long for its own good, and got more and more boring and tiresome by the minute. There were so many scenes that seemed to go on forever, like the one where the camera follows him while he walks around in those empty, labyrinthine streets. Or the excruciating scene where he interviews himself, and where I just waited for him to finally jump down the balcony and commit suicide. Which already brings us to the next problem: Su-min was such a dick; a pathetic asshole and clingy (ex-)boyfriend. And the first (POV-)scene didn’t leave much doubt about what happened to his girlfriend, which also didn’t make me more sympathetic towards him. The movie also isn’t even remotely as clever and mysterious as it thinks it is. And since it got increasingly tedious, in the end I didn’t really care at all about what the fuck was going on here, and wasn’t even remotely inclined to speculate about what it all means. Granted, the first two scenes were great, and overall, it’s well acted and directed. In terms of content, however, I’m afraid it left much to be desired.
3/10


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Viennale 2016 – Day 1: Manchester by the Sea

manchester-by-the-seaManchester by the Sea
USA 2016
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Watched on 20.10.2016

“Manchester by the Sea” was the opening movie of this year’s Viennale. After so many movies at the /slash filmfestival that felt rather long and tedious, despite mostly moderate running times, I was surprised how quick this movie passed by. It didn’t drag for one second, and was entertaining throughout, from start to finish. At a running time of almost 140 minutes, that’s no small feat. I’ve seen quite a few movies this year which were considerably shorter, but nevertheless felt longer than this one.

“Manchester by the Sea is a nice, beautiful, honest and very entertaining movie about difficult issues, without any kitsch or pathos. Personally, I found its predecessor “Margaret” to be just a tad more emotionally touching, but nevertheless was quite taken by “Manchester by the Sea”. At first, it looks like Kenneth Lonergan – after the guilt-ridden “Margaret” – this time deals first and foremost with grief. And while it definitely plays a big part in the proceedings, after about an hour it becomes clear that guilt, once again, also is a very important part of the equation, since we learn that something terrible happened in Lee Chandler’s past which prevents him from totally embracing the idea of becoming the caretaker of his brother’s son after he passed away. Said revelation, while a little bit erratic due to the constant switches back to the present, was absolutely harrowing and devastating. Once again, Kenneth Lonergan deals with a terrible accident which ruined lives, and shows how the person who feels responsible for the tragedy tries to deal with it – something that he only starts to manage once he moves away. However, as soon as he returns to his hometown, he’s once again reminded of that terrible night, and even though by now, most people around him are able to forgive him, he simply can’t forgive himself. The way in which “Manchester by the Sea” dealt with this topic as well as the grief of a young man with the loss of his father was absolutely great. Same can be said about the performances. Michelle Williams was fantastic as always, and both Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges were also great. I also liked the laid back way in which the movie dealt with sex, and despite the downbeat topics, a couple of funny scenes throughout made sure that the movie never got too depressing and miserable. Finally, I really loved the ending, and the wonderful message that it seemed to convey: Everything is not going to be alright – but that’s ok. Very refreshing!
8/10


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/slash 2016 – Day 11: They Call Me Jeeg Robot (Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot)

they-call-me-jeeg-robotThey Call me Jeeg Robot
Italy 2015
Written by Nicola Guaglianone & Menotti
Directed by Gabriele Mainetti
Watched on 02.10.2016

In the last couple of years, the supporter-exclusive secret society screenings were rather mediocre (“Raze”, “13 Sins”, “Klown”), and “They Call Me Jeeg Robot” continued that trend. It was definitely nice to see another superhero movie that’s not from Hollywood, and even though I wasn’t blown away by it, I wish that more countries would to that, and break Hollywood’s monopoly on said topic (like Japan with their “Hentai Kamen”-movies). Anyway, getting an Italian interpretation of this topic was definitely nice. It had a couple of very funny moments. The music reminded me of “Man of Steel” (and yes, whatever you may think of the movie itself, but that’s a good thing, and meant as a compliment). The acting was pretty good, the direction solid, and the production value pleasantly high. My favorite thing about the movie, however, was (almost) everything around Alessia, who definitely was the most interesting character for me. Unfortunately, the movie certainly had its problems. The way they handled the rape was rather disgusting, the fridging of a certain character extremely disappointing, and the fact that out of all the characters of the movie, it had to be the bad guy (who was portrayed as despicable) who enjoyed himself with transvestites, is questionable at best. The finale also was a little disappointing. And, like so many other /slash-movies this year, it again was a tad too long. All in all, though, it was quite entertaining, and a nice finale to this year’s festival.
5/10


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/slash 2016 – Day 10: Abattoir

abattoirAbattoir
USA 2016
Written by Christopher Monfette
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Watched on 01.10.2016

Going in, I knew nothing about the movie, except the promising promo picture of a woman standing in front of a strange looking house, as well as the fact that it was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, whose lavish direction with strong, vibrant colors was the best thing about the first three “Saw”-sequels. Fans of (t)his distinct visual style however will need patience when watching his newest feature, “Abattoir”, since the first hour looks so bland that it might as well have been shot by someone else. However, that’s a deliberate choice – which also means that visually, Bousman saves the best for last.

Which in regards to “Abattoir” is actually true in more regards than one. Mind you, I did like the setup. The first couple of scenes, especially the murder, were quite chilling. Having no previous knowledge of what this is about, I was a little taken aback once the supernatural twist comes around, since I expected a more down-to-earth thriller. However, the idea itself was neat and unique, thus I adapted quickly. Unfortunately, after the first half hour or so, when Julia starts her investigation, the movie runs into danger of falling asleep – and so did I. Granted, this was my sixth screening of the day, starting at 1:00 am, so I definitely can’t rule out the possibility that it might have been easier for me to stay awake and pay attention had I seen it under different circumstances. Nevertheless, the middle part didn’t really grip me, and I had a hard time staying awake and paying attention to what was going on. It gets better again once Julia arrives at her home town, and visits Allie, played by Lin Shaye. And the last half hour was really quite good, not just because of the stunning visuals, but also due to some nice twists and turns as well as the motivation of the bad guy, which really surprised me in a good way. It probably helped that I like Dayton Callie, and thought that his performance here was very good. Unfortunately, Jessica Lowndes seemed to struggle a little bit with her role, at least to me, and Joe Anderson was rather bland. So acting-wise, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag – which actually sums up the movie perfectly in all other regards as well.
5/10


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/slash 2016 – Day 10: Are We Not Cats

are-we-not-catsAre We Not Cats
USA 2016
Written by Xander Robin
Directed by Xander Robin
Watched on 01.10.2016

I’m afraid “Are We Not Cats” turned out to be too weird for me. It also lacked content. There was hardly any noteworthy story, which made it rather tedious. Granted, it was well shot and acted, and I liked both lead characters, but what good does that do when I have to fight to keep awake while watching it? Seriously, would a little bit of story have hurt? Probably because of that, it moves at a leisurely pace. As a short film it might have worked, but as it is, it dragged along aim- and endlessly. There were a couple of nice moments thrown into the mix here and there, but overall, I was mostly bored by it. And don’t even let me get started on the completely bonkers (and unrealistic) surgery scene. I really find it hard to think about anything to say in regards to “Are We Not Cats”, due to its lack in story. There simply wasn’t anything interesting going on. If you’re into very indie films about offbeat romances that rely more on tone than narrative, you might want to give this one a try. I for one, however, really struggled to not fall asleep.
3/10


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/slash 2016 – Day 10: Swiss Army Man

swiss-army-manSwiss Army Man
USA 2016
Written by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Directed by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Watched on 01.10.2016

Despite the fact that it did not only receive rave reviews, but also a lot of positive word of mouth – pretty much everyone I know who saw it before me sang its praises – I went into this movie extremely sceptical. The thing is: I can’t stand toilet humor, and farts especially are probably the unfunniest thing in the world that I can think of, next to Donald Trump winning the US presidency (oops). So even though everyone told me how great it is, I expected “Swiss Army Man” to be one of those movie who simply aren’t my kind of thing. Instead, it won me over in a matter of minutes.

Yes, I didn’t really laugh all that much about the farting in the beginning. However, the good thing is that – thankfully – that’s not even remotely what the movie is about. If it had been nothing but Daniel Radcliffe playing a corpse and farting for two hours, I would have gotten exactly the movie that I feared I would get. Instead, it turned out to be a wonderful, touching and life-affirming testament to humanity. Of course the premise is ridiculous, but it’s not silly for the sake of being silly, but in order to make a point. Which is that we need, and hunger for, some sort of connection with other human beings. To not be and feel alone. What’s even better is that “Swiss Army Man” doesn’t make this about romantic relationships (even though those are great too, obviously), but rather simple companionship. Hank is just looking for someone who understands him and who he can share his life, his hardship and his troubles with. And he finds this someone in – who would have guessed it? – a corpse, Manny, who wondrously provides him with exactly what he needs to stay alive. What follows is a heartwarming story about a loner who finally achieves some sort of connection with another human being – albeit a supposedly dead one. There were just as many scenes that had me laughing my ass off as there were moments which gave me goosebumps, and/or managed to really hit me emotionally. Superbly acted by both Dano and Radcliffe, with a rousing score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, and written and directed with great aplomb by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, “Swiss Army Fan” is one of the most funny, touching and uplifting movies of the year.
9/10


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