Screener-Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale
Japan 2000
Written by Kenta Fukasaku, based on the novel by Koushun Takami
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Watched on 03.04.2017

More than 16 years after its release in Japan, “Battle Royale” is finally going to be freely available in its uncut form in Germany – something the new distributor (who submitted the request for a new evaluation at the german ratings board) is going to celebrate with a limited theatrical release. And even though here in Austria we didn’t have the same problem and the Uncut DVDs and Blu-Rays were sold freely for years now, I somehow never came round to see it. Which is why I jumped at the chance to watch a screener of the new german release – and what can I say: I think that it’s still relevant, shocking and effective as hell.

I really liked the “Hunger Games”-movies, which – like the books they were based on – of course were heavily influenced by Koushun Tamaki’s novel and Kinji Fukasaku’s adaptation. Even though the similarities are striking, I still believe that ultimately, Suzanne Collins delivered more than a simple rip-off. She took the basic idea and made something new (and bigger) out of it. However, if there’s one aspect where the “Hunger Games”-series absolutely pales in comparison, it’s the violence. Where “The Hunger Games” held back in order to secure a PG-13 rating, “Battle Royale” shows no such restraint. It’s a bloody, gory and absolutely brutal affair. It never downplays, let alone celebrates the various fights, but presents them as absolutely harrowing – just as it should be, especially given the fact that its bloody 15-year-olds who slaughter each other. I also loved how “Battle Royale” shows the different ways in which those teenagers deal with the desperate and hopeless situation they find themselves in. Some give up and choose to kill themselves. Some seem to bury their heads in the sand, instead of facing the fate that awaits them. Some try to fight the oppressive system that forces them to kill each other. Some try their best to hold on to their humanity, even in the face of unspeakable horror. And then there are those who thrive and flourish under these circumstances, and relish the chance to finally set their inner psychopaths free. With all these different approaches, the movie ultimately forces the viewer to ask themselves how they would react if they’d find themselves in this terrible situation. How far would we go to save our own skin?

There’s another thing that makes “Battle Royale” even meaner than “The Hunger Games”: Instead of fighting against people of other districts which they didn’t know before (apart from the one companion from their own), “Battle Royale” sets the pupils of one class at each other. And even though I’d wager that none of us liked all our other classmates, there are still cliques and friends and even lovers here, who are forced to fight against each other. Somehow, this seems even worse than just fighting a random bunch of strangers. Overall, “Battle Royale” does a great job taking this fascinating and distressing concept and running with it. It’s very well shot, the classical music as well as the original score suit the movie incredibly well, the acting is (mostly) really good, and the action, as shocking as it may be, is also shot quite nicely. However, there’s one thing I didn’t much care for, and that is the rather one-dimensional and clichéd main bad guy – who stands out even more in such an – otherwise – unique and original movie. He’s just your typical sociopathic nutjob, who cheats his way into this battle. Personally, I would have found it much more interesting to follow a regular classmate (like no. 1) who, thanks to the unspeakable horrors he witnesses as well as the imminent threat to his own life, is slowly driven into madness. Instead, said guy already arrives at the island completely off-the-rails. Also, the fact that the movie doesn’t even try to disguise his role as the main bad guy made his fights quite uninteresting, since we already knew that he’d come out on top. For me, that was the one major mistake which hurt the movie a little bit. Other than that, “Battle Royale” is a highly fascinating, very entertaining and truly disturbing movie which offers an intriguing – and shocking – reflection on society that should leave just as much of an impression as its no-holds-barred depiction of violence.


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At the Movies 2017: Life

USA 2017
Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Watched on 04.04.2017

“Life” delivered pretty much exactly what I expected. It’s a solid B-science fiction-horror-movie with a good cast and a couple of visually stunning scenes, but ultimately, it’s nothing special. Like most films of the genre, it owes a lot to “Alien” – but also seemed to be heavily influenced by “Gravity”. This is especially true for the long scene at the beginning which appears to be one continuous shot, capturing the action with a seemingly floating camera. Since I’m a sucker for scenes like that, I loved this long take, and thought that it was the highlight of the movie. Unfortunately, nothing that came afterwards lived up that promising beginning, and overall, I felt that the movie pretty much went continuously downhill with each passing minute.

“Life” doesn’t even try to hide which characters it thinks are more and which are less important. The former get far more attention, screen time, and at least a basic background that should enable audiences to feel some sort of connection with them. The latter are hardly sketched out and, thus, are the first to die a slow and painful death at the hands of “Calvin”. Granted, the first death came as a little bit of a surprise, but afterwards, if was rather predictable, and in the end, the only real question left was if one or two of them would survive, or if they’d all die. During the middle part of the movie, though, there wasn’t really a lot of tension, since you only waited for the less important characters to bite the stardust. Also, once again, there characters don’t always act in the most intelligent way, and some of them really seem to see this as some sort of application video for the Prometheus. Their final plan, even though I get that it was an act of desperation, seemed especially badly thought out. And there also is the occasional bit where either the astronauts or the monster depend on coincidence, otherwise the movie would have been over way sooner. And the ending as well as their choice of credits song had me roll my eyes.

But even though “Life” is not especially innovative or surprising, it mostly manages to entertain. This is mostly due to the nice cast, who do their best with the little to nothing that they’re given. Daniel Espinosa’s direction is also solid, even though it lacks tension, and he never again reaches the high of the aforementioned awesome one-take-scene in the beginning. The sets are nice and seem convincing, and the effects – especially the ISS – are top-notch. And the monster was nice, and didn’t seem like something that we’ve already seen a zillion times. Granted, it won’t win any prices for originality, and the predictable finale hurts it considerably. But as long as you don’t expect too much, and bring a certain affection for the genre, you should find some life in this solid, run-of-the-mill B-SF-horror-movie.


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Screener-Review: The Void

The Void
USA 2016
Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski
Directed by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski
Watched on 03.04.2017

In recent years, we saw a rise in nostalgic entertainment, mostly when it comes to the 80s. “The Void” is yet another entry on that list, and in its case, the obviousness of its sources of inspiration (to name but a few: The works of H.P. Lovecraft, the chestbuster-scene from “Alien”, and especially the movies of John Carpenter, most notably “Prince of Darkness” and “The Thing”) are as much a curse as they are a blessing. A blessing because it gives the movie a certain nostalgic charm. A curse because it constantly reminds you of other and, most of all, more original films.

Still, “The Void” has a couple of things going for it. First and foremost: The practical SFX are very nice. Yes, the design of the monsters is heavily inspired by “The Thing”, but still, advocates for practical effects will love the respective work that was put into the making of this movie. Also, visually “The Void” was quite nice. Cinematographer Samy Inayeh does a great job and gives us a couple of stunning images and beautiful shots: The vibrant colors in the basement of the hospital, the cult members (whose robes – intentionally? – reminded me of the Ku-Klux-Klan) getting illuminated by the lights on top of the police car, or the finale with the glowing triangle. The directors also manage to build up a nice atmosphere here and there, and their story takes a couple of nice twists and turns, some of which I didn’t expect. I wouldn’t exactly call it totally unpredictable, but at least, there were a couple of nice surprises along the way. However, the acting is a little bit of a mixed bag. While I was rather taken with Ellen Wong (especially in her very first scene), and Kenneth Welsh chews up the scenery quite nicely, the rest was mostly “only” decent, and Aaron Poole wasn’t quite the charismatic lead the movie would have needed. Also, some of the exposition was a little hokey. The cultists never really worked as a threat for me. The story leaves a couple of things unresolved. Some of the dialogue was a little poor. And there’s hardly any real tension. The latter might be due to the movie’s biggest weakness: The characters are extremely clichéd and not really engaging. Thus, I didn’t really care about what happened to any of them. So while I watched the film with sufficient interest, it never really managed to grip me.

Overall, I’m not exactly sure whom “The Void” is made for. Because even though it tickles that certain nostalgic nerve, fans of said era, and the works of John Carpenter in particular, will spend most of its running time thinking about other, older – and arguably better – movies. Still, if you crave for more entertainment that harkens back to the films of the 80s, this is decent and entertaining enough to fill said void.


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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