/slash ½ 2017 – Day 2: Ron Goossens, Low Budget Stuntman

Ron Goossens, Low Budget Stuntman
Netherlands 2016
Written by Steffen Haars & Flip Van der Kuil
Directed by Steffen Haars & Flip Van der Kuil
Watched on 05.05.2017

I once again had a /slash pass which allowed me to watch all movies. In the run-up, I was worried the most about “Ron Goosens”, since I feared that it simply wouldn’t be my kind of humor. Taking that into account, it was better than I feared, but still, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. That said, the beginning, surprisingly, was quite promising and funny – which refers to both the scene before and after the (Bond-inspired) intro. However, with its very one-dimensional characters, the rather puerile, immature humor, a couple of gags that didn’t work for me (sorry, I just don’t find pedophilia funny) and a rather predictable story, it lost its appeal quickly for me. I’m also in the happy position of not being able to relate to Ron Goosens and his friends (often termed as “lowlifes”). Nevertheless, there was the occasional joke that made me laugh (especially the hilarious “Stay”-montage), and I also quite liked how it, despite all comedic elements, turns out to be an actually rather dark and tragic tale. And with an economical runtime of just 82 minutes, it was short enough to never get boring (even though the many post-credits-scenes – “Ron Goosens” seemed to feature more of them than even “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – threatened to stretch my patience after all). After the screening, a friend of mine judged “Ron Goosens” to have been “surprisingly bearable”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


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/slash ½ 2017 – Day 1: XX

USA 2017
Written by Jovanka Vuckovic, St. Vincent, Roxanne Benjamin & Karyn Kusama
Directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, St. Vincent, Roxanne Benjamin & Karyn Kusama
Watched on 04.05.2017

“XX” is a horror anthology which was written and directed exclusively by women. Like with all anthologies, the quality of the segments vary. It actually starts really strong; however, from my point of view, each following short film was worse than the one before – which is always a problem.

“The Box” was a really cool horror/mystery-story with an original and interesting concept. I was especially horrified by how well it portrayed the feeling of complete and utter helplessness that the mother felt. Everyone who already experience a close friend or relative getting sick (which probably is pretty much all of us) should be able to identify. I really felt for her, and found this part of the film to be absolutely harrowing. There were also a couple of nice “food porn”-inserts which reminded me of “Hannibal”. It’s a little predictably, and I wouldn’t have needed the dream sequence. Other than that though it was a really strong short film, and a promising start to this anthology. 8/10

“The Birthday Party” is, in essence, “The Trouble With Harry” (or “Weekend at Bernie’s”) during a child’s birthday party. There were a couple of nice, darkly funny moments, and it’s always fun to watch Melanie Lynsky, but other than that it didn’t really have much to offer. Also, the direction was very clichéd and weak. I could call every (fake and real) jump scare, which also made use of a loud noise (which always makes the director feel helpless, when he/she has to resort to such a cheap trick). Overall, it was ok, but nothing special. 6/10

“Don’t Fall”, in a way, is a mirror image to “The Birthday Party”. Meaning: It’s really well shot, with a couple of nice, tense scenes, and I liked the monster. It’s also brief and to the point. However, the story was rather bland, uninteresting and completely generic. “Evil Dead” in a van. Meh. 5/10

As for “Her Only Living Son”: I’m afraid I won’t become Karyn Kusama’s biggest fan any more, at least not in this life. Granted, with “Aeon Flux”, “Jennifer’s Body” and “The Invitation”, my problems lay rather with the script than her direction, but this time, she provided both, and the result was by far the weakest entry in this anthology. In a nutshell, it’s “Rosemary’s Teenager”. Very predictable, clichéd, and far too long. I was already bored after five minutes, but still, it went on and on and on. Blah. 3/10

Overall, it’s ok, but frankly, I’d recommend to watch “The Box” on its own, and to skip the rest.


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/slash ½ 2017 – Day 1: Shin Gojira (Shin Godzilla)

Shin Godzilla
Japan 2016
Written by Hideaki Anno
Directed by Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
Watched on 04.05.2017

I’m not really the biggest Kaiju- or Godzilla-nerd. While I saw a couple of them as a kid, they never spoke to me in the same way as, say, sci-fi (like “Star Trek”). Thus, I have no nostalgic feelings toward Toho and their classics. Still, I was looking forward to their new take on their most popular monster, and even though it wasn’t all I hoped it would be, I rather enjoyed it.

I liked that with “Shin Godzilla” they went back to the original idea of Godzilla as a monster and a threat, instead of a protector of the Earth and humanity. It was also interesting to see how the entire film was obviously inspired by the catastrophe in Fukushima. I liked the design – and the old-fashioned “man in suit”-realization of Godzilla’s final stage. The occasional short cell phone-clips etc. were also implemented really well. They mixed things up a bit, and added credibility to the proceedings. I liked their idea to stop Godzilla in the end. By far my favorite part of the movie, though, was the attack on Tokio at night. That entire sequence was just awesome. Visually stunning, and the score was extremely haunting and beautiful. However: As much as I initially enjoyed the scenes dealing with bureaucratic hurdles – men sitting in meetings and talking and discussing instead of actually doing something to help the people (a not-so-subtle criticism of Japan’s crisis management) – I got the point they were trying to make 10-15 minutes in (at the latest). But those sequences seemed to go on forever and were spread throughout the entire movie. Thus, it got tired rather quickly. And, unfortunately, it seemed to me that apart from said message, they didn’t really have anything to say, which didn’t stop them from repeating it over and over again for almost two hours. Which brings me to my next criticism: It simply was too long for its own good. With a runtime of 90-100 minutes, it would have been far more gripping and entertaining. As as much as I enjoyed the final stage of Godzilla’s development, his first “incarnation” was rather lame. For a movie that made a point going back to the “man in suit”-approach, it was weird that they started with a CGI-monster. That those effects were rather terrible and looked pretty cheap didn’t help matters either. And even though the showdown had its moments, it couldn’t compete with the stunning Tokio-attack-sequence before, and thus felt a little anti-climatic.

All in all, “Shin Godzilla” was ok, but as someone who has no nostalgic feelings towards Toho-Godzilla, it wasn’t quite the highlight for me that it probably was for others, and overall, I have to admit that I (vastly) preferred Gareth Edwards approach (and, of course, the original “Godzilla”-movie from 1954, which IMO is still the best there is.)


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/slash ½ 2017 – Day 1: Nong hak (Dearest Sister)

Dearest Sister
Laos 2016
Written by Christopher Larsen
Directed by Mattie Do
Watched on 04.05.2017

“Dearest Sister” offered a solid start into this years “/slash ½”-Festival (the shorter, 3-day-offshoot of the main festival, taking place in May). What I liked most is how it dealt with the importance of money and status symbols in – compared to our, western, environment – poorer regions of the world. Not that those things wouldn’t be important over here, too (even though that obviously varies from person to person), but sometimes we can forget how spoilt we actually are. It’s easy to see why those things would be more important in an impoverished environment. I also liked that the consequent social commentary wasn’t limited to only the protagonist, but was also present with her “sister” as well as her husband (who also both did questionable things for money). Mostly, though, it was about Nok, and the depths she will go to just to make a few bucks. She was a wonderfully selfish and mean protagonist – something that I very much enjoyed. To sum up the good parts, the ghost scenes were very well done, and the design of the ghosts was really cool. On the downside, I didn’t find them (or the movie in general) to be particularly creepy. The story, while interesting, never really gripped me. The middle part dragged along considerably. And as interesting as I might have found “Dearest Sister” from a thematic point of view, I never felt a real connection to any of the characters. Overall, it was a movie that spoke to me more intellectually than it did emotionally – which is always a slight problem. Nevertheless, it offered interesting insights into a completely different world (from my point of view), and a couple of strong moments and nice ideas.


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Identities 2017: Respire (Breathe)

France 2014
Written by Julien Lambroschini & Mélanie Laurent (based on the novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme)
Directed by Mélanie Laurent
Watched on 15.06.2017

“Respire” was directed by Mélanie Laurent, who is probably better known as an actress than a director. However, judging from her work here – and as much as I enjoy her as a performer – I think I’d prefer it if she’d step behind the camera entirely – since “Respire” is a truly remarkable film which, after a very charming start, gets more and more oppressive with every passing minute, ultimately culminating in an extremely depressing finale, that nevertheless in retrospect seems practically inevitable.

Mélanie Laurent’s direction impressed me twofold. On the one hand, she tells this increasingly dark tale with a couple auf hauntingly beautiful images (with help from her DP Arnaud Potier), and on the other hand, it’s the entire flow of the picture. Laurent manages to increase the tension constantly, until it’s almost unbearable. Thus, from a visual as well as an atmospheric point of view, “Respire” was truly exceptional. She also, apparently, did a great job directing her actresses and actors. I was especially impressed with the two leads, Joséphine Japy (who makes you feel the increasing desperation of her character) and Lou de Laâge (who manages to portray the free spirited, unpredictable whirlwind which is her character with impressive ease). But it’s not just the acting and the direction, the story itself was also great. I have yet to read the novel this movie is based on, but I really liked how “Respire” dealt with the struggles of coming-of-age, be it finding (and keeping) friends, falling in love, and especially bullying at schools. I also loved how the movie never talks down to its audience, is sometimes a little subtle in its approach, and trust the viewer to fill the gaps him- or herself. Finally, as mentioned before, the ending was simply perfection, from the things that are going on to the way the final shot is staged. No one could have done it any better. My only slight complaint is that the middle part, with their vacation, dragged on just a little bit. Other than that, “Respire” is a remarkable piece of work that should be seen by every cinephile out there.


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Identities 2017: AWOL

USA 2016
Written by Deb Shoval & Karolina Waclawiak
Directed by Deb Shoval
Watched on 14.06.2017

Every film festival has the right to one major fuck-up – and in case of Identities 2017, this was it (to be fair, though, at other festivals like Viennale and /slash I saw far worse worst movies than this one). “AWOL” is a dull, convoluted mess of a film that is only barely saved by the performances of its lead actresses, Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool.

Practically from the beginning, “AWOL” felt rather tedious to me. Both Joey and Rayna are only sketchily portrayed, and hardly ever felt like real characters to me. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t much care for both of them, which got only worse over the course of the movie, since they make one horrible and inexplicable decision after the next, which made me shake my head repeatedly. I also didn’t much care about the ending, and would have preferred a different (not quite as bleak) tone. The fact that this was the nth “things end badly”-film between queer people that I saw at this year’s “Identities”-festival probably didn’t help it either. Sometimes it really seems like there are hardly any happy gay couples in movies and TV. What’s up with that? And to add insult to injury, as much as I liked both performances of Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool individually, I didn’t feel any real chemistry between them. Yes, in general, it’s well-acted, and there were a couple of nice images throughout. But when the characters act as dumb as they do here, that doesn’t help matters much.


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Identities 2017: Siebzehn (Seventeen)

Austria 2017
Written by Monja Art
Directed by Monja Art
Watched on 13.06.2017

Too bad. While it took me a while to really get into the movie (for example, the acting of the supporting cast was a little amateurish; I adjusted quickly to that, though), it grew on me quickly, and got more and more captivating by the minute – only to culminate in one of the most bafflingly off-key endings that I’ve seen all year, thus completely dropping the ball at the finish line.

What “Siebzehn” did remarkably well is on the one hand making an accurate portrait of the current youth culture in Austria (at least, as far as I can tell), but on the other hand also stay quite universal. Thus, even “older” people like myself should be able to identify with the characters and/or certain situations, experiences, feelings, and so on. (For example, apart from a certain drastic action I couldn’t identify with, I was shocked how much of myself – especially my teenage-self – I saw in that one shy, slumsy nerd). What’s also a plus is that gay or bisexual relationships, for this group of teenager, are no big deal, and just as normal as heterosexual relationships – just as it should be (even though having a gay couple in it wouldn’t have hurt, since there’s still more stigma on gay than lesbian relationships). Apart from Wanda, which I hate with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, the soundtrack was really cool too. It also was shot really well. It’s biggest strengths, however, are its lead character, Paula, and her longing for a classmate. It’s been a really long time since I’ve been invested that much in a (cinematic) love story.

_____________________________ HERE BE SPOILERS _____________________________

Which, ultimately, brings us to the movies biggest fault, at least in my book. Because for a very long time, “Siebzehn” feels just as much like a romantic comedy as a coming-of-age-flick. Which is why the ending baffled me completely: Instead of giving us a clear happy end, “Siebzehn” ends on a rather sour – or, at best, very open – note. And for me, that ending just didn’t fit the rest of the movie, which – apart from a couple of dramatic scenes – was mostly funny, entertaining and uplifting. Also, with all those “almost”-scenes between them, I felt cheated not getting the big happy end that I was rooting for all the time. It doesn’t help that queer films are full of unhappy endings anyway, and I’m slowly getting sick of it, but the main problem here (since I loved a similar bitter ending in “Lovesong”) is not the overabundance of tragic endings in queer movies, but that in this very specific case, it just didn’t fit the tone of the movie at all, thus leaving an extremely sour taste in my mouth. As it is, it’s still far from a bad movie, but with a different (happier) ending, it would have been spectacular, and one of the best Austrian films of recent years. Which brings me back to my initial statement: Too bad.


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