Dead Pigs (2018)

Dead Pigs
Director: Cathy Yan
Writer: Cathy Yan
Cast: Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, David Rysdahl, Zazie Beetz
Seen on: 4.4.2021

Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) runs a hairsalon and owns the last house in the neighborhood she grew up in. Everything else was torn down to make way for a large building project helmed by architect Sean Landry (David Rysdahl). Candy’s brother Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) is a pig farmer in constant money trouble. Now more so than ever, because his pigs have mysteriously died, just like most of the pigs in the area. Those dead pigs start floating down Shanghai river because nobody knows what else to do with them. Meanwhile Wang’s son Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) works in the city as a busboy, hoping to make a better life for himself and maybe catch the attention of his rich customer Xia Xia (Meng Li).

Dead Pigs rolls a lot of criticism into a protective layer of jokes that make its critical stance look surprisingly light, but not necessarily soft. It’s a bittersweet, very engaging film.

The film poster showing two piggy banks, one shattered with very little money inside.
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Pachamama (2018)

Director: Juan Antin
Writer: Juan Antin, Patricia Valeix, Olivier de Bannes, Nathalie Hertzberg
Cast: Andrea Santamaria, India Coenen, Saïd Amadis, Marie-Christine Darah, Vincent Ropion, Jean-Marc Pannetier [I saw the film in English, these are the French voice actors]
Seen on: 23.3.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) colonialism

Tepulpai (Andrea Santamaria) wants to become a shaman like Shaman (Saïd Amadis). When its time to prove that he is willing to sacrifice his most treasured possession to Pachamama and thus prove that he is becoming an adult, he can’t do it – unlike Naira (India Coenen) who is ready to sacrifice her small llama Lamita. When a tax collector shows up in their village and takes not only more than the village can afford, but also their Huaca, a sacred idol, Tepulpai hopes he can prove himself after all – by bringing back the Huaca.

Pachamama is a really beautiful film with a political core, but the story and the voice acting didn’t quite work for me.

The film poster showing Tepulpai and Naira flying on a big Condor bird. Lamita is watching them from the ground.
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A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Based on: Madeleine L’Engle’s novel
Cast: Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Bellamy Young, David Oyelowo
Seen on: 22.3.2021

Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is an unusual child from an unusual family. Her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a scientist, as is her father (Chris Pine) – who has been missing for a while. He was working on tesseracts when he just disappeared. Meg’s genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) seems to know more about it. And he has made some strange friends who know even more than that: Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey). The three women prompt Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s class mate Calvin (Levi Miller) to go looking for her father – all through the universe.

I was rather disappointed when A Wrinkle in Time never got a big cinema release here in Austria, and I still think I would have appreciated seeing it on the big screen – the film is at its best, after all, when it just creates visuals. Other than those, it is very fine, but not great.

The film poster showing the main characters arranged in a circle.
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The Perfection (2018)

The Perfection
Director: Richard Shepard
Writer: Eric C. Charmelo, Richard Shepard, Nicole Snyder
Cast: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman
Seen on: 20.3.2021

Content Note: rape, child abuse, pedophilia, racism, ableism

Charlotte (Allison Williams) used to be a promising cellist at the Bachoff academy, the famous music school, until she had to quit as a teenager to take care of her ill mother. Quite a few years later now, her mother has finally passed and Charlotte flies to Shanghai where she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), the school’s new star, and her old mentors Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman). There is an instant spark between Charlotte and Lizzie and Lizzie invites Charlotte to come with her on a trip through China the next day. That trip proves to be rather more fateful for them than expected.

The Perfection starts off well enough, but then it starts to fall over itself in attempts to be clever that ultimately derail the entire film.

The film poster showing Charlotte (Allison Williams) playing a cello. There is blood on her face and on the cello.
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Doris (2018)

Director: Albert Jan van Rees
Writer: Roos Ouwehand
Cast: Tjitske Reidinga, Guy Clemens, Hendrikje Nieuwerf, Tarik Moree, Roos Ouwehand, Monique van de Ven, Bracha van Doesburgh
Seen on: 17.2.2021

Doris (Tjitske Reidinga) was recently divorced and now has to face a fresh start with her two teenaged children (Hendrikje Nieuwerf, Tarik Moree). That she has spent her marriage as a houswife, makes that new start even harder. As if that wasn’t enough, Doris starts to have romantic dreams about her best friend Tim (Guy Clemens). But Tim just seems to have started dating a co-worker, Lynn (Bracha van Doesburgh), and Doris may not have a chance to tell him how she feels.

Doris may not reinvent the genre and didn’t leave me overcome by emotion, but it is a very well executed, enjoyable genre addition that gives older women something to enjoy instead of pretending that if you didn’t find the right person by age 25, everything is over. That message is needed and appreciated.

The film poster showing Doris (Tjitske Reidinga) on a bicycle with a bunch of flowers.
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Weapon of Choice (2018)

Weapon of Choice
Director: Fritz Ofner, Eva Hausberger
Writer: Fritz Ofner
Seen on: 17.1.2021

The film looks at the Austrian company Glock, the weapons it manufactures and how they quickly sold all over the world, especially in the USA, and also tries to shed some light on engineer and inventor Gaston Glock – the man behind the gun.

Weapon of Choice is a very well made documentary about Glock’s impact on the world – and that’s not necessarily a positive one, as you can imagine. But it is a lasting impact and one that still shapes many things today.

The film poster showing the title in big letters, white on red background with a black/shadowed hand grabbing for a gun.
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Replicas (2018)

Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Writer: Chad St. John, Stephen Hamel
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz, Emjay Anthony, Emily Alyn Lind, Aria Lyric Leabu
Seen on: 2.1.2021

William (Keanu Reeves) works with his colleague Ed (Thomas Middleditch) on trying to transfer a human consciousness into a robot. But his research has hit a snag, so a break with his family – wife Mona (Alice Eve) and children Matt (Emjay Anthony), Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind) and Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu) – seems like a great idea. Only on his way to their trip, they get in an accident and William is the only survivor. In his desperation, he calls on Ed and they devise a plan how they could bring them back.

Replicas is okay. Nothing we haven’t seen before, but entertaining enough if you’re able to overlook that William’s plan is so full of holes it makes you wonder whether he ever took a step in the world outside of his house.

The film poster showing William (Keanu Reeves) twice, once with digital / technical elements in his face.
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The Story of the Stone (2018)

The Story of the Stone
Director: Starr Wu
Writer: Starr Wu
Based on: Cao Xueqin‘s novel Dream of the Red Chamber
Cast: Aric Chen, Etsen Chen, J.R. Chien, Golden Elephant, Adam Lin, Sky Qing Tian Li, Daniel Thai, Joe Liu, Stephen Rong, Dean Tang, Lear Chen, Ryan Hsieh
Part of: Transition Queer Film Festival
Seen on: 21.11.2020

Content Note: suicide, fat hate

The Stone Bar is the gay bar in Taipei, and its newest waiter is Josh. Josh (Golden Elephant) is pretty and fresh, so he has his pick of men, but he would like to win florist Lin’s (Aric Chen) heart. Only Lin is still reeling from losing his last boyfriend to Aids and really can’t fathom having a new relationship. In his frustration, Josh turns to Sean (J.R. Chien) who is more than happy to have him. But amidst promiscuity and drugs, drama is pre-programmed.

The Story of the Stone did not work for me at all. I tried very hard to get into the film, but it was completely confusing and about halfway through I just gave up following anything that happened on screen.

The film poster showing Josh (Golden Elephant) standing half-naked in a bar filled with half-naked men. Everything is bathed in pink light.
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Hotel Artemis (2018)

Hotel Artemis
Director: Drew Pearce
Writer: Drew Pearce
Cast: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista, Kenneth Choi
Seen on: 8.11.2020

Hotel Artemis is a safe haven in the middle of Los Angeles, a LA in full crisis mode. All the criminals can come here in case of medical emergency, knowing they will be cared for by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and Everest (Dave Bautista) without having to fear the police – or each other. Only called by their room names, Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) brings in his brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) after he got shot during a robbery. But some serious shit is about to hit the fan at the usually peaceful Hotel Artemis.

Hotel Artemis, unfortunately, sounds way cooler than it is. Despite the great cast and some very nice ideas, it just never finds its feet.

The film poster showing the main characters of the film with art deco ornaments around them.
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Happy Face (2018)

Happy Face
Director: Alexandre Franchi
Writer: Joelle Bourjolly, Alexandre Franchi
Cast: Robin L’Houmeau, Debbie Lynch-White, Dean Perseo, David Roche, E.R. Ruiz, Alison Midstokke, Noémie Kocher
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 24.9.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) lookism, pedophilia

Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) is struggling with his mother’s cancer diagnosis that leaves her in need of care, which he mostly provides. Most of all he struggles with the fact that he feels disgusted with her. He hopes to combat this by joining a self-help group for disfigured people led by Vanessa (Debbie Lynch-White). Where but there can he learn to be less shallow? So he decides to pretend to be disfigured himself. That plan, though, doesn’t work like he intended at all.

I was intrigued by the concept behind Happy Face and the fact that they cast a lot of actually disfigured people in the film. And it certainly tackles a difficult topic with care. Ultimately, though, it all revolves too much about Stan and what he can learn in this situation.

the film poster showing a face made of a collage of various newspaper cutouts
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