22 Sep 2017

Genealogies of a Crime (Raúl Ruiz, 1997)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Rooted in 'Ruizian' dream logic and rife with deceptive shadows, one-way mirrors, puzzling mind-games and switched identities, Genealogies of a Crime appears as a delirious, Hitchcockian-lite (pseudo) thriller by way of Robbe-Grillet, delivering in spades an elliptical story, eccentric characters, sharp verbal exchanges, twistedly intelligent humor, weird psychoanalytic role-play, elaborately designed sets, mystery-inducing score, outstanding camerawork for a heightened surreality and superb performances, especially from the ever-reliable Catherine Deneuve in a dual role with Freudian subtext, as well as from Melvil Poupaud as an 'innocent killer' not responsible for any of those three funerals...

20 Sep 2017

A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A contender for the most placid film of the year (despite that one burst of posthumous anger), this odd, quirky, steadily directed, thematically poignant and deliberately paced genre-bender might be resting on a Finisterrae-like gimmick, but it rests so well, boasting a simple, yet captivating and universal tale, some great deadpan humor, the hazy, delightfully retro visuals, the suitably melancholic, mood-setting score and the superb, almost dialogue-free performances by the magnetic Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck who conveys various emotions and mental states, even though he spends most of the time hidden behind the plainest of Halloween costumes as the titular Ghost haunted by grief and memories, time-warping accidents and the strangers intruding what was once his home.

19 Sep 2017

Who's Crazy? (Tom White, 1966)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


Considered lost for five decades, Tom White's first and only feature Who's Crazy? resurfaced in 2015 when it was restored from a 35mm print at Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland. An avant-garde experiment in 'primal ecstasy' (in the words of Richard Brody for The New Yorker), this odd counter culture 'comedy' unleashes a relentless assault on senses that leaves the viewer smiling like a lunatic (no pun intended) at the well-minded stoners' parody of The Seventh Seal's dance of death ending.

Its plot is as simple as it gets. After a bus transporting metal asylum patients breaks down in the middle of Belgian nowhere, the inmates (all played by the members of NY's The Living Theatre troupe) evade their captors and take over a nearby vacant, yet well-supplied farm house, establishing a hippie-like commune. What follows is an incessant series of improvised antics from imitating dog howling and cat yowling to a ritualistic wedding ceremony which ends in a slapstick police raid.

The non-stop partying of unmuzzled crackpots (involving some dress-up sessions, beatnik recitals, omelette preparing, singing and screaming, a quest for water, pseudo-alchemical playing with fire and an impromptu trial to a 'catatonic' spoilsport) feels so liberating that you can almost taste the energy emanating from the screen. Most probably having a whale of a time in the rooms filled with (pot) smoke, the actors give their (un)natural best to pull you in their whacky charade.

Just like the camera of Walerian Borowczyk's frequent DP collaborator Bernard Daillencourt who captures some weirdly absorbing stuff here, the protagonists are almost never still and their frequent motion is set to the elusive rhythms of the stirring, mind-blowing free jazz score composed by Ornette Coleman and performed with gusto by his trio. Besides, if the ingenious Salvador Dalí was fascinated by this mad little film, then who are we to judge it?

And to answer the titular question: everybody involved in making and 'consuming' and avoiding this deliciously deranged piece of alternative, uncompromising, highly enthusiastic cinema is positively crazy, which also includes a woman who provided those operatic monologues.

18 Sep 2017

Bottom of the World (Richard Sears, 2017)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Based on the script that mostly feels like a sincere, but heavy-handed love letter to Lost Highway (although it contains the bits and pieces of Jacob's Ladder, as well as of all the Lynchian and mind-boggling thrillers you can think of), Bottom of the World is a compellingly flawed (read: not as intelligent as it wants to be) indie mystery featuring some nice cinematography complemented by the moody score and starring Jena Malone at her 'unstable girlfriend turned into femme fatale next door' best and Douglas Smith who gives solid, yet 'still not quite ready for the main role' performance, both of their characters 'trapped' in a guilt-ridden identity/reality split which sees pain as 'beautiful and, in the end, the only thing we deserve'.

15 Sep 2017

Pepperminta (Pipilotti Rist, 2009)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Pepperminta the film is quite similar to Pepperminta the character - it's "probably like a carrot, neither too sweet, nor too sour, nor too hot, nor too salty". And it is the debut and, so far, the only feature-length offering by the Swiss visual artist Pipilotti (real name Elisabeth) Rist who is, judging by the infectious optimism and childish idealism which emanate from virtually every frame, almost certainly one of the top five most positive people living today.

So, it comes as no surprise that her titular (alter ego?) heroine sets on a mission to liberate everyone she encounters from fear, encouraging them to grab life by the balls, step out of the comfort zone and swing to the rhythm of all the colors of the rainbow. Whimsical and non-stop in touch with her puckish inner girl (Noemi Leonhard), Pepperminta (gleefully portrayed by the freckled, ginger-haired first-timer Ewelina Guzik) is a smiling, hyperactive, Pippi Longstocking-like young woman who keeps her grandma's soul in some sort of silver, apple-shaped music box, with a ballerina replaced by a rotating plastic eye.

Using "color hypnosis" she learned from her nana, she seduces a chubby mama's boy, Werwen Candrian (Sven Pippig), and a tomboy-ish florist, Edna NeinNeinNein Tulipan (Sabine Timoteo), who both help her spread joy, increase their neo-hippy "army" and paint everyone and everything that can be painted. On their quest, the trio wreaks havoc amongst some uptight professors and customers of an elite restaurant, but also manages to make a priest squeal like a seal for altar servers. They also escape a speeding penalty by virtue of a fancy snail, cellophane magic and white chickens.

From the puddle splashing and fruit squishing introduction and all the way to the excessively happy ending, Pepperminta plays out like a wet kaleidoscopic magic-realist dream bristling with overwhelming energy. Delightfully chaotic and weird as blue spaghetti or as pressing a doorbell with your tongue, it provides plenty of succulent eye-candy, whether through the strawberry-fueled stop-motion or via wildly imaginative set and costume design paired with POV and underwater shots, surreal rear projections or twisted and upside-down camera angles. The eccentric, orgasmic, psychedelic visuals are complemented by the unpredictable score featuring a few musical numbers that help "night and darkness suddenly vanish from our minds".

Rist delivers a carefree adventure, setting her own rules, challenging negative body image and dyeing feminist themes in menstrual blood-red, while overcoming the ickiness of drinking the just mentioned fluid as a part of the healing process. She says that "it's always the right time to be born" and depicts the world (and even death) through rose- and the-rest-of-the-spectrum-colored glasses which may turn off some of the most cynical viewers. On the other hand, those who are in the mood for the total opposite of doom and gloom will get a good dose of exhilaration from her Looney Tunes-esqe protagonists and the wacky proceedings akin to a thrill ride in a yellow dumpster.

12 Sep 2017

Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, 2016)

☼☼☼ of 10☼

Cartoonish in the worst possible sense of the word, Ben Wheatley’s latest opus left me frequently yawning, eye-rolling, time-checking and not caring about who’s who and what’s what, as it provided me with nothing more than a messy, unfunny, mind-numbing, ridiculously boring hour and a half shoot-out and not to mention ‘crawl-out’ between the annoying caricatures of the ‘characters’ (played by a solid ensemble cast, but to no avail), some classy cinematography by Laurie Rose and somewhat interesting 70s setting being rare redeeming factors.

11 Sep 2017

Vanishing Point (Raúl Ruiz, 1984)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Vanishing Point (originally, Point de fuite) has to be one of the most absurd dreams ever captured on screen. Described as 'a B-side to his (Raúl Ruiz's) magnum opus City of Pirates' at MUBI where it's currently playing, this experimental 'mystery drama' (for the lack of a better term) revels in bewildering non sequiturs involving an unnamed protagonist portrayed by Steve Baës (who's called by his first name by Ana Marta's enigmatic faux femme fatale).

At the beginning, he arrives on an island by cab (!), his head wrapped in bandages. Later, he says he had an accident at work, but soon after we see him making sketches for the cover of a book that will contain the islanders' stories (or something along these lines). In the meantime, he frequently plays cards with his landlord (Paulo Branco) and has plenty of strange encounters - several with Anne Alvaro's poker-faced secretary-like character who fills him in on the doctor's arrival and tells him about her weird nightmare. There's a couple of siblings living down the street and a murder occurs or is imagined by Steve.

And before you can say 'a boat turned into a pencil turned into a shark, as a sea turned into a Chinese soup, but not a bamboo one', you have been mind-boggled to the point of no return or rather, vanishing point. The preposterous dialogues that at times seem to be improvised and at other times pretty melodramatic sound exactly like utter balderdash one conjures up during REM phase. Complemented by the disorienting score and grainy grays of splendid B&W cinematography, they raise not only eyebrows, but many questions as well.

Who is the actual hero/dreamer of a puzzling story - Baës or Ruiz? Is he the illustrator or someone else illustrates him? What's with all the hate for eggs and chickens and is it the reason to leave the States? Would you accept fish from a stranger - a red herring, perhaps? Why would anyone stick a love letter into a bottle of beer? If your uncle Olaf speaks Italian, does that make him a traitor? In case you don't have uncle Olaf and do have a sister, has she ever asked you to promise her you'll go to hell? Who is a hermit lying on the rocks? Do answers even matter? Does anything at all matter?

As you might have already guessed, Vanishing Point is a tricky illusion and not a movie you can munch popcorn along with, because there's a great chance you end up with salt in your eye...

5 Sep 2017

Residue (Rusty Nixon, 2017)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

An evil, Necronomicon-like journal possessing time-warping and soul-corrupting powers, a down-on-luck private eye with an estranged adult daughter (finely portrayed by James Clayton and Taylor Hickson, respectively) and William B. Davis (better known as X-Files’ Smoking Man) as an enigmatic puppet-master kingpin converge in this neatly crafted, 80-minutes long mixture of comic-book-like neo-noir and light-Lovecraftian B-horror which boasts some black humor, nice practical effects and beautifully lighted scenes in a Twilight Zone-esque story whose beginning is the end is the beginning.

4 Sep 2017

A Silent Scream for L.

Last night, I had this dream. My hair was long and heavy and I was trying to make a bun, all in vain. When I looked into the mirror, my own shadow screamed at me. I also wanted to scream, but I just couldn’t, because my voice was lost in the cloud of despair floating above me.

Someone knocked at the door three times. The first knock was a joke, the second filled me with sadness and the last one echoed. There was no one standing on the other side, I knew that...

After jumping through the window, I fell on the bed covered in blue rose petals. Next to it, there was another me, completely naked, standing and repeating the same inaudible word over and over. His hair was red and short. Suddenly, a blonde woman entered the darkened room and stabbed my doppelgänger right through his navel. They exchanged gentle glances before disappearing in thin air.

Back in the bathroom again, I could swear I felt my own breath on my neck, exhaling loudly...

... and the Sequoia tree was too high to jump over it.

Twin Peaks / Episode 8 (David Lynch, 2017)

1 Sep 2017

Alchemy on the Amstel (Janja Rakuš, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
"Art is to console those who are broken by life."
Vincent van Gogh

Alchemy on the Amstel I

And that is exactly what Alchemy on the Amstel does - employing the river's natural painting and storytelling talents, it consoles. A work of delicate visual poetry, it is composed of three short films, whereby in the first two chapters, water acts "as a liquid mirror, visual oracle that reflects Parallel Universe of the Amsterdam city" (in the words of the author herself), only to let her limpid dreams, hazy memories and free flowing thoughts do the talking (or rather, showing) in her deeply-felt absence during the final act.

Alchemy on the Amstel II

In the interview for Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's fanzine Film Panic, Janja Rakuš calls her fluid muse, protagonist and alchemist "eye of the earth, substantial Monastery that with its prayer improves time's looks and beautifies the future", allowing her to be the guide, the guru. Inspired by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's teachings, she goes as far as to deify her, so the water transcends both life and death and intoxicates the viewer with its sublime qualities - spiritual essence and painterly soul, above the others.

Alchemy on the Amstel III

Speaking the universal language of Nature, Amstel also becomes the portal leading to a mythological realm wherein the tangible transforms into the elusive, with the legends woven out of the very reveries. A whole new world of rich textures and simmering lights lies beneath its surface, waiting to be explored. Our reality perishes and über-reality emerges. "The first view that the universe has of itself" appears as an impressionist abstraction, eternal and ethereal...

31 Aug 2017

Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


I shall start this review by saying that Atomic Blonde is hands down the most fulfilling cinema experience I've had this year so far. Despite the fact that action spy thrillers are not my cup of tea (I don't remember the last time I sit through a James Bond flick), I just couldn't take my eyes off of the screen - the movie is as gorgeous as its star.

In his first solo directorial venture, David Leitch finds a fiery, feisty, ass-kicking muse in Charlize Theron whose magnetic physical presence, disarming charisma, scene-stealing performance and even charmingly fake British accent give the most (if not all) of her 007 colleagues a run for their money. With stately grace and (ostensibly) frigid stoicism, she portrays an MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, who will use everything at her disposal, from red high-heels to a rubber hose, in order to defeat the seemingly stronger opponents standing in the way of her mission.

And speaking of mission, she is sent to Berlin during the Cold War and tasked with investigating the murder of a fellow agent (and possibly a lover, as we are informed via dreamy flashbacks), James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), and retrieving a compromising list of double agents, in days preceding the Fall of the Wall. Partnered with a rogue-ish station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy, sporting a Sinead O'Connor hairdo, at the top of his game) and tailed by an enigmatic woman (Sofia Boutella's seductive Delphine Lasalle), as well as by the savage Eastern Bloc spies, she navigates through a risky, dangerous game of politics and intrigue including a healthy dose of double-crossing and back-stabbing.


A simple, yet a bit convoluted story - adopted by Kurt Johnstad of 300 fame from Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's graphic novel The Coldest City - is the film's least hard-hitting aspect and plays out as a campy version of any given Bond or Bourne scenario. However, Leitch helms with such verve, energy, lightness and confidence that the film remains incessantly engaging and exciting, whether it's vintage cars rolling over or Lorraine (frequently) lighting a cigarette that we are shown. Not to mention his mind-blowing style over substance approach never fails.

For this ex-stuntman turned director, Lorraine's character is a logical progression and a much cooler creation than Keanu Reeves's John Wick of the eponymous 2014 elite assassin fantasy which he is uncredited for. His hot and extremely skilled blonde appears capable of stopping an atomic disaster if needed, even though she's not adorned with any super powers that would help her bruises heal faster (since icy baths rarely do the trick). Indeed, the fashionable heroine is represented through the male gaze, especially in the Blue is the Warmest Color-esque sequence of, ahem, extracting a piece of information, yet Theron's gravitas, self-esteem and intelligence form a sort of feminist armor around her.

As commendable as Ms Broughton's fighting maneuvers (where Leitch truly shines) are Johathan Sela's astonishing cinematography and the authentic, slightly modernized throwback to the late, simultaneously glamorized and deglamorized 80s, replete with musical hits of the time, weirdly juxtaposed 99 Luftballons being the stand-out. Combined with beautifully designed costumes, both steely grays of Berlin's exteriors and the neonized (or just saturated) colors of classy interiors provide loads of shots worthy of a gallery wall. With eye-candy in abundance, the monochrome imagery of the debriefing room - that serves as a 'red-herring teaser' and sees Toby Jones and John Goodman as Lorraine's superior and CIA agent, respectively - waters down the overwhelming sweetness and allows the viewer to catch a breath.

And let's not forget the tight editing (kudos to Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir) and that crazy, totally unexpected homage to Tarkovsky which is also one of Atomic Blonde's highlights.

29 Aug 2017

A Double Dose of Short Film (Lust Bath / Solar Soliloquy)

Lust Bath / Dutch Cave at Noon (Janja Rakuš, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


So simple and yet so effective. The Slovenian writer, filmmaker, visual and performing artist Janja Rakuš erases the (thick) line between the parietal and contemporary art, spinning a multilayer fantasy by using a single image. A blue-orange scene which depicts a bicycle rider pedaling away from a group of angry prehistoric hunters is animated via effects mimicking waves of different amplitudes and accompanied by the atmospheric, somewhat uncanny sounds of bubbling water and distant wind howling (John Watermann).

Is it just a stylistic exercise, a witty homage to the earliest bursts of creativity or a comment on narrow-mindedness preventing progress? It could also be viewed as an attempt to envision an alien force examining some forgotten earthly artifact or as a joke played on the viewer over-analyzing it. (Hell, maybe the rider is a bad guy!) Whatever the case may be, Lust Bath is an inspired piece of experimental cinema.



Solar Soliloquy (Garrick J Lauterbach, 2015)
 
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
 
Whether he's visualizing a song for the mad French genius Igorrr (Opus Brain) or making an essay documentary on the Swiss artists couple Silvia Gertsch and Xerxes Ach (Everything That We Saw, originally Alles was wir sahen, highly recommended!), Garrick J Lauterbach makes sure to put you in a contemplative mood.

In an aural, trip-hop sci-fi mystery Solar Soliloquy, he collaborates with Audio Dope (Mischa Nüesch), taking high art approach to directing a music video. His lyrical story opens with a nebula of colors suddenly turning grayish white as the sky above the metropolis of glass, steel and concrete constructions. The imagery of imposing rocky hills intrudes and we witness the birth or rather, the arrival of a blonde young man who is presumably an alien being (angel?) in human guise or a dead soul resurrected for a few fleeting moments back amongst the living.
 
What follows is the unidentified protagonist's experience on Earth, involving a box match (we only see the aftermath of) and a wild night at a dance club which ends in re-merging with the Universe, all beautifully captured with the keen eye of DoP Tobias Kubli. Lending his unusual physiognomy and giving the expressive performance is Benjamin Jäger in the starring role.


25 Aug 2017

Our Lady of Hormones (Bertrand Mandico, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼ 


'Conjuring up the combined memories' of several films (such as Wilder's masterpiece Sunset Boulevard) that deal with 'the twilight of an actress or artistic menopause', as Mandico himself puts it, this French auteur delivers a half-hour tour de force of bizarre neo-surrealism, disturbing eroticism and Nouvelle Vague homages.

Out Lady of Hormones (originally, Notre-Dame des Hormones) recounts the extremely vivid and not to mention unapologetically eccentric tale of rivalry, jealousy, primeval desires and human inability to domesticate the basic impulses. Two actresses portrayed with wicked glee and self-deprecating humor by Elina Löwensohn and Nathalie Richard roam a magical forest, rehearsing a play which involves aged Oedipus sporting elongated nipples (no joke). After they discover a hairy and amorphous creature adorned with a phallic excrescence (and making the console from eXistenZ look cute in comparison), they become entrapped in the endless cycle of mutual distrust, murder and miraculous resurrection.


As Löwensohn and Richard have a whale of a time bringing their zany characters to fantastical life and pulling the viewer into their burlesque realm, we are treated to the arresting visuals drenched in sultry purples and captured on 16mm tape which lends the picture a soft 'patina'. The exquisite costume and production design, coupled with quaint, yet oh-so refreshing practical effects, provide plenty of succulent eye-candy and quite a unique viewing experience, despite the myriad of fine art and cinematic influences, from Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses soeurs to Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness.

To paraphrase my comment on Mubi where this avant-garde fantasy is currently playing, it feels like Guy Maddin meets David Cronenberg at his peak in a phantasmagoric world ruled by That Obscure Object of Desire which shares the perverse mindset of Alain Robbe-Grillet and has Jean Cocteau's holy saliva smeared all over it. Genre-defying and 'very French', Our Lady of Hormones displays 'the dignified decadence' of a bygone era, establishing a dreamlike or rather, nightmarish atmosphere of sourly sweet nostalgia.

24 Aug 2017

7 Randomly Picked Recent Films I Watched in August Reviewed as Shortly as Possible in Chronological Order

1. Human Core (Manfre & Iker Iturria, 2011) - Experiments on human specimens in a well-controlled (and superbly designed!) environment. It feels like Jørgen Leth's absurdly funny pseudo-documentary Good and Evil filtered through the lens of Luc Besson mimicking George Lucas's THX 1138 and some futuristic reality show hosted by a devil-in-disguise kinda guy (bravura by Demian Sabini). Available for free viewing through Vimeo. (7+)


2. Fugue (Jorge Torres-Torres, 2015) - A solid arthouse mystery drama with a fragmented low-key narrative that focuses on a girl, Claire (the unaffected performance by Sophie Traub), who suffers dissociative fugue and wanders amongst wild horses on a sunbathed Puerto Rican island. Everything (or the most of what) we are shown might be just happening in her head, during a hypnosis session... Available for free viewing through Vimeo. (7)


3. Trent (Curtis James Salt, 2015) - Shot for 12 grands only, with the cast of non-professional actors, this stylish psychological horror doesn't reach the heights of Polanski's Repulsion (probably one of Salt's sources of inspiration), yet it provides some trippy visuals (especially during the the ambiguous conclusion's incandescent black & red sequence) which reflect the sustained interweaving of the titular protagonist's realities, memories/flashbacks and paranoid hallucinations. Available for free viewing through Vimeo. (7+)


4. Bitcoin Heist / Sieu Trom (Ham Tran, 2016) - My first encounter with the Vietnamese cinema is a glossy heist movie that employs all of the subgenre tropes and almost turns into torture porn at one point, only to switch back to being Asian version of The Italian Job or some such Hollywood flick. The impressive cinematography and ensemble cast (including the charismatic real-life magician Petey Majik Nguyen) save it from lapsing into mediocrity. (6+)


5. Some Freaks (Ian MacAllister McDonald, 2016) - A poisonous and slightly overrated romantic dramedy which is neither very romantic, nor particularly funny in its reveling in the adolescents' agony. Thomas Mann and Lily Mae Harrington as a one-eyed boy and an overweight girl in (turbulent) love lend some gravitas to their hissing characters. (5)


6. Fist & Faith (Zhuoyuan Jiang, 2017) - The tagline for Jiang's cool, hyper-stylized sophomore effort could be: "Let me read or die!" Set in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, it recounts a passionate, Crows Zero-like coming-of-age tale packed with great action scenes and seasoned with a few pinches of anachronisms and slapstick humor, until things get bloody serious. The animated prologue and epilogue vignettes add an extra oomph to the proceedings which involve gang battles and secret reading societies, occasionally in a painted, 3D comic book-like environment. (8-)


7. Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (Shinji Aramaki & Masaru Matsumoto, 2017) - No Verhoeven, no fun. Even though Ed Neumeier returns as the screenwriter, this CGI sequel lacks the satirical edge of the original film and plays out like a long high-budget video game cutscene. Yes, it does look really good (apart from the lip-sync issues), but the same applies to Resident Evil: Vendetta which is, despite its flaws, more successful in delivering monster B-movie entertainment. For the most dedicated fans only. (5)

21 Aug 2017

The Capsule (Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
 
For starters, let me be honest - I am not an admirer of Athina Rachel Tsangari's feature films. Quite the contrary, I find Chevalier unbearably flat, excruciatingly tedious and not even a teensy bit funny, whereas Attenberg left me struggling between 'wow, that's weirdly fascinating' and 'now, that's just plain frustrating'. 
 
The Capsule, on the other hand, is a pure delight. In under 40 minutes of its running time, it packs more punch than the above-mentioned dramas put together. Part haute couture fever dream, part allegorical performance and part absurd, neo-gothic fantasy, it drops some edgy commentary on women's essence, sexuality and role in society through the ages, bringing to life several bizarre paintings by the Polish artist and Tsungari's co-writer Aleksandra Waliszewska.


Set in 'a mansion perched on a Cycladic rock', the cyclical story revolves around the daily rituals of six ethereal young ladies (Clémence Poésy of In Bruges fame and Isolda Dychauk from Sokurov's Faust, among the others) supervised by the Mother Superior-like figure (the ominously seductive Ariane Labed from Attenberg). The utterly odd proceedings involve The Exorcist-style head spinning followed by heavy grimacing, late dinners involving raw quail eggs, walking the baby goats and free dancing to the low-key cover of America's A Horse With No Name while wearing a skimpy, movement-restricting 'attire'. Think Hadžihalilović's Innocence playing out in a witches' convent invaded by nightmarish, Bosch-esque visions and you might get the idea of what to expect.

Boldly experimenting, eschewing dialogue for the astonishing imagery (kudos to DoP Thimios Bakatakis who also collaborated with Yorgos Lanthimos on Dogtooth and The Lobster) and mystifying soundscapes, Tsangari imbues her work with both twisted, self-conscious humor and surreal, hypnotic atmosphere. Her enigmatic characters - 'born' in the strangest interior places - appear as simultaneously fragile, innocent and capable of realizing their darkest desires confessed in one of the most whimsical scenes. Their costumes carry a symbolic meaning and the same goes for their 'home' and its stone-cold surroundings in which they remain mentally, physically and spiritually entrapped.

This remarkable 'fashion film' is a great companion piece for Lynch's Dior commercial turned mystery Lady Blue Shanghai.

18 Aug 2017

DisneyWorld (M. Woods, 2011)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


When describing the works of the mixed media artist M. (as in Michael) Woods, you can come up with at least one word for each letter of the alphabet (after some thought and googling, of course).

Abstract. Abrasive. Bizarre. Brakhage-esque. Cynical. Countercultural. Disorienting. Deconstructive. Elusive. Electrifyng. Freaky. Fetishistic. Grotesque. Grindcore. Hyper-real. Hallucinogenic. Impish. Iconoclastic. Jolty. Jarring. Knotty. Kaleidoscopic. Liberal. Licentious. Metamorphic. Mind-tripping. Nonchalant. Non-narrative. Offbeat. Overzealous. Punk-ish. Political. Quaint. Quirky. Radical. Rebellious. Scrappy. Stupefying. Trancelike. Transgressive. Unhinged. Unabashed. Vitriolic. Vitalizing. Wayward. Wholehearted. Xenodochial. Youthful. Zany.

As far as his longest short film DisneyWorld is concerned, the most (if not all) of the listed labels apply. A part of The Numb Spiral project which unifies Woods's oeuvre into 'the point at which consciousness negates being, and a cruel illusion maintains control of the flailing senses' (as the author puts it), this staggering phantasmagoria appears as a chaotic, feverish nightmare dreamed by a locked girl from Lynch's Darkened Room. (A Day in a Place also features some similarities to the said experiment.)


It can be viewed as a sardonic satire on mass media, a cautionary 'tale' of drug abuse,  a subversion of the American dream or an edgy critique of racism, consumerism, gender roles, sexual exploitation and/or pop-culture machinery. Whatever the case may be, it is a relentless assault on senses; a hysterical cavalcade of intoxicating (and frequently hand-processed) imagery captured on 8mm and 16mm tapes and accompanied by the colorful, consuming cacophony of sounds.

Imbued with rich, gloriously diverse textures, the psychedelic or rather dissociative visuals establish the atmosphere of sustained paranoia and looming nothingness. Flashing and flickering almost incessantly, they plunge you into a mad world of TV addicts, abusive lovers, forceful uncertainty and circuit board Communions where Mickey Mouse lies disemboweled in a worm-infested pit.

Woods assumes the role of a daring street artist and supported by the uninhibited performances from a non-professional cast, he paints the living mural of our baffling and fearsome present...

DisneyWorld is available on the director's official vimeo channel.


16 Aug 2017

Taste of the 2010s Cinema

Some good-natured ghosts, mythological creatures, a couscous-eating astronaut, a mail-delivering gynoid and more characters are gathered on my latest list for Taste of Cinema. Read it here:

 
 Still shot from Painted Skin: Resurrection (Wuershan, 2012)

12 Aug 2017

Savage Dog gets unleashed on Cultured Vultures

And now for something completely, guilty pleasure-ish different. In the latest film starring the self-proclaimed king of direct-to-video sequels Scott Adkins (of Undisputed and modern American Ninja fame), the jungle of 1959 Indochina gets soaked in blood of vengeance. Armed with fists, Irish accent and later, some firearms, his former IRA boxer character Martin Tillman goes on an ass-kicking rampage that would make Chuck Norris proud, but secretly very jealous.

Read my review on Cultured Vultures.

8 Aug 2017

Taste of Modern Animation

Peek into the world of modern animation in my latest list for Taste of Cinema which includes various techniques and titles from different corners of the world. From the talking peanuts of Going Nuts to Klaus Kinski look-alike of The Island of Dr D, you will certainly find something to your liking.

 
Still shot from Blade of the Phantom Master (Joji Shimura, 2004)

5 Aug 2017

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Tim Rutili, 2010)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Sporting a disarming smile and a quaint attire, Angela Bettis delivers a charming, dignified performance as a kind-hearted 'psychic advisor', Zel, in the musician Tim Rutili's quirky directorial debut - a companion piece to his band Califone's conceptual album of the same name. 

Zel lives at the edge of the forest, in a cozy old house she inherited from her grandmother, along with the talents to read palms and tarot cards, as well as to cast and break spells. Her only family are a bunch of friendly ghosts who, simply put, spend their peaceful posthumous days in her modest home, but also come in pretty handy in divination and fortune-telling business.

However, when a 'heavenly' light appears in the woods, attracting them like moths to the flame, these 'Caspers' realize that they are unable to leave the place and the harmonious household starts to fall apart... in a maddening cacophony of sounds.

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is the most befitting title for Rutili's 'folksy' supernatural tale of letting go / breaking with the (superstitious) status quo. Following its own twisted logic, it initially appears as a slice of (after)life drama, taking a slightly - but only slightly - darker turn in its second half, while keeping its wry humorous tone and melancholic underpinning intact. In a peculiar way, it breaks the fourth wall via its mockumentary sequences that are almost certainly the work of a specter called Bunuel and serve to shed some light on the restless souls' past. So, we learn that one of them was in a parish rugby league and, ironically, got struck down by lightning, whereby his love interest in a bridal gown hung herself with her something blue.

Even though they are not fully fleshed out characters (in many cases, they are barely sketched), we feel comfortable around them, just like Zel do, and we easily and gladly get involved in their (sur)reality. The non-professionals who make up most of the cast have this je ne sais quoi about them, whether it's the silent and sad-eyed Molly Wade as the youngest spirit Nyla or Alan Scalpone as a former actor in paper slippers who 'sailed off the catwalk' after getting drunk. And let's not forget the 'Califoners' who appear as a sight-impaired band binding the narrative non-sequiturs with their live-on-set jam sessions and thus, establishing the offbeat 'spiritualistic' atmosphere of the film.

To further help you get into the right mood, Rutili inserts some sort of intertitles containing the old wives' beliefs that are likely footnoted in a chiromancer's textbook, like 'if your nose itches you will son be kissed by a fool' or 'a wish will come true if you make it while burning onions'. In addition, his set decorator Keith Kolecki fills the interiors with all the baubles and trinkets you'd expect to see in a clairvoyant's dwelling. The antique magick is captured in the experimental visuals - a combination of crispy clean imagery, dreamy superimpositions and grainy, Super 8-ish intrusions - and dispelled in the final shot that operates as a comment on the illusory nature of cinema.

3 Aug 2017

The Loner (Daniel Y-Li Grove, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Frequently drenched in iridescent neon lights – sultry pinks, venomous greens and foreboding yellows, The Loner (aka The Persian Connection) marks a sexy, stylish feature debut for Daniel Y-Li Grove and develops as a simple, yet effective neo-noir-ish B gangster flick with Iranian flavor (harkening back to Ayatollah Khomeini's era) and 'Refnesque' feeling, supported by the well-rounded performances from the co-writer star Reza Sixo Safai (of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night fame) and the lovely Helena Mattsson (lending some gravitas to her whore/mother/lover/pop-punk princess character), as well as by Steven Capitano Calitri's seductive cinematography and Photek's pulsing synth score (not to mention Julian Sands as a sleazy, wig-wearing crime lord).

31 Jul 2017

Kuso (Flying Lotus, 2017)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Part demented scatological fantasy, part gross-out body horror comedy and part devilishly trippy animation, FlyLo's risky directorial debut Kuso (the East Asian term for crap/shit/bullshit) revels in all the slimy, sticky and smelly liquids a human body can excrete, defecate or ejaculate, chronicling four insolent, irreverent, politically incorrect, in-your-face stories about the boil-and-blister-covered survivors of a devastating LA earthquake, whereby the most crass and brazen of imagery is captured by the ridiculously beautiful cinematography and accompanied by the eclectic, experimental score permeated with farts and gooey sounds.

30 Jul 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 
 
Based on the French comic Valérian and Laureline which also inspired Luc Besson's love-conquers-all extravaganza The Fifth Element, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets appears as a super-duper-cheesy yet immensely imaginative, visually resplendent spiritual sequel to the said cult classic and plays out like a pilot to some 80s Saturday morning cartoon series turned live-action and overloaded with kaleidoscopic CGI supplements, such as the glowing butterflies, as well as the pearls and shells of an alien paradise, that are supposed to draw attention from the 'fizzy' story, forced humor and tragically miscast Dane DeHann.
 

28 Jul 2017

NGboo @ Cultured Vultures

My first article for Cultured Vultures provides a selection of ten great modern underground films to watch when you've had it up to here with reboots, sequels, superheroes and overrated Oscar winners. NGboo Art followers are already familiar with all of the titles, but it doesn't hurt to mention them once again.
 
It's anarchy in the UK and the Cathedral of New Emotions has risen. In frozen may, Merzfrau foretells suffering of Ninko. The chamelia girl falls unconscious again, because sleep has her house, even though still the Earth moves. After ten years in the Sun, she will finally be able to enter the Kingdom of Shadows...

Still shot from Suffering of Ninko (Norihiro Niwatsukino, 2016)

22 Jul 2017

Harmonium (Kōji Fukada, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Morally complex, narratively intricate and directed with astounding precision, Harmonium is an off-kilter (subversion of a) family drama which brims with psychological tension, hypnotizes with its deliberate pace and captivates with minimalist, brutally honest cinematography, allowing the brilliant performances by the entire cast to shine all the way to the end when 'standing on the edge' (a reference to the original title) gets pretty literal for yet another existential punch.

21 Jul 2017

Medea Redux (Antony Sandoval, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼ 


"Oh, Jason, what have you done, betraying Medea for the sake of your perversion?" - speaks Creon in a gravelly, menacing, condemning voice, probably from the bowls of the Underworld. At that point, around the eight-minute mark, the viewer has already been plunged into a strange realm of cinematic dreams, wondering the same question.

A creative distillation of Euripides's piece, Medea Redux opens with a gorgeously framed shot of the titular anti-heroine (a magnetic portrayal by the graceful Natsumi Sugiyama) showing a shadow play reenactment of her land's sacrificial ritual to her sons (Antony Sandoval's own boys, Emmanuel and Sebastian). For better or for worse, one child is asleep, whereby the other observes the violent act between papercut puppets with undivided attention.


Medea's spiteful, somewhat enigmatic look at the camera marks the end of the first scene, suggesting that none of it is real, even within the film's universe, and that it is probably a glimpse into her mind haunted by guilt and sorrow. From such point of view, what follows could all be a figment of Medea's imagination - various, oft-opposed mental images of happy mother, hurt lover and vengeful sorceress.

Whether this interpretation is correct or not, Sandoval's deconstruction of a well-known story works like a charm. Focused on the character of Medea, it is represented through the bold, surrealistic combination of film, theater, modern dance and performance art which seems to be inspired by butoh in the final and most impressive act. With the words reduced to a minimum, we are left to the imposing, allegorical visuals that establish dark, otherworldly atmosphere imbued with mythological qualities and complemented by the brooding, non-diegetic music.

Medea Redux is available at Vimeo on Demand.

16 Jul 2017

The Boy on the Train (Roger Deutsch, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


Roger Deutsch is the Green Bay-born, Budapest-based filmmaker who begun his almost four-decade-long career as a producer of Ulli Lommel's Blank Generation (1980) starring Andy Warhol and made his narrative debut feature Suor Sorriso (2001) - a surreal, anachronistic, tragically underseen fictional account on The Singing Nun - in Italy. More than a decade later, with a number of excellent short experiments - ranging from 'found' material collages to peculiar documentaries - up his sleeve, he arms himself with sharp-witted self-irony or rather, self-subversion and delivers a mighty fine sophomore flick.

Referring to Ricercare - a travelogue of sorts wherein Deutsch reflects on his first experiences in Hungary - The Boy and the Train plays out as an accomplished piece of metafiction blending the elements of drama, comedy, (faux) autobiography and road-movie into a satisfying whole. It opens in a sparsely populated cinema - an image which the arthouse aficionados are sure to recognize and find sourly funny - and follows the author's namesake alter ego on a countryside trip he will never forget.

After the screening of his latest offering, Roger (portrayed by James Eckhouse at his 'legal alien' best) meets the very film's subject who is quite irritated with the way creative freedom has been used. A boy who once (in 1991, to be precise) worked as a ticket inspector on the Pioneer Railroad is now a thirtysomething ornithologist (an imposing, bravura performance by Barnabás Tóth) 'profoundly affected' by Roger's ostensibly harmless speculations. The only thing he can't argue about is that János definitely is a common Hungarian name...


An awkward chit-chat between the aforementioned protagonists turns into a suspenseful journey replete with existential uncertainty, subtle humor of varying kinds, philosophical curlicues and small-time cultural clashes caused by a language barrier. Most of the story's weight falls on Eckhouse's and Tóth's shoulders and they both prove to be up to their task, as previously suggested, giving us believable characters.

Through their (well-written) dialogue, as well as the weird encounters with the locals, the one with a delusional woman, Kata (the delightful Anna Herczenik), providing the most emotionally potent scene, we realize that Deutsch contemplates on the nature of creation and its relation to the creator, inter alia. Every now and then, he slyly winks at the viewer, reminding us that what we are watching is a figment of his imagination, yet he imbues it with raw sincerity, marrying European sensibility to American indie minimalism.

Thanks to the authentic locations captured in natural light by the keen eye of András Gravi Kiss, he establishes an intimate and, to a certain degree, melancholic atmosphere complemented by diegetic sound and Gábor Holtai's evocative score. And let's not forget a witty homage to E.A. Poe's The Cask of Amontillado which puts 'the fake' Roger in a heightened state of alert and an extra smile or two on our face.