Sep 25, 2017

Alice in Dreamland (Kentaro Hachisuka, 2015)

Mari Shimizu's creepy-looking porcelain dolls and arai tasuku's dreamy electro-score are neatly blended in a Lewis Carroll-inspired anime which gets reviewed for Cultured Vultures. Read the article here, although it won't give you an answer to why a raven is like a writing desk.

Sep 22, 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...

Sep 20, 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.

Sep 19, 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 mental 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.

Sep 18, 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'.

Sep 15, 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.

Sep 12, 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.

Sep 11, 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...

Sep 5, 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.

Sep 4, 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)

Sep 1, 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...