26 Mar 2018

In Short (The Greatest Showman / Drown Among the Dead / The Scythian)

The Greatest Showman
(Michael Gracey, 2017) 

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The escapist, exuberant, flamboyant, painfully optimistic, excessively romanticized, borderline-high fantasy musical biopic of the famous hoax master P.T. Barnum may be one big fat lie, yet the Aussie first-timer Michael Gracey tells it with the confidence of a more experienced helmer and, in an oxymoronic twist, imbues it with heartfelt sincerity, providing his diverse cast with a larger-than-life playground (where all of them, including the supporting actors, seem to have a whale of a time) and presenting the viewer with a most pleasant ride on a shiny, bewitchingly designed emotional rollercoaster.


Drown Among the Dead / Pierdete entre los muertos
(Rubén Gutiérrez, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Taking cues from the theatre of the absurd, a bold, minimalist debut feature by Mexican director Rubén Gutiérrez sees an aging comedian literally and metaphorically stuck between life and death (i.e. buried neck down in the middle of nowhere) 'amusing' a young, murderous and crazy woman (wielding a bat adorned with nails) with tall stories in what could be described as a surreal, nihilist, sardonic, oddly paced and somewhat philosophical 'dramedy' (for the lack of a better term) laced with twisted humor and attractively lensed in sunbathed widescreen.


The Scythian / Skif
(Rustam Mostafir, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

As if inspired by Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's 'love of all cinema, beyond the hierarchies of taste and quality', Rustam Mosafir draws from Russian fairy tale adaptations, modern Hollywood blockbusters and arthouse offerings, quoting various directors from Sergei Parajanov and John Millius to Zack Snyder and Nicholas Winding Refn, while delivering a pulpy pseudo-historical epic that takes the viewer back to feminist-unfriendly times and comes neatly packed with paganistic rituals, solid performances, brutal (blood-spilling) action and impressive production values, despite being shot for less than $3 million. 

23 Mar 2018

Bound by Gods, Unchained by Arthropods

Deep inside the divine mind,
all of the dominoes lie aligned.
So, please be kind to unwind
the woes designed to blind
that child left behind.

(click to enlarge)

21 Mar 2018

Dead End (no hay sentido)

After the Spider had left the room,
three circles reveled in his Absence.
It took them an eternity to find the Land.
But, there was another Verity
that Arachnophobia could not unload:
death had plans for the Dreamers.
 Was it all the Ouroboros fault
or was it just a new Rule?

(click to enlarge)

19 Mar 2018

Unhelp This Soul

An abbreviated deconstruction of the Medusa myth.



(click to enlarge)

17 Mar 2018

EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN (Jonna Lee & John Strandh, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
 
 
A driving force behind the fascinating online project iamamiwhoami, Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee (aka ionnalee) makes a fine debut as a co-writer/director of a 50-minute long feature whose title can not ring any truer. Effortlessly blending (synth)pop music with experimental cinema, she and her DoP collaborator John Strandh deliver one of the most eclectic and - well, this might sound strange, but consider it as a compliment - 'milkiest' films I've seen so far in 2018.


The basis for the unconventional, poetic narrative is reflected in every artist's desire stemming from the very human fear of oblivion and that is to create something which will stand the test of time. In their struggle to be remembered forever, Lee and Strandh present the viewer with an experience comparable to a fresh, fragrant breeze that gently infuses you with new, somewhat rejuvenating energy. And only the upcoming days will tell whether the sensation is lasting or not.
 
 
Like the Ouroboros, their story ends where it begins and believe me, this is not a spoiler, considering that the storytelling is eschewed in favor of the overall feel and atmosphere. An unnamed heroine (played by Jonna Lee herself) is stranded in an uninviting wonderland inhabited by a sect-like community who holds an 'unending party' with guests adorned in white and wolf-masks. As she tries to find her way back to the 'outside' world, the themes of isolation, treachery and exclusion intertwine in the rhythm of a low-key phantasy.
 
 
Blurring or, at some points, completely erasing the boundaries between self-portraits, music videos, fairy tales, mystical rituals, performing arts, avant-garde films and all of our realities, both physical and virtual, the duo comes up with a peculiar musical - visually stimulating and aurally spellbinding (even if you're not a big fan of the genre, as in my case). There's an ethereal quality to Strandh's cinematography, as well as to Lee's vocals and appearance, that keep you mesmerized, eyes glued to the screen, ears tuned to audio-reveries. Simply put, beautiful!


16 Mar 2018

Devastation

Ten fingers, twelve plugs,
don't ever look under the rugs.
Don't ever wonder about the sore,
'cause if you ignore, there'll be no gore.

(click to enlarge)

14 Mar 2018

We Are Dead, yet We Live

Inspired by the line spoken by Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: The Return, my latest collage holds plenty of meanings, some of which even I am not aware of. We Are Dead, yet We Live could probably be interpreted as a social commentary of sorts, but above all, it stands for my love for the strange, absurd, surreal and unfathomable, for the pain I embraced for the sake of creativity, for the enthusiasm (madness?) that still keeps this blog running, as well as for my seemingly futile and neverending struggle with unemployment...

(click to enlarge)

11 Mar 2018

Rey / King (Niles Atallah, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
 
"Worldly domains wither and fold.
'Tis the kingdom of dreams the truest gold."

 
Like many of his fellow 'cinexperimenters', such as Rouzbeh Rashidi or The Underground Film Studio duo of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais, Niles Atallah is utterly fascinated by the endless possibilities of film and is eager to explore them beyond the boundaries set by standard cinema production. His sophomore feature proves him to be a filmmaker whose name the adventurous cinephiles are bound to remember.

A Franco-Chilean co-production (including the partners from Germany, Netherlands and Qatar), Rey (lit. King) (re)tells the odd and little-known story of Orélie-Antoine de Tounens (1825-1878) - a French lawyer, adventurer and eccentric (or lunatic, as some of his contemporaries would have said) who travelled to Chile aspiring to found a kingdom in Araucanía and Patagonia. Nowadays, it is disputed whether he was a self-proclaimed king or voted a constitutional monarch by indigenous tribes of Mapuche who were fighting for the independence against the Chilean and Argentinian governments at the time.

Working with 'just enough concrete evidence' to patch-up a fragmented and non-linear narrative, Atallah places his hero somewhere between facts and fiction, taking the viewer on 'a journey through a realm of forgotten dreams, the decaying memories and fantasies of a ghost' (in the director's own words). And that journey - paralleled by the oneiric, not to mention loving homages and references to the history of cinema - is mighty impressive (if a tiny bit draggy in places), especially during the film's last third when the spirits of weirdness take full possession of the daring and imaginative auteur.

Enamored with the mutable texture of celluloid, he combines digital with archival footage (the courtesy of EYE Filmmuseum of Amsterdam), as well as with the sequences shot on 16mm and Super 8, then buried in the ground to erode and corrode the tapes in various ways. Speckles and scratches flounce and pulsate to the atmospheric score (enriched with crackles to deepen the retro-experience) in a vivid, surreal, highly idiosyncratic celebration of transience, imperfection and chimerical constructs. Simultaneously stupefying and mystifying (partly thanks to the crudely crafted, truth-concealing masks worn by the characters in certain scenes), Rey is a valuable addition to the pantheon of (modern) avant-garde films.

10 Mar 2018

Angels of Revolution (Aleksey Fedorchenko, 2014)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Inspired by the events surrounding the Kazym Rebellion against the Sovietization in the 30s of the last century, Fedorchenko blends absurd comedy, meta-fiction, surreal satire and historical facts with a keen sense of irony and even keener sense of framing (kudos to DP Shandor Berekshi) in a tightly directed, beautifully acted and weird-as-angels-peeling-potatoes-in-a-living-room film which feels like Sergei Parajanov (or rather, Lech Majewski) meets Sergei Eisenstein, Rustam Khamdamov and Roy Andersson on The Medusa Raft by Karpo Aćimović-Godina, and teaches us that avant-garde art should not battle, but wholeheartedly embrace mysticism, opposing tried and tired formulas.

8 Mar 2018

The Obstruction of Decency

Bathed in the streams of silent screams,
he stands and smiles.
Naked she is,
alone she pretends to be.
BLITZ-torment they will both embrace.

(click to enlarge)

6 Mar 2018

The Whisper of the Jaguar (Simon(è) Jaikiriuma Paetau & Thais Guisasola, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A strong contender for the most 'trans-genre' film of the year, The Whisper of the Jaguar (originally, O Sussurro do Jaguar) is, at its heart, a melancholic, punk-ish, neo-hippie road movie of the soul-undressing kind that flows like a mountain stream between queer performance, deadpan dramedy, spiritual adventure, satirical commentary, pseudo-documentary, sexual liberty and postcolonial theory, introducing its viewer to 'kambô' and 'ayahuasca' healing rituals, as well as shamanistic lesbian foursome (inter alia) via strikingly composed 'tableaux vivants' which capture all the beauty of Brazilian nature and lead to a trippy, candy-colored credits sequence you can't take your eyes off.

(The film plays for free on FestivalScope until the 18th of March.)

5 Mar 2018

Catalyst (Kent Tate, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Through dozens of multidisciplinary works covering video art, short films, paintings, sculptures and installations, the Canadian artist Kent Tate have explored the dichotomy of the natural and artificial worlds, simultaneously striving for the balance between those two extremes, as well as reflecting upon personal experiences and various topics of social, philosophical and environmental concern.

While juxtaposing time with space and flow with stasis, he listens and feels the pulse of the Earth (hence the name of his official webpage), achieving a meditative atmosphere in most of his cinematic outlets that leave you with a pleasant, Zen-like aftertaste. In that respect, Catalyst stands out as the most 'off-kilter' of the bunch ('disquieting' would be too strong of a word), because it brings something else to the table. Call it 'a peculiar sense of mystery' or, simply, 'je ne sais quoi', it - a beautiful, almost alchemical amalgamation of HDV and Super 8 footage accompanied by somewhat uncanny music - makes you wonder...

Instilled with a metaphysical quality and described as 'a type of diary without dates' by the author (director, composer and cinematographer) himself, this three-and-a-half minute offering appears as a distinctive patchwork of memories - well-known to Tate, blurry and puzzling to the viewer. It poses a challenge, whereby the lack of traditional narrative and characters (this is an experimental documentary, after all) take this challenge to another level. However, its (ostensible?) impenetrability is by no means off-putting. As its name suggests, it causes activity (the thoughts to stream) without itself being affected.

3 Mar 2018

The Theatre of Illuminated Shadows

... or How I Learned to Stop Worrying Before Turning off the Light
and Embraced a Seemingly Fatal Dream of Perpetual Night

 (click to enlarge)

'La Petite Mort' Triptych

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue
... and maybe something pink such as the tongue of Narcissus.

Royal Caterpillars Prolong Their Honeymoon


Light Dinner Leftovers


Copulation

(click to enlarge)

2 Mar 2018

Poem for Loa (Janja Rakuš, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"Wabi-sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world." (Andrew Juniper)

Speaking from personal experience, graphical glitch is one of the last things I want to encounter when playing a video game. However, art is a different story, because in the skillful hands, glitching image can be a powerful tool. The proof for this statement is to be found in Poem for Loa - a piece of "digital wabi sabi", in the words of Rakuš herself.

Boldly embracing the philosophy of imperfection and impermanence, the author presents us with a cheetah who runs across savanna most probably in an attempt to catch another animal that comes next below it in a food chain. However, the beast's action is the least important aspect of this unique "glitch poem" which also takes inspiration from the Haitian proverb: "Great Gods cannot ride little horses."

What matters is a mysterious, unfathomable force that drives the artist to take the simplest of wildlife scenes (each one of us has seen in some nature documentary, such as The World of Survival) and dissolve it in pixels, covering it in the shades of dark-blue. The process is comparable to that of a painter mixing colors or a sculptor shaping clay and the result is a meditative, haiku-esque composition "suspended between representation and abstraction". One of its fundamental qualities is the liquidity which comes as no surprise, considering Rakuš's obsession with water mirrored (no pun intended!) in Alchemy on the Amstel and Paesaggio in 9 Strokes - a loving tribute to Cy Twombly's untitled "green paintings". Accompanied by a song played backwards, it appears like a volatile leftover of a dream trapped in the hypnagogic state.

1 Mar 2018

The Antiteater of Ten (Martin Del Carpio, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

NYC-based musician and cineaste Martin Del Carpio speaks of (or rather shows) depression-stricken individuals in his most accomplished effort to date - a moody experimental drama The Antiteater of Ten.

The ten-minute short opens with The Reader (Cherry Fu who also takes credits as a co-writer, producer, costume designer and casting director) - a girl in an elegant goth/widow-esqe attire - turning and then ripping the pages of an entirely black (note)book. As the poetic (non)narrative unfolds, the author challenges the form and uses varied music, modern dance, performance art, over-the-top theatrics and creative editing to embody and emphasize the very (dark) feeling and inner voices that are tearing his characters apart.

Even without having previously read the synopsis about people locked in the cages of their own troubled minds, one can clearly see or sense their internal anguish reflected in the instinctive, highly expressive imagery devoid of color (apart from a polarized 3D-like sequence and the glowing eyes of Dancer Dream) and dominated by deep shadows. Both black and white seem to absorb their cries for help, keeping them within the confines of their (self-imposed) prison, alone and extremely vulnerable. But, who are they? What made them feel that way? Are they still alive or stuck in a limbo, somewhere between life and death? The questions remain unanswered, but that is what is so alluring about this concise (and beautiful!) 'nightmare' which fits somewhere between the cinema of Antouanetta Angelidi and David Lynch.

The film is available for free viewing at Del Carpio's Vimeo channel.

 

Spidarlings (Salem Kapsaski, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Distributed by Troma Entertainment (whose co-founder Lloyd Kaufman appears in a cameo role as a pet-shop owner in a scene that might be referencing Gremlins), Spidarlings is a nice piece of schlock cinema and a true representative of 'Après Vague' which stands in its production company name. A feature debut for the multidisciplinary artist Salem Kapsaski, it delivers hammy fun in spades, while it has something to say (and at many instances sing!) about same-sex couples, poverty-stricken masses, capitalism, royalty, feminism and parenthood.


Blending punk-rock-drag-queen-cabaret musical (no joke!) with black comedy, social + romantic drama, adult animation, trippy fantasy and body horror (in the icky-turned-happy finale), this anarchic (or rather, arachnic) extravaganza earns a lot of points for originality. Now, how many LGBT films that can simultaneously fit all of the abovementioned genres have you seen? The answer is, probably, none. The helmer wears his many influences, from John Waters to Dario Argento, on his sleeve or, more literally, in the form of movie posters and puppets crafted by his sister Rahel who's also credited as a starring actress, producer, as well as a make-up and special effects artisan.


Speaking of Ms Kapsaski, I can not help but mention her cute foreign accent that often compensates for her (deliberately?) 'naive' acting. She plays Matilda, a struggling sex worker at a sleazy nightclub/burlesque 'Juicy Girls' who lives with her unemployed, happy-go-lucky lover Eden (a striking physical presence by performance artist Sophia Disgrace) in a rented house. Faced with a demanding landlord and the constant lack of money, each of the girls has her own problems to deal with, such as (SPOILER ALERT!) a certain intrusive customer who could be a homicidal maniac with a phallic drill-extension or a disobedient pet spider with the rapist's intentions (THE END OF SPOILER).


Bathed in the shades of over-saturated red, blue, pink, yellow and violet, their queer and quirky world is pretty similar to our own, though it's a tad more absurd, with The Tentacle Master (hentai mangaka Toshio Maeda) and The Fairy Godmother (Lynn Ruth Miller) appearing at will and, in the case of the latter, delivering the second-best (comical) line next to the one regarding the Easter Bunny and Watership Down. The animated, cost-effective sequences add an extra oomph to the low-brow aesthetics, whereby the songs by Jeff Kristian and the one by Lee Mark Jones (aka Gypsy Lee Pistolero who portrays the character named Ticks) are not only campy and catchy, but also imbued with hot irony.

However, Spidarlings is by no means a perfect film, nor does it try to be, so it falters in places due to its hefty length, uneven performances and pacing issues, especially during the 'speaking parts'. On the other hand, there's a great, almost certain possibility it will find a cult status in the future.