Jun 30, 2019

The Missing Sun (Brennan Vance, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Fascinated with the prospects of astral projection, as well as with the possibility of existence after our demise, Brennan Vance explores the themes of life, loss, death, identity, family strife, self-estrangement and (new age) spirituality in his mesmerizingly soothing feature debut. The 'vaporous' story, as the author himself puts it in the Kinoscope interview, revolves around an aged ex-addict, Alma (real-life painter Gera Pobuda in her powerful first-time performance that is occasionally reminiscent of Grace Zabriskie), who attempts to bring her comatose husband Terry (Lawrence Sutin in a 'handicapped' role) back from a dreamland with the help of her grief-stricken, absent-minded step-son, Thad (Peter McLarnan, excellent), and a Bhu'Janti pastor referred to as Master (Sally Wingert, extremely convincing). Ably utilizing the aforementioned fictitious religion as a narrative device, both deadly serious and with his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Vance delivers an intriguing combo of a melancholy-fueled character study and a road movie to the soul, not unlike Francisco Athié's 2003 offering Vera.

Right from the start, it is clearly implied that The Missing Sun is a mood piece, rather than a plot-driven drama, and what an odd mood it conjures! Simultaneously numb, doomy, sublime, oneiric, relaxing, mystifying, and 'named yet indefinable' just like divine light in which the Bhu'Janti followers seek for answers, the film's atmosphere is so dense, you can almost touch it. Achieved via the holy matrimony between the exquisite cinematography and meticulous sound design, it renders the viewer entranced, even falling for Master's comforting mantras. As Alma's hazy reality dissolves and turns into an out-of-body experience, we are treated to a deliberately unfolding series of wonderfully composed B&W shots (of weary faces and slumbering nature), interrupted by abstract outbursts of bright colors - probably standing for the passages to astral plane - only on two perfectly timed occasions. Most of the action takes place in what could be described as a hypnagogic reverie that emerges from the protagonist's fractured state of mind, so we're never quite sure what's real and what's the figment of her imagination, or rather when and if those couple of hallucinatory portals open. Although joy is literally gone with the passing of Terry's ex-wife and Thad's mother Joy, this low-key gem of personal indie cinema is not depressing as one might expect - in its admirable interweaving of slowly moving images and minimalist soundscapes, it comes off as healing.

Jun 26, 2019

Dolor Brawler Omega

A spiritual successor to Super Muybridge Fighter VII Turbo: Fresh Challengers and the Subconscious Combat hexaptych, Dolor Brawler Omega is my latest loving parody of 2D fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear. Deliberately weird and unapologetically mystifying, it combines the cutouts from vintage photos and encyclopedias into a bizarre phantasmagoria equally inspired by silent films and '80s cartoons.

Pistonhead vs. St. Ostrich
(at the Mountains of Sadness)

Dr Gorgon vs. Xylotrupes X
(on the Isle of the Rising Skull)

Octo-Pod vs. Mr Cocoon
(in the Town of Haze)

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Jun 18, 2019

Die Angreifbaren / The Attackables (Kerstin Cmelka & Mario Mentrup, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Now, here's something you definitely don't see every day, even if you're no stranger to both contemporary and classic experimental cinema. A majestic tour de force of deliberate (not to mention delightful) silliness paralleled by a nonstop series of unexpected narrative shifts, Die Angreifbaren follows a couple of modern-day multidisciplinary performers, Mary Blick and Zeno Conradi (portrayed by the authorial duo), whose day-to-day existence involves everything from tending their 'patchwork family' to dealing with dark, supermundane forces.

Split in four episodes, each crazier than the last, the film starts with a car ride during which we are hastily introduced to our protagonists who - dressed as some sort of post-apocalyptic barbarians - rush to their workplace. After they pick up a colleague, Max (Carsten Ludwig), wearing a costume that defies any attempt to be described, they discuss marital sex, as the radio broadcasts a talk-show on crying and hypersensitivity. Oh, and there's a phone call that interrupts their 'debate' during which we are left with a question: What does vegan food and feminism have to do with each other?

Soon, we realize that they're all the stars of an extremely eccentric re-imagination of Jean Epstein's gothic horror The Fall of the House of Usher whose director Géza Gazàr (Clauda Basrawi) shouts the gibberish version of German into her megaphone whenever she's displeased with the actors' performances. On the minimalist set, we meet acrobats and one of a few martial artists who is forced to act as a mediator in a case of domestic violence. To cut a long story shot, what follows is a precarious bicycle ride, an encounter with the Cowboy neighbor, and preparations for the grand opening of a theme park featuring illegal MMA tourneys, a clown audition, jam sessions and a milk-focused lesson in mass-building.

If this sounds like your type of shenanigans, you will certainly just go with Cmelka & Mentrup's meandering flow, enjoying their own and their Frankensteinian creation's ferocious idiosyncrasy which, for some reason, brought to this writer's mind Ulrike Ottinger's Freak Orlando as the only reference point. However, once you scratch under the burbling surface, you will notice the irony-fueled mix of biting social commentary and a droll, free-form parody of today's 'cinema of attractions', as the synopsis informs us. Although the film could have used less talking and some snipping here and there, it does manage to impress with its sheer energy or rather, hyperactivity, taking you on a wild ride against all imaginable tides. Unapologetically low-key in its aesthetics, it provides you with some pretty memorable imagery accompanied by the cool soundtrack that's as eclectic as the cast ensemble. And it proudly flaunts its many quirks.

(The review is based on a private screener.)

Jun 17, 2019

Invincible City (David Finkelstein, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Invincible City is a beautiful place to get lost in. Inhabited only by the souls of the dead and visited by a couple of friends (David Finkelstein and Ian W. Hill) who 'debate the proper approach to take towards the end of the world', as noted in the official synopsis, it effortlessly hypnotizes the viewer into an altered, somnambulist-like state. As we (sleep)walk its empty, labyrinthine streets defined by crystalline structures whose glass walls have 'a kind of clouded distortedness to them', the voices of our guides meet, collide and intertwine to create a chilly and soothing breeze. Based on an improvisation, their poetic dialogue often takes unexpected turns, pulling us closer to the well-hidden essence of the titular metropolis.

The aura of retro-futuristic mystique which envelopes Invincible City is achieved through the great use of roughly sewn CG visuals, simultaneously outdated and avant-garde, accompanied by the spacey score that eventually transforms into a cheerful and comforting melody of a bygone era. In the clash of geometric solids, volatile textures and colorful lights, the movement becomes 'an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounds', to put it in the words of Jorge Luis Borges (and in accordance with Norman Thomas di Giovanni's translation). With HOPE left on a dry beach and Aleph risen from the clay, we find the exit, but our dream lives on in a gray fog of abstraction...

(This review is based on a private screener provided by the author.)

Jun 13, 2019

A Musical Interlude + the Latest Collage (soon to be replaced by another latest)

When the thermometer starts reading 30°C or more during the day, I like to go for long and contemplative evening strolls around my neighborhood, accompanied only by my MP3 player. Now, this may sound strange or even crazy, but I often feel like being whisked away into a different, more meaningful reality, especially while passing by the meadows which still haven't been sold to greedy building contractors (who specialize in exploitation of young architects). Scorched by the Sun and dimly lit by street lights, the grassy, somewhat sorrowful scenery 'reminds me of a lightbulb universe', as noted in the Agent Fresco's song 'Silhouette Palette'... Hereafter, you'll find my latest 'walking ritual' playlist dominated by powerful female vocals, such Anneke van Giersbergen and Amanda Somerville, the tracks ranging from Brazilian melodic death metal to sympho-metal cover of pop hits.

And if this compilation is not your cup of tea, you might enjoy my latest artwork inspired by Rouzbeh Rashidi's exquisite cinematic experiment Phantom Islands which is the only film reviewed three times on NGboo Art (pre-premiere article, re-dreaming and capsule review). The piece got its name after last night's re-watch of the German Expressionist masterwork Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari - one of the intertitles read 'zwangsvorstellung' (obsession) and it just clicked with me. Its original size is 45x30cm, and it's about... well, certainly not the same thing for everyone.

Zwangsvorstellung: Never Alone on a Phantom Island

Jun 12, 2019

A Selection of Recent Artworks

As you've probably noticed, NGboo Art has been sparsely updated with film articles of late, the main reason being my ever-blooming obsession with collages. At once the reflections of my inner world, the carriers of encoded (subconscious?) messages and the links to whichever truths lie beyond our knowledge, my artworks have also become a shield in facing hectic, high-pressured reality of long series of (regular) job rejections and, even worse, lack of responses which both have severely damaged my confidence. So, without further ado (or rather, whining), here are some of my recent pieces, along with the reminder that you can follow my work via Facebook, place orders at Fiverr or make donations through Ko-Fi.

Beauty Rides the Chaos Machine

Wolves With Ties Must Die

Star Devourer (The Butterfly Apocalypse)
(a thank you collage for 600 followers of Nicollage)

Waiting...(Love Sick)
(the official cover for the latest single by NYC-based artist Martin Del Carpio)

Illuminate Thy Void (The Final Pas de Deux)
(the epilogue of a fictitous ballet in seven acts)

A Sophisticated Vampire

Dolor Brawler Omega: Pistonhead vs. St. Ostrich

(open in a new tab to enlarge)

Jun 4, 2019

Ghost of the Golden Groves (Harun-Al-Rashid, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"The collared cow is not a cow, it's a bird you see
In Wall Street, in Harry's office, yeah, that's where he will be."

Working under the moniker of Harun-Al-Rashid - the character from One Thousand and One Nights - to 'create an aura of mystery' around their work, Aniket Dutta and Roshni Sen deliver one of the most striking feature debuts in recent memory. Leading both the unprepared viewer and their protagonists to the heart of Shonajhuri (golden grove) forest, they weave a fantastical story in which the playfully ominous spirits from the past and the future take over the film's present and plunge it into a sort of a surreal turmoil.

Set in the 1960s that, so to say, keep the young auteurs in touch with their Nūberu bāgu role models, namely Suzuki, Shindo and Teshigahara, Ghost of the Golden Groves (originally, Shonajhurir Bhoot) is split into two seemingly unrelated parts eventually coming together in a fourth wall-breaking dimension. The first (and shorter) chapter titled The Polymorph focuses on a survey officer from Kolkata, Promotho, who brings deforestation plans to the rural Bengali area, only to find himself a victim of the locals' superstition and bizarre, inexplicable occurrences. In the second, deliberately paced segment Maya, a poor cook, Bibhuti, accepts a caretaker job in an abandoned villa owned by an eccentric millionaire and situated deep in the woods, gradually falling under the peculiar spell of a beautiful, enigmatic woman and the 'others'...

Revealing more about the two (poor) guys' predicaments would have us treading the spoiler territory, so let's just say that we're provided with the singular, delightfully disorienting experience. If one were to describe the film in the shortest way possible, it would probably go like this: "Kafka meets Lynch in a sci-fi folk tale of an alternate, Holy Motors-like universe." However, it does much more than wearing the numerous influences, from Indian tradition and outré cinema to absurdist theatre and dystopian literature, on its sleeve, although it's pretty hard to pinpoint what that is exactly. Call it 'je ne sais quoi' or the amorphous (or rather, polymorphous) result of a deeply intuitive process, but you simply can't deny its strong presence rendering the whole proceedings fairly dreamlike, very 'meta' and occasionally humorous, especially during Bibhuti's encounters of the weird (and not to mention unexpected) kind.

Technically apt and formally exciting, Ghost of the Golden Groves captivates from the initial, beautifully composed and optically tricky shot (which introduces us to Promotho) and keeps us in its grip until the closing credits. DoP Basab Mullick does a wonderful job at capturing the magic (and ominousness) of Shonajhuri forest, as well as the 'ruin porn' glory of the aforementioned villa, using perfectly timed intrusions of color (a giallo-esque one being the most memorable) to underline ruptures in the film's twisty reality. Equally engaging is the eclectic soundtrack by Aniket Dutta - a bold mixture of jazz, rock, folk, dance and ambient music that establishes the atmosphere of irrational exuberance, spicing up this charming ode to filmmaking with farcical music video interludes. Add to that the impressive synergy between the co-directors and the great cult potential their first offering brims with, and you have yourself a highly recommendable piece of modern cinema.

Jun 1, 2019

Cinematic Favorites of May

Being increasingly addicted to collages, I watched less films than usual during May, yet there were enough memorable experiences to compile two top ten lists for the latest, 'the end of the (rainy) spring' edition of Cinematic Favorites. The first one's a rather eclectic selection of features both old and new, highly experimental and commerical, from a surreal, Kafkaesque adventure to a puppet steampunk fantasy, whereas the second one focuses on more recent shorts (made in 2010s), including a 360° documentary and a couple of impressively animated music videos.

1. Последний сон Анатолия Васильевича (Владимир Кобрин, 1990)
2. Prípad pro zacínajícího kata (Pavel Jurácek, 1970)
3. The Blind Owl (Reza Abdoh, 1992)
4. Bai she: yuan qi (Amp Wong & Ji Zhao, 2019)
5. Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)
6. Yamasong: March of the Hollows (Sam Koji Hale, 2017)
7. High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)
8. The Book of Birdie (Elizabeth E. Schuch, 2017)
9. Hai Phuong (Le-Van Kiet, 2019)
10. Greta (Neil Jordan, 2018)