30 Mar 2020

Smrt majke Jugovića / Two Grim Ravens (Mihajlo Dragaš, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Borrowing motifs from the Serbian epic poem Smrt majke Jugovića (lit. The Death of the Mother of Jugovitch), Mihajlo Dragaš delivers a hyper-stylized animated short which bridges the gap between tradition and modernity with great ease. Meticulous in its execution, Two Grim Ravens boasts extraordinarily rendered imagery whose bleakness, grittiness and mythological grandeur are befitting of the (heartbreaking) written source.

The titular heroine's unimaginable pain and sorrow caused by the death of her nine sons and their father, but suppressed deep within her, behind the deceptive facade of a strong and stoic woman, are depicted as a surreal emotional journey comparable to a heavy dream. A wordless affair (apart from the opening epigraph), this tragic fantasy or rather, a harrowing ode to all mothers struggling with the loss of their children relies on the power of stark visuals which blend the designs inspired by the medieval Orthodox icons with desaturated color palette and dense shadows of pointillist-like quality. Perfectly complementing them and establishing the immersive, melancholic atmosphere is the solemn, evocative score composed by the author himself. 

The film is available on the official YouTube channel of Film Center Serbia.

28 Mar 2020

Night People (Daniel Fawcett, 2000)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


Appearing as a lost (and cursed?) artifact of the 80s underground cinema, Night People is a fascinating early experiment by one half of the creative duo Daniel & Clara (In Search of the Exile, The Kingdom of Shadows). Mostly shot in the dark, it makes great use of VHS fuzzy textures and gradually pulls the viewer into a fading and mysterious world of vampiric shadows and pareidolia-inducing mindscapes. As the gritty, opaque imagery trembles before your eyes, dissolving into the stuff that half-remembered nightmares are made of, the haunting, uncanny score burrows deep into your subconscious, and captures the essence of the unperceivable along the way. Largely experiential and undoubtedly extremely personal, this piece of 'glitch gothic' could also be seen as a cine-alchemical ritual through which the inner demons are invoked to be faced and purified...

26 Mar 2020

Altered Carbon: Resleeved (Takeru Nakajima & Yoshiyuki Okada, 2020)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


A spin-off of Netflix's Altered Carbon TV series (which this writer is not familiar with), Nakajima and Okada's feature debut is a brilliantly cheesy throwback to both action and cyberpunk anime of the last century's final two decades, with the emphasis being on violent, impressively choreographed clashes between the heroes and the baddies. Taking you into a neon-lit, Blade Runner-like world of the terraformed planet Latimer where physical death is almost impossible thanks to the 'resleeving' technology, it follows a burly ex-Envoy, Takeshi Kovacs, on his mission of protecting a young tattooist, Holly, while investigating a yakuza organization (and their fishy succession ritual), alongside an agent of the UN's Colonial Tactical Assault Corps, Reileen (whose looks seem to be a loving homage to the Ghost in the Shell heroine).


The simple story and characters don't come any more B-movie-esque, so if you expect something along the lines of a serious meditation on consciousness moving from one body to another, you're likely to be disappointed. Although the human longing for immortality is the major theme here, it's the blood-letting hacking and bone-crunching brawling where this anime truly shines, as previously mentioned. Yes, the CG-animation tends to be a bit rough and video-gamey around the edges, but that's excusable, considering the directors' backgrounds, and I won't add 'inexperience', because they must've seen a good share of old-school actioners. On the other hand, the characters and backgrounds are beautifully designed, and the linework of cel-shaded models lends a retro, comic-book feel to the otherwise glossy visuals. Also praiseworthy is the propelling, yet unobtrusive music score by Keigo Hoashi and Kuniyuki Takahashi who add some Japanese traditional vibes to the neo-classical mix, entering into the Kenji Kawai mode during the closing credits.

25 Mar 2020

Seven 77 (Nikola Gocić, 2020)


Dark and elliptical, my third 'motion picture book' Seven 77 borrows motifs from the Snow White fairy tale, and injects them into a lyrical (non)narrative. Veiled in melancholic drones of Tearpalm's brilliant ambient track Gorka krv (lit. Bitter Blood), it depicts a strange, fragile world inside the mirror. Available on my official Vimeo channel.

Кафена кашичица ДАДА-раствора на дан

О, Мистеријо Мозга, изађи из кухиње
у касно подне је обрачун испред гнезда гнева

кх, кх, кх, љљљ,

а изнад неба, изнад неба у три потеза
трин'ест лицемера играју коло

прво поп, па поп, па поп, и на крају трт

ко узме птицу из бурета без дна
и (р)еволуцију за реп
и кашику меда наште

а фискални рачун у ђубре! 

20 Mar 2020

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (Miguel Llansó, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Inspired by the 70s kung fu films and tokusatsu shows, B-actioners of the Cold War era and arcade video games of the 80s, as well as by whatnots of anyone who was growing up during the final two decades of the 20th century, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is just as bonkers as its title sounds. Oh, it's also one of the most hilariously brilliant pieces of genre-subverting, borderline experimental cinema!


Directed by Miguel Llansó (Crumbs) who must've had a whale of a time filming it, this Afrofuturistic smörgåsbord takes the world within world concept and twists it to the point where suspension of disbelief is stretched so much that you just surrender yourself to the frequently surprising flow and drift far away. It's impossible to tell where the VR network called Psychobook (now, this sounds familiar) ends, and where the reality of CIA agents based in Tallinn, Estonia, begins... or if that reality is real at all.


And the story goes something like this - a computer virus, 'Soviet Union', represented by an avatar wearing a paper Stalin mask threatens to destroy Psychobook (where everybody moves as if in a Švanmajer's stop-motion fantasy), so agents D.T. Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Agustín Mateo) have to jump into the matrix, so to say, and disinfect it. While there, they wear the faces of Richard Pryor and Robert Redford, respectively, but posing as celebrities won't help them in completing the mission which turns into a trap involving Batman's evil doppelgänger Batfro who rules Beta Ethiopia and whose (Italian) right-hand man goes by the moniker of Mr. Sofistication...


But wait until you meet the messiah in one of numerous subplots that unexpectedly and unapologetically break or rather, expand the film's inner logic, plunging the viewer ever deeper into the arcane, everything but the kitchen sink dimension of Llansó's wild and weird creation. (Did I mention a transvestite captain and a Shaolin monk guarding the Ark of the Covenant?) Simultaneously poker-faced and with his tongue concealed in his cheek, he tackles a wide range of topics, from fascist governments to virtual escapism to pizza mastery, and demonstrates an enviable skill in lending gravitas to campy, pop culture-infused shenanigans that his sophomore feature brims with. Paying homage to the abovementioned influences, his delightfully grainy 16mm visuals and quaint special effects are flawlessly complemented by dubbed voices and discordant jazz score which doesn't shy away from going me(n)tal once Jesus enters the scene.

At the end, one is left wondering what possibly could be the next step in the author's artistic evolution...

19 Mar 2020

To Your Last Death (Jason Axinn, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

In the first gory animated horror to come from the USA in years, Groundhog Day (minus the comedy, and heartfelt parts) meets Saw under the wakeful eyes of bored divine forces, with William Shatner as the narrator (i.e. The Overseer) adding the strong Twilight Zone vibe, and Ray Wise voicing and lending his appearance to a diabolical industrialist and pater familias of the highly dysfunctional DeKalb family. The gods' 'emissary' is a mysterious (and not to mention sexy) entity called Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin, vocalizing the right mix of danger and seductiveness) who looks like she escaped from an issue of the Heavy Metal magazine, and whose rules often change, making the survival game pretty difficult for the film's peace-activist heroine Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) and her siblings. Once you get used to cheaply animated, yet beautifully 'inked' characters, To Your Last Death provides you with lots of bloody, cheesy and tightly paced fun pierced with hints of cosmic dread.

18 Mar 2020

7 Shorts in a Nutshell

A couple of days ago, I typed in 'surreal' as a search term on Vimeo, applied a 'longer than 10 minutes' filter, and ended up 'flipping through' 160 pages of results. Hereafter, 7 shorts that piqued my interest and left me with a lasting impression will be briefly presented in chronological order. (Click on the titles to watch them!)

In turns waggish and sensual, Soul Cages (Phillip Barker, 2000) is a dialogue-free meditation on watching, not necessarily in a voyeuristic way, as well as a cinematic interpretation of a superstition that a camera can capture its subject's soul. At its core is a dreamlike game of mythological proportions between a photographer who may be a water nymph (Susanna Hood) and a photo processor who falls for her charms (Srinivas Krishna). Who is the watcher and who is being watched remains a mystery.


The Walking Ink (Thomas Barndt, 2006) appears like a love letter to Ed Wood written in a Guy Maddin cursive and signed by inebriated David Lynch or F.J. Ossang. As campy as a B-movie from the 50s and as quirky as a talking chihuahua, it cranks the weirdness up to eleven and has you scratching your head at the unapologetic absurdity of the 'story' about a car-mechanic who gains some supernatural powers after digesting a genetically modified paprika created by a mad scientist and provided by a hysterical femme fatale. Its strongest point is the noirish, high-contrast B&W cinematography.


Another aesthetically pleasing offering is The Process (Vallo Toomla, 2010) which could be described as a successful result of an impossible task that is the squeezing of Kafka's The Trial in twenty minutes. Opening with Josef K's desert-set dream that brings to mind Lech Majewski's Gospel According to Harry, it takes a lot of artistic liberty to render several key events from the literary source. Almost certainly inspired by Czech and Polish cinema, particularly in its whimsical epilogue, the film boasts some well-rounded performances and excellent direction.


Sending us on a mystical journey across astral planes and abstract landscapes, Coma (Pedro Cornetta, 2013) acts as a visual counterpart for four space-rock tracks from the EP by a two-men project Astrolabio. Utilizing stock footage, Cornetta (piano / keyboards / bass / drums / strings programming) delivers plenty of oneiric eye candy in constant flux, and together with Arthur Mei on guitar and bass, he invites us to dive into the warm sea of psychedelic grooves.


Much, much wilder approach to translating songs into imagery is on full display in Never Forever (Lily X. Wahrman, 2013) - a spiritual predecessor to Bertrand Mandico's recently released trilogy of music videos for M83. Starring the sisters of the 'Now Age' duo Prince Rama, this deliciously kitschy extravaganza plunges you into the world brimming with strass and glitter, and making the 80s MTV look pretty drab in comparison. A highly energizing sci-fi phantasmagoria, it features an Abercrombie model lifting marble pyramids, a virtual reality populated by holograms, spiritual guides and baby Krishna, as well as a group of voodoo zombies dancing around the jacuzzi of blood, Thriller-style. In other words, this is what happens when your influences range from Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowsky to Donna Summer and Matthew Barney, and you know no limits.


A different world - one 'imagined of harmonious fragments' - opens in the shadow theatre performance kaf wauw noon (2017) by Lina Younes. Apparently influenced by the great Lotte Reiniger's opus, this alchemical fantasy unfolds in 'real time' with the puppeteer's hands moving hybrid, larger-than-life characters over a softly lit, yellow-orange surface. The Arabic narration and jazzy score that accompany the imaginative one-take cine-play lull the viewer into a transcendental state.


And the last entry on this list is Freddie Favar's Jana (2018) - a gloomy mood piece which insightfully portrays an introverted artist who may also be suffering dissociative identity disorder. Jumping into the role of the titular heroine is an Austrian born designer and model, Jana Wieland, whose androgynous appearance is somewhat reminiscent of Tilda Swinton. Jana's broken inner self gets externalized in a series of beautiful wide-screen close-ups (kudos to DoP Cameron Bryson), with the absence of music emphasizing the psychological void she succumbs to...

14 Mar 2020

The Bottomless Bag (Rustam Khamdamov, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Tall tales grow even taller in Rustam Khamdamov's adaptation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story In a Grove which Akira Kurosawa's highly and widely acclaimed feature Rashomon is also based on. Narrated by an unnamed lady-in-waiting (Svetlana Nemolyaeva) who employs a Pinocchio-like paper nose to take a peek into another world through the previously torn wallpapers on the chamber-walls of Tsar Alexander II's vast palace (!), The Bottomless Bag (originally, Мешок без дна) unfolds like a knotty, deliberately paced Ruizian mystery and, in a very unorthodox way, celebrates the power of storytelling and its magical effects on our lives. The elusiveness of truth is the main course here, with the characters such as Baba Yaga, humanoid mushrooms and a bear walking on two legs adding to the dreamy/mythical incredibility (and humor) of each account on the Prince's murder. Oh, and there are a few UFO spheres hovering above and around the grove just in case the viewer is not puzzled enough.

Packed with an almost maddening intrigue, strangely playful proceedings are paired with the ravishingly beautiful B&W imagery that bears many references to classic paintings and cinema. The Renaissance representations of Saint Sebastian can be easily recognized in the frame which depicts the Prince (Andrey Kuzichyov) tied to a tree with an arrow piercing his chest, whereas the spirits of the silent era divas are invoked by the otherworldly appearance of the Princess (Elena Morozova) whose sumptuous garments overflowing with pearls stubbornly oppose historical accuracy. A dramatic interplay of light and shadow is a certain nod to the aesthetics of film-noir, and Khamdamov's approach in blending all the influences together is that of a (neo)surrealist who favors form, a challenging one at that, over content. With The Bottomless Bag, the 'cursed' Russian filmmaker creates his most stylish film to date, so it's a shame it has already faded into obscurity.

10 Mar 2020

Izložba kolaža MeleM

Moja druga samostalna izložba pod nazivom MeleM biće otvorena 21. marta, u 19:00, a trajaće nedelju dana. Mesto održavanja je kafe bar Dnevna soba koji se nalazi u ulici Svetozara Markovića 14a, u Nišu. Dobrodošli!


Nekoliko reči o izložbi...

Bavljenje umetnošću na mene ima gotovo isceliteljsko dejstvo, pa otud i MeleM kao naziv moje druge samostalne izložbe. Pod ovim milozvučnim palindromom objedinjeno je 25 kolaža koji su nastali u prethodnih godinu dana, a u kojima se sudaraju i prožimaju različiti uticaji, počev od snova i bajki, preko mitologije, folklora i nadrealizma, do eksperimentalnih i animiranih filmova. 

Istovremeno, oni predstavljaju svojevrsne suvenire sa učestalih putovanja do najudaljenijih kutaka mog unutrašnjeg carstva, i nit koja me povezuje sa kosmičkom prazninom, a shodno tome u sebi nose i izvesnu dozu poetskog mraka i egzistencijalne melanholije. Njihova značenja i meni kao autoru izmiču, a njihovo tajanstvo potiče iz odnosa koji prema njima gajim u toku stvaralačkog procesa. Dodeljujući im ulogu vodiča i ne znajući kuda će me odvesti, prepuštam se misteriji koju smatram neodvojivom od umetničkog dela i koju izjednačavam sa blagotvornim melemom za duh.

5 Mar 2020

Diner (Mika Ninagawa, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


Sometimes, in order to make our dreams come true, we have to take a detour and 'corresponding risks'. For Oba Kanako (doe-eyed Tina Tamashiro) who's often ridiculed for her name translating as 'stupid girl', a sudden change of life's direction leads her into a restaurant run by a seductive ex-assassin, Bombero (Tatsuya Fujiwara of the Battle Royale and Death Note fame), and reserved exclusively for the psychopathic yakuza. Super-demure, abandoned by everyone, and dressed by the waitress-fetishist code, she will have to rely on her own survival skills...

... and although she doesn't appear to possess any, Kanako proves to have a lot of pluck (and resourcefulness) in her, with Tamashiro's dramatic portrayal eliciting sympathy for the heroine. And it's no wonder she comes off as relatable, considering how (deliberately) cartoonish the antagonists are, save for the boss turning into a love interest Bombero, and Diner's first client Skin (Masataka Kubota) whose love for his late mother opens Kanako's compassionate heart. Oh, and there's a strawberry-eating CGI bulldog that may get under your skin!


However, it's neither the quirky, 'animesque' characters nor the crazy, suspension-of-disbelief-stretching story that keep us glued to the screen - it's Mika Ninagawa's eye-popping style that has Diner's menu loaded with most delicious (high calorie) treats. Amped up to eleven, her exuberant visuals are densely packed with all the colors of the rainbow whose vividness is accentuated by neon lighting, as well as with the incredible details in mouth-watering dishes and garnishes, eccentric costumes and eclectic set design incorporating a wide range of influences, from Japanese tradition to pop-art. Also varied are Ninagawa's cinematic references - frenetic energy of Takashi Miike, kabuki-like theatricality of Seijun Suzuki and unrestrained baroqueness of Dario Argento are smoothly amalgamated, with homages to Kobayashi, Woo and Wachowskis thrown in for good measure. And yet, the film is as fresh as the groceries in Bombero's kitchen or the flowers decorating the lurid interiors. Adding an extra oomph to it is a pulsating score providing the compromise between techno and classical music.

1 Mar 2020

Cinematic Favorites 02/20

This leap February was marked by animation for me, given that approx. one third of the films I watched - including a good deal of stylish and often psychedelic blasts from the Soviet past (such as Contract, O, more, more! and Sineglazka) - were animated, whereby Ayumu Watanabe's latest offering, Children of the Sea, left the strongest impression and imposed itself as a serious contender for the annual top 5. Besides, I completed the artwork for a couple of 'motion picture books' - Kindle (based on the idea by Martin Del Carpio) and In Search of Tanatos (an intuitive, deeply personal meditation on death) - both of which were met with a positive response. 

As far as the 'premiere lessons' in the history of (live-action) cinema go, I'd like to single out three features - Michael Powell's witty, visually arresting and meticulously layered psychological horror Peeping Tom, Joseph Losey's insightful sci-fi B-movie The Damned and Derek Jarman's intelligent and formally attractive dramedy Wittgenstein. And I have to mention a re-watch of the enjoyable, delightfully cheesy 80s rom-com Electric Dreams, because it hit me with a shattering wave of nostalgia.

The unflattering title of the most disappointing (recent) film goes to a poorly conceived crime-drama, The Night Clerk, which sees its author, Michael Cristofer, back in a director's chair almost two decades after his previous work, Original Sin, just wasting the talents of Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas. There is a palpable chemistry between the two actors, though, and a solid character study lying dormant behind the uninspired visuals and anticlimactic story, but on the whole, it falls flat.

Without further ado and with the focus pointed at the films (and one beautifully animated music video) produced in the last three years, I present...

7 FAVORITE FEATURES


1. Children of the Sea (Ayumu Watanabe, 2019)
2. Nevrland (Gregor Schmidinger, 2019)
3. True History of the Kelly Gang (Justin Kurzel, 2019)
4. Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2019)
5. Gretel & Hansel (Osgood Perkins, 2020)
6. Hatsukoi (Takashi Miike, 2019)
7. Guns Akimbo (Jason Lei Howden, 2019)

7 FAVORITE SHORTS


1. At the Hawk’s Well (Michael Higgins, 2018)
2. LVRS (Emily Bennett, 2018)
3. The Staggering Girl (Luca Guadagnino, 2019)
4. Haiku (Martin Gerigk, 2020) (trailer)
5. Esther Remembers (Justin Brown, 2020)
6. October 17 2019 (Johnny Clyde, 2019)
7. The Strokes – At the Door (Mike Burakoff, 2020)