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.

13 Jul 2017

Hel (Katia Priwieziencew & Pawel Tarasiewicz, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 

Taking a cue or two (or maybe, even three!) from David Lynch, Katia Priwieziencew and Pawel Tarasiewicz boldly fracture the girl-murdered-in-a-small-town narrative and blur the boundaries between gray reality and grim fiction for their stylish arthouse thriller debut which adopts fill-in-the-blanks or rather, find-your-own-answers attitude and boasts compelling 35mm cinematography, atmospheric bluesy soundscapes and solid performances by the charming first-timer Malgorzata Krukowska, Marcin Kowalczyk (of Hardkor Disko fame) and Philip Lenkowsky (who breaks his secondary role curse).

11 Jul 2017

Autuportret među nojevima

Ja sam ono žuto pseto
što ne ume da laje
i vlasnik užegle radosti
iz stare tepsije
izgrebane od čestog ribanja.
Mio kao keramički umivaonik,
otvaram usta kad spavam
iznad crnog oblaka.

Ovo mirno leto u mojim očima
miriše na ljubopitljivi pokolj
u 3 poteza,
a kosa pada kao prolećena kiša.
U dve reči da stanem,
prolio bih sedmu suzu,
sunce joj kalajisano!

Svih mi reči naškrabanih,
ovi sveci digli nos:
„Puf, puf, puf!“
Ko još pliva na biciklu?
Sekira ili rasporeni trup?
Znao sam da je tačan odgovor:
Nicht?

Six Figures Getting Sick (David Lynch, 1966)

10 Jul 2017

Color TV, No Vacancy (Dan Brown, 2013)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 
 
 
The follow-up to Dan Brown's blackly humorous crime thriller Your Lucky Day (2010) is a lavish, sinister phantasmagoria which lets us peek into the four rooms of a seedy motel (that's probably situated somewhere on the verge of subconscious mind). A heavy-smoking mermaid seduces a young biker; a prostitute and her pimp lover plot against their regular mob boss client; an Elvis lookalike comes to a supernatural rescue and a prom king and queen prepare to say goodbye to their virginity.

Adoration is degenerated into addiction, love is transformed into lust and devotion is betrayed by power hunger, as the characters fall down the (Playboy) rabbit hole or bleed all the colors of the rainbow. Brown subverts (the morals of) myths and fairy tales, cynically 'vulgarizing' them so they can fit the age of pop-culture tyranny. In doing so, he allows the hyper-stylized images and the accompanying brooding score to do all the talking - smooth and mesmerizing.

Even though his background as a commercial and music video director makes itself apparent throughout the film, one cannot help but admire the artistry on display, from the razor-sharp editing to the wonderful cinematography and neat VFX including a flaming deer and a neon-lit spider who operate as arcane symbols. Also commendable is the soft crescendo that comes with the dreamlike cover of Alphaville's Forever Young performed by Amanda Burleson.
 
To paraphrase Nathaniel Ainley of Creators, Color TV, No Vacancy is like a Disney film perverted by Lynch and Refn at their most experimental. And it is available on its creator's official vimeo channel.


9 Jul 2017

Cathedral of New Emotions (Helmut Herbst, 2006)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Built upon Helmut Herbst's sci-fi TV movie The Fantastic World of Matthew Madson (Die phantastische Welt des Matthew Madson, 1974) and created with CTP Pro software, Cathedral of New Emotions (Die Kathedrale der Neuen Gefühle, hereinafter CONE) is arguably one of the weirdest, most obscure and out-there animated features ever.

It revolves around the one-time members of a Berlin commune, drifting through the vast universe, frequently staring into the pulsating light of their God hand-shaped ship fusion reactor "as if it were a crackling bonfire". Whilst their eyes "gladden in reverence" (some kinda running gag), you are suspended (or rather, paralyzed) in disbelief, frequently asking yourself: "Am I hallucinating?"

After busty twins James and Jones arrive on their flying waterbeds and an "attractive, but not very musical" young amnesiac, Mulligan, is discovered in a monthly supply rocket from Tesco, we learn that our hippie-astronauts' mission is to find CONE founder and spiritual guru leader who has gone bananas, Matthew Madson. And once they land on his planet, things go from trippy to halo-infection-and-rotating-boobs-psychedelic and you are inclined to believe the script has been written by an advanced AI on heavy synthetic drugs.

At one point, Mulligan is subjected to a bat-shit crazy interrogation and the second to last question which perfectly reflects Herbst's utterly twisted humor (especially when the explanation for Champs-Élysées is taken into consideration) is: "Before they went into hiding, did Baader Meinhof leave you their fridge?" Yes, it is as outré as smiling neutrons and many tropes turned upside down.

To make everything even more eccentric, Herbst has all the absurd lines delivered in deadpan manner by Logox SpeechBox, with the distorted, robot-like voices and woozy space-rock/jazz/ambient/electronic score complementing the intentionally jerky animation. The playful, 72-year old auteur resorts to "outmoded" rotoscope technique, so the visuals appear very retro as if rendered in the year following the original work.

Grotesquely beautiful and drenched in acidic colors, the protagonists quiver in the boundless delirium of the failed Flower Power Revolution, whereby disturbing eroticism meets black hole-caused meltdown and a colony of wiggling penises grown as mushrooms in a foosball table-like aquarium. However, those guys and girls are not of great importance, because "the feelings of plants are older than human arrogance".

Cathedral of New Emotions is available on both YouTube and Vimeo, and you can also check and download its comic-book version here.

6 Jul 2017

Self Decapitation (Rouzbeh Rashidi & Maximilan Le Cain, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Described as 'a Janus-headed self-portrait' by two prolific EFS members Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilan Le Cain, Self Decapitation is another bold and bewildering boundary pusher coming from Ireland. Decidedly non-narrative (though we can't say that for sure), it has everything one can wish for from an experimental film - elusive imagery, phantom-like 'characters', overlapping soundscapes and stock-footage porn assembled into incongruous juxtapositions.

The first half of this abstract and idiosyncratic phantasmagoria sees us trapped in the coarse web of unsolvable riddles posed as unrhymed verses of a 'corroded' visual poem. Complemented by drony noises of eerie (backward spoken?) whispers, flapping bird wings, loud ocean rustle, ship horn and whatnot, Rashidi's grim, grungy and ultra-grainy visions put us face to face with Thanatos - veiled, fickle and having a twisted sense of humor. From the 'spit-painting' intro to nudists playing volleyball in Act I finale, Death appears as obscene and iconoclastic as Desire which takes control over Act II, whereby sky, plants, window dirt and everyday objects become some sort of apparitions staring into the void gazing back at us.

Looking as if it were shot with VHS or cheap DV camera (think Inland Empire), the feature's second part breaks the mold of one man's bland morning routine by blurring the boundaries between his lecherous reveries and tedious, yet somewhat mysterious reality. His meeting with a friend / Devil / other self is frequently interrupted by obscene sequences of women involved in sexual activities (such as felattio and masturbation), as well as by a static and symmetric shot of four trees accompanied by incessant birds' chirping. There's a certain screwball rhythm to Le Cain's provocative 'antics' which elevate sex to almost spiritual and metaphysical level, with Eros left to run wild and free, his member permanently erected.
 
Self Decapitation operates as a tricky double illusion - a performance rife with ambiguities that only the perverted, heavily stoned lions from the world of Lynch's Rabbits could make clear in an instant.


Available at Vimeo on Demand.

4 Jul 2017

Wild Creatures (Rene Zhang, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
 
"Hearts are wild creatures. That's why our ribs are cages."
 
 
And love is both (self-)destructive and life-affirming force in this short experimental film by the German director Rene Zhang. Co-scripted by the starring actress Chara Valon, Wild Creatures provides pure audio-visual experience, sans dialogue.
 
Impressively lensed in brooding, high-contrast black and white, it tells a poetic, ambiguous, almost impenetrable story involving a woman lost in The Woods, caught by The Storm and bound to The Earth in which she will eventually rot (writer's note: capitalized words stand for chapter titles). Occasionally, we see her (other self?) in the company of a child (the androgynous Jeffrey Pudel) whose character - like the narrative itself - is open to various interpretations.
 
The scenes with the two of them sharing precious moments, laughing, crying and hugging, may be her memories, wishful thinking or spiritual inner workings, whereby the heroine's reality is portrayed as gradually deteriorating. A veiled, saint-like female of an underground cathedral (which is more a symbol than an architectural object) and an ominous male figure offering false comfort add another layer to the mystery that borders horror once the meaty practical effects come into play.
 
Featuring some neat CGI, the enigmatic proceedings take the form of a music video married to performance art (which some viewers will find distracting), yet Zhang's stunning cinematography and Valon's magnetic presence never loosen their grip. Also praiseworthy is Julian Kantus's inspired, ethereal score complementing the surreal, gothic atmosphere that invokes the darkest of folk tales.

Wild Creatures is available at Vimeo on Demand.

2 Jul 2017

3 x Capsule Review (Echoes of Silence / Macadam Stories / The Bad Batch)

Echoes of Silence (Peter Emmanuel Goldman, 1967)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Swinging in the rhythm of smooth jazz, bluegrass and classical music, Echoes of Silence provides a raw, offbeat, Nouvelle Vague-ish portrait of anti-mod twentysomethings in unglamourized New York. Beautifully shot on 16mm Bolex Camera and edited rather 'haphazardly', in a way which suggests youthful irreverence, it appears as an early prototype of a Remodernist film, eschewing dialogue and fully embracing 'un photo-roman' approach in several sequences. Its grainy B&W imagery reflects the melancholy of lonely and longing outcasts all played with aching, unforced honesty by non-professionals. Goldman dismisses traditional narrative in favor of the lyrical one (supported by hand-painted title cards) to create the cinematic equivalent of a beatnik poem.


Macadam Stories / Asphalte (Samuel Benchetrit, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The attention-grabbing Isabelle Huppert stars as a washed-out actress, Jeanne Meyer (an allusion to Jeanne Moreau, perhaps?), in arguably one of the most charming ensemble cast dramedies ever to hit the screen. Her partner is the young, yet talented Jules Benchetrit as the boy next door Charly with whom she forges an unexpected friendship in one of the three subtle narrative threads woven around a decrepit residential building in the French suburbs.

The other two stories involve Michael Pitt as a NASA astronaut, John McKenzie, who mistakenly ends up in the cozy residence of a hyper-kind Algerian immigrant, Madame Hamida (the brilliant Tassadit Mandi), as well as Gustave Kervern (of Avida fame) as the party pooper neighbor Sterkowitz who falls for Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's reserved night shift nurse. All of the six thespians display an easygoing rapport, imbuing the protagonists with remarkable nuances, as Benchetrit's screenplay shines with gentle ironies, deadpan poignancy and heartfelt meanings.


The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

To paraphrase the title of Ana Lily Amirpour's love-or-hate affair debut - a model-like, double-amputee girl, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse, sweet and feisty), walks through the desert of the dystopian States mostly alone during sunbaked days and cool nights. She is labeled as one of the 'Bad Batch' people split into two clans - buffed cannibals of 'The Bridge' and junkhead ravers of 'Comfort' - and there is no place she can call home.

Virtually forced to choose between an enigmatic anthropophagist boss with artist's soul, Miami Man (the physically imposing Jason Momoa), and a sex-cult leader who looks like a 70s porn artist (well, it figures), The Dream (Keanu Reeves, reinventing his image), Arlen seems to be grounded in twisted, obfuscated, unforgiving reality built upon pop-culture references and (intentionally?) on the nose 'symbolism'. There is a certain sarcasm in her muddled tale which is told (and not to mention trolled) through some impressive visuals with the dialogue kept to a minimum. Oh, and that unrecognizable Jim Carrey cameo is a blast!

30 Jun 2017

Pop Meets the Void (William Cusick, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
The sophomore feature for William Cusick (Welcome to Nowhere) sees him as a keen multi-hyphenate - a writer, director, editor, co-producer, co-composer and star of the (fragmented and non-linear) story about a struggling artist. While the premise is certainly not an original one, it is the unique execution that elevates the film above its counterparts. Four narrative threads, one of them being highly abstract, are tightly interwoven into a form- and genre-defying blend of deadpan dramedy, psychological fantasy and fourth-wall-breaking pseudo-documentary.
 

In the mind-bending prologue, we are introduced to a mysterious figure (Nick Bixby) trapped in a white, decrepit room surrounded by hundreds of glassy, floating octahedrons. Considering the symbolic meaning of the said Platonic solid, he (or rather, it?) could be the embodiment of our downbeat hero's psyche, his spiritual self or some sort of inner (and as we later find out, suicidal) deity. Whatever the case may be, this entity's sequences serve as the 'glue' that holds together dreams and/or (alternative) realities of the protagonist, Walter. But the thing is, it's hard to discern which of his three versions is 'the original'.
 

The best guess would be that the bearded, unkempt introvert whose demos are mostly private and self-confidence constantly undermined by the others is the one imagining his superstar DJ persona ready to retire from the showbiz, as well as his other, down-to-earth alter ego that is a white-collar worker stuck on a dead-end job and with a henpecking wife. Oft-imbued with bitter (self-)irony, their lines reflect the issues which Cusick as an independent filmmaker is, without any doubt, faced with and those autobiographical notes ring very true (especially if the viewer is a like-minded creative with gentle soul).
 

Speaking of notes, the score which complements the trippy visuals has a cool and breezy, or as Walter puts it, 'folky kinda krautrocky' feel to it that sets the right emotional tone. Slightly melancholic, it wonderfully encapsulates 'conflicting concepts of reality' envisioned as an artificial, yet fascinating mélange of live-action and CGI animation (kudos to both VFX expert Jonathan Weiss and cinematographer Bart Cortright). The surreal, distorted imagery of Walter's fancy is a step forward compared to Cusick's more experimental debut, so let's hope he provides us with more gleaming, 'acidic' eye-candy in the future.
 

For more info, visit www.popmeetsthevoid.com

29 Jun 2017

Okja (Joon-ho Bong, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Armed with a penchant for caricatured and over-the-top characters, such as Jake Gyllenhaal’s ridiculously cartoonish TV presenter and self-proclaimed animal lover Johnny Wilcox, Joon-Ho Bong treads on all-too-familiar territory and delivers another entertaining, slightly off-kilter, occasionally poignant and technically superior film rife with "bold" on-the-nose moments which make it as subtle as the titular CGI creature of elephantine proportions in a crowded underground mall. 

28 Jun 2017

The Whispering Star (Sion Sono, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Sono's wife Megumi Kagurazaka stars as an intergalactic mailwoman (or rather, mail-gynoid), Yoko Suzuki, in a tranquilizing, deliberately paced arthouse sci-fi drama The Whispering Star (Hiso Hiso Boshi). Powered by several 1.5V AA batteries, her composed, methodical heroine is on the mission of delivering packages across the vast universe - a job that usually takes years to be accomplished.

The question that bothers her is: "Why do people cling to the old-fashioned ways after teleportation has been invented?" And the answer which she will eventually find lies in nostalgia and unpredictable human nature leading them to their demise. Now is probably a good time to mention that the (highly lyrical) story is set in the distant future when humanity is on the brink of extinction due to its own faults.

In a spaceship equipped with antique gear and shaped as a traditional Japanese house, Yoko's only company is M.I.M.E. - a computer machine 6-7 with the soft voice of a child and the appearance of a tube radio adorned with Edison bulbs. Her daily chores are, essentially, those of a diligent homemaker, but she also has a lot of spare time mostly spent listening to the audio-diaries on an analogue tape recorder.

Nothing much happens and yet, Kagurazaka commands your attention, together with the exquisite set design (kudos to Takeshi Shimizu) and post-apocalyptic-like locations of dilapidated Fukushima dubbing as the remnants of terraformed planets. With that in mind, The Whispering Star could be viewed as the soulful and solemn requiem for tsunami and nuclear disaster victims, the seaside scene being the most harrowing.

Once the film starts, you are instantly stunned by the gorgeous sepia-tinged black & white cinematography. Miike's frequent collaborator DP Hideo Yamamoto (Audition, Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of Katakuris) and Sono at his most poetic, restrained, even Tarkovskian achieve to-die-for looks in the vein of some New Wave (Nūberu bāgu) masterpiece. A single splash of color doesn't take away from the sublime beauty of this whispered, gently humorous "adventure", whereby Kagurazaka's non-pro partners add to its austere charm.

So, if you open your mind and put on your patience suit, there's a great chance you will be hypnotized by Sono's contemplative experiment.

25 Jun 2017

Another Alchemikal Sunday (Merzfrau + Purple Dreams)

Merzfrau: Portraits of the Muse, Anna Blume
(Sarahjane Swan + Roger Simian, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Drawing inspiration from the dadaist (love) poem An Anna Blumme (aka Eve Blossom) by Kurt Schwitters, the Super 8 Alchemist duo Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian conjure another experimental marvel - a lyrical / non-narrative mind-tripper of a film defying any categorization.

Their distorted visuals which transform the viewer into a mesmerized synesthete, as well as into a perplexed somnambulist, are achieved via 'long-expired Kodachrome 40 filmstock processed in Caffenol (coffee + vitamin c + washing soda) and handcrafted with scratches, nail varnish and permanent markers', as noted in the official synopsis.

The refreshing stream of abstract, occasionally 'palindrome-ized' and emotionally charged imagery is complemented by the dissonant score marrying Gustav Holst's soothing piece Venus, the Bringer of Peace to pounding post-industrial beats by The Bird And The Monkey. A weird, yet bloody effective combo!

It sees Anna Blumme (re)imagined as the 'killer cheekbones' lady called Merzfrau (Ms Swan and her highly expressive face), with Loie Fuller (of the Lumière Brothers' Danse serpentine, 1896) 'casted' as Terpsichore - the muse of dance and chorus. Topping their booming and spuming bloom in the midst of harmonic chaos is Bloomed - Simian's delightfully awkward and brightly dusked homage to the abovementioned poem.

(Merzfrau is not yet available publicly.)


Purple Dreams (Murat Sayginer, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The latest offering by the self-taught, multi-award-winning artist Murat Sayginer continues where the previous ones left off - at the peaceful intersection of deified reveries, remodeled myths, esoteric musings and spiritual meanderings. Contemplative and as purple as the title suggests, Sayginer's dreams appear as eidolic figures who might be emerging from the elusive imagination of Kubrick's Star Child.


Despite being rendered in 'plastic' CGI, with all of the 'characters' or rather symbols frozen in time and space, they are imbued with arcane primordial powers which make them wondrously imposing. Whether we are shown Poseidon brooding above the restless waves, an astronaut deeply lost in his own thoughts or a deer whose majestic, tree-like antlers are adorned with keys (to universal truths?), there is something absolute lying behind their stillness. 'Moving' them towards the sublime crescendo is Onur Tarçın's energetic and evocative score.

23 Jun 2017

Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017)

☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Taking the "I don't even have to try anymore, 'cause my most ardent fans will swallow the microwaved hodgepodge anyway" attitude, Malick delivers a rather bland and messy high-brow, quasi-natural, faux-lyrical, almost self-mocking ensable cast drama which frequently appears as a frustratingly banal and dishonest soap-opera for hipsters, with Rooney Mara's loveliness, handsome locations and Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous cinematography being some of the film's few redeeming factors.

21 Jun 2017

Void Paranoid

Green is the new Abstract
and Red is the late Hollow.
 
Flowers wither three screams per second.



(click to enlarge)

19 Jun 2017

Taste of the Obscure 80s Films

... but not as obscure as those from the 90s

However, my 25th list for Taste of Cinema is as eclectic as the last unicorn hovering in a glass cage above the streets of fire in Neo Tokyo, during the altered states of consciousness.


Still shot from The Legend of Suram Fortress
(Ambavi Suramis tsihitsa, 1985)
by Sergei Parajanov
and Dodo Abashidze

17 Jun 2017

Alchemikal Sundays (Sarahjane Swan & Roger Simian, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


The Scottish artist duo Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian, aka The Bird And The Monkey, have collaborated since 2009 on a number of projects, involving alternative music (and accompanying videos), installation art and experimental films in both digital and analogue (Super 8) format. Their visual works - created under the label of AvantKinema - combine re- and deconstructed myths with personal obsessions into something delightfully quaint, yet decidedly modern (or rather, timeless), and not to mention idiosyncratic.

For their 'forgotten' debut which is their longest and (if you ask this writer) best short film, they merge the footage shot at the Ring of Brodgar and recontextualized parts from Ghost - Apparition into a hypnotizing, mind-boggling phantasmagoria which looks like a spiritual predecessor to Pais and Fawcett's In Search of the Exile. Orphic and sublimely beautiful, Alchemikal Sundays takes you to the outermost fringes of the subconscious mind and makes you think abstractly and try contemplating on intangible concepts. What appears to be a lyrical narrative about the birth of a Goddess and her (odd) initiation to the Unknown World is told via the unearthly canvases of vibrant, trancelike colors complemented by gothic-like, darkly ethereal music which sets the atmosphere of pure wonder.

Its first ten minutes prove the eye-pleasing quality of symmetry - they are composed of mirrored images which reflect Ms Swan's elegance in front of the camera, turning her into elusive, indescribable, constantly metamorphosing forms. Captured in variously distorted dream states and propelled by the primordial forces of some mysterious Universe, her character is as contradictory as that of the Summerian deity Inanna who also inspired the duo's Orphine. And she remains equally powerful when the film switches to asymmetrical mode, her dress fluttering in the winds of the Beyond...


15 Jun 2017

In the (Avant)Garden of EFS

D'you know what feels good after an evening stroll and some words written in a fit of creative madness? A couple of hours spent arranging randomly picked flowers growing in the (avant)garden of Experimental Film Society. Yes, I am being quite subjective here, but their fragrance is so fresh, since the ground is not poisoned by CGI fertilizers.

Still shot from Abandon (2012)

Alphabetically, the first in line is Abandon by Dean Kavanagh who casts members of his family (judging by the last names) in a work that blends abstract art and docu-fiction to great effect. However, the star of his show is water whose glassy, restless surface fills the opening frame and whose presence is constantly felt in the film's course - in the wistful eyes, clothes hanging in the backyard and sunlight shining through the leaves. As a lovely young woman watches through the window covered in rain drops (a gorgeous Deren by the way of Tarkovsky image), we are getting lulled into a dream of reality dissolved by peculiar soundscapes. A pair of fishermen has no luck, but maybe at night, when they go to sleep, a sea will calm and a big fish will bite their bait.

Available Light by Maximilian Le Cain whose favorite color is, beyond a doubt, blue (and whose filmography includes over 100 pictures!) tends to put you in a creeped-out mood by minimalist means. A VHS-quality view of a building obstructed by a bare tree is accompanied by uncanny noise which makes us see something that probably isn't there at all - an apparition behind a zoomed-in glass. Repeated twice in a row and later followed by a phantasmal superimposition, it keeps our unease steady.

Relaxation comes (or rather, cums) in similar pigmentation, with Jann Clavadetscher's Blue Orgasm which might be inspired by Derek Jarman's testament feature, although it consists of much more than a single shot of saturated blue color filling the screen. Drowned in the sound of a roaring train, three silhouettes sticking the tongues out are "sent on a fantastic voyage", as the official synopsis notes, through the portal of concentric and pulsating patterns, into a 70s porn. Orgasmic, indeed.

Still shot from Capgras (2010)

Another offering by Kavanagh is Capgras (as in a delusion that people around you have been replaced by identical impostors) starring the director himself and Julia Gelezova. A man roams around a seemingly empty apartment in complete silence until he opens and closes a small, black box when a pleasant piano and guitar piece begins. We see him cleaning the kitchen bar and caring for a bonsai tree before answering the phone and thus attracting the attention of a woman who has been taking a shower. Their short encounter is the highlight of the witty, chiaroscuro homage to silent movies.

Le Cain's Closing feels like David Lynch's long-lost experiment in which the author attempts to capture and freeze the thoughts of his heroine ruminating over something or someone, in the company of a suitor. The slow-mo movement, grainy monochrome cinematography and droney score support the gloomy, contemplative atmosphere.

For her description-defying Dimensions, Atoosa Pour Hosseini utilizes various techniques from multi-layer projections to interposing objects, reducing the size of an image to the mid-section rectangle, similarly to Rouzbeh Rashidi's Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness. Urban winterscapes with swans and people are intertwined with geometric, azure forms of indefinable origin and complemented by the loud white noise which simultaneously propels our fascination and further deepens our confusion.

Still shot from Flooded Meadow (2007)

Hosseini's aforementioned compatriot Rashidi casts Yihan Zhu as the chatty, yet silenced protagonist of Flooded Meadow which precedes the intermissions from Closure of Catharsis. Intermittently voyeuristic and direct, even intimate, this enigmatic B&W portrait of a smoky night in the city could be labeled as the calm before the storm which renders everyday life as supermundane. The viewer is put in a position of a stranger who doesn't speak the language of the characters, so is forced to observe their gestures in order to understand them.

The (ostensibly) most narrative film of the bunch is Clavadetscher's Goldfish in which saturated colors signify the transition between the reality and spirituality embodied in titular animals. (This is just a free interpretation.) A young guy's (Simon Rokyta) bath is interrupted by the arrival of his friend (Michael Fingerhut) who brings the news of someone's death. Afterwards, "the bather" becomes obsessed with his pets in a bowl, eventually succumbing to their influence and maybe that is not a bad thing, after all.

Reminiscent of Péter Lichter's hand-scratched works, Hot-el- by the filmmaker, photographer and installation artist Michael Higgins operates as an intermission, given its very brief running time, providing heavily damaged footage of the pastoral kind in rusty sepia tones.

A reflection of time's transience, John Puts a Chair Away is Le Cain's third entry in this article and its title couldn't be more illustrative. Beside the scenes with John (Doe?) putting a chair away inside of an abandoned building (warehouse?), we get the glimpses of a tree, metal door and empty, ramshackle rooms (some with blue details, of course) in a cinematic equivalent of Kazimir Malevich's art.

Still shot from Love Me Longer (2010)

Love Me Longer is a (pseudo?) biopic of a former boy band singer, Neil Thompson, assuredly directed by Higgins and beautifully visualized by Luca Rocchini. Akin to a twisted recurring dream, it is comparable to some of Olivier Smolders's Exercices spirituels and Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue, wherein "psychologization" is replaced by wild experimentation. The assorted imagery and Neil's naturally flowing voice-over narration are juxtaposed in a cathartic cacophony of memories.

In Murder, Higgins gives us the pieces of a puzzle about "an unlawful killing of a human by another human with malice aforethought", as the opening epigraph informs us. The aftermath of a (deconstructed) crime is a corpse covered in dry leaves, with sea panorama as the only clue or red herring. On the rocks, a lonely figure meditates, eventually leaving the place. Blurry flashbacks reveal the perpetrator, but we don't know anything about him, his motives and his connection to the victim. The mystery is amplified by a periscope-like view of branches gradually transforming into the bouncy Moon.

Rashidi's delightful, sepia-toned Nightfall deals with the absurdities and banalities of life, showing young man (played by Clavadetscher) arriving home, contemplating, cooking, eating, smoking, reading and watching an antique photo of a woman starring back at us. There is something off/odd about the whole proceedings and the protagonist's following morning doesn't make things any clearer. When his sister or girlfriend or a total stranger (Atoosa Pour Hosseini) comes to his house, they exchange a few glances and hug, raising new questions. For some reason, Nightfall reminded me of the scene with Grace Zabriskie and Laura Dern from Inland Empire (minus the eeriness).

An insight into Rashidi's early career, Shabby Nights blends "un photo-roman" with poetic documentary in what appears to be a melancholy-fueled ode to Tehran (and its lights). Although not translated from Farsi (?), one can sense the sorrowful note in both of the narrators' voices. Old photographs have prominent role in nostalgia awakening.

Still shot from The Mongolian Barbecue (2009)

With his arcane phantasmagoria The Mongolian Barbecue, Max Le Cain searches for the mystical qualities of female beauty. Shrouded in blue, pixels, glitches and TV static, his posing "heroines" produce some weird eye-candy. Speaking of eyes, one is stuck in the mouth, the other in... ahem, private parts.

And lastly, Kavanagh's Three Over Four betrays its low budget, offering some attractive shots nevertheless, and sees Rashidi as an actor in yet another musing on ephemera that life is. Personally, I don't find it an accidental choice, considering the inclusion of my favorite vegetable (tomato) in the finale.

As already suggested, these short films are just a small part of the EFS library, so the exploration doesn't end here...

12 Jun 2017

Yearning for a LadyBug of a Strawberry Leaf

Sometimes, when I take a stroll, I get pretty crazy ideas which are later turned into a short story, comic or a poem, as in this case.

YEARNING FOR A LADYBUG
OF A STRAWBERRY LEAF

Silently, she cries
like a burning church,
in a land of blooming cocks.

Faced toward the locked room
where her father sleeps naked and blue,
she dreams of One-Eyed Death dancing
until the Sun turns black.

Cut its head while it's fresh!
And swing, swing with a darkened sky
in your melting heart.

The ants panic again.

The Great Masturbator (1929) by Salvador Dalí

11 Jun 2017

Diamond Island (Davy Chou, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼



The fiction debut for the French-Cambodian helmer Davy Chou boasts some impressive visuals and provides an insightful look at transitional Cambodia and its disenchanted and disoriented youth. Only by virtue of Tomas Favel's striking cinematography complemented by the befittingly melancholic score, its meandering narrative does not seem like such a huge drawback.

A coming-of-age tale which portrays the insurmountable gap between the rich and the poor is told from the viewpoint of its hero - an 18-yo country bumpkin, Bora (Sobon Nuon), who leaves his village to become a manual worker on a construction site near Phnom Penh.

The partially finished residential complex of Diamond Island where he finds a job is advertised as future Heaven on Earth, its 3D rendering revealing a kitschy architectural monstrosity for the 'fat cats' to waste their money on. As irony would have it, the ones building the luxurious apartments earn $150 a month and could hardly afford a pantry there.

Bora spends his dusty days carrying scraps around and 'neonized' nights frequenting fairs and dance clubs together with his peers who make advances at local girls, peacocking in T-shirts of oversaturated colors which are also to be found in many details of the setting. One evening, he encounters his older and estranged brother, Solei (Cheanick Nov), hanging out with cool kids and doing pretty well, so soon afterwards, he is 'spoiled' by extra bucks and expensive presents...

As Bora's poetic, minimalist story heads in familiar directions, Chou puts us in contemplative mood of sorts and treats our eyes with one vivid frame after another. Blending social and arthouse drama of dreamy qualities with an 'urban' anthropological essay, he purposely indulges in a style-over-substance approach, but that doesn't prevent him from providing a few emotionally resonant moments. His film has a sincere and modest heart which is in the right place, even when the focus and naïve performances by the non-pro cast ensemble are not.

At the moment, Diamond Island is playing on Festival Scope.