28 Mar 2017

Nova Seed (Nick DiLiberto, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Sometimes, they DO make them like they used to.


If Nova Seed had been released in the 80s, many of the thirtysomething year olds of today would have cherished it as one of the most precious memories of their childhood. A labor of true love and commitment, this 'little' rough gem of retro animation is mostly the work of only one man.

The Japan-based Canadian animator Nick DiLiberto dedicated four years of his life to hand-draw every frame of his 64-minute feature debut, in spite of the blisters (and band-aids used to cover them). With that in mind, a viewer has to be amazed by his achievement worthy of all the superlatives that the reviewers has bestowed on it so far.

Storywise, the author employs sci-fi, fantasy and adventure tropes and archetypes, offering a compelling, if not original mélange of ideas. A mad scientist, Doctor Mindskull, wants to use a mysterious force, Nova Seed, embodied in a fragile-looking girl to conquer the unnamed alien planet which might be post-apocalyptic Earth as well. Standing in his way is a NAC (Neo-Animal Combatant) - a reluctant lion-man hero who's all action and no words. With a kind heart beating in his large, yellow chest, he breaks free from the confines of the gladiatorial prison, beats up a troop of human soldiers, saves Nova more than once (and falls for her), jumps from one aircraft to another in the heat of a dogfight, gets shot, bruised and battered (occasionally by a tenacious bounty hunter), and still manages to save the day!

Even though the 'day' lasts too short, DiLiberto's nostalgia-driven opus brims with inventiveness: bizarre characters, odd paraphernalia, colors that speak several languages (louder than words), larger than mutated life sequences of hybrid vs. human battles and, ultimately, a monster 'of Ghibli-esque grandeur' (in the words of Andrew Mack). The themes of ecology, societal decadence, as well as the corruptive and destructive nature of power are intertwined in a work which is best described as a Saturday Morning Cartoon meets Heavy Metal meets Rock & Rule meets Mad Max meets Masaaki Yuasa's anime by the way of René Laloux. But, the 'substance' does not matter as much as the trippy aesthetics.

There's a special charm in the 'beat-boxed' sound effects (a boy would produce whilst playing with his toys) and ragged, pulsating lines of a bit crude, yet delightful traditional animation which is a so much needed breath of fresh air in the age of glossy CGI. Sincere in its 'awkwardness', it takes us to a high-tech laboratory, busy scrapyard, sunlit desert and all the way to a dark, underground lair, constantly keeping us or rather, our inner child, in the state of wide-eyed curiosity.

Nova Seed enchants, inspires and entertains in equal measures; it puts a big smile on your face, occasionally mystifies and, when the credits roll, makes you want more. Let's hope DiLiberto doesn't stop here.

27 Mar 2017

Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


The Chilean mystic, cinema virtuoso, spiritual guru and living legend Alejandro Jodorowsky continues his self-healing semi-autobiographical saga with the second entry in a proposed cycle of five films. Taking over exactly where The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) left off, Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin) chronicles the years of the artist's youth in 'surrealized' Santiago of the 40s.

Once again, Pamela Flores lends her soprano as Alejandrito's (the curly-haired Jeremias Herskovits and later, Adan Jodorowsky) opera-singing mum Sara, whereby Brontis Jodorowsky reprises the role of his father's father Jaime with the same kind of mocking, fascist-like strictness. The auteur himself returns as his younger self's guardian angel / voice of reason in a couple of silly and somewhat moving situations.

And another 'self' can be utilized as a suffix for 'indulgent' in describing this flamboyant familial phantasmagoria with a Freudian twist in which Flores also appears as Alejandro's first love Stella Díaz Varín (1926-2006). Through the dreamlike reminiscences, she is reimagined as a virginal, beer-guzzling and hard-punching muse who sports body paint and fiery red wig, and keeps her hymen for 'the man with the divine forehead who will descend from the mountains'.

It is thanks to his gay cousin Ricardo that 'Jodo' comes in contact with Stella, as well as with the rest of bohemian artists of the time, breaking free from the confines of Jaime's despotism. His friends belong to a colorful, Felliniesque 'demimonde' of clowns, dwarves, cripples and eccentric liberals who have their own rituals and walk straightforward, no matter what obstacles lie ahead. All of their lives are transformed into bold, rebellious, 'joie de vivre' poetry (hence the title) in which sex during menstruation and tarot divination assisted by an erected, hypnotized man are not there for the mere shock value - they are the unrhymed verses of insolent and provocative beauty.

Notwithstanding these 'excesses' and the narrative's episodic structure, Jodorowsky's latest offering is 'the most accessible' yet, as many critics put it. However, prior knowledge of his oeuvre wouldn't hurt, even though the thick layer of esotericism is almost completely lifted from both the story and (inspired) visuals. The maverick's memoirs brim with bizarre, exciting, anachronistic, carnivalesque imagery captured by the keen eye of the prominent DP Christopher Doyle and accompanied by Adanowsky's charismatic lead performance and eclectic score.

Coming from an octogenarian filmmaker, Endless Poetry is quite vital and energizing in its blending of cinema, theatre and circus, yet there are ten minutes or so of the material that could have been snipped...

25 Mar 2017

Looping (Leonie Krippendorff, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


A promising debut for the German writer/director Leonie Krippendorff, Looping brings together three superb actresses in a sympathetic study of love, longing and (inner) loneliness. In another display of incredible talent, Jella Haase (Lollipop Monster) plays a melancholic, motherless adolescent, Leila, who becomes a victim of rape and ends up in a (quite liberal) mental institution. There, she meets an enigmatic middle-aged patient, Ann (the brilliant Marie-Lou Sellem of Tykwer's Winter Sleepers fame), and later, a young, bulimic saxophonist, Frenja (Lana Cooper, almost unrecognizable and far removed from her role in Love Steaks), and BANG! - a bond between them is formed.


Although these women come from different milieus, they do have one thing in common - being lost to themselves and to those around them. With profound sadness in her eyes, Leila recklessly sleepwalks through her life, frequently dreaming of the past; Frenja gives everything for her family's happiness to the point of self-destruction, while Ann whose background remains foggy even after being shed some light on conceals suicidal thoughts under her hardened expression. The desire to make their crippled souls whole again does come true, but for how long? Well, Krippendorff does not give a clear answer, leaving the oneiric ending open to viewer's interpretation.


In fact, she favors the silence of images over explanations and avoids most of the melodramatic trappings in the psychological exploration of her fucked-up characters and the dynamics of their relationship. On top of the excellent, believable performances, she and her DP Jieun Yi (also a newcomer to keep an eye on) provide a bunch of beautifully lit and handsomely composed shots, with many close-ups which reflect the protagonists' fragility. The solid editing and atmospheric, unobtrusive music by Jihyeon Park and Tammy Ingram, respectively, elevate the film even more, beyond its minor flaws.

22 Mar 2017

Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley, 2016)

"Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there wondering, fearing..."
(excerpt from Raven by Edgar Allan Poe)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
 
 
Probably the blackest film about (the soul/essence/silence/grim side? of) Mother Nature, Sleep Has Her House marks a fascinating feature debut for the Welsh-born, London-based artist Scott Barley. Plunging us as deep as possible into the darkness both frightening and intimate, he provides one of the most unique watching experiences in years. And the keyword is definitely 'experience'.


Describing his genre-and-boundary-defying experiment is quite a task, but let's try something along these lines: If Béla Tarr (of some parallel universe) had been asked to create an hour and a half intermission for the National Geographic after-midnight broadcast, the resulting opus would have certainly felt close to Barley's cinematic phantasm in which "the shadows of screams climb beyond the hills".


In the seamless blend of intricate artwork and long, static shots of a lake, river, waterfall, night sky and thick coniferous forest shrouded in fog, there is an unknown entity hiding in the air, behind the trees and below the water surface. Once you sense Its presence, It sends shivers down your spine and, simultaneously, you find comfort in letting It grab you and consume you entirely. Is it the energy emerging from Cosmos dreaming or the whisper of a dead, ancient God? Or could It be the negative reflection of Lovecraftian dread? It's hard to tell.


To paraphrase Nietzsche: if you gaze long into the abyss (of Barley's swell illusion), the abyss will gaze back into your dormant anima, giving her nightmares above any mortal's comprehension. As you might have guessed so far, there's no conventional narrative or characters in this exploration of cloaked, tenebrous, impenetrable 'otherness'. The very notion of those aspects is obscured by the Moon's timid rays, an owl's piercing eyes, the stillness of roe's corpse, the soaring thunder which announces the End and even by the small intrusions of light.

Slow, moody, brooding, mystical, occasionally eerie and yet, soothing and life-affirming in its death-like stupor, the oddly titled Sleep Has Her House inspires another rephrasing, this time of van der Rohe's slogan: dark is more.

(The film is intended to be seen in complete darkness,
with headphones.)

17 Mar 2017

The Last Honeymoon in Hell

I see you standing there,
holding onto a black blanket,
silver angels fucking senslessly.

Dye your hair in red!
The ants are coming.
The swallows are nesting.
 
So, why don't you put
a tree in your mouth?

(click to enlarge)

15 Mar 2017

Ra: Path of the Sun God (Lesley Keen, 1990)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

"All acts spring from the will of Ra. He sees all things.
All thoughts are in the heart of Ra."

For her debut and so far, unfortunately, only feature, Lesley Keen shifts focus from Ancient Greece to Egypt, giving birth to one of the most astonishing classic animated films. Consulting with the Egyptologist Dr Geraldine Pinch, she honors the rich cultural heritage of the said land in a sumptuous fantasy that is unfairly forgotten today.


A passion project four years in the making, Ra: Path of the Sun God reflects its author's intelligence and skill, expansive vision and fertile imagination. Divided in three acts, it initially merges several genesis myths into a single one, focusing on Isis and Osiris and their battle against Set (Dawn: The Creation). The next part is Noon: The Year of the King which depicts the birth and life of the Pharaoh whom Ancient Egyptians believed to be the son of Ra. Finally, in Night: The Gates of the Underworld, we follow the Pharaoh on his afterlife journey in the boat of Ra and witness his resurrection at dawn of the new day.


Once again, Keen does writing, directing and animating, but this time, her team is twice as large, with Mike Campbell behind a rostrum camera - a specially designed device which provides great optical effects and seamlessly combines them with traditional animation techniques. The gorgeous imagery (slightly reminiscent of some Ishu Patel's works) rests upon the Egyptian fresco and papyrus painting with all their distinctive traits. However, the artist allows herself freedom to modernize it to a certain extent, giving it the looks of a neon-lit, frequently psychedelic and occasionally abstract phantasmagoria of hypnotic transitions and transfigurations that occur in the blink of an eye.


Accompanied by the ethereal, drone-like music and sublimely soothing narration (the impressive voice-over debut by Tamara Kennedy who's later assisted by Michael Mackenzie), Keen's glowing line work against the black backdrop appears as embedded with mystical qualities. As 'history of Gods' repeats, so does certain scenes replay in what may be described as a deliberately paced dream of the Divine King's soul. Ra is pure audio-visual poem of spiritual, otherworldly beauty.

This film is available on VOD for $6.50 (rent) or $15.00 (purchase), and on YouTube 'for educational purposes only'.

14 Mar 2017

Orpheus and Eurydice (Lesley Keen, 1984)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
If you ever wanted to see a piece of ancient Greek pottery brought to life, Orpheus and Eurydice is your dream (short) film. Written, directed and brilliantly visualized by the Scottish animator Lesley Keen, this rendition of the famous myth is as close to perfection as one can get in six minutes.


What superficially seems to be the ultimate love story, as the official synopsis notes, can be interpreted as the battle of Art vs. Death, or rather the portrayal of an artists' efforts to overcome life's finality. Its universal appeal and timelessness come not only from its archetypal ingredients, but also from the simple, yet beautiful fantastic imagery that respectfully mimics and slightly upgrades the scenes from the vases of the 'red-figure' period. Actually, the 'living' characters and various other details are tinted in yellowish-orange on the black background, as their 'ancestors' appear these days.


Orpheus's ordeal is depicted without a single dialogue in a 'long-take sequence' that predates the belt-scrolling method used in classic beat 'em up games from the 90s. The descent into the underworld 'unfurls' from right to left until the hero finally reaches Hades and Persephone, whereby the subtle change in floral frame decor signifies the switching of realms. Big kudos to both Keen and her cameraman Donald Holwill for the hyper-stylish 'no cuts' effect.


And since the creative team behind this little masterpiece is comprised of only five members, everybody else also deserves to be mentioned. The exquisite drawings are complemented by Alan Mason's ink and paint work, as well as by Lyell Creswell's haunting, unearthly electronic score which features ethereal soprano vocalizations by Heather Coates. 

Orpheus and Eurydice is available on VOD (Vimeo on Demand) for $1.00.

12 Mar 2017

Sizif K. (Filip Gajić, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) od 10☼

"Pozivamo Smrt da se javi na broj 0900-0905-945."


Debitantski film pozorišnog reditelja Filipa Gajića, odnedavno dostupan i na YouTube kanalu autora, predstavlja pravo osveženje u srpskoj kinematografiji, a sudeći po prvonavedenom kuriozitetu sa zvaničnog sajta, i u svetskoj. Dekonstruisan i kafkijanskim apsurdom začinjen mit o Sizifu izmešten je iz Antičke Grčke u alternativnu modernu Srbiju, a prepliće se sa autobiografskom doku-dramom o samom Gajiću koji taj mit želi da prenese na filmsku traku (tj. digitalni zapis).

"Unazađen" na položaj pastira, Sizif (Bojan Dimitrijević) živi pokraj reke gde obeščašćuje Eginu (Milena Jakšić), kćer Asopovu (Bane Vidaković). Nakon što je Zevs (Andrija Kovač) kidnapuje, a on ga ocinkari kod oca obljubljene, gnevni bog na njega šalje Tanatosa (Marija Pikić / Hana Selimović) kako bi mu se osvetio. Međutim, Sizif uspeva da okuje Smrt (koja ima i treće lice, u tumačenju Gorana Jevtića) u vinskom podrumu gostionice Hipnosove (Vahid Džanković), a kasnije i da joj se pridruži u krevetu, nehotice proizvodeći haos.

Paralelno se odvija (meta?) priča o stvaralačkoj opsesiji i vezi/braku na daljinu između Lucije Šerbedžije i Gajića, koga posmatramo kao brižnog oca, voljenog supruga, dobrog prijatelja, ali i čoveka/umetnika/boema duboko zamišljenog nad sopstvenom i sudbinom ljudi koji ga okružuju.

Granica koja razdvaja fikciju od stvarnosti, odnosno naš od filmskog univerzuma je neretko zamagljena ili izbrisana (telefonski poziv sa Olimpa i crno-bela "epizoda" na groblju) u jedinstvenom simulakrumu koji istovremeno postoji ispred i iza (probijenog) četvrtog zida, sada i u prošlosti. Za enigmatičnu fantaziju o Sizifu Gajić primenjuje postupak koji donekle podseća na Metamorfoze Kristofa Onorea, s obzirom na već spomenuto "preseljenje" radnje, kao i na to da se smrtnici i viša bića ne razlikuju čak ni po pomalo ekscentričnim kostimima. Tako, na primer, Zevs paradira poput maršala u belom šinjelu, a par pripadnika njegove tajne policije izgleda kao da je zalutao iz noara nastalog 40-ih. Planina bogova zamenjena je napuštenom fabrikom u čijoj oronuloj lepoti će uživati ljubitelji "ruin porn"-a, dok je monumentalni mauzolej na Avali iskorišćen kao presto grčkog Gromovnika.

Izjednačavajući život i proces nastajanja umetničkog dela sa sizifovskim poslom, Gajić traga za odgovorom (ili bolje reći, odgovorima) na pitanje smrti i pritom (ne baš najsrećnije) citira antologijsku scenu iz Sedmog pečata, sa Rambom Amadeusom kao vitezom i Emo-tizovanim Jevtićem kao Sablasnim Kosačem. Radijske vesti (na više jezika, od italijanskog do japanskog) o Sizifovom "zločinu" pretvara u sjajan "running gag" koji sadrži i društveni komentar, dok za lajtmotiv prisvaja čuvenu narodnu i na nekoliko načina serviranu pesmu Jutros mi je ruža procvetala. Iako snima na vrlo tesnom budžetu sa još uvek "zelenom" Marinom Perović iza kamere, uspeva da priušti obilje atraktivnih kadrova, naročito u segmentima koji se odigravaju "na Olimpu". "Razvučeno" lično i "sažeto" univerzalno spaja u čudno, ćudljivo, prilično ambiciozno i na trenutke teatralno arthaus ostvarenje u kojem je i svaki kamen spoticanja fino isklesan.

7 Mar 2017

Still the Earth Moves (Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez, 2017)

This film is a part of FICUNAM selection, available for FREE viewing on Festivalscope until March 14, 2017.
 
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10 ☼
 
"The earth still moves, under the torsion of the serpent."
 
 
The film is first and foremost a VISUAL MEDIUM, and Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez - a self thought filmmaker with a degree in Biology - knows and understands that pretty well. Favoring associative imagery over all other aspects and defying the conventions of dramatic structure (in a similar, yet different way than his fellow countryman Carlos Reygadas), he creates a new cinematic language, both universal and obscure.
 
Still the Earth Moves (La tierra aún se mueve) is akin to a foggy and occasionally nightmarish dream replete with disorienting déjà vus and non-sequiturs. Deliberately paced, decidedly non-narrative, with sparse dialogue and absolutely no characters in a traditional sense, it is "the neverending simulacrum" of what "just burns and can't be said"; "the excess of life" as seen through the eyes of an alien or a supreme entity suffering from an unknown psychological disorder. A love-or-hate affair, it is a work of abstract art featuring dancing lights, a dead baby bird, people at a busy fair and a turtle laying eggs (framed from the most unpleasant of angles), inter alia.

In one particular scene which oozes with Lynchian dread, a man enters a pitch-black zone of a curved street and comes out as a dog, while a phantom car freezes after passing by a lamppost. Soon afterwards, a young woman stares through the window, waiting, hoping, yearning and/or mourning in a passing moment of self-reflection... Oft-blurred and rippled, these tableaux vivants seem simultaneously poetic, elusive and meditative, and even when they depict the most banal situations, there's something awfully off about them.
 
One can say that Gutiérrez tries to reach for the ultimate answers hiding in the dark, given that most of the action happens during the night. It's quite possible that he reminds us of the irrelevance of human beings, while chasing after shadows. Whatever the case of his pushing the limits of cinema may be, the trippy, otherworldly experience he provides is of a rare kind these days. Also commendable is his ability to make the most of a tight budget and deliver plenty of great-looking shots, intensifying the (pseudo) mystery surrounding his visions with the immersive cacophony of sounds.

William, the New Judo Master (Omar Guzmán & Ricardo Silva, 2016)

This film is a part of FICUNAM selection, available for FREE viewing on Festivalscope until March 14, 2017.

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10 ☼
 
"... and from the guts, from the shit, we were born."

 
In the second collaboration project between the (daring) newcomers Omar Guzmán and Ricardo Silva, the Devil sports a hairy face, beige suit and white boots. He observes the peculiar proceedings from behind the glass held by a couple of buff, bare-chested men, so he has to be "an eternal being" mentioned in the official synopsis.

"The search for love and the fight against oblivion" is explored through the episodic, unconventional story in a genre-defying blend of queer fiction and two meta/quasi-documentaries, interrupted by seemingly random vignettes of a whale corpse, ghost ship, drunk octopus hunters, dusty 4-wheeler races and a tree with nine-millennia-old roots.

The oblivion bits and pieces refer to the Swedish-American folk-singer William Clauson who's famous for La Bamba and is now leading a hermit's life in a dilapidated garage in Tijuana, Mexico. We meet him as he is about to get bathed by a geriatric nurse and later, his sweet home filled with scattered memories is torn apart by repossessors (?) who also attempt to open his mysterious safe. (Even explosives don't work.)

The other "narrative thread" follows Edward Coward - a middle-aged actor whose last name contradicts the role of Clauson's alter-ego in a fourth-wall-breaking scenario which involves a large wooden box and three male prostitutes paid to love. To quote Shirley Manson (Garbage) - the trick is to keep breathing.

Tinged with a great deal of irony and spiced with a pinch of wry humor, William, the New Judo Master (William, el nuevo maestro del judo) is quite an ambitious piece of avant-garde cinema that touches upon a variety of themes (along with the abovementioned), such as the human nature and that of a creative/filmmaking process. Featuring beautiful cinematography by DP Adrian Durazo - the team's third most important novice, as well as the quirky musical intrusions, it is a nice, sourly sweet treat for anyone with an acquired taste.


Coming up next... a review for Still the Earth Moves.

4 Mar 2017

Gantz: O (Keiichi Satō & Yasushi Kawamura, 2016)

 
Speaking of guilty pleasures, let's take a look-see at the latest rendition of Hiroya Oku's manga Gantz notorious for its explicitly violent and sexual content. Produced by Digital Frontier studio of Resident Evil: Degeneration / Damnation fame, Gantz: O covers original work's Osaka Arc, keeping the shock factor in check. If you are not familiar with any iteration (including more than a decade old anime series and a couple of live-action features from 2011), there's a great chance you won't like O (let alone know what the *beep* is going on), as it puts you in medias res and offers little to no explanations.

Delivering an immensely amusing, if not very intelligent (read: stupidly fun) sci-fi-action-horror flick, Satō (Karas, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis) and his newcomer co-director Kawamura favor exploding heads, as well as bombastic, larger-than-afterlife monster-bashing to the narrative and characterization. The only protagonist of some depth is a goody two shoes hero Masaru Katō whom we meet in a subway, as he carries a B-day cake for his younger brother, and then see stabbed to death by a psychopath, when he tries to help another victim.

Soon afterwards, Masaru realizes he's still alive and well in a nondescript office of sorts where he is introduced to a small group of people who also died and are now forced to fight alien creatures invading Tokyo and Osaka. Their employer or rather taskmaster in what seems to be a survival reality-show game is a huge, black, enigmatic and chauvinist sphere called Gantz. Long story short, our mullet-sporting protagonist breaks the world record in putting on a skintight suit and enters the battle. And that's not all that happens during the first fifteen minutes!

As you might have already guessed, this film (which barely reaches the hour and a half mark) runs at breakneck pace, almost never letting you notice how cheesy the dialogues are, let alone question the decisions made by the "players". On the other hand, it provides plenty of hyper-realistic, Final Fantasy-level CG-eye-candy of blood gushing and pure, unadulterated, kaiju vs. giant robot mayhem. Great attention to details is reflected in hair animation, as well as jiggle physics for two beautiful female characters (a model from a shampoo ad, Reika, and a young, quirky single mom, Anzu), in accordance with the target audience - everybody who is or occasionally feels like a teenage boy.

However, the highlights of the gory show are the extraordinary monster designs that seem to be inspired by the Japanese mythology, seeing that most of them appear as yōkai, from Wa nyūdō to Daitengu. Maybe it's the authors' way of saying we are all still facing the demons of the past and maybe that one form of the most dangerous enemy composed of writhing, nude and headless women is supposed to be an edgy critic of misogyny. With all those neon signs blinking from the skyscrapers, one might read a satire on consumerist society into Gantz's schemes, but that would be a serious case of overthinking.

Thankfully, the cuts in the scenes of carnage are not of the blink-n-miss kind, so you can actually follow what is going on (which can not be said for plenty of modern movies) and enjoy the mandatory slow-mo effects. The terrific visuals are complemented by solid voice-acting and epic-like music, making Gantz: O a decent time-waster.