22 May 2017

Taste of the Obscure 90s Films

My latest, half-Japanese list for Taste of Cinema answers the following question: "What is the link between Egyptian mythology, necrorealism, Edogawa Rampo and cyberpunk?" Yes, it is THAT eclectic and you can read it here:

Still shot from The House (Sharunas Bartas, 1997)

21 May 2017

Blame! (Hiroyuki Seshita, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
Following a highly experimental web-series from 2003 and a two-part CGI OVA from 2007 (which goes even further in obscuring or rather, ignoring the story) is yet another adaptation of Tsutomu Nihei's debut manga. Recently released as a part of 'Netflix originals', Blame! is a nice treat for cyberpunk aficionados and, despite its flaws, a slightly better film than Sanders's gorgeous, yet kitschy (and uncalled-for) rendering of Ghost in the Shell.
Set in the dark, distant, technologically advanced future, it sucks the viewer into the world not unlike the one dominated by Skynet of The Terminator franchise. Years after an 'infection', the humans are on the brink of extinction, since they lost control over automated systems of their own creation. The non-violent 'Builders' expand their city in all directions, turning it into a multi-level labyrinth of colossal structures, whereby the 'Safeguard' system with its hordes of 'Exterminators' makes sure the remaining children of men live in constant alert and fear.

During a food-scavenging mission, a group of youngsters from the small enclave of 'Electro-Fishers' comes upon a silent, enigmatic 'vagabond', Killy, who searches for the 'Net Terminal Genes' which are believed to be the key to reclaiming order by subjecting machines once again. He helps them find a resourceful engineer, Cibo, whose mind now resides inside an android, and not to mention that he possesses a weapon known as 'Gravitational Beam Emitter' which is much more effective than the harpoon-firing guns they use...

Blending dystopian sci-fi, adrenaline-charged action, existential drama and puzzling mystery, Seshita spins a familiar tale of day-to-day survival in which there's no time to reflect on electric sheep, since the 'silicon organisms' prefer killing to dreaming. Also noticeable is the influence of the Western, especially in defining the hero as the cool, brooding, silence-is-golden type who wanders into a small town (or village, as in this case) on his quest for special someone or something and reforms the community he comes in contact with.

Minor pacing issues and underdeveloped characters aside, this peculiar mélange works for the most part, steering our sympathies toward the irresistible archetype that Killy is, as well as toward Cibo who bridges the gap between organic and synthetic organisms with the ability to adjust her 'ghost' to any kind of 'shell'. Another protagonist who attains eternity, albeit in a different way, is the 'tsundere' of the show, Zuru, whose granddaughter serves as the narrator of the modern 'legend' of sorts which emerges before our eyes.
Speaking of eyes, Seshita and his team provide plenty of great visuals on an obviously tight budget, applying Nihei's architectural approach to design the imposing setting. Shrouded in deep shadows or enlivened by various sources of light, from the tiniest lamps to flames of destruction, endless constructions of steel and concrete have a gothic, industrial, claustrophobic feel to them that is in perfect tune with pale faces and slender bodies. The bizarre, spider-like Exterminators add a little bit of creepiness to the proceedings, whereas Cibo's dive into the 'Netsphere' allows for some surreal moments. Complementing the solid artwork are the superb voice-acting and Yuugo Kanno's lush orchestral score.

17 May 2017

The Kingdom of Shadows (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼  

In 2012, Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett create Savage Witches - an odd, mischievous, somewhat esoteric 'adventure' of two girls, Gretchen and Margarita, who can be interpreted as their 'wild and free' alter egos. Utilizing various techniques and nonchalantly breaking the fourth wall, they provide a fascinating insight into the history of experimental film and 'write' the heartfelt love letter to Věra Chytilová's Daises. It marks the beginning of their 'motion picture exploration'.

Judging by their latest features, a delightfully trippy phantasmagoria In Search of the Exile and a stunning 'performative' fantasy The Kingdom of Shadows (to be discussed hereinafter), they tirelessly continue to explore and encourage you to dive with them into the furthest depths of the collective unconscious, for the most exotic gems and pearls are hidden there. If you submit to their magic and open your mind, you're in for a unique experience.

Described as 'a surrealist vision inspired by dreams, biblical myths, alchemy and family history' in the words of the directorial duo, The Kingdom of Shadows welcomes you in from the very first shot of an irregularly shaped, unidentified object swirling in pitch-black dark. As it soon turns out, this 'object' is composed of two naked, dirt-covered bodies who come to life in what looks like an iconoclastic take on the genesis of Adam and Eve.

And then, one visually eloquent composition after another, we witness two wise, silent and talented alchemists at work, or three, including Kay Fi'ain whose enigmatic character with golden hands is referred to as The Alchemist. Virtually every shot they conjure up is worthy of being framed and hung on the wall in a gallery. The immense power of the associative imagery is emphasized by the sublime score of the elaborate sounds, intoxicating instrumentals and haunting vocalizations which oscillate between gothic and classical music, ethereal oriental folk, Lynch/Badalamenti-esque jazz and Meredith Monk-like sorcery.

Emerging from the synthesis thereof is a puzzling, dialogue-free 'story' of love and desire, fratricide and guilt, familial secrets and the exiled ones whom the auteurs empathize with. Although the lyrical, oneiric narrative and the protagonists - ciphers and archetypes - seem to be of secondary importance, Fawcett and Pais are in complete control over both aspects. 

They get pretty intense performances from the entire non-pro cast, especially from Carina de Matos who brings 'agitated elegance' as Mother, Rouzbeh Rashidi as the dandy, subtly comical Inspector in a 'cosmic vest' and Fabrizio Federico as tormented, mime-faced Cain. Also admirable are the Portuguese dancers Joana Castro and Bruno Senune who bear their all to play Eve and Adam, respectively, and frequently move like being choreographed by the ghost of Pina Bausch.

Which brings us back to Fi'ain's Alchemist who operates as a mystical force behind the strange, meticulously staged events, from his (or her?) candle-lit laboratory that is the first and the last 'set' we see. The old house where his/her 'puppets' are gathered once belonged to Ms Pais's grandma and it is a charming place (in Portugal) replete with stylish furniture and flamboyant decor, yet surrounded with eerie aura. Equally impressive are the craggy cliffs of Serra de Arouca where we find Cain wandering. Not to mention that each location is beautifully captured by the cinematographers (this is a low-budget film, so you can only guess once who they are).

The Kingdom of Shadows is like an enlightening dream you volunteer to get lost in forever, holding the Truth by her hand. So, in the name of Daniel and Clara and the holy essence of avant-garde cinema, amen!

16 May 2017

Pazucus: Island of Vomit and Despair (Gurcius Gewdner, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Okay, how do you even review this kind of... stuff? Maybe a piece of shoddy poetry for starters, something along the lines of:

Ducklings are cute,
magic dolphins are crimson red,
I feel like I’m gonna puke
so bad, so bad.
Or you just begin by declaring that a Kingdom of Trash Cinema has a new court jester with an utterly deranged sense of scatological humor. Well, actually, he's not so new - according to IMDb, the multidisciplinary Brazilian artist Gurcius Gewdner has made over 50 (mostly short) films, so he's obviously experienced, not to mention hyper-productive.

Also evident are the DIY masks and special effects of his latest offering whose title couldn't be more suggestive. From the very first minutes, Pazucus: Island of Vomit and Despair (originally, Pazúcus: A Ilha do Desarrego) wants you to know that it's a trash and that it is proud of being a potentially cult-worthy trash and that you can trash it to your heart's content, but it will always remain a fucking trash.
A 'little bit' overlong and unapologetically sordid exercise in bad taste, it makes Troma productions look lavish and glossy in comparison. To call it non-conformist or to say that it doesn't take itself seriously at all would be a severe understatement. Opening with arguably the most bizarre shoe polishing scene (blended with a loving homage to Shuji Terayama) ever brought to the screen, this weird, bonkers, delusional fantasy is an almost incessant assault on senses.

From the sultry orgies of Fukui-inspired crying and screaming, vomiting in all colors possible, excrements slowly coming to life and surprisingly delightful child-like paintings that serve as a glue in certain sequences (ha, totally unexpected), three (or so) storylines emerge and eventually converge into one absurd and irreverent whole.
Turds plot the apocalypse, while their 'host' Carlos (Marcel Mars) suffers nasty constipation and is hunted by his insane psychiatrist Dr Roberto (Mars, again) who has suggested a camping therapy to a couple of lovebirds, Oréstia (Priscilla Menezes) & Omar (Gewdner himself), whose sojourn in nature turns into a field day in hell. Somewhere down the drain (no pun intended?), the Goddess of Feces (Ligia Marina, baring her all) awakens and it's not because of the youth's wild party on the beach and costume ball in the forest...

Aside from the guerilla-style parts shot in the streets rife with confused passers-by, there's 'little relation to reality' here, as Mike Haberfelner of (re)Search My Trash notes. Everything goes ridiculously overboard and it's so purposely, insolently and hilariously bad, that it's, to a certain extent, poisonously and disgustingly good. There's a lot of passion and playfulness in Gewdner's dirty shenanigans, 'Zulawskian' excesses, sleazy 'anti-art' aesthetics, the lowest of the low-budget props and oddly inappropriate, yet comical juxtapositions involving jovial 80s tunes. Besides, who would have thought a plastic doll can be utilized as a handkerchief? Oh, and those cockatoos are adorable.

11 May 2017

Anarchy in the UK: The New Underground Cinema (Jett Hollywood, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

It's angsty, it's rebellious, it's absolutely irreverent and there's a great chance it will make you want to grab your photo camera or iPhone (or whatever) and start shooting someone nude, blindfolded and caressing a sapless, branched piece of wood for your movie project (just an idea, as a tribute to Lynch's Log Lady). Oh, and it's also fresh and invigorating and so many colorful bubbles in Trafalgar Square during a performative act of not giving a fuck while taking the piss.

Directed by Fabrizio Federico's (In Search of the Exile) alter ego Jett Hollywood (Ziggy Stardust's filmmaker son from Mars), this wild, higgledy piggledy documentary with great punk attitude and Bakshi's mindset takes a concise, yet comprehensive look at today's underground cinema of the UK. Within the crudely sewed, yet attractive, anything but the kitchen sink patchwork, the viewer is introduced to several zealous, determined, not formally educated creatives who give a whole new meaning to 'indie' (read: shoestring / no-budget) film. Their words hold much truth about the seventh art and its possibilities, trial and error, exploration and experimentation, rehashing and endless franchises, inter alia, even when they are not 100% serious.

Between the segments featuring talking heads, one of them belonging to Richard Stanley, Federico provides plenty of visually provoking and gloriously unglamorous excerpts from his interviewees' works, as well as some befitting archive footage attached with safety pins. As the world goes pop, he goes counter-culture, behaving like a hyperactive boy on a dirty playground of Dismaland. His enthusiasm is contagious and his direction explosive.

Pulling no punches and brimming with raw energy, Anarchy in the UK wears its spikes, Mohawk and cheap, ragged attire proudly. Frequently and deliberately out of tune, it runs at breakneck pace, knows how to catch you by surprise and doesn't lack revolutionary spirit or guerilla style sequences. Don't blink or you might miss WR: Mysteries of the Organism poster cameo.

A full movie is available on YouTube.

9 May 2017

Taste of Cinematic Weirdness... Again!

The short piece of experimental prose hereinafter contains the names of the features from my latest Taste of Cinema list whose original title is 11 Weird Movies from 2000s and 2010s You Might Not Have Seen.

After leaving the Atrocity Exhibition, I could barely control my excitement – Four Horseman of the Apocalypse were quickly approaching me. A big man from Japan gave me an illustrated copy of Dante's Inferno and whispered softly to my ear: "The days of gray are coming."

"Hell, they are!" – I loudly thought to myself and all of the sudden, a small skull dropped from the sky, landing right before my feet. Someone etched the words "junk head 1" on its forehead. It was much later when I realized that it must had fallen out the garbage helicopter.

In search of the Exile which I continued precariously, my open wound began to hurt again. But, there was no other way to meet William, the new judo master.

Still shot from The Atrocity Exhibition (Jonathan Weiss, 2001)

8 May 2017

Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 

According to various eschatological beliefs and some pseudoscientific scenarios, 2012 was supposed to be the year our world ended. For the Iranian born, Dublin-based helmer Rouzbeh Rashidi, it was the year in which he made nine features (believe it or not!), including the one that will be (attempted to be) reviewed hereinafter.

Shot on VHS camcorder and postproduced on Final Cut Pro software, Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness is (along with Scott Barley's The Ethereal Melancholy of Seeing Horses in the Cold) one of the strongest contenders for the most strangely beautiful title ever given to a piece of cinematic art. Simultaneously kooky, intimate, elliptical, unreserved and wildly irreverent as far as the canons are concerned, it is a master class in experimental filmmaking.

Opening and closing with glitchy shots of a young man draped in deep shadows, this hour-long, decidedly non-narrative anti-drama (for lack of a better definition) adopts the stream of (sub)consciousness structure and appears as both hermetic and explicit. Through the peculiar blend of memory-fueled, slice-of-life 'antics', abstract, psychedelic phantasy and absurd comedy of sorts, it renders the most mundane of actions and objects as mind-boggling puzzles. Not to mention that it stubbornly defies rationalization.

Rashidi operates as a cheeky, genial hypnotist who opens a window into his soul and then pushes you down the rabbit hole to the land of fading dreams. Although his 'protagonists' are human, they occasionally become alien in the interplay of light and darkness, as if he shows the non-sequitur happenings from the perspective of a mysterious force.

Visuals-wise, Indwell Extinction... harkens back to the era of silent and surreal films, yet it feels progressive, and not only because of sudden porn-video intrusions. Grainy, ethereal, often elusive imagery (which could cause seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy) is finely complemented by the soft crackling noise, as well as by the soothing sound of rain and distant thunder...

(Available at Vimeo on Demand.)