31 Dec 2017

Cinematic Wishlist

Out of approximately 100 recently released features that I wanted to, but couldn't see before the end of 2017, I choose twenty of the most anticipated ones (10 live-action and 10 animated films, in turn), hoping that the opportunity will arise to check them out during the next year. So, here's to the cinematically eclectic 2018!

Note: The entries' order is pretty random and doesn't necessarily reflect the level of anticipation.

November

1. November (Rainer Sarnet, 2017)
2. Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman, 2017)
3. The Wandering Soap Opera (Raúl Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento 2017)
4. Arventur (Irina Evteeva, 2015)
5. Lilith's Awakening (Monica Demes, 2016)

Have a Nice Day

6. Cinderella the Cat (Ivan Cappiello, Marino Guarnieri, Alessandro Rak & Dario Sansone, 2017)
7. Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico, 2017)
8. Have a Nice Day (Jian Liu, 2017)
9. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (Lukas Feigelfeld, 2017)
10. Junk Head (Takahide Hori, 2017)

Rey

11. Real (Sa-Rang Lee, 2017)
12. Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (Pedro Rivero & Alberto Vázquez, 2015)
13. Rey (Niles Atallah, 2017)
14. A Solar Dream (Patrick Bokanowski, 2016)
15. The Lodgers (Brian O'Malley, 2017)

Mutafukaz

16. Mutafukaz (Shôjirô Nishimi & Guillaume Renard, 2017)
17. A Dragon Arrives! (Mani Haghighi, 2016)
18. Zombillénium (Arthur de Pins & Alexis Ducord, 2017)
19. Good Manners (Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, 2017)
20. Battledream Chronicle (Alain Bidard, 2015)

29 Dec 2017

Best of 2017 - 'Inner Child' Edition

Given that I haven't seen as much animated features as I wanted to (not to mention that most of the commercial flicks haven't piqued my interest), the 'Inner Child' list will be the shortest and the only one containing two films by the same author (Masaaki Yuasa, to be exact). Another exception is the honorably mentioned Lastman series.
 
 
1. Nova Seed (Nick DiLiberto, 2016) (8+)
2. Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Masaaki Yuasa, 2017) (8+)
3. In This Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi, 2017) (8)
4. Genocidal Organ (Shūkō Murase, 2017) (8)
5. Lu over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa, 2017) (8-)
6. Smurfs: The Lost village (Kelly Asbury, 2017) (7+)
7. Blame! (Hiroyuki Seshita, 2017) (7)
8. Window Horses (Ann Marie Fleming, 2016) (7)
9. Ancien and the Magic Tablet (Kenji Kamiyama, 2017) (7)
10. Alice in Dreamland (Kentaro Hachisuka, 2015) (7)

Honorable Mention:
Lastman (Jérémie Périn, 2016) (9)
 
Top 3 pre-2015 films I watched in 2017:


1. Ra: Path of the Sun God (Lesley Keen, 1990) (10-)
2. The Cathedral of New Emotions (Helmut Herbst, 2006) (8)
3. Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury (Luiz Bolognesi, 2013) (8-)

28 Dec 2017

Best of 2017 - 'David Lynch Eats Festival Darlings for Breakfast' Edition

As the title suggests, this list is compiled specifically for David Lynch's mind-bogglingly mind-blowing '18-hour movie' to be placed at No. 1 and followed by my favorites of 2017 which, in the majority of cases, have also attracted the attention of 'metacritics'. (For the inclusion of 2015 and 2016 titles, blame the distributors.)

Twin Peaks

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch, 2017) (10-)
2. Harmonium (Kōji Fukada, 2016) (9)
3. Antiporno (Sion Sono, 2016) (8+)
4. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017) (8+)
5. On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi, 2017) (8+)
6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017) (8+)
7. Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016) (8)
8. The Invisible Guest (Oriol Paulo, 2016) (8)
9. The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016) (8-)
10. Ava (Léa Mysius, 2017) (8-)

Raw

11. The Last Family (Jan P. Matuszynski, 2016) (8-)
12. The Wounded Angel (Emir Baigazin, 2016) (8-)
13. Raw (Julia Ducornau, 2016) (8-)
14. Macadam Stories (Samuel Benchetrit, 2015) (8-)
15. Polina (Valérie Müller & Angelin Preljocaj, 2016) (8-)
16. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, 2017) (8-)
17. Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven, 2016) (7+)
18. Skins (Eduardo Casanova, 2017) (7+)
19. Himeanole (Keisuke Yoshida, 2016) (7+)
20. They Call Me Jeeg (Gabriele Mainetti, 2015) (7+)

Honorable mention:

 Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016) (7+)
2. Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned (Tae-hwa Uhm, 2016) (7+)
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017) (7+)
4. Der traumhafte weg (Angela Schanelec, 2016) (7+)
5. We Are the Flesh (Emiliano Rocha Minter, 2016) (7+)
6. Girls Lost (Alexandra-Therese Keining, 2015) (7+)
7. King of the Belgians (Peter Brossens & Jessica Woodworth, 2016) (7+)
8. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017) (7)
9. The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2017) (7)
10. American Fable (Anne Hamilton, 2016) (7)

26 Dec 2017

Best of 2017 - ]Cinema Obscura[ Edition

Encompassing alchemical, experimental, genre-defying, highly personal, boldly eclectic, mind-expanding and/or pareidolia-inducing features (of the last three years, but seen in 2017), as well as a few 'conventional arthouse' films which have had limited release, ]Cinema Obscura[ list marks the 1000th article on NGboo Art and for a good reason.

This small jubilee is my way of sending a very special 'Thank you' to the filmmakers or rather cine-dream weavers who have given a significant boost to my self-confidence which has been almost ruined by some... local factors. Your works inspire me to move on, so I shall be looking forward to seeing your future offerings.

The Kingdom of Shadows

1. The Kingdom of Shadows (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016) (10)
2. Ten Years in the Sun (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2015) (9)
3. Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley, 2017) (8+)
4. The Drawer Boy (Arturo Pérez Torres, 2017) (8+)
5. Easy (Andrea Magnani, 2017) (8+)
6. Yesterday I Was Wonder (Gabriel Mariño, 2017) (8+)
7. The Boy on the Train (Roger Deutsch, 2016) (8+)
8. Still the Earth Moves (Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez, 2017) (8)
9. Suffering of Ninko (Norihiro Niwatsukino, 2016) (8)
10. Frozen May (Péter Lichter, 2017) (8)

Symptom

11. Open Wound (Momir Milošević, 2016) (8)
12. Symptom (Angelos Frantzis, 2015) (8)
13. Pop Meets the Void (William Cusick, 2015) (8)
14. Subimago (Christophe Leclaire, 2017) (8)
15. #Beings (Andrei Stefanescu, 2015) (8)
16. Cloud of Skin (Maximilian Le Cain, 2015) (8)
17. Sisyphus K. (Filip Gajić, 2015) (7+)
18. Anarchy in the UK: The New Underground Cinema (Fabrizio 'Jett Hollywood' Federico, 2016) (7+)
19. Limunovo drvo (Branko Radaković, 2015) (7+)
20. Hel (Katarzyna Priwieziencew & Pawel Tarasiewicz, 2016) (7+)

Honorable mention (recent, pre-2015 films):

The Girl Behind the White Picket Fence

1. The Girl Behind the White Picket Fence (Stefanie Schneider, 2013) (8+)
2. White Epilepsy (Philippe Grandrieux, 2012) (8)
3. Suggestive Gestures (David Finkelstein, 2014) (8)
4. The Warriors of Beauty (Pierre Coulibeuf, 2003) (8-)
5. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Tim Rutili, 2010) (8-)
6. Pepperminta (Pipilotti Rist, 2009) (8-)

Extremely memorable, even though it's not my cup of tea:

24 Dec 2017

Best of 2017 - Short Cuts Edition

According to my 'movie diary', I've seen over 300 short films this year, from fashionable mysteries and hand-manipulated Super 8 experiments to music video-like fantasies and highly condensed creature features. Hereinafter, I present the selection of 50 recent (and pretty diverse) works which are sorted by the release year and alphabetically, one title per director or directorial duo.

Note: (A) stands for animated.

Color TV, No Vacancy

1. DisneyWorld (Michael Woods, 2011)
2. CTIЙ ! (Cyrille Drevon, 2011)
3. Zugang (Sebastian Wiedemann, 2011)
4. The Audition (Celia Rowlson-Hall, 2012)
5. The Capsule (Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2012)
6. Color TV, No Vacancy (Daniel Brown, 2013)
7. No Signal Detected (Péter Lichter, 2013)
8. The Voice Thief (Adan Jodorowsky, 2013)
9. Choban (Matija Pisačić, 2014) (A)
10. Dans la joie et la bonne humeur (Jeanne Boukraa, 2014) (A)

Notre Dame des Hormones

11. Ille Lacrimas (Scott Barley, 2014)
12. Tzars of Eros (Susu Laroche, 2014)
13. La misma piel (Eduardo Casanova, 2015)
14. Medea Redux (Antony Sandoval, 2015)
15. Notre Dame des Hormones (Bertrand Mandico, 2015)
16. Paris Now! - Saint (Dexter Navy, 2015)
17. Peripheria (David Coquard-Dassault, 2015) (A)
18. Piano (Kaspar Jancis, 2015) (A)
19. Solar Soliloquy (Garrick J Lauterbach, 2015)
20. The Space Between Us (Marc S. Nollkaemper, 2015)

Decorado

21. Wild Creatures (Rene Zhang, 2015)
22. Alchemy on the Amstel (Janja Rakuš, 2016)
23. Blight (Christopher Goodman & Kate Walshe, 2016)
24. Chika, die Hündin im Ghetto (Sandra Scheissl, 2016) (A)
25. Decorado (Alberto Vázquez, 2016) (A)
26. Estate (Ronny Trocker, 2016) (A)
27. Montañas ardientes que vomitan fuego (Helena Girón & Samuel M. Delgado, 2016)
28. Myth (Manfre & Iker Iturria, 2016)
29. Plena Stellarum (Matthew Wade, 2016) (A)
30. Reino (João Monteiro, 2016)

Inside McGill Inside My Head

31. Scavengers (Joseph Bennett & Charles Huettner, 2016) (A)
32. The Brym (Seth A. Smith, 2016)
33. The Quest for Cine-Rebis (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016)
34. Merzfrau: Portraits of the Muse, Anna Blume (Sarahjane Swan & Roger Simian, 2017)
35. Coelho mau (Carlos Conceição, 2017)
36. DaemonRunner (Kiah Roache-Turner, 2017)
37. Inside McGill Inside My Head (François Blouin, 2017)
38. La Bouche (Camilo Restrepo, 2017)
39. La Nuit Je Danse avec la Morte (Gibaud Vincent, 2017) (A)
40. Là où je vis (Sarah Baril Gaudet, 2017)

Of Tides / To Distill

41. Lira's Forest (Connor Jessup, 2017)
42. Of Tides / To Distill (Courtney Verwold, 2017)
43. Pisces (Cody Fern, 2017)
44. Purple Dreams (Murat Sayginer, 2017) (A)
45. Prelude to Phantom Islands: Jungle Formula (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2017)
46. Quarantine (Kojo Tanno, 2017) (A)
47. The Crying Conch (Vincent Toi, 2017)
48. The Ningyo (Miguel Ortega, 2017)
49. Vibrato (Sébastien Laudenbach, 2017) (A)
50. Yasmine (Raghed Charabaty, 2017)

Honorable mention:
Short films by EFS - In the (Avant)Garden of EFS (btw, this is all-time most popular article on the blog)...
... and a few retro shorts:
De fördömda kvinnornas dans (Ingmar Bergman, 1976)
Nocturna Artificialia (Stephen & Timothy Quay, 1979)
Turtle Dreams (Ping Chong, 1983)
Dead People (Roger Deutsch, 1984)
Orpheus and Eurydice (Lesley Keen, 1984) (A)
Le film à venir (Raúl Ruiz, 1997)

Life in Bed (Nick Lindsay, 2003)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Nick Lindsay and his co-writer star Wendy Falcone take a rather cynical look at ill-advised fame seekers in their aptly titled feature debut.

The film revolves around three fun-lovin' best friends, Christy (Falcone), Sally (Julienne Hanzelka Kim) and Joanie (Marcia Dor), who move from NY to LA - the city that's 'sunny, bright and full of promise' - looking for a life-changing experience. However, instead of going on with their lives, they get stuck in bed (or rather, king size mattress) of a rented studio apartment, self-imprisoned by their own reveries.

The trio's lethargic idyll is broken with the arrival of Sally's love interest, the irresistible musician Simon (Michael A. Nickles), who introduces them to hedonistic ways of glam rock, gradually changing their dreams into nightmares via sex, drugs and booze. As the girls become twisted, over-the-top stereotypes of what they've strived to be, their whacky, increasingly surreal tale turns cautionary and gets infused with caustic commentary on naivety, relationships, American Dream, entertainment industry and what the women (think they) want.

Christy who serves as the (unreliable) narrator is molded as an aspiring actress forced to work as a waitress who carries a luggage full of daddy issues which could be a metaphor for her immaturity. Her confidantes - an airheaded, happy-go-lucky sugar baby, Joanie, and a sulking, slightly psychotic writer wannabe, Sally - are hardly of any assistance to her, considering they are far from being the models of maturity themselves. But, not a single of them is victimized by Falcone and Lindsay - on the contrary, they're ridiculed as much as the showbiz folks (and adulterous boyfriends). They may not be engaging (in the mainstream sense of the word), yet the 70 minutes spent with them is certainly not boring and the entire cast give their campy best to make them interesting.

Camp also comes to mind first when describing the colorful, deliberately tacky sets, mixed-bag soundtrack and somewhat faltering quality of 35mm lensing by Carolyn Macartney (who would collaborate with Yasuaki Nakajima on After the Apocalypse in the year that followed). The same goes for a few chroma key / rear projection scenes that put the film halfway between trash and arthouse cinema, but it's not like this lo-fi aesthetics are without any charm...


(This review is based on a screener copy provided by Nick Lindsay. Life in Bed is available at Vimeo on Demand, for rent or purchase.)

23 Dec 2017

Best of 2017 - Action! Edition

Let the 2017 listomania (not to be confused with Lisztomania) begin with the list that focuses on action/comic/spectacle-oriented movies involving shootouts, car chases, martial arts, various CGI supplements or whatnot and, in some cases, both 'what' and 'not' and even more.


2. Fist & Faith (Zhuoyuan Jiang, 2017) (8-)
3. Gardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017) (8-)
4. Tokyo Ghoul (Kentarō Hagiwara, 2017) (7+)
5. Tam Cam: The Untold Story (Veronica Ngo, 2016) (7+)
6. Blade of the Immortal (Takashi Miike, 2017) (7)
7. Logan (James Mangold, 2017) (7)
8. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017) (7)
9. Gantz: O (Keiichi Satō & Yasushi Kawamura, 2016) (7-)
10. Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets (Luc Besson, 2017) (6+)


11. Life (Daniel Espinosa, 2017) (6+)
12. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) (6+)
13. Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017) (6+)
14. Bitcoin Heist (Ham Tran, 2016) (6+)
15. Headshot (Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto, 2016) (6+)
16. Resident Evil: Vendetta (Takanori Tsujimoto, 2017) (6+)
17. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017) (6+)
18. Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017) (6)
19. The Villainess (Byung-gil Jung, 2017) (6)
20. Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017) (6)

21 Dec 2017

Lu over the Wall / Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Masaaki Yuasa, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ / ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
 
This year, Masaaki Yuasa of Mind Games fame has been quite busy, delivering not one, but two theatrical features, which is an extreme rarity by the Japanimation standards – not even Miyazaki has managed to pull that off during his decades-long career. Both films are produced in his recently founded studio Science Saru and both are fine displays of their author's wild energy and 'flat' style.

Compared to the rest of Yuasa's oeuvre which includes masterworks such as Kaiba and Kemonozume, Lu over the Wall (originally, Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta) appears as more restrained and conventional, which should come as no surprise, considering it's targeted towards wider audience. However, that doesn't stop the animators from often taking a free-form route, turning plenty of sequences into larger-than-life events, especially during the prolonged, yet exciting final act.

By virtue of their efforts, a lovely coming-of-age or rather 'boy meets singing and dancing ningyo' story becomes a full-blown spectacle of color and movement, replete with merfolk of various types. At one point, the titular character Lu (who goes against the Japanese legends of man-eating mermaids, disarming you with her big eyes and wide smile) releases a bunch of puppies from a shelter and transforms them into mer-woofs or woof-maid, as you please. Her dad - a huge double-tailed shark with a smoking pipe - poses as a fish-freezing inspector and later on, demonstrates the immense power of parental love when his daughter is jeopardized.

The humans of the small harbor town of Hinashi where the action is set are a motley crew of misunderstood teenagers, wealthy opportunists and nutty geezers who bring the generational gap element to the tale imbued with environmental values and life-affirming qualities. Although most of them are the (proto)types we have seen many times before, none of them feels redundant and each is written with a quirk or two and their own place in the grand scheme of things that comes with hefty doses of charm and humor.

Lu over the Wall

In Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome) - the adaptation of Tomohiko Morimi's novel of the same name, Yuasa blends absurd with romantic comedy, easily outweirding the likes of Amélie. Celebrating youth and exploring the themes of fate and coincidence, he crafts an off-kilter adventure à la Alice in Wonderland in which two narrative threads intertwine in the most off-kilter way, through the series of surreal non-sequiturs and whacky unpredictabilities.

His heroine - referred to only as Kurokami no Otome (The Girl with Black Hair) and beautifully voiced by Kana Hanazawa - embarks on a night-long journey through Kyoto, livening up every place she visits. Equipped with a liver of steel, she beats a pessimistic loan shark, Rihaku, in his own drinking game, to save a despairing carp farmer and erotic art dealer, Mr Todo, from his debts. She assists the impish God of the Used Book Market in calming the sea of used books, jumps into the lead role of a flashmob-like stage musical and nurses back to health everyone stricken by the sudden flu epidemic.

On the other hand, we have Senpai (Gen Hoshino) - a young man who is so obsessed with the Girl that he would eat an extremely hot pot to win a picture book she cherished as a child. Using methods that seem borrowed from a stalker's manual, he keeps bumping into her in order to attract her attention, getting her "Friendship Punch" in the face, his underpants stolen and an ice-cream cone sticked to his groin. And let's not forget the unrestrained Poison Berry in My Brain-esque conference which precedes the final encounter with the subject of his desire.

But, hold on, as the eccentricities don't end with her triumphs and his failures - the anime brims with snappy dialogue, droll minor characters, kaleidoscopic textures, cultural idiosyncrasies and DayGlo hallucinations that provide you with a psychedelic experience. Whimsical, irrational, rambunctious, highly imaginative and all sorts of raining apples crazy, this twisted extravaganza never cease to amaze its bedazzled viewer.
 
Once again... pardon, twice again, Yuasa demonstrates his prowess in the art of (flexible) animation and leaves you eagerly anticipating his next offering.

Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

19 Dec 2017

Genocidal Organ @ Culture Vultures

In his latest offering, Shūkō Murase of Ergo Proxy and Witch Hunter Robin fame brings the worst conspiracy theorists' nightmares to bloody (animated) life, adapting the debut novel of the same name by Satoshi Itoh (1974-2009). Check my (8/10) review @ Cultured Vultures.

18 Dec 2017

Ma (Celia Rowlson-Hall, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


You know how the story goes. In the midst of a desert, a girl meets a boy. She sprawls herself over his old-timer's hood + windshield and he drives her off to a sleazy roadside motel. However, he spends the night in his car, while she seems to experience an immaculate conception in the bathtub, before she is attacked and gang-raped by the nightmarish Village People copycats (policeman, lifeguard, giant, priest, banker, cowboy and soldier). The next morning, the couple gets back on track and heads for Las Vegas, because that's where she wants to go...

The girl in question is the titular Ma, the 21st century Virgin Mary (Celia Rowlson-Hall), whereby the boy is credited as Daniel (Andrew Pastides), though he could be named Joseph too. And their tale which is told or rather shown without a single uttered word (apart from a high-pitched solmization and Amazing Grace rendition towards the epilogue) is a surreal, feminist, iconoclastic re-imagination of a biblical myth that will surely leave you scratching your head more than once. It begins like a romantic road movie, only to grow increasingly dreamlike, with sand pouring from a painting, a faucet and a pregnant woman's belly.


Ma is a daring and enticing feature debut for an award-winning dancer, choreographer and filmmaker, Celia Rowlson-Hall, who prefers intuition to logic, which is why her offering feels highly personal, to the point of self-indulgent idiosyncrasy. She utilizes body language to great symbolic effect, communicating her occasionally opaque ideas through stylized movements that turn certain scenes into modern dance performances akin to those of the late Pina Bausch. Her enigmatic heroine's slow-burn pilgrimage may be viewed not only as a post-Annunciation allegory, but also as a comment on societal pressures (involving the subversion of gender roles), as well as an 'inward journey' - a personal exploration that often 'alternates between total confusion, un-knowing and a sense of revelation', to quote one of the principles from the Underground Film Studio's manifesto.

But, make no mistake, Ma does not take itself too seriously as some of the reviewers suggest - there is an unexpected, brilliantly goofy comic relief sequence around the film's mid-section in which Daniel courts Ma by way of gorilla imitation and blindman's buff game. That moment of inner child awakening elevates the two characters above the brooding archetypes, but also tricks you into thinking there's hope for them in a loveless world. The illusion is broken once the abovementioned seven stalkers (sins?) return, forcing Ma to challenge herself, retaliate and reach the final destination on her own.

There's no doubt this experiment is an acquired taste, but there's even less doubt about its admirable technical values, with Ian Bloom's milky cinematography keeping you hooked onto the screen and establishing the floaty, oneiric atmosphere. The 'mute' proceedings propelled by angst and melancholy are captured in elegantly framed widescreen and accompanied by Brian McOmber's sublimely haunting score, as a physical world becomes the reflection of a soul.


(The film is available at Vimeo on Demand.)

14 Dec 2017

Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Not eerie enough to be labeled as horror, too cold and distancing to work as (romantic) drama, a bit murky in both direction and screenplay departments and pretty heavy-handed when it comes to symbolism and amalgamation of all the influences, Thelma still has a few merits: the well-rounded performances, austerely beautiful cinematography and hauntingly atmospheric score which altogether raise it slightly above the mediocre attempts at highly stylized reinvention of the genre (not to mention that the promo-poster is superior to the film itself).

12 Dec 2017

La Bouche (Camilo Restrepo, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
 
Looking like a lost artifact from the 70s, La Bouche is the cinematic epitome of exoticism - produced in France, helmed by a Colombian-born director (with a unique voice) and starring Guinean percussion master Mohamed 'Red Devil' Bangoura and the members of his band, it plays out like a peculiar, vigorous, somewhat mystical and formally daring musical drama that utilizes tribal-like songs to portray the deteriorating mental state of a man grieving for his murdered daughter and burning with desire for revenge.


This short film which forms a 'postcolonial diptych' with Restrepo's previous work Cilaos is currently available at MUBI.

10 Dec 2017

Tam Cam: The Untold Story (Veronica Ngo, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


For her sophomore directorial effort, actress Veronica Ngo adapts The Story of Tam and Cam which is a Vietnamese version of Cinderella... until you realize there's more to it after the slipper fits and our heroine marries the king (demoted to prince-regent in the film). The poor girl is sent to death and reincarnated several times until she is back to being her old self (well, sort of) to exact a grisly revenge that involves boiling water and cannibalism on her wicked step-family.

Staying as true as possible to the original tale and simultaneously toning down its grimness, Ngo weaves in some politics, martial arts and large-scale battles into the narrative and spices up the proceedings with the scheming Magistrate who's actually a demon in disguise. Oh, and she buffs the prince's role and gives him a few sidekicks in order to promote the members of the V-pop boyband 365 she produced at the time (they went on hiatus shortly after Tam Cam was released, notwithstanding its success at home).


All of her commercial-wise slyness is matched by pretty solid helming skills and a keen sense of camp - she successfully juggles a number of subplots and tonal shifts, while portraying the vain femme fatale of a step-mother, Di Ghe, with unrestrained flamboyance. Sovereign as the antagonistic hussy, she finds her male counterpart in Huu Chau whose stylized eyebrows and evil laughter suggest that we're in the domain of fairy tale archetypes, so almost nothing should be taken too seriously. The rest of the cast also does a pretty good job, especially Ha Vi Pham debuting as the virtuous Tam and 365 singer Isaac as the prince Thai Tu who faces the loss of his beloved as well as the threat of war with the neighbouring kingdom.

However, Tam Cam's strongest assets are its sumptuous visuals - the picturesque sets, the breathtaking vistas and the exuberant costumes - that make it fall somewhere between a Disney-esque fantasy, Yimou Zhang's spectacle and Mika Ninagawa's brightly colored drama. Even the CGI flourishes that look a bit cheesy or rather, video-game-y during the decisive battle between the Magistrate's true form and Thai Tu's inner beast keep your eyes wide open. Besides, the film's budget is about ninety times lower than that of Brannagh's 'reinvention' of Cinderella, yet it still looks amazing and provides more fun.

8 Dec 2017

ArteKino Bits (The Last Family / Colo)

The Last Family (Jan P. Matuszyński, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

This Mortal Coil's Song to the Siren triggers an avalanche of emotions after two hours of a compelling, if slightly and occasionally tedious drama sprinkled with tiny and most welcome bits of keen, quirky as well as black humor in Jan P. Matuszynski's first, yet assured foray into narrative film - a moody, poignant, gray-dominated biopic of the Polish maestro of dystopian surrealism Zdzisław Beksiński.

Based on Robert Bolesto's screenplay (his best work so far), The Last Family (Ostatnia rodzina) boasts grungy, stringent cinematography and extraordinary performances by Andrzej Seweryn, Aleksandra Konieczna and Dawid Ogrodnik whose Zdzisław, Zofia and Tomasz Beksiński, respectively, are often seen in tightly confined spaces generating the powerful atmosphere of death and claustrophobia.


Colo (Teresa Villaverde, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Cracking under the pressure of real life - 'the shittiest thing ever', as one of the side characters describes it - is served as the (bitter) main course in Teresa Villaverde's relentlessly bleak and a 'tad' overlong drama of a dysfunctional family (barely holding on thanks to materfamilias) and disenchanted youth (swimming in the sea of suicidal thoughts) amidst economic depression, portrayed in austerely beautiful compositions that reflect loneliness and hopelessness of the lost characters.

The feeling of detachment pervades the mundane, yet somewhat odd story in which the most relatable character is an adolescent girl, Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges in her calling-card debut), whose love for her tiny pet bird provides some of Colo's most touching moments.


Both films can be seen at ArteKino official page,
until December the 17th (Europe only).

7 Dec 2017

The Taste of a Jubilee

My 30th list for Taste of Cinema includes ten recent lesser-known films that you might want to track down and check out. And yes, I do know that 2000 is the last year to the 20th century, but the editors probably decided to change the title because most of the entries do belong to the current century.


A snapshot from Polina (Valérie Müller & Angelin Preljocaj, 2016)

6 Dec 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorghos Lanthimos, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Five reasons why you should watch The Killing of a Sacred Deer and ignore Mother! (yeah, it's like comparing a refreshing, orange-flavored gelato to a disgusting rotten apple, but I just couldn't help mentioning and being negative towards that pseudo-whatever offering by the hack and former Satoshi Kon-impersonator Darren Aronofsky):

1. Barry Keoghan - The entire cast performs admirably, but this 'kid' stands out as the most brilliant actor of them all - he nails his bravura turn with the subtle micro-expressions, soul-piercing looks and amazing self-control, deep-diving into the role of a teenage boy whose presence gradually turns sinister. Each of his appearances is a scene-stealer.

2. Dark (tragi)comedy - Once again, Lanthimos succeeds in imbuing his work with the right balance of dry (or rather wry) wit, utter absurdity, sophisticated audacity and pitch-black, deadpan, sardonic humor that simultaneously makes you laugh (or chuckle, at least) and feel extremely uneasy, regardless of how comfortable your seat is.

3. Precise direction - Kubrick's spirit had been restless during the shooting of this intense, bizarre and  stone-cold psychological thriller, possessing its (methodical) director and guiding him along the way. And when the influence threats to become overwhelming, you get splashed by the awkwardness of the Greek weird wave, and it all happens in regular, hypnotic, expectation-subverting rhythm.

4. Imposing visuals - The starkly beautiful wide-frame cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis (whom Lanthimos entrusts with handling the photography for the third time and for a very good reason) perfectly captures the twisted, ironically mythologized reality of a contemporary bourgeoisie. Their clinically clean world is a slightly distorted reflection of our own, exposing all of its irrationalities with brutal honesty.

5. The soundtrack - Haunting, spine-tingling, eargasmic...

5 Dec 2017

The Rub (Péter Lichter & Bori Máté, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

By courtesy of the Hungarian filmmaker Péter Lichter (Frozen May), I present to you his sophomore feature co-directed by Bori Máté and earmarked for a 2018 release. A glimpse into the future which sort of clings to the past...

Described as 'a psychedelic retelling' of what is usually considered to be Shakespeare's greatest play, The Rub unfolds 'within the mind of the protagonist'. However, in spite of the fact, a quote from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the last thing you'd expect to see in the opening epigraph (the same goes for Stalone and Schwarzenegger).

Or maybe it isn't? It has been approximately two decades since I read Hamlet, so I can't say for sure whether the 'Bard of Avon' is turning in his grave or his spirit applauds or does whatever the spirits do as a sign of approval. But, what I can say is that I don't recall a bolder and more revolutionary rendition of the well-known tragedy.

Minimalist in terms of the cast, considering it stars only Szabolcs Hajdu as the voice of the royal Dane, The Rub compensates the lack of characters in the traditional sense of the word with its experimental visuals. It utilizes hand painted celluloid strips of various films, from The Tales of Hoffman to Terminator 3 to Melancholia, which erode and decompose before your eyes, establishing simultaneously trippy and contemplative atmosphere.

Technique-wise, it is a natural progression from Lichter's short films, such as Look Inside the Ghost Machine (2012), No Signal Detected (2013) or Pure Virtual Function (2015). And it looks absolutely fantastic or rather phantasmic, with its erratic, aggressive textures pulsating to hypnotizing effect, complemented by the brooding low-key monologues and miasmic soundscapes (kudos to Ádám Márton Horváth).

The intrusion of a few lo-fi (VHS?) sequences shot in an empty movie theater and its projection booth add a hint of nostalgia to the 'abstract proceedings' that seem to capture the echoes from the other side. The theme of transience is the main course or everything is just a dissolving dream which is but a shadow.

1 Dec 2017

The Other Side of the Underneath (Jane Arden, 1972)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
"Strength, little girl, is madness. And madness is the persistent belief in one's own hatefulness."
 
 
If Inland Empire is "about a woman in trouble", according to David Lynch himself, then The Other Side of the Underneath could be labeled as a film about a woman in very, very deep shit, pardon my French. An uncompromising exploration of schizophrenia and the numerous other psychological disorders, as well as an edgy statement against the values of patriarchal norms, Jane Arden's directorial debut is indisputably one of the most unsettling pieces of underground cinema ever created.
 
 
Imbued with raw emotions which are rarely emerging from the positive spectrum, it introduces the concept of filmmaking as a group therapy, with the members of the director's feminist troupe Holocaust starring (reportedly on LSD) as mental asylum inmates. The therapist role is reserved for Arden herself who goes as far as to bring her "patients" on the verge of tears, as well as force them to externalize their innermost feelings and darkest traumas. Taking the stance of a radical anarchist, she eschews the story in favor of the boundary-pushing performances (the one by Sheila Allen as Meg the Peg being the most memorable), ear-piercing cello improvisations and grainy, gritty imagery of frequently iconoclastic beauty to pull us down the spiral of madness.


Her savage and to a certain extent exploitative, yet extremely personal experiment is like a missing link between Tom White's Who's Crazy and Frans Zvartjes's Pentimento; a spiritual predecessor to Švankmajer's Lunacy, with a dash of Jodorowsky and Russell thrown in. It blurs the boundaries between an unforgiving reality and an absurd, surreal fiction informed by Jungian symbolism, which is further emphasized with the almost Fellini-esque sequence of a "jolly picnic" shot on the hills of South Wales, with a group of tinkers, gypsies and mentally handicapped people from the area. Bold, dirty, rough and intense, The Other Side of the Underneath is not an easy watch, but then again which portrait of a distressed mind is?