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Most of my current interest in films runs outside of the mainstream, although I've certainly seen my share of those too. I like science fiction, horror, fantasy, cult, exploitation, and foreign films which often fall into one of those previous categories or which I find fascinating for other reasons, not the least of which would be unique methods of storytelling.
Thanks for your interest.
Hiso hiso boshi (2015)
Very different sort of film for Sion Sono but I liked it
This is a hard one to pin down. It's unlike anything Sion Sono has done before and is the type of film that will have some proclaiming it a masterpiece while others won't like it at all. I can see arguments for both cases but I thought it was a beautifully done piece, visually, and a quiet thoughtful film when considering its implications.
Other than one brief scene in color it is entirely in black and white. Early on it put me in mind of Cory McAbee's wonderful space-western/musical THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001) in that it shares the same approach with a simplistic unconventional design to the spaceship and the way it is seen in the exterior shots as it travels through the lonely cosmos. With THE WHISPERING STAR the interior design has old timey retro gadgetry and commonplace items like a washing machine and a refrigerator full of what looked like cans of beer. In both films these scenes were intentionally styled as oddities and both were effective despite being low budget. But that's where the similarity in the films ends as they become quite different experiences.
There is very little dialogue in THE WHISPERING STARS, and it's all done in whispers, lending meaning to the title. The onboard computer is called "computing device 6-7 MAH Em" and it talks in the quiet voice of a young child, trying to engage android Yoko Suzuki, a courier in the "SPACE PARCEL SERVICE," in conversations, which are largely ignored by the latter. Even seemingly important decisions on coarse corrections go unresponded to so 6-7 MAH Em just deals with whatever needs to be done while Yoko is more likely to grab a beer from the fridge, study the pile of packages yet to be delivered, or listen to old voice recordings she made. Days pass, even years, with nothing much happening in between the brief stops on planets to deliver packages to humans, all of which has us (and Yoko) wondering at the meaning of the contents of the packages which often seem trivial or unexplainable mysteries at best.
Interesting too is that the scenes taking place on the planets were filmed in and around the mostly abandoned city of Fukushima, Japan, where the nuclear power plant catastrophe occurred. Which enhances the feeling of questioning loneliness that Yoko feels as she goes about her deliveries.
Very different sort of film for Sono but I liked it and, if anything, I am more impressed by him than ever. There is no telling what he will come up with next but I'll be along for the ride.
As good as Robert Eggers' THE VVITCH? Oh hell yeah, it's better
In Germany this film is often compared to, used in the same sentence with, Robert Egger's THE VVITCH (2015). Google actually translates the title to "Hagazussa - The Witches Curse."
The first thought that came to me during the opening title sequence was, if the rest of the soundtrack is like this, it's going to be amazing...and it was! Understated but dark and menacing. You won't mistake the sound score for anything but disturbing horror.
The film is divided into four parts: Shadow, Horn, Blood and Fire. At the start you can't help but feel compassion and concern for the young girl taking care of her sick mother, both isolated outcasts and thus thought of as witches. HAGAZUSSA is spooky old world horror set in 15th century Europe, beautifully eerie, with many scenes that I can only describe as CREEPY AS HELL, while other scenes are like a slow burn nightmare on 'shrooms; hypnotic and hallucinatory. Dialogue is used sparingly, only as needed, but it's enough and much else can be gained by studying the facial expressions of the characters and other plot clues providing context...the acting and all else in that regard is first rate. Yes, the movie is slow paced, but also full and rich, ripe with suggestion with moments of interpretation and realization. Also incredible scenery/cinematography with nature itself becoming a hostile mood-setting character.
As good as THE VVITCH? Oh hell yeah, and this is coming from someone who really liked THE VVITCH. HAGAZUSSA is much darker and in my opinion it exceeds that film in every way, including its historical religion-based presentation of paranoia-driven superstition and madness. And it even has its own version of Black Phillip! Okay, it's a black goat, but you can't help but make the connection within the context.
Who would I recommend it to? If you are a horror fan who doesn't always need to be spoon fed nonstop gory scenes of people being brutalized - if you liked THE VVITCH for example, and have the patience to let a slower paced film develop while you soak it all in - not only should you see this movie, you should sell your soul to find a copy. The realistic fragility of life is there anyway but it's within the scope of very dark and stark atmospheric horror.
Final impression: WOW! Mind blown.
Beautifully filmed period horror that starts off great but...
Beautifully filmed period horror that starts off great but then some misplaced humor and bad practical effects conspire to almost completely destroy the mood. A few different plot twists, perhaps one too many, are added in an attempt to keep it all interesting and it mostly works.
That final plot twist, though...it left me confused initially, enough so that I wasn't sure I even wanted to figure out if or how it fit into the plot. After I ejected the disc it was still bugging me and I put it back in and did a quick review of the final 30 minutes. Glad I did; everything clicked into place.
There are those visually impressive scenes, both beautiful and creepy. Plus a naked exorcism dance/writhing scene that is so freakishly weird it has to be seen to be believed. What immediately follows that was pretty impressive as well.
Uneven film that, when all was said and done, I found to be worth the watch despite its flaws.
Xing xing wang (1977)
Highly entertaining if you're in the right mood
Championed by Quentin Tarantino. A Shaw Brothers production (Runme Shaw and Vee King Shaw). Directed by Meng Hua Ho (The Oily Maniac, many others).
The back cover write-up on a recent dual format (blu/dvd) release refers to this film as the Shaw Brothers attempted cash-in on Japan's success with Godzilla. True enough, I would think, but the story really has more in common with the original King Kong...okay, with a bit of rampaging Godzilla action as well.
Highly entertaining if you're in the right mood. Some of the romantic and other jungle scenes in the first half of the film are downright hilarious. I wasn't expecting the beautifully captured scenic shots in the first half either but that was another plus. And the action in the latter half, when it comes, is pretty entertaining as well. A lot of the practical effects still hold up quite well. A couple of the effects are just plain goofy but it's all part of the film's charm.
Not sure why it took me so long to finally see this one but I'm glad I was able to watch the fully restored uncut version on Blu-ray...a very clean print.
It's one to kick back and have fun with. I did.
Here again we see Resnais exploring themes of time and memory
Slow burn relationship drama, an old relationship renewed and examining current relationships; lovers, family... The title of the film itself seems a play on words as it's less a take-your-pick affair than it is saying the film is about these two things, connected but because the characters share connections in the present day.
Here again we see Resnais exploring themes of time and memory as was the case with his previous two feature films: Last Year At Marienbad and Hiroshima Mon Amour. This, his third feature, reflects on times past, the characters talk about the past, but it doesn't go into filmed flashbacks or creative revisiting, looping back on itself, adding or changing subtle details. Memory does also come into play. With the one side of the two stories it's two characters with a shared past, of which one asks why this, how come, what were you thinking then...the other attempts to answer. But it remains elusive, a story told in pieces. Hard to assimilate as we aren't really shown enough connect-the-dot details of a shared past so much as we are just shown they had a shared past and make of it what you will. This approach can wear thin...it lacks cohesion and as a consequence comes up short on dramatic tension. The other part of the story also looks to the past, also fragmented and elusive.
Early on the sound score, arriving at specific points, provides more than emphasis or support as it temporarily lends an air of mystery or sly menace that wouldn't necessarily be noticed at all otherwise. Neat trick in the way it suggests unsettled feelings or hints at perhaps darker revelations to come, something I didn't get from the dialogue alone. It too is another piece. There is other symbolism to be found, a gun shown disassembled, in pieces...
At a couple points the film goes into quick edits. A single line of dialogue, jump to another scene and another line. On and on. More little pieces. It may have seemed a clever film editing technique at the time but the dialogue as presented is disconnected, unfocusing the passage of time with muddled glimpses. Which may have been the point but more than anything I found it to be somewhat annoying.
Enough. The film is an exercise in patience. For me, too much so because, even though it comes to some conclusions, in the end I didn't feel it was enough to justify the scattered approach of uncertain reflections and eventual points made. Even though from the same time period, I don't feel this film is in the same class as the Resnais films Marienbad and Hiroshima, two films that are masterpieces or nearly so. You could say the approach with Muriel is radical, as was the case in those two previous films, but that doesn't, in and of itself, make it a great film. In my opinion, yours may differ.
Salinnabileul ggotneun yeoja (1978)
Great one for late at night
Delightfully strange beginning half hour (giggle-inducing, embracing death versus will-to-live horror premise) gives over to a seemingly disconnected, or conveniently connected yet meandering, subplot which somehow becomes the bulk and main thrust of the film. It's all deliriously macabre, languidly mad and dark. A great late night mind tickler.
Why this film is not widely available on home video as a cult classic is anybody's guess but for now it is available in its entirety on YouTube as part of the Korean Film Archive. The English subtitles are there, you just have to turn them on.
A film for those who like exploring outside of the mainstream oddities.
Works well on different levels
Terrific magical film that works well on different levels. Surreal mystery. Post-apocalyptic science fiction. Compelling and weird character narrative. What has to be one of the strangest road/quest films ever. Some embedded humor as well.
Who needs a large budget when you have great cinematography, otherworldly sound effects, amazing locations, all brought together with inspired artistic vision.
I loved every strange crazy bit of it. Well worth seeking it out.
Play for Today: Penda's Fen (1974)
Engaging coming-of-age tale
Very formal in its presentation of religion and politics, from the school system on up, but still manages to interject new (and far older) ideas in counterpoint to the period and setting. What at first came across as something that might be strict and stodgy turned into an engaging coming-of-age tale in the form an older teenager, on the verge of manhood, who is troubled by questions of spirituality and god, while at the same time coming to terms with his own sexuality, and how all of this affects his understanding of his place in society.
The story is helped along with phantasmagorical imagery, both dark and light, by way of the young man's dreams and imagination. But ultimately these become set pieces in the greater story and its resolution. Pretty bold fare, I would think, for what was then a 1974 TV movie originally airing on British television.
If you can get past (I did) the guiding formality of time and place and its deeply religious nature, it's an interesting and at times intense exploration.
The Crow Road (1996)
Faithful adaptation that takes me back to the great experience I had reading the novel
Young college student Prentice, at the request of his grandmother, tries to uncover the truth about the disappearance of his uncle Rory, now missing for seven years. Despite what the cover artwork of both the DVD set and novel might suggest, The Crow Road is not horror. At it's heart it is a slow-burn dark mystery film dealing with family secrets and the surrounding drama. With a little romance thrown in. Some "shagging" as well but nothing I would call erotic; more used to advance plot points. Another thread that weaves throughout the entire narrative is an examination of the existence of God...nothing overtly religious or preachy, it's handled intelligently and used to good effect in setting up family relationship dynamics. I was happy to see that the darkly funny bits from the novel were carried over to the film as well.
Revealing secrets and other family history is done with much use of flashbacks. I'm not a fan of long flashbacks that take you out of the moment and force you to refocus your attention elsewhere, often completely changing the mood. But that's not the case here. The flashbacks are mostly a continuation of the current mood, usually interesting, and kept brief enough so that they don't become annoying.
Enjoyable, as was the original novel. In rating this one it would be all too easy to not be objective and give in to nostalgia. With that in mind: The story is complex and requires a bit of study but it's a good story. Competent acting, effective music and sound score, impressive coastal Scottish landscapes. It all holds up pretty well.
Kanashimi no beradonna (1973)
Impressive work of art
Impressive work of art. The back cover of the Blu-ray states that this is the last film in the Animerama trilogy. In doing a little research I found that Animerama is defined as "...a series of thematically- related adult anime feature films originally conceived and initiated by Osamu Tezuka..." This third film was co-written and directed by Eiichi Yamamoto inspired by the book SATANISM AND WITCHCRAFT by Jules Michelet.
The animation is fairly basic. It's largely comprised of long paintings, done in watercolor. The effect reminds me of certain Japanese scrolls where, as they unwind, the story is told. In the case of this film, however, the camera slowly moves right to left along the painting, occasionally zooming in. There is also other limited use of cell animation where the camera is shooting each of the different cells and they are presented in sequence on film to show progression/movement...at a lower slower frame rate than, say, the average Disney cell animation. As mentioned, it's all fairly basic and yet still works well in combination with the other elements. Which are:
Narration, requiring reading of subtitles for those not fluent in Japanese.
And a great sound/music score that I wouldn't mind having on CD. It ranges from trippy to hauntingly beautiful with a few actual songs that are quite nice. And other chaotic or horrific or beautiful sounds and music. All complementing the imagery in a way that is very important to this type of animated film.
Who would I recommend this to. It deals with some pretty strong subject matter, not the least of which is rape. Horror fans may appreciate some of the darker aspects of the film. But beyond that: Do you appreciate art? Do you appreciate Japanese culture/history? Are you open to alternative forms of storytelling? If you answer yes to all then you will probably like this film. I thought it was one of those rare treats that I likely will revisit. I'm also now curious about the other two films in the Animerama trilogy.
Extraordinary Tales (2013)
The style of the animation varied in each tale
I really enjoyed this. The style of the animation varied in each tale but had in common an antiquated look and feel which I'm guessing was intentional to fit the period and mood of these five great tales by Edgar Allan Poe. Everything from scenes incorporating amazing background colors, textures and layering to the stark 2D black-and-white presentation of The Tell-Tale Heart. Pretty decent soundtrack too.
The five adapted stories were: The Fall Of The House Of Usher (narrated by Christopher Lee); The Tell-Tale Heart (narrated by Bela Lugosi); The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar (narrated by Julian Sands); The Pit And The Pendulum (narrated by Guillermo Del Toro); and The Masque Of The Red Death (with Roger Corman in the role of Prince Prospero).
One of Poe's most famous tales, The Raven, was not included but in between each tale were short segments featuring a raven embodied by the still living spirit of Poe who has conversations with a non- traditional manifestation of Death. All of which added up to a very enjoyable side story that also set the mood nicely throughout.
You would almost expect a film like this to have come up with some way to include Vincent Price as one of the narrators...it doesn't and yet his likeness was used as a character in one of the stories and I thought that was a nice touch.
This is one I'll be revisiting.
This is trademark, spot-on Zulawski
Andrzej Zulawski called Cosmos "...one of the strangest films I've ever seen in my life." And then he added, "And incidentally, I made it." Or as David Cairns says in his introductory comments for the included video essay, "What the actual f---, you may be thinking, if this has been your first exposure to a film by Andrzej Zulawski, or even if you are a veteran of his demented, ecstatic cinema."
It's complete and utter madness. Characters seemingly on the brink of insanity, or having already slipped over the edge, engage in dialogue and actions that, as a viewer, we assume means something...to THEM. But are they really communicating with each other and with us? Yes, I think so. A form of systematic expounding one would suppose, at times with raw emotions, yet coming across as disconnected and elusive ideas the meaning of which keeps us searching and in the moment. But it's a form of communication nonetheless. It's what it makes us feel, what insights we gain from the whole. And with Cosmos it's all enhanced by some pretty fine cinematography as well.
The nonsensical dialogue, the frenzied performances. He may have slowed down just a bit by the time he made this film but this is trademark, spot-on Zulawski. What he has always given to me is a unique experience. Cosmos is enjoyable madness, very weird, and a beautiful film. This is a fitting final episode in an amazing career unlike any other.
Poesía Sin Fin (2016)
Alejandro Jodorowsky's fantastical portrayal of his own past continues...
Alejandro Jodorowsky's visually-exaggerated fantastical portrayal of his own past continues, beginning by cleverly playing off imagery from the first film, THE DANCE OF REALITY (2013), and thus making it clear that this is an ongoing narrative.
In this case we see young boy Alejandro arriving in Santiago Chile with his strong-willed father and his mother with her unique form of communicating... There, he grows into a teenager and then a young man who discovers his greatest desire is to become a poet, against the wishes of his father. Leaving his family he seeks out other artists and the unhindered artist lifestyle. The unique characters he meets on his journey...well, that's a big part of the story.
There were a couple scenes in this film that seemed slightly self indulgent, which detracted from the feeling of complete pure story that I experienced with the first film. But that's not intended as a strong criticism of the entire film. It felt like a middle film in a trilogy sometimes feels, having it's points to make. Overall, it's an entertaining continuation and is at times emotionally powerful.
The original plan was to film five "memoirs" total...I hope he makes it to the end.
Budding Prospects (2017)
Terry Zwigoff takes on pot culture and buddy humor
"In 1983, three hapless guys from San Francisco are lured from their sex and drugs lifestyle to the countryside to grow marijuana."
Amusing pilot episode of a possible new series from Amazon Studios. The director Terry Zwigoff has done some unique films. Notably, CRUMB, the documentary about the underground cartoonist R. Crumb (great film), and many will no doubt remember the edgy Christmas film BAD SANTA. Also GHOST WORLD is being released by Criterion in a couple months.
BUDDING PROSPECTS is based on the book by T.C. Boyle, an author I've found interesting in the past as well.
Hard to tell too much from a 30-minute pilot episode but it has a pretty good vibe; I was smiling through most of it. The humor stops short of becoming overly silly or stereotyped. Hopefully it will be fleshed out as an Amazon series. Based on Zwigoff's credits alone it will be interesting to see where it goes.
Shades of Lem and Tarkovsky's SOLARIS...a good thing
Very good pilot episode of what could turn out to be the next big series from Amazon Studios.
"Set in the near future, Oasis tells the story of priest Peter Leigh, who is called to a remote planet where a mysterious multinational company is building the first permanent off-Earth human colony."
Religion is no stranger to science fiction. I've always preferred my science fiction to have religious elements in small doses, if at all. OASIS unites the two with the main character being a priest but it's handled well and is still firmly within the realm of science fiction. Really good science fiction with shades of Lem and Tarkovsky's SOLARIS, mysterious and surreal...that's a good thing.
Hard to tell from just the pilot if this one will have the legs to keep on running but, if you like well-made science fiction and have access to this pilot episode, do yourself a favor and check it out. Everything clicks including a great soundtrack. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this one.