Friday, 24 January 2020

Hallucinations (1986)

Directors: John Polonia, Mark Polonia, Todd Michael Smith
Screenplay: John Polonia, Mark Polonia, Todd Michael Smith
Cast: John Polonia, Mark Polonia, Todd Michael Smith

[Some Minor Spoilers]

If anything, this feels like an appropriate way to talk about the Polonia Brothers, twin micro-budget filmmakers John and Mark Polonia who made curiosities like this or Splatter Farm (1987). They kept working through the nineties and millennium, and whilst John Polonia passed in 2008, his brother Mark is making films to this day. Around the time of this review, admittedly one of Mark Polonia's solitary films I watched was Bride of the Werewolf (2019), which to be brutally honest wasn't interesting, sluggish and without a spark to it.  Thankfully, Hallucinations is a better glimpse at their cult reputation, even if you didn't take into consideration where this film is made by three people who are the only cast, the Polonia brothers and co-director Todd Michael Smith, the Polonia brothers just between seventeen or eighteen, and Todd Michael Smith only a year older.

As Hallucinations shows, a lack of resources is not a detriment, a joy to be had in this film from Middle America where the cherub faced and pencil moustached leads are barely into being adults onscreen, nonetheless going for broke with the energy behind the camera. The aforementioned three, baring a cat, take turns to play strange hallucinations that start to plague the (same) three boys left on their own their mother is absent at work, be it a hooded monk to a loon using a blowtorch. About these three sad people, one of the Polonia playing the sensitive "younger" brother most affected by their mother's absence, the film is surprisingly melancholic alongside its strange sense of violence and weirdness that adds a great deal.

It is a slow start, segments setting up their ordinary world including establishing the snow covered rural environment, or the amusement of a Polonia using a sex phone line with one of the directors clearly providing the women's voice on the other end. It does escalate within the surviving VHS transfer's haze, as Hallucinations does get increasingly strange. Helping the film is that, rather than attempting to be a complex narrative with limited resources, its three friends creating a string of gory and odd sequences tentatively strung together a surprising consistency throughout. There a surprising maturity among the silliness too, in that for all you will witness, it's a film as much about absence and loss that influences what takes place. Even when the first major event transpires, the abrupt death of the family cat, it's played less with gusto but an actual tragedy even if a doll will urinate on her photograph in the later segments.

And, to this young trio's credit, whilst the moments of splatter are surprisingly accomplished, it gets increasingly darker in its post Nightmare on Elm Street logic. Let's not ignore the practical effects - basic gore and fake dismemberment, but someone also created a false torso for one of the Polonia brothers to wear, wisely shooting the prop by itself in close up when one of them have a blowtorch burn through it in a torture sequence in a basement. When the hallucinations get weird though is where things get interesting and in inspired ways, probably exemplified by one of the Polonias on a toilet defecates a knife from him, a legitimately surreal and freakish idea which is both perversely funny but would actually cause an audience to squirm.

A lot of the hallucinations are simply put together using stop motion techniques for some, editing techniques or one of the trio in a costumes for others, which are b-movie horror images that in some cases have a real primal fear to them on this lo-fi video, like a crazed psycho in one chasing a Polonia through a field in snow bound daylight. Even the weirdest ones have a semblance of real dream logic, such as a doll coming to life and pissing on people, mocking someone for their sadness, a playfulness to psychotronic cinema found in Hallucinations but also vivid at its best as here. That the film is shot in such a fragile medium as videotape helps greatly, late eighties Middle America here not took in with trends and having near timelessness as a result, an isolated house in the snow with all the VHS noise and ghostly effects affecting the material profusely.

The result is a good way to "get" this type of cinema. Barring an implied encounter between a cat and a chainsaw, and the whole thing with a knife, Hallucinations could be easier to sell to people if they know how it feels like an accomplishment in context, considering the resources at hand, literally three people and whatever they could access or provide. The fact it's all under an hour means it doesn't test a person's patience either. Barring in mind the participants' ages and the pace, that there's nothing particularly here that becomes sluggish or falls into an aimless attempt at exposition is increasingly better when it concentrates on other material. The Polonia brothers as mentioned continued, but Hallucinations for me was a breath of fresh air which explained their appeal considerably. Definitely, absolutely, a rich vein of weirdness to appreciate.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Hazy/Psychotronic/Surreal/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Best of 2019: Part 4 (20-11)

Link to the first part HERE.

Link to the second part HERE.

Link to the third part HERE.

20. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018) [UK Theatrical Premiere]
Bi Gan's newest film is a fascinating piece to even consider. Its notorious debut and success in his homeland of Mainland China is itself part of the tale, as Long Day... premiered on New Year's Eve in its homeland and marketed as a romantic film, gaining a huge box office sum in spite of the fact it's actually an experimental crime soaked romantic drama. One into two halves, the first clearly indebted to Wong Kar-Wai, the final half shot in 3D and a single take, much to the bafflement of paying customers just expecting a conventional romantic drama to pad out a very important holiday.

I don't want to either dismiss or just openly embrace Long Day... yet as Gan's film is full of details I wouldn't be surprised grow in layers on multiple watches, something that I think is necessary to fully appreciate this work. It's a tale about a man obsessed with a woman which yet can distort the chronology with flashbacks to the past and also has, in that middle split, actors switching roles including the legendary actress Sylvia Chang throughout the feature length. The visible debt to Kar-Wai, who was making films like this before from Days of Being Wild (1990) onwards is felt, and possibly could be an accusation of Bi Gan making an empty imitator, but so much in Long Day... has stuck with me.

That final half, whilst tragically one I couldn't see in 3D as intended, has become one of the best moments of the entirety of 2019 and not just as a technical feat either, something spectacular in terms of a sudden jump into magical realism, even if it's by way of just the camera being carried along great heights by the production crew, to bittersweet romance and having to execute as long a take as possible. Sadly a film like this is going to be nigh on possible to see as intended unless we drastically change how cinema is distributed to everyone - even in Sheffield, a major cultural city in England where I saw the film, I couldn't see Long Day’s Journey Into Night as intended, losing Bi Gan's trump card having its full impact. Thankfully in just being able to see it, I witnessed a unique film still.

19. Hustlers (2019) [World Theatrical Premiere]
Here is a film I am surprised is as high on the list as it did, having felt originally Lorene Scafaria's second feature suffered from not fully tackling the moral complexity of its subject, the subject of a New York magazine article where female strippers in the midst of the late 2000s economic crash started drugging male clients and stealing their money. As time has passed however, Hustlers despite being the kind of conventional narrative American cinema I usually forget about has managed to stay higher in regard in my mind over some particularly experimental and ambitious work, which is a feat in terms of how when Scafaria succeeded, she knocked so much out of the park in terms of successes.

And its really a compilation of successes. Constance Wu standing out in the lead. When Jennifer Lopez makes a triumph first entrance into the film, managing to pull her own weight in terms of a great performance throughout afterwards. The moments of female comradery, particularly at a scene over a Christmas Day this is touching. The nightmare of the driverless car. The moments of moral complexity which remind you that, actually, what these lovable characters are doing is morally wrong and problematic, laced with the reasons why they'd be pushed to it, the banality of a day-to-day job, and the whole issue that the male clients robbed are hesitant to even get cops involved, revealing gendered issues that add flavour. Only the sense that a) there's an entire aspect of these characters' blind obsession with material wealth that needed to be raised and b) some more moral complexity lacking suggests Hustlers has any flaws, still a great film in the film. It's definitely a superior take on a similar subject Sofia Coppola tackled with The Bling Ring (2013), a significantly deeper take on its own subject of criminality involving materialism than in that case.

My only hope is that Lorene Scafaria, after this as Hustlers did very well, becomes more ambitious and takes more risks as she clearly has the chops to make good films, just needed to take a plunge into more idiosyncratic cinema. Also the person who choose all the pre-existing music also needs to be hired more if they aren't already, as it actually suggested that I have been dismissive to bubbly electric-tinged pop music and RnB from that era for far too long, some of the best timed choices of music here in any of the work on this list.

18. Keep an Eye Out (2018) [MUBI Streaming Premiere]
Quentin Dupieux has sadly not had any of his films barring Rubber (2010), the ideological text of the Cinema of the Abstract blog in honesty, released in the United Kingdom in the 2010s. This is a tragedy as he's one of the few people of these odd films I adore who have been consistently making movies over the 2010s, when many falter or are prevented from, and Keep an Eye Out as a peculiar farce under eighty minutes is just golden. Somehow he keeps getting work produced, and he's effortless in this mini tribute to the likes of Luis Bunuel and absurdity that he can qualify as an unsung auteur if this is his usual batting average.

Following a simple scenario - a police detective questioning a witness - this tiny little film gets into some deliciously absurd, and well acted, scenarios worth seeing if you can. Individuals will find themselves in another person's flashback. A clam with shell will be eaten. And you will be very careful from now on when holding an angled ruler, let alone begin running with one, in case of injuring oneself.

17. The Endless Film (2018) [MUBI Streaming Premiere]
From one fascinating MUBI discovery to another, this Argentinean project one which has stuck with me as, per its non-English title La película infinita¸ the possibilities are endless when it is built around unfinished films from the film museum in Buenos Aires, constructing that which exists into a form to watch but can have beginnings, no ends and bleed into half dreamt dreams. Whilst the execution does have to try to put together a drastic variety of material which can be awkward in production, from a previous attempt at adapting the novel Zama from 1984 that Lucrecia Martel eventually completed in the 2010s to an animated sci-fi film, it's compelling to even see the unfinished.

It is also unmistakably weird and eerie at points to watch, as some of the larger portions have so much potency in what was never finished, like surreal mini sketches. A woman investigating one man finds herself shooting another in a room with a fish tank, whilst another seemingly has a man obsessed with the drawings of Leonardo Di Vinci in what feels like a monochrome surrealism horror film. All of it is compelling, and the obscurity of such an experiment is a tragedy to consider when it's as strange and rewarding as this result. Quite frankly, the idea of there being a La película infinita for every nation's cinema, of unfinished films compiled togehter, is tantalising to consider seeing this.

16. Doctor Sleep (2019) [World Theatrical Premiere]
And here we have a film overcoming a huge obstacle. Director Mike Flanagan, who is arguably one of the most successful horror directors of the 2010s just for how prolific he was, when faced with the task of adapting a sequel to Stephen King's The Shining, but contending with the 1980 Stanley Kubrick version the author notoriously had issues with, found a mercurial balance between them where both communicate together. Notably, this feels less like the horror product sold at the end of October 2019 but a serious film in its own right, less frightening but clad in a melancholic darkness tinged in hope. That it is entirely dealing as much with King's issues with alcoholism and addiction, as it is as a dark tale of soul devouring immortals, is a huge factor in this when it is as well executed as possible.

Also in mind of this being a big Warner Bros. release, Doctor Sleep is surprisingly unconventional, with some of the best and most inventive uses of CGI in the genre as well finding a way to make its sudden change into world building, which has a level of absurdity to the plot and its mechanical if thought about long enough, still work. When The Shining is explicitly referenced, and becomes the backdrop of the finale, this is a rare case of a film following on from the original that doesn't feel like its besmirching the original's good name. By referencing The Shining with actual emotional resonance, Flanagan manages to success; as the first film of his I have seen, this is a good sign to investigate his career further.

15. Ad Astra (2019) [World Theatrical Premiere]
Whilst there are still films left from the old order to be released - Terence Malick's A Hidden Life (2019) for example, which got a January 2020 release in the United Kingdom - seeing James Gray's Ad Astra felt like a ritual funeral for 21st/20th Century Fox before Disney bought them, as for every commercial film they releases, Fox took some very idiosyncratic and artistic risks over the decades I am slowly growing to admire. Some were just gauche, but their work even up to the Disney acquisition is of a very different kind of cinema from the blockbusters they sold like the X-Men franchise, not just experiential risks but The Old Man & The Gun (2018), director David Lowery with Robert Redford making the kind of film Fox themselves among others made back in the seventies, which is idiosyncratic in itself before you realise this is the same studio that bankrolled Terence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011) but also Zardoz (1974)...

Ad Astra does have action beats you could put in an enticing trailer, and they are still spectacular, James Gray interesting as the "serious" director who however started in crime narratives and explored aspects like this before in his cinema like in We Are The Night (2007). Also of note is that, as here, Fox's more ambitious work under their label or Fox Searchlight sub label tried experiences as long as bankable actors could be on the marquee, to which Brad Pitt is to be thanked for a very underappreciated American director to get a multiplex release finally which isn't compromised in the slightest. There are suspicions the theatrical release had important aspects excised, such as the complete lack of Liv Tyler, but considering how much of a cerebral sci-fi film this is, so much still succeeds.

And it's surprisingly bold for this type of film too, right down to Gray hiring "experimental film consultants" to influence the visual structure of his film.  It's a better take on a bleaker sci-fi existentialism than Claire Denis' High Life in honesty as, whilst the film does have a dark viewer of our place in the world,  and Denis' film is still great, the main theme is discovering hope and oneself at the end which offers something considerably more powerful in the end then emptiness, felt with a sense of scale in terms of an adventure narrative (even Moon pirates) that gets the balance right. Also this will not be the last time Brad Pitt is on this list, a man who has thankfully earned the reputation (if he hadn't already) that even if his face sells the film as a big star, he likes to produce and star in bold films like this we all win from.

14. How Fernando Pessoa Saved Portugal (2018) [MUBI Streaming Premiere]
Eugene Green, an American born French filmmaker, has sadly had little of his work available which is a shame as, having the luck of seeing almost if not all of it, he is a truly unique figure, felt like a cross between Robert Bresson with a whimsical nature that occasionally appears, with the influence of all the good bits of Christian thought without any of the terrible aspects no sane person would (should?) believe in. He is idiosyncratic, the man of high art and music, Christian theology appearing in his film, but one of his best film reinimagines a medieval fantasy where the knight is a man in jeans with a pet lion (i.e. a dog) and no viewer would not be able to get past it in the end.

For his "short feature", this tale of how real life poet did try to get into advertising just to make some money, can be read on multiple levels. An obvious anti consumerism joke, as his advertisement for a brand of cola gets the soft drink banned in Portugal, gets more complicated knowing that Coca cola was banned in Portugal until the late seventies and that the film is littered in very idiosyncratic details, from the various forms of Christian thought clashing to the notion of a former King who disappeared in a war only to turn into a legend that will return to rescue Portugal. The main star Carloto Cotta also immediately stands out as someone to watch as a damn good actor, so drastically contrasted by his role in Diamantino (2018), a film that I sadly could only catch after the cut-off point of films for this list; suffice to say, contrasting his innocent child-like football player character in that film's lead to two roles here, drastically different, presents us with both a striking physical prescene in Cotta and also a great Portuguese actor to watch, especially as he's starred in some pretty idiosyncratic films from his country I need to actually get to now.

Plus this short feature has a cola bottle being exorcised, which is as funny as it sounds and is also one of the scenes of the year. I am deliberately leaving that unexplained and request, if you can, just to track down and watch the film yourself.

13. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) [World Theatrical Premere]
Quentin Tarantino's latest is a curious film to unpack isn't it? It's had its detractors, especially when one of its leads (played by Brad Pitt, in another bloody good performance) is a morally grey figure just for a flashback with a harpoon gun despite being very likable. It's also evidence of, between him and the Coens, the later sadly jumping to Netflix for their last film, Tarantino has been one of the only major Hollywood directors able to get away with films that do well at the multiplex that can be this unconventional. That might be too simplistic, as one hopes there are major talents getting away with unique films, but as a director who always gets a large summer premiere for his films in English multiplexes, always so far in the late summer, no matter how unconventional and even violent they are is something really to consider as a minor miracle.

Plus this film by itself would be considered odd if dissected from anyone. A multi strand period piece which reinterprets the Manson Family murders, an ode of late sixties American cinema (not the hippy stuff, but all the uncool movies), possibly a very conservative ode to b-movie westerns and macho TV series, a buddy comedy, a great acting role for Leonardo Dicaprio, and something difficult to actually pin down in what it actually is when originally we presumed this to be Quentin Tarantino's horror film when he first planned it.

There are some issues. The violence for me was the very divisive issue, not helping with the concerns of this being an ode to problematic traditional "values". The Bruce Lee versus Brad Pitt scene may have been an ill advised decision depending on the context the viewer views it through in honestly. Aside from this, its constantly hilarious, always rewarding even in terms of the pop culture it is reference, and has a spine tingling conclusion as, playing to alternative history again, Tarantino does hit a bitter sweet nerve that has stuck with me over the year as one of the best endings of the films I've seen. This is definitely a difficult film to judge for opinion, but Once Upon a Time... is this high up because of how ambitious the film was and all the moments it feels like a master auteur, the old guard, hitting all the right moments. Its definitely a film too that, even if he does intend to retire after only a couple in the next decade, as Tarantino has threatened, argues he as one person where every film he's made is unique and has to be unpacked by itself, earning that because of the virtues. People might grumble, might think he's overrated, but as someone who at Inglourious Basterds (2009) was considering dismissing him entirely as he dropped the ball miserably too many times at that period, only to see everything he made throughout the 2010s on the cinema screen, gives me the sense of having seen his detractors' side but come to admire the man nonetheless when he succeeds.

12. Ash Is Purest White (2018) [UK Theatrical Premiere]
Another veteran, and Ash Is Purest White accomplished an awakening realisation how I slept on Jia Zhangke, who like Quentin Tarantino defies what genre actually is and takes such incredible risks in this narrative tale. He is a very different director, before anyone wants to stretch the comparison, but this is yet a film that starts in a crime mood, of a gangster's moll who, over multiple time periods, grows when arrested back at the start of the Millennium. The moment where Zhangke tackles the obscure aspect of China's UFO culture, in the middle of a desert like country region, was where he won me with his bravery and willing to take any risk just because he went in a director, in what's in the night sky, that you'd never expect to find from a sombre director like this. Its bravado that is pulled off and from the least expected source, showing how good he is.  

Guided by Zhao Tao, who has been in almost all his films, Ash... takes constant inspired tangents throughout interlaced with great dramatic sequences lead by Tao's incredible performance. Jumping through different time periods, including a return to the Three Gorges Dam, the subject of his 2006 film Still Life about the flooding of the region for a damn, to a sequence of Tao trying to con awkward men in a restaurant for money to the UFO side piece, so much of the film (effectively vignettes) stands out still upon reflection.

The miniscule pieces of political commentary when they appear are subdued, more of the changes to mainland China by way of the hedonism of the first half, to the grounded reality as a former female criminal has to survive in the new world she returns to. And even then, Zhangke causes you to wake up when he suddenly has a fight scene involving motorbike helmets in the middle of a crowded night street, a scene you would never expect from a naturalistic filmmaker like Zhangke, but is executed like the best of an action film with the added virtue of a director of his style bringing new aspects to it.

Ash is Purest White as a result, alongside Long Day’s Journey Into Night, do offer some promise into the 2020s of individualistic cinema coming from mainland China. In spite of the many issues with Chinese politics let alone in terms of cinema, where they've pulled films out of film festivals, and the taste for blockbusters that dominates, these films feel like subversive gems without needed necessarily to be heavy handed in politics, just defying conventions.

11. Welcome to Marwen (2018) [UK Theatrical Premiere]
And finally, before we reach the Top Ten, probably the most controversial choice this high up as Robert Zemeckis' peculiar biopic is an acquired taste. Really it begins with the creative decision to try and make a sanitised, feel good version tale of the life of Mark Hogancamp, a man whose life was documented in Marwencol (2010), a documentary I saw in the early 2010s showing how, after a vicious beating left him permanently debilitated, Hogancamp rebuilt himself through a miniature fantasy World War II village populated with dolls which recreated tales of his life and fantasies, eventually gaining traction as an artist as his photographs of these stories caught peoples' attentions. His is a tale worth seeing.

Hogancamp's tale is also much darker than a film that was released as suitable for twelve year olds to see. There is explicit details at hand in his work, a man who is open with his obsessive collection of women's shoes whose beating was a result of him openly admitting he was a cross dresser, material that needs to be treated with care for him. There's also a fetishism coming into his work as this village, in-between gruesome death as Nazis permanently try to attack it, is also populated by tough sexy women based on real women in his life, alongside the clear sadomasochistic aspects that occasionally appeared, as his hunky square jawed stand-in can find himself stripped and beaten by said Nazis quite a bit. Its content, this and the subject of trauma, leaves Welcome to Marwen visibly in conflict with itself, a fight between a sanitised and sweet tale where Steve Carell plays him as a lovable man against Hogancamp himself, who in Marwencol can only be seen as utterly sympathetic but is a character even in the fictional version who is so much more complex and shaded. Especially with how Carell plays him and the plot, where he takes interest in a female neighbour, there's a darkness in this fictional version which leaves the question of how much is this the film getting away from the director, or is the director knowing where he was heading.  

Also, not only does the film succeed in this compelling and frankly jarring complexity even as a film, let alone its form itself being antagonistic to itself, the execution of what Marwencol (Marwen) is in the fantasies itself is Zemeckis, after his constant obsession with radical special effects, finding something legitimately surreal where the quirks of his experiments blossom rather than become vices. The film has to dance a merry dance around the sexualisation of the dolls, the actresses involved and Steve Carell turned into dolls, but it is some of the most unique and visually idiosyncratic of CGI animation particularly when, compared to Cats (2019) where super realistic cat effects are an unintentional nightmare, this literal doll logic with appropriate physics is compelling and successful.  Really the only thing of indulgence is how the director managed to sneak a Back to the Future reference, but aside from that I have no shame this film is this high on the list both in its unintentional complexities and how it manages to nonetheless work as a real Hollywood oddity, one with merit rather than a car crash like the aforementioned flea ridden felines.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Terror Toons (2002)

Director: Joe Castro
Screenplay: Rudy Balli, Joe Castro, Steven J. Escobar and Mark Villalobos
Cast: Beverly Lynne as Cindy; Lizzy Borden as Candy; Brandon Ellison as Rick; Kaycee as Amy; Fernando Padilla as Eddie; Jack Roberts as The Devil; Gil Chase as The Father; Shimmy Maxx as The Mother; Fernando Gasca as Tommy; Alexi Bustamante as the Pizza Boy; Brendon John Kelly as The Cartoon Cop; Scott Barrows as Max Assassin; Matt Falletta as Dr. Carnage

Delving into more horror franchises, the ones which really fascinate me are those that are under the radar, straight to video titles that continued, or sequels to films like Xtro (1982) [Covered HERE] that you'd never expect to exist after the original and went off course. And then there are the micro- and no- budget films, where even outside of franchises it's surprising how directors can churn out so much outside of the glare of a giant studio, and make and make on insanely low budgets. A figure like Bill Zebub, a guy notorious for titling films like Antfarm Dickhole (2011)1 and whose been making films since 2002, can have a fanbase and be prolific with limited resources not a disadvantage. These directors do cause you to consider whether watching all of their films would lead to them having auteur obsessions.

Then there's the franchises themselves which just continue on and on in this realm, like the slasher series Camp Blood from Brad Sykes, or today's subject from special effects creator and director Joe Castro, whose background is working on a lot of low budget films for micro-budget and small budget stewards like Todd Sheets, and Bruce LaBruce's controversial zombie porn film L.A. Zombie (2010) too, in that time also being a director himself. His most well known, and the topic for the opening introduction, is the Terror Toons trilogy which started in 2002, all about killer cartoon characters terrorising people. For the first film, Satan has decided to create the titular Terror Toons, animation on DVD when they were still a new trend, to be sent out to corrupt human beings or just having two figures stalking a group of young adults (acting as teenagers) in an era where micro-budget cinema transferred to digital camera and into the 2000s. The Toons are a mad doctor Dr. Carnage and Max Assassin, a purple gorilla created as a result of Carnage experimenting on a monkey, terrorising our leads in a small house set.

Already mentioned is the time the film was made in. Even if it's common for the previous decade to bleed over the next, as someone who was growing up as a teenager in the early 2000s that period for me had its own idiosyncrasies especially due to technology suddenly changing, and there is a huge change in mood to films like this as they switched from celluloid film and videotapes to digital. Notably as well, Terror Toons is made with a lot of green screen and low budget digital effects, all to depict cartoon physics including using fake tongues licking prop lollies and distorted eyes. The later in fact evokes the music video of Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun; for anyone who didn't see the video in the nineties originally, or saw it on Kerrang TV in the 2000s as I did, the video mainly surrounded idealised American suburbia with crudely (deliberately) distorted eyes and faces on the figures for creepy effect. The result in Terror Toons, especially the green screen, is an awkward result but it does give the film a weird edge above some films of a similar ilk. There is a lot to admire in trying to make a film at any budget, and I personally have always found the aesthetics of any decade, even if they have become obsolete, compelling and growing an aura as time passes.

Terror Toons also to its credit is better put together than most. There are practical effects, Castro really liking his disgusting and realistic guts, and they built around actual Terror Toon costumes and giant exaggerated props like axes and guns for the material. I also have to praise composer J.M. Logan, which is more surprising as he has barely worked as a composer but is actually more prolific as a production manager and part of the makeup department on productions. Working with what resources were available, the main theme alone is pitch perfect, good enough for any budget film and clearly indebted to Danny Elfman, a carnival music/Looney Tunes crossover for the ghoulish.

Cast wise, they act as hard as they can, in a film where there's not a lot to do barring a sequence of strip Ouija Board, trying to top the absurdity of Strip Monopoly from the original 1980 Friday the 13th film. Beverly Lynne interestingly, as the lead, would go on to a lot of softcore. Lizzy Borden as her younger sister deserves a paragraph. Alongside casting a drag queen Shimmy Maxx as their mother, she and the father the most rewarding figures for how funny they are, Borden adds an idiosyncratic touch as she looks like a stereotypical porn star, which she was, with what can only be politely described as very pronounced aspects likely to have been silicon enhanced, first introduced starting a song from Sesame Street in a bath before avoiding copyrighted material, bubbles stacked on top of a height they are on when she stands up. Borden, not to be confused with the obscurer glam metal band or the real life accused axe murderer, is clearly meant to be playing a young girl, at least up to the age of ten or eleven, which makes casting a well endowed porn star acting very childlike very weird.

Borden herself is also fascinating as, formerly married to porn filmmaker/radio host/wrestling promoter Rob Zicari, she is infamous for when she herself started directing porn films, pushing extremity and transgression, especially when it came to simulated non consensual sex, until she and Zixari were eventually put into jail for obscenity for a year and one day in 2009. She is a fascinating figure for how gender rarely is brought up in terms of transgression in artistic craft, though I'm never ever going to watch any of those films, and how a rare example like Borden complicates this even if she is a rarity. Back to the film itself, her role is admittedly slight, but this is the only film I could really bring this subject up in, so it was worth the paragraph.

As for Terror Toons itself in general? It isn't my thing, which is odd because it's clearly indebted to Herschell Gordon Lewis, the inventor of the "splatter" which was just an excuse for him to have scenes of gore with a minimal amount of plot, someone who'd eventually in one of his last involvements in cinema before his 2016 death have an onscreen role in Terror Toons 3 (2016) as a narrator. Lewis however, until his few seventies films like The Gore-Gore Girls (1972) got more sick humoured and scuzzier, had his tongue in his cheek, who never considered film an art form and just for profit, but enjoyed his work2. Even without the sixties aesthetic of Middle America, Lewis had a good black sense of humour, whilst Terror Toons feels meaner and cruel.

Terror Toons feels considerably nastier - for one character getting his exposed brain tickled with a feather, others like a woman being sawn in half are prolonged with lingering shots of those aforementioned realistic guts being there. The result actually feels like a prototype for a "Torture Porn" film, which Joe Castro might be offended in the comparison of, but is felt as films like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) would come only a few years later with lurid scene fixated on torture and people screaming in agony, but on higher budgets. Aside from this, there's only intermitted some cartoon physics at play too, a lot of the violence closer to usually splatter and only referencing cartoons or with the killers dancing to the point someone laughs to death. (A cartoon cop, who follows the villains, is only briefly lingered upon and is only there for a dynamite in a box of doughnuts joke). The result is simply not to my taste as mentioned - the later films do start referencing fairytales, which is of interest, but Terror Toons 2 (2007) does pretty much follow this initial formula fully but with a larger body count.

I will admit to end this paragraph that, when I first saw the film over more than ten years ago (as it did get a UK DVD), I switched the film off halfway through, only to only finish it later on that day as part of a growing need to be a completionist and not be half-arsed with my activities. I have softened to Terror Toons since then, but my taste in these no-budget films gravitates more to the esoteric and idiosyncratic. Blood and splatter is a popular thing for people still, which they are more than happy to have, but I've lost the interest for it by itself considerably. Its neither to blame on a director like Joe Castro, still charging ahead with films into the 2010s as a director like a bold micro-director should, but something that you the reader should apply to horror cinema for myself altogether as it has lost its lustre in terms of something to hoot and holler for.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Wacky
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

1) That was one of the least offensive titles he's created, trust me. I think when your tweet on Twitter on 19th January 2020 that "I want to fill my intestines with helium so that when I fart, it will be in a high-pitched and cute manner,", you really couldn't give a frog's fat arse if you offend people, and that's still mild and even charming when you hear of what some of the films are titles, let alone that he's clearly someone who likes to make un-PC films on purpose.

2) In the same year as Terror Toons, Lewis himself made Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat (2002), a film he had talked of not really being his, but very different from this one. It has some nasty effects, actually worked on by Joe Castro himself and impressive to witness, but the result is a bizarre mass of jokes and surreal tangents, including filmmaker John Waters in a cameo as a Catholic priest, which is tonally more light hearted and absurd on purpose.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Brainblast (1987)

Director: Andy Nehl
Screenplay: Stephen Stockwell
Cast:  Julie Mitchell as Sally; Lisa-Jane Stockwell as Margaret; Cathy Jukes as Liz; Toby Zoatesas Kika; James Scanlon as Burgher Meister

I came into Brainblast not knowing it was Australian - in truth I had no context at all for what to expect, just a craving for a lo-fi and micro budgeted work. Probably the most fascinating back-story titbit to Brainblast is knowing its director Andy Nehl would eventually, in the grand scheme of Australian cinema, helm a documentary tie-in called Buried Country (2000), alongside a book and stage show, for an album about native-Aboriginal country music that all together became a huge cultural success in the country.

There is also an inherent fascination, stepping back to very early in his career, with Australian cinema in general. Australia is its own unique culture, a distinct one because of its history and natural landscape that makes any film, especially in genre cinema, of fascination. (Hence why a native son Mark Hartley, when he helmed the documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), was probably helped as much in retroactively create a genre called "Ozploitation" because the culture's richness itself). Hearing the accents, after a punk dies on camera in the street from a comically large needle of super heroine in the neck, was an abrupt surprise and a delight fitting the dark humour of the scene, as a news reporter just wanders up to the corpse and bemoans the state of the world despite his crew providing the money for the smack. It's a perfect opening for any film to let you be ready for a very peculiar piece of cinema.

Brainblast sadly doesn't quite live up to this, suffering from a low budget production that is improvised to a detriment and padded with little resources. It's a shame considering snippets offer what it could've been. In future Australia, drugs are rife including a more lethal and cheaper form of heroin, one woman working at a research lab investigating that brain and finding a way to create a videotape that can induce a powerful narcotic effect. The result drags itself to a plot - there is a gang who sell drugs that eventually became aware of that tape, whilst there is also a secret and shady government group which allows the film to criticise the Australian conservative Christian community. This wouldn't be an issue, happy to see an improvised lo-fi production with this mix of ideas and schlock, if it didn't feel undernourished.

Aspects of Brainblast are charming, bits of Liquid Sky (1982) in its low view of life and hallucinogenic effects thrown around, Troma in its few moments of luridness and cheese, even an unexpected head implosion, alongside arty pretensions which are arguably a detriment. The later is odd in the mix, such as cutting to a man so he can spout poetry for a time until punks, including one wearing a metal trash can as a vest, can kick him down. The aspects of absurdity do better, slight lameness and charm to be loved, be it that particular punk's existence and the general display of peculiar fashion among the villains, to the effect of the narcotic tape to induce dreams, including a female character making out with a man in a frog costume.

It does drag though, a film I can only describe further in terms of just repeating plot details to be honest, or character like the elder hippy that looks at this period he's now in with less enthusiasm, something that's sadly a sign of a film that's slight for me. Aesthetically I have grown to appreciate films shot with what is available, the streets of an Australian city inherently interesting whilst the video hue to everything is potent. The soundtrack is also pretty good; your taste in indie rock needs to be positive to it, but it stands out considerably in terms of most films of this budget going for synths. Beyond this...well, it's charming but this is definitely a film which could've been more than it had.

The premise of audio-visual stimulus which causes narcotic highs is a good idea, the film even namedropping LSD's biggest gospel preacher Timothy Leary. The film itself could've gone further, especially as it intersects with sex (another connection to Liquid Sky) where certain erotic words are programmed by a very polite computer A.I. to have an effect on a viewer's senses. Even if played as a Troma film, it would've been a fun romp, between a sloppy brawl that takes place partway through to the general nasty wall chewing of the villains. I think, from a personal opinion, Brainblast's flaw for me is that it likes padding itself out way too much without a lot there. As a result, it's hard to really recommend the film, an utter shame as it'd been nice to have a peculiar Australian micro-budgeted film to appreciate.

Abstract Spectrum: Eccentric/Psychedelic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Monday, 13 January 2020

A Paper Tiger (2008)

a.k.a Un Tigre De Papel
Director: Luis Ospina
Screenplay: Luis Ospina

Luis Ospina is a director I have no knowledge, one of the many introduced to me through MUBI's streaming service and gives them their wings, because even if they are temporary their retrospectives of directors especially those difficult to see the work of are usually fascinating. Colombia for cinema is also a marginalised country in spite of its history of films, not easily accessible for whatever questionable reason; one of the few prominent works to get a lot more Western film publications on being Embrace of the Serpent (2015), and not a lot many else before. A Paper Tiger is a film from Ospina, a director in his homeland who is prolific without many sadly knowing of his existence outside that country, this particular film a peculiar creation regardless of its country of origins and an ambitious project for anyone to create.

It's a documentary about artist Pedro Manrique Figueroa, whose main work was paper collage but over the decades, during Colombia's tumultuous political eras and Figueroa's involvement in Communism, bore witness to the rise of Communist China, to conflict with his comrades over the purpose of art, to getting into trouble with the FBI by stamping American dollar bills with "Fake" to undermine their use.

Figueroa also doesn't exist. He's managed to get a textless credit on the Museum of Modern Arts' website, but Figueroa is a mere creation of Luis Ospina for a mockumentary. It's a testament to A Paper Tiger, however, that it's pulled off with genius. Even a slightly ridiculous tangent, that he had a cameo in Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980) as a member of the cannibal tribe, is built on context which makes sense, that Figueroa was kicked out of a Mormon group for experimenting with psychedelics in the middle of the jungle, half mad and a mass of hair, all with the director going as far as hiring (amateur?) actors from the region of the jungle the film is said to be shot in to play translators, talking about the film was utterly lying about the tribal community and building on Figueroa getting the Amazon native cast to distrust the Italian production crew.

This is where the film succeeded for me - a) there's an underlying intelligent complexity, and b) Luis Ospina acquired the resources to actually pull it off, arguably more complex than some well known mockumentries as he has an international cast of talking heads to play fake figures. It does look like a nineties documentary, despite being made in the late 2000s, but I won't complain as it's a film made to look perfectly like an actual documentary. He also cast well in mind that Pedro Manrique Figueroa, as a guy who travelled around the world, has a list of interesting interviewees to talk about him, from an Indian colleague he studied with who recounts the paranoia he had in protecting a sack of potatoes, only for them to be for a recipe, a son of a Chinese colleague and friend who found subversions of Maoist work in paper collage hidden among his father's possessions after his death, or an English woman our elusive protagonist had a brief romance with who is outspoken and charming, only willing to speak of the more scintilating details of the romance to her dog only. Figueroa even though he is a missing enigma, a hollow form in the centre of this only seen vaguely in some materials, becomes a powerful spectre as a result of this structure.

Production wise, it looks the part. I admit I'm not a fan of talking head documentaries baring some cases as unless they are great tools of research, they are cinematically bland. Here however with a project that's openly fictional and using the style as an artistic format, it does the talking head interviews and archive footage choices so well I come to appreciate the art form of having to create even a fictional biopic, wishing only documentaries on art were as detailed and with multiple chapters as this fake one does. It helps as well as the art of Figueroa's paper collage is also accomplished perfectly, to the point it could be hung in galleries in its pop art sights that involve religion to communism, being a nun with Che Guevara tattooed to her bared chest to purgatory being having to read Chairman Mao's Little Red Book among the fiery coals.

Many questions, not all about Figueroa, are found and where A Paper Tiger gets interesting, as to what it is all supposed to mean. A Zelig figure, Zelig a 1983 Woody Allen film where he created a chameleonic character who was there in various historically significant moments blending in everywhere, Pedro Manrique Figueroa is there for a considerable part of Columbian culture and the world from the forties to the end of the eighties. He is eye view to Columbia's left and right wing changes, is the older man covered in hair when psychedelics alongside rock and nudity became popular in the country, and is part alongside the talking heads of the influences that took over, from both a Communist perspective to landscape changing events across the world like the Vietnam War. Communism has a sordid underbelly that makes the film's high view of it problematic and uncomfortable for me when the mockumentry takes on pro views - Pol Pot, Stalinist purges, Mao's purges - but where it deals with the fractures the film doesn't take punches either.

You get to Chinese communism and the original Communist fracture, to the point of the subversive distortions of Maoist imagery that the interviewee brought up, and by the late quarter A Paper Tiger's narrative arch becomes an existential crisis for Pedro Manrique Figueroa. The issue that plagued real life artist, that Communism eventually became that art should serve merely the state and "Social realism", eventually leads Figueroa to break away, leading to the absurd lost eighties of stumbling onto the Cannibal Holocaust set, or an actor playing an FBI agent with features blurred showing one of Figueroa's tampered dollar bills he was caught working on.

The film does, of course, leave the mystery of what happened to Pedro Manrique Figueroa in the open. Maybe he willingly encased himself in a museum and became a mummy, as one interviewee suggests, or is still alive? Whatever the idea, Luis Ospina intended our unseen protagonist to represent the virtues in his views, the political shitraker whose art became entirely individualistic to want to improve society around him by tearing it up. It's an idealised view, even here Figueroa with a sense that he'd be a nightmare at times (like the bag of potatoes anecdote) but ultimately a good heart. This is a film which from Luis Ospina clearly showed what he beleived in, the director passing in 2019, with passion following individual freedom against giant groups and governments. Unlike Zelig who was so ordinary he transformed, fitting to Woody Allen's stage persona of neurosis and feeling small, Luis Ospina's fictional mirror is always focused and creative, just thrown between events like a working Ping-Pong ball. His creator's mockumentary on him is inspired as a result.

Abstract Spectrum: Playful
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Best of 2019: Part 3 (30-21)

For Part 1

For Part 2

30. House of Seven Belles (1979/2019) [MUBI Streaming Premiere]

A controversial choice, but as part of Nicolas Winding Refn's byBWR website this still technically qualifies as an unfinished Andy Milligan film, one most will not have heard of even if you knew of the notorious cult director, which has been digitally premiered even without an ending and a lack of music. There is even a competition to submit an ending in any form possible that ends in March 2020, which goes to show this is one of the more idiosyncratic aspects of the site that I admire immensely. Even if Refn's own work has disappointed in 2019, he made up for it in this type of production.

If offers a tantalising possibility as, when usually this type of work would be only screened at film festivals or one off screenings, Refn's choice is one of the more inspired ones that emphasises even how an unfinished movie can have a lot of fascinating enticement. Andy Milligan, to be blunt, is an acquired taste - the acting can be broad, he has a very misanthropic view of the world, and barring the lack of his infamous spinning camera shot the film does have an idiosyncratic editing style at times to say the least. Milligan into the 2010s has gained a critical reappraisal, after years in dismissal, so the irony of a film of his getting a streaming premiere on MUBI is not lost. What's also of interest in his attempt at lurid Southern Gothic storytelling is that, with a very complicated history with gender politics due to a terrible childhood, how prominent the female cast are here is a really fascinating change of pace for him, alongside the clear sense of ambition he had. To the point he was behind the costumes himself, Milligan was clearly working on one of his most high budgeted films here which has a style to it, which is compelling to say the least.

To even get this film is of note for 2019, and to be controversial, the climax we do get involving someone falling off a cliff is a good enough even as an abrupt ending in itself.  For a film with an acid attack, his usual gore and really catty dialogue, it's a reminder of how idiosyncratic American grindhouse cinema can be, and as this is an example of one that lived up to expectations rather than disappointed, it does show that byNWR will still grab my attention if they keep up with these ambitious choices. If only there were a few more sites willing to offer this type of material, in art cinema for example, and for free to boot.

29. Dave Made a Maze (2017) [UK Blu-Ray Premiere]

A hipster remake of Vincenzo Natali's Cube (1997)? Not quite but it's my own promotional tag for the film, so I'll stick with it. Another of Arrow Video's acquisitions for the 2019, which sadly is the kind of film you don't get a theatrical release of, which is a shame as when Lords of Chaos (2018) is a poor film for the company to promote, this is one of their sleeper titles which is a reminder that they occasionally take a chance on an obscurity like this.

It's a metaphor for accepting growing into one's thirties, in which a man (almost Michel Gondry in premise) builds a cardboard fort to hide in within his lounge, only with the issue that not only does it bend spayial logic but even if they are made of card, the death traps inside do actually kill people even if they bleed red string. Somehow managing to be sweet and playful even with death involved, Dave Made a Maze was a film I anticipated, felt a little disappointed by, only to grow fond of over the year because of how much it was clearly a passion project for director Bill Watterson, a really strange passion project which is reminder that, whilst sadly a lot of American directors like him didn't get to make a lot of films over the 2010s, there are countless odd one-offs in cult cinema from the last decade. A lot which defy genre like this and are for me many of the most significant signposts for what the 2010s looked like.

Also, you cannot go wrong with a film where the cast briefly turn into puppets. Even The Irishman didn't have its cast turn into puppets. Whilst the ageing computer effects were fascinating, imagine if Robert De Niro's younger self was played by a puppet?

28. Zombi Child (2019) [MUBI Streaming Premiere]

A film I wonder about the release of - is MUBI just waiting for a while as they did with the 2018 Suspiria remake before they release a DVD? - but as further evidence that Bernard Bonello is an idiosyncratic director, what could've been a misguided and problematic tale is actually a really thoughtful tale which deals with Haitian voodoo. It follows two tales of a) a man in Haiti becoming a zombie, not the George Romero brain eater but the real folklore of someone drugged into a daze to become a slave, and b) an ancestor of his, a fictional grand daughter of a real case, living in France and the repercussions of her heritage becoming known to her French classmate as one becomes intrigued by voodoo. It's a calm, methodical drama first which pulls you in with interest, with respect for the religious beliefs. It does eventually become a horror film too, earning it by showing what the actual Baron Samedi is meant to be in all his mad glory rather than the James Bond version. That Bonello is even scoring the film with lovely synthesiser flourishes himself goes to prove he put his heart into the production.

27. The Favourite (2018) [UK Theatrical Premiere]

Yorgos Lanthimos' follow up is probably made one of his weakest films, barring Kinetta (2005) his debut which was a weird little experience very different from his trademarks. It doesn't necessarily have the impact and risk of even the underrated The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), but there's stil a lot to admire in The Favourite.

There's also a perversity that I was able to see this film at a multiplex and that it won so many awards, including for Olivia Colman in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars, when it's still a Lanthimos at its heart, a weird scrutinisation of human behaviour that just happens to be set in early 18th century England. Even if not as extreme as some of his other work, its sumptuous as the best of British period drama films this is technically part of, but with a profanity that makes it feel more alive than many. Even if now with screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the dialogue is just as odd, the sex and violence when occassionally seen is just as striking, and the ritualistic behaviour is the same as any other Lanthimos character from before, be it Nicholas Hoult finding his inner Diva in full period appropriate costume and ridiculously big male wig, to the duck racing indoors among other activities of very bored and misguided gentry.

The result is still worthwhile even if his weakest, better than most peoples' best, and weird enough that you wouldn't have necessarily improved upon it if there was a scene with puppets either.

26. High Life (2018) [UK Theatrical Premiere]

Claire Denis' English language debut is probably one of her weakest films, mainly because outer space nihilism doesn't do it for me. You could probably accuse me as a hypocrite considering how misanthropic Andy Milligan is, but High Life's flaws is just how a bit predictable its cynicism of the human condition can be.

Denis too, like Lanthimos, cannot make a bad film however, and the best of High Life is the idea someone let her helm a sci-fi film with a high profile cast this risky. Everything that is memorable - the perverse ritual sex machine, the astronauts floating in outer space, the moments of heart in among the darkness of the human condition - are her best qualities alongside the sumptuous aesthetic and Tindersticks' Stuart A. Staples knocking the score out of the park. Another aspect, which rarely is mentioned with Denis' talent though, is her knack for great idiosyncratic casting, be it André 3000 from Outkast standing out to Juliette Binoche being as seductively evil as she can.

And of course, there's Robert Patterson. What a fascinating 2010s he had, starting off in the last Twilight films as an actor mocked for his role as Edward the pale sparkling vampire only to, from David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis (2012) onwards, to not only have a taste for idiosyncratic and weird productions, but is in fact a handsome matinee idol who is also an exceptional character actor. He is the kind of person, to keep the running gag for this part of the list going until it gets boring, could actually star in a film with puppets and a) have one of the best performances in it, and b) still be such a known name that, as with Twilight fans reading the source material for Cosmopolis, the possible future Batman star will draw people to his stranger and bolding career choices.

The decade has proven him with the last laugh, after all the mockery he and Kristen Stewart probably got for the Twilight franchise, she also going in a fascinating career direction, and his appeal is going to benefit unique and original voices like Claire Denis' in the long run. For example, the fact that my local former church turned art centre have The Lighthouse (2019) programmed in the upcoming months of 2020, alongside films that'll appeal to a mainstream greying audience, is all because of him in likelihood, all in spite of the fact all I've heard consists of it being a bizarre monochrome nightmare with Willem Dafoe stripping nude, and Patterson in-between masturbating about possible fictional mermaids and being threatened by a one eyed seagull. Even if his role in High Life wasn't also tremendous, he's a guy who I'm proud is a British actor who is good and loves taking risks like he has so far.

25. The Irishman (2019) [World Theatrical Premiere/Netflix Premiere]

With all the praise, articles and arguments over just Martin Scorsese slagging Marvel comic book films that has been generated by his Netflix produced film, let alone the same amount for this crime film itself, I think the truth is that for a three and a near half hour film, the only moment which really stood out for me emotionally is in the last thirty minutes. In a tale based on the real mob hitman Frank Sheeran, that final chapter touches upon something legitimately new in the crime genre as it eventually leads to his old age, forcing one to view criminals from the perspective of the end of their lives, possible jail time to illness and the weight of a life tainted by blood at the end of their own. Everything else is good, but not like this final half hour is.

That said, The Irishman is still a film of note, a handsome production made by a director more ambitious than people who are a quarter of his age. The cast are full of heavyweight who stand out, between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (returning from retirement) who are compelling in their roles, with Al Pacino the one standing out of such a strong group just because he steals scenes with premium scenery chewing as a petty ice cream obsessed Jimmy Hoffa, Even if it leaves the young De Niro looking like John Wayne briefly, the digital de-aging effects are fascinating too as a tool to try to tell stories which last over many decades. Certainly, after seeing Tom Hooper's Cats (2019), no one should be able to mock The Irishman even if you find the effect doesn't quite work.

Again, only the fact there are no puppet scenes is in hindsight a disappointment, (all spoken with tongue firmly in cheek), and far from a cheap joke, probably one of the biggest surprises and virtues of The Irishman is that, whilst its melancholic and weighted in Scorsese's Catholic guilt, it has so many hilarious scenes particularly with Pacino swearing the scenes blues that are also some of the strongest moments. If anything too, The Irishman's length, which has been criticised, is actually a virtue in forcing you to feel the weight of time, even though it only picked up for me in the finale, a film that feels worthy of it by being compelling regardless of the hype surrounding the production being a detriment for me.

24. Knife+Heart (2018) [MUBI Screening Premiere]

Yann Gonzalez reappears on this list, and honestly, the only surprise with this fascinating giallo set in gay porno culture is that it's surprisingly not as explicit as I'd presumed it could've been. However, in this tale of a female gay porno producer in 1979 Germany investigating the mysterious murders of her stars, this offers a fascinating new stem of ideas that will hopefully blossom in the 2020s. Namely that, in the 2010s especially, we thankfully got past the ironic neo-grindhouse pastiches to directors actually taking past pulp genres and turning them on their heads in sometimes very experimental forms. The best comparison to Knife+Heart is Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, who also dabbled in the Italian murder mystery genre of giallos, Gonzalez as an LGBT director coming to this genre himself from a different direction of the gaze eroticising the male body and that, in mind the genre was always about style in the best of them, he runs with a smorgasbord of sensual aesthetics for both the eyes and ears.

Helping as well is that giallos, baring a few with good twists, were never really about their plots and could be strange and very erotic, sometimes just lurid and perverted, so here's a film where a rare breed of bird is a major clue, and that the eroticism is a thing of utter celebration with its porno chique. The music by M83 keeps the run of great synth scores on this list, thankfully a reminder that rather than a cheap way to evoke the nineteen eighteens, it's a thing of beauty next to such pretty images and interesting characters.

To see these genres being taken seriously by non-white, female and LGBT directors with high mindedness is only to welcome in cult cinema, especially when the results are great like this. Such a simple chance, a new perspective, is able to bring out some new layers to genres and hopefully more great films.

23. Burning (2018) [UK Theatrical Release]

Since the last film of Lee Chang-dong's I had seen was Green Fish (1997), a contemplative crime-drama film, and the reverse chronology Peppermint Candy (1999), this adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story over nearly two decades later is a drastic change in pace for him upon catching up together.

Murakami has told a few stories like this in his career - down to earth and usually listless men, no going anywhere, who meet mysterious and beautiful women. The physical and emotional romance is going to end badly, he witnesses the worst of people, and like another tale or so, this even involves a cat as a major plot aspect. The major differences are that this is a South Korean director setting the film in South Korea, where there is clearly an entire layer of political commentary about the South Korean middle class that has gone over my head, as the mysterious woman is involved with a sinister rich man. That, and in being just under two and a half hours, Chang-dong turns a film that could've been much shorter into a slow cinema contemplative experience, stripped down to a realism and pace of time that could be extremely divisive for many.

Whatever the case for each person, Burning worked for me. That and the film has one of the scenes of the year in debuting actress Jun Jong-seo's dance sequence, which steal the film from everyone else, even Steven Yeun, a Korean-American actor more likely known for the likes of the Walking Dead series who doesn't feel out of place here in the slightest as the sinister rich man.

22. Under the Silver Lake (2018) [World Theatrical Premiere]

[Read review HERE

Following on from his abrupt horror smash hit It Follows (2014), David Robert Mitchell cashed in on his credit for a bizarro film, which in the history of American cinema usually is the brunt of harsh critical opinion, usually isn't a financial hit, but gets a cult following like Richard Kelly's Southland Tales (2006) did.

Under the Silver Lake is weird, setting this up when a squirrel abruptly drops dead in front of Andrew Garfield at the beginning, apt for a film where clues can be found in SNES video game magazines, Kurt Cobain's guitar makes a cameo, urban legends actually exist like a random dog serial killer, and that one should never disrespect the homeless. Under the Silver Lake does present a challenge that, as a gonzo noir influenced mystery with a Thomas Pynchon like obsession with tangents, the protagonist is a dickhead, a voyeur which is been an issue for some viewers as there is a lot of female nudity. I think the film knows this and sets this up by a) having him assault children even if they vandalised his car, and b) there's a scene where his voyeurism goes too far, with a drone camera watching a woman undress, only for the viewer to be stuck watching this one scene figure visibly in tears and undermine the gaze, a sigh of a film taking a risk by having such a flaw person capable of bad and good things as our guide to this weirdness.

Under the Silver Lake is also gleefully strange. I cannot envision a film in a long while, set in Los Angeles, where it references everything from old Hollywood cinema to REM. It also feels like the tide is changing, thankfully, away from eighties culture to the nineties, which could be unbearable as what I grew up in the decade with as a child gets rammed down my throat, but could also be much more odder. The nineties was also the decade where this type of weirdo genre hybrid cinema which dug into the far flung past, and also was found in other mediums like music, was the most prevalent aspect of the entire decade, so a film like Under the Silver Lake is hopefully not the last of these alongside something potentially god-awful like a Street Sharks reboot.

21. Occidental (2017) [MUBI Streaming Premiere]

[Read full review HERE

A film I wish I could see again, Neil Beloufa's Occidental is a very different film in that its very small scale, a tale of suspicion in a hotel between a small cast whilst riots are taking place outside, but definitely made in the 2010s with its lush neon, disregard for conventional genre structures and a sweet synth score. It proves as much an example of one of the past decade's most interesting features, that the old tropes and plots of yore, of suspicion as two mysterious men become the concern of the female hotel manager, when there's new voices who can approach it from sides that haven't until now been open, and with these playful aesthetic touches that add so much to the table.

Suffice to say that when we get to the top twenty in the next part, not only will there be less puppet jokes, although there are many films from the 2019 that were popular that might have been funnier with a parody of in such a form, but this aspect of Occidental, which also has the advantage of being less than eighty minutes, will be found running a gamut of genres and story types. Until then...

To Be Continued...