Saturday, 20 April 2019

Strange Circus (2005)

From https://cdn3.movieweb.com/i/movie/6yRqpgAhGocA
a1LbcN2MPlreaBJgfY/384:50/Strange-Circus.jpg


Director: Sion Sono
Screenplay: Sion Sono
Cast: Masumi Miyazaki as Sayuri; Issei Ishida as Yuji; Rie Kuwana as Young Mitsuko; Mai Takahashi as Young Mitsuko; Tomorowo Taguchi as Taeko's Editor; Hiroshi Ohguchi as Gozo

Synopsis: Growing up, Mitsuko is the daughter of a male school principal who is a sexual deviant, his involvement of her causing further tension between her and her mother. In the other half of the film, all bookended by a carnival show, a wheelchair bond female author of such tales meets a young, youthful man asked by her publisher to scope her secret life out.

Revisiting Strange Circus, Sion Sono hasn't really changed over a decade - probably a testament to his single mindedness that, now the J-Cinema boom of the 2000s has changed from material for his home country to now an awareness of cult audiences outside Japan, the same obsessions are here but he transitioned from the aesthetic style from then. Mainly that he was still heavily reliant on ordinary on-location sets at this stage, leading later to more artificial sets and, when locations have to be used, a greater sense of saturation in colour and look.

Sono's transgressive streak is also here, and as always been as much a crutch too. Thankfully I've seen Love & Peace (2015), Sono's Christmas family film, so I've seen his soft and humane side, so Strange Circus' tendency to wallow in the worst in humanity, where the sexual degradation of a young girl through an incestuous relationship with her perverse father, where nothing but trauma is shown in the resolution, is not the only side of him. His tendency to make a lot of dark films - encapsulated in the Hate Trilogy (Love Exposure (2008) the first, but particularly Cold Fish (2010) and Guilty of Romance (2011)) - has left a stereotype of him as a filmmaker obsessed with perversion, trauma and depravity but with the blunt honesty that he tends to shout about it but in obvious ways. Barring the odd touches to Strange Circus, like being a tale told within a strange carnival at a pan gendered freak shown cabaret, it does fall down to the idea that humanity is shit which he'd probably admit is obvious.

Sono's transgression is drawn more from Western culture as I revisit these films, like Guilty of Romance in particular in how little references play a bulk of the psychological drama - here a classical piece used constantly alongside how the young girl we start off with is locked inside a cello case as part of her father's depraved voyeuristic tendencies. The stylised and artificial sets, here especially in their primordial state, are definitely Sion's own quirk, the late 1990s and early 2000s particularly distinct in Japanese cult cinema in how ordinary locations, the most benign like an allotment behind buildings, are a constant source for practical locations whilst Sono would eventually emphasis more overtly colourful, manufactured sets. More so here in the second half, following a female writer writing of this trauma of the young girl, herself presumed, whose home has a meeting room which is a carnivalesque sight of grotesquely distinct wall ornaments and decor; there's even the curious sight of a restaurant/bar that is designed as a Catholic church right down to the all-female waiting staff being dressed as nuns.

Sono's a primal filmmaker, not really that complicated and psychological in terms of excessive dialogue, but through the gut. There is as much a sense, as originally a genre director whose made his way through pinku softcore and films like this, he makes films as much with an eye on shocking or exciting the audience in luridness too that has to be barred in mind despite also his career including being an author and poet. Strange Circus still has a weird, distinct edge I admire - scenes of the young girl's school life as if the high school for Cenobites in fleshy blood red corridor walls and her head teacher father making speeches to her class as a giant set of eyes on a television pushed around by schoolchildren. And certainly as a psychodrama, it's vivid, taking in cruelty, parental abuse, physical and psychological trauma as the authoress is wheelchair bound, and twists as that's to question alongside what exactly she has hidden in the cello case upstairs, out of sight, in a garbage and waste food strewn room. All whilst the young, fey male assistant she has her eyes on isn't exactly conventional either, at least briefly joining a club meeting for individuals who practical body modification with his views that he had to change his body with implied psychological issues inducing it.

From http://inreviewonline.com/wp-content/uploads/
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The issue is the actual content of Sono's films is whether they've actual depth as his style tends to suggest. Here it's closer to Grand Guignol than thesis, but it has to be argued whether this film succeeds in this. Arguably, he's an emotional director more than the mind, only with the fact it's a place that rips your heart out constantly and bashes your skull in - the first half told in a form of flashback entirely set within a traumatised mind before the story of the authoress changes it completely. Sono is both sincere but rash in his bluntness.

[Major Spoiler Warnings]

As Strange Circus is designed to put all its chips on the table for the second half, all the first half is a complete distorted lens from the mother's perspective rather than the daughter's, becoming beholden to this structure more than Sono's other films barring the interest this film has in being a primal, feel-bad psychological drama. It still feels like where he would go in the 2010s, but he's someone who gets to this in his cinema whether tone by a lot of plot conventions, in this particularly case writing himself into a corner that he could've escaped from, here the mysterious young man whose actually more closely related to the authoress than she thought.

He decides to end on a really bad ending twist, confused in mixing both its all a dream plotting with just a garbled take, visibly, on how Takashi Miike's Audition (1999) ends, only with the added detail of a chainsaw. And this is sad as, whilst not a fun experience, Strange Circus is still an interesting and creepy tale, but a compromised one. It actually feels like a rushed ending surprisingly, still nearly two hours long, an argument to be made that Sono's decisions to have films climb over two hours, to the point international releases can be edited down as Guilty of Romance was, is actually a way for him to have these scenarios reach natural conclusions rather than fall into this contrivance.

[Spoilers End]

Probably the biggest surprise is that, contrary to my original opinion, Sono's improved in terms of this type of story over the years, the complete failure of the ending, making little sense and not likely to impress anyone, emphasising that for how agonising his work can be, utterly frustrating as well in cases like Antiporno (2016), he got rid of ill advised plot twists from his in favour of just embracing plot clichés and twisting them into more fascinating tangents. (One of his lighter hearted works, despite being bloody as hell and looking like it was doing to be a nasty for the sake of it work in the first episode, mini-series Tokyo Vampire Hotel (2017), emphasised that the invention can be found in just stretching vampire and action clichés in weird and memorable tangents). He can still fall into them - Tag (2015) a recent example - but whilst some of his films can be unbearable in their nihilism at times, he had the wiser idea even for his aforementioned Christmas movie for children to use slow burn character drama than an abrupt chainsaw death as shown here.

Abstract Spectrum: Disturbing/Grotesque/Mindbender/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
Strange Circus is a film, one of the first of Sion Sono's I'd ever seen, which is still going to be close to my heart, aware how strange that sounds considering how nasty the film is, but it's not without some glaring faults. It feels like a dry run for future productions, and as a result, gets more worth in this as much as its successful virtues.


From https://a.ltrbxd.com/resized/sm/upload/cc/zp/o2/rd/strange-circus
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Friday, 19 April 2019

Non-Abstract Review: Year of the Nail (2007)

From https://i2.wp.com/newcelluloid.com/wp-content/
uploads/2017/03/ano-una.jpg


a.k.a. Año uña
Director: Jonás Cuarón
Screenplay: Jonás Cuarón
Cast: Eireann Harper as Molly; Diego Cataño as Diego

Synopsis: Told entirely in photographs, of real people and family of the director, Jonás Cuaron tells a fictional story of a young American college student Molly (Eireann Harper) whose encounter with Mexican teenager Diego (Diego Cataño), whilst she is briefly in his country, leaves him smitten for her.

Alfonso Cuarón is a director I don't necessarily take interest in; the director who has done work in his homeland (Y Tu Mamá También (2001)) to the States (Gravity (2013)), a critical darling with the Netflix approved Roma (2018) just an example of someone whose constant praise in the mainstream unfortunately puts me off without actually judging the work. It's an unfair attitude and I will rectify it one day. (Gravity, though, doesn't work for its heavy handed and empty spectacle especially when not seen on a cinema screen). Here though, I finally am round to a film I've wanted to seen for over ten years, his son Jonás Cuarón making films into the current day too. Year of the Nail is told entirely in photos like Chris Marker's La Jette (1962), real documents in photo form, in montage and with voice over.

It has two different beginnings - an American named Molly is stuck in a lost twenties where she is aimless, unsure what to do with her life but going to Mexico twice, once for her studies and then again out of a desire for sightseeing, which mark a comfort for her to escape this dead-end. The second time introduces her to Diego, as she stays at his family home as a guest; Diego is a hormone driven male fourteen year old, obsessed with sex, intrigued to woo the older American girl, constantly dealing with an ingrown toe nail, interestingly where the English title comes from, but also serious issues like family fragmentation and a grandfather becoming stricken with cancer. Using real photos, rather than staged ones, means occasionally a background face is blurred out, and it ends with a tribute to a past relative, a sense the "actors" included actual Cuarón family in their day-to-day lives, turned into fictional characters. Even Molly herself, actress Eireann Harper, was the girlfriend of the director-screenwriter, who took these images between 2004-5 as the introductory text elaborates, a film built from reality that is emphasised just by the fact the camera used switches from monochrome to colour halfway through.

Year of the Nail weave a lot of interest beyond its style, the story interesting in this frankly problematic love story which yet avoids becoming icky in a natural, inevitable way. It plays on conceptions a great deal too - able to understand Spanish, Molly is aware of how she is perceived as an ignorant American, whilst for Diego and his family, preconceptions of Mexicans is also poked at, particularly as he tries to avoid his family (especially his grandmother) embarrassing him in his misguided attempt to flirt with Molly, which considering his idea is to laze about on the beach all the time can be seen as an immediate failure anyway.  

The film doesn't try to sugar-coat the obvious issue, more so ten years on, of an adult woman and a young teenage boy in a potential romance, especially as the character Molly does flirt with the idea of a relationship before, when he finds a way of meeting her in New York City, she sees the issues that have arisen. I do understand the real concern viewers can have with fictional tales which have these premises, but it's as much an unwanted avoidance of that transgressive issue that, in real life, the beginning of sexuality all of us went through after puberty is one that's very uncomfortable to deal with but should be tackled, especially in lieu to how this relates to the adult world and trying to consider the subject with thoughtfulness. The film doesn't step from why its taboo either, without being remotely explicit barring how much profanity and sex talk Diego himself uses especially in voice over. The subject of adult-teenage relationships and the idea that that they can be consensual for participants, even in a merely fictional realm, can now seen much more as too far, but the truth is I'd rather have a film tackle this subject in this particularly case frankly, and carefully, with the necessary complexity needed. Even if the moments of humour and farce may have become more uncomfortable for some in the last ten years.

Altogether, Year of the Nail was a good surprise, a really interesting experiment in limited resources. A lot of drama is surprisingly found even without moment, a greater sense of creativity required to establish a world, needing multiple photos for one scene to exist; even in mind that these images probably existed already before the idea to make a film did, you still had to find a way to connect them together in editing and careful use of the voice over and dialogue recorded over them, to which Jonás Cuarón never oversteps into heavy handedness in drama or the cultural clash that takes place with the main characters. To establish such a world, you have fleshed out experience of places in Mexico and outside of it like Coney Island in New York City in detail, which you rarely get in cinema due to the ease in using a camera has. Knowing real family is involved in the director's work is great, as is that he doesn't flinch away for details, from a hospital corridor to showing the actual neutering of a pet cat in a veterinarians' in lieu to the Diego family cat having the operation.

Jonás Cuaron manages so much in only less than eighty minutes, a fleshed out premise with emotional weight, that it does become a great representation for me of the fascinating underbelly of cinema that'll be uncovered over the next decade particularly for the maligned late 2000s, where one-offs and experiments are gathering dust on DVD copies waiting another evaluation...or in this case actually seeing the film after taking too long as I did.


From https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/
pictures/2008/10/30/anouna460.jpg

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

From http://www.vanessasnonspoilers.com/wp-content
/uploads/2018/08/Under-the-Silver-Lake-Poster.jpg


Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenplay: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Andrew Garfield as Sam, Riley Keough as Sarah, Topher Grace as the Man at the Bar, Laura-Leigh as Mae, Zosia Mamet as Troy, Jimmi Simpson as Allen, Patrick Fischler as the Comic Fan

Synopsis: Sam (Andrew Garfield) is a slacker who becomes fixated on his new female neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough), only for her to immediately vanish. His search for her across --- Los Angeles will include the King of the Homeless, conspiracies, a serial killer of dogs, and codes in Nintendo games.

Well, at least David Robert Mitchell was ambitious, which is not something you say a lot when, frankly, most American directors (and some beyond the States) when they have just made something interesting now get sucked into blockbusters with no creative control in the slightest. It's a view easily bias to how Under the Silver Lake is absolutely indulgent and not without faults, but God only knows how many filmmakers, when they've done well even in art house cinema, tend to now go for the blandest and predictable of routes with their newest films too. The comparisons to Richard Kelly have been apt - Kelly gained a reputation for Donnie Darko (2001), less when it actually debuted theatrically but from word of mouth, the follow up the notorious Southland Tales (2006). Tales was even more ambitious, comic book prologues and all tied in, and was also debuted at the Cannes Film Festival as Under the Silver Lake was, getting a good thrashing between them. Time is looking to potential give Southland Tales a chance, but Under the Silver Lake's too young to start asking about this.

Mitchell's journey is curious as, three films in when Kelly's was just a debut before he got to Southland Tales, he started with an indie The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010), then suddenly got a surprise hit by entering the horror genre, It Follows (2014) getting a lot of traction. So he decides to take his chips accumulated and gamble them all on this two and a half hour neo-noir pastiche which gets through so many weird tangents I don't know when to begin. Definitely, absolutely, the legacy of Thomas Pynchon is growing even outside of literature into cinema - amazingly, there's only been one official Pynchon adaptation in Inherent Vice (2014), but filmmakers like Mitchell have instead appropriated his style of numerous tangents and conspiracies interweaving into each other, loose ends, eccentrics and a lot of pop culture. Under the Silver Lake, whether you like it or not, is surprisingly faithful to his style even if by accident, even the length befitting some of his monolithic tomes like Gravity's Rainbow.

Mitchell's film is strange, a farce to be honest whose central figure, an obsessive compulsive conspiracy nut and slacker, is inherently a dick, who indulges in his old Playboys and Nintendo Power magazines, and is a peeping tom who gets distracted by eyeing up women. Andrew Garfield imbues him with some charisma, but he's having sex with an on-and-off-again girlfriend whilst having women's tennis on the television at the same time, beating up children for vandalising his car the next. The voyeurism has put people off with the film, and I'll admit that whilst we get to see Garfield's bared arse a lot for balance, the amount of female nudity is not helped by how the female characters really blur into each other; its far more problematic than the nudity itself, or that our protagonist thinks with his smallest head too much, or that it's roping in noir tropes of mysterious femme fatales. And Mitchell does make it clear he's flawed, a little pathetic, even sprayed by a skunk for a lasting plot effect, even having a voyeuristic scene involving a drone deliberately being a challenge to the viewer when the woman being spied on in a screen on screen is in tears.

Sympathy is to be had for him as much as failure, the film a long journey for him to potentially grow. A weird journey, crammed to the point it's wrong to follow the story as a concise one but, like Pynchon, a tangent factory. LA here is a place of odd events and mysteries, just from the outset with a squirrel dropping to its death off a tree in front of our lead and (visibly a puppet) gasping in a way that's sickly humorous, an immediate warning Under the Silver Lake is going to get silly on purpose. Independent comics talk of a spate of dog serial killers and killer owl women, that the secrets of the city can be found in an old fifties cereal's game on the box, or how the elite and rich are naturally getting up to hysterical hodgepodges out of boredom. The only sane ones, or in a way in control, are naturally the homeless or coyotes. The fact I first though the film was set in the nineties, because of the strange logic gap where our lead was able to see Kurt Cobain but is still young, does also suggest that, eventually, the nostalgia for the eighties is finally going to be punted off the throne in favour of a much more interesting and weirder nostalgia that is the nineties, where Cornershop is on the soundtrack side-by-side with R.E.M.

It's also, dangerously, riffing on the past whilst constantly undercutting it as being merely a distraction. It's an odd paradox that it gets a lot of humour from even a help guide for a video game being actually of importance, but that we also encounter a master songwriter who undercuts any sense even the most rebellious of pop culture is of actual subversion if it's mainstream. It comes off as bleaker, as a film, than anything I've yet read of Thomas Pynchon, and does show the real issue I have about Under the Silver Lake for all my enjoyment of it, a second viewing allowing any clouding of judgement to take place, that Mitchell's visibly crammed numerous obsessions together but the underlying idea that should tie it all together isn't cognitive enough. Even a much weirder, scattershot experimental film would at least lean on atmosphere and dream logic more, whilst Under the Silver Lake still plays out as a quirky mystery.

This also includes some of the mysteries and conspiracies as well, playing off coincidence or just an insane amount of planning for a New World Order to make reality - it does make an argument that such a conspiracy doesn't make sense in real life, due to how chaotic on a large scale it would be, unless one takes the idea that it's as shambolic of everything on the surface or that some really coordinated calculations make us all sheep. Either way, going for the obvious like the sexual suggestions of advertisement and such parts are the weakest moments in Under the Silver Lake, "duh" moments no way near as simple and crisp as when They Live (1988) just had signs everywhere, black text on white, just telling us all to marry and procreate.

This is more so as a lot is brought in - silent cinema, Hollywood itself, hobo sign language, fifties culture, and poignantly sixties and seventies cults alongside the type of modern art performances you'd get now. The centre of this film is, arguably, that nothing is resolved, which is a huge risk to take - details, without spoiling anything, allow for interpretation, such as Sam carrying dog biscuits and having dreams of women literally barking at him, or how the owl woman's identity is resolved. (Then there's the caged bird whose one word he says everyone including the viewer is trying to figure out). It's as much this why I liked Under the Silver Lake immensely, but I will be the first to throw out (if it hasn't already) that even Southland Tales, the notorious film it's compared to from a decade earlier, was at least circling the idea of how mad, chaotic and strange America had gotten and exaggerated it in terms of a plot. Whilst it took multiple viewings to get and love the film, which it at least went a direction with progression. Here, aware of its clear leanings to the idea of lack of resolution, or that the final scene at least has Sam finding a serenity seeing the apartment he's about to be evicted from through a new light, it was a gamble that a few people didn't like to be a lot more vaguer in terms of plot expectations.

A lot of this is as well why the languid pace and sense of nonsense is a good thing for Under the Silver Lake, less a mystery in the conventional sense but an Alex in Wonderland tale of Andrew Garfield encountering strange figures. A literal layabout, a semblance of (legitimate) skill to be a good detective when he's actually focused, but he's lead on a wild goose chase that we follow as confused as he is. This is the best way to view the film, and thankfully, it's a well made accomplishment technically to work in this direction, right down to the funny end credits animation. Bright, colourful and vivid in a way that's drastically different from It Follows. Disasterpiece, who made his name known to the public conscious through his score for that earlier work, comes with Mitchell here too and also takes a new direction, an orchestral score which does riff on Bernard Herrmann's work with Alfred Hitchcock but has its own playful richness to it.

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

Personal Opinion:
The resulting film's a divisive one even for a defender like myself, just for the fact that it's decision to be a maximalist work in detail, but ensue a primary theme, is going to cause a lot of misreading or confused ones over multiple viewings. There's also just the fact it's a director going into his foibles despite the mystery/noir genre suggesting there'll be a conclusion at the end of everything.

What is there though, beyond this, is still a playful, very funny and sometimes poignant work. A brave risk which was worth taking, but what David Robert Mitchell is going to do next after this one is up in the air now.


From https://ilarge.lisimg.com/image/16416730
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Monday, 15 April 2019

John from Cincinnati (2007)

From http://jfcexperience.com/wp-content/uploads/
2010/05/JFC-Poster-edited-1.jpg


Series Creators: David Milch and Kem Nunn
Directors: Mark Tinker, Ed Bianchi, Jesse Bochco, Adam Davidson, Gregg Fienberg, John McNaughton, Daniel Minahan, Jeremy Podeswa, Tom Vaughan
Cast: Rebecca De Mornay as Cissy Yost, Greyson Fletcher as Shaun Yost, Willie Garson as Meyer Dickstein, Bruce Greenwood as Mitch Yost, Luis Guzmán as Ramon Gaviota, Keala Kennelly as Kai, Austin Nichols as John Monad, Ed O'Neill as Bill Jacks, Luke Perry as Linc Stark, Brian Van Holt as Butchie Yost, Matt Winston as Barry Cunningham, Emily Rose as Cass, Garret Dillahunt as Dr. Michael Smith, Dayton Callie as Steady Freddie Lopez, Jim Beaver as Vietnam Joe, Paul Ben-Victor as Palaka, Chandra West as Tina Blake, Paula Malcomson as Jerri, Matthew Maher as Dwayne

Synopsis: One day, at Imperial Beach in California, a strange male savant with a credit card saying John Monad (Austin Nichols) appears; his first words to anyone that Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood), a legendary surfer who renounced his career in disgust, should get "back in the game". Mitch suddenly starts to levity, John finds himself with Mitch's heroine addicted son and former surfer Butchie Yost (Brian Van Holt), and it's clear John is in the centre to countless strange activities, from Mitch's grandson (and surfing protégée) Shaun Yost (Greyson Fletcher) surviving a life threatening injury in an actual miracle to strange goings-on in a disused hotel bar. All in lieu that, to spread a gospel for a new spiritual movement, that the Yost family needs to all be healed of their various neuroses and get back in said surfing game.

Ah, this is a pretty infamous series to cover. On the same night the legendary series The Sopranos (1999-2007) ended, on an infamously abrupt conclusion that still baffles people to this day, premium cable and satellite channel HBO (Home Box Office, Inc.) premiered their new surfing spiritual oddity John from Cincinnati afterwards. From the mind of producer/writer David Milch, creator of Deadwood (2004-6), in collaboration with surf noir author Kem Nunn, it become notorious as one of the only HBO programmes to only last one season. HBO started in 1972 and from that far back to today, they went from strength to strength in terms of branding, getting away with adult and edgy content including the legendary Tales from the Crypt series (1989-1996) until a series like Oz (1997-2003) could be seen as the prologue to their influence on the "Golden Age of Television", a concept talked of by critics that suggested over the 2000s to this day that cinema is in the apparent doldrums, upended and dethroned by television shows such as HBO's own The Sopranos, The Wire (2002-8), and Game of Thrones (2011-).  

Personally, I have no interest in "the Golden Age of Television" and hence never had a real desire to follow HBO as a brand, never seeing that television had made cinema redundant or that they had to be at odds with each in the slightest in the first place. I will eventually see The Wire, because it's too big, and I wished Tales from the Crypt was available in the UK. Naturally, it's the oddities in their catalogue, some successful (Todd McFarlane's Spawn (1997-9)) or failures (Ralph Bakshi's Spicy City (1997) and John from Cincinnati itself) which are the more interesting properties. Those that are not the toasts of mainstream culture like Game of Thrones but the weird, ambitious and sometimes doomed projects, John from Cincinnati a pretty infamous example and the kind of the television I'm more inclined to track down.

To keep things simple, a Christ figure appears in Imperial Beach in California one day to communicate a divine message to humanity. The titular John's not Christ, but its emphasised he's likely the son of the Son of God, still a heavenly source who decided to pass on God's message by way of a legendary surfing family. It's an odd premise, but just for idiosyncrasy, it's also an awesome one to start off with as, hey, maybe God does work in mysterious ways, and there's something befitting a messiah hanging out among the surfers, New Age post-hippies and weed heads at the beach. It's also established this figure, described as a robot by one character being sent on a mission by something skyward, has an upward battle as to do this he needs to work with the Yost family, as dysfunctional as you can get, turning as much into a tale of a spiritual cleansing of pain and anxiety from their perspective.  And as for John himself, a savant who communicates by parroting others' words in choice sound bites, the moments he speaks for himself are apocalyptic and/or overtly with mind that his goal he's been sent off on is bloody important or everyone's screwed.

Mitch Yost is a spiritual figure who has yet disconnected himself from life. His wife Cissy (Rebecca De Mornay) has become the "ultimate ball buster", De Mornay shouting a lot of her dialogue for the rafters, because of an unfortunate incident with her son. Said son Butchie is a heroin addict living in a closed hotel. His grandson Shawn, a surfing protégée, lives with his grandparents, who are divided about letting him sign with the same promoter, Linc Stark (Luke Perry), who led Butchie to drugs and ruin, and with his mother Tina Blake (Chandra West) appearing later on, she stigmatised both by leaving Shawn with his grandparents when he was born and her career as a porn actress.

This in itself is a lot but there's many others, all idiosyncratic characters with idiosyncratic dialogue. Bill Jacks (Ed O'Neill), a retired cop and friend of the Yost family who is still grieving for his later wife and (clearly with supernatural emphasis) talks to his pet birds; Kai (real life surfer Keala Kennelly), an employee at the Yost's surfing store who is the one really sympathetic figure; Barry Cunningham (Matt Winston) the new owner of the closed hotel, being kept for Butchie by Ramon Gaviota (Luis Guzmán) and lawyer Meyer Dickstein (Willie Garson), who is traumatised from being molested in one of the rooms and has prophecies through epileptic fits; Steady Freddie Lopez (Dayton Callie), a drug dealer who comes for Butchie but finds his humanity, lackey Palaka (Paul Ben-Victor) tagging along; Linc Stark himself, going through a journey as employees are trying to push him out of his surfing promotion company Stinkweed; and Dr. Michael Smith (Garret Dillahunt), who when a medical miracle happens understandably finds his scientific grasp of reality broken and has to find himself whilst being a humane, kind figure among this crowd. Its many characters to follow, arguably as much why the series was such a difficult one for many, yet for me the story somehow manage to make everyone of them have something of interest.

Probably another reason the series was notorious was that it isn't structured like many series at all. It's languid in pace, at least two episodes not really about anything but merely surrounding twice when characters wandered off somewhere, and many ending not on plot twists but casual, matter of fact pauses for breath followed by an abrupt cut to black and the credits. I eventually started to love this about the series, all before you get to the overtly strange moments which begin to happen. The dialogue is as unconventional, full of dense and very unconventional dialogue ticks and conversations.

It's also crude and profane - a lot of expletives, and some dialogue and character turns which show complexity but could be off putting in how offensive they can get. Clearly reflecting back to 9/11 and the War on Terror, whilst not feeling like Islamophobia, some characters including John use the term "raghead" a lot, and there are details that would be much more difficult to get away with having ten years later. (Though Mitch's bafflement over his wife's reaction to an ominous video, where she immediately draws a comparison to Taliban propaganda videos with their black sheet backgrounds, does also show Milch and Nunn are prodding these fears and scrutinising them too). Butchie in particular, even when he gets more sympathetic, is written to fall back into deliberately offensive comments when pissed off, a conversation using a racial epithet to his ex-wife extreme but, whether it was wise to do in the script, to show his fallibility as someone burnt out on drugs and his own worst behaviours.  

That's not withstanding how this is also meant to be a spiritual, unconventional television series which, from just ten episodes, was too weird to survive anyway. It's insanely vague even (on this revisit) if I got every plot detail and can make sense of it. The tale of a new spiritual growth from the Yost family and the journey to this point is already with one foot in the eccentric before even more overly surreal moments take place. Where a room at the hotel is a literal phantom zone for those dead or in the midst of a temporary limbo, or parrots can heal the brain dead. Times in this show it does feel like the series is striding into territory it itself is not fully confident in what it perceives but does anyway, a sense of taking a ridiculous risk in terms of coming off as ridiculous, such as a major plot point being revealed by a door-to-door delivery catalogue or that the owner of the hotel carries around a big teddy bear he talks to.

There's even the entire factor of the actual surfing to bring up, which is sparse but when it takes place gives the series an added odd serenity. The opening title credits are perfect - old footage as if one's own faded memories set to Johnny Appleseed by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - but it also led to the casting of actual surfers in the cast which adds its own curious touch, the non-actors alongside known actors. Greyson Fletcher as Shawn plays off as a laid back teen in the tulmultous period inhis like; Keala Kennelly as Kai in contrast is my favourite character and the person in the cast who stole many scenes even among some idiosyncratic figures, the calmest figure who adds an incredibly charismatic emotional weight. Even if the show really doesn't have a lot of surfing, when it takes place it offers a respite of relief that befits the spirituality that's grown into that culture - particularly the last of the series, from an opening flying camera in the clouds up to the burst of surfers appearing in the waves befits the zen-like virtues the sport has developed.

So does John from Cincinnati work? For once, I'll leave that to each individual viewer to decide because, honestly, the issue with John from Cincinnati is that, like many other surreal works I've covered, this is one that is entirely to personal taste and is especially so with this particular example. Structured as it is, in mood and whether you can get into its headspace, is the real issue at hand with ever you will appreciate it or not. Expecting a bombastic conclusion even from a cancelled production is not possible here - the closest thing in Episode Six is a monologue that throws a barrage of dense, at times messy philosophical ideas which emphasises the sense that David Milch was stepping out of his comfort zone from a success with Deadwood and was freefalling into this odd spiritual material. I admire his risk, a small cult behind the series just for the jumping off point that, in the history of HBO, this is the one rare work which never even got past the first series, which makes its a curiosity already. But, having spoken as someone who isn't interested in the boom of television in popular culture, finding most of it uninteresting to track down, I have to admire the attempt at something very different here.

Abstract Spectrum: Mindbender/Odd/Unconventional
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
So obviously, John from Cincinnati was going to be a strange experience even on a rewatch, argubly the fact that it was meant to be a mainstream television hit, the aesthetic and production style to such a show from HBO, contributing its own distinct personality as a result among other oddities I've covered. (How many weird creations have Muse's cover of Feeling Good in the final credits of an episode for example?) The bigger surprise is how much of a mainstream release it was just in concept, knowing these projects are usually never going to succeed. It's a reminder that, sometimes, when you put your hands together and pray really hard, strange ephemera does appear in pop culture rather than the fringes I usually cover. So naturally, I admired it.


From https://static01.nyt.com/images/2007/06/08/arts/08john.xlarge1.jpg

Friday, 12 April 2019

Non-Abstract Spectrum: Darknet (2013-4)

From https://crypticrock.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/darknet.jpg


Series Directors: Vincenzo Natali, Rodrigo Gudiño, Jeremy Ball, Anthony Scott Burns, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Screenplay: Randall Cole, James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Vincenzo Natali, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Based on the Japanese series Tori Hada

Synopsis: Set in Toronto, Darknet follows various individuals connected in different gruesome tales by Darknet.net, a sinister website on the hidden side of the web which offers real death videos and forums for questions such as how to dispose of a body.

In 2010, a Japanese show called Tori Hada came to be and went on to have multiple spin-off films and additionals, Japanese horror notable in grasping on the fears new technology from the web to mobile phones would produce since the nineties. Enter Vincenzo Natali, the Canadian maverick behind films like Cube (1997) and Splice (2009) who decided to work on adapting Tori Hada to the West as this Canadian production. Unfortunately, whilst it's been made available for streaming online, the resulting show Darknet only last for six episodes before being canned.

There are sign, clear, why this was the case, but especially with the structure and style, it would've been an innovative horror anthology even if it had a few more episodes. Initially, it combines various stories in a non-linear fashion in the same world of Toronto (usually after dark). Characters in one tale appear others or are connected to each other; neither is it, as mentioned, linear in chronology, played t, with the exception of the middle of the series where it sags, in interlinking the stories in unique ways. Its mood is based on the idea of urban legends especially in connection to how technology influences them, the title based on the fears of the "dark net", the idea that once accessed, there's a subterranean world to the net is a place of the worst in humanity. The real life version is called deep web, and the fears of what transpires on it, whether true or not, including it being a place where child pornography can be accessed or even worst could be located. In the last few years, to take this review in a sad real perspective, that mass murders can be streamed on Facebook off a profile has made the deep net as a bogeyman unnecessary as the ordinary net can be abused in real tragedy. It dates Darknet in a tragic truth, but Darknet as a series still touches upon this fear with a lot of interest.

For horror, even the idea of this, to take this review back to covering a fun and creepy cancelled series, becomes as much about horror stories of yore from the perspective of internet media. Where there's a secret website, whose forums allow you to ask how to dispose of a body, and even one's GPS map system isn't safe. Creepy Pastas, urban legends with a known existence as being fictional, are close to what Darknet riffs upon but with the exception that, barring one that gets in Vincenzo Natali's obsession with body horror and the ending scene for the whole series, there's no overt supernatural tale but entirely about the thick evil morass of what people can get up to.

From https://css-princess.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/darknet.jpg

The structure, when it's focused upon, is inspired, where even clichéd tropes of horror are given new life by wrong footing the viewer with the chronological structure. It also has no concern for getting over the top - the first episode has a businessman finding a key in a subway locker, sent on a wild goose chase with another key and so forth, logic not getting in the way of the creepiness. In terms of the fears the series plays on, many are "realistic" or at least about gristly things, and in one case you even have a story wrong foot you by never having any death at all, just turning into an amateur porn shoot. Even by pure accident, perception of characters as much as the twists provide a lot of great moments, alongside the sense of this being a horror series only possible to make in the 2010s. Again, it's dated a little now that even the regular internet is shown to be a dark and horrible place, but dealing with subject matter like internet trolls and furries, it stands out as having a fresh perspective on this type of storytelling by talking about new cultural ideas.

It makes a blunder with Episode 5, which is one single tale of an isolated young woman who witnesses a strange vanishing figure on her CCTV camera footage at work. It's not as bad as I was prepared for it to be, but its clichéd, bland and obvious. Throughout the series, the stories are to the point, even intercut between each other for an interesting pace, and have no fears of taking risks. Even those that overegg their stories, Episode 4 including a woman being gas lighted using her psychological issues, are contrasted by perfectly executed ones like a single woman toying with a peeping torn across the road, little cliches kept fresh by their invention and short lengths. One episode which is about one story, no others, ends up completely missing the point of why the formula worked and scuppers the pace due to there being only five other episodes for contrast.

Episode six improves and clears up the failures of the fifth, although one has to speculate what caused Darknet to fail and only have these six episodes. I suspect episode five didn't help at all - imagining if I was a TV executive that the whole episode, alongside the plot with the gas lighting in Episode 4 which stumbled into too many twists, there was a sense the production had already drifted away from the tightly constructed work of before, and that fear that it could happen over and over again if the future episodes had to be rushed. Beyond that, there's only speculation, baring the fact that with Episode One directed by Natali himself, Darknet was starting off well but with the potential danger that, in lieu of what feels like perfectly and carefully worked over initial episodes, they could have easily gotten lazy if he or someone likeminded wasn't planning ahead.

Episode 6 does at least return to its point, as even Episode 5 distanced itself completely from its premise about technology, stories varying upon a cartoon mouse as well as the dangers of internet trolling. It does unfortunately end the whole series on a deeply silly, and frankly bad, conclusion; returning characters, abrupt supernatural computer technology without set-up, and the strange (and dumb) idea of an assemble of deviants being pulled together for a Machiavellian group like a superhero team. It thankfully doesn't undermine Darknet too much but does feel like a sour note to finish on. Sadly, only three hours long altogether, a much better outcome should've taken place even if Darknet was still cancelled, just for its idiosyncratic take on horror anthology storytelling. What we got if flawed but was still a fascinating construction.


From https://www.indiewire.com/wp-content/
uploads/2013/10/darknet.jpg?w=680

Monday, 8 April 2019

Non-Abstract Review: Snakes on a Plane (2006)

From https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/die-hard-scenario/
images/c/c6/62446.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140107231012


Director: David R. Ellis
Screenplay: John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson as Neville Flynn; Julianna Margulies as Claire Miller; Nathan Phillips as Sean Jones; Rachel Blanchard as Mercedes; Flex Alexander as Three G's; Kenan Thompson as Troy; Keith Dallas as Big Leroy; Lin Shaye as Grace; Bruce James as Ken; Sunny Mabrey as Tiffany

Synopsis: Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson), an agent of the FBI, has to take a witness Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) on a commercial airplane to testify against a Hawaiian based mob boss. The crime lord however sets a trap to kill said witness and everyone on the flight to dispose of Sean Jones - countless snakes, pent up with a special hormone, almost all of them venomous and pissed off.

Being of the right age growing up in the Snakes on a Plane hype, it's bizarre someone at New Line Pictures thought this would've been a box office smash. Maybe if it had been a PG-13, but as has been commented on by other articles, including nudity and violence (alongside swearing) for an R to appease the internet hype was seen as an own goal in terms of reducing a potential audience. It was also an odd production to hype knowing Syfy original movies, growing into the late 2000s to 2010s, marked the point that the monster film had tragically dissipated over the decades as a mainstream Hollywood plot type. Whilst monster and killer animal films have been made over the years (like Anaconda (1997)), it's turned permanently into a b-movie genre and knocked down usually into straight-to-TV and DVD work; the ordinary American public to this day still appreciate disaster films, superheroes and an occasional monster film if its King Kong or Godzilla, but not an audience necessarily for a title which became arguably the first cinematic internet meme. The internet, whilst this is a fascinating case of the web influencing Hollywood that'd appear in the future, tends to be loader than its actual size, an echo chamber at times which doesn't shown an accurate gauge for a target audience, so it doesn't necessarily dictate it'll be an actual succeed to Joe-Public.

Snakes on a Plane goes as far back as 1992, when David Dalessandro, the associate vice chancellor of university development at the University of Pittsburgh, read an article that year about Indonesian brown tree snakes climbing onto planes during World War I, producing a screenplay called Venom as a result. Eventually this script would be green lit for an actual film, all the way into the 2000s, and the internet became obsessed with the title "Snakes on a Plane" and how ridiculous the premise sounded. Samuel L. Jackson came aboard just for said title, lamenting the consideration of changing it to Pacific Air 121 and the internet relished the idea in fan art and memes before the film even came out, arguably the first example of internet hype that now exists for modern blockbusters.

The fan parodies eventually became so part of the hype that, for another major detail, they helped influence what the final film would be through reshoots. As mentioned, what was originally PG-13 had new scenes with harsher, ghoulish content appropriate from a director who made Final Destination sequels. And one parody, a fake audio trailer by Chris Rohan, rifted on Jackson's notoriety for swearing like a sailor in films, leading to  the phrase "I've had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!" which was crow barred into the final script.

Snakes as a Plane as an actual film conveys my weird love-hate relationship with b-movies. As much as their virtues remind me of my love of them, most are always never giving what is promised in the advertising or offer something generic like a few action scenes when I prefer mine to be inventive or weird. Snakes on a Plane still had to be a mainstream production so it's straight laced and very predictable in spite of how that premise promises so much, placing all its eggs on showing the fucking snakes on a fucking plane but as a result playing everything else like the kind of film the Zucker brothers parodied in Airplane! (1980), even down to someone having to take control of the plane, not because of the pilots having fish for dinner this time but because of the damned snakes. Archetypes and stereotypes are cast as a result - tough cop (Jackson), the witness (Phillips), a tough female air hostess (Julianna Margulies), and a variety of stock figures from the finely manicured, blonde socialite with a pet Chihuahua in her bag to the snooty, mean business man not happy first class is not available.

Snakes on a Plane is fun film, which I am not going to deny, when you just take it as a spectacle, not surprisingly playing out as a lurid funfair ride. But as always been a problem for me, once I think about a film like this, and compare it to other far more unique b-movies, it's a predictable one too as a result which could've been rewritten as an airplane disaster film. It reveals the problem with b-movies in that I, like many, love their existence but many of them are actually middle of the road to compensate for their wild premises. They feel like either they could've go further or had to pull back to make a film still commercial, many offering premises just in the advertising which (still to this day) are far less interesting than the wild ideas a viewer can day dream about.

From https://www.awn.com/sites/default/files/styles/inline/public/image/
featured/3001-snakes-plane-venomous-vfx.jpg?itok=Gq6xBWnM

Why foreign language or straight-to-video "rip-offs", from the Italian genre films to Turksploitation, for their lower budgets developed fan followings is because they could get away with wilder ideas or be legitimately unpredictable in what the hell could take place in the next ten minutes, something sadly you can't say about Snakes on a Plane. The closest things in terms of interest is the inclusion of an egotistic rapper on the flight, Flex Alexander as Three G's, who turns out to be an immense germaphobe with stress issues, or that David Koechner from the Anchorman films is here as a chauvinistic but still lovable co-pilot.

There is also the issue, whilst I did appreciate some of the sick humour in gags about the snakes attacking from idiosyncratic places, and that even as CGI they don't look dreadful even in the current day, that I find disaster films actually problematic in how they kill off random bystanders on mass for spectacle. I've always found it worse even than slashers which, for their obsession with just murder scenes, at least focus on characters and give them some personalities and time to exist even as one-dimensional stereotypes. Something about mass death of faceless individuals feels morally grotesque for me, and its worst that this film has jarring tonal shifts between the spectacle and, in lieu of being a disaster film at heart, having serious dramatic scenes where you are meant to care for these bland figures' lives.

Snakes on a Plane also feels surprisingly cobbled together - for a film that got so much immediate attention, even getting a band formed together for it (Cobra Starship) to make a theme and a music video for the ending, it feels choppily put together. Even beyond that additional, harsher content was added later, characters like the witness (a bland baby faced figure in Nathan Phillips in the first place) wandering off screen for major lengths of time and a sense of being hastily constructed despite being a very simple premise. The main villain, shockingly, never reappears after the prologue despite being the one who thinks causing a plane, full of innocent people, to crash out of the sky with snakes was a good way to eliminate a witness to one of his crimes, probably one of the bigger and glaring examples of these structural holes.

The fact this was meant to be more family friendly is felt too. Its bright colours, starting from its initial Hawaiian locations, and tone are a time stamp of the mid to late 2000s (alongside Cobra Starship never being a thing beyond 2006 Kerrang magazines for me), but alongside a cast including two children, it's a film that's still clearly meant for a wider audience that what it was in tone. It can add some bared breasts, have a snake bite them, compensate for having a man's cock being bitten, and have Samuel L. Jackson swear, it's still a mainstream Hollywood production which was aiming for higher risk stakes than a usual b-movie could. Something belies what was a New Line Cinema product that got greater intrigue in pop culture that it should've, not only doomed by being mispresumed for greater reward, but also with the issue that most films like this at this scale get neutered anyway. Even if it was still an Asylum mockbuster, I've heard at least Snakes on a Train (2006) involved a misappropriation of Voodoo and a giant CGI snake eating a train, the kind of material (whilst likely poorly executed) that a viewer would secretly want, with all the risk and strangeness but usually never getting a budget without removing these odd tangents. The irony is that, briefly with details like adding gore and that expletive filled line for Jackson, the fans did get a chance to influence what film they wanted; they still got, however, a narrative as usual though that these details were bolted onto.

After it premiered in 2006, Snakes on a Plane gained $62 million worldwide from its  $33 million budget, not bad but with its initial opening weekend seen as disappointing to the point David Tuckerman, New Line's president of distribution, found its expectations to be a disappointment. It was The Golden Compass (2007), a misfire in terms of trying to make a commercial property out of Philip Pullman's acclaimed (but also controversial) children's fantasy literature, that was arguably the production that killed New Line Cinema, but they had a string of failures running up to it that, with Snakes on a Plane's not being the ultra hit they wanted, probably didn't help financially. Over ten years later, and barring some articles celebrating the film, I wonder if anyone remembers Snakes on a Plane enough to have a huge cult; I'm still surprised I once read of this film in film magazines like Total Film anticipating some cult phenomenon to take place in the news sections, the mediocre reactions leading to an immediate (and deathly) silence soon after like many films that magazine or Empire even plaster on their front covers. It's still a fascinating legacy that arguably has a greater legacy, as the internet, whilst an echo chamber at times, is behind a lot of films and how they are shaped or seen in the culture.

Probably the saddest things are a) this had a chance to take a premise that, usually on even lower budgets, has died out beyond very cheap schlock in terms of monster films and squandered the chance to be completely over-the-top, and b) connects to the strange tale that despite creating the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and just succeeding so much with the Lord of the Rings trilogy a few years earlier, New Line Cinema still dissipated and was eventually swallowed up by another company. That Snakes on a Plane still made quite a bit of money back but was still being seen as a bad investment just feels like a kick whilst they were falling over.


From https://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/
styles/mf_image_16x9/public/snakeshed.jpg?itok=ReOMNYfK&resize=1100x1100

Friday, 5 April 2019

Ai City (1986)

From https://alchetron.com/cdn/Ai-City-images-
a594a038-f0d7-414c-9069-d0b29316427.jpg

Director: Kōichi Mashimo
Screenplay: Hideki Sonoda
Based on the manga by SYUFO (Shuuhou Itahashi)
(Voice) Cast: Hirotaka Suzuoki as Kei; Yuki Ueda as Ai; Mami Koyama as K2; Banjou Ginga as Ii; Ichirō Nagai as Rai Ro Chin; Issei Futamata as Ryan; Jouji Yanami as Ti; Kenyuu Horiuchi as Mister J; Kiyoshi Kobayashi as Kuu Ragua Lee; Nachi Nozawa as Raiden; Seiko Nakano as S; Takeshi Watabe as Aroi

Synopsis: In a futuristic metropolis, a man named Kei, a young girl named Ai, a detective named Raiden and a cat are fleeing from a motorbike gang. Kei was a test subject, for the evil corporation FRAUD, for telekinetic powers as Ai was; their story becomes even more complicated as allegiances switch, FRAUD falls into violent infighting, and that there's the question of what and who Ai actually is.
 
Warning, this review will spoil a lot, but even then unravelling Ai City will not prepare one for actually watching the anime feature film. Most of the review will just be trying to untangle said plot - I understood most of Ai City, not an attempt at having an ego, but that I have learnt from seeing so many of these films which slip into vague connections to link the dots together. (And listened to the right podcasts/articles that try to explain the plot). Ai City, "loosely" based on the manga by Shuuhou Itahashi, is a film between its unconventional plot structure and erratic pacing of plotting that is put together to be much more difficult than it should've been, to the point it's gleefully weird. Also it just has weird content, else how do you explain a comedic side character cat who seems to have wandered from a children's cartoon in the midst of this proto- (or slightly off smelling) cousin of Akira (1988)?

That this film was only released two years before Akira, which broke into the West and properly introduced anime so that someone like myself is here writing this review in the first place, is significant as for a period in anime and manga's history it had an obsession with ESP and psychic powers. Possibly influenced by Uri Geller, every piece of cutlery's greatest nightmare, and to the general obsession with fortean culture that especially came from the late sixties and seventies, at least with the existence of Genma Wars (1967-9), the collaboration between sci-fi author Kazumasa Hirai and the legendary Shotaro Ishinomori which was adapted into the infamous 1983 feature length animation. Whatever the case it became an obsession for the industry: even Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980), a giant robot show that became an institutional franchise to this day, had to have psychics in its plot eventually; even a romantic comedy, the Kimagure Orange Road franchise, had psychics in it. Even the legendary musical groups Sparks had plans to turn Mai the Psychic Girl, a 1986 manga, into a musical that Tim Burton has interest in adapting into film. Ai City is another member of this fad, when psychics were big as a plot point, the inevitable weird one.

Kei, as is described in a very descriptive song halfway through, is a man with super psychic powers fighting for good, kidnapped alongside his girlfriend for experiments by a group named FRAUD; she dies, he is deemed defective and only useful for laundry duties, only for the inappropriate cartoon cat (who can't talk, but walks on hind legs and interacts with everyone) to reveal that his girlfriend was cloned, now a seven year old with incredibly powerful abilities. Certainly she's part of a power play between FRAUD's leader Kuu Ragua Lee, helped by minions including cloned female beaus and artificially constructed men, and Lee's former colleague Lai Lou Chin, probably the strangest character as he is literally a tiny little old man in a jar, in water, on top of a robot body who's psychic ability is so strong he can conjure up stone floating heads that swarm the city.

From https://fpscinema.files.wordpress.com/
2010/12/vlcsnap-3865591.png

Ai City's 
difficulty is not from how dense the plot threads are, but how the story is told. A lot is in the abrupt flashbacks and a lot of exposition that feels out of place, eventually starting to get into ill defined details like past lives, a DNA evolutionary monster and an abrupt crow barring of what the title "Ai City" actually refers to. Other details are just unpredictable, weirdness of this specific eighties era of anime. The cat, a fully fledged character who eventually gets his own set of clothes and is a figure of importance plot wise, behind machinations and even responsible (with glowing yellow eyes) in causing Ai to remember a password randomly. Or K2, a former enemy who is blasted so hard with psychic power both all her clothes and the fabric of existed are blown away, propelled through reality itself as if a theatre stage cloth ripped asunder, losing her memories and becomes a heroine, entering a flirtatious relationship with detective Raiden, another character, and wearing a Playboy bunny outfit, even getting her memories back and getting in an awkward respect scenario with a henchman she is now against when she kills someone on his side. Material like this, or the relationship itself with Kei and Ai now, despite being once his girlfriend, she calls him her "papa" and take on a paternal one with all the creepy connotations there by accident, just adds to the strange collage that you have onscreen. Even in terms of the depiction of psychic powers, Ai City is unique in how, to depict the psychics being different, they have digital number gauges appear on their foreheads mid-use, the numbers for each power varying randomly depending on what's done.

It's all incredibly irrational, incredibly random, but also magnificently compelling and at times gorgeous to look at, the most eighties of anime in aesthetic style with moments of incredible experimentation. Even with an oblivious idea of why a metropolis this sprawling has few bystanders barring one scene, there's still a multicoloured spectacle as a result. It sadly wasn't a title Manga Entertainment added to their old DVD re-releases, a shame as its not only a cut above in craft (barring some wonky moments), but would've been the perfect representation of that delirious breed of anime churned out from the period, with all the tropes I love. The fabric of time is literally ripped, only to be fixed as if a traffic incident, whilst Lai Lou Chin is powerful enough to not only brainwash people but also release those aforementioned giant heads, big enough for anyone to ride on. The best way to approach this film, as I did, is to never attempt to figure out the whole plot, aware that a lot of it was probably improvised; it's not as difficult to grasp as it first appears as a result, but just mixed with wild tangents.

And yes, MAJOR SPOILERS HERE, it gets weirder when the film collapses into forgotten memories, a battle in a phantom realm with a horrifying mass of DNA that feels nonetheless illogical, and the plot being told as a Möbius strip which repeats itself from the beginning. Even admitting that doesn't spoil how this happens, as that in itself in its abruptness befits the work. And this is in mind of who made Ai City. Director Kōichi Mashimo is a prolific figure - the next year after this, he also helmed Dirty Pair: Project Eden (!987), a beloved entry in that famous franchise that was seen as an incredible piece of animation just in the opening credits alone, and he has cut work like The Irresponsible Captain Tylor (1993) before he founded Bee Train, a divisive studio behind titles like Noir (2000). Knowing something this bizarre may have been just another day in the office for him, alongside his more famous production for the next year, just adds to the madness.

Eventually the psychic genre ebbed away, befittingly with Akira when it helped anime reach the West feeling like the zenith. But it at least released this oddity too, even if questions have to be asked what they were thinking.

Abstract Spectrum: Bizarre/Mindbender/Psychedelic/Surreal
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
Ai City, as obscure as you can get from the eighties anime boom, definitely feels like it could only have been made in that era. Something utterly perplexing yet energised as a mad, colourful head-trip.


From https://66.media.tumblr.com/339a9289eb4e15da3dfc
1f69b538481a/tumblr_mptfnunnxg1r7k0eco1_400.jpg