Tag Archives: 2018

CAPSULE: JOBE’Z WORLD (2018)

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DIRECTED BY: Michael M. Bilandic

FEATURING: Jason Grisell,

PLOT: A rollerblading courier is given the task of delivering a bespoke drug to his favorite actor, and his tenuous grip on survival is violently wrenched when the thespian overdoses.

Still from Jobe'z World (2018)

COMMENTS: You’re clearly in a bad spot when staring down a three-barreled bazooka wielded by a PTSD-stricken drug user, particularly when he blames you for the death of his all-time favorite actor. But either through mellow disposition—or mind-numbing desperation—Jobe takes this turn of events in reluctant stride. His evenings all kind of suck anyway, having landed a career of sorts as a drug courier, rollerblading his way around downtown New York City, supplying various oddballs with their various fixes.

Jobe’z World unfolds with a grim breeziness, beginning with a foray in the further-flung cosmos as the protagonist regrets existing in the one tiny pocket of the universe where anyone cares. He’s a chill guy, or wishes he could be. And his journey through a momentous NYC night is lit with shadows, through a camera which overlays a plastic, off-colored palette. Writer-director Michael Bilandic creates a world slightly unmoored from time, and sets his protagonist on a gauntlet through minor terrors and once-removed personal tragedy.

The MacGuffin here is a fading actor in the tradition of Orson Welles, who would have been considered a relic thirty years prior. For drug users and washed-up celebrities, perhaps time becomes meaningless (the actor greets Jobe with the line, “What’s your name? You know, like that Depeche Mode Song”—managing to make a dated, obscure reference out of a dated, obvious one); and for Jobe, a drug dealer, time shrinks and stretches, always in the opposite direction he would like.

This is a small-gauge film, with small tragedies, small perils, and almost a hiccup of a conclusion. By the end of Jobe’s trial-by-night—New York style—his lingering earnestness is lathed away. While this might be viewed as unfortunate, it is, at least, easier. Around halfway through we learn that Jobe peaked some twenty years prior, having burnt his chances at professional rollerblading. Like the actor he’s blamed for killing, he is better off fading into the hazy background alongside the motley burnouts to whom he delivers drugs.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director Bilandic fails to infuse the painfully thin proceedings with any narrative momentum or comic flair, resulting in an oppressive weirdness for weirdness’ sake.”–Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: LADYWORLD (2018)

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DIRECTED BY: Amanda Kramer

FEATURING: Ariela Barer, Annalise Barro, Ryan Simpkins

PLOT: Seven young women, unable to leave a house after an earthquake, descend into paranoia.

Still from Ladyworld (2018)

COMMENTS: A low rumble; growing chaos; a cacophony of destruction: all taking place during a black screen. A destructive earthquake traps eight young women in a house. Rubble gathers up to the window tops, blocking all known exits. We see none of this, but the impression is clear, the sensation of imprisonment rendered wholly through sound design. This background—creaks, crashes, and whirring blades of helicopter—traps us with these confined, forgotten women; a human-sound film score of yelps and bursts augments the dread. Ladyworld is an uncomfortable place, and misery for its inhabitants.

This riff on Lord of the Flies flips the script, gender-wise, exploring the trope from a wholly feminine perspective. Much is the same: feral tribalism bursts through a civil veneer, even in such a small group; spatial confinement melds with a growing hopelessness to trigger listlessness and psychosis, depending on the moment and victim; and sightings of a man lurking in the dark basement add an edge of terror to the ambient menace. By the film’s end, nearly everyone has lost it.

Amanda Kramer plays a risky game with her story. Its strengths and weaknesses are the same cards. There is much repetition—dialogue, montage, and shots—which at times grows tedious; but, that’s the point. Kramer emphasizes the differences between feuding factions—Olivia’s civil-minded, and smaller, cadre on the one side, and Piper’s gangster-clique on the other—more and more over time. Every corner of living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, closet, and, of course, the forbidden basement, becomes trashed, nicely reflecting the state of the party. We see these rooms and developments again and again. And again. You may want to scream, “Enough, already!” But just think of how the characters feel.

Ladyworld is up front in putting its characters and setting right in the title, and it delivers a discomfited vision. It is a film to be endured alongside the story’s victims. While it would have done well—maybe—to be trimmer by a quarter of an hour, it might had less impact. After the opening black screen shot and its destructive sound establishes the ambient tension, it only ratchets up. The audience bears witness to the strain until the unlikely, but apt, finale, when the ladies’ world bursts asunder.

Yellow Veil re-released Ladyworld on DVD and Blu-ray in January 2024, with alternate and deleted scenes, a director’s commentary, two Kramer short films, her otherwise unreleased debut feature Paris Window, and even more extras.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“...it proves its own surreal, savage and superbly performed creation… painfully real in its emotions yet dreamily unreal in its atmosphere, an effective and haunting combination which is heightened by image and soundtrack choices.”–Sarah Ward, Screen Daily (festival screening)

CHANNEL 366: THUS SPOKE KISHIBE ROHAN (2017-2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Toshiyuki Kato

FEATURING: Voices of Takahiro Sakurai; Landon McDonald (English dub)

PLOT: Manga artist Kishibe Rohan recounts macabre tales he has encountered while researching material.

Still from "Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan"

COMMENTS: Although this macabre miniseries stands alone, a small of amount orientation may be helpful for those (like me) unfamiliar with “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,” the manga/anime from which “Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan” is a spinoff. “JoJo” is a series about… well, I’m not quite sure, but it has been running for about 30 years through various incarnations. My research suggest that, other than Rohan and perhaps a few other character cameos, there are no real links in this one to the main series. There is at least one thing it’s helpful to know: like many characters in the series, Rohan has a superpower (or “Stand”): “Heaven’s Door,” which allows him to pause time and turn people into books, whom he can then read to discover personal secrets (and, occasionally, to jot his own notes inside them, altering their history or behavior). Bizarre, huh?

Originally released as standalone manga, the stories here were made for the Japanese OVA (Original Video Animation) market, then picked up by Netflix. The order of the tales is arbitrary, and the episode sequencing Netflix uses is different than the order of the OVA release (but the same as the order they appeared in the original manga, although, confusingly, the episode numbers in the manga titles are assigned randomly). You can watch them however you’d like, but if you want a suggestion, I would start with either “At a Confessional” (Netflix’s first episode, the third OVA release, and my personal favorite) or “The Run” (the wildest and final story which, based on IMDb ratings, is the fans’ favorite). The entire series is short enough to watch through without feeling like you’re wasting your time, but sampling one of those two first may help you decide whether you want to continue.

The Italy-set “At a Confessional” is a Poe-like story of callous indifference, guilt, and revenge from beyond the grave, with a demonic tongue, a popcorn-eating trial, and a twist ending. “The Run” has a more straightforward narrative; it’s a satire of male narcissism, as an actor/model takes his workout regime to unhealthy, supernatural extremes. It also features the series’ most ambitious animation, with abstract, wavering backgrounds in crazy color schemes; split screens; almost obscene, anatomically incorrect musculature; and surrealish scenes like the one where the protagonist climbs down an apartment building, Spider-man style. The other two stories are equally fantastic: “Mutsu-kabe Hill” features an eternally bleeding corpse, and “Millionaire Village” begins with an interesting premise about an ultra-exclusive suburb, then incorporates local Japanese demigods and an extremely intricate test of etiquette.  Some of the stories have ironic subtexts, but the psychology never gets too deep; the stories are dark in subject matter, but light in delivery.

I have to confess that, after watching all four episodes, I’m not sure why Rohan is such a popular, breakout character. He frankly seems a bit superhero-dull to me. With his “Heaven’s Door” power, he’s too omnipotent; there is seldom much sense of him being in jeopardy. His major character trait seems to be mild arrogance and haughtiness, which comes through in his fey, aristocratic voicing (in both the original Japanese and the English dub). This makes him seem a bit unpleasant to be around, although other characters fawn over him regularly. Perhaps Rohan doesn’t get a chance to shine here, since he is only a narrator for two of these stories, and not really the focus in any of them. Still, because he’s mostly a framing device, Rohan’s lack of charisma didn’t effect my enjoyment of the series, which is not bad, and at less than two hours to take in the whole thing, worth a shot for the curious. It didn’t make me want to explore the wider JoJo universe, though—and if you want some freaky Japanese animated horror, I’d suggest checking out “Jungo Ito Maniac” (also on Netflix) instead.

(As an odd aside, the major characters in this series always have crazy hairstyles: once has four giant bent spikes of red hair, one has random bow-like protrusions growing out of his scalp, and Rohan himself wears a strange circlet that looks like an inverted crown and is mostly covered by greenish locks that jut several inches off the side of our hero’s head.)

We may not be done with Kishibe Rohan: there are plans for a live-action adaptation of the same material.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…retains the straight-faced absurdity of its parent show… Its most tense and tragic stories hold a grim sense of humor—such as the various strange (bizarre, even) rituals throughout, tests of the mind and the body all tinged with otherworldly, life-and-death stakes.”–Kambole Campbell, Thrillist (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MEMENTO MORI (2018)

AKA Deadly Lust

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DIRECTED BY: Michaël Vermaercke

FEATURING: Charlotte De Wulf, Felix Meyer, Karlien Van Cutsem, Aaron Roggeman, Bram Verrecas

PLOT: Fleur lies in a hospital bed recalling her splintered memories of a drunken revelry as she attempts to get a grip on her trauma.

Still from Memento Mori (2018)

COMMENTS: The clunky phrase “frenetic incoherence” is the best one that springs to mind to describe this feature debut from Michaël Vermaercke. Whether this frenetic incoherence results from accident or by design is a question only briefly worth pondering, however, because on the whole, with some caveats, this thing works. Memento Mori is jumpy, unreliably told, and a bit macabre—not unlike the literal translation of the title, “remember that you must die.” Vermaercke obviously has a particular story he wants to tell with this film, and whether you like that story (and style) or not, I’m inclined to believe he succeeded in so doing.

Skittering between past and present (and again within skitterings), we piece together a horrible evening alongside Fleur, the tragic protagonist. Jules, her boyfriend of over a year, is desperate to have sex with her, and it seems to be agreed that they would try (again) at a big blow out held for Jules’ birthday. Among the attending crew of underage drinkers is Jules’ sketchy buddy Alex, who also lusts after Fleur. Alex’s girlfriend Valerie gamefuly ignores her fellow’s roaming eye—up to a point. Laying down the tracks that night, and possibly dosing the partiers, is “DJ Wouten,” a macho toughie with a deep-seated fear. As the music blasts and the kids slam back impressive quantities of liquor, a Death-like figure increasingly looms in the corner of Fleur’s eye.

On a smaller scale, Vermaerke pursues an atmosphere similar to Climax, which was made around the same time. Among the odd cuts and close-ups is the devouring of a rather plain looking cake, and while other elements are in the mix (I mention, once again, the staggering quantities of booze), it is only after this confection-cramming that the story slips from shaky to downright difficult to follow. Alongside Noé-style noodlings, I detected traces of in the form of the shrouded figure delivering comeuppance to various revelers. Eventually this looming form (seen only by Fleur) removes its masque, and…

Eh, I dunno. Memento Mori is heavy without feeling impactful, featuring characters who feel realistic without invoking much sympathy. Even Fleur, suffering from something psychological before the whole party nonsense, is too withdrawn to latch on to. I lament her fate, and commend her survival, but it may have been better to place a crack on her surface to let the audience in. The film’s grisliness leaves a mental mark, but the surrounding chaos is too tame for you to get lost in the intended nightmare. If Vermaerke tilts further into psychosis-on-celluloid, however, we’ll have a promising light to follow into the darkness.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Memento Mori ist ein kurzer, schneller, farbintensiver Trip in die jugendliche Psyche seiner Protagonisten. Dabei verschmelzen Realität und Illusion, Traum und Wirklichkeit. Zwar nicht frei von Schwächen, aber spannend inszeniert.” -Stephan Lydike, Years of Terror (contemporaneous)

(Translation: “Memento Mori is a short, fast, colorful trip into the youthful psyche of its protagonists. Reality and illusion, dream and reality merge. Not free of weaknesses, but staged in an exciting way.”)