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DID YOU READ

“The Castle,” “Horrors of Malformed Men”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Haneke’s “The Castle,” Kino, 1997]

The ascension of Michael Haneke of late has been a blessing in a number of ways already, including the DVDization of his notoriously cold-blooded earlier films (notably, “Funny Games,” “Benny’s Video” and “The Seventh Continent”). But the vaults are just opening up: Haneke’s years of work for Austrian TV remain unimported (including films in an episodic series entitled “Lemmings,” no relation to the National Lampoon skit show of yore), but now we can see his dry-eyed romp on Kafka, 1997’s “The Castle.” Things Kafkaesque have long been as rich pickings for cinema as they have been everywhere else (including, ironically, given the source, several operas), but none of the mere handful of adaptations of this, the great uneasy Czech’s richest and biggest, albeit unfinished, work, are as ingeniously faithful to their source as Haneke’s. It’s a low-budget, streamlined vision, as gritty and cramped as other Kafka films (even Orson Welles’s fascinating version of “The Trial”) are grandiose and lurid.

The odyssey of self-righteous and clueless land surveyor K. in the social nightmare that is the village surrounding the unseen castle, to which K. can never quite arrive or receive clear communications from, is shot in an indecorous, washed-out palette that evokes Jan Švankmajer’s films — sunshine is nonexistent, surfaces are timeworn and rough, rooms are cheap, decaying and claustrophobically small. This is not the Kafka of surreal juxtapositions but of dusty, bureaucratic bad-dreamness, Byzantine but unwritten social rules and arbitrary governmental cruelty. Haneke virtually transcribes the book, emphasizing not Kafka’s now-mythic metaphors but his cut-to-the-bone mundaneity (another Švankmajerism, and it’s surprising to note that the prolific Czech animator has never adapted Kafka himself). In Kafka’s writing, essential anxiety isn’t supposed to be “felt,” viscerally, by the reader, but observed from a wry, appalled distance, and it’s this sense that Haneke nails — despite the fact that often the dithering irrationality of “The Castle”‘s paranoid minions is so in your face you can smell the clammy sweat.

It is, in the end, a comedy whose chuckles dissolve like hopeful thoughts before they come clear of your throat. The unwashed cast handles Kafka’s cloggy dialogue with a conviction that sometimes borders on the manic, with the exception of the late Ulrich Mühe (of “The Lives of Others”) as K., exuding hilarious waves of maddened frustration and suspicion with sad, watchful eyes and a perfectly straight face. Having seen “The Castle” and, like its hero, failed to get comfortable and secure in its secretive spaces, you feel as if you’ve genuinely been there, in the rundown, petty-power-distorted Mitteleuropan villages of Kafka’s bitter memories.

Madness isn’t at all grounded in tangible reality in sadistic Japanese pulp-nut Teruo Ishii’s “Horrors of Malformed Men” (1969), now unleashed on unsuspecting psychotronic-philes, pining as they are wont to do for a forgotten absurdity that was never even seen outside of Japan until 2003’s selective festival tour. (The DVD supplements include interviews with contemporary Japanese auteurs like Shinya Tsukamoto, dazedly recalling their childhood experience of seeing it.) Based on an Edogawa Rampo tale, the film begins as an amnesiac-wrong-man nightmare (which, like “Ringu,” finds its mysteries on one of Japan’s many alluringly remote islands), and then sidles into an anti-übermensch version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” But there’s little reason to have faith in a story that lurches and twitches like a junkie in withdrawal, and not to simply wallow in this parade of lactating psycho women, feral man-beasts, secret swastika scars, whoring Buddhist priests, dual-sex Siamese twins, surgical abominations, silver-painted futuro-nightclub dance routines, live crab eating, gangster masquerade, circus freaks and cinema’s first exploitation of Butoh (starring the creepy avant-garde dance form’s founder, Tatsumi Hijikata).

Ishii is clearly Takashi Miike’s spiritual granddad, with, amid scores of gangster and prison films, a filmography saturated with crazed mashups: ghosts, torture, giants, superheroes, aliens, you name it. Probably his most notorious film, “Malformed Men” is a ridiculous, ambitious mess, and thus a paradigm for a certain type of movie pleasure-high — the unassuming discovery of a forgotten genre ditty bursting with its eccentric maker’s unique perversity.

“The Castle” (Kino) and “Horrors of Malformed Men” (Synapse) are now available on DVD.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…