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  Laguna Ave. Electric Dreams
Year: 2021
Director: David Buchanan
Stars: Russell Steinberg, James Markham Hall Jr, Stephanie Brait, Manuel Canute, Dan Crane, Felixe De Becker, Jeff Hilliard, Carlos Marentes, Maxi, Paul Papadeas, Jane Reardon, Zachary Taylor, Sheridan Ward, Jameson Keeling
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Russell (Russell Steinberg) has recently been sacked, so his solution is to opt for vengeance: he sneaks into his old office, liberates both a coffee mug and a hard drive with what he hopes is incriminating material on it, and while he's there takes a shit on his desk. Thus satisfied, he sneaks out again, but as he sits in his car in the underground parking lot considering a job well done, he notices two people he recognises sneaking out of the office as well. Surprised, he decides to follow them in his vehicle, and what do you know? They drive all the way back to Russell's apartment block, where they have a place to stay...

When did black and white cinematography become a signifier of weirdness? It must have been with David Lynch's Eraserhead back in the nineteen-seventies, the all-time champion of monochrome strangeness, but every so often someone attempts, if not exactly the same thing (how could they?), then something with a similar impact. Laguna Ave was director David Buchanan and writer/actor Paul Papadeas's fairly impressive try at invoking the great weirdo cinema of the past, and while it felt like the left turn it took in the second half was going to leave a lot of viewers far behind, you admired their chutzpah all the same.

Not that the first half was going to snare too many mainstream audiences, indeed the first two minutes with its lingering scene of defecation was going to tell you whether this movie would be your cup of tea or not, and most likely it would not. Yet despite starting with a gag that could literally make you gag, there were signs the film had its sights set on high-falutin' themes, if a potential apocalypse had not been done to death in the twenty-first century when it appeared just about every science fiction flick out there wanted to bring an end to the human race, no protests considered. Because they assumed you would welcome that too.

You know what the old phrase says about people who assume, but Russell is making assumptions of his own, some, as far as we can tell, accurate, others wide of the mark. Really he would rather sit in bed and watch television all day getting stoned, and this job thing was getting in the way, but he does have a girlfriend, Rita (Stephanie Brait) who he lives with and she is the driving force in getting him out of that bed in the morning. However, her status as breadwinner appears to be grating on her, and after she heads off on her umpteenth conference for work, Russell's suspicions are raised: does she actually want to get away from him? Is there someone she is meeting in secret for an affair? Will she be splitting with him sooner rather than later?

This paranoia starts informing his choices, and as he chats with the misfits who inhabit the other apartments, they don't know anything about the pair he saw entering the office at the beginning of the story either, and a request for them to turn down their music saw the cross-dressing one of the two laugh in his face. But the other guy has more to say, and he is possibly the highlight as far as the acting went, the towering James Markham Hall Jr (a cinematographer in real life, he dabbles in performing as Jamie Hall) stole the show with his clipped tones and suppressed mania that draws Russell in. The second half was where this came alive, and embraced the madness which involved a cult of technophiles who are planning a major shakeup of society with their technology, and Hall's Gary acts as the conduit by transforming himself into a cyborg (actually cheapo props stuck onto his torso). Meanwhile Russell gets his prosthetic hand replaced by a huge robot claw. If you’re reading this and are baffled, this is not the movie for you - if you're intrigued, chances are you'll get something out of it. Music by Josh Menashe and Annie Shaw.

[On February 1 2022, the essential, alternative streaming service ARROW premieres LAGUNA AVE.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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