LIST CANDIDATE: APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD (2015)

Avril et le monde truqué

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci

FEATURING: Voices of Philippe Katerine, Marc-André Grondin, Jean Rochefort, Bouli Lanners (French); Angela Galuppo, Tony Hale, Tod Fennell, Tony Robinow, (English dub)

PLOT: In an alternate history where technology never advanced past 1870, young April seeks to find her scientist parents, abducted by unknown forces with superior technology.

Still from April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: More than one mainstream critic has referred to April and the Extraordinary World as “wonderfully weird.” Checking my movie reviewer decoder ring, I see that when used as a modifier to “weird,” “wonderfully” translates as “mildly and in the least threatening way imaginable.” April may not be super-strange by our standards, but it is at least playing in the right ballpark. This exciting, imaginative and visually superior cartoon it may be able to make the List on the sliding scale: the better the movie, the less pervasive the weirdness required. (Also, there was one walkout in the theatrical audience of three, and walkouts automatically earn List Candidate status).

COMMENTS: Let’s try an alternate plot synopsis for April and the Extraordinary World: in 1870, Napoleon III’s attempt to create an army of invulnerable monkeys (just roll with it) to fight the Franco-Prussian War goes awry, resulting in a world where technology stalls in the steam age and France goes to war with the United States over timber resources in Canada. The “extraordinary world,” not April, is the star of this French import; and what a world it is! The Eiffel Tower is now a stop on the Paris-Berlin steam line, cars run (badly) on wood-burning engines, and our heroine, April, has a talking cat (although that‘s unusual even by the standards of the time). Whenever a scientist—Fermi, Einstein, the Curies—nears a revolutionary discovery that would drag society out of the Steam Age, they mysteriously disappear, abducted by governments who want to use their talents to build super-weapons to fight the ever-raging wars over scarce resources (when our story begins, the world’s coal supply has been exhausted, and nations’ industries are now burning less-efficient timber). This world is not the quaint, cute utopia imagined in much of steampunk literature; although the tone is adventurous rather than bleak, the world is dystopian and polluted. In Europe, freestanding trees are found only in museums, and the streets are covered in ash. It’s not steampunk, it’s sootpunk.

April has garnered comparisons to everything from The City of Lost Children to Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin with a touch of Metropolis, but I think the most appropriate touchstone here is the works of . Not just Howl’s Moving Castle, even though this one does feature a house that moves on stilts. It’s actually the fully-realized, impeccably detailed fantasy world, the lovingly hand-crafted animation, and the plot centered on young protagonists making their way through an epic setting that spurs the comparison. Like a Miyazki film, April expertly interweaves world-building episodes and light character development with sequences focused on action and spectacle, while leaving aside animated Hollywood’s emphasis on pat morals, clever pop-culture references and jokes aimed over the heads of kids.

If the word “extraordinary” in conjunction with a fantasy-adventure set in a low-tech France starring a female heroine whose name begins with “A” sounds familiar to you, you’re probably thinking of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec. That’s not an accident, as both movies were based on graphic novels by Jacques Tardi, whose name appears in the opening credits under a drawing of a pterodactyl.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a visual delight, an animated French steampunk adventure that is smart, exciting and wonderfully weird.”–Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SAFE (1995)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Todd Haynes

FEATURING: , Xander Berkeley, Peter Friedman

PLOT: A wealthy woman who finds herself suffering from nosebleeds, vomiting and other unexplained maladies is drawn into a New Age cult that promises to deliver her from her “environmental sickness.”

Still from Safe (1995)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Like its protagonist’s non-specific malaise, Safe has an uneasy, hard-to-pin-down tone that’s subtly disquieting. Whatever is plaguing Carol, however, we aren’t comfortable with a final diagnosis of “weird.”

COMMENTS: Safe is a movie in two parts. In the first half, Carol, a bored housew—um, homemaker—sleepwalks through a wan, bourgeois existence. Sex with her affluent but uninspiring husband is unfulfilling, the furniture store inexplicably delivers the wrong couch, and post-aerobic conversations with her friends revolve largely around upcoming baby showers and fad fruit diets. Finally, the wrong kind of excitement enters her life: she begins suffering unexplained nosebleeds, vomiting, and wheezing panic attacks. The doctors are nonplussed by her vague symptoms, and allergy tests turn up negative (except for milk). Still, she’s hospitalized after suffering a seizure at a dry cleaners; she has something.

At this point, the film changes focus when Carol investigates a  health club flyer with the intriguing title, “are you allergic to the 20th century?” At first she attends lectures about “environmental sickness” or “multiple chemical sensitivity,” educates herself in the pseudo-scientific jargon about “body load” and “getting clear”; eventually, she declares herself a candidate for the expensive health retreat of Wrenwood, a “non-profit communal settlement dedicated to the healing individual.” Rather than getting better, however, Carol gets progressively sicklier the longer she stays within the carefully controlled atmosphere of the retreat: her body turns bony, her skin blotchy, she takes to lugging around an oxygen tank, and the slightest accidental sniff of fumes from a passing truck sends her into a wheezing spell. The psychobabble therapy—which insists that the patient’s illness is a result of negative emotions and of not loving themselves enough—keeps the residents in state of infantile dependency. Carol’s sickness actually gives her, for the first time in the movie, a sense of purpose and identity; her deterioration is, therefore, not surprising.

Haynes’ camera is deliberate; the film is shot mostly in clinical long shots, with very slow, ian pans. The soundtrack is low, rumbling synthetic drones, with vapid soft rock interludes. The feeling is of distant, gathering doom. The themes suggest layers of interpretation: the story could be a bourgeois satire, New Age satire, feminist allegory, AIDS allegory, or an existential nightmare manifesting itself as body horror. At Safe‘s heart are the subconscious concepts of “purity” and “contamination” (whether environmental, spiritual, or even demographic), and a warning about the danger of yearning for utopian homogeneity and withdrawal from the chaotic world. Ambiguous and creepy, Safe is a call to danger. In these gluten-wary times, Haynes’ message is still vital.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Alas, one waits through the entire two hours hoping that [Haynes] will save himself by puncturing his own balloon of self-seriousness with some of the bizarre humor and inventive genre-bending that has characterized his films to date. But it never comes.”–Todd McCarty, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric Gabbard , who said “It features a great performance from Julianne Moore as a neurotic germophobe who becomes so paranoid in living in a modern industrialized society that she is shipped off to this naturalist colony where other neurotics wander around in these weird body suits that protect them from harmful pollutants in the air.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THEORY OF OBSCURITY: A FILM ABOUT THE RESIDENTS (2015)

DIRECTED BY: Don Hardy, Jr.

FEATURING: Assorted

PLOT: Various talking heads (including a member of the Talking Heads) reminisce and opine about the longest lasting and perhaps most creative performance art group of the past half-century, the Residents, interspersed with clips of performances, videos, and news appearances.

Still from Theory of Obscurity (215)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Modestly disappointing, Theory of Obscurity slams through all the familiar tropes of the modern documentary form, with the subject matter its weirding grace. Oddly for a documentary, this seems to be aimed at those who only care to know very little about the subject.

COMMENTS: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is undoubtedly a hyperbolic aphorism to use, but the underlying message is apt in describing Hardy’s underwhelming Residents documentary. Setting his sights on the pop-underground ensemble, Hardy has whipped up a love-letter worthy of a high school freshman. The sentiment is correct, and the delivery is in earnest, but he somehow says far too much without conveying anything of depth. The technical competence of his documentary cannot be argued, but one is left wanting something more than a film version of an All Music Guide bio.

Assorted entertainment luminaries, each with a varying degree of modishness, sit in front of the camera and talk about their feelings or experiences with the mysterious troupe from Louisiana. Les Claypool from Primus particularly shines, likening his first experience of a Residents tune to hearing the “music that plays in Hell,” then explaining it came to be “like a fungus” that he learned to appreciate. Penn Jillette pops in fairly often, but his presence is largely unilluminating, as he wears his fandom (quite rightly) on his sleeve. Tossing in a slew of other less famous individuals (including the soft-spoken gentlemen who made up the original “Cryptic Corporation”, the Residents’ administrative and marketing crew), the viewer is left with not quite an hour and a half of sentimental tales, enthusiastic praise, and archival clips. The fact of the matter remains, and is emphasized, that this group really can and should be judged based on their output.

Along with the main feature, there are some forty minutes or so of remastered Residents material in the supplements, from a (very) bad recording of their first live performance (before they had even adopted their name) to a “found footage” dream narrative put together in the mid-Oughts. While watching these selections, their evolution from unlistenable neo-Futuresque troubadours to dominanting icons of weird, the correct way to study the Residents became even more apparent. Ditch the commentary and listen (and watch) the source material.

I may be judging Don Hardy and company a bit harshly here, but that is because such a bold topic as the Residents deserves a far, far bolder documentary. He and his team were allowed, the disc says, previously unrivaled access to the group’s archives. However, either through inability or disinclination to expand on what’s already been made available, Theory of Obscurity languishes. Its quality is sufficient for those who know nothing of the group and seek a loose frame of reference, but anyone who has had any interest in the Residents will likely already know everything the movie recounts, and more. A quote from Matt Groening in the film’s first half acts almost as a disclaimer: “Our knowledge [about the Residents] is incomplete.” Unfortunately, Hardy’s Theory of Obscurity does nothing to further this knowledge.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…fans and newbies alike will be delighted by much of Don Hardy’s documentary, which draws on an expansive archive of surreal expressions from an (alleged) quartet whose creative emphasis was as much visual as sonic from the start.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (festival screening)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here comes another week of weird movie reviews! We’ll get a couple of new releases under our belt as Giles Edwards gets us up to speed on Theory of Obscurity, the new doc on the oddball eyeball band, the Residents. G. Smalley plans a trip to the theater to catch the French steampunk cartoon April and the Extraordinary World, and also will whittle down the imposing reader suggestion queue by one when he cracks Todd Haynes’ Safe. Thursday sees Alfred Eaker finish up the second half of his retrospective with an overview of the features from 1980’s Altered States on. Refresh that homepage hourly; you never know when new content might pop up!

Now it’s on to the weekly feature where we share with you, the loyal reader, the weirdest search terms we saw that brought visitors to the site this week: a longstanding feature we’ve taken to calling “Weirdest Search Terms of the Week.” We’ll start this week’s survey off with a cliffhanger: “ending of the film girl escapes and is attacked by…” The ellipsis is in the original; I guess the searcher doesn’t care what goes after the girl after she escapes, just as long as she’s attacked by something… Our next search moves from the weirdly vague to the bizarrely specific: “scifi movie from the 1990’s where men have sex with belly buttons.” (Uh, that isn’t how it’s done, guys). But our winner of the Weirdest Search Term of the Week is the confusedly perverse “porn 12 twini space opera sleep over.” I interpret that as a request for a pornographic space opera about twelve pairs of twins having a sleepover. Good luck Google, you’re going to need it.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: Safe (next week!); The Fox Family; Angelus; Symbol; Wicked City (1992 live action); Portrait of Jennie; Salo, Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/29/2016

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Viktoria (2014): A baby born without a navel in 1979 Bulgaria connects with her estranged mother after the fall of Communism. There may be some sort of political allegory at play here. Viktoria official site.

SCREENINGS – (IFC Center, New York City, Apr 29-30):

House [Hausu] (1977): Read the Certified Weird review! Who wouldn’t want to see this Japanese pop-surrealist haunted house movie—inspired by the fantasies of the director’s eleven-year old daughter and featuring a schoolgirl-eating piano among its many absurd horrors—on the big screen at midnight? House at IFC center.

IN DEVELOPMENT – STREAMING SERVICES:

Filmstruck.com: Normally, the launch of yet another streaming service is not something we’d get jazzed about, but this one is getting significant buzz, and promises to be the exclusive online home for many of our Certified Weird films (in fact, clips from eight of them dominate the sixty-second trailer). Yes, the is moving its streaming digs from Hulu to this new startup, where they will team up with Turner Classic Movies. While everyone out there seems to be prematurely cinemagasming, many questions remain to be answered. Since the Collection is already (mostly) online, what exactly will TCM be throwing in from its library? (Every specific film example they site in the press release is a Criterion release). Also, there may actually be fewer films available at one time than the current Hulu set up. The press release refers to “a broad, constantly changing cross-section of Criterion titles,” which suggests a Mubi-style platform with a limited selection that rotates monthly. There is mention of a (separate?) “Criterion Channel” (extra charge)? And ominously, the price point remains yet to be determined. Don’t let that dim your enthusiasm (yet), but if it sounds too good to be true… Filmstruck official site (pre-launch).

NEW ON DVD:

That’s Sexploitation! (2013): co-curates and co-hosts two-plus hours of naughty, sometimes bizarre sleaze from the golden age of pre-hardcore pornography, much of it rarities from the “Something Weird” label’s vaults. Something Weird founder/That’s Sexploitation! producer Mike Vraney and co-host/legendary B-movie producer David F. Friedman have both passed away since this doc wrapped. Buy That’s Sexploitation!

What? (1972): Read our conflicted List Candidate review. This Severin Films release may give us a reason to re-evaluate Roman Polanski‘s erotic Alice-in-Wonderland folly. Buy What?

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

That’s Sexploitation! (2013): See description in DVD above. The 3+ hours of bonus material, including rare sleaze shorts, all fits on one Blu-ray. Buy That’s Sexploitation! [Blu-ray].

What? (1972): See description in DVD above. Both the DVD and the Blu come with a set of interviews, including one with Sydne Rome. Buy What? [Blu-ray].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) WEBSERIES ON YOUTUBE:

“The Mephisto Box Episode 1: Jail Bait”: A seedy Anton La Vey clone introduces every episode of this new webseries with the phrase, “dear Children of the Beast”; in this first episode, a psychiatrist gets dunk and high with his employer’s young hot-to-trot daughter, which predictably turns out to be a poor decision. There’s some PG-13 blood, intoxication and disrespectful language in this episode; a disclaimer warns, “please view with caution if you are easily triggered by scenes of drug use, bloody violence, or Satanic violation. These will only grow more intense as the story progresses.” “The Mephisto Box” series on YouTube.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: KEN RUSSELL, PART ONE

Part I of a retrospective covering the theatrical feature films of (1927-2011). Russell also produced an extensive number of documentaries, television films (many of which were composer biographies), and short films, which will not be covered here.

The late Ken Russell is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious and visionary filmmakers in the entirety of cinema. Excessive and flamboyant, he was often dismissed by mainstream critics. Russell was equally criticized in avant-garde circles for not having the courage of his convictions (meaning he wasn’t academically non-linear enough. There’s a reason Russell is often compared to the painter Francis Bacon, who continued painting surreal figurative works in the age of academic abstract expressionism). Admirably, Russell had no use for categorizations, but as idiosyncratic as he was, his execution did not always rise to the concepts in his work.

Russell’s strengths and weakness are evident in his first theatrical feature, French Dressing (1964). It’s a British caper comedy in the vein of ‘s Hard Day’s Night (1964). Initially it was a box office and critical failure. Russell’s penchant for surreal imagery and sharp edits is intact, although subtle by later standards. Even when subdued, Russell’s style doesn’t work for this kind of material, rendering the film heavy handed and narratively confused. However, it was original enough to develop a cult following, the first of many for Russell.

Believing French Dressing to be a misfire, Russell returned to the safety of television work for three years before reemerging with his next feature, Billion Dollar Brain (1967). It is the second sequel in the Harry Palmer series, with Michael Caine once again taking the title role. Russell proved just as ill-suited for this spy thriller trying to cash in on the James Bond fad, but Brain is also a standout in the franchise. Russell’s personal, icy stylization is in evidence throughout the film’s more fantastic sequences. Russell is most in his element with chaos, and most bogged down with restraints imposed by script and production. Despite its flaws, Billion Dollar Brain tries to play elastic with its genre, rendering it a fun mess.

Still from Women in Love (1969)Women In Love (1969) was the film that brought Ken Russell to worldwide attention (he was even nominated for Best Director). Many critics rank it as Russell’s most narratively satisfying film. Of course, Russell has D. H. Lawrence for a literary source and, despite its infamous nude wrestling scene between and Alan Bates, the film is almost shockingly restrained and faithful to the spirit of Lawrence (out of necessity, Larry Continue reading DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: KEN RUSSELL, PART ONE

237. SITA SINGS THE BLUES (2008)

Have you had any interest from distributors?

The sales rep is talking to distributors. He’s saying, ‘Be patient.’ The distributors are afraid of the film because the film is weird. If you noticed.

You’d think that weird might be good.

Yes, weird should definitely be good, especially among these distributors who talk about how they’re into fresh, new original stuff. But they’re not. They’re the most cowardly creatures on the planet. I just got this big wave of good press, so that will make them realize it’s safer.”–Nina Paley, early Sita interview with Studio Daily

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Reena Shah, Debargo Sanyal, Sanjiv Jhaveri, Nina Paley, Aseem Chhabra, Bhavana Nagulapally, Manish Acharya

PLOT: The relationship between artists Nina and Dave is strained when Dave relocates to India for a job. Meanwhile, three shadow puppets discuss the legend of Sita (the avatar of the god Lakshmi) and Rama (Vishnu’s reincarnation) from the Hindu epic “The Ramayana,” introducing animated recreations of the story of the love affair between the two demigods. Portions of the story are further illustrated by musical numbers where a flapper version of Sita sings the ballads of 1930s torch singer Annette Hanshaw.

Still from Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Ramayana, attributed to the poet Valmiki, tells the story of Lord Rama, the seventh human incarnation of the god Vishnu. Rama’s wife, Sita, is abducted by a demon-king; he rescues her but then rejects her, unable to cure himself of the suspicion that she was unfaithful during her captivity. The epic Sanskrit poem is composed of 24,000 couplets, was written centuries before the birth of Christ, and is considered one of the key works of Hindu literature.
  • Paley was inspired to create Sita Sings the Blues by noting parallels between the dissolution of her own marriage and the failed relationship of Sita and Rama as told in “The Ramayana.” After her breakup, she discovered the music of Annette Hanshaw while staying at a friend’s house, and incorporated the songs into the narrative.
  • Paley animated the movie almost entirely by herself on home computers (much of it in Adobe Flash); the process took three years. Although she was a working cartoonist before making Sita, she had no professional training as an animator.
  • Although universally praised in the west, Paley reported receiving criticisms from India from both the right (that the film was irreverent) and the left (that it represented a neocolonialist appropriation of Indian culture).
  • Paley originally released the movie under a liberal Creative Commons license, but later took the unusual decision to remove all restrictions and make the work a true public domain release. However, Annette Hanshaw’s music is still under copyright to its owners, so the film is not truly free and clear of restrictions (although no litigation has yet resulted from its continued distribution).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Selecting a single image from this visual smorgasbord is an impossible task. It’s likely that the characters from the Hanshaw musical numbers, with their undulating Flash graphics and comic book coloring, will stick in your memory the most: curvy, -ish Sita and her broad swiveling hips; buff, Hanna-Barbera-blue demigod Rama; and the many-headed, multi-limbed gods and demons who float through the story.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Hindu big bang; flapper goddess; flying eyeball stalks

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Paley is on record as suspecting that her homemade Hindu jazz epic was too “weird” to get a distribution contract. After Roger Ebert championed the film as “astonishingly original“, and it received overwhelming praise at festival screenings, the “weird” talk died down. It shouldn’t have. Sita is weird. It’s a proud, purposeful, defiant re-connection with humanity’s weird mythological roots, with primordial legends of hybrid god-monsters whose bizarre appearances only serve to magnify their very human foibles. Add in psychedelic animation, torch song musical numbers, and a chorus of unassuming non-omniscient shadow puppets, and you’ve got one strange and spicy stew of a home-cooked movie.


Theatrical release trailer for Sita Sings the Blues

COMMENTS: Sita Sings the Blues is a masterpiece. It’s an incredible Continue reading 237. SITA SINGS THE BLUES (2008)

THE ART OF THE WEIRD: TWELVE SEDUCTIVELY STRANGE MOVIE POSTERS, 1973-1992

A truly weird movie deserves an equally weird and wonderful movie poster. As cinema became the dominant art form of the 20th century, it spawned another visual medium, the film poster, which at some point broke free to emerge as a significant and enduring international Pop Art phenomenon. Various movie-loving nations cultivated their own top artists and unique styles. The American movie poster had a sweet run, about 70 years, before distributors began to ditch illustrated posters for cheaper—usually lamer—photographic options. In Europe, chiefly France and Italy, they kept poster art going for another ten years. And even though it looks like Photoshop is here to stay, appreciation for the art of the movie poster is at an all-time high and constantly growing.

I’ve been collecting original movie posters since I was 3 years old (starting with the US one-sheet for The House That Dripped Blood), and I have always been drawn to the salacious and macabre.  When I was closing in on 3000 pieces, I converted the collection to WestgateGallery.com (named after my childhood porno theater in Bangor, Maine), an online movie-art boutique specializing in classic, cult, exploitation, giallo, Golden Age XXX and horror posters, the more striking and outrageous the better. They’re historical artifacts and unbeatable design elements that belong on walls, not in storage. Here’s a small selection from my store that are especially relevant to this great website.  Anyone who decides they need one of these, or anything at Westgate Gallery, mention “366” or “Weird” for 25% off any order, through the end of the year.

CLICK ON THE POSTER THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER VERSIONS

Andy Warhol's Bad Italian posterAndy Warhol’s Bad (USA, 1977): While waiting for a long-overdue special edition uncut Blu-ray release including the complete dropped-baby-hits-sidewalk splatter-scene (what?? it wouldn’t stop crying), you can honor this gleefully toxic deadpan dark comedy cult classic with a 55 x 78″ Italian subway 2-panel, featuring Almoz art so stunningly surreal this poster could easily be Polish. True Baddies will recognize the blonde ‘do, handful of cash, cruelly white fur and vagina dentata as hallmarks of Queens electrologist/hit-girl dispatcher Hazel Aiken (Carroll Baker, perfection in the role), the meanest woman outside of a film.

Blue Velvet (1986) Italian posterBlue Velvet (USA, 1986): Depicting some Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) torment from the hour of scenes deleted from ‘s final cut, this Italian 39×55″ poster is many a fan’s favorite, thanks to the overwhelming sleazy darkness expertly conveyed by legendary maestro Enzo Sciotti.

Desperate Living Italian posterDesperate Living (Baltimore, 1977): The official New Line mini-posters with the iconic Peter Hujar rat dinner photo are cool, but they’re burnt-vermin leftovers next to the gorgeous Italian paintings of the brilliant Tino Avelli. All three sizes are musts, but this 39×55″ is the best: blazing colors appropriate for this Disney-on-diet-pills fractured fairy tale, with ravishing portraits of the criminally underrated (and lovely in person) as “snotty bitch” Continue reading THE ART OF THE WEIRD: TWELVE SEDUCTIVELY STRANGE MOVIE POSTERS, 1973-1992

CAPSULE: THE PROPHET (2014)

AKA Kahlil Gibran’s the Prophet

DIRECTED BY: Roger Allers (supervising); Paul Brizzi, Gaetan Brizzi, Joan C. Gratz, Mohammed Saeed Harib, , , , , Michal Socha (segments).

FEATURING: Voices of , , John Krasinski, Alfred Molina, , , John Rhys-Davies, John Kassir

PLOT: Based on the book of poems of the same name by Kahlil Gibran. A foreign poet, Mustafa, has been held under house arrest for several years. With the arrival of a ship, he is set free to return to his home country. Escorted to the ship by a couple of soldiers, he converses with them and with the townspeople; but circumstances change along the way.

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While some of the segments illustrating Mustafa’s sayings/writings are appropriately abstract, taken as a whole together with the framing story, The Prophet is extremely ambitious, but not weird.

COMMENTS: The Prophet has long been a passion project of Salma Hayek-Pinault; thankfully, she had enough experience and intelligence to realize that animation was the best medium to adapt Gibran’s book, a prose poem in long form that would be a challenge to fashion into a conventional narrative.

Enlisting Roger Allers, the director of The Lion King, was a good decision, since both tales are essentially illustrated journeys of messianic figures. Allers takes the basic framing device of the title character heading to a ship that’s taking him home and expands upon it, adding new characters Kamila (Hayek), Mustafa’s housekeeper, and her daughter Almitra (Wallis), who has become a mute troublemaker since her father’s death. These two are the characters for the audience to identify and sympathize with. The film adds a political dimension—Mustafa has been under house arrest for several years, and the journey to the ship may not be quite as innocent as presented—and the ending is different than in the book, although it is spiritually consistent.

Another smart decision was the idea to have different animators bring to life the various sermons by Mustafa, eight of which have been chosen: “On Freedom” (Socha), “On Children” (Paley), “On Marriage” (Sfar), “On Work” (Gratz), “On Eating & Drinking” (Plympton), “On Love” (Moore), “On Good and Evil” (Harib) and “On Death” (the Brizzi’s). Along with giving each story its own personality, the method also retains the metaphorical qualities of the sermons—if it were done in live-action, most of the visualization would’ve probably been literalized and not worked as well.

It’s a refreshing change to have animation appropriate for both adults and children that doesn’t involve talking animals or pop culture one-liners, and is an adaptation of an acclaimed literary work, to boot. G-Kids acquired the movie for theatrical release in the U.S. and home video. The DVD and Blu-ray include two featurettes about the movie, one with interviews of Hayek and Allers, the second concentrating more on the technical aspects (although none of the segment animators are featured). There’s also an animatic used in the making of the film.

PROPHETTHE-KAMILA

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Half-baked animated fantasy Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a kids film for anyone who mistakenly thinks that the one thing that would improve animated masterpiece Fantasia is an overwhelming number of pretentious aphorisms.”–Simon Abrams, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!