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The List Thus Far (Certified Weird Movies)

3 Women (1977)

8 1/2 (1963)

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Akira (1988)

Alice [Neco Z Alenky] (1988)

Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Allegro non Troppo (1976)

Altered States (1980)

The American Astronaut (2001)

Antichrist (2009)

Archangel (1990)

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Barbarella (1968)

Barton Fink (1991)

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Begotten (1991)

Being John Malkovich (1999)

Belle de Jour (1967)

Black Swan (2010)

Blood Diner (1987)

Blood Tea and Red String (2006)

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Branded to Kill (1967)

Brazil (1985)

Bronson (2008)

Careful (1992)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Cemetery Man [Dellamorte Dellamore] (1994)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

The City of Lost Children [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

Clean, Shaven (1993)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Cowards Bend the Knee, or, the Blue Hands (2003)

Daisies [Sedmikrásky] (1966)

The Dark Backward (1991)

Dead Man (1995)

Dead Ringers (1988)

Delicatessen (1991)

Dillinger is Dead (1969)

Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez! (2012)

Dogtooth [Kynodontas] (2009)

Dogville (2003)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Don't Look Now (1973)

Elevator Movie (2004)

Enemy (2013)

Enter the Void (2009)

Eraserhead (1977)

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

Evil Dead II (1987)

Eyes Without a Face [Les Yeux sans Visage] (1965)

Fantastic Planet [La Planète Sauvage] (1973)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Final Flesh (2009)

Forbidden Zone (1982)

Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Gothic (1986)

Gozu (2003)

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Greaser's Palace (1972)

Gummo (1997)

Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] (1922)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Help! Help! The Globolinks [Hilfe! Hilfe! Die Globolinks] (1969)

Holy Motors (2012)

The Holy Mountain (1973)

The Horrors of Spider Island [Ein Toter hing im Netz] (1960)

House [Hausu] (1977)

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I Can See You (2008)

Idiots and Angels (2008)

I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK [Saibogujiman Kwenchana] (2006)

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

L'Immortelle (1963)

Ink (2009)

INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

John Dies at the End (2012)

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Keyhole (2011)

Kontroll (2003)

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Kwaidan (1964)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

The Legend of Suram Fortress [Ambavi Suramis Tsikhitsa] (1984)

Lisztomania (1975)

Little Otik [Otesánek] (2000)

Lost Highway (1997)

Love Exposure (2008)

Lucifer Rising (1981)

Maelstrom (2000)

Malpertuis (1972)

Maniac (1934)

Marquis (1989)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

The Milky Way [La Voie Lactee] (1969)

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Naked Lunch (1991)

Night of the Hunter (1955)

Night Train to Terror (1985)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nostalghia (1983)

O Lucky Man! (1973)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Paprika (2006)

Performance (1968/1970)

Persona (1966)

Phantasm (1979)

Pi (1998)

The Pillow Book (1996)

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Pink Floyd the Wall (1982)

Prospero's Books (1991)

The Red Squirrel [La Ardilla Roja] (1993)

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

Repo Man (1984)

A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

Repulsion (1965)

Robot Monster (1953)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Rubber (2010)

Run Lola Run (1998)

The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

Sans Soleil (1983)

Santa Sangre (1989)

The Science of Sleep (2006)

A Serious Man (2009)

Shanks (1974)

Shock Corridor (1963)

Silent Hill (2006)

Sin City (2005)

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

Skidoo (1968)

Solaris [Solyaris] (1972) -

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

Stalker (1979)

Steppenwolf (1974)

Strange Frame: Love & Sax (2012)

Suspiria (1977)

Sweet Movie (1974)

The Swimmer (1968)

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987)

Taxidermia (2006)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tideland (2005)

Time Bandits (1981)

The Tin Drum (1979)

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

El Topo (1970)

Toto the Hero [Toto le Heros] (1991)

Trash Humpers (2009)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Trial (1962)

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Tromeo & Juliet (1996)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Upstream Color (2013)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Vertigo (1958)

Videodrome (1983)

Visitor Q (2001)

Waking Life (2001)

Weekend (1967)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Yellow Submarine (1968)

You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007)

Zardoz (1974)

366 UNDERGROUND: THE LAST ROAD (2012)

DIRECTED BY: John Wheeler

FEATURING: Aaron Long, Simon Sokowlwoski, Laura Marklew

PLOT: A down-on-his-luck fighter with anger issues and a penchant for bringing his dog everywhere with him is killed; instead of going to Heaven or Hell, he is left in a Purgatory that looks like Birmingham and must find his place in a brutal, unforgiving afterlife.

The Last Road

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Every film that has been both excellent and unique enough to make it onto the List of the 366 weirdest films of all time has been guided by a strong sense of purpose, or at least a sense of identity. The Last Road is hopelessly lost on the very road it sets out on; it is the film equivalent of listening to someone decide out loud what they want to eat for dinner.

COMMENTS: It wasn’t that long ago that when people said the words “independent picture” in conversation, the image brought to mind was of a navel-gazing, impenetrable vanity project from someone who hadn’t had the career or life experience to demand a moviegoer’s attention span. With the explosion of pop culture indie-centrism in the early ’00s and the digital camera revolution, indies have come a long way since then, but a stigma still remains in the public consciousness from decades of snoozers like Smilla’s Sense of Snow and twee-fests like Garden State. The Last Road is an ambitious independent feature from first-time writer/director/key grip John Wheeler about life after life, and while it is obvious that the spirit here is willing, the body, unfortunately, is weak.

Set in the arsehole of Britannia, which will henceforth be referred to as Trainspotting-ham, it chronicles the misadventures of Toby, the angriest bloke who ever bloked. This guy is the worst; imagine an unemployed Morrissey with short hair who binge-watches MMA bouts and thinks he looks good in tank tops. He is a fighter with a nasty temper, a temper that is affecting his relationships at home and in the ring. His ill mother is subject to one of his tantrums and has a pint of milk dumped on her head as a result, and when his anger gets the better of him while talking to his shady underworld boss, it leads to his dog being viciously killed in front of his eyes (!!!). This sets him up for an (ultimately final) outburst in the ring, whereby his overwhelming explosion of violence leads his opponent, in desperation, to slash Toby’s throat with a nearby broken beer bottle and end his life. This is only the beginning of the story, however, as we are taken to the afterlife, where Toby is confronted with his poor life decisions by a shrewish blonde angel driving a Mini. She tells him that he has to find his own way to salvation, otherwise he can never be redeemed in the eyes of God. So Toby wanders the wastes of Limbo, meeting new friends, inciting bitter rivalries, and reuniting with familiar faces from his previous life.

…at least, I think so. The Last Road is really very noncommittal about what it wants to say or do. Or perhaps it is covering up a lack of narrative with visuals, strange set pieces, and maudlin introspection. Whatever the case may be, there is not enough happening (truly happening, not just tiresome flashbacks and unappealing static shots) to justify a 90 minute feature. Which is quite a setback, considering this is a 123 minute-long movie! That means lots of time taken up by the INNER TURMOIL of our hero, without context in the story or reasonable explanation.

And this is the most contentious aspect of the whole affair, because Toby’s struggle, the entire impetus of the film and the reason both he and the moviegoer set out on the sojourn that is The Last Road, is an informed attribute. We are not given an ounce of exposition as to why things are so difficult for him, why he is suffering on the inside, or what his motivations are for doing any of the seemingly arbitrary things he ends up doing. He is just an angry guy with a mission to redeem himself. But why? Who is this person? Why does he want to be redeemed in God’s eyes? Why does he need to be redeemed at all? Instead of answers, or something resembling an answer, we are treated to indulgent, laconic moments of on-screen anguish, as if Toby, in a wrestling ring on the seedy side of Trainspotting-ham, had died for our sins.

The Last Road is an independent feature that, while admittedly unique, lives up to that grand old indie tradition of being very difficult to watch. It is a shame, because it exhibits a wealth of potential from a first-time director: the shots are carefully composed, the sound design is remarkable, and the sets are eerie and full of nihilistic expression. But the delivery of these qualities in the form of unlikable characters trudging through a banal narrative ends up feeling confused at best and emotionally manipulative at worst (i.e. anything involving the damn dog). A similar-yet-better experience would be turning on What Dreams May Come with the brightness level on the television adjusted down 50%.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Trying to figure out what the film was getting at with certain characters and situations allows you to run with the narrative in a number of directions beyond the obvious, and that offers an extra level of engagement. It all comes down to whether you find the ideas presented interesting enough to ponder, of course, but I think the film delivers enough variety to avoid becoming too stale.”–Mark Bell, Film Threat (DVD)

The Last Road is currently available on VOD exclusively on Vimeo, with a DVD release promised in the future.

 

CAPSULE: THE ZERO THEOREM (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, Lucas Hedges, , Matt Damon

PLOT: Qohen Leth (Waltz) is a gifted but troubled programmer (or “cruncher” as they are referred to in the film) who is assigned a seemingly impossible task: to calculate the “Zero Theorem” and thus prove the lack of meaning in anything. The only problem is, Qohen is convinced that there is meaning to everything, and that it’s just a matter of time before he finds out what it is.

Still from The Zero Theorem (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Gilliam alleges that The Zero Theorem is a tragedy and that has fared poorly with critics due to assumptions that it is supposed to be a comedy. But the honest-to-God tragedy is Gilliam’s decision to essentially rehash one of his finest films (Brazil) with a more contemporary slant regarding technology and our current sense of isolation. This is a film that has plenty of fine moments, and it’s something of a must see for all the weird fans out there, but it’s a footnote in Gilliam’s cinematic career that puts more pressure on the now 73 year-old auteur to complete the long gestating “Don Quixote” project that has dragged him through Hell (and Spain) and back over the last two decades.

COMMENTS: For all the Gilliam aficionados out there, please don’t despair! The Zero Theorem is lots of fun, and demonstrates just what a criminally overlooked talent Gilliam is behind the camera. The movie looks superb, especially given its extremely modest budget, and many of its imaginative flourishes are a joy to behold. A film needs to be more than just the sum of its parts in order to truly succeed, however, and The Zero Theorem cannot escape the shadow of its far superior filmic sibling Brazil in terms of quality and vision.

The two movies are simply too thematically similar in terms of subject and presentation, and particularly in terms of David Thewlis’ performance which directly channels ‘s turn as the terrifying Jack Lint. The update of modern society is viewed through Gilliam’s eye: the blaring in-your-face nature of technology and the personal detachment it encourages. All this is all well and good, but this is all ground that is well-trod, and in better boots, by the earlier and superior film. Zero Theorem is simply too derivative of his past work to have any lasting merit.

Perhaps the biggest saving grace of the film is the performances of the main cast. Mélanie Thierry’s eccentric allure is charming and garish at the same time, and Lucas Hedges gives a star turn as the teenage genius Bob, a role he leaps into with such abandon that he is surely an actor to watch out for in the future. Let’s just hope that Gilliam pulls one last truly great masterwork out of his thoughtbox before he dies, as this minor film would be an unworthy epitaph for such a great director.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s weird and there’s Terry Gilliam weird, and his latest exploration into the fleeting nature of humanity, The Zero Theorem, may as well have been watermarked with his name… weirdly enjoyable”–Blake Howard, Graffiti with Punctuation (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week James Harben starts us off with a first look at Terry Gilliam‘s latest dystopian fantasy, The Zero Theorem (which is coming out on VOD in the U.S. next Tuesday, followed by a limited theatrical release in September). Following that, the estimable Eric Young dips into the underground for a look at the grungy low-budget British afterlife pic, The Last Road. And, after having dodged the assignment and tried to pawn it off on equally uninterested writers for years, out of the blue G. Smalley finally caves in to reader requests and agrees to get the abominable Cannibal Holocaust off of everyone’s radar screen once and for all. On a happier note, Alfred Eaker will finish up his mini-series on with a look at her transition into talkies.

What a motley week for weird search terms used to locate the site! First off in our weekly survey, we’ll mention “psychedelic sex vampires,” which isn’t a very weird search—heck, pretty much everyone is looking for psychedelic sex vampires at some point in their life—but is just appealing to us: the weird lifestyle depends on psychedelic sex vampires as a stylistic staple. Plenty strange, but less appealing, is the search for a “granny lesbian party,” about which we will bite our tongues and make no comment. The search for “ambavi delpinze” was pretty darn weird, since the searcher was the very first person in history ever to query Google on this topic, and no Internet source even recognizes what language that’s supposed to be. We’re ruling that entry out of the contest because we suspect it’s just a massive typo, which leaves us with “vintage armpit girl movies ypotube” as our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week. The judges were impressed by the fact that the searcher was such a connoisseur of the genre that he prefers the classic armpit girls of yore over their vulgar modern equivalents.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue now stands: Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd; Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Spook Warfare [AKA Big Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

SATURDAY SHORT: INFERNO (2009)

A family shares dinner together while soundbites from various shows and commercials overpower the dialogue.

CONTENT WARNING: This short contains strong language and scenes of domestic violence.

 

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/15/2014

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 on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Cheatin’ (2013): ‘s latest weird animated feature is about a woman who, with a magician’s help, takes the shape of her paramour’s ex-girlfriends. It’s playing for a week at the Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles before returning to finish up its international festival run (and then, hopefully, to  DVD soon thereafter). Cheatin’ official site.

Frank (2014): An aspiring musician joins a band led by an artist (Michael Fassbender) who always wears an oversized papier-mâché head. The word “weird” has shown up as a prime descriptor in multiple reviews. Opening in New York City this week with sporadic screenings across North America into the Fall. Frank official site.

I Am Happiness on Earth [Yo Soy la Felicidad de Este Mundo] (2014): A non-narrative art film about a young gay Mexican director making a film about a young gay Mexican director. If IMDB keywords are to be trusted, the sex is pretty explicit. I Am Happiness on Earth official site.

Jake Squared (2013): A Hollywood director decides to film his own party as an experiment, but is shocked when dead relatives and past versions of himself show up to castigate him. It’s a little 8 1/2, a little Synecdoche, New York, and a little Hot Tub Time Machine. Playing New York, Los Angeles, and a few spots in between, as well as simultaneously debuting on-demand. Jake Squared official site.

FILM FESTIVALS – GenCon (Indianapolis, IN., Aug 14-17 ):

This (world’s largest?) annual role-playing game convention also hosts a concurrent film festival, although the movies are usually gaming related. The film festival is definitely an afterthought on the part of the organizers, as witnessed by the fact that the lineup isn’t even announced on the official website (although we eventually found it in the .pdf program guide). Nonetheless, using our deep network of contacts, we’ve identified a couple of noteworthy screenings you can attend to get your weird on between dragon-slaying sessions:

  • Creeporia - The world’s first kid-friendly (and kid-fiendly) horror comedy musical soap opera, starring centuries old horror hottie hostess Creeporia. Screens Saturday starting at 10 AM, in two sessions. Price is listed as a bargain $0. (NEPOTISM DISCLOSURE: Our own Alfred Eaker produced, and plays a small role, in this production).

  • Dark Dungeons – A literal (and authorized!) recreation of an infamous self-parodying Jack Chick anti-”Dungeons and Dragons” tract. You already missed yesterday’s world premier, but hurry for a 4PM showing as part of the “Gamer Short Film Block.” (Failing that, you can also rent the film from the official site).

IN DEVELOPMENT – POST-PRODUCTION:

The Frame (fall 2014): The press release describes follow-up to his Certified Weird fantasy Ink as “a mind-bending science fiction mystery” and refuses to give out further plot details. When they first began production, the producer assured us that the movie would be “weird,” and we’re holding her to that promise. The trailer tells us little, but it’s not obviously not-weird. The Frame official Facebook page.

NEW ON DVD:

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976): Read our review.  Misogynists with Blu-ray players will be thrilled with this hi-def release of this controversial comedy about torturing naked women and sucking out their brains through a straw. Buy Bloodsucking Freaks [Blu-ray + DVD Combo].

Favorites of the Moon (1984): We’ve never heard of this overlooked French film with intertwining storylines before, but per Cohen Film Collection’s ad copy it’s an “absurd, hilarious, intricate and surreal cinematic Rubik’s cube…” That’s good enough for us to list it here. Buy Favorites of the Moon.

Motel Hell (1980): “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.” Those critters apparently include chainsaw wielding pig-men in this cannibal comedy cult classic with a couple of truly outrageous scenes. This DVD/Blu-ray combo pack comes with a new director’s commentary and a ton of special features. Buy Motel Hell [DVD/Blu-ray combo].

The Toxic Avenger (1984): Read our review. This isn’t exactly the first release of Troma’s groundbreaking “classic,” but we believe it’s the first time the low-tech effects have been presented in hi-def. Available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Buy The Toxic Avenger [Blu-ray + DVD Combo].

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Bloodsucking Freaks (1976): . Buy Bloodsucking Freaks [Blu-ray + DVD Combo].

Favorites of the Moon (1984): See description in DVD above. Buy Favorites of the Moon [Blu-ray].

Motel Hell (1980): See description in DVD above. Buy Motel Hell [DVD/Blu-ray combo].

The Toxic Avenger (1984): See description in DVD above. Buy The Toxic Avenger [Blu-ray + DVD Combo].

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.

GARBO: CINEMA’S COOL AND IMMORTAL SPHINX

“What, when drunk, one sees in other women, one sees in Garbo sober.”–Kenneth Tynan.

As many critics have pointed out, the films of Greta Garbo (1905-1990) have dated considerably, and few are actually good. Yet, Garbo remains pure cinema, an idea created through light, mirrors, and form for the celluloid dreams of her audience, who waxed ecstatic over her face alone.

Garbo came from poverty and started modeling at an early age before breaking into Swedish film. Among her early supporting roles was ‘s The Joyless Street (1925) (with sets by ). Despite sounding like a hidden treasure, it is an unremarkable film. After catching her performance in Mauritz Stiller’s The Saga of Gosta Berling (1925), Louis B. Mayer was struck with the actress’ star magnetism and wasted no time bringing her to Hollywood. Garbo was actually part of a package deal, as Mayer had originally wanted the brilliant Stiller as well. Mayer sent Garbo to the dentist, put her on a diet, and gave her English lessons to help her with taking direction. Her first assignment was Torrent (1926), directed by Monta Bell. Garbo had hoped for Stiller to direct. Disappointed, she accepted the assignment and worked on her lines at night. Bell was involved with actress Norma Shearer at the time, and antagonized Garbo. Yet, despite the tension, from her first frame, Garbo exuded an air of exoticism and European pathos. She burned up the screen in an otherwise unmemorable American debut.

Young Greta Garbo

Garbo in The Saga of Gosta Berling (1925)

Stiller was assigned to direct his protege in The Temptress (1926). Unfortunately, the director was unable to adapt to studio methods and was fired. Crushed, Stiller headed back to Sweden. Garbo wanted to leave with him, but he convinced her to remain in Hollywood. Within two years, Stiller was dead at 45. Garbo was devastated, and a pattern developed. Fred Niblo took over direction of the movie. The Temptress secured Garbo’s stardom. Seen today, it is, undeniably, a dated melodrama. She does not elicit sympathy, yet the 21-year-old star still commands our attention. Mayer was reportedly bewitched by her eyes; they gush torpid sex. She is a silent man-eater here, without ever resorting to vamp cliches. The only thing one remembers about it is her and the way she physically laid into her leading men as no other actress has before or since. Understandably, The Temptress made her a star.

Flesh and The Devil (1926) enshrined Garbo in superstardom and cast her for the first time opposite her greatest leading man, John Gilbert. It is the story of Garbo and Gilbert that served as the model for films like A Star is Born (in 1937, 1954, and 1976) and The Artist (2011). Gilbert was the established star, the leading romantic idol in Hollywood. Garbo was the newcomer. Over a few years, as her star ascended, his declined and, within a decade, Gilbert would meet a horrific end. Here, again, Garbo plays an unsympathetic woman who men kill and die for in a silly melodrama replete with two-dimensional archetypes. Continue reading GARBO: CINEMA’S COOL AND IMMORTAL SPHINX

CAPSULE: JOURNEY TO THE WEST (2013)

AKA Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Zhang Wen, Qi Shu, Bo Huang

PLOT: A pacifist Buddhist demon hunter who tries to redeem rather than kill evil spirits clashes with a powerful mercenary huntress, who falls in love with him despite his vow of chastity; together they seek the Monkey King’s help to defeat a powerful boar demon.

Still from Journey to the West (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: We have a crazy Stephen Chow movie on the ListKung Fu Hustle—and while Journey to the West is wild, it doesn’t distinguish itself enough from the 2004 classic to justify including two such similar films.

COMMENTS: Journey to the West contains the hallmarks Stephen Chow fans love: a delirious mix of wacky wire fu, cartoonish comedy, outlandish visuals, and a massive dose of heart. Chow’s spectacles recall great Hollywood storytelling traditions—you could easily imagine Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas tackling similar material—while remaining distinctively Chinese. Although Chow’s presence in front of the camera is missed in this outing, mop-headed Zhang Wen makes for an excellent stand-in. He is totally beleaguered and outclassed by demons and demon hunters alike at the film’s opening, but perseveres to find the spiritual strength to face down evil by the conclusion. Qi Shu is delightful as the tomboy mercenary smitten by the pacifist cutie, and constantly scheming to get under his robes, while Bo Huang makes an impressively impish Monkey King with groovy dance moves and insidious cunning. A trio of rival demon hunters—including a nameless shapeshifter, the ancient Foot, and the sickly Prince Important—fill out the roster of kooky characters. Every element of the film is top notch except for the CGI, which lacks necessary detail and realism and isn’t up to Hollywood standards, often looking like bad, 90% finished renderings of animatronic puppets. The monster designs themselves, however, are very good—check out the catfish/tiger/dragon hybrid—and the level of creativity is so impressive that only the most parochial and unimaginative American effects snob would complain about the sub-par technology. Journey to the West constantly surprises with its twists and turns, highlighted by a battle with a fish demon in the harbor of a ramshackle riverside village, a deserted inn that’s been turned into a ghostly pork palace, and a comic sketch involving an “obedience charm” that turns hilariously homophobic. Topping it all off is an outrageous fifteen minute final battle scene with grotesquely oversized body parts, an armada of heat-seeking swords, and (naturally, this being a Chow movie) a giant glowing space Buddha with magma palms. A lot of the Chinese tropes, both mythological and comedic, will seem unfamiliar and strange, but that only enhances the experience for the adventurous viewer. Westerners, journey to the East to see Journey to the West; you won’t regret the trip.

Journey to the West is based on a 16th century Chinese novel that has been loosely adapted for film many times (including 1995′s A Chinese Odyssey, where Stephen Chow himself played a reincarnated hero version of the Monkey King). The final scene suggests sequels to come, and as long as Chow remains involved, we should look forward to the further travels of Xuan Zang as he makes his way westward.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s during this cartoony, anything-goes climax that Conquering The Demons truly hits its stride; part highly stylized wuxia, part Looney Tunes, the sequence showcases Chow at his weirdest and most entertaining.”–Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

CAPSULE: VISITORS (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Godfrey Reggio

FEATURING: None

PLOT: A series of black and white shots, mostly of human faces but also of abandoned buildings, hands, and landscapes, set to a new composition by Philip Glass. Still from Visitors (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though a curious experiment for sure,Visitors is too dry, slow and minimal to make the list of the best weird movies of all time. It’s got the “weird” part down; I’m less sure about the “movie” part.

COMMENTS: Visitors is composed of about 75% shots of human faces, captured by a slow motion camera, staring into a monitor with hard-to-gauge expressions for about a minute at a time. To break up the monotony there are also shots of abandoned buildings, disembodied hands, a gorilla, a lunar surface, and so on—all beautifully photographed, but seemingly inserted at random. Now, the human face is fascinating in its infinite variety and its singular expressiveness, but I confess that, like a normal person, I found this exploration boring. Five minutes of this parade of faces would have been enough, fifteen minutes would be pushing it, but ninety minutes sets the movie up as a challenge. It’s not that there isn’t a great deal for the eye to appreciate, or that there are no surprises to be found, especially in the film’s final moments; it’s just that a little bit of this goes a long way. You might compare Visitors to looking at an exhibition at an art gallery, except that at the gallery the observer decides whether he wants to invest his attention the portrait of the young Asian girl or the gorilla or the cypresses in the swamp, going at his own pace; here, director Godfrey “Koyaanisqatsi” Reggio selects the image and dictates in what order and for how long we gaze at each installation. If there is sense to the progression of images, it’s lost on us. The idea of a film where we simply peer at people’s faces while they stare back at us has a certain experimental purity; but why break it up with the shots of the abandoned amusement park? The flock of seagulls? The piles of garbage? (The Louisiana swamp that figures heavily in the film’s last third is a spot Reggio loved from his childhood, which subverts the notion that there is some sort of objective, non-personal meaning to the flow of images). There is a disconnect between the shots of isolated faces followed by abandoned buildings that might suggest some sort of looming post-apocalyptic future, but basically the audience is left on its own to find any thematic relevance in the imagery. Unlike Reggio’s previous films, such as Koyaanisqatsi (where the imagery consistently critiques the hectic pace of modern life), the material of Visitors seems like a bunch of pretty pictures inserted because each of them looked cool in isolation, not because they resonate with each other. In this way Visitors is a legitimately Surrealist documentary. It is also much, much slower in its progression than Reggio’s already stately previous work. Overall, Visitors is a noble experiment, but it would be hard to call it a successful one, except on a shot-by-shot basis.

Philip Glass’ slow, deep, moody score adds additional artistic heft to the project, and serious orchestral music fans may consider Visitors as nothing more than the music video for Glass’ latest composition. It’s also worth nothing, although I doubt Reggio would agree, that Visitors may actually play better on home video than in theaters. At home, you can walk away into the next room to read your email or unload the dishwasher, let Visitors play in the background, and check back every now and then just to assure yourself that nothing about the movie has actually changed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… weirdly beautiful film, eerie in its complicated simplicity.”–Maryann Johanson, Flick Filospher (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Sophie Huber

FEATURING: , , Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard, ,

PLOT: An impressionistic pastiche covering the career of cult character actor Harry Dean Stanton, with terse interviews, conversations with collaborators, film clips, and lots of folksinging from the subject.

Still from Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Stanton is a weird dude. The fact that your subject is weird, however, doesn’t necessarily make your documentary weird. Also, the ratio of insight to folk singing here is unfavorable.

COMMENTS: Partly Fiction is a portrait of a man of few words who refuses to talk about certain topics, including, among other things, his relationship with his mother and father. His answers to the simplest questions can be frustratingly obtuse, and followed by awkward silences. “How would you describe yourself?” “As nothing. There is no self,” Stanton replies. “How would you like to be remembered?” “Doesn’t matter.” Now, while on a very refined and abstract level I have some agreement with Stanton’s philosophical outlook, the fact is his clipped, koan-like answers don’t make for a great interview. He adopts an approach that might be described as “enlightened-aggressive”; although he surely realizes that the audience is looking for insights into Stanton the actor, not Stanton the folksinging guru, the craggy-faced icon is insistent on forcibly edifying viewers and shoving wisdom down their throats. He is far more interested in serenading us than in talking about his career, delivering oddly phrased versions of “Blue Moon,” “Blue Bayou,” and “Everybody’s Talking at Me” in a weak, wavering voice. (He turns out to be a better harmonica player than a crooner). To be fair, he does open up a little bit more as the doc continues, but he seems always guarded, always intent on preserving his enigma—we only rarely sense we are peeking through cracks in his facade, and then only when he chats with old friends.

To fill up the time when Stanton isn’t talking or singing, director Sophie Huber provides numerous films clips, including many classics from his iconic role as a wounded amnesiac who wanders out of the desert in Paris, Texas and as an amped-up speed-snorting repossesser in Repo Man, along with smaller parts in bigger movies like Cool Hand Luke and Alien. Huber also follows Stanton as he cruises the night, smoking cigarettes in the back seat as the crew ferries him about L.A., tailing him to Dan Tana’s for cocktails (tequila and cranberry juice) and a smoke break with the bartender (whom Stanton obviously knows well). Tributes from Wim Winders, Sam Shephard (who recommended Stanton for his breakthrough role in Paris, Texas), and most importantly David Lynch, who visits for a cup of coffee and with whom Stanton lets down his guard, add some additional meat, but the documentary still has trouble filling out its meager 75-minute running time. The impressionistic pastiche survives solely on Stanton’s (not inconsiderable) charisma. There’s not much insight to be had here, but Harry Dean does magnify his image as a grizzled, mystical outsider, and fans of that persona should eat it up.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“You still leave impressed at the way Stanton fiercely protects the aura of mystery that makes him such an indelible onscreen presence.”–Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week’s review lineup focuses on new releases (with a mini-focus on documentaries), including the impressionistic portrait Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction; Godfrey Reggio’s latest wordless experiment, Visitors; and, just to introduce a little bit of narrative into the mix, we’ll look at ‘s Chinese demon hunting extravaganza Journey to the West. To fill out the week, Alfred Eaker launches another mini-series with his overview of the career of cinema icon Greta Garbo, with the first of two installments focusing on her pre-talkie work.

It’s another slim week for finding the weird search terms we need to fill out our Weirdest Search Term of the Week candidate quota, but we’ll soldier on. The first entry we’ll highlight probably refers to a legitimate movie memory—”movie woman walks into a tree and it’s a birthday party”—but we confess we have no idea what it is. On the other hand, “all japan sex ninja vs tentacle movies” is a somewhat weirder (though still understandable) movie search. For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week we’ll go with “big weird toy in fat moms,” which works as weird whether you interpret it using your dirty mind, or just consider it as an incomprehensible string of random words.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue now stands: Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd; Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Cloudy with a Chance of  Meatballs; Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Spook Warfare [AKA Big Monster Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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