WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/31/2015

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.

SCREENINGS – (Cinefamily, Los Angeles, Fri. July 31-Tues, Aug 4):

The Films of Roy Andersson: It’s a Certified Weird weekend with this double feature of the first two-thirds of Roy Andersson‘s unofficial absurdist trilogy. Horrifying modernist vignettes haunt Songs from the Second Floor (2000), which is set at the dawn of the millennium in a nameless city undergoing an apocalyptic panic, while You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007) continues the deadpan despair, beginning with a dream that the bombers are coming. Cinefamily completes the set with Andersson’s latest, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence, screening on Monday and Tuesday. The Films of Roy Andersson at Cinefamily.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Seances (post-production, 2015 release): comes out with a new one, which has actually been filmed in bits and pieces over the past three years. It’s a collection of shorts based on (you guessed it) lost, forgotten and fragmentary early films. Although the details have changed over the course of the production, it was originally planned as an art installation and an Internet installation (where an originally planned 100 short films would be shown in random order to create an always-unique experience). Talent includes , , , and ; co-written with The Forbidden Room co-director (who seems to have taken George Toles’ place as Maddin’s main collaborator). More information in this 2013 National Film Board of Canada press release.

NEW ON DVD:

Jauja (2014): A Danish soldier (Viggo Mortensen) hunts for his eloped daughter in the wilds of Patagonia in this minimalist experimental feature. Reviews were generally good, but this is one of those arthouse features that comes with a “slow” warning. Buy Jauja.

White God (2014): A young Hungarian girl is forced to give up her beloved pet because of a citywide tax on half-breeds, and the castaway mutts rise up against their human masters. We sniff a political allegory. Buy White God.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

White God (2014): See description in DVD above. Buy White God [Blu-ray].

FREE MOVIES ON SHOUT TV:

Sleepaway Camp (1983): Read Ben Sunde’s review. Aside from the famous ending, per Ben it makes for a “a uniquely schizophrenic experience of a horror film” by “incorporating a wistful portrayal of summer camp into the sleazy slasher mold.” Viewers should be over 17 years old, please. Watch Sleepaway Camp free on Shout TV.

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.

THE HISTORY OF SUPERHERO MOVIES (AND THEIR RABID FANBOYS) PART ONE

“Fan” is short for fanatic, and fanatic is synonymous with fundamentalist. Most people associate fundamentalism solely with religion, but this kind of zealotry is hardly confined to beliefs about the afterlife or universal creation. It is a given that partisan politics, opera, and comic books invite rabid fundamentalism. All of these interests have denominational factions (Republican vs. Democrats, Traditionalist vs. Modernists, Marvel vs. DC) and each has their own form of atheism or, more accurately, an imagined conspiracy of atheism, which the various defenders will see as a provocative enemy.

Steel from Man of Steel
2013’s “Man of Steel”

Like evangelical kooks, the majority of fans subscribe to either/or isms. The comparative religious example would be adherents to sola scriptura (in layman’s terms, biblical inerrancy). Approaching ancient sacred texts as a mix of mythology, parable, folklore, poetry, metaphor, and symbology with a sliver of historicity is beyond the fundamentalist’s grasp. That is a choice. To say it is irrelevant whether or not something actually happened is heresy for the fundie; an aesthetic or literary approach to scripture is incomprehensible.

My grad school experience in theology made for some frustrating, but humorous, exchanges. I manifested a classic example of “open mouth, insert foot,” in dialogue with a professor when I unthinkingly referred to the Genesis narrative as a “creation myth.”

Like a bee to honey, a fellow student immediately interrupted: “You don’t believe Adam and Eve existed?”

“Well, being an adult, no I don’t believe snakes talk, the earth is 6,000 years old, or we all came from two people. It’s simply a beautiful myth.”

“Then, you don’t believe in the Bible.”

“Explain to me what you mean by belief, because that is an abstract concept. You can’t touch belief, see it, hear it, or smell it.”

“I don’t have to explain it because you are one of those liberal, existentialist atheists who gives God the finger.”

“No, I am not an atheist. Rather, I am a progressive Catholic existentialist who gives your two-dimensional version of God the finger.”

Because I did not take the Bible at face value (as she obviously did) and because I dared to hint, from a literal perspective, that the Bible was a fallible collection of writings, she assumed I had to be an atheist. From her severe perspective, it was easier to stick me in the box labeled atheist. As the dialogue continued, the student predictably leveled the accusation of “pretension.” It’s the well-worn standby defense crutch of every simpleton—when they fail to grasp something beyond their black or white, either/or point of view, they automatically spew accusations of snobbery, elitism and pretentiousness, Continue reading THE HISTORY OF SUPERHERO MOVIES (AND THEIR RABID FANBOYS) PART ONE

211. SOCIETY (1989)

“It was so weird… it was probably one of the weirdest movies ever made!”–Devin DeVasquez reflecting on Society

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Charles Lucia, Patrice Jennings, Ben Meyerson, Tim Bartell, Ben Slack, David Wiley, Connie Danese

PLOT: Despite being a star basketball player and candidate for president of Beverly Hills High, Billy feels like an outcast in his own high society family. He misses his sister’s coming out party due to a basketball game, but her creepy ex-boyfriend plays him a very disturbing recording from the event that causes him to investigate his own family secrets more closely. It seems that there is a secret society of upper-crust residents in Beverly Hills which even privileged Billy is not (yet) a part of; his investigations lead him to a secret party where the elites engage in a practice they call “shunting”…

Still from Society (1989)
BACKGROUND:

  • Brian Yuzna began his filmmaking career as a producer, teaming with director Stuart Gordon in 1985 to launch the hit Re-Animator series. Society was his first credit as director. To convince the producers to allow him to direct, Yuzna promised to make two movies, the other being the pre-sold sequel Bride of Re-Animator.
  • Makeup expert Screaming Mad George used paintings (specifically “The Great Masturbator” and “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans“) as inspiration for constructing the “shunting” scenes.
  • Although it saw some mild success overseas, the climax of Society had to be cut by four minutes in the U.S. to secure an R rating, and the film was not released to American screens until 1992, when it disappeared from theaters quickly.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Something—anything—from the last 20 minutes, a non-stop body-morphing orgy that would put off his lunch. If forced to whittle down the choice to a single image we’d have to go with “butthead,” a creation both juvenile and frightening.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Twisted sister; hair eating; “shunting” in general.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Brian Yuzna’s mixture of horror, satire, and teen sex comedy is clumsy and unsure at times, and bizarre in both theory and execution, but the drawn-out finale, a masterpiece of Dali-esque designs rendered in rubbery goo, puts it far over the top.


Original trailer for Society

COMMENTS: As satire and allegory, Society is obvious; but I believe Continue reading 211. SOCIETY (1989)

CAPSULE: THE TRIP (1967)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Fonda, , , Salli Sachse,

PLOT: A director of commercials headed for a divorce takes LSD hoping for insight into his life; he gets it, while seeing plenty of pretty swirling colors and getting into trouble when he wanders away from his trip-sitter.

Still from The Trip (1967)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Trip is a trendsetting lysergic journey, but it’s weirdness suffers because it takes itself too seriously, and handles itself too competently. Compare the derangement of 1968’s Skidoo, which, by casting the past-their-prime Jackie Gleason, Groucho Marx and Carol Channing as the turned-on, comes at the acid fad from a bizarrely oblique angle.

COMMENTS: One of the vanguard films exploring (or exploiting) the LSD craze of the mid to late 1960s, The Trip was a seriously-intended and visually pioneering film from an unlikely source (B-movie impresario Roger Corman, previously best known for monster cheapies and Poe adaptations). While prior films—Movie Star, American Style or; LSD, I Hate You, Hallucination Generation, and even 1959’s The Tingler—had dealt with the effects of this remarkably cinematic drug, The Trip feels like the start of the psychedelic cycle. Despite a disclaimer pasted to the front of the first reel by the producers (“the illegal manufacture and distribution of these drugs is dangerous and can have fatal consequences”), the film’s tone is intended to be objective and non-judgmental. Inevitably, however, it feels very pro-drug; who wouldn’t want to have the insides of their eyelids temporarily tie-dyed while going on a fantastic interior adventure like Peter Fonda, safe in the knowledge that Bruce Dern will bring you back to Earth with a shot of Thorazine if things get too intense? True to its serious intent, the movie proposes the paradigm of LSD as a self-psychotherapeutic tool rather than LSD as an opportunity to chat with God or LSD as the ultimate party drug—though, if the film is to be believed, it can also get you laid by groovy disinhibited chicks.

Little of what happens in The Trip occurs outside of Fonda’s skull. We are quickly introduced to his character, a dude on the fringes of the establishment but hip enough to have Dennis Hopper as his connection, and within fifteen minutes he’s setting off pharmaceutical fireworks inside his cranium. The Trip settles into a rhythm of subjective hallucination montages followed by returns to normalcy as we check in on the blissed-out (or paranoid) Fonda from the perspective of a neutral observer. Fonda sees pasty-faced death figures on a beach, meets with a hallucinated guru played by Hopper inside the tinseled carnival of his mind, and makes love to Strasberg and Sachse while  projected paisleys play across their nude bodies. Fractured images assault us in speedy montages that whirl by in a psychedelic blur. The liquid light and solarization effects seem kitschy and cliched today, but they were cutting edge (though inexpensive) at the time. Fonda’s acting while straight isn’t impressive, but his stoned temperament is believable, particularly when he wanders into a laundromat and is awestruck by a Whirlpool washing machine. What psychological depth the film might have is suggested rather than achieved; we don’t know enough about Fonda to relate to his self-discovery, and there are no shocking psychological insights. In that way, The Trip seems more like a sketch or a template for what an artistically successful trip film might eventually look like. But there’s an energy and an anarchy to this pioneering effort that makes it watchable despite its flaws, and it’s Corman’s most experimental film—and one of his best.

The screenplay was by acid enthusiast and future Academy Award winner . Feeling that he could not direct the film competently otherwise, Corman (along with most of the rest of the cast, minus health-nut Bruce Dern) dropped LSD before filming. The Trip is overdue for a decent Blu-ray release, but it can still be found on an old double-sided DVD release along with Psych-Out. The disc has several featurettes and a Corman commentary, and although the picture is good, the soundtrack could be clearer. If buying the overpriced out-of-print double feature is too much of a plastic hassle, The Trip can be rented on-demand.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Corman has simply resorted to a long succession of familiar cinematic images, accompanied by weird music and sounds.”–Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: DER TODESKING [THE DEATH KING] (1990)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Due to the episodic nature of the film, too many to list

PLOT: The Death King is a seven-part film with no overarching plot—each of the episodes is a vignette involving suicide, murder, and sometimes both. The events may take place over the course of a week (Monday through Sunday), with some tied together by the letters sent through the post by Monday’s suicide victim.

Still from Der Todesking (The Death King) (1990)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Der Todesking‘s qualifications as a weird movie stem from its utter unclassifiability as any other kind of movie. It’s too grisly for the arthouse and too philosophical for the grindhouse. Its lack of a single narrative makes it awkwardly describable as a film essay. That in mind, it is tremendously well executed, with moments of despair, surrealism, and beauty.

COMMENTS: In the film’s introduction (included as a bonus feature), Jörg Buttgereit assures the audience, “Don’t get me wrong here: it’s a movie against suicide.” It says something of either the kind of person who would watch this movie or, more likely, the kind who would refuse to watch it but still condemn it, that this explanation is necessary. To be fair, Der Todesking is at times a difficult movie, but that is due to the unpleasant subject matter (suicide), not the director’s handling of it.

The suicide-centered set-pieces are framed by a time-lapse image of a decomposing corpse. Within this framing structure is another one: an over-the-shoulder view of a young girl writing in a journal, beginning with the title for a drawing (“der Todesking”, in cute, loopy cursive), and ending with her finishing a drawing of a skeleton with a crown. She explains to the camera, “This is the King of Death. He makes people want to die.” Now already at two levels of framedness, the seven (largely) separate suicide sketches are each further framed by the days of the week, sometimes overlapping with each other. Got that?

Even beyond the framing cantrip, the film’s style is a showcase for low budget inventiveness. The first episode has a montage scene accomplished by a (seemingly?) uncut shot of a camera rotating several times full circle around a small apartment room, showing a man going through mundane tasks shortly after resigning from a well-paying job. Background items reveal his character. His only companion seems to be a goldfish, who joins him in death once he’s downed dozens of pills while in the bathtub. Or is it his only companion? Before his resignation and suicide, he writes and sends off about half a dozen letters.

On Tuesday, one is received by a friend, informing him of the sender’s suicide. He carries this note to a video rental place where, almost choosing My Dinner with André, instead opts for Vera: the Death-Angel of the Gestapo. The clerk is surprised he’s only renting one movie: the fellow explains he only has time for one—he’s got a birthday party to go to. Or so he thought. Despite the letter, his rental needs watching; and it’s a real pity that his girlfriend interrupts his viewing…

Of the seven days, Thursday is perhaps the most haunting. Using camera shots reminiscent of Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, the bit is virtually silent: just various angles and journeys through, above, in, and around a large overpass. Title cards appear, indicating the name, age, and profession of random individuals. These are all recorded suicides from that location.

Buttgereit’s movie is fairly brief, but that is due to his efficiency as a director and story-teller. Some very bleak ideas are explored here, and despite the director’s reputation, the movie never falls into the realm of the tasteless.

NOTE ON THE LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY: So carefully was this little gem packaged that I was somewhat loath to break the seal and open it. The cover sleeve, unlike so many releases, was actually different from the box art. Within, not only was there a fully packed disc (trailers for the director’s oeuvre, a documentary, and a soundtrack-only option, as well as a film introduction and commentary) but also a graphic postcard; limited in quantity, like the disc. If you get your hands on on it, you’ll have one of only 3,000 copies.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The end result is oddly beautiful and perhaps Buttgereit’s finest achievement as a director…”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

 

 

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week Giles Edwards braves the homicidal horrors of 1990’s transgressive import Der Todesking  (The Death King), while G. Smalley takes The Trip (1967) with Peter Fonda, then investigates Society (1989). Alfred Eaker takes a break from bashing Marvel superhero movies (and enduring the resultant abuse from annoyed franchise fans) to examine another double-feature of pre-Code naughtiness, Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum (just received word that Alfred may push that pre-Code pair off another week to spend some more time bashing Marvel superhero movies).

“What was that movie?”-type queries dominate our latest survey of the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week. We’ll start with the unlikely search for a “mutated vegetables slasher movie” (Veggie Tales from the Crypt, maybe?) We’ll put “the boys pines gose to the vagina the girl movie” into our “ouch!” file. For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, we’ll pick “wife leaves husband for a demon squidman movie,” just because it’s the one we most want to see (though a mutated asparagus slasher comes in a close second).

Here’s how the ridiculously-long  reader-suggested review queue stands: Der Todesking [The Death King] (next week!); Society (next week!); The Fox Family; Angelus; Conspirators of PleasureThe Ninth Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/24/2015

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):

Horse Money (2014): Ventura, a Cape Verdean immigrant suffering from dementia, wanders an expressionistically shadowed hospital, conflating his modern reality with past events. Critics are describing Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s first film in ten years as “incomprehensible” and “overtly surreal.” Horse Money official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

31 (est. 2016): , the best movie director named after a reanimated corpse working today, is back at it with a new flick that he promises will be his most “brutal” and “gruesome” effort yet. It involves an involuntary “game” where contestants strive to survive a night in a funhouse full of killer clowns. The best thing about it may be the character names: it stars Malcolm McDowell as “Father Murder” and Elizabeth Daily as “Sex-Head,” and includes other characters with names like “Venus Virgo,” “Sister Serpent,” and “Fat Randy Bumpagussy.” 31 updates at Rob Zombie’s official website.

NEW ON DVD:

Committed (1984): Expressionistic biopic of troubled actress Frances Farmer. J. Hoberman called it “the unexpected missing link between ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ and ‘Shock Corridor’,” while an Amazon purchaser had a different take: “this movie sucks big time!” Buy Committed.

Love Unto Death (1984)/Life is a Bed of Roses (1983): A mid-80s French pair from Alain (Last Year at Marienbad) Resnais. Love is a talky philosophical film about a man who returns from the dead, while Bed of Roses features three confusingly intertwined stories set in a castle (one is a fantasy imagined by children); it’s also a musical. Buy Love Unto Death/Life Is a Bed of Roses.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Love Unto Death (1984)/Life is a Bed of Roses (1983): See description in DVD above. Buy Love Unto Death/Life Is a Bed of Roses [Blu-ray].

FREE MOVIES ON SHOUT TV:

Stroszek (1977): An alcoholic German ex-con and a prostitute try to start a new life in Wisconsin in what Roger Ebert declared “one of the oddest films ever made.” We have shared just about all of Shout Factory’s wonderful collection with you lucky readers by this point; bless them for putting these cinema treasures online for free. Watch Stroszek free on Shout Factory TV.

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.

EAKER VS EAKER AT THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS (BONUS COVERAGE): ANT-MAN (2015)

Eaker vs. Eaker is the latest “send Alfred to the summer blockbuster movies so that he can curmudgeonly complain” event, but with a twist, cinema fans and friends! For the first time (without even knowing it), you voted to send Alfred and his wife, Aja, to the flicks and have them duke it out, publicly, about each so-called-blockbuster. Everybody here knows all about Alfred’s cinematic savvy, and his cranky-old-dog approach to film critique. Now, you get 2-for-1: Aja is Alfred’s beloved clinical and counseling psychologist partner, who loves to counter just about every cinematic point Alfred makes. You didn’t choose to send us to Ant-Man (2015), but we went nevertheless.

Aja and Alfred 366Alfred:

How much of the script for Ant-Man (2015) was written on a chalkboard? I imagine a bunch of executives sitting round the table, outlining the plot for its six writers: “To be successful, we have to follow the Marvel formula, have archetypes, etc.”

“Well, we can do it like Iron Man.  Have the hero in and Ant-Man suit and a villain in a rival insect suit.”

“Ok, but Ant-Man is little. So what other movies are there about shrunken people.”

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

“Ok, good. What else?”

The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

“Well, maybe, but that’s kind old, isn’t it?

Still from Ant-Man (2015)“Hey, it is about ants, so what about the Ants move?”

“Good thinking. Let’s look at Ants too. We need to give him a mentor, some comedy relief, and a femme fatale babe.”

“Ok, good, but we gotta give Ant-Man something to fight for. Audiences love little girls. Let’s give him a daughter.”

“Yeah, and the villain goes after her like that Octopus guy went after Spiderman’s aunt.”

“Or Lex Luthor when he went after Lois Lane.”

“We can even have a bald villain, like Luthor.”

“Let’s develop all that and up the ante. Make Ant-Man a divorcee—kind of a loser. He only gets to see his daughter on weekends.”

“Yeah, and his ex-wife is married to a jerk.”

“Right, and after learning her biological dad is Ant-Man, the daughter learns what a true hero he really is.”

“Now, we’re rolling. What else?”

“Let’s use the corporate bad guy plot, you know like making the big business guys trying to get the secrets of the suit, so they can sell it Continue reading EAKER VS EAKER AT THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS (BONUS COVERAGE): ANT-MAN (2015)

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