DIRECTED BY: Francisco Athié
FEATURING: Marco Antonio Arzate, Urara Kusanagi
PLOT: Trapped underground, a miner hallucinates, eventually encountering a green alien creature who leads him into the spirit world.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: On sheer weirdness, this trip skirting the veil that separates life and death would make the List easily. A couple of faults hold it back from making it on the first ballot, however: it’s very slow to get started, and the imagination behind the visual effects greatly exceeds the budget’s capacity to realize them.
COMMENTS: With this production, I get the feeling that Francisco Athié saw the chance to make the dream visionary feature of a lifetime and decided to seize it, even though the necessary funding wasn’t there. When Vera‘s imagery is on, it’s mind-meltingly sublime, but there are too many times when the CGI isn’t up to the tasks Athié sets for it. The movie serves as a reminder of why you should always shell out the big bucks for the top-shelf peyote, and not save a few bucks buying the shriveled-up buttons on sale for half off. Although the love that went into it is clear, Vera feels stretched out: there is probably forty-five minutes of good stuff, and fifteen minutes of amazing stuff, here, but it’s padded out to an eighty-minute feature. The first ten minutes wordlessly depict life in an isolated Mexican village, while the title character doesn’t show up until the movie is halfway over. The first hallucinatory moment introduces the trademark visual awkwardness: it’s meant to depict a bone-chilling wasteland, but it looks like the main character is suddenly playing a mime walking in a stiff wind in front of a green-screen snowstorm. After twenty-five minutes with very little of consequence occurring, you may feel like giving up on Vera, but if you stick around you will be rewarded, because things start cooking after the old man trapped in the mine adds urine and blood from his penis (ouch!) to a cauldron of boiling lead in order to conjure up a jade statue of a Mayan god. The miner simultaneously prays to the Christian God, and to “Lady Balam” and the Winds, and modern mythology is added to the Christian/pagan mix when he discovers a little green (wo)man who projects a stream of 0s and 1s from an orifice in her torso. This creature, the mystical “Vera” of the title, is at times crudely computer-generated, with a bobbing head that makes it resemble a character in a Star Wars ripoff video game, while at other times the entity is portrayed by the mesmerizing Japanese dancer Urara Kusanagi. The two different embodiments of the character are certainly weird, but probably not in the way Athié intended. The main effect is to draw attention to the cheapness of the effects, and make you wish they had been scrapped for more scenes with the graceful and mysterious Kusanagi. Marvelous mystical visions accompany the doomed man as Vera guides him to the afterlife: a child skeleton that dances with Vera, the Virgin Mary appearing in a stalactite, and the green-skinned guide fetching fruit off of an Eden-like tree. And if the visuals are at times sketchy, the music and sound design, which ranges from ambient drones to Amazonian percussion, is always on point setting the chthonic mood. The resulting concoction mixes the promiscuously mythological preoccupations of an Alejandro Jodorowsky with the deliberate pacing of an Andrei Tarkovsky, but, unfortunately, as realized by the visual effects team behind a SyFy shark movie.
“Bright Lights Film Journal” supplies insight on the film’s title: “According to writer-editor-director Athié, Vera ‘means trust and faith in Cyrillic (Russian), the truth in Italian, the side of the road in Spanish, and it is a very beautiful feminine name. Therefore, in a way, it points to the faith and trust you need to follow a path that is true to your own perception of the otherworldly’.”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a strange, hallucinatory film that reveals itself in a slow, ritualistic way.”–Marilyn Ferdinand, Ferdy on Films
(This movie was nominated for review by NGBoo, who described it as “a beautiful metaphysical fantasy, that explores the afterlife, inspired by Mayan and Christian religions.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
DIRECTED BY: Nicholas Fackler
FEATURING: Dana Altman, Ross Brockley, Nicholas Fackler
PLOT: A cast and crew of drug addicts/imbeciles travel to the heart of Central Africa to partake of a rare psychedelic that is rumored to cure drug addiction. Once they arrive, they encounter spirituality, mysticism, and their own bloated egos.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is nothing truly abnormal about what befalls our plucky adventurers in this docu-something about interlopers in the Garden of Eden (aren’t we all?). Director Nicholas Fackler positions himself as a Colonel Kurtz of visual storytelling, but emerges from this breezy jungle nightmare looking more like Dennis Hopper’s shell-shocked photojournalist.
COMMENTS: At the heart of Sick Birds Die Easy is a message that speaks to the heart of the human experience. Unfortunately, for all concerned, that message is “I dunno either, man.” It’s a propaganda movie about the benefits of iboga, a plant that even the film doubts the real merits of; a drama about Nick’s annoying friends trapped in a Why-Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along crisis; a harrowing thriller about being lost in the jungle with a load of nitwits surrounded by danger; and an aloof, self-loathing indie comedy with an admittedly killer soundtrack. And while these are all interesting angles, when none of them in this movie seem to lead anywhere or are expressed with any conviction or belief in anything. Ironically, it ends up as a film about a film getting lost.
In a voice that was made for documentary narration, Nick Fackler spins a tale in the opening moments about the grandiose ideas he plans to tackle: spirituality, primordial magic, alternate reality, and an Apocalypse that will reveal the next direction of human consciousness. The next minute destroys any hope that these ideas will ever be explored seriously in this film again, as musician Sam Martin drunkenly opines about being a gay baby who needs a diaper during the opening credits. The picture never sets up a goal or a narrative that is satisfyingly fulfilled in any way; even the main quest, which involves getting Nick’s drug dealer Ross to the Pygmy tribe’s Fwiti ritual so he can be cleansed of his drug-loving ways, is neither embarked upon meaningfully (they all bring drugs into the jungle!) or brought to a satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps, in a post-modern context, this film is a deconstruction of expectations, narrative, or reality itself. From the press material, and even from the shaky-cam film festival Q&As these stoner-philosophers sit for, it is difficult to determine whether or not the events of Sick Birds Die Easy were of a non-fictitious nature, especially considering the insane and the insanely conveniently cinematic way the movie unfolds. It’s chock full of gripping indie trailer moments and feats of such uncanny luck that would make Las Vegas blush with envy. It could be construed as a deconstruction of the documentary genre as a whole. But if that is the case, and all these loose ends are really missiles pointing at the human need for resolution in art, then I still have a problem with Sick Birds Die Easy, because it has also deconstructed joy, hope, and optimism in the name of questionable art. I hope that this is a film merely without a brain, and not without a heart.
Sick Birds, for all the questions it raises, is a well-constructed documentary (?) with a good narrative engine that drives along at a humming pace to the beat of some good tunes by Sam Martin. Nick Fackler has an eye for what intrigues people visually, and he creates a vista that gives us a grand look at his burgeoning capabilities as a filmmaker. But intellectually, this experience suffers from too many shallow, mildly psychopathic, or perhaps merely bleak ideas, placed behind the veils of “spirituality,” “alternate realities,” “apocalypse”, and other trailer buzzwords. Watch Sick Birds Die Easy, like our intrepid dopes going into the jungles of Africa, at your own risk. And leave your common sense at the door; you won’t need it.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“So what’s Sick Birds Die Easy really about? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. I’m still completely on the fence as to whether I can take the movie seriously as a documentary, or not.” -Amy R. Handler, Film Threat
This is one of those weeks when we’re not 100% sure what reviews we’ll be posting in the upcoming days. However, you can expect to see coverage of some combination of the following: the pro-ibogaine something-mentary Sick Birds Die Easy (2013); the Mexican death-surrealism of Vera (2003); the amazingly incompetent 1980s horror anthology Night Train to Terror (1985); a look at the hottie doppelgangers of +1 [Plus One] (2013); and/or the Lithuanian erotic science fiction feature Vanishing Waves (2012). One thing is certain: next week at 366 Weird Movies is sure to be filled with something or other.
There’s not much to report on in the weird search terms used to locate the site in search engines front, either, so we’re going to just give in and feature the porn searches this week. We’ll start with the guy looking for some hot “babo hat grl booy sex com” action. Not sure what that’s about, but “geant sauvage lesbian rape chick porn” is a little more coherent, though still pretty darn bizarre (and, lest we forget, deranged). For our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week, we’ll swallow any pretense of good taste and go with ”limbless naked gay guy.”
Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue currently stands: Celine and Julie Go Boating; Abnormal: The Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE
Our friends from the original episode come together again for an even more offensive, semi-educational sing-a-long. If you value your hearing, please do not use headphones.
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.
FILM FESTIVALS – South by Southwest (Austin, TX, Mar. 7-16):
Following hot on the heels of Sundance, South by Southwest is more than just a place for leftovers to screen. Since expanding from a musical festival to an all-media extravaganza, its star has continued to ascend. Although it doesn’t host as many premiers as its Utah cousin, it gets its fair share of prestige pictures (by indie standards, that is). Among the movies we’ve seen pop up at other fests that are also playing here, the ones of particular interest to weirdophiles are Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s semi-autobiography The Dance of Reality; Frank (also seen at Sundance), which stars Michael Fassbender in an oversized head as the title character; and Jim Jarmusch‘s long-simmering vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive. Two debuting movies caught our eye as having some potential bizarre appeal:
- The Desert – A post-apocalyptic love triangle from Argentina, featuring a zombie and a guy who tattoos his face with flies. Debuting Mar. 7 with additional screenings on the 8th, 10th and 14th.
- Starry Eyes – Horror about Hollywood; a young actress lands a big part, and finds her body and mind transformed. A Satanic cult plays a role in casting. Mar. 8, 10, 12 and 14.
South by Southwest home page.
NEW ON DVD:
Oldboy (2013): A man is imprisoned in a hotel room for twenty years without explanation, then just as inexplicably set free to seek revenge on his captor. We assumed this Spike Lee remake of the shocking Korean original was doomed to be a disappointment and decided to skip it, but you may be curious (or masochistic). Buy Oldboy.
The Visitor (1979): Read our capsule review. Drafthouse Films’ new release of the nearly forgotten Italian Exorcist ripoff our own Ben Sunde called “utterly unique in its weirdness” contains all new interviews, including one with Lance Henriksen. Buy The Visitor.
NEW ON BLU-RAY:
Garden State (2004): Read our review. This quirky romantic comedy about an over-medicated actor arrives on Blu-ray for the first time, with the same suite of extras (including two commentary tracks) as the original DVD. Buy Garden State [Blu-ray].
Hairspray (1988): John Waters goes PG for this campy but nostalgic look at 1960s integration from a teen perspective. One of Divine‘s final movies before passing away from sleep apnea. Buy Hairspray [Blu-ray].
Oldboy (2013): See description in DVD above. Buy Oldboy [Blu-ray].
The Visitor (1979): See description in DVD above. Buy The Visitor [Blu-ray].
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.
It has been said the greatest tragedy of silent film is that its era was too brief. It seems Hollywood belatedly agreed with this assessment when they named The Artist (2011, dir. Michael Hazanavicius) only the second silent film to win a Best Picture Oscar (the first was 1927′s Wings, directed by William A. Wellman). The Artist had a somewhat conventionally plotted narrative, clearly patterned after Star is Born (1937, also directed by Wellman), which was perhaps apt, as it borrows silence to portray a silent film. However, its charm and an infectious love of the era won it numerous accolades. Following close on The Artist‘s heels came Blancanieves (2012 dir. Pablo Berger), which did not get nearly the recognition The Artist did, but is the better film. Blancanieves almost feels as indebted to Guy Maddin as it does to the silent era, which may have kept it from attaining the populist status afforded The Artist.
Fifty-year-old NYU film grad Pablo Berger chose a familiar story: the Brothers Grimm’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” This adaptation came on the heels of Hollywood’s pedestrian Snow White And The Huntsman (which predictably made a gazillion dollars) but represents a much darker, idiosyncratic telling of the tale. Berger grasps an important aesthetic of silent film: its sense of otherworldliness. Berger clearly relishes a hallucinatory texture akin to silent artists such as Tod Browning or Erich Von Stroheim. He transplants the story, brimming with humor and tragically latent left-field sexuality, into and around the arena of Spanish bullfights.
The famous toreador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) dispenses of a quintet of bulls, only to be gored by the sixth (the bulls were actually killed, which sparked boycotts by animal rights advocates). Villalta’s pregnant wife Carmen de Triana (Inma Cuesta) witnesses his maiming, which renders him a quadriplegic. This sends Carmen into premature labor, which proves fatal after delivering her namesake. Villalta’s anesthesiologist, Encarna (Maribel Verdú) sees opportunity and maneuvers to marry the tragedy-stricken celebrity, which puts his infant daughter under the care of her grandmother.
As young Carmen grows, she is never allowed to visit her father. After her grandmother’s death, Carmen is transferred to her father’s estate and sadistic stepmother Encarna. Chopping off Carmen’s hair, butchering her pet rooster, and separating a daughter from her imprisoned, suffering invalid father are the tenets of this quintessentially evil fairy tale mommie dearest.
Reconciliation between father and daughter is managed, albeit briefly, but long enough to tap Carmen’s genetic talents. After her father’s death, Carmen barely escapes being a victim of filicide, and hauntingly evokes Mary Pickford as she merges into the grown daughter (played by Macarena Garcia) of both natural parents. Ecarna’s henchman one-ups her Disney counterpart by trying to rape Carmen before plunging the knife, which gets him gored by the feisty daughter of Villalta. Left for dead, Carmen is adopted by seven dwarf matadors.
A career in the ring follows, and, naturally, Carmen and the Los Enanitos Toreros develop a special bond. Blancanieves is equal parts pure joy and delirious darkness (with one of its most perverse scenes being staffers having their photographs taken with a celebrity corpse—shades of a finale to come). Such idiosyncrasy probably does not afford a happily-ever-after option. After learning that her believed-to-be-dead stepdaughter is the new matador taking Spain by storm, Encarna murders her henchman for having failed in his job, and proceeds to the arena with poisoned apple in hand. Blancanieves concludes on a perverse shocker, worthy of Luis Buñuel.
Like many silent film artists, Berger approaches the seedier elements with good aesthetic taste; the difference being that past artists were required to take such an approach due to period censorship, while Berger chooses to be indirect—and, consequently, gives the film a surprisingly modern vibe.
“We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“We already know that weird things happen. So let’s just watch something happen, and let that be it. If a worm goes into Kris and then leaves her and then goes into a pig, and we see that there’s a connection and I execute it with music and cinematography and Amy’s performance, in such a way that conveys that transference of some deeply felt kind is taking place, that’s it.”–Shane Carruth on Upstream Color
DIRECTED BY: Shane Carruth
FEATURING: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins
PLOT: Kris is poisoned by the Thief, who forces her to ingest a worm that sends her into a hypnotic trance, then empties her bank account. Waking up days later, and unable to cut the worm out from under her skin, she is drawn to a man (the Sampler) who surgically removes the organism and places it inside a pig. Suffering from hallucinations and delusions, Kirs then attempts to rebuild her shattered life with the assistance of Jeff, a financial analyst and recovering junkie.
- After scoring an independent hit in 2004 with the time travel puzzler Primer, made for a mere $7,000, director Shane Carruth went silent for nine years. In that time he worked on developing a script entitled A Topiary that never went into production (he referred to that project as “the thing I basically wasted my whole life on”). Carruth tried to get Hollywood backing for the project, but couldn’t get anywhere because he demanded to have final cut and final say on every aspect of the film’s production—conditions that no Hollywood producer would ever agree to.
- After finally abandoning A Topiary after 7 years of attempted development, Carruth conceived and shot Upstream Color in about a year, announcing the project in October 2011 and debuting it at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2103.
- Besides writing, directing and acting in the film, Carruth is also credited with the music, cinematography and editing. He also handled distribution of the movie himself.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: “I have to apologize. I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun,” says the Thief, and a quick shot suggests his statement is true. Of course, you can only glance at the sun for the briefest of moments, and the camera observes this caution, so you may spend the rest of the movie wondering if you saw what you thought you did, or if it was just a result of a hypnotic suggestion.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Upstream Color is the movie that asks the question, “what if there was a psychoactive parasitic worm that could create a psychic link to a person if you surgically removed it and implanted in a pig? What would that be like?” It then proceeds to answer the question.
Shane Carruth discussing Upstream Color for Sundance Film Festival’s “Meet the Artist” promo
COMMENTS: In his negative review of Upstream Color, The Guardian‘s Jeremy Kay prefaced his synopsis with, “here’s the plot, such as it is. It’s Continue reading 164. UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)
DIRECTED BY: Dan Aykroyd
FEATURING: Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy
PLOT: New York professionals are imprisoned by an ancient self-appointed judge in his ramshackle house inside his own New Jersey fiefdom.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It turns out that what’s weird in Nothing but Trouble was originally intended to be funny, rather than uncanny. Who could tell?
COMMENTS: Nothing But Trouble proved to be a prophetic description of how this alleged black comedy about a provincial judge taking the law into his own hands would effect its stars’ careers. Heck, it’s even an embarrassment in the filmography of Tupac Shakur. John Candy, who wears a dress and models plus-size lingerie, emerges from the film with the most dignity intact. As the alleged star, charisma-less mogul Chevy Chase is so laid back that he seems totally disengaged. Chase is more a vehicle for delivering one-liners than he is a leading man; if the script doesn’t assign him good jokes (and this one doesn’t), his essential blandness shines through. Demi Moore’s character, a lawyer in hotpants, makes no sense at all. She’s a rich and powerful Manhattan lawyer who has to hitch a ride to Atlantic City with a strange bachelor for no better reason then that he’s sending out a vibe that says “I can’t carry this film myself, I desperately need a love interest.” She quickly turns from putative competent career woman into helpless damsel in distress. Jumping up to play a surprise blues riff on the organ during Digital Underground’s big rap number, Dan Aykroyd obviously thinks his character, withered old “Reeve” Valkenheiser, is a hilarious foil—I imagine he’s modeling his performance on Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice—but in reality the heat from the pounds of latex makeup he’s wearing has just made the actor temporarily delirious. At times—not always, mind you—Aykroyd’s prosthetic nose is shaped like the glans of a penis. Whether this is intentional or just a result of bad makeup continuity is anyone’s guess.
On the other hand, if name-brand stars are going to humiliate themselves, they might as well do it on a spectacular set. Nothing But Trouble‘s cluttered old haunted house, full of sliding panels, paintings with the eyes cut out (like in a 1930s Three Stooges short), and piles of skulls illogically piled at the bottom of slides, all plopped down in the middle of a Jersey junkyard, is a good (and expensive-looking) creation. There are surprises around every corner, like the “Bonestripper” roller coaster ride, the spontaneous rap music video, and the pair of morbidly obese adult babies who far surpass Valkenheiser in latex repulsiveness. This comedic train wreck concludes with two twist endings and a “Looney Tunes” sound effect—always a sign of desperation. Although the movie never quite slows down enough to become boring, there are no real laughs to be had, and this not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. The best way to salvage some entertainment value out of Nothing but Trouble to approach it in a spirit of mockery, with good companions and ample libations to soften the blow.
Nothing But Trouble has shown up multiple times in the “What Was That Weird Movie?” thread. Despite flopping at the box office, it proved to be natural filler for cable television—it was cheap to license but starred recognizable faces that would make people stop while flipping through the channels. Many people therefore saw, for example, the scene where Aykroyd takes off his nose, but didn’t know what they were watching.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Aykroyd here has lovingly, meticulously created a hideous, grotesque nightmare world nobody in their right mind would want to visit the first time around, let alone return to.”–Nathan Rabin, Onion A.V. Club
Consider the difference between Eraserhead (1977) and INLAND EMPIRE (2006), The former was produced meticulously on a shoestring budget, with continual setbacks due to the cost of film (the medium) itself. With EMPIRE, David Lynch had the ability to shoot digitally, and he felt completely uninhibited, improvising with his camera, shooting aimlessly for hours on end. He thought of it as an exercise in stream-of-consciousness filmmaking.
Whether other contemporary filmmakers now favor digital shooting technology for its stream-of-consciousness capabilities, or simply because of the convenience and cost-efficiency, there’s no disputing that digital technology has forever changed the production of filmmaking.
Digital media has affected other aspects of independent filmmaking, too. Video streaming sites have opened up new distribution channels for independents (and one that is infinitely cheaper), and social media has given independent filmmakers a new means of promoting their work, and it is, in some measurable way, changing public discourse about film.
Consider Nina Paley’s independently produced animated feature Sita Sings the Blues (2009), which had a composite narrative featuring story elements from the Ramayana (an epic Hindu tale) and Paley’s personal life. Astoundingly, Paley made the entire 82-minute film right on her laptop. Paley ran into trouble because she had included Annette Hanshaw songs from the twenties in her film—music which was still under copyright protection. Paley didn’t have a distributor, and struggled to secure the money to pay the copyright fees. Ultimately, she decided to alter the film’s Creative Commons license, so it is now in the public domain and could be downloaded at full resolution.
Although the movie saw little distribution in the conventional way, it still managed to make an impact, thanks to mainstream media and digital media alike. Major critics heaped praise upon her, including Roger Ebert, who went as far as to call it one of “best films” of 2009. Data from Viral Heat shows that that popular opinion also echoed what the critics were saying:
Continue reading DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, SOCIAL MEDIA AND INDEPENDENT CINEMA
In just a few hours, the telecast of the Oscars (or, as we refer to them, the “Weirdcademy Awards for squares”) will begin. We’re happy to steal the Academy’s Thunder by announcing cinema’s weirdest winners of 2013.
In the category of “Weirdest Short Film,” the Weirdcademy Award goes to Greg Barth for “Fortunes.”
(This short contains profanity)
In the category of “Weirdest Scene,” the Weirdcademy Award goes to Spring Breakers for the scene where Alien and his female henchmen sing Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on a grand piano on the beach at dawn.
(This clip contains profanity and violence)
In the category of “Weirdest Actress,” the award goes to Claudia Black for her voiceover performance as saxophonist Parker, searching for her lost love among the moons of Jupiter, in Strange Frame: Love & Sax.
In the category of “Weirdest Actor,” the Award goes to James Franco for his performance as Alien, the white rapper who runs a crime empire on the side and hires college girls on spring break as his muscle.
And the award for Weirdest Movie of 2013 goes to Strange Frame: Love & Sax, the world’s first animated lesbian science fiction musical.
Thanks to all members of the Weirdcademy, and see you again next year!