Originally an anonymous encyclopediast who closely guarded his secret identity to prevent his occult enemies from exposing him, a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that "366weirdmovies" is actually Greg Smalley, a freelance writer and licensed attorney from Louisville, KY. His orientation is listed as "hetero" and his relationship status as "single," but Mr. Smalley's "turn-ons" and "favorite Michael Bay movie" were redacted from the FOIA report. Mr. Smalley is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.
PLOT: Documentary covering exploitation films made in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, both by Filipinos and by American companies looking for cheap labor and exotic locations.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A few of the films mentioned (For Y’ur Height Only?) might be worthy of consideration for the List, but this documentary survey is a curiosity piece—and possibly a place to get ideas for your Netflix queue.
COMMENTS: There are two strands to Machete Maidens. One is the history of an enterprising but anarchic third-word film industry and the American carpetbaggers who flocked there to make cheap pictures, packed with war stories from those who were there. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who loaned army helicopters to American filmmakers in the evenings after they’d spent the mornings strafing Islamic rebels) and notorious first lady Imelda (who allegedly ordered dead workers’ bodies to be left in the cement of the Manila Film Center so the project could be completed in time to host a film festival) remain in the background as villains throughout the entire epic. On the front lines, American filmmakers and actors relate stories of pistol-packing makeup men and cockroach-infested living conditions (at one point Sid Haig describes his accommodations by saying “I saw a rat carrying a kitten out the window”).
But as interesting as this backdrop might be, the main attraction is not the island’s political scenery, but the movies made there for export. These reflected the evolving shock aesthetic of the American drive-ins, not tropical politics. The scandalous profit margins of native filmmaker Eddie Romero’s “Blood Island” horror movies, with their cheap rubber-masked monsters menacing topless Filipino babes, were the proof-of-concept legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman needed to ship contract director Jack Hill off to the islands to produce his smash hit The Big Doll House. This revolutionary sleaze introduced the world to the concept of women’s prisons as topless entertainment centers, and also to the enormous talents of burgeoning bust icon Continue reading CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)→
PLOT: British farmers unite with Churchill and Scotsmen to repel Nazis who invade London by
tunneling under the English Channel.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The idea of an absurd Nazi invasion of England acted out by children’s toys is odd and appealing, but the premise is undercooked, and never hits either the weird or (more importantly) the comic notes that it should.
COMMENTS: Hitler in a dress! That should be funny, right? It could be either a great punchline, or the beginning of a running series of gags that see (for example) der Führer more concerned with what’s going on with his hemlines than with developments on the front lines. But Hitler’s transvestite cameo is emblematic of the problem with Jackboots. The joke is never developed; the movie just trots out the dictator dressed as the Queen of England, with a pearl-handled Luger, and expects us to laugh. Although the occasional amusing one-liner slips through the fog of war (usually delivered by Timothy Spall in his dead-on Churchill impression), for the most part Jackboots‘ quips don’t exactly stomp on your funny bone. They’re sparse, as well. A lot of time is devoted to chuckle-free dramatic scenes between big-handed farmhand turned soldier Chris (McGregor), his lady-love Daisy (Pike), and her disapproving Vicar father (Grant), as well as to intricate battles between plastic Panzers and Punjabi guards that—considering they’re enacted with toy tanks fighting Ken dolls in turbans—are more thrilling than expected. Jackboots is part WWII movie parody (with a roughneck American pilot who thinks the Nazis are Commies), part clever historical references (the defeated Brits retreat to Hadrian’s Wall, and the Germans are fearful of pursuing where even the Romans dared not go), and part pure silliness (a Braveheart spoof takes up a large part of the last act). There is a running undercurrent of mock-prejudice against the Scottish (who are depicted as cannibals in skirts) that must be funnier to U.K. residents than to those in the U.S. and elsewhere—at least, I hope it is; otherwise, it’s just another Jackboots comic misfire. The movie manages to be unique without ever finding its own voice, which makes it interesting without ever being engaging. Mainstreamers hoping for a script with the sly gross-out humor of Team America or the pop-culture savvy of TV’s “Robot Chicken” (which uses the same action-figure aesthetic as Jackboots) will be disappointed, if not angry and frustrated, by the oblique comedy on display here. But even if it’s not riotously funny, little touches like a ghoulish pig-nosed Goebbels, a cat who looks like Hitler, puppet gore, and an attack vanguard of bazooka-wielding Nazi dominatrices in black lipstick should be enough to keep weirdophiles watching to the end.
Though the end result is mediocre, Jackboots‘ crazy synopsis managed to attract top-notch cult British acting talent. Besides McGregor, Pike, Spall and Grant, the voiceover cast includes Alan Cumming (as Hitler), Tom Wilkinson (as Goebbels), and Richard O’Brien (as Himmler).
When November and December roll around, we rush to catch up on all the weird stuff you may have missed in 2011. To that end, we’ll be looking at another quartet of new releases this upcoming week, starting off with this sick ‘n weird patricide pic Father’s Day (2011). Next we’ll check out what happens when Nazi action figures led by Hitler in an evening gown invade London in the animated alternate history comedy Jackboots on Whitehall (2010), then ogle Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010), an exploitation doc/clip show in the American Grindhouse vein, but focused on WTF Filipino flicks of the 1970s. And just to remind you that “new release” doesn’t always mean something made in the last year or two, Alfred Eaker will give you the skinny on Warner Archive’s long-awaited DVD-R of Erich von Stroheim’s classic silent melodrama The Merry Widow (1925).
We are distressed at the deadening normality of the search terms that passed through our server logs this week. We are contractually obligated to pick a Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however, so we will do our best with what we have. A search for “hitler magic porno video” might look weird if you’re running a website devoted to pictures of cute kitties in baseball caps, but for us it’s just par for the course: if there actually were Hitler magic porno videos, we like to think we would be the ones covering them. A little bit weirder is “hollywood old movies black and white village saxy shat”: again, if such films only existed, we would be the ones bringing you the old Hollywood movies with the saxiest shat. We’ll go in a different direction and give this week’s Weirdest award to “seeex aanal poooorn.” The suggestion that more vowels = hotter pr0n search results is bizarre enough to squeak by in a weak field.
We’re neglecting covering titles in the vast reader-suggested review queue, but you guys haven’t slowed down making your suggestions, meaning the list is growing to truly embarrassing proportions. Check it out and see what we’re talking about: Kairo [AKA Pulse];The American Astronaut; Blood Tea and Red Strings; The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. II (for Lucifer Rising, Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
Dueling Snow White’s: It looks like the story of 2012 will be the Snow White sweepstakes, as it has just come to our notice (why are we always the last ones to hear?) that there are two reimaginings of the fairy tale scheduled to battle it out next year. Relativity Media/Studio Canal’s “Untitled Snow White Project,” which we reported on a few weeks ago, now has a title (Mirror, Mirror), and it will reach theaters in March 2012. The higher profile offering is Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman (from the producers of Alice in Wonderland), starring Kristen Stewart as White and Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen. Huntsman has an effects-heavy trailer and looks to be another revisionist/feminist/video game styled action/fantasy; it’s slated for a summertime opening. Our cynical guess is that both fairy-flicks will be underwhelming, but if we have to pick one as more promising than the other, we’ll stick with Mirror, Mirror. We find an aging Julia Roberts a more intriguing Queen than an aging Charlize Theron. Director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall) is a proven commodity vs. first time helmer Rupert Sanders (who comes from the world of television commercials). But the most important factor in Mirror, Mirror‘s favor is that it is not from the producers of Alice in Wonderland. Mirror, Mirror on Facebook / Snow White and the Huntsman official page.
NEW ON DVD:
1 in the Gun (2010): Direct-to-DVD erotic neo-noir sees a homeless artist hired to paint a trophy wife’s home, followed by lots of twists and (per the promo material) “David Lynch-style surrealism.” The director has been quietly busy directing a series of softcore movies reviving the old Emmanuelle franchise, including Emmanuelle vs. Dracula and the upcoming Emmanuelle in Wonderland! Buy 1 in the Gun.
In a Glass Cage [Tras el Cristal] (1987): A former Nazi pedophile now confined to an iron lung finds himself at the mercy of a young caretaker. Shocking stuff when it was released, and definitely not for anyone who can’t stand to see children in jeopardy. The bonus disc includes interviews with director Agusti Villaronga and three of his early experimental short films. Buy In a Glass Cage (2 Disc Special Edition).
Skeleton Key 3: The Organ Trail (2011): It’s hard to say exactly what caught our interest about this third microbudget horror-comedy sequel to a movie we’d never heard of before, but it probably had something to do with this odd promotional copy: “Can you handle naked bodies bouncing through every scene? Can YOU! HANDLE! A French puppet?” Plus, it has a cameo from Lloyd Kaufman, and he’s never loaned his presence to any flick that wasn’t of the absolute highest quality—has he? Buy Skeleton Key 3: The Organ Trail.
The Sleeping Beauty (2010): Catherine Breillat takes her second stab at adapting a classic fairy tale with modern feminist sensibilities (after the strangely muted, very slightly weird Bluebeard). Much of the narrative here takes place in Beauty’s dreams as she slumbers and encounters dream ogres and dwarfs, giving rise to hopes of more surrealistic imagery this time out. This French offering is not to be confused with Australian Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (2011), starring Emily Browning. Buy The Sleeping Beauty.
ThanksKilling (2009): Read our capsule review. We have no idea what happened to the previous DVD version of ThanksKilling, or how this disc differs, but here’s a new release of this heartwarming gore classic, just in time for Turkey Day. Buy ThanksKilling.
Blue Velvet (1986): When young Jefferey discovers a severed ear in the grass, the search for its owner leads him on a voyage where he will discover the dark side of small town America, and of himself, in this nightmarish mystery that ranks as one of David Lynch‘s best. Blue Velvet on Blu-ray, now there’s a match made in weird heaven. Buy Blue Velvet [Blu-ray].
Fanny and Alexander (1982): Semi-autobiographical drama from sometimes weird director Ingmar Bergman about a boy who grows unhappy when his widowed mother re-marries a stern bishop. Though it’s perhaps not the Swedish director’s weirdest, there are fantasy elements, a nephew who is a woman, and blurred realities. The Criterion Collection fits the five hour television cut, the three hour theatrical cut, and a host of extras on 3 Blu-rays (which are currently cheaper to purchase than the 5 disc DVD set). Buy Fanny and Alexander [The Criterion Collection Blu-ray].
The Fisher King (1991): Terry Gilliam pic about a homeless man (Robin Williams) who believes he’s a medieval knight errant searching for the Holy Grail doesn’t reach the bizarrist heights of the director’s Imagination Trilogy, but there are some inspired flights of fantasy mixed in with the drama (the waltz in Grand Central Station is magical). Somehow bargain bin releaser Image Entertainment obtained the rights to this, which means no special features (as a trade-off, the price is rock bottom). Buy The Fisher King [Blu-ray].
Frankenhooker (1990): Frank Henenlotter‘s tale about a man who rebuilds his decapitated fiancée using body parts from Times Square hookers, inventing supercrack in the process, is a bad taste comedy classic. A very elaborate release from Synapse featuring a restored print; all that’s missing is a button on the cover that says “wanna date?” when you press it. Buy Frankenhooker [Blu-ray].
AKA Zéro de conduite: Jeunes diables au collège; Zero for Conduct
DIRECTED BY: Jean Vigo
FEATURING: Delphin, Jean Dasté, Louis Lefebvre, Gilbert Pruchon, Coco Golstein,Gérard de Bédarieux
PLOT: Schoolboys stage a revolt at a French boarding school.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Zéro de conduite is an important historical film. It founded the boarding school subgenre, creating a template used by Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and more weirdly by Lindsay Anderson (If…) With its dwarf headmaster, disappearing balls and drawings that come to life, the film is as playful and experimental as a mock rebellion staged by schoolboys before Sunday dinner. Its mildly surreal oddness nudges the needle on the weirdometer, but, despite its near-legendary status, it’s not thoroughly strange enough to make its way onto the List on the first ballot.
COMMENTS: Jean Vigo’s extraordinary backstory is almost as fascinating as his films. The son of an anarchist who died in prison, the auteur left a tiny (about three hours’ worth of film) but extremely impressive body of work before succumbing to tuberculosis, the age-old nemesis of romantic poets, at the age of 29. Adding to his mythological stature is the possibility that he may have contributed to his own demise by laboring on his final film up until his last moments, instead of getting much needed bed rest; he may have actually worked himself to death, literally giving his life for his art.
By banning Zéro de conduite, the director’s film about an imaginary rebellion in a boys’ boarding school, for thirteen years, the French censors only augmented Vigo’s legend. From the perspective of patrons who are used to seeing political leaders openly mocked and clitorises graphically snipped off in movie theaters as they munch on popcorn, the idea of a movie with only a single “merde!’ and no violence, fetal rape, human centipedes, or even an obvious political target would be banned for over a decade is almost unimaginable. The film contains hardly audible whispers of schoolboy homosexuality, but it was suppressed not for these but for its “anti-French spirit” and “praise of indiscipline.” Vigo’s anarchic, anti-authoritarian philosophy, which pervades the film’s 44 minute running time, was too hot and subversive for 1933 sensibilities.
FEATURING: Peter Scanavino, Jason Robards III, Ana Asensio, David Thornton
PLOT: In the year 2044 people have been genetically engineered to feel perpetually happy, so
they perversely seek out illegal drugs that bring intense pain; in this society, a dealer in pharmaceutical misery stumbles upon what may be a generations old conspiracy that goes by the code name “Zenith.”
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: More confusing than weird, Zenith is at the same time a laudable and thought-provoking, but forced and undramatic, attempt to create a cult-y reality-bender along the lines of more organic puzzle movies like Primer.
COMMENTS: Zenith is one bewildering conspiracy movie. It creates frustration and paranoia by chopping up its narrative with lots of fast-forwards, rewinds, out-of-sequence scenes, and even episodes of déjà vu. Elisions, false clues and dead end leads increase the confusion quotient. Although the sloppiness of the story is an intentional strategy meant to put us inside the paranoid heads of the protagonists, the procedure still occasionally comes off as the director jerking the viewer around—especially when it comes to the rug-pulling conclusion, which tempts alienating the movie’s core audience. Writer/director Vladan Nikolic crafts an intricate scenario here that may please fans of “difficult” stories, but it’s more rewarding, above and beyond the plot level, to think of the movie as an examination of the conspiracy fan’s psychology. “Dumb” Jack, the pain-pill pusher (a grungy and intense Peter Scanavino), begins the story thinking of his defrocked priest father, Ed, who’s obsessed with trivia about the Illuminati and the Bilderbreg group, as a crazy old coot. But the more he watches old VHS tapes of dad’s decades-old investigations of the “Zenith” conspiracy, the more he comes to be just like him, until at the end the two men have become virtual doppelgängers. The movie suggests that it may be able to easier to get sucked into irrational conspiratorial beliefs than it seems, especially seeing as how it asks the viewer to take pleasure in following the clues and tagging along as they track down that mysterious man who, if only he can only be located and Continue reading CAPSULE: ZENITH (2010)→
COMMENTS: For better or worse, it’s impossible to avoid comparing Rum Diary (unfavorably) with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film’s producers can’t complain the comparison is unfair, because they cut a trailer that’s obviously aimed at hooking Loathing fans: it’s filled with boozy shenanigans, a bowling ball knocking down ten pin rum bottles, and Johnny Depp promising, in his best deadpan Hunter S. Thompson drawl, “all of this might sound like some crazed hallucination…” Diary even contains a mild LSD trip sequence that sees Michael Rispoli’s tongue extend six feet in the air “like an accusatory giblet”; of course, this sixty seconds of psychedelics occupies a prime place in the marketing scheme. There’s also a scene with a voodoo priestess who coughs up frogs—and that’s about it on the weirdness front. The rest of the movie is a series of drunken war stories in which part-time journalist, full-time imbiber and would-be novelist Paul Kemp (Thompson’s alter-ego, played by Depp as a less manic and assured Raoul Duke) worries about “finding his voice” and flirts with joining up with the “Bastards.” Why the Bastards (represented by real-estate developer Aaron Eckhart) are so keen to recruit horoscope writer Kemp into their venal cabal isn’t clear; corrupting idealists is what makes them Bastards, I guess. Also not clear is what’s so darn evil about their plan to build a hotel that would supply thousands of jobs for the local populace on land previously only used for the noble purpose of naval test bombing. Their marketing plan, which would involve Kemp slipping some favorable words into his columns, is unethical, sure, but hardly a screaming headline, page one outrage. But the scheme’s investors smoke cigars and complain about Negros and Communists, so they are pretty clearly villainous. Despite their wickedness, though, the only moral objections Kemp actually raises have to do with the way Eckhart treats his flighty, arm-candy lover (Amber Heard, who looks fabulous in a bikini but disappears from the movie like a neglected girlfriend). Joining Depp, Eckhart and Heard are Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi as a couple of colorful drinking buddies (Rispoli plays his photographer role like a 1940s New York City cabbie, while Nazi-obsessed basket case Ribisi affects an annoying whine). The trio’s wandering adventures build to a remarkable anticlimax. None of the plot lines dangled off this tropical pier snag a catch, but Kemp/Thompson does eventually find his literary voice—too bad for us it only happens after he’s finished narrating this tale. It’s pleasant to see Depp reprise his role as Thompson, and there are memorable lines of dialogue and set pieces (all of which find their way into the trailer). But the movie sips at drunken insanity rather than gulping it down; it never goes four-sheets-to-the-wind crazy. The tone of muted madness here doesn’t do justice to Thompson’s gonzo spirit. Call it “Mild Concern and Dislike in San Juan.”
“The Rum Diary” was written by Thompson some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s but was rejected by several publishers. Johnny Depp reportedly discovered the manuscript in Thompson’s basement while he was researching the writer’s mannerisms in preparation for his role in Fear and Loathing. Depp encouraged Thompson to revise the lost novel; it was published in 1998. The actor also served as executive producer for this adaptation.