All posts by Kat Doherty

TV CAPSULE: JAM (UK, 2000)

DIRECTED BY:  Chris Morris

FEATURING:  Chris Morris, Mark Heap, Amelia Bullmore, David Cann, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon, Roz McCutcheon

PLOT:  “Jam” was a six episode TV series that originally aired on UK TV Channel 4.  Each 25 minute episode was aired without ad breaks or credits.  The show featured various “sketches” and faux interviews dealing with suicide, murder, sexual abuse, rape, child death, and medical malpractice.  The whole thing was backed by occasionally intrusive ambient music and some segments were filmed or dubbed in an out-of-sync fashion that made them even more awkward and disturbing than the subject matter would suggest.

Still from Jam (2000)

The show was repeated at a later hour as “Jaaam!”  This variation took the original sketches and remixed the visuals to make the viewing experience more tricky and surreal with shots sped up, fed through filters and replaced with stills.   Many of the sketches were born in a BBC Radio 1 very late night/early morning show called “Blue Jam” which mixed vocal skits with ambient tracks.  Some of the radio sketches were taken directly from the old soundtrack and then lip synched on TV, resulting in another layer in the onion of weird that was “Jam.”

COMMENTS:  To mix preserves, “Jam” is like Marmite: you’ll either love it or hate it.  Allow me to give you a taster.

A couple believes their young daughter is a 45 year old man trapped in a young girl’s body, so they have the genitals of a 45 year old man grafted to her body.

A woman calls a plumber to her house to fix her dead baby.  He is aghast, but she explains the baby is only 3 weeks old and they’re meant to last longer than that, and after all “it’s just pipes really.”  In a throwaway comment she reveals that the father has said he will leave if she doesn’t stop “going on about the pipes.”  An offer of £1000/hour convinces the plumber to give it a try, and later he takes her up to the bedroom to see his work.  He’s plumbed the baby’s corpse into the heating system to make it warm and added a little tap so it will gurgle.

A couple bargaining for a house negotiate a reduction in price in return for sex sessions with the seller.  When he receives a better offer, he threatens to renege on the deal, so they offer the services of the husband’s mentally disabled sister.

Some folks will have already decided that “Jam” is not for them, and I can’t really blame them.  Continue reading TV CAPSULE: JAM (UK, 2000)

LIST CANDIDATE: INFERNO (1980)

DIRECTED BY: Dario Argento

FEATURING: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Alida Valli, Daria Nicolodi

PLOT:  The second in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, Inferno follows his masterpiece Suspiria. The earlier film is not referred to explicitly, and it’s not necessary to have seen Suspiria to enjoy Inferno—though it might get you in the mood.

Still from Inferno (1980)

Rose, a poet living in New York, buys an old book about the Three Mothers from a neighboring antiques dealer and after reading it begins to suspect that the basement in her apartment block is home to Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, one of a trio of sisters who are the age old matrons of witchcraft.

After investigating a strange, flooded ballroom below the building, Rose and a neighbor are murdered by an anonymous, black gloved killer.

Rose’s brother Mark is a music student in Rome.  He receives a letter from his sister mentioning the Mothers and flies to New York to investigate.  The apartments she lives in are home to a small group of strange people, given to uttering premier league non-sequiturs, asking weird questions, and performing bizarre actions.

Mark explores the building, discovering the weird architectural features designed by the Mothers’ architect, Varelli, the one whose book kick-started the whole affair.  After a long ramble through tortuous crawlspace, Mark uncovers the lair of Mater Tenebrarum.  She reveals herself to be Death; the building burns to the ground; a dazed looking Mark wanders out unscathed; the end credits roll; you wonder what you’ve just witnessed.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Its dream logic story line and stylized cinematography mark it out as weird, but Inferno really pales next to Suspiria. It features some wonderful scenes and startling images, but they’re too widely spaced out, and the film is marred by some wooden acting and inadvertently hilarious dialogue.

COMMENTS:   Inferno is a very enjoyable film, not always for the intended reasons.  The dialogue is so disjointed and at times downright bizarre as to be chucklesome. It also features the inconsistent acting and wooden delivery common to any number of giallos (understandable given the speed of some productions and the vagaries of international dubbing); after watching a number of giallos, you may come to view them as a feature rather than a flaw.

Inferno features a number of Argento trademarks: an oneiric story flow, driving soundtrack Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: INFERNO (1980)

CAPSULE: SUBLIME (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Tony Krantz

FEATURING: Tom Cavanagh, Kathleen York, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs

PLOT: The day after his 40th birthday, George Grieves enters Mt. Abaddon Hospital for a

Still from Sublime (2007)

routine colonoscopy.  Waking after the procedure it rapidly becomes apparent that something has gone seriously wrong.  George and his only ally, a nurse called Zoe, attempt to discover the truth in an increasingly nightmarish hospital of horrors.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It really isn’t weird enough.  Certainly there are periods of scary oddness, but none that haven’t been depicted before in other, better films.  I hesitate to call the plot twist a “twist” as any regular weird film fan will see it coming over the hill a mile away, waving its hands to attract your attention (Zoe the stripper-gram nurse, I’m looking at you love!)  It has some serious and troubling points to make about fear, prejudice, white middle class guilt and health care systems in general, but it makes them in a long-winded, repetitive way.

COMMENTS: I practically leapt at the chance to review this film, having heard nothing about it, and being fond of “weird hospital” movies. About half way in I began to regret my decision, and this was the first film that I nearly pulled out of reviewing.  This is not because it’s a bad movie—though it is long-winded and really could have used the editor’s hand clipping away twenty minutes or so—but because the uncomfortable issues the movie raises hit close to home.

I’ve grown up in the occasionally stony but generally reliable bosom of the British National Health Service and felt I should perhaps have watched this with my wife who, as an American, has now experienced heath care on both sides of the Atlantic.  Procedures occurred in Sublime which seemed odd to me, even taking into account the national differences.  I mean, that was an awful lot of laxative!  Are American colons so different?

Protagonist George is an upper middle class, able-bodied (at least initially), straight, white male and his attitudes, prejudices and fears were in many respects different from mine.  But even if the specifics are different, fear, prejudice and guilt are common to everyone.  When Continue reading CAPSULE: SUBLIME (2007)

CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)

 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Kinji Fukasaku

FEATURINGTakeshi “Beat” Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama

PLOT:  Intergenerational relations in Japan have broken down to such an extent that

Still from Battle Royale [Batoru Rotaiaru] (2000)

youngsters are rebelling by committing acts of violence and mass truancy.  The situation has deteriorated so badly that the government reacts by passing the “Battle Royale Act”: each year a randomly selected high school class is sent to an isolated, uninhabited island, fitted with remotely detonated explosive collars, given meager supplies and told to fight to the death.  One must emerge a victor or three days later everyone will die.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although I consider Battle Royale to be a “must see” film, it really can’t go on the list.  It’s just not weird.  It’s funny, violent, overblown, disturbing, both operatic and banal, but not weird.

COMMENTS:  My first review of the film was a little flippant and then, quite randomly, I overheard a man say it was the “sickest” film he had ever seen.  He appeared to be quite sincere and I was driven to go back and watch it again, and again, to try and see what he had seen, what had disturbed him so much.

I don’t think that there’s anything in Battle Royale which will upset “366-ers.”  Yes, it is a film filled with images of youngsters killing each other and it would not be unnatural to find that disturbing.  The violence is so over the top, however, that it’s difficult not to be amused at times.  Who would have thought that a saucepan lid could prove to be such an effective weapon in the right hands?  It’s not even a very good saucepan lid.

The controversy surrounding Battle Royale on its release centered on the graphic violence and the age of the participants, but there is no connection between the violence in the film and real life violence involving teenagers.  The high school class that we follow are being forced against their will to participate in a life or death game, and they have been forced to do so by adults: adults who have stooped so far as to rig the game.  Despite having their backs against the wall, some of teenagers behave quite nobly; pleading for peace, setting up Continue reading CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)

LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Higuchinsky

FEATURING: Eriko Hatsume, Fhi Fan

PLOT:  One by one the residents of a small Japanese village become “infected” with an

Still from Spiral [Uzumaki] (2000)

obsession for spirals, leading them to neglect their normal day to day lives and eventually to their odd spiral-related deaths.  Yes, you read right…spiral deaths!

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Movies that achieve a coveted final place on the List need to be really very good or really very weird.  Some will be great enough to score on both counts.  Much as I love Uzumaki, I have to say it should earn a place based on the sheer quality and quantity of the weirdness on display.  Viewers who like a neatly wrapped plot will be annoyed and frustrated that the nature of what’s going wrong in the village is never really explained.  There’s a breadcrumb sprinkling of just enough hints to allow you to ponder the cause yourself: is it an ancient curse, casually malevolent demons or something worse, rooted in the double helix of the villagers’ very DNA?

COMMENTS: This should be a pretty grim film.  An apparently innocent group of villagers are led to gruesome self mutilation and picturesque suicides by a strange infection, for which there is no cure, no explanation, and from which there is no escape.  It “should” be a grim film, and yet it’s charming, quirky and downright laugh out loud funny in parts.  Based on Junji Ito’s manga of the same name, it was made and released before the conclusion of the print version was released, so viewers coming to it via the books will apparently find significant differences.  I have only read a couple of chapters of the manga and therefore cannot comment on how the two compare, but watching the film it’s tempting to think that some of the stylization of the cinematography and acting draws on the original artwork.  Burtonesque spirals are so ubiquitous throughout the film, appearing in clouds, bushes and ceiling panels that it would be a rash viewer who launched into an uzumaki drinking game.

The story centres on schoolgirl Kirie and her solemn, androgynous boyfriend Shuichi.  It’s Shuichi who first realizes that all is not well.  His father has become so obsessed with Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)