Category Archives: Capsules

CAPSULE: BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS (1999)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Alan Rudolph

FEATURING: , , ,

PLOT: If this movie had a plot, it would be about a penultimate meeting between a used car salesman going mad and a brilliant but unrecognized sci-fi writer. (That’s what it said on the tin, anyway.)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a list of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time, a designation which requires a length of video to be both (a) weird and (b) a movie. Breakfast of Champions fails at (b). Just because it is on film and has actors and sets does not make it a movie, in the same way a pile of random lumber and bricks is not a house. (And it isn’t even the weirdest Kurt Vonnegut adaptation; that honor goes to Slapstick.)

COMMENTS: The present author has put off this review for far too long, because when it comes to director Alan Rudolph’s aborted run at adapting Breakfast of Champions by the late Kurt Vonnegut Jr. into a film, there are no right answers. There is no way to talk about a movie that is stuttering mute about itself. Bottom line: Breakfast is white noise, static, not even interesting enough to be called chaos. Even after you take into account that Vonnegut and Hollywood go together like pickles and peanut butter, and even after you grant that of all the Vonnegut novels to pick for film adaptation, this is the one with the big red warning sign saying “DO NOT ADAPT!” on it, and even after you allow that Rudolph the red-assed director worked from a screenplay he wrote himself and was therefore punching about twenty million kilotons above his weight… there, see? We’re out of space already!

Kurt Vonnegut doesn’t lend himself to short book reviews, either, so bear with us:

IN THE BOOK: Dwayne Hoover is a used car dealership owner who’s going nuts. Kilgore Trout (a stock character in many Vonnegut novels) is a hack science fiction author who’s a half-mad genius. Eliot Rosewater, another half-mad millionaire philanthropist from yet another Vonnegut novel, writes Trout a fan letter that sends the author on an odyssey to appear at an arts festival in Hoover’s town. Hoover and Trout meet, Trout gives Hoover a copy of his latest novel, Hoover reads it, the book triggers full-blown insanity, and he blows up his life and pretty much exits the story. Vonnegut appears in his own story for the only time in his career, to approach Trout and confront him with the reality that he is himself a character in somebody else’s novel, electing to set him free. On top of this, Vonnegut skips around, telling things out of order, draws cartoon pictures in the story, makes satirical points about consumerism (among many things), and frames humans as vats of chemical reactions with no free will. He also says this novel is intended as a purge to rid himself of mental clutter. It is a unique work in Vonnegut’s career; you can see the seam between his earlier work and later works.

IN THE MOVIE: Some or none or all of the above happens. It is honest to God impossible to tell. If you ran the book through a blender Continue reading CAPSULE: BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS (1999)

CAPSULE: EVIL ED (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Anders Jacobsson

FEATURING: Johan Rudebeck, Per Löfberg, Olof Rhodin

PLOT: A meek film editor at a studio gets assigned to edit a stack of gory slasher movies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s too lazy to be weird. As it stands, a parody of the Evil Dead series didn’t have much of a shot at being good, but they could have at least taken advantage of the situation and made something inspiring. Instead, all the blood is drained out of this iron-deficient corpse as the bored crew puts in the minimal effort to collect a paycheck and blow it on vodka.

COMMENTS: Evil Dead fans may feel compelled to watch this movie out of the same sense of duty that drives Star Wars fans to put themselves through the Star Wars Holiday Special. Every fandom has its penance. The present author will confess to not being a particularly heavy fan of either, but as a confirmed Trekkie, I’m pretty smug, because even our worst parody still has John Belushi in it. And then we got Galaxy Quest (which was like Spaceballs to Star Wars), and that cool “Black Mirror” episode on top of that. But I digress, because—let’s be honest here—the rest of this review is a waste of all our time anyway.

This Swedish-produced Evil Dead parody starts out with Good Ed—Edward the film editor. Ed gets transferred to the “Splatter and Gore” department, where reports to department head Samuel Campbell. Ooooh, I get it, like the director “Sam” and the actor “Campbell”! That’s what passes for a funny idea here. Ed is assigned to edit several reels in the studio’s “Loose Limbs” series. Ed uses the exact same dingus Tyler Durden used in Fight Club to splice film strips around the nasty parts too spicy for the censors as we witness random scenes meant to lampoon the original material.

But wait, will the constant exposure to demented slasher cinema turn Ed into a madman? We guess so, because Ed starts having hallucinations when he’s away from his work station, pleading with his boss to be transferred back, and generally acting like an anxious fruitcake. As we get many jump-cut scenes from the films he’s editing, and the cliched springing-out-of-bed nightmare, things do get a tiny bit interesting as Ed becomes Evil Ed and menaces all around him. A goofy critter in the fridge (for all of two minutes) is a highlight, but sadly just one more throwaway gag. Things perk up at the hospital scenes at the back half hour of the movie, mostly because it’s been a while since they bothered to light a set properly. Even when the movie makes an effort, it’s the bare minimum, while I’m slapping my face to stay awake because espresso stopped having any effect.

The problem with doing this as a parody is that Evil Dead was already a parody. Bruce Campbell’s Ash is a hundred times funnier than anybody in Evil Ed, and he isn’t even in the major leagues. When Ash is brandishing a rifle to a crowd of medieval yokels and quoting his retail store’s bland jingle in Army of Darkness, it’s clear that the movie isn’t taking itself seriously, right? So what’s the point of this one? Even as a parody, Evil Ed isn’t on target; they miss dozens of opportunities to riff on the over-the-top cheeseball lines (“Hail to the king!” “Blow your butts to kingdom come!” “Good… bad… I’m the guy with the gun.” etc. ) that made the Evil Dead franchise so famous. Evil Ed runs out of ideas before the credits roll, and then flounders around in pointless awkwardness. It’s like watching the Underpants Gnomes plan a script where the big middle part is blank, not even interesting enough to be memorably bad.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What starts as a promising spoof of the vast chasm between Europe’s art film past and the corruption of cinema as practiced by U.S. splatter pic specialists like Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and their ilk, slowly runs out of creative gas and becomes victim to the excesses of the gore genre.”–Steven Gaydos, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Ann Kristin. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BLIND BEAST (1969)

Môjû; AKA Warehouse

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Yasuzô Masumura

FEATURING: Eiji Funakoshi, Mako Midori, Noriko Sengoku

PLOT: A blind sculptor kidnaps a model and imprisons her in his studio.

Still from Blind Beast (1969)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Blind Beast scores two points in its weird ledger: one for the set design (which is almost always described as esque), and another for its irrationally sadomasochistic third act. At its core, however, it’s an odd and engaging “pinku” (as Japanese softcore erotic films of the 1960s were dubbed) that’s reminiscent of 1965’s The Collector (although the scenario was adapted loosely from a story). The sight of the sightless sculptor’s bizarro studio would have gotten Blind Beast shortlisted had we reviewed it earlier, but given the limited available slots, we see Beast as close, but not quite worthy of being named one of the 366 weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Blind Beast quickly gets in gear after the abduction, which is handled in an absurdly economical ten minutes. The blind antihero selects his model victim by feeling up a sculpture of her, then steals into her apartment posing as a masseur. With the help of his trusty sighted assistant, who also happens to be his mother, he soon has beautiful young Aki imprisoned inside his remote warehouse studio, and this is where the “fun” begins. The blind sculptor’s studio utilizes a fetishized geometry, with high-relief assemblies of (female) body parts lining each of the eight walls, enclosing two giant, pliant sculptures of prone nude women (one on her stomach, one on her back). The blind, stumbling hunter and his victim chase each through this corporeal funhouse; he clutches a giant nipple as he bargains for her compliance. Later, they will make love—of their strange sort—while rolling about on the humungous feminine torsos. You probably have never seen that before.

The middle part of the film involves Aki’s machinations as she tries to escape, until a near-miss attempt permanently costs her her freedom and sets the bizarre third act into motion. These scenes work well as a standard woman-in-peril thriller. When she fails to sneak past the blind man fail thanks to the interference of his maternal assistant, Aki switches to a psychological ploy. She pretends to fall in love with her captor and plays son and mother against each other. Of course, were she to escape so easily, the movie would end prematurely; and the movie has a better—or worse—fate in store for Aki.

The blind man’s studio is as sick a materialization of a male libido as could be imagined. His love/hate relationship with his mother suggests an Oedipal complex. Still, the psychology here is only deep by the standards of pink movies. The sadomasochistic finale, a sudden and wrenching departure from first two-thirds of the movie, is foreshadowed from the film’s earliest moments, but the movie provides no real insights into the pathology. Given the absurd heights of agonizing ecstasy its characters travel to, how could it?  Their obsessions are perverse, and the tale depicts them poetically without trying to explain them. Blind Beast is surprisingly coy with its nudity, most of which is only seen in still photographs from the opening art exhibition. Mako Midori’s breasts are skillfully hidden throughout the film, and a corner of a nipple is a rare and tantalizing sight. This teasing modesty gives the erotic visuals even more impact, while serving the theme of frustrated voyeurism. Blind Beast would be nearly impossible to distribute today, through licit channels, due to its outdated attitude to consent. Seduction is important to the plot, but Aki willingly (and eagerly) surrenders only after an hour of brutal coercion. And yet, Blind Beast has a sort of innocence about it, largely due to the unreal nature of its psychodrama: a fantasy of total abandon to physical sensation far beyond any rational limits, played out in a subterranean lair of mountainous breasts, dismembered legs, and eyeballs leering from the walls. It’s a space we would never want to visit, but one we can’t look away from.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bizarre and claustrophobic…  a masterpiece of mod 1960s art design… Completely freaky and utterly engrossing.”–TV Guide

(This movie was nominated for review by “MystMoonstruck” and seconded by “Dreamer.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: FAGS IN THE FAST LANE (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Josh Collins (as Sinbad Collins)

FEATURING: Chris Asimos, Oliver Bell, Matt Jones, Sasha Cuha, Airsh “King” Khan, Justine Jones, Aimee Nichols, Pugsley Buzzard, Luke Clayson,

PLOT: A gay superhero and his team go on a quest to retrieve a golden penis stolen by a gang of circus freaks.

Still from Fags in the Fast Lane (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This cartoonish gay superhero grossout flick will almost certainly make one of our lists: we fully expect to see it on our 10 Weirdest Movies of 2018 list. It’s a big jump from one of the weirdest of the year to weirdest of all time, though, a leap the slight Fags isn’t quite capable of making.

COMMENTS: When 69-year-old -ex Kitten Natividad counts as your star power, you know you’re aiming at a very particular audience. Fags presumes (or at least hopes for) a certain level of familiarity with yesteryear’s trash culture, although if you’ve seen at least one movie you’ll recognize the silly-yet-offensive spirit. Obviously, is an inspiration (one of the better throwaway jokes is a reference), but given the bright comic book design and heedless incoherence, I suspect Australia’s surreal Nazi-fighting comedy adventure “Danger 5” was a more direct stylistic influence.

Set in an anything-goes world of freak show gangs, Aztec cults and GILF brothels, the plot is bonkers. The action begins in small-minded small-town “Dullsville,” where dashing yachtsman Beau (AKA the “Cockslinger”) and his beefy, mustachioed longtime companion Lump are brought in to handle a gang of gay-bashing thugs. (“The toughest gays in town,” this avenging duo eschews limp wrists for pimp hands.) Soon enough, they find themselves chasing after jewels stolen from mama Kitten’s retirement home bordello, along with a mystical dildo. A buxom killer transvestite and a lethargic Indian eunuch (the original owner of the phallus in question) join the team, along with the young thug hostage Squirt, who opens up to his queer side as the adventure continues. The team is opposed by burlesque queen Wanda the Giantess and her gang of freaks (including a bald gal with crab claws) and tailed by the local sheriff and his sadistic hacker assistant. The gang’s adventures take them to a booby-trapped tiki truck stop, a gender-bending pagan temple, and into a freaky Freak Town final showdown. And that’s just scratching the surface of the maximalist mayhem.

The plot moves quickly enough and takes itself with so little seriousness that you probably won’t mind some suspect writing. Very few of the jokes land, tending towards the obvious, the juvenile, and the toilet-minded. (Baseball bat sodomy is not one of my favorite sources of comedy, but at least no one can accuse Fags of being overly PC.) The plot often makes little sense, but coherence was not a major point of emphasis. A melee at McBastard’s Meat Pies has almost no visible motivation but lots of cheesy violence and stiletto-heeled crotch-kicking. At one point Lump is captured and tortured with a laser finger; it’s not completely clear how he is abducted, and entirely unclear how he escapes. Plot points seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. On the other hand, the design elements—a grab bag of colorfully bizarre sets and costumes, low budget CGI, and animation both traditional and stop motion—are impressive, all the more so considering the obvious low budget. Key set pieces include a psychedelic musical number sung by the castrated fakir and a trip into a swamp filled with stop-motion penis-themed vermin. And if that’s not enough for your money, there’s a roadside performance by horror rockers “the Mummies” thrown in for good measure.

It goes without saying that neither homophobes nor the easily grossed-out will want to encounter Fags, but if you’re made of sterner stuff, you should find it fast-paced fluff that satisfies your guilty desire for absurd sleaze served with a twist of retro pop-culture surrealism. Currently in very limited release in the U.S., a DVD release is scheduled for June 1. More information can be found on the movie’s home page.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The mood is madcap, as pop-art expressionism meets ’60s trash meets Benny Hill action, while the entendre are single and spunky.”–Craig Mathieson, The Age (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HARD CANDY (2005)

DIRECTED BY: David Slade

FEATURING: , Patrick Wilson

PLOT: A teenage girl turns the tables on a sexual predator, subjecting him to torture in retribution for his misdeeds.

Still from Hard Candy (2005)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For regular consumers of torture-based horror, the turnabout of predator and prey in Hard Candy is an interesting surprise. But twist aside, what’s notable about the movie isn’t how strange it is, but how it uses the genre to address heavy questions about guilt, justice, and gender roles.

COMMENTS: In January of this year, confessed serial child molester Larry Nassar was forced to sit quietly while 156 women confronted him about his crimes and the pain they have endured ever since. And Larry Nassar did not like it. This man, whose systematic abuse was aided by America’s top gymnastics coaches, abetted by the country’s gymnastics federation, and protected by Michigan State University, submitted a letter to the judge protesting that having to endure the testimony of his many targets was detrimental to his mental health and asserting that he was a good person who was being unfairly victimized by hateful, hateful women. Suffice it to say, the letter was poorly received.

The reason I bring this up—aside from maybe wanting to add just one more link on Google that reminds the world that Larry Nassar is heinous slimeball—is because Hard Candy does a fantastic job of getting inside the deluded mind of the privileged sex criminal: rejecting the existence of a crime, then mitigating its seriousness, and finally claiming victimhood for himself. The film’s subject, photographer Jeff, uses all these techniques to deceive us into sympathizing with him, even as we watch him go through all the steps of sexual predation: grooming, leading passively, shifting guilt back onto his targets. And he’s good at it, so when the 14-year old girl he’s been expecting to seduce drugs him, ties him up, and proceeds to insult and threaten him, there’s still this lingering sense that he’s a decent guy who has just gotten himself into a real pickle.

The plot evokes memories of Audition, which is appropriate, as Brian Nelson’s screenplay was evidently inspired by news reports of gangs of girls in Japan who lured businessmen into traps online. But where the earlier film hides its intentions behind the tropes of romantic comedy, Hard Candy quickly adopts the conventions of horror, including bondage and body mutilation. The film’s innovation is to flip the script and turn the diminutive (Page is a full foot shorter than her co-star), incautious heroine into the diabolical, unstoppable engine of terror. The result is that she can be read as a violent lunatic, when it is vital to remember that the man she is tormenting is a very bad person.

Movies can be victims of changing times. In 2005, many reviewers called Page’s Hayley a psychopath and lamented the film’s second-half descent into cat-and-mouse thriller. But today, she comes across more as an avenging angel come to force the guilty to acknowledge their sins. It’s noteworthy that the scene that falls the flattest—Page has to sidestep Sandra Oh’s inquisitive neighbor—is the one that tries the hardest to impose the conventions of a thriller onto a battle over the nature of evil. Hard Candy turns out to have been ahead of its time.

Page is truly magnificent, by the way; this was her breakthrough performance, and she has never since had a role that equals it in power. But it’s worth noting that she has a good partner in Wilson, who hits all the right beats for a character who is innately gifted at evading, deflecting, and denying responsibility for his actions. His bland dismissals and patronizing defenses are essential in pushing her forward, validating her anger and justifying her ultimate plan.

The final woman to stand up to Larry Nassar in court was the woman whose testimony triggered his downfall. Rachael Denhollander— whose name also deserves to be remembered—demonstrated unbelievable magnanimity by promising to pray for Nassar, that he find true repentance and forgiveness. And that is probably the most moral and decent response that anyone could hope for under the circumstances. Hard Candy suggests an alternate response, and while it plays more toward wish fulfillment and is by no means appropriate in a civil society, in the face of an evil that is often unspeakable, the movie shows why it still has appeal.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Hard Candy is one sick movie. Sick and horrifying. Sick and mesmerizing. Sick and well-scripted, well-acted, well-directed and well-shot. Sick and comical; sick and suspenseful; sick and surprising; sick and sickening. Maybe if I take another shower, I’ll feel less scummy for enjoying it so much.” – Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by ralph. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987)

DIRECTED BY: Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, John Landis, Robert K. Weiss

FEATURING: “Lots of Actors”, including Arsenio Hall, , , Steve Forrest, David Alan Grier, B. B. King, , Steve Guttenberg, , Kelly Preston, , , Andrew Dice Clay, Griffin Dunne

PLOT: A collection of sketches parodying late-night TV content, anchored by a specific parody of goofy 1950s space operas.

Still from Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The sketch film has always been rare enough to merit a double take when one appears in cinemas, but this particular example of the form isn’t especially unusual, with nothing particularly outlandish or shocking, and the majority of sketches being of the one-joke variety.

COMMENTS: Although anthologies have been a recurring genre since early cinema, the heyday of the “sketch film” variant was the early 1970s: The Groove Tube, TunnelVision, and king-of-the-form Kentucky Fried Movie all parodied television’s challenge to attention spans. The form was also fairly economical, providing quick work to underemployed actors and aspiring comedy writers alike. None of these were box office bonanzas, though, so when Amazon Women on the Moon came along more than a decade later, it was fair to ask if it was a bold attempt to refresh the formula, or a last gasp for a format that had never truly lived.

Let’s go with B. First and foremost, Amazon Women is a comedy, but while it has quite a few solid jokes, it reveals time and again that it doesn’t have much else. Let’s consider one of the film’s best sequences, a vivid re-creation of 1930-era Universal horror movies starring Ed Begley, Jr. as the son of ’ Invisible Man. The black-and-white atmosphere is rich, and Begley even gets to repeat the famous bandage-removal scene. The catch: he’s not invisible at all. It’s a funny joke, as he obliviously cavorts about the room in the nude. The problem is, the sketch has another two minutes to go, and so we get more variations on the same joke, searching for an end.

This happens a lot. Scenes have a funny premise at their core, but then they have to keep going to justify their presence in a Hollywood motion picture: David Alan Grier sings in a super-white way—then he does it some more. A funeral turns into a Catskills roast—and we get the whole roast. Other sketches are shorter, but their jokes are smaller, too, and the scenes still feel stretched and padded. Amazon Women on the Moon has a tight five minutes; it gets an hour-and-a-half.

The film is not without its charms. The parodies have a clever eye for their sources, such as a 30s-era scare propaganda film that subtly re-dresses the same set over and over. Several performances capture the desired anarchic spirit, such as Griffin Dunne’s incompetent doctor and Carrie Fisher’s gullible ingénue. And every now and then, the film manages to tap into something sublimely silly; my personal favorite is an In Search Of/Unsolved Mysteries amalgam that manages to mashup the sordid deeds of Jack the Ripper with a more supernatural tale. But Moon’s a film that earns smiles more than laughs.

Ultimately, Amazon Women on the Moon is “Saturday Night Live” with slightly better production values: the jokes are hit and miss, and there’s a lot of work to get to the end of each sketch. It’s not the worst of its kind (that would be the execrable Movie 43), but it’s far from the finest. That honor probably belongs to Kentucky Fried Movie, and the filmmakers know it; references to fictional producer Samuel L. Bronkowitz mark Moon as Movie‘s spiritual sequel. But bad news, Sam: Amazon Women on the Moon is no Fistful of Yen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Amazon Women on the Moon is everything that Movie 43 wished it could have been, trenchant, hilarious, weird, and just plain fun.” — Sean Patrick, Geeks

(This movie was nominated for review by roastphoenix. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Sam Peckinpah

FEATURING: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Gig Young, Robert Webber, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández

PLOT: Bennie enjoys a low-key existence as a pianist in Mexico City until he seeks a reward for proof of Alfredo Garcia’s death; Garcia’s head causes unimaginable trouble for Bennie and his friends as thugs converge on it to collect the bounty.

Still from Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The ubiquitous South-of-the-Border heat eventually saturates the addled brains of the characters and filmmakers, but Peckinpah’s gritty classic is very much “just” a film noir entry from some decades after their heyday. Still, casual conversations about culpability and forgiveness with a rotting head in a sack isn’t something you see every day.

COMMENTS: Sam Peckinpah is regarded by many as the ultimate “bad boy” director. Held in awe by people ranging from comedian Denis Leary, film critic Roger Ebert, and even neophyte director Ryan Prows, Peckinpah’s films have a merited reputation for gritty intensity. While he won’t become a member of the esteemed 366 canon of directors, Peckinpah should be regarded as a dear friend. His scorched, nihilistic, and impressively grisly Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia comes up trumps in its genre (Post-Western-Neo-Noir?), but also veers enough into pathos-filled idiosyncrasy to warrant a good look.

The succinct plot provided above doesn’t quite do justice to the proceedings. Things start brutally enough with a dressing down (literally?) of a defiant daughter by her tyrannical father—a powerful Mexican plutocrat, complete with posse and compound. The daughter has become pregnant from relations with—you guessed it—Alfredo Garcia. His dalliance was his death warrant, and a swarm of hit-men (all eager to claim the one-million-dollars on offer) surge out of the compound to hunt him down. Two such assassins encounter our friendly neighborhood barman, Bennie (Warren Oates), and this initially bloodless series of events quickly starts to steadily ratchet up the death count as Bennie and his girl (Isela Vega) look for Garcia. The third act is, well, a series of violent punctuations punctuated themselves by little bits of philosophical musing.

As Bennie’s journey inexorably leads him to a head in a bag, so to does the flow of this review. Between a couple of dramatic scenes (a truly tragic death and a comparably tragic mass murder) we enjoy a conversation that, had it continued, might have let Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia butt its way onto the list. I don’t know if it was the film stock used or the mediocrity of the Blu-Ray transfer, but the film’s atmosphere—which was already teetering on the verge of collapse from sun stroke—becomes truly hellish. Flies fill Bennie’s beat-up Impala as a stench permeates the vehicle (almost wafting to the viewer), and through this fog of death and heat, Bennie has exchanges with the million-dollar head. Bennie chastises Alfredo, shouts at Alfredo, and bargains with Alfredo. At a roadside cantina, we wonder if the jig is up when a small boy cleaning his filthy car windows inquires about it. Bennie, cool despite it all, explains, “Cat. Dead cat. Used to belong to a friend of mine.” Ultimately, Bennie even forgives Alfredo.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is so infused with violence that most contemporary genre pictures pale in comparison. Peckinpah captures almost every slaughter with the greatest impact possible. We don’t ever see the titular character (not alive, at any rate), and his head is merely a plot device which forces us to bear witness to the lives of men and women at the bottom of the food chain and at the end of their tether. Pathos borders on bathos as Peckinpah turns the screws on the initially carefree and affable Bennie. Even in the company of its peers, it is surprising to see a movie so relentlessly cynical, particularly when this cynicism is only ever interrupted by one man’s conversation with a decomposing head.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie is some kind of bizarre masterpiece. It’s probably not a movie that most people would like, but violence, with Peckinpah, sometimes becomes a psychic ballet.” -Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ON BODY AND SOUL (2017)

Teströl és lélekröl 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ildikó Enyedi

FEATURING: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi

PLOT: A slaughterhouse manager and the new quality assurance inspector, a functional autistic savant woman, pursue a relationship after realizing they share the same dream (literally).

Still from On Body and Sould (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “shared dream” conceit, the film’s only truly weird feature, serves little more than as a plot device to bring the unlikely lovers together.

COMMENTS: On Body and Soul begins with intimate footage of two deer tromping through a snowy woods by a lake. The buck tries to nuzzle the doe, but gets little response, as she meanders away searching for a tuft of grass. This opening segues into scenes of unsuspecting cattle at an abattoir being led to the killing floor. We then meet the new temporary meat quality inspector, Maria, a stand-offish but pretty blonde. She soon causes trouble by grading every side of beef a “B,” because they are two to three millimeters fattier than regulations—technically correct, by the book, but also not what financial manager Endre wants to hear. Maria also has great difficulty choosing a place to sit in the cafeteria for lunch, searching out the loneliest corner, and when Endre tries to talk to her, their conversation is awkward and strange. At home at night, Maria arranges salt and pepper shakers on her kitchen counter and recreates the day’s conversations, puzzling out their social significance. She’s definitely not neurotypical.

The true plot is set it motion when, through an absurd contrivance (the theft of bull aphrodisiacs from the slaughterhouse), an outside psychiatrist is brought in, analyzes the workers’ dreams as part of her profiling, and discovers, to her disbelief, that Endre and Maria share the exact same dream night after night, of two deer in a snowy glade. Other than the romantic notion of two souls linked by fate and the thematic connection to the apparently thin line between bodied beasts and soulful people, the happenings in the dream glade don’t intrude on the rest of the story, and are soon laid aside. Instead, Maria, conflicted by feelings for Endre she doesn’t understand, sets out on an often-humorous journey to expand her experience of life beyond the narrow focus of her own mind. She observes lovers spooning at the park as if she were studying mating rituals at a zoo. She tries to understand the appeal of music (eventually finding a single song she likes) before connecting with her own body by discovering the pleasure of lying in the grass while a sprinkler waters her. Simple Endrem, who has a womanizing past, can’t figure this strange woman out, and tries several times to end the burgeoning relationship, despite their uncanny dream connection.

The attraction here is Alexandra Borbély‘s fascinating portrayal of Maria. She makes expressionlessness an art form while portraying a character type who is seldom, if ever, seen on screen—and if so, never in the role of a romantic lead. The philosophical implications never get too deep, and the film may overlong for its slim storyline, but those looking for an offbeat (if not weird) arthouse romance should find this a tasty cup of meat.

The producers of On Body and Soul signed an exclusive contract to stream the film on Netflix, so it won’t be available on home video or other platforms for the foreseeable future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its unwatchably brutal opening sequences are there to stun you, or in the butcher’s sense tenderise you, so that you hardly notice the implausible weirdness of human behaviour in the workplace scenes that follow… Endre and Maria’s affair is at its most romantic when it is at its most eccentric and weird.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DOUBLE LOVER (2017)

L’amant double 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer

PLOT: A young woman suffering from phantom pains in her stomach seeks the help of a psychiatrist, falls in love with him, and then comes to suspect he is harboring a secret about his past.

Still from Double Lover (L'amant double)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ozon’s latest is a sexual psychothriller that falls into the category of “might have been shortlisted in the earlier days of this project, but with only forty slots remaining…” If you like movies that are mysterious and spice their eroticism with a sense of dangerous perversity, this is one to check out, Litsable or not. My theatrical viewing did include one walkout—usually a promising sign—but I do have to qualify it by saying that it was a little old lady who probably thought she was walking into a screening of the latest Fifty Shades of Grey.

COMMENTS: We have to be coy describing Double Lover so as not to reveal too much of the plot. Fortunately, the movie features an unreliable narrator, thereby lending itself to an unreliable review that may mislead. For example, it’s safe to say (and perhaps even implied in the title) that Double Lover revolves around a love triangle. Or does it?

You see, Chloe, the protagonist, hallucinates freely. She first seeks psychiatric help for phantom pains in her belly that have no gynecological cause. (The film is sexually explicit, if not quite porno, but even more so it’s gynecologically explicit—the very first shot is a speculum’s-eye view of Chloe in stirrups receiving a very thorough internal exam). With nothing physically wrong with her, she’s sent to Paul, a therapist who soon falls for her and ethically ends their professional relationship, moving his former patient into his apartment instead. Although Chloe seems cured, she still had lingering pains and mommy issues, and therefore seeks out another psychiatrist to plumb the depths of her soul. In this one, she thinks she’s found the perfect counterbalance to sweet-natured Paul…

With its theme of improbable doubles, the scenario is slightly ian, though more explicitly hallucinatory. Other themes recall Dead Ringers, and a shocking dream sequence unabashedly references a similar sex dream found in Cronenberg‘s movie.  The atmosphere is ian, especially in the oft-oppressive sound design. The hallucinations are usually of the sort where someone shows up in a place where they could not possibly be, although there is a lovely moment when the abstract art at the museum Chloe works in as a guard bleeds into her oncoming dream. The tone is tense throughout, and the sex scenes can sometimes be difficult to watch as they get kinkier and play teasingly with questions of consent. If I had one reservation to the whole thing, it would be that the ending is too pat—although there’s also the mandatory coda implying Chloe’s turbulent psyche is not yet wholly calmed.

The acting is a high point. Marine Vacth, who might be ‘s long lost twin, conveys fragility, but with a tough survivor’s core. Jérémie Renier shows range, from the nurturing psychotherapist to a rampaging sexual predator. Jacqueline Bisset is a welcome sight, and neighbor Myriam Boyer, who keeps her beloved pet cat stuffed on the mantle in her long-departed and since untouched daughter’s room, adds both light comic relief and an additional air of mystery.

is a prolific, chameleonic filmmaker who alternates between slim, popular comedies like Potiche and more provocative, sexually charged thrillers like this (with the occasional magical realist fantasy thrown into the mix). Double Lover was adapted (loosely) from the Joyce Carol Oates novel “Lives of the Twins.” Joyce liked it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Double Lover may not represent Ozon in peak form but it’s too weirdly entertaining to dismiss out-of-hand.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: PARADOX (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Daryl Hannah

FEATURING: , Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson, Corey McCormick, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar, Willie Nelson

PLOT: “Many moons ago, in the future…” a gang of cowboy-style fellows scratch out an existence on a remote farm; they’ve been exiled there by women-folk, who have proven better stewards of the earth. And there’s also Neil Young concert.

Still from Paradox (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This odd little film would conceivably make the cut (albeit waaay down the list) if it weren’t for the fact that, mid-way through, it becomes a Neil Young concert movie for about ten minutes. During the narrative bit, though, performer Neil Young and director Daryl Hannah (yes, that Daryl Hannah) have assembled a passable bit of amateurish art-house and strangely compelling “W.T.F.” meanderishness that’s not without its charm.

COMMENTS: What do you get when you combine a legendary country star, an environmental activist director kicking around, and down-time? Paradox is one possible answer. Neil Young, in his 21st acting role, narrates and stars in this 60 + 15-minute[1] diversion, bringing along with him a couple of scions in Willie Nelson and other outlandishly talented musicians who, after all is said and done, make a decent fist of playing post-apocalyptic versions of themselves.

Daryl Hannah makes full use of every camera filter at her disposal and every little bit of editing trickery to render, visually, what might have once existed as a campfire tall-tale. Random shots of animals create an ambience that is both cute and natural, as well provide the occasional “What the…?” moment. (One shot with a very quizzical-looking deer seemingly watching over the action is particularly effective.) Our lads, of all ages, burn time talking, gambling, and digging up trash-treasure while waiting around for the “Gray Eagle”: a bus full of women who, in Paradox‘s loose narrative, are the Earth’s stewards. And Neil Young looks cryptic. Then he wanders the land toting a rifle. Then he plays his guitar. Then he looks like he might partake in a quick-draw with Willie Nelson. You get the picture.

Stripped of its concert footage center, Paradox would have made a nice little entry in one of 366’s appendices. But as this brief review has remarked, it’s nothing more than the sum of its circumstances: Neil Young and company with a few days to kill, Daryl Hannah with a movie camera and time to spare, and an impromptu feel derived from the director’s “one take” methodology. Lives will not be changed (though the occasional preachiness of Paradox suggests they wouldn’t mind if they were), but the world isn’t worse off for having this odd little digression into music, philosophy, allegory, and black hats.

Available exclusively on Netflix (at least for the time being).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Once upon a time, a film like ‘Paradox,’ a vaguely hallucinatory sci-fi/Western hybrid with legendary rocker Neil Young at its hazy center, would have found its natural home on the midnight movie circuit. Alas, the midnight movie scene is practically dead, and it is therefore instead debuting on Netflix, which will at least make it more convenient for its target audience of Young completists, people too stoned to make it out their front doors and those who felt that ‘Masked and Anonymous’ was far too lucid and commercial-minded for their tastes.” – Peter Sobczynski,  RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

  1. The “movie” itself is about an hour; unlike many people who might watch this, I could have done without the concert interlude lifted from Young’s 2016 tour. []