Category Archives: Capsules

CAPSULE: TWO TONS OF TURQUOISE TO TAOS TONIGHT (1975)

AKA Moment to Moment; Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos; Jive

BewareWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Elsie Downey

PLOT: None, although certain strands (such as the idea that someone has been hired to convey

Still from Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight (1975)

two tons of turquoise to Taos tonight) recur throughout this series of brief sketches.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s actually too far out, man; it’s almost an hour of nonsense, but too randomly assembled to be any fun. The individual sketches aren’t carefully composed beforehand and they aren’t allowed to play out to their full potential, resulting in comedy that’s juvenile and ridiculous rather than cleverly absurd.

COMMENTS: If Robert Downey Sr. were James Joyce, then Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight would be his Finnegan’s Wake; the point where he took what had been fertile boundary-pushing experimentation beyond the limits of the audience’s tolerance, and ended up producing something so obscure and esoteric that it was of interest only to the author himself. It’s clear enough what he intended to do: make a movie with no beginning or end, one that existed only “moment to moment” (the film’s original title). The problem is that the individual moments aren’t very good and don’t link up to anything universal; there are too many sections of the film that are just montages of Elsie Downey wearing different outfits, or Downey family home movies that have been spliced into the film at random points. As for the individual bits, there are far too many moments when the actors look like they’re improvising while high as a kite, working without a plan and assuming everything they’re doing is hilarious. An example is the frankfurter scene, where a man and woman are sleeping on a park bench and the fella asks her to fetch him a frankfurter. He repeats the request over and over until she finally leaves the bench, then a couple of youngsters walk over—one of whom can’t say anything but “ri-ight…”—and strike up a nonsense conversation with the bum. The woman comes back sans hot dog and the man asks where his food is; the woman answers, “you’re lucky I got up at all.” Hilarious, right? Well, if you don’t like that one, at least there will be another gag in thirty seconds; the problem is it’s not likely to be any more amusing or interesting than the last bit. There are a few brief moments that shine through the general avant-garde dreck: a game of baseball played by men on horseback, a woman who donates her panties to a hungry man, and conventionally funny exchanges like the man who proclaims “I have a brain tumor,” to which his companion responds “It’s all in your head.” But, after watching a scene where a woman with an eyepatch and a cowboy snort cocaine and giggle inanely at each other’s babbling monologues, you might assume that large parts of this mess are just too autobiographical for comfort. Downey Sr.’s best work came when he had a clearly stated central theme (advertising in Putney Swope, religion in Greaser’s Palace) which he could play off of with his improvisatory absurdist riffs. Set him loose without any sort of structure and he’s like a bebop musician who just assumes that if he ignores the melody he can play the greatest, most out-there free jazz you ever heard. The result may be beautiful to his ears, but most folks will only hear a noise that sounds like a cat with a kazoo taped over his mouth and his tail caught in a blender.

Some of the dozens of investors who put up money to fund Downey’s mad vision and may have later regretted it included Hal Ashby, Norman Lear and Jack Nicholson. Taos was, essentially, Downey’s last experimental film venture; in the 1980s and 90s he would sell out, only to direct some horrible Hollywood flops (like the Mad magazine financed fiasco Up the Academy). Despite the fact that his wife Elsie Downey is featured in almost every scene, and the film basically plays like a love letter to her, the couple divorced the year this was released. Taos was screened at underground venues but understandably never got any real distribution; Downey has continued to tinker with the editing through the years. The version offered on Eclipse’s “Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.” disc is a recent re-edit that cuts 20 minutes off the running time (it’s still too long).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…taps the same welcomed vein of indulgent weirdo gags found in Soderbergh’s ‘Schizopolis’ or Rafelson’s ‘Head’…”–Aaron Hillis, IFC (DVD)

CAPSULE: CINEMA 16: EUROPEAN SHORT FILMS (EUROPEAN EDITION) (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Lukas Moodysson, Patrice Le Conte, , Virgil Widrich, , Peter Mullian, Nanni Moretti, Jan Kounen, Roy Andersson, Juan Solanas, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Jan Svankmajer, , Lars von Trier, Javier Fesser, Anders Thomas Jensen

FEATURING: Paddy Considine, Sten Ljunggren, , Isis Krüger, Thomas Wolff

PLOT: Comedies, dramas and experimental films are collected together in this anthology of sixteen award winning short films made by Europeans.

Still from My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117 ()

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Compilations themselves aren’t eligible, and although some of the shorts here are quite weird, none of them are powerful enough to displace a feature film from the List.

COMMENTS: Short films have almost no commercial prospects: filmmakers generally make them as calling cards, for festival competitions where artistry is more important than marketability, and as a way to fiddle around with the medium of film. Experiments, whether visual or narrative, that might grow wearisome at 90 minutes can be refreshing at under 15 minutes, and directors can indulge their outré aesthetic impulses without fear of alienating audiences and distributors. There are, therefore, a higher proportion of weird works in the world of the short film than are found in the feature film universe: here, nine out of the sixteen offerings—more than half of the total—make at least a nod towards the strange, surreal, or fantastical.

Although we will run down all the films on the set, our primary interest here is in “My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117,” provocateur ‘ first self-contained short film after years of making blackly absurd, boundary-pushing sketches for British television. Our interest in “Wrongs” stems both from the fact it’s likely the weirdest offering, and because a reader suggested it to us for review. Before we get to the unique films in this collection, we need to explain a little about the “Cinema 16: European Short Films” sets. For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Cinema 16 released two different discs entitled “European Short Films,” one for the European market and one for the U.S. market.  The two editions share seven films in common. We reviewed the U.S. release previously, and mini reviews of the overlapping shorts will be found in that article. The seven repeats are:
Continue reading CAPSULE: CINEMA 16: EUROPEAN SHORT FILMS (EUROPEAN EDITION) (2007)

THE EARLY FILMS OF ROBERT DOWNEY, SR. (A PRINCE): BABO 73 (1964), CHAFED ELBOWS (1966) AND NO MORE EXCUSES (1968)

Looking at the ultra-conventional career of Sherlock Holmes/Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr., it’s hard to imagine that this talented but timid McMoviestar was sired by a disreputable ultracool beatnik hepcat. Indeed, if not for the implication of the “Jr.” designation and the genetic necessity of fatherhood, the average moviegoer would have no idea that a exists. But exist he does, and a strange life has he led. To those who know him at all, Downey is known as a director of obscure cult films and Hollywood flops (including his first Hollywood flop, the sacrilegious but Certified Weird vaudeville Jesus western Greasers’ Palace). But even before hitting the relative mainstream with his breakthrough film Putney Swope, a satire about a Black Power advocate who accidentally becomes head of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, the elder Downey had led a fascinating life. By age 29, Downey pere had lied about his age so he could enlist in the army, been court martialed, won a Golden Gloves amateur boxing championship, played semi-professional baseball, and written and directed his first underground movies, mostly shot in Manhattan without permits, guerrilla-style. “After being thrown out of the house, four schools, and the United States Army, I discovered that I was on the right track,” said Downey.

Still from Babo 73 (1964)To the extent you could say that Downey’s anarchic early films followed a pattern at all, that template was established in his first extended work, the 56-minute political satire Babo 73 (1964). The story follows Sandy Studsberry, the meek “President of the United Status” as he deals with an invasion from the Red Siamese and the antics of his own crazy cabinet, led by Chester Kitty-Litter. All the attributes of early Downey make their appearance here: absurd anything-can-happen plotting, amateur acting, dubbed audio, scenes filmed in public spaces, slapstick Continue reading THE EARLY FILMS OF ROBERT DOWNEY, SR. (A PRINCE): BABO 73 (1964), CHAFED ELBOWS (1966) AND NO MORE EXCUSES (1968)

CAPSULE: CERTIFIED COPY (2010)

Copie Conforme

DIRECTED BY: Abbas Kiarostami

FEATURING: , William Shimell

PLOT: A French antiques dealer and an English author spend a day together in rural Tuscany, discussing (and often fighting about) art, philosophy, and family. As the hours pass it becomes apparent that these supposed strangers may share a much deeper relationship.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While there is definitely a turning point that makes for a very weird, confusing moment, most of this film is well-acted arthouse drama. The questionable nature of the lead characters’ relationship is the only thing about it that’s strange, and in the end it proves to be a comment on the sad nature of a failed marriage.

COMMENTS: Bickering about art, literature, and everyday life while they move around a scenic Tuscan village, the central characters of Certified Copy initially act much like you’d expect a couple in a European arthouse movie to act. They meander through beautiful scenery laced with antique sculptures and architecture, surrounded by jolly tourists and locals who at times provide fodder for their good-natured arguments. They sip cappuccino at a cute cafe. They speak in English, French, and Italian. They visit a museum. At first James (played by opera singer William Shimell) primarily discusses his most recent book, called “Certified Copy,” and Elle (the incomparable Juliette Binoche) talks about her family, especially her problematic teenage son. After a conversation with a nosy but well-meaning cafe server, Elle suddenly becomes furious with James, and he gradually takes on the role of her absent husband.

Whether James really is her husband remains unclear, though it seems possible that these characters are play-acting at this relationship, creating a copy of the missing thing in keeping with their discussions of copies versus originals. James takes on a role and Elle goes along with it, eventually regressing to the giddy romantic girl she was when they married 14 years prior, attempting to understand where their relationship fell apart and perhaps rekindle their long-lost passions. Their conversation continues to wax and wane, moving through lighthearted observations and dark memories, always ambiguous enough to keep the viewer at a distance despite the intimate handheld camerawork.

This is very much an actor’s movie, with Binoche and Shimell shining equally in the lead roles. He is sharp and quiet, always speaking logically and with a cold, intelligent air. She is bright and volatile, shifting from laughter to tears in the blink of an eye as her expressive face betrays a web of complex emotional struggles. His stoic presentation, rarely shaken except for one telling scene at a restaurant, is a perfect foil for her changeable nature. They take turns being sympathetic or aggressive, and while they have so many points of contention it’s a wonder they ever (maybe) had a romantic connection, their chemistry is strong enough to make whatever love they may have shared believable.

It is the mystery surrounding the sudden, unexplained shift in James and Elle’s characters that marks Certified Copy as something special, and keeps its audience focusing closely on every word, every knowing look. Is their relationship just a copy of the real thing, a therapeutic performance piece for Elle? Do they still love one another or are they blinded by nostalgia? Is the medium of film itself only capable of showing copies of true events, shadows of true emotions? Kiarostami does not reveal what is real or unreal, and it is up to us to wade through the wandering dialogue and gorgeous cinematography to find our own truth.

CRITERION SPECIAL FEATURES: The Criterion release includes a new interview with Kiarostami discussing the film, the making-of documentary Let’s See “Copia conforme”, a booklet with an essay by film critic Godfrey Cheshire, and the director’s rare 1977 feature The Report in its entirety.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Kiarostami is like a magician who shows you how he does it and still leaves you mesmerized. There’s an effrontery to his method… The film is not so much about reality and fantasy but about deepening levels of reality.” –Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor.

CAPSULE: 3 DEV ADAM (1973)

3 Mighty Men; 3 Giant Men

DIRECTED BY: Tevfik Fikrat Ucat

FEATURING: Aytekin Akkaya, Yavuz Selekman, Dogan Tamer

PLOT: Captain America and Mexican wrestling champion Santo travel to Istanbul to help defeat

Still from 3 Dev Adam (1973)

evil antiques stealer Spider.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It has its illucid moments, but there’s not enough consistent high absurdity beyond its preposterous pop premise. I admit that when three laughing puppet heads inexplicably appear in the middle of a sex scene, I was strongly tempted to make this movie a candidate for the List. But, at bottom, if you take the copyright-violation costumes off the actors and you would have a mildly exciting, ridiculous, and extremely cheap action film; a fun oddity to be sure, but not in the same league as the weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS: I’m not saying this movie would make a great deal of sense if the villain weren’t a blatant Spiderman knockoff, but about 90% of what makes 3 Dev Adam look absurd to us comes from the “facts” we know about Marvel’s classic superhero. Here in the West we realize that Spiderman does not wear a green costume with a red cowl and an overweight arachnid on the back. We know that his eyebrows aren’t so bushy that they stick out of his mask by a good two inches. And, most importantly, we know that Spidey does not bury women up to their necks in the sand and then pumice their faces with the propeller of a motorboat. If Adam‘s director is to be believed, it was no problem to make Spiderman into a villain because Turkish moviegoers had no idea who he was, which begs the question: why bother to rip off foreign superheroes at all if your audience doesn’t know who they are? Perhaps Turks were more familiar with Captain America and Mexican wrestling hero Santo than with Spiderman, because these two crime fighters are garbed more faithfully in suits that look like they might have been rented from costume shops in Manhattan and Guadalajara, respectively. But this brings up another issue: these two heroes don’t have any superpowers, Captain America doesn’t have a magic shield, and neither has a secret identity to protect, so there’s no obvious reason for them to get all Continue reading CAPSULE: 3 DEV ADAM (1973)

CAPSULE: CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986)

Tenku no shiro Laputa; AKA Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING (U.S. Dubbed Version): James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman

PLOT: A girl who falls from the sky and an orphaned boy search together for a legendary floating

Still from Castle in the Sky (1986)

city while being chased by flying pirates and a secret airborne government agency.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it’s an enthralling and magical children’s adventure, Castle in the Sky is also one of the more conventional fantasies in the catalog of a director whose work only flirts with weirdness.

COMMENTS: Castle in the Sky plays so much like an adaptation of a classic Western children’s book that it’s a surprise to learn that Japanese Hayao Miyazaki wrote the story basically from scratch. (The base concept of the floating city of Laputa is borrowed from Johnathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels, so a European literary connection does exist). Castle is epic in scope, featuring lost cities, magical artifacts, hidden destinies, and deadly giant robots; and yet, it’s all told from a child’s-eye view. After a lengthy earthbound prologue, most of the important action happens in an airy imaginary realm: not just in the floating city itself, but also in a stratosphere full of massive floating battleships, eternally aloft propeller-driven pirate vessels, and dragonfly-shaped personal aircraft. Its the kind of imaginary universe that doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief for kids, who simply assume that adventures like these take place over their heads and above the clouds every day. Although pint-sized, the boy hero, Pazu, is emancipated and on equal footing with grown-ups: he has a full-time job working in the mines and, as an orphan, he’s self-sufficient and lives on his own. Similarly, female lead Sheeta is also free of parents, and is perfectly capable of taking out those taller than she is with a well-placed wine bottle to the back of the head. The fact that there’s a hero for kids of either gender to identify with rates as a plus, though feminists who are keeping count may note that Pazu comes to Sheeta’s rescue a bit more than the other way around. Little girls will doubtlessly see Castle as the story of Sheeta Continue reading CAPSULE: CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986)

FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: SUN DON’T SHINE (2012)/TCHOUPITPOULAS (2012)

Taking a trip to your local film festival is a good way to recalibrate your sense of weirdness. The sparsely attended showings will remind you that to the average movie patron, any film that doesn’t feature either 1. a car chase, 2, a robot chase, or 3. Adam Sandler probably qualifies as “weird.” So, although the two films commented on below may not qualify as weird by our bizarre standards, it’s good to remember that they are as extraordinary a pair of oddities as the average moviegoer might be accidentally exposed to.

Still from Shine (2012)Writer/director Amy Seimetz reveals that Sun Don’t Shine was based on a recurring nightmare, combined with her fever dream recollections of the subtle insanity engendered by south Florida humidity. The scenario sees fragile Crystal () and macho beau Leo (Kentucker Audley) on the lam heading for the Everglades in a clunker with a bad radiator, fleeing troubles which aren’t immediately disclosed but which you will easily guess. There are a few moments, when the story shifts to see things from anti-heroine Crystal’s distorted perspective (which seems equally informed by insecurity and sunstroke) that Sun seems about to take off into nightmare territory. But we always quickly return to reality and to the movie’s core, the uncomfortable co-dependent relationship between sullen Leo and wispy Crystal. The movie seems afraid to push itself past the merely uncomfortable and into the full depths of insanity, at least until a final “too little too late” moment of madness. In that, perhaps the script is only playing to its strengths. Seimetz is excellent at creating a believable dynamic between the troubled lovebirds; there’s a barroom scene where Crystal is boring her man with a story about pilfered lipstick to the point where he has to get up and walk away as if to say “I love you, but if you yap on for one more second we’ll be talking about your fat lip instead of your lipstick.” She follows him into the men’s room and wins him back with persistent affection. It’s a very real scene, but the problem is almost the entire film is made up of such supplemental moments. A movie can have so much character Continue reading FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: SUN DON’T SHINE (2012)/TCHOUPITPOULAS (2012)