Category Archives: Capsules

CAPSULE: TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE (2012)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, , Twink Caplan, , William Atherton

PLOT: Two filmmakers in debt to their patrons take over management of a run-down shopping mall, hoping to make back the money they owe and lose their fake Hollywood attitudes.

Still from Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Heidecker and Wareheim’s recently-ended television series Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! was one of the outright weirdest shows on air, but their short skit format doesn’t translate as well to a feature-length film. There are various hilarious and strange moments, but as a whole it’s a disappointment compared to the show.

COMMENTS: Formatting itself as a film-within-a-film—which allows for several fourth wall-breaking moments and sarcastic plot breaks—Billion Dollar Movie is essentially a combination of several sketches dragged out into a clumsy, broken narrative feature. It opens with a series of infomercials of products to improve your viewing experience, segues into a fake 3-minute film starring a Johnny Depp impersonator, then finally brings us to our unflappable stars Tim and Eric, casting themselves as over-tanned Hollywood hacks who wasted a billion dollars on an unsellable movie that doesn’t even really star Johnny Depp. In debt to the Schlaaang Corporation who funded them and distraught over losing their extravagant lifestyle—which included the employment of personal guru Jim Joe Kelly (Zach Galifianakis)—the guys take a job as mall managers under the belief that they’ll receive a billion dollars for it. Their financial backers assume they’ve skipped town and go to violent lengths to track them down.

The mall itself is essentially a building-size set-up for several typical Tim and Eric characters and short sketches, only with more recognizable supporting cast members (which means fewer of their more disarming amateur regulars, though James Quall and few others make appearances). There’s the Top Gun-obsessed mall owner (Will Ferrell) and his sickly nephew of an indeterminate age (John C. Reilly), a man (Will Forte) who gets paid not to sell swords from his sword store, a mysterious cult leader (Ray Wise) promoting enlightenment through “Shrim”, a woman (Twink Caplan) who somehow is sexually attracted to both Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, and a proud seller of used toilet paper who passively allows his son to be unofficially adopted by a stranger. Oh, and don’t forget the man-eating wolf. He’ll get ya.

Flush with weird, unsettling jokes and plenty of gross visual gags, Billion Dollar Movie offers the type of humor and characters anyone familiar with Tim and Eric’s output might expect. There are moments that seem to blend horror and comedy in such an uncomfortable way as to produce only confused, visceral reactions (a feeling surely recognizable to fans of their work). There are moments that are truly bizarre and hilarious, including Jeff Goldblum’s introduction (as “Chef” Goldblum), the ridiculous digs at Hollywood culture, and the whole Shrim thing. Then, there are moments that just don’t work. Considering their brand of non sequitur, gross-out weirdness is hit and miss in short formats, it’s no surprise that a feature-length film doesn’t really suit Tim and Eric’s skills. There’s no driving force, with a flimsy plot structure and haphazard script that plods along from good joke to bad joke and boring segments in between. Even at its weirdest moments it seems tame compared to some of the sketches in the show, probably because everything is given more context and presented in more familiar terms.

For fans of the show it will likely be a disappointment, but it’s also hard to resist seeing for yourself. Just be ready for surprising amounts of nudity- even for them. I saw a lot of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim that I didn’t expect to ever see.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Cult weirdoes Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim define their small-screen oeuvre with delirious excess and unrepentant weirdness, but their cult television shows look positively austere compared to their cinematic directorial and starring debut, Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.” –Nathan Rubin, The Onion AV Club (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE BRIDE OF FRANK (1996)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Steve Ballot

FEATURING: Frank Meyer

PLOT: Frank, a mentally challenged old man with a speech impediment, kills various people he

Still from he Bride of Frank (1996)

meets as he searches for true love from a woman with large breasts.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As an authentic piece of goombah outsider art, The Bride of Frank is actually weird, but it’s also bad. And I mean real bad, not “entertaining” bad.

COMMENTS: The movie begins with a toothless old man tricking a five year-old girl into getting into his big rig, trying to get her to kiss him, then crushing her head under the wheel of his truck after she calls him a “dirty bum.” If that scenario sounds like can’t miss comedy gold to you, then you’re The Bride of Frank‘s target audience. All others will want to observe that “beware” rating. That opening scene of child molestation played for laughs does have the virtue of driving away most of the audience before the film can even get started; anyone who continues on past that point can’t pretend to be surprised by the senseless killing, simulated defecation, and sexual perversion that follows. Tonally, the opening, which makes us want to destroy Frank with fire, is a huge problem because it’s out of character with the way the rest of the movie wants to portray him—as a hideous-looking but childlike outcast, a la Frankenstein’s monster, who only kills bad people after they insult and reject him. To wit: Frank decapitates a nerd and relieves himself inside the corpse after being insulted at his birthday party, rips the face off a transvestite who tricks him into a sexual encounter, tears the eye out of a 300 pound exotic dancer and violates her corpse because she’s a tease, and so on. Yawn. Are we jaded yet? More conventional comic relief comes from the poetically obscene homoerotic/homophobic repartee between two of Frank’s coworkers, which is slightly amusing, but nothing you haven’t heard before if you’ve ever worked with Jersey teamsters on a loading dock. Frank, the weatherbeaten, dim, ex-homeless killer whose speech impediment is so thick he’s often subtitled, is played by real-life ex-homeless man Frank Meyer. Frank is like regular Edith Massey, except he’s not in on the joke. He’s not acting, he’s simply Continue reading CAPSULE: THE BRIDE OF FRANK (1996)

CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Jason Eisener

FEATURING: , Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey

PLOT: A hobo rides the rails into a surreally depraved “Scum Town” (formerly Hope Town) and is pushed into grabbing a shotgun and sweeping the streets clean of pimps, pushers, and bum fight promoters.

Still from Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hobo is one of the better postmodern grindhouse spoofs out there and will rate a “must see” for fans of that extremely specific genre, but—although it’s certainly bizarre in its complete disregard of non-B-movie logic—it doesn’t do enough to transcend it’s inspirations in order to earn a general weird recommendation.

COMMENTS: Hobo with a Shotgun has a real eye for shabby detail—just look at the period poster that features disheveled Rutger Hauer, teeth bared, firing a sawed-off shotgun. The artist drew in fold lines as if it was a one sheet that had been filed away in some producer’s desk and forgotten about for thirty years. As strange as it might sound in a movie that features barbed wire decapitations, flame-broiled school children, and post-apocalyptic ninja robots, what impresses me most about Hobo is that kind of subtle detail. Sure, the movie gets most of its mileage from its ludicrous levels of bloodletting—dig that chick dancing around in a mink coat and bikini as blood showers on her from a neck-geyser—but I expected that in a postmodern grindhouse revenge flick. What I didn’t expect is that the absurd violence would be served with a side of style and deadpan wit, sans jokey winks to the audience. Everyone catches on to the B-movie madness, like the land-based octopus in the villain’s lair and the human piñata smacked by topless ladies, but the truly strange touches are easy to miss: the hipster newscaster with the soul patch and earring, the Byzantine icon of Jesus on the Drake’s wall (next to a photo of the Hobo) with his eyes marked out with red paint, the way Hauer grabs a convenient bottle of vodka from a random passerby in a hospital corridor. Any notion that this movie takes place in any world outside movies is dispelled early on when the Hobo enters the town’s top nightspot—a video arcade that doubles as a murder emporium, Continue reading CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

CAPSULE: CATERPILLAR (2010)

AKA Kyatapirâ

DIRECTED BY: Kôji Wakamatsu

FEATURING: Shinobu Terajima, Keigo Kasuya

PLOT: Lieutenant Kurokawa loses all four limbs and is rendered deaf, dumb and disfigured during the Japanese invasion of China on the eve of World War II; when the Emperor declares him a “Living War God,” his wife Shigeko is ordered to care for the living torso, including fulfilling all her usual wifely duties.

Still from Caterpillar (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite its perverse premise and its superficial similarities to the Certified Weird Johnny Got His Gun, Caterpillar isn’t that weird; instead, it’s an intense domestic drama about duty.

COMMENTS: Lieutenant Kurokawa is a monster. Scarred by the war, unable to hear or to speak (with great difficulty, he can sometimes painfully squeeze out a single syllable), he’s essentially a torso, an esophagus and a fully-functional phallus. Flashbacks reveal that the caterpillar, now revered as a god, was actually a moral monster long before his physique was carved up to match. The duty to care for the god-monster falls upon long-suffering partner Shigeko, who must feed him, wipe him, and cater to his suddenly insatiable sexual needs.  For the wife, the mangled Lieutenant combines the worst aspects of an infant and a spouse—completely dependent, demanding, and incoherent, but with no compensatory cuteness or tenderness. She lives alone with him in a one-room house of horrors. Yet, perversely, this disaster delivers an unexpected upside for the poor farm wife. She gains social standing in the village as the caretaker for a god. She is sure to wheel him out in his cart daily to shore up the morale of the rapidly depopulating village as all available able-bodied men are shipped to the front to help failing war effort (even as the daily radio broadcasts detail Japan’s magnificent martial victories). On the home front, Shigeko also eventually learns to enjoy the petty power she has to deny the god a little bit of rice or sex, becoming herself a mini-dictator of an empire consisting of one subject on a straw mat. Caterpillar starts slowly but draws you in to the compellingly claustrophobic dynamic between these two unlikely mates yoked together by fate and obligation. Shinobu Terajima’s performance as the wife is brave and sympathetic (she won many awards, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival), but Keigo Kasuya’s turn as the caterpillar is even more crucial to the film’s success. His ability to convey mute fury and desperation with just his eyes, stutters and howls humanizes his role as a symbol of national and domestic fascism. The film never becomes truly exploitative, but there is plenty of caterpillar/human sex, in multiple positions, to titillate the curious. The cinematography is mostly cast in a drab browns that are effective at evoking a backwater rural lifestyle but aren’t particularly pleasing to look at. The budget is obviously tiny: for events outside of the hut and the village, the movie mainly relies on archival footage, along with one war crime recreation with distracting CG flames superimposed over the scene. But the inherent horrific drama and Wakamatsu’s insistent indictment of unthinking duty overcome the cheapness, and Caterillar metamorphoses into an anti-authority parable worth paying attention to.

Like many Japanese directors, Kôji Wakamatsu began his career in the trenches making “pink” films before graduating to more serious features. His filmography contains some titles he’d probably prefer we forgot: movies with names like The Embryo Hunts in Secret, Diary Story of a Japanese Rapist, and Violated Angels. In the 1970s Wakamatsu began slipping more politics into his exploitation films, culminating in  United Red Army (2008), an entirely serious drama about the collapse of the Japanese radical movement in the 1970s, and in this film. Caterpillar was adapted from a 1929 short story by Edogawa Rampo that was originally banned as perverse and unpatriotic.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a sexually charged two-hander with blunt allegorical implications… Audience interest will be limited to Wakamatsu devotees and the kind of cult-oriented audiences who automatically perk up at the chance to see simulated amputee sex.”–Vadim Rizov, Boxoffice Magazine (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: REDLINE (2009)

This review first appeared in a slightly different form at Film Forager.

DIRECTED BY: Takeshi Koike

FEATURING: Takuya Kamura, Yû Aoi,

PLOT: Set in a distant future and moving between multiple planets, this is a fairly simple tale of a major road race taking place on a militaristic planet that doesn’t want it there.  Racers “Sweet” JP, the big-haired underdog, and Sonoshee, a single-minded gearhead, are the main focus of the story.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Armed with an eclectic cast of alien characters and a host of over-the-top shenanigans, Redline might come off as “weird” to someone unfamiliar with anime, but I’d say the stranger humor and visuals fit in pretty squarely with other properties of the genre.  It’s an imaginative and enormously entertaining film, just not especially Weird.

COMMENTS:  The future laid out in Redline is certainly an intriguing one, if completely ludicrous.  Hot shot reckless racer JP makes it to the titular big interstellar race, held on a militaristic planet that hasn’t consented to be the host.  He cozies up to Sonoshee, a cute green-haired lady who is one of the most serious and intimidating drivers there, and together the two attempt to navigate a strange obstacle course against alien competitors (some with inexplicable magic powers) and large-scale weaponry.  Squeezing in ESPN-like profiles of various racers—from an experienced cyborg who’s fused himself with his machine to a pair of scantily clad pop stars hailing from a magical princess planet—there’s some room for satire, too.

This movie is essentially all spectacle and adrenaline, with very little comprehensible or meaningful plot holding it together, but it’s not like the filmmakers are operating under any pretense of depth.  They’ve created a gorgeously animated, pumped-up sci-fi thriller, and that’s all that’s needed!  The characters are slick, and the vehicle designs slicker, with plenty of exaggerated personalities and colorful attachments for an engaging race line-up.  Sure, there’s a silly romantic/secret-past subplot thrown in there, but it’s never taken very seriously.  Various secondary stories are introduced, such as the military planet’s worker resistance and JP’s involvement in race-fixing, but the race itself remains the focus and it’s easy to forget that anything else is going on (the script certainly seems to by the end).  The set-up can be confusing at times due to an influx of minor characters and limited explanation of the obviously complex political and environmental structures.

The strengths of Redline lie almost completely in its visuals and fast pacing.  The dark shading and bright color schemes, the over-the-top hair styles and imaginative alien creatures, the quick-cut-editing and crazy landscapes: it’s all fantastically sweet eye-candy, set to an ecstatic musical score.  It’s violent but fun, and there’s probably political commentary thrown in there somewhere.  The script is cheesy at points, but vaguely self-aware.  It’s just a very cool movie all around, rarely letting up for a moment in its quest to assault the senses with psychedelic imagery and revving engines.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One of the most visually spectacular toons in recent years, pic is a thumping ride for fanboys, but the script’s underdeveloped central romance and the fizzling out of intriguing plot threads will impede wider acceptance… [Plays] like a twisted combo of “Death Race 2000,” “Speed Racer” and a ’50s hot-rod movie on steroids…”–Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Luc Godard

FEATURING: Marine Battaggia, Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Gulliver Hecq, Eye Haidara, Élisabeth Vitali

PLOT: Snippets of scenes involving passengers on a cruise ship are followed by a long segment exploring a rural French family who run a gas station; it’s topped off with impressionistic travelogues to Egypt, Palestine, and other locales.

Still from Film Socialisme (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s weird—by way of being random and impenetrable—but it’s also boring.  Really boring.  Had Jean-Luc Godard’s name not been attached, this movie would remain happily unseen by all but a handful of unlucky film festival attendees.

COMMENTS: Jean-Luc Godard has been telling French magazines that “cinema is dead” (though he would say “le cinéma est mort” and translate it as “film    dead.”)  Film Socialisme is the work of an auteur who truly believes that sentiment: it’s a dispassionate, bloodless dissection of moving images.  It offers us actors but no characters, situations but no drama, incidents but no story, ideas but no argument, and challenges but no rewards.  Deliberately obtuse, Film Socialisme sets out to frustrate: the first thing English speakers will notice is that Godard chooses not to fully translate the French dialogue, opting instead to tell the story through what he calls “Navajo English.”  Large portions of the French dialogue are left untranslated, and when the viewer does see subtitles he reads only snatches like “watch    notell    time” and “itshim    wariswar.”  Sometimes the language will switch from French to English or German or Russian, sometimes in the middle of a conversation; one presumes that this provides brief  opportunities for Francophones to enjoy “Navajo French.”  Structurally, Film Socialisme is divided into three chapters.  The first, titled “Des choses comme ça,” takes place aboard a cruise liner and explores fragments of stories from various travelers that don’t appear to add up to anything: a woman is trying to learn to speak cat by watching kitties on her laptop, a couple have a conversation about the Allied landing in North Africa while ignoring an apparently drunk woman Continue reading CAPSULE: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

CAPSULE: SESSION 9 (2001)

DIRECTED BY:  Brad Anderson

FEATURING: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, , Stephen Gevedon, Brendan Sexton III

PLOT: A hazmat crew removing asbestos from an abandoned asylum uncover secrets about the long-dead but deeply disturbed residents—and, arguably, more chilling secrets about each other.

Still from Session 9 (2001)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  The weirdometer registers only trace amounts of bizarrity in this eerie, complex psychological horror.  It’s worth a viewing for fright fans, but not thanks to its strangeness.

COMMENTS: Before Session 9, director Brad Anderson was best known (if he was known at all) for his romantic comedies.  Anderson co-fashioned Session 9‘s complicated, haunted script to take advantage of the availability of an abandoned mental institution, a dream location to shoot a horror movie, and wound up finding a more successful niche as a specialist in psychological suspense.  Disdaining shock violence and other teen horror tropes, Session 9 hoes a tougher row by creating its suspense through characterization, hidden secrets, and (for the most part) by encouraging the audience to imagine unspeakable carnage rather than to get off on seeing it laid out in splattery crimson glory.  The idea here is to throw five average Joes into a pressure cooker situation (finishing a three-week asbestos removal job in one week) inside a suggestively creepy locale, and let the tension build organically as they begin to crack under the stress.  Gordon is the most preoccupied of the bunch: he may lose his struggling business if he doesn’t complete this contract on time, and he’s got a newborn baby back home to feed.  Phil, his right hand man, has his own tense dynamic with the obnoxious Hank: they share an uncomfortable history with a common woman.  Mullet-headed young Jeff is the neophyte kid who gets picked on by the others, and Mike is the thoughtful guy who’s too good for this job (for unknown reasons, he’s dropped out of law school to schlep around in a hazmat suit).  The characterizations aren’t deep, but they’re efficient; we know these guys, we get their conflicting agendas.  Mike’s discovery of old tape recordings of hypnotherapy with a schizophrenic woman—reels labeled sessions 1 to 9—provides a parallel dramatic line, as we periodically hear a tranquil doctor probe the mind of a psychopathic woman with buried issues that may continue to haunt the hosptal’s halls to this day.  Like the Overlook Hotel in Session 9‘s closest ancestor, The Shining, the empty spaces of the asylum are virtually a separate character (there are plenty of tracking shots down abandoned corridors to remind us of ‘s horror).  The grounds are full of memories of the departed: Satanist graffiti scrawled on the walls by the teens who broke in to party there on weekends, old mementos and clippings pasted onto the walls of the patients rooms, and broken bric-a-brac left there by the long-gone staff and by homeless squatters.  Everything is linked by dark, dank underground tunnels connecting the various buildings.  It would be almost impossible to shoot a film in this setting that didn’t raise at least a couple of hairs on the back of your neck, and Anderson’s restrained direction and the ensembles’ paranoiac acting ably amplify the institution’s inherent creepiness.  The ending is too obvious to qualify as a twist, and I wish Anderson had shown Kubrick’s courage to go shamelessly over-the-top every now and then, but Session 9 satisfies as a mature, eerie, and mostly quiet horror—a type of film that’s all too rare nowadays.  What could be scarier than an isolated, crumbling building that may be full of ghosts?  The answer: an isolated, crumbling building that may be full of schizophrenic ghosts.

The asylum in the movie, Danvers State Hospital, was a real abandoned mental institution in Massachusetts. It holds the dubious honor of being known as the birthplace of the prefrontal lobotomy (a fact referenced in the movie), and later became infamous for overcrowding and inhumane treatment of its inmates.  Most of the buildings on the sprawling campus were torn down in 2006 to construct an apartment complex.  The units burned down in 2007 in a mysterious fire, though they were soon rebuilt.  A 12-minute featurette on the DVD documents the cruel history of the institution.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Save for the disappointing finale, Session 9 proves to be a remarkably spare journey into the confines of the mind and a unique evocation of just how terrifying it is to loose one’s mind.”–Ed Gonzalez, Slant (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Jack Mort.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)