Category Archives: Guest Reviews

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)

DIRECTED BYRobert Altman

FEATURING: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murhpy, Shelley Duvall, , , Margaret Hamilton, Jennifer Salt, William Baldwin

PLOT: An oddball genius constructs a one man flying device in the basement of the Houston Astrodome, assisted by a sexy but murderous guardian angel.

Still from Brewster McCloud (1970)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Robert Altman’s showman’s understanding and appreciation of the circus influenced the presentation of this surreal satire with its unconventional plot, eccentric characters, and eye-catching production design.  Watching this colorful odyssey is like exploring a side road on the cinematic highway to Oz.

COMMENTS:  Five out of five stars all the way for this gorgeous, pensive work of art. In this strange black comedy, Brewster McCloud (Cort -“Harold” from Harold and Maude) is a likable misfit who lives in the fallout shelter of the old Houston Astrodome. He endeavors to build a mechanical flying suit which will enable his escape from an incomprehensible world to some unknown imaginative utopia. An eccentric angel adeptly played by the quirky Sally Kellerman strangles anyone who opposes Brewster.

Brewster McCloud has a humorously heavy ornithological thesis with a narrative lecture provided by an off kilter science professor. The instructor’s recitation of facts about the social and mating habits of birds provides a funny comparative commentary on human nature. Avian themes glue the plot points together and furnish continuity between a sequence of strange events as Brewster struggles to achieve his goal.

There are three subplots: a coming of age story centered around McCloud, a social commentary stemming from the exposition of similarities and differences between humans and birds, and a murder investigation. While the police attempt to determine why the strangulation victims are found plastered with bird droppings, Brewster tries to beat the clock and perfect his flying machine before the authorities close in. He must stay Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: WINTER OF FROZEN DREAMS (2009)

DIRECTED BY:  Eric Mandelbaum

FEATURING: Thora Birch, , Brendan Sexton III, Leo Fitzpatrick, Dean Winters

PLOT: An unambitious young man balances uneasy alliances with the authorities and his psychopathic girlfriend when she involves him in a meretricious murder case.

Still from Winter of Frozen Dreams (2009)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Non linear story telling, oddball characters and incomprehensible motivations combine to weave a tapestry of weirdness in this contemporary film noir mystery.

COMMENTS:  Some movies don’t have to be garishly bizarre to be weird.  Winter of Frozen Dreams employs a soft, almost poetic production style to tell a tawdry tale of twisted topics set down as causally as if the story were an episode of the Donna Reed Show.  The nonlinear plot is partially presented through the flashbacks and subjective impressions of a cast of oddball, unsavory characters whose disorganized, irrational lives inexplicably intersect in a convoluted morass of lies, depravity, deceit and murder.

Set in 1977 Madison, Wisconsin, Winter of Frozen Dreams relates the events of the notorious Hoffman murder case.  On Christmas day, Gerald Davies walked into the police department and announced that he had helped his girlfriend dispose of a bloodied, battered corpse at the Blackhawk Ski jump park near Middleton.  Police accompanied him to retrieve the body of Harry Berge and a series of perplexing events began to unfold that led to the arrest of Barbara Hoffman.  The case drew a great deal of attention because it was the first televised murder trial in the state.

Of even greater interest to the public was the fact that the accused was a beautiful girl with an IQ over 140 who led a triple life.  In addition to being a straight ‘A’ biochemistry student at the University of Wisconsin, Barbara Hoffman was a psychopathic whore and Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: WINTER OF FROZEN DREAMS (2009)

GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

James Cameron’s Avatar is his first film since 1997’s Titanic, and Avatar looks like it’s actually going to top that monster ship as far as revenue goes.  Reportedly, with PR expenses, Avatar costs somewhere between 250 and 500 million dollars and one would think with that kind of investment, Cameron and corporation would have come up with a better script and a more substantial film.  Avatar is riddled with the same level of asinine dialogue that sunk Cameron’s cruise ship, a plot that blatantly echoes Dances with Wolves, hopelessly two-dimensional, stereotyped cardboard villains, and a mixed bag of CGI visuals which often look like Gil Kane comic characters turned into blue rubber toys amidst a computer game version of a Franz Marc rain forest.

Still from Avatar (2009)
Avatar
opens in the distant future on the planet Pandora.  A paraplegic named Jake (Sam Worthington, the latest wooden hunk) is a volunteer on Pandora’s Earthling military base.  The native Pandorans justifiably mistrust the “Sky People” who want to strip-mine their lush world to save a dying Earth.  So, the Sky People have an ingenious plot to infiltrate the Pandorans by linking human consciousness into a Pandoran avatar.  All-American swell guy Jake seems the perfect volunteer, as he is promised his lost legs back.  So, Jake gets turned into a twelve foot blue native.  The problem is that the Sky People need pesky “green” scientists to help them and, naturally those lovers of the land are going to throw a monkey wrench into Operation Pandora.

Predictably, once Jake interacts with the natives, he bonds with them and even falls in love with their princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, playing Pocahontas, in all but name.  She Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

GUEST REVIEW: THE SWIMMER (1968)

The Swimmer has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Comments on this post have been closed. Please read the official Certified Weird entry for The Swimmer and post any future comments about the film there.

When Burt Lancaster began his career as an actor, it appeared this was going to be a career in the mold of Errol Flynn or Randolph Scott. In films like The Flame and the ArrowJim Thorpe-All American, The Crimson Pirate, Vera Cruz, Ten Tall Men, From Here to Eternity, The Kentuckian, Trapeze, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and Run Silent, Run Deep, Lancaster seemed to personify and embody the American ideal hero.

However, behind those swell guy teeth and that brandished chest was a shrewd actor, who, as he seasoned, made increasingly interesting choices.  In the second half of his career, Lancaster often played off that earlier, heroic persona with admirable risk taking.  If  Elmer Gantry and Seven Days in May might be aptly described as loudly presenting the dirty underbelly of Americana, then The Swimmer intimately one-ups them.

In 1968 director Frank Perry with writer/wife Eleanor Perry adapted John Cheever’s acclaimed allegorical New Yorker short story, The Swimmer, and brilliantly cast the iconic Burt Lancaster as the pathetic hero.  The Perrys had previously teamed for the equally disturbing David and Lisa (1962) and made quite a splash on the art film circuit.  Surprisingly, that film even garnered a couple of Academy Award nominations, which enabled the team to make The Swimmer.

Still from The Swimmer (1968)The Swimmer begins on an absurdly bright, sunny day.  Ned (Lancaster), the epitome of a tanned, virile, soulless suburbia, decides he is going to enthusiastically embark on a strange, epic, connect-the-dot journey by “swimming” home through the neighborhood swimming pools. He takes along a nubile girl (Janet Langard), but at each pool he encounters facets of his failed life and the crack in his facade slowly begins to expand until the inevitable, tragic conclusion.  The physical reality of The Swimmer (a day in Ned’s life) is mere allegory and the allegorical symbolism of Ned’s entire life which is, in fact, the physical realm into which we are drawn.

Lancaster, the sex symbol, is perfection as he superficially pats his neighbors on the back, encounters a discarded mistress, is confronted by his numerous lies, his betrayals, his failure as a husband, father, friend and neighbor.  By the time he reaches his own home, his paradigm has altered from cartoon sunshine and forced, surface smiles to despairing rain.  When he reaches his porch, he is vulnerable to all the elements which mercilessly come down upon him in all forms, including nature itself.  Ned has ultimately realized his hollow state.

Impressively, The Swimmer has a dreamlike, short story, episodic pacing, not at all what is expected in the medium of film, and this adds to its uniqueness.  The Swimmer, fragile indeed in its quite odd structure, is a case where casting really counted.  It would not have worked without its star.  Unfortunately, The Swimmer is out of print and even when it was briefly available, Columbia disrespectfully released it an a cheapo presentation.  (NOTE 2/12/10: Astute reader MCD tipped us off to the fact that The Swimmer is available for download from Amazon for $9.99). Still, it’s a rarity in being a film that actually lives up to and surpasses its reputation.

The Perrys went onto make Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife before divorcing.  Separately, the two never equaled the artistic level they achieved together.  Lancaster continued to carefully cultivate his screen persona in films like 1900, Moses the Lawgiver, Atlantic City, Local Hero, Rocket Gibraltar and Field of Dreams.

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van

FEATURING: Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTS: In My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition. It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction. The lead character seeks psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open. Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury. She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment. When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement. At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SUBJECT TWO (2006)

DIRECTED BY:  Philip Chidel

FEATURING:  Christian Oliver, Dean Stapleton

PLOT: A medical student gets more than he bargained for when he accepts an experimental internship and discovers that immortality comes with a steep price.

Still from Subject Two (2006)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Subject Two is a fresh twist on the Frankenstein plot. It envisions reanimation from the undead’s subjective perspective. It is deeply disturbing and every bit as repellent and hellish as one could hope for.

COMMENTS: A misanthropic medical student named Adam (who flunked his ethics exam) receives a cryptic email from a Dr. Fanklin Vick. It offers him an opportunity to assist in unusual medical research and subsequently to share in the revolutionary scientific advances in medicine that result.

He bites on the lure, but to accept the position, he must wait on an icy mountain road in the middle of nowhere to be offered a ride by a stranger. The alluring and mysterious chauffeur obviously knows more about what is going on than he does. His journey to meet the elusive Doctor Vick is itself a snowy odyssey into the isolated, surreal drifts and folds of the Colorado Rockies.

When Adam and his driver reach a landmark beyond which the driver is no longer allowed, Adam must hike up a snow covered mountain to the doctor’s laboratory. Now he is stranded, beyond the point of no return. The research facility turns out to be a converted chalet, reminiscent of  Nikola Tesla’s Colorado Springs retreat in The Prestige.

He meets Vick, who tells him that the research is very unusual and important and that Adam is uniquely qualified. Vick avoids going into much specific detail. Adam accepts. What Adam doesn’t understand is that what uniquely qualifies him is that he is now a captive. Nobody knows where he is, he has no means of departure, and nobody will miss him if he disappears.

On this isolated, snowbound mountain peak, Dr. Vick is indeed performing very unique research. He is experimenting with life, death, and reanimation. In combination with makeshift cryogenics, he is using a bizarre recombinant DNA serum that alters and Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SUBJECT TWO (2006)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: POWDER (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Victor Salva

FEATURING: Sean Patrick Flanery, , ,

PLOT: A supernaturally gifted teen misfit fights against the grain when he is forcibly integrated into a backward community.

Still from Powder (1995)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  A strange blend of fantasy and drama, Powder has shadings of The Enigma of Casper Hauser (1975), Carrie (1976), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).

COMMENTS: In a situation reminiscent of Casper Hauser’s enigma in the 1975 film, Jeremy Reed (Flanery) is discovered sequestered in his grandmother’s basement upon her death in a podunk Texas town. A bright, sensitive boy, he has been raised without contact with the outside world, with which he is acquainted only through books. He happens to be albino, and not just like Edgar Winter—he is mime white.

Additionally, he is hairless. Because of his unsettling appearance he attracts the unbecoming nickname “Powder.”  He also attracts static electricity. His father rejected him because of his appearance; his grandparents sheltered him. Contact with the outside world is novel and very troublesome for Powder, and for those who meet him.

The film opens with his premature birth after his mother is struck by lightning. This turns out to be foreshadowing: concepts of electricity and energy are dispersed throughout the film. Powder’s body exudes an interactive electromagnetic field. Wristwatches run backward when he’s upset, televisions overload with static, electronic devices run haywire. In a discussion with his teacher, the instructor tells Powder that Einstein allegedly said he wasn’t sure death exists, because energy never ceases to exist, and that if man ever reaches a point where he can use all of his brain, he would be pure energy and not need a body. This catches Powder’s attention.

Powder is still a minor, and not exactly the picture of conformity. Ideally, he needs to be in a progressive, tolerant environment; so, of course, the local authorities lock him up in a violent rural boys’ home that’s more reform school than orphanage. As one can imagine, he is welcomed with open arms by the crude, hostile ruffians. Well, not exactly; they harass and torment him incessantly, with murder in their collective eye.

While he is a ward of the state, two staffers played by Steenburgen and Goldblum try to help him. Powder takes aptitude tests. His unusually high scores indicate that he has a profound intellect, but nobody believes it. His test results are challenged by a panel of  hostile state goons. Meanwhile, the bullies in the state boys home discover that he can defend himself with telekinetic electromagnetic powers.

Like a faith healer, Powder cures a dying woman. This development adds a religious element to the film that complicates efforts to comprehend Powder’s true nature. While his in vitro exposure to lightning bestowed him with electromagnetic powers, he has other abilities as well, including psychic ones. Difficult to classify and out of his element, Powder is like a stranded alien.

As Powder and the confused, disturbed locals continue to clash, the chasm between them grows wider. Many are awed by and fearful of his unusual talents. All Powder wants to do is go home and live in seclusion. He escapes the group home and tries to return, but his family property has been foreclosed upon. Some town officials encourage him to run away, others want him back in the boys’ home.

Near the end of the story there’s a suggestion that Powder is just too unique for this world; he’s portrayed like a Christ figure. It is dubious that this is really what the filmmakers had in mind. Powder is a science fiction fantasy about nonconformity and social rejection, not a religious allegory.

Like the title character of ‘s Carrie, Powder is gifted and different, ostracized and misunderstood. Powder, however, does not take a spectacular revenge based on his seething resentment. Instead, he strives and strives to escape somehow, always trying to find a away to transcend his dilemma.

The conflicts, uncertainty, tension and turmoil come to a flashpoint when a huge thunderhead approaches the town and Powder rushes into the storm. In a spectacular cinematic sequence, many uncertain elements of Powder’s riddle merge in an unexpected way that is unconventionally conclusive and magical.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Imagine Edward Scissorhands under the control of a mainstream director rather than someone offbeat and eccentric like Tim Burton. The result would have been just another motion picture about a prototypical misfit trying to find his niche — a movie with a lot of manipulation and too many easy answers. Powder is such a film.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)