Category Archives: Reader Recommendations

READER RECOMMENDATION: KHRUSTALYOV, MY CAR! (1998)

Reader recommendation by Giles Edwards

DIRECTED BY: Aleksey German

FEATURING: Yuriy Tsuliro, Nina Ruslanova, Mickhail Dementyev

PLOT: General Klensky, the head of a prestigious Moscow mental hospital in 1950s Soviet Russia, tries to evade KGB agents before he’s captured and forced to help the authorities in their last ditch effort to save a dying Josef Stalin.

Still from Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: With each cluttered frame stuffed with inky blacks and smoky whites, the nightmarish reality of Stalin’s last “Terror” makes for uneasy viewing as a nightmarish hellscape seeps ever more into the cruelty of the tragically mundane. This reality is made both more real and more unpleasant by the inclusion of the dissonant sound track.

COMMENTS: It took nearly a decade for Aleksey German to put together this ordeal of a movie about the last of Stalin’s great purges just before the demise of the Soviet Union’s ruthless dictator. The nightmare of pursuit lasts three days for the heavy-handed but sympathetic General Kensky, who rules like a benevolent counterpart to “Uncle Joe,” presiding over his medical facility in a cognac-fueled display of ordered madness. Surrounded by the grotesque (be it in the chaos of his hospital or the sinister order provided by the black-sedan riding apparatchiks), Kensky uncovers a plot to stage his fall from grace before fleeing to the home of a sympathetic former nurse. Disappearing at the hands of Stalin’s henchmen and being spirited away in the back of a “Soviet Champagne” truck, he meets with the bed-ridden, stroke-afflicted leader before his own disappearance is arranged for good.

The entire atmosphere of the film is made of deeply black blacks and sodium-light bright whites. Steam and disorder fill the interiors, while outside the tainted white of snow and dark sheen of the KGB’s cars make for an incongruous combination of the harshest of whites and darkest of blacks. Innocents are randomly round up (one unfortunate, in the wrong place and the wrong time, is unceremoniously dumped into the trunk of one of the ever-present black cars), and a fearful citizenry makes itself complicit with the state sponsored terror, hoping their compliance will direct the authorities’ suspicion and ire elsewhere.

What makes this movie weird is how it manages to capture society at its most grotesque. There are other movies that have individual images that are more troubling, but this film’s continuous streak of casual violence, cruel misfortune, and unsettling monotony of sadism in a fearful society grinds on for well over two hours of hyper-realism.

The soundtrack consists of oblique conversations continually interspersed with the sound of spitting, sneezing, blowing noses, grunts and all manner of human-noise unpleasantness. While no doubt this is realistic, the constant reminder of people’s bodily sounds makes the soundtrack seem more of a heightened reality: we see (and, more so, hear) humanity in all its discourteous glory.

German was a contemporary of (of Andrei Rublev and Stalker fame). But whereas Tarkovsky saw the grittiness of reality and transformed it into a primordial poetry that bordered on spiritual, German takes the opposite route and ground his films so thoroughly in the depths of the hellishly mundane, it is almost as if one is seeing and hearing Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”, but without the “Delight” (or even, for that matter, the “Garden”).

This movie was finished just before the Putin era began: made between the early and late ’90s, along with a number of other introspective post-Soviet Films. One becomes weary in the soul watching the hell this doctor and patriarch goes through in the name of the grisly interpretation of Soviet idealism that was Joseph Stalin’s Russia. The ostensibly uplifting movement of Soviet Realism in film is given a punch to the gut in this vision of nightmare turned into real-life.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One of the most disturbing Russian films of all time, Khrustalyov, mashuni (Khrustalyov, My Car!, 1998) provides the audience with a firsthand experience of the madness, paranoia and absurdity that pervaded Moscow during the final days of Stalin’s regime.”–Greg Dolgopolov, Senses of Cinema

READER RECOMMENDATION: KILL BILL (VOLS. 1 & 2) (2003-2004)

Reader recommendation by Caleb Moss

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Vivica A. Fox

PLOT: A woman known only as “the Bride” awakens from a coma and sets off to wreak revenge on Bill and the team of assassins that betrayed her.

Still from Kill Bill
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: By the sole merit of being Quentin Tarantino’s most self-indulgent, ambitious and proudly artificial film. Not only is this Tarantino at the height of his formalistic film-making capabilities, this kinetic and entertaining work of ultraviolent pornography may perhaps be the most aesthetically alienating and divisive in his filmography, even to the adamant Tarantino fanbase. It’s therefore worth considering for the List not only as representative of Quentin Tarantino, but as being the seminal representative of the postmodern exploitation genre at its tautest and most entertaining.

COMMENTS: Have you ever been curious what kind of film  would direct if he was perpetually stuck with the brain of a hyper-intelligent, hyperactive 14-year old and had an obsessive penchant for wanton violence, manga, and endlessly deconstructing pop-culture ephemera? This is your movie.

Adhering to the already well-established standard on this website in which the quality of the film discussed can merit inclusion on the List when the degree of weirdness is more or less questionable, I will waste no further time on exalting the blood-drenched beauty of this film, and instead shall provide three reasons why this is Tarantino’s weirdest film:

1. Aesthetic Design: If you’re the film-obsessive type, then every frame of this movie will feel as if you’re being treated to a Nouvelle Vague-themed candy store whose wares are arranged in an array of colorful nods to exploitation and B-movie cinema (see the crimson skies inspired by the Certified Weird film Goke in Volume 1!) The film alternates so frequently between different cinematic modes and filters ranging from anime (a segment animated by  of Funky Forest fame!) to black and white to the striking image of the faces of Uma Thurman’s enemies superimposed over hers in a garish red hue.

2. Unreal and Hyperstylized Violence: Tarantino, a renowned purveyor of aestheticized violence, slices and dices himself a place within the annals of such maestros of perverse, arty carnage among the likes of Sam Peckinpah, , and Sergio Leone. Blood spurts out like ribbons from expertly cut limbs. Our revenge-bent protagonist literally survives a gunshot to her temple simply through the revitalizing force of pure hatred. Uma Thurman dismembers over eighty-eight Yakuza grunts—and then some—effortlessly. A custom-made katana can literally tear down both man and deity alike.

3. Non-Linear Chronology: As in Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill series structures itself after postmodern narrative, preferring to splice up its epic story as if the entire film was being projected as the murderous fever-dream of an over-caffeinated geek.

Unlike Pulp Fiction, however, the Kill Bill series manages to achieve what its widely-loved predecessor only aims at: rendering pure, unadulterated pulp into a cinematic showcase for gloriously nihilistic Pop-Art. Motifs of blood, sharpened steel, and fantastical dismemberment recur frequently until it all blurs together, a savage yet strangely mesmerizing poetry.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A strange, fun and densely textured work that gets better as it goes along… Few filmmakers have ever had the freedom and resources to make such a piece exactly as they wished, and Tarantino takes it so far that it becomes a highly idiosyncratic and deeply personal excursion into a world of movie-inspired unreality.”–Todd McCarthy, Variety (Vol. 1, contemporaneous)

 

READER RECOMMENDATION: STEAK (2007)

Reader recommendation by Caleb Moss

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ramzy Bedia, Johnathan Lambert

PLOT: After he is released from being institutionalized in a mental ward facility for seven years because he was accidentally framed for the murders committed by his high school friend Georges, Blaise is flung into a strange, incongruous near-future where 1950’s kitsch a la “Happy Days” and extreme body modification mingle together swimmingly.

Still from Steak (2007)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Quentin Dupieux, as readers of this website are fully aware, has a young, idiosyncratic film career replete with odd meta-humor and other peculiarities. This sadly maligned debut feature is no different: it distinguishes itself through its mixture of ageless plastic surgery disasters, masochistic cricket bat gang rituals, wryly absurd dialogue, and very warped buddy comedy dynamic.

COMMENTS: Blaise is a very unfortunate, albeit slightly dimwitted, individual to be friends with the likes of Georges, who is by all accounts a superficial opportunist who carelessly places Blaise into predicaments that cause his mind to slowly unravel until he becomes a disfigured shadow of the loser Georges once was. If the previous description makes it sound as if Quentin Dupieux created something along the lines of a heart-wrenching melodrama, then fret not: this film is incredibly funny, sporting strange conversational oodles which skewer humor trends, clique culture, and even a few self-referential jabs at Quentin’s own career as an electronic musician. Also noteworthy is what may be some of the finest use of shallow focus framing in Quentin’s output, quietly transforming the bandage-wrapped, post-op profile of Georges into something distorted and rather unnerving.

This film features some of Quentin’s most ambitious sound production as well, pulling together fellow French electro collaborators Sebastian Tellier and SebastiAn on board to produce a consistently eccentric and addictive soundtrack which fades and swells in and out of the film’s oddity-rife tapestry.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In many ways Steak is a much weirder film than Rubber.”–Rich Haridy, Rich on Film (DVD)

 

READER RECOMMENDATION: PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)

Reader recommendation by “Brad”

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mark Holton, Elizabeth Daily, Diane Salinger

PLOT: Pee-Wee Herman, the eccentric childlike persona of Paul Reubens, sest off on a strange and dreamy cross country search for his prized bicycle after local rich “kid” Francis (Holton) steals and the sells the bike.

BACKGROUND:

  • This was weird auteur Tim Burton’s first feature length film.
  • Burton was hired as director after Paul Reubens was impressed with his early short films “Frankenweenie” and “Vincent“.
  • Phil Hartman, the late great comedy performer/writer, contributed to the script, along with Reubens and screenwriter Michael Varhol.
  • Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was also Burton’s first collaboration with composer Danny Elfman, whom he’d work with frequently throughout his career.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There is a lot of visually weird eye candy here: for example, dead truck driver “Large Marge”‘s frighteningly cartoonish face as she describes her body being dragged out from her crashed truck in an iconic stop-motion scare.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: An eccentric lead, situated somewhere between child and grown man, who lives in a house of self-made gadgets and toys, cross-dressing with a convict, creepy clown nightmares, stop motion dinosaurs, and a meta-Hollywood ending: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure doesn’t let up on strange situations.

Pee Wee's Big AdventureCOMMENTS: I am sure this is usually passed off as some juvenile movie with quirky humor, but it truly is a great collaboration between two originally weird minds. This isn’t Tim Burtons’ film. This isn’t Paul Reuben’s film either. It’s a perfect merging of both. Coming off of his live performance show, the “Pee-Wee” character gained a cult following, allowing Reubens to get this film made. Lucky us. The film is quite warm, although there are plenty of bizarre and dark images throughout. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a labor of love. A definite “passion project.” We see some early Burton stop-motion experimentation, which he later used in many films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, etc. Of course this film also helped start Burton’s film career as a director, which led to some of America’s weirdest film projects. Reubens took the Pee-Wee character and created the equally bizarre children’s show “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…somewhere between a parody of kitsch and a celebration of it, and it has the bouncing-along inventiveness of a good cartoon… 26-year-old director Tim Burton shows his flair for the silly-surreal.”–Pauline Kael, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)

READER RECOMMENDATION: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

Reader recommendation by “Brad”

DIRECTED BY: Billy Wilder

FEATURING: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim

PLOT: An unlucky screenwriter, Joe (Holden), begins a chance relationship with once popular actress Norma Desmond (Swanson), getting caught up in a world of mystery and eventual murder.

Still from Sunset Boulevard (1950)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: This noir-ish 50’sdrama is not only an early inside look on Hollywood actors dealing with being washed up and forgotten about, but it has an atmospheric weirdness that builds and builds until its ending, which is actually the beginning.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Norma Desmonds’ pet monkeys funeral.

COMMENTS: A non-linear, shadowy, and dark examination of those working within the Hollywood business. Mixing Hollywood and murder-mystery before it was a formula. Directed by great Austrian filmmaker Billy Wilder with as much tension as a  film. This film is one of the most bizarre to come out of Hollywood pre-1960, outside of Blonde Venus. The film is definitely an American classic that can also be classified as a strange classic. Cecil B. DeMille and Buster Keaton have cameos.  named Sunset Boulevard as one of his personal favorites.

READER RECOMMENDATION: PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)

Reader recommendation by “Brad”

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, , Luis Guzman

PLOT: Business owner Barry Egan (Sandler) deals with anger issues, seven abusive sisters, a sex phone con artist, and the appearance of a strange harmonium all while falling in love with a mysterious, yet sympathetic woman (Watson).

Still from Punch-drunk Love (2002)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: With its lead’s compulsive abrupt violent behavior, an uneasy sense of loneliness, abstract color schemes by Jeremy Blake, and a wonderfully weird soundtrack by Jon Brion, this film is highly off-kilter for a romantic comedy.

COMMENTS: Paul Thomas Anderson followed up his dramatic masterpiece Magnolia with this small-scale arthouse comedy/drama/character study. Adam Sandler was chosen for the role of troubled lead Barry Egan. Unlike the typical crude humor Sandler is known for, here he uses a restrained, subtle performance to capture Egan’s tantrums, loneliness, and troubled life. Egan is a unhappy business owner balancing work and his seven abusive sisters who taunt him about being gay and continuously call him at work. Barry comes across a harmonium that was sat on the side of the road by a mysterious van following an out of nowhere car crash (foreshadowing a later car crash with Sandler and Watson). Later, we explore Barry’s loneliness and his paranoia when he calls a sex phone operator who later begins to con Barry out of money, threatening and later sending out a group of brothers hired as hitmen to rough Egan up. This blackmail operation is ran by the “Mattress Man” (Philip Seymour Hofffman, in a hilarious role). Egan ends up meeting a mysterious, beautiful young woman, Lena (Watson) through his sister, the same woman earlier in the film he briefly talked to about leaving her car. He begins to fall in love over the course of the film attending a date at a restaurant that ends with them kicked out due to his uncontrollable temper. He then follows her to Hawaii, using frequent flyer miles earned from buying pudding. The hitmen are later defeated after a car crash wounds Lena, who is hospitalized. Barry confront the Mattress Man in a hilarious final showdown. The film ends with Barry running back to Lena, confessing all his problems and promising to never leave  again. Too weird to be a mainstream rom-com, too unpredictable and arthouse to please everyone, Paul Thomas Anderson retains his courage for experimenting with film and pulls an actual performance from Sandler. This is a MUST EXPERIENCE for any film fan looking to step outside the usual boundaries set by mainstream romantic comedy/dramas.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weirdly sweet little love story… Anderson also throws in dark complications, including a sinister phone-sex scam, Barry’s strangely surreal sisters, his pudding-purchasing obsession and some very odd pillow talk.”–Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times (contemporaneous)

TWO READER RECOMMENDATIONS: AFTER HOURS (1985) & STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)

Reader recommendations by “Brad.”

After Hours

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Griffin Dunne, , Linda Fiorentino, Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin, Verna Bloom

PLOT: Word processor Paul Hackett (Dunne) starts out on a seemingly normal night out on the town, until he meets a mysterious young woman (Arquette) who lures him into a series of bizarre, comic situations in a dark Soho neighborhood.

Still from After Hours (1985)
BACKGROUND:

  •  was originally set to direct, but when Scorsese failed to get funding for The Last Temptation of Christ he decided to direct After Hours, which Burton gladly stepped aside for Scorsese to do. Now that’s respect.
  • The film was an assignment at Columbia University by screenwriter Joseph Minion.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Paul plastered as a sculpture in the basement of the Club Berlin.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD AND WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST: The bizarre Kafkaesque tragic comedy of the everyman Paul Hackett’s desperate situations. Now matter how Paul approaches a situation the universe has a cruel reaction waiting for him. Suicide, a bondage-obsessed Soho artist, an unrelenting mob, and two local thieves played by “Cheech and Chong”. All set in a dark sleepy Soho neighborhood that’s a menacing character all its own. This is definitely an underappreciated Scorsese film and a weird gem that deserves a lot more attention.

Starship Troopers

DIRECTED BY: Paul Verhoeven

FEATURING: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, , Neil Patrick Harris

PLOT: Johnny Rico (Van Dien) is a soldier in the Mobile Infantry, a branch set to fight the insectoid “Arachnids”.

Still from Starship Troopers (1997)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Verhoeven’s satire concerning facism and militarism set in a futuristic war against giant insectoids, and Starship Troopers‘ action movie cliches, help to create a truly bizarre hilarious atmosphere for a sci-fi movie.

READER RECOMMENDATION: HELLEVATOR (2004)

Reader recommendation by James Harben

Gusha no bindume; AKA Hellevator: The Bottled Fools

DIRECTED BY: Hiroki Yamaguchi

FEATURING: Luchino Fujisaki, Yoshiichi Kawada, Ryôsuke Koshiba

PLOT: A dystopian future civilization lives in a vast underground complex where each floor represents a different part of society, from housing and schooling up to more sinister departments, culminating in the mysterious and never visited “top floor” that is implied to be both above-ground and possibly mythical. A schoolgirl (it’s Japanese after all) with psychic powers (it’s Japanese after all) tries to flee aboard an elevator, but in a world that seems to consist entirely of either up or down, where can she escape to?

Still from Hellevator (2004)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Hellevator is a quite effective ‘trapped-in-a-room’ style movie, one that plays with the conventions of the genre. Working on the theory that what you are shown has far greater effect than what you are told, Hiroki Yamaguchi provides the viewer little direct knowledge or understanding of what this world might be. Clearly subterranean, it’s grimy and oppressively lit. The camera rarely leaves the elevator. The movie is populated by a cast of relatable stereotypes from current and past cultures: the police look like the SS, the attendant is a dedicated servant in a fetishized uniform, not to mention the standard quota of moody and sullen antiheroes wearing sunglasses indoors and the heroic schoolgirl protagonist. Imagine a Japanese  working on a budget.

COMMENTS: Hellevator never gives you the full details of what’s going on in the story, but there is enough suitably engaging exposition that the viewer is never left so confused that they become disconnected from the narrative. What is essentially a straight journey, up, is complicated by the arrival of prisoners from the penal colony floor, who have plans of their own re: their continued incarceration. Each of the characters have their own unfolding back story and a part to play in the greater continuity. A little online research finds comparisons to Cube and Brazil, and whereas the latter certainly applies—‘s dystopia is clearly an influence in both Hellevator‘s visuals and in its depiction of a society collapsing into the last stages of decline—the Cube comparison is misleading. This film doesn’t focus on the fact that people are trapped in an elevator, but instead uses it for a framing device: in flashback, we do see other parts of the complex.

Characterization is the key here, and against the main backdrop of the elevator and its confines we see a wide range of people and observe how they try to make their lives work in such an oppressive environment. The near silent elevator steward delivers an amazing performance as someone totally dedicated to his job, and to his place within the societal order. The convicts are both spectacular despite being quite different personas with differing motivations.

Ultimately, Hellevator leaves the viewer with as many questions as it does answers, but with no lack of satisfaction regarding the narrative. The performances are largely excellent; though quite over the top, they fit well with the dense, claustrophobic aesthetic of the film. There is enough linearity to the events that, as much as the viewer might want to know more about what they have seen, the time spent viewing is a satisfying ride that captures the imagination and attention without ever feeling staid or predictable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a stylish and inventive mix of delirium that surpasses most multi-million dollar efforts.. Picture Hitchcock’s Lifeboat through the eyes of Terry Gilliam with the visceral mean streak of Takashi Miike.”–Dread Central (DVD)

READER RECOMMENDATION: WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)

Woman in the Dunes was promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. Read the Certified Weird entry.

Reader Recommendation by Fredrik Allenmark

DIRECTED BY: Hiroshi Teshigahara

FEATURING: Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida

PLOT: An entomologist ends up trapped together with a woman in a house at the bottom of a sand pit in the desert, where they are forced to spend their nights shoveling sand.

Still from Woman in the Dunes (1964)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Freud introduced the concept of the uncanny (“Unheimlich” in German) for the particular, often uncomfortable, Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964)

READER RECOMMENDATION: QUASI AT THE QUACKADERO (1975)

Reader Recommendation by Theodore Davis

“Now make yourself comfortable while I congress with the spirits and make them ready for their stage debut!”

DIRECTED BY: Sally Cruikshank

FEATURING: Kim Deitch, Sally Cruikshank

PLOT: “Quasi at the Quackadero” is about a lazy, humanoid duck hybrid named Quasi, who gets dragged by his kitsch-loving squeeze Anita and their robot servant, Rollo, to the Quackadero, a psychedelic amusement park that provides Cruikshank a vehicle to explore time, memory, and dreams in a variety of cabaret attractions and horrors.

Still from Quasi at the Quackadero (1976)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Although clocking at a mere nine minutes and 57 seconds, “Quasi at the Quackadero” is easily eight times as Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: QUASI AT THE QUACKADERO (1975)