WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/9/2019

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Every Time I Die (2019): The soul of a troubled paramedic migrates into the bodies of his friends after he dies. At least one critic liked this low-budget psychological thriller with “a surreal feel” quite a lot. Also available on ITunes. Every Time I Die official site.

Rapid Eye Movement (2019): A radio DJ tries to break the world record for consecutive days awake, both to raise money for charity and because a serial killer promises to put him to sleep permanently if he fails. Not sure where it will play, but it’s simultaneously released on-demand. Rapid Eye Movement official Facebook page.

SPECIAL EVENTS (8/13 and 8/19):

Millennium Actress (2001): Read the Certified Weird entry! Fathom Events parade of classic anime re-releases continues with ‘s hallucinatory biopic of a fictional Japanese actress’ three-decade career, told in a blend of flashbacks and fantasies in which her interviewers join. Newly restored and with a new English language dub, and with reflections by producers Taro Maki and Masao Maruyama to be broadcast after the film concludes. Check the Fathom Events site for a screening near you.

IN DEVELOPMENT (announced):

“The Man Who Fell to Earth” (TV Series): CBS All Access has green-lit a new series based on Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel (which made into a very weird 1976 movie starring that you may have heard of). Casting hasn’t yet begun, but veteran producer Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek: Discovery”) is set to direct. There’s plenty of room for skepticism that this will be as offbeat as the original; in fact, there’s reason to suspect that they’ll be going for a more mainstream aesthetic: “Nicolas Roeg was a legend, and the last thing I would want to do is mimic his work in any way,” said Kurtzman. More details (with industry insider type stuff) at Deadline.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Don’t Look Now (1973): Read the Canonically Weird review! It seems like the Venice-based grief horror classic just got a Criterion release, but now Studiocanal puts out the ultimate “Collector’s Edition” of the film with a new 4K restoration, Ultra HD and standard Blu-ray discs, a separate disc of extra features (some new), the soundtrack CD, collectible postcards, posters and booklets. All regions. Buy Don’t Look Now (Collector’s Edition).

Fragment of an Empire (1929): A Russian soldier loses his memory in a WWI battle and returns to his home in St. Petersburg. This rare, newly restored/rediscovered Soviet avant-garde silent sounds like it could be the model for Guy Maddin‘s Canonically Weird Archangel. In a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack from Flicker Alley. Buy Fragment of an Empire.

The Reflecting Skin (1990): Read the Canonically Weird review! This strange little rural movie about a kid who thinks his neighbor is a vampire (among other oddities like a death car and a petrified baby angel) arrives on Blu-ray in North America for the first time, courtesy of Film Movement. Also on DVD and VOD (for the first time, we believe). Buy The Reflecting Skin.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Now that has finished his coverage, we can return to “normal” around here… which, of course, means weird. So next week you can expect a review of ‘s latest, the stoner comedy The Beach Bum. We’ll also take a look at Severin Films’ monumental documentary/trailer collection/soundtrack compilation All the Colors of Giallo. And, to top it off, another Blu-ray giveaway contest, to thank our readers for keeping us in business. Onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CHANNEL 366: FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN (2019) / ANIMA (2019)

Since we last visited our friends at Netflix, things have taken a turn on the streaming weirdness front. The dark future that may await us was succinctly outlined in this Fast Company headline: “Netflix canceling ‘Tuca and Bertie’ is a bad sign for all the distinctive, weird shows streaming is supposed to keep alive”. The lack of love for this quirky animated comedy—a cousin to the more widely acclaimed BoJack Horseman by way of the character design of Tuca creator Lisa Hanawalt—would seem to bode ill for fans of more offbeat programming, especially with the broader success of critically reviled features like Murder Mystery and Bird Box.

On the other hand, one of the service’s biggest brands, “Stranger Things,” is simply not the kind of mainstream fare you would be likely to find on network TV. Someone with the time and patience to scroll through all of the available programming would also find such offerings as the fiercely impenetrable “The OA,” the coal-black premise of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the deeply uncomfortable comedy of “I Think You Should Leave,” or the shifting tone of animated anthology “Love, Death & Robots.” And the decision to welcome back “Russian Doll” for a second season suggests weird is not quite yet off-limits.

So let’s hold off for a bit on eulogizing Netflix’s middle finger to the mainstream, and let’s instead turn our attention toward two recent debuts which have tripped the weirdometer for critics. They also point to two very different possible outcomes for on-demand bizarre entertainment.

Still from Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, FrankensteinWhen it comes to mockumentary, there are a number of goals the filmmaker can pursue. The granddaddy of them all, This is Spial Tap, joyously punctures of the legends of rock stars. A more recent example, Netflix’s own American Vandal, sets its sights on the dubious techniques and motives of “real-crime” films and podcasts. Another ongoing series, “Documentary Now!,” is concerned with replicating the look and feel of the subjects it lampoons with startling faithfulness and exactitude. The goal of “Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein” seems to be to let star David Harbour be silly. At the outset, Harbour explains that he is investigating the fateful performance that destroyed his father’s career, an early 70s live (?) TV broadcast of a curious adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic in which the infamous scientist (also played by Harbour in full Wellesian pretentious-actor mode) poses as his own monster in order to secure funding.

It’s all very absurd. But there’s a big problem with “Frankenstein’s…”: all else aside, the program fails in its singular goal to be funny. You can tell the creators think they’re being hilarious, but nothing is believable enough to be satirical, and nothing is wacky enough to be independently uproarious. Harbour is meant to seem thunderstruck Continue reading CHANNEL 366: FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN (2019) / ANIMA (2019)

END OF THE OMNIBUS-LINE

Post Story

2019 Fantasia International Film Festival final wrap-up and recommendations:

Seek

Somehow I managed to catch sixty-four screenings for a total of sixty-three new movies. You may recall that I watched one film, Koko-di, Koko-da, twice, and that suggests it’s my top recommendation. It was the most talked-about movie among my crew of fellow reviewers, and it elicited strong reactions on both edges of the hate/love spectrum; I did not come across anyone saying something noncommittal about it. So I give it “First Prize.” Tailing close on its heels is Why Don’t You Just Die! This was met with universal approval among all those with whom I spoke, which is quite a coup considering how extremely violent it is. That it’s also extremely funny is just icing on the blood.

 Poster for Koko-Di Koko-Da

The third place designation is a bit a tougher, so I’ll go easy on myself with a tie between Dreamland—for being most atmospherically weird—and The Gangster, the Cop, and the Devil, as probably the best example of straight-up fun and straight-up badassery. But bear in mind, such parsing is a really tough assignment when looking back on over five dozen movies.

Destroy

The bottom three were a lot easier to decide on, as I had already done so as I came across them. Sadoko set the baseline as an achievement in tedium. Flying in the face of critical and popular consensus, I designate Knives and Skin as the Most Pointlessly Melodramatic Film. I do not agree with the two defenses of the movie: strong feminist agenda (so what? There are plenty of feminist movies that have intelligent characters you can care about) and “capturing an emotional mood.” The emotional mood I found in this movie was one of idiocy. I have lived through the teenage years and knew plenty of people who had real problems. The maudlin sob-story of Knives and Skin fell flat.

Jessica Forever manages to combine the shortcomings of both of the above movies. If it’s an example of “alternative French cinema,” I understand the success of “mainstream French cinema.” Disenchanted, blandly handsome young Frenchmen who get the authorities’ dander up “just because” they go on some killing sprees? I don’t know why that seemed like a good premise.

Personal Summary

I quite enjoyed my previous trips to Fantasia, and this year was no exception. And I’m inclined to feel like I’ve become part of the family there; by the end of the festival, all the staff knew who I was and I got to know many of them myself. I’m hopeful that in future I don’t try to match to my new record film tally, but strongly suspect I won’t be able to help myself. Thanks everyone for reading; cheers.

Congratulations to those of you who’ve figured out what I’ve been up to with each of the omnibus sub-headings.

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

is claiming (again) that he only has a single film left in him: an R-rated “Star Trek.” Of course, volunteered to revive Captain Kirk. Paramount needs to jump on this. If anyone could breathe life into that long dead formula, it would be Tarantino. As for Shat, perhaps he would learn something, even at his age. When Shat took his Star Trek V idea of the Enterprise crew battling God to the studio, Paramount, Gene Roddenberry, et. al. shot back: “They can’t meet God!” Shat lost his balls. He should have grabbed Tarantino, then because this is a filmmaker who does not let history, social norms, or formula expectations dictate to his art.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood posterAfter his films with Sergio Leone, composer Ennio Morricone became such a cult figure that it wasn’t long before wannabe film composers began paying homage to him with one yawn-inducing, predictable tribute after another. Of course, most attempted to solicit his endorsement, and received blank stares and unanswered letters in reply. That is, until jazz composer John Zorn came along and filtered Morricone through snippets of Carl Stalling, video game music, and his own sensibilities. Morricone was delightfully startled, breathed a sigh of relief, and gave a resounding accolade, noting that finally here was a worthy tribute, because Zorn refused to treat him with reverence. Zorn was as radical and revolutionary as Morricone himself.

This is what Tarantino does consistently. The title of his latest is no coincidence, paying his homage to cinematic idol Leone. Tarantino clearly has an authentic love of 1960s and 70s grindhouse cult film as well; so much so that he is no mere imitator, and this makes him one of the most interesting filmmakers of the last 25 years.

As in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino takes the role of a celluloid antifa and wallops the fascists. “Let’s kill Nazis,” goes the chant, probably much like the American troops sang  on D-Day (one must ask: when did hating Fascism become a bad thing?), but he has a new Fascist offshoot target as well: cultists. And, as before, he rejects the way his source material ended, and so crafts a new dreamscape ending. In this, Tarantino reminds me of an artist named Antonio Adams who created adult sculptures of JonBenet Ramsey and Emmett Till, allowing them to grow up in his sculptures, denying their fate. So Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

2019 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: OMNIBUS FIELD REPORT #3

La Première Leçon de Fantasia

I’ve never had such a cordial time disagreeing with people.

7/24: Hard-Core

Poster for Hard-Core (2018)Notice to the authorities: this actually could qualify as Apocrypha. Nobuhiro Yamashita’s melodrama concerns a pair a brothers: the younger, Sakon, is a successful day trader; the older, Ukon, has fallen from grace and is forced to work for an eccentric millionaire, digging in a hole looking for the legendary “shogun’s gold.” Ukon’s only friend is a simpleton also in the millionaire’s employ—that is, until they stumble across a retro-futuristic robot with a ridiculous face and a quantum processor. What makes this one weird isn’t that they stumble across the robot and wacky things happen; rather, they stumble across the robot, and it just blends in. The incongruousness of its appearance does lead to some funny scenes (the trio going to a karaoke bar was particularly hilarious), but in general the robot ends up more as a witness of the unhappiness around him—save for on two occasions. So yeah, Hard-Core is a moody, darkly funny, drama about men who have trouble relating to the world. And their robot friend.

7/25: Shadow

This is a two-hour period action drama. My feeling is that it should have been closer to ninety-minutes (as period-action) or closer to three hours (as a straight-up period drama). As it stands, Yimou Zhang’s piece is fairly satisfying on both counts, helped in no small way by the dominant palette of grey. The weather throughout the movie is rainy; the costuming ranges from white to black; and the only colors to speak of are red and occasional earth tones in the final battle. Now, the combat was fun, but didn’t quite earn its place in a political chamber-thriller; the politics were intriguing, but far too truncated, especially when interrupted by the neat-o combat spectacles. I suspect you can now see the problem. Shadow is, I assure you, good. It could have been great by going further one way or the other. Or, considering everything that it hints at, it might have done better as a miniseries.

Culture Shock

Still from Culture Shock (2019)Gigi Saul Guerrero is such a genuinely fun and adorable person, and knowing she was going to introduce and field questions after Culture Shock was actually the main reason I attended. (That, and last year’s La Quinceañera, which she co-created, was Continue reading 2019 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: OMNIBUS FIELD REPORT #3

CAPSULE: FREAKS (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Zach Lipovsky, Adam Stein

FEATURING: Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Amanda Crew

PLOT: Chloe’s father keeps her boarded up in a dilapidated house to protect her from an unspecified danger; outside, an ice cream truck driver waits for his chance to free the girl.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTFreaks has a very Hollywood feel to it, though it subverts the genre to a fair degree. It feels like a thinking man’s X-Men movie.

COMMENTS: The trials of fatherhood, the uncertainty of childhood, and pervasive agora-claustrophobia all come together with wonder and menace in Freaks, the final film of Fantasia’s final weekend slot. It acted as a nice finishing note of the festival’s main event. Appropriately, Fantasia was the final festival stop for Lipovsky’s and Stein’s baby (not just co-directors, they also wrote the screenplay together). For them and the audience, Freaks provided a climactic blast of pizzazz before things began to wind down in Montréal.

Despite her protestations, we learn fairly early that Chloe (Lexy Kolker, as impressive a 10-year-old actress as I’ve ever seen) is not normal. She’s trained by her ever-exhausted father (Emile Hirsch) to spout an origin story on demand, and be able to ad lib responses in case she’s pressed about details. Why must she worry about the “people out there who want to kill [her]”? The ever-looming ice-cream man, “Mr Snowcone” (Bruce Dern) knows the answer; he’s been hoping to get a moment to abduct (rescue?) her for some time now. Trapped at home, Chloe spends much of her days drawing and pining for her lost mother (Amand Crew). By night, she’s haunted by a wailing figure in her closet. One day, the father passes out after being injured while out getting supplies, and Chloe takes the opportunity to escape and get that chocolate ice cream she’s been hankering for.

Freaks obviously draws comparisons with some contemporary science fiction, but it attempts to address its thorny issues in a way that’s more realistic. What would you do if you were raised in abject fear of everyone but your family? What would you do if that family seemed hell-bent on stifling everything about you that was special? While Lipovsky and Stein obviously frame the story to engender sympathy for Chloe and her family (they are the main characters, after all), they do provide ambient hints about what the rest of society feels the other. As in the more famous movie with the title, this new Freaks forces the audience to themselves just how comfortable they could be with fellow humans are completely out of the norm.

Freaks‘ greatest achievement, however, is how it fleshed out such a thorough world needing so few resources. Nearly all of the action takes place in one run-down house (with occasional forays to a mountain prison). To flesh out their story, the directors use sound to great effect (be it in the form of news channel snippets or the ominous drone of an unseen helicopter) in addition to channeling the narrative through the eyes of Chloe, who despite having been shut-in all her seven years, has maintained her sense of wonder and hope. Speaking of, here’s hoping that these two filmmaker fellows make their mark with this: I don’t generally approve of the word “franchise”, but I would love to see more of this “freakish” world they’ve created.

You can also listen to our interview with co-creators Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein (which may contain mild spoilers).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a cleverly constructed, thrilling and often super-surreal coming-of-age story that gets right into your head.”–Anton Bitel, SciFiNow (festival screening)

RAW AUDIO: ZACH LIPOVSKY AND ADAM STEIN, MAKERS OF “FREAKS”

Listener beware: this interview may contain mild spoilers for the upcoming sci-fi movie Freaks (in U.S. theaters September 13).

Giles Edwards sat down to talk with co-writers/co-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein about Freaks, their indie science fiction collaboration about a 10-year-old girl whose father keeps her locked inside and warns her never to leave the house. But the ice cream man outside the door really wants to sell her a cone. Featuring a remarkably assured performance by young Lexy Kolker, co-starring Emile Hirsch as her paranoid father and a creepy Bruce Dern as “Mr. Snowcone.”

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!