PLOT: Three separate plot strands—about a self-destructive actor under house arrest, a
writer trying to get his series past the pilot stage while being filmed by a reality TV crew, and a video game designer whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere—intertwine in a mysterious way, with the same actors playing different characters in each mini-story.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Any doubts I might have had about considering this pretty good, pretty strange movie as a candidate for the List were allayed when I heard writer/director John August proclaim “we’re a weird movie, for a lot of reasons…” on the “making of” DVD featurette. If the director deliberately set out to make a weird movie, who am I to refuse to consider it? But, while August’s movie scores above average in terms of both quality and of weirdness, I’m not sure that it’s combined totals are high enough to inaugurate it as one of the greatest weird movies of all time, at least not on the first ballot.
COMMENTS: I have to be careful in discussing The Nines not to give away much more than you’d discover on your own by reading the blurb on the back of the DVD case. When you pop the disc into your player, you can expect to see three different stories—“The Prisoner,” “Reality Television,” and “Knowing”—acted by the same core trio, each playing different roles in each tale. Besides the actors, locales, song lyrics, a television series, and—especially—the number “9” recur in each of the divergent plot lines, drawing correspondences and reverberances between these various worlds. There is a thread connecting each strand; and although the first two stories, at least, are engaging on their own terms, it’s figuring out that overarching plan that supplies most of the interest. One thing that can be discussed (and praised) without spoiling anything is the acting. Hope Davis plays, variously, a horny housewife, a conniving TV producer, and a hiker in the middle of nowhere; Melissa McCarthy tackles the triumvirate of a bubbly public relations expert, the mother of a mute girl, and herself, the “Gilmore Girls” actress. But it’s previously unheralded Ryan Reynolds who’s the real revelation here. As a dimwitted, Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE NINES (2007)→
NOTE:Rubberhas been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time; the official Certified Weird entry is here.
DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux
FEATURING: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida, Robert the Tire
PLOT: A group of strangers is assembled in the desert, given binoculars, and told to watch.
Through their lenses they see a tire come to life, roll around, and develop explosive psychokinetic powers. A heavy amount of death and destruction follows.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: I think the “sentient rubber tire goes on a killing spree” premise is strange enough to consider it for the List, but the framing of the story as a metafiction involving some self-aware actors, a homicidal accountant, and frequent commentary from a famished “audience” reveals an added layer of weirdness as well as refreshing imagination.
COMMENTS: A number of flimsy wooden chairs sit haphazardly on a dirt road in a desert locale. A cop car drives up and manages to hit everyone single one. Police officer Lt. Chad (Spinella) pops out of the trunk of the car, takes out a glass of water, and proceeds to address the audience with ruminations on the presence of “no reason” in film. Why is ET brown? Why do the characters in Love Story fall in love? Why doesn’t anyone ever go to the bathroom or wash their hands? No reason. Even in real life the phenomenon exists. Why can’t we see the air all around us? Why do some people love sausages and other people hate them? No reason. He explains that Rubber itself is “an homage to the no reason, that most powerful element of style.”
It’s nice to have a straightforward, bluntly in-your-face preface like that, especially when the film that follows really does its best to live up to the officer’s words. The story rolls along as aimlessly as its star tire, reeling in new characters and letting them go just as easily, and leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. There is never an attempt at explanation- how did this tire “wake up” and take on a life of its own? Just how much does it understand? Why can it makes things explode? Just who is in charge here? Everything can be chalked up to “no reason” and the audience can sit back and enjoy the ride.
Of course, not much actually happens in Rubber. There’s only so far one can go with a silent killer tire in an isolated desert. With pleasing special effects, Robert the tire rolls around, crushes a few bottles, mutilates a few wayward animals, and blows up the heads of whatever jerks get in his way while pursuing a pretty lady to a motel and enjoying the finer things in life, like late-night television programming. The police step in when the bodies start to stack up, and conspire to destroy him through subterfuge. Throughout it all, the squabbling “audience” in the desert gives their own commentary, cutting in during the requisite shower scene and other horror-movie clichés. When the characters in the film sleep, they sleep. It soon becomes clear that they’re trapped out there, left to the mercy of a sadistic “Accountant” (Plotnick) who takes his time feeding them. The function of this audience is never explained (of course), but they seem to serve both as a satirical Greek chorus and a joke on the actual audience.
The concept and script begin to lose steam towards the end, but Dupieux smartly keeps his film to a trim 82 minutes, and the innovative meta-film approach, alarmingly high body count, and general irreverence ensure a fun (and weird) time is had by all. The hilarious performance by Spinella and the ridiculous ending give it an extra layer of enthusiasm.
FEATURING: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jordan Trovillion
PLOT: Several people take refuge in a city tavern when Detroit is inexplicably
plunged into darkness; simultaneously, most of the city’s population has mysteriously vanished.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Vanishing On 7th Street is a straightforward sci-fi horror flick. The premise is uniquely weird, but the movie itself is not.
COMMENTS: Something unknown has struck the city of Detroit. Something just … well just awful! All the lights have gone out, but batteries, small generators, and solar cells still work. Except that capacitor function is mysteriously waning, and there is dramatically less and less sunlight every day.
Even more disturbing is the fact that nearly everyone has suddenly vanished into thin air leaving only clothing and synthetic personal effects behind, such as eyeglasses, pacemakers and false teeth. Suits and dresses lie empty, still bearing the shapes of the people who were wearing them, right where they stood or sat when they disappeared. Driver-less vehicles careen into obstacles and un-piloted planes fall from the sky.
A brightly lit bar on 7th Street that is still powered thanks to a backup generator draws several people who survived the vanishing. It seems to be the only reserve generator still running, and it is starting to die despite adequate fuel.
What is this inky blackness that is spreading like a kerosene slick, slithering out of cracks and crevices, creeping up from grates, and oozing into open spaces where it devours people?
7th Street has a lot of potential, but the filmmakers try to make the characters “accessible” by having them behave irrationally. Ironically, it’s therefore difficult to have empathy for them. This is not the fault of the actors, who all deliver competent performances.
A lot of film time that could be devoted to exploring the vanishing phenomenon and to other, even scarier scenarios is wasted with senseless action, bickering and characters waxing maudlin. The survivors spend a lot of time arguing and doing very stupid, counterproductive things.
Disappointingly, they fail to do the obvious. Despite the fact that light is protecting them from the darkness, it never occurs to them to build a raging bonfire. Desperately scavenging old batteries, they never have a flash of insight to raid the Duracell racks at the nearest Walgreens. One day I would like to see brighter, more pragmatic people being challenged in a horror movie.
On the other hand, if something really happened such as what we see depicted in Vanishing On 7th Street, the film’s participants would probably be typical, given the cross section of the population I observe daily who cannot complete a simple ATM transaction in under 15 minutes. Perhaps merit in the choice of characters depends upon whether one expects good drama or fictional “documentary.”
The story in Vanishing has a few plot holes, but the basic idea is good and creepy. Despite wishing I had a fast forward button handy at times, the film mostly kept my attention and gave me goosebumps.
You may not find Vanishing On 7th Street to be the most thoughtful horror movie you have ever seen, but it is still fun. It is worth a peek for any but the most discriminating horror fans.
Upcoming reviews for next week: we’ll hit a couple of recent releases with Vanishing on 7th Street (2010), Brad (The Machinist) Anderson’s latest, about a plague of darkness inexplicably sweeping over Detroit, and Rubber (2010), the first and finest film ever made on the subject of tire serial killers with telekinetic powers. We’ll dig into the reader-suggested review queue for a look at the unique mindbender The Nines (2007). And we’ll take a gander at the experimental opus Currently Untitled (2010), which aims to be the no-budget version of 8 1/2.
It’s another tough week for weird search terms. We found “schizophrenic movie spiders” notable to demonstrate how simply changing a singular noun into a plural can transform a quite reasonable search for this into a quest for info on a class of cinema critters that doesn’t exist. We also considered “weird alien tongue movie lady has sex with tongue,” but ultimately passed over it (too obvious) in favor of this week’s inscrutable winner, “movie fast cicatrisation graal.” You have to admire the fact that this search query includes a very obscure word, a non-word, and two common words that add absolutely no sense to the complete phrase. Well done!
Here’s how the reader-suggested review queue currently stacks up (many, many more requested titles after the break): The Nines (coming next week!); Perfume: The Story of a Murderer;Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (this appears to be unavailable at present, actually); The Pillow Book; Final Flesh; Lunacy [Sílení]; Inmortel (2004); Tetsuo; Dead Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE→
One aspect of Phoebe Parsons’ work is its tendency to skip from different animation styles to live-action. “The Fantastic Adventures of Cloudman” is no exception. In its thirteen-minute length, no one animation style prevails. Even the live-action sequences are spiced up with fireworks, Styrofoam, paper-mache, and sometimes even animation, making them vary considerably.
CONTENT WARNING: This short contains brief drug use, and some mild violence.
A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…
Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.
IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):
The Big Bang: Antonio Banderas stars as a hard-boiled private eye encountering seedy LA weirdos while searching for missing diamonds in a case that turns out to be more than it appears. Critics are branding it “Lynchian,” but they’re also denouncing director Tony Krantz (Sublime) as a surrealist hack; this looks like a big weird flop from Anchor Bay. Playing New York and Los Angeles this week, appearing on DVD and Blu-ray May 24. The Big Bang official site.
Hesher: A sociopathic arsonist and anarchist takes up residence in a family’s garage after the mother dies in a car accident; is he real, or just a symbol of discord? Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Devin Brcohu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie and Natalie Portman (who also produced). Hesher official site.
True Legend: Kung-fu fantasy with elaborate, impossibly staged fight scenes pitting “Five Venom Fist” style against “Drunken Fist” style. From action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill). Playing in NYC, Austin, TX., Honolulu and San Francisco all next week. True Legend official site.
SCREENINGS (Louisville, KY.; Wed. May 18, 10 PM):
Night of the Living Dead (1968): OK, so everyone knows George Romero’s seminal zombie apocalypse survival feature isn’t really weird, except to the squarest of the squares. We only mention it because the reclusive 366 himself will be putting in an appearance at the screening. 366 will only be putting in an appearance because they are offering him beer. Playing at Rave Motion Pictures Preston Crossings 16, Wednesday May 18, at 10 PM.
Dali 3D (est. Summer 2012): Salvador Dalí lies on his sickbed and dreams a movie where he travels through time with his wife Gala and meets Freud, Walt Disney, and the Mona Lisa, among others. Alan Cuming stars as Dalí and weird favorite Judy Davis plays Gala, with Phillipe (Howling II… Your Sister Is a Werewolf) Mora to direct. As per the title, to be filmed in eye-popping 3D. This Canadian effort will attempt to make it to the screen before a planned big budget biopic starring Antonio Banderas (which is also aiming for a 2012 release). This is not a joke, repeat, this is not a joke, but rather a glorious opportunity they better not screw up. Dali 3D official page.
NEW ON DVD:
Dahmer vs. Gacy (2011): The government is trying to create a super-killer using DNA from two notorious serial killers, but their experiments escape and terrorize the nation. Ninjas also figure into the plot. Could this be the ultimate bad taste horror/comedy premise? Buy Dahmer Vs. Gacy.
Sledgehammer (1983): A novel spin on the 1980s slasher genre; the killer doesn’t slash his victims at all, but rather pounds on them with a large, heavy hammer. This shot-on-video feature is undoubtedly terrible, but the marketing team gets props for trying to play up its weirdness, calling it “85 minutes of fever-dream depravity” and a “nightmare-logic shocker.” Buy Sledgehammer.
Slime City Massacre (2010): In a near-future NYC wasteland homeless people turn into slime creatures who are then possessed by the spirits of cultists who died by their own hands (or something like that). It’s a long-delayed sequel to 1988’s minor cult hit Slime City. Buy Slime City Massacre.
The Violent Kind (2010): A movie about drug-dealing outlaw bikers and their encounter with the supernatural and weird colors in the sky. At Sundance, it was self-described as “gleeful, insane exploitation”; we’ve been keeping an eye out for the DVD release ever since. Buy The Violent Kind.
NEW ON BLU-RAY:
The Lickerish Quartet (1970): This classy seventies softcore erotic feature from the stylish Radley Metzger features uncertain identities and surrealistic sex scenes, such as the one where a couple make love on a floor covered with dictionary entries. The Blu-ray comes hot on the heels of last week’s DVD release, but a word of warning: according to an Amazon reviewer the quality of the original print may not justify the hi-def presentation. Buy The Lickerish Quartet [Blu-ray].
Tod Browning‘s White Tiger (1923) finds the director revisiting intimate motifs and has an unusual connection to Edgar Allan Poe (Browning, who has often been referred to as the Poe of cinema, listed the classic author as his favorite). In 1836, Poe wrote an exposé of the touring “Mechanical Chess Player” Automaton. In the article Poe revealed that inside this mechanical chess player was a concealed, quite human, operator. Poe’s article was the seed for Browning’s film, which the director co-wrote with screenwriter Charles Kenyon.
White Tiger stars Browning regular Priscilla Dean, Raymond Griffith and Walter Beery. Griffith, who got his start with Mack Sennett, was once considered a rival to both Chaplin and Keaton. Due to a childhood injury to his vocal cords, Griffith was practically mute, quashing any chance he might have had for surviving into sound film. Most of Griffith’s films are lost, but the most celebrated, the Civil War comedy Hands Up (1926), survives, and is thought by some to be nearly as good as Keaton’s (somewhat overrated)The General from the same year. Although that comparison is highly debatable, Hands Up is a unique film and worth seeing. It is available from Grapevine Video, but otherwise it is hard to find.
Griffith’s screen persona was that of a debonair comedian, a la Max Linder, but Browning, of course, used him quite differently. Griffith plays Roy Donovan. Sylvia (Dean) is Roy’s sister, but they are separated at childhood when Hawkes (Beery) betrays their father, Mike Donovan (Alfred Allen), which results in Mike’s murder. Hawkes takes Sylvia with him. She believes her brother has also died and is unaware that Hawkes was her father’s Judas.
Years later, Sylvia is a professional pickpocket under the guardianship of Hawkes, who now goes by the new identity of Count Donelli. Sylvia stakes out her victims at the London Wax Museum. There she meets The Kid, who, unknown to her, is her long lost brother, Roy. Roy has his own nefarious gig; the Mechanical Chess Player. When Sylvia introduces the Kid to her “father,” Count Donelli, the three form an unholy alliance, which leads them and the Mechanical Chess Player to a new land of opportunity in America.
Roy develops incestuous feelings for Sylvia (of course, he is still unaware that she is his sibling), which leads to jealousy when Sylvia falls for goody two shoe Dick Longworth (Matt Moore). Tension between the unholy three builds with the arrival of Dick. After a jewelry heist in a mansion, utilizing the Mechanical Chess Player, the trio hole up at a claustrophobic cabin in the mountains. The final quarter of the film casts a Poe-like eye on imagined (and real) enemies. Mistrust between the trio is sowed and much coffee is downed, in an effort to stay awake and keep an eye on each other and the hidden jewelry.
The truth about Hawk’s betrayal of Sylvia’s real father comes out, as does the revelation that the Kid is none other than her brother. The Oedipal killing of a (surrogate) father, mistrust among a trio of criminals, theft of jewels, false identities, the double cross, staged gimmickry, deception (which the spectator audience is privy to), latent incest, followed by jealousy for a righteous rival, a claustrophobic getaway retreat, and a finale in which one of the criminals deeds goes unpunished are familiar Browning themes. Poe’s deceptive Mechanical Chess Player is a bizarre, added quirk.
According to several Browning biographers, acquaintances of the director and his wife, Alice, would often be forced to lock up the jewelry when the two came to visit because the Brownings had a notorious reputation for swiping any stones they could get their hands on. At least Tod Browning’s empathy for the criminal mindset was an honest one.
“Maelstrom, from my humble point of view, was inspired as follows: we all have an amazing built-in system of personal and social defense: we interpret the world and construct for ourselves an image of it, which comforts us and eases our conscience, and we do this instinctively. For me, Maelstrom is a playful call to be responsible and to be careful. Some of my friends found this definition childish and tried to convince me that Maelstrom was, instead, a dark and serious drama about a woman emerging from chaos and mythomania. Others consider it a luminous noir fable of a voyage to the limits of reality and myth. That’s ridiculous. Don’t believe a word they say.”–Denis Villeneuve, Director’s Note to Maelstrom
DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve
FEATURING: Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Pierre Lebeau (voice)
PLOT: A fish about to be chopped up and made into seafood explains that, with his last breaths, he would like to tell a “pretty story” about a young woman “on a long voyage toward reality.” We then meet Bibi, undergoing an abortion; later that day, she will lose her position in the family business, then leave the scene of the accident after striking a pedestrian while driving drunk. In the guilt-ridden weeks that follow, she tracks down the man she struck to find out who he was and what happened to him.
Maelstrom swept the 2001 Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Awards), winning the Best Picture, Director, Lead Actress, Screenplay, and Cinematography awards. Other than film festival appearances, the movie received little distribution outside of Canada. A DVD was released in 2003 with little fanfare, and Maelstrom has been largely forgotten since.
Set in Montreal, Maelstrom was filmed in French, but a small portion of the dialogue is in untranslated Norwegian, as is the opening epigraph.
Maelstrom was included in film critic Richard Crouse’s book “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” (coincidentally, this makes the eighth of the titles Crouse chose that we’ve independently reviewed).
In 2010 Denis Villeneuve scored an international arthouse hit with the (not weird) Incendies, a story about twins traveling to the Middle East to uncover a family secret, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The grotesque, philosophical fish who croaks out the tale between gasps while waiting for the fishmonger (sharpening his blade on a stone and looking like an executioner) to finish him off.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The story is narrated by a dying fish. If you need more than that, there’s the confusing, impressionistic, nonlinear timeline (that replays certain scenes); some incredible plot and thematic coincidences; and the stylishly stoned scenes of Bibi drowning her woes in booze and pills. But I keep coming back to the fact that the story is narrated by a (surprisingly reflective) dying fish. Talk about cod philosophy!
PLOT: A goofy priest who seems more concerned with funny stories and YouTube videos than Jesus Christ sets out on a canoe trip with his childhood icon Robbie, a musician who dated his sister in high school. As they paddle down the river, more details about their history are revealed, and things get really weird when they meet fellow travelers posing as characters from Huckleberry Finn.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It starts off as a funny, somewhat quirky canoe trip, relying on dialogue and a few offbeat stories to entertain its audience. But then it gets weird. Really weird. I’d say the last 20 minutes are weird enough to make up for the comparative normalcy of the preceding 50.
COMMENTS: When the effervescent Father Billy first meets up with his middle school idol at a roadside diner, he accidentally drops his bible (which he gets autographed by musicians) in a diarrhea-filled toilet bowl. This sets the stage for a story that is deceptively average on the surface, but delightfully deranged underneath, finally showing its true colors during the final sequence. Their journey is peppered with some strange side-stories, from a heat-packing granny to a suicidal businessman who can’t die, along with some effectively ominous filming techniques and a heavy metal soundtrack that humorously clashes with the bucolic river landscape. While there are flashes of weirdness throughout, nothing truly prepares the viewer for the big Weird payoff at the end, which I will not spoil for you.
Father Billy is a well-meaning goofball with an oblivious, clingy personality, and it’s never actually clear why he would become a priest—an occupation that takes remarkable dedication and sacrifice—in the first place. He seems perfectly content to sit around listening to 80’s metal and drinking milk. His dips into unpriestly behavior (lying to his superior, drinking beer, etc) coincide with dire circumstances that should be enough to completely shake his faith. Steve Little puts in an offbeat performance, making Father Billy just slightly creepy enough for viewers to question exactly what is going on here. In contrast, Longstreet’s portrayal of Robbie is so open and believable, he stands as a pillar of ordinariness and often represents the audience’s own reactions to Billy’s off-putting characteristics.
The Catechism Cataclysm is a difficult film to encapsulate. It’s a mish-mash of high school reunion-esque reflection, Catholic introspection, fascinating urban legend storytelling, and off-the-walls absurdity that winds its way into an enjoyable, funny, decidedly memorable experience. Overall, it’s an impressive show of irreverence and eccentricity from a director with a foundation in mumblecore.
This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010; the article was partially recovered from Google cache, and the rest of the text was recreated. Sorry, original comments were irretrievably lost in cyberspace.
PLOT: Awakening from a dream to find himself on an operating table, an amnesiac is
informed that he is a schizophrenic murderer who has been committed to a private institution and is now being sent to a halfway home—nicknamed “the House of Love”—to be rehabilitated.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Attic Expeditions sounds echoes of some (better) weird movies: Jacob’s Ladder (in the way that the script offers different possible explanations for the protagonist’s hallucinations, and jerks the viewer back and forth between those theories) and Donnie Darko (in that it seems the director intended to tell a fantastical story that “made sense” on a literal level, but lost control of the story when he took it one paradox too far). An interesting, confusing, out-of-control picture, it’s as fascinating for its misses as for its hits. It falls just short of a general recommendation, but it is recommended to anyone interested in psychological, mindbending horror seasoned with heaping doses of confusion and who isn’t a stickler for great acting. This is the kind of curious, singular picture that could wind up filling one of the final slots in the List.
COMMENTS: Trevor Blackburn may be a schizophrenic murderer, or he may be an amnesiac sorcerer, or he may be the victim of an unethical psychological experiment; or he may be all three. It’s impossible to tell, especially since The Attic Expeditions is full of contradictions and contains segments where the timeline suddenly resets and the action repeats itself with slight variations. The mystery promiscuously throws out clues, but every possible explanation for Trevor’s woes seems chained to its own refutation. Trevor is an unreliable narrator in triplicate: he’s a definite amnesiac, a possible schizophrenic, and, to top it all off, his state-appointed guardian appears to be deliberately playing with his loose grip on reality. Psychiatrist Dr. Ek (played by Jefferey Combs as a variation on Herbert West as a pot-smoking, skin-popping headshrinker) uses Trevor as a case study for an experiment in Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001)→
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