WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/31/2019

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.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Blue Velvet (1986): Read the Canonically Weird entry! The Criterion Collection adds another jewel to its crown; some special features (even the much ballyhooed “lost footage”) have appeared on other releases, but this one does boast remastering, the feature length doc Blue Velvet Revisited, and Lynch reading from his memoir “Room to Dream.” On two DVDs or one Blu-ray. Buy Blue Velvet.

Climax (2018): Read our review. Provacateur puts a megadose of LSD into his cinematic punch bowl. On DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. Buy Climax.

Lords of Chaos (2018): Read Giles Edwards’ review. The based-on-a-true-story of True Norwegian Death Metal. On DVD, Blu-ray or VOD. Buy Lords of Chaos.

Starfish (2018): Read our review. It’s the end of the world, maybe, but Aubrey might be able to save all of us with a mixtape. This indie horror/sci-fi/drama-of-lonelieness is out on VOD only (for the moment, at least). Buy or rent Starfish.

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.

NEPOTISM CORNER: 366’s contributed a short piece on Howl’s Moving Castle to the Spool as part of their coverage of May’s Filmmaker of the Month, . You can read it here.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: We’ve got a busy summer week coming up at 366, as Alfred Eaker starts off his summer blockbuster purgatory with a trip to see what may be the least Alfred Eaker movie ever, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. Next up, Giles Edwards fills you in on 2018’s arty animation Ruben Brandt: Collector (about a psychiatrist with an art-thief clientele) and Pete Trbovich takes on Keoma (1976), the cult spaghetti western with a rather, um, unforgettable soundtrack. To top it all off, we’re going to start a new poll with an associated DVD giveaway contest (hint: it’s apocrypha time)  Stay tuned, and 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.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ALPHAVILLE (1965)

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Luc Godard

FEATURING: Eddie Constantine, , Akim Tamiroff,

PLOT: Detective Lemmy Caution sneaks into a soulless, computer-controlled metropolis in search of a fellow agent, and eventually sets about destroying the entire enterprise.

Still from Alphaville (1965)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Alphaville is Godard’s angry screed against the inhumanity of the modern world. Appropriately, he adopts a low-tech approach to depict a future world governed by mathematics and free of human passion, and lets the awkward collision of noir and science fiction create a naturally unsettling, thought-provoking landscape.

COMMENTS: There’s a story of how Alphaville came to be that is not strictly necessary to understanding the film, but which does offer an intriguing insight into the mind of its fiercely independent director. FBI agent Lemmy Caution was the creation of a British novelist, and was portrayed in seven French-language films by expatriate actor Eddie Constantine. Audiences came to know Caution as an archetype of the grizzled tough guy who is as apt to use his fists as his wits to solve problems. Godard evidently decided that this character would be the perfect antidote to a universe where a computer has extinguished human emotion, so he created a plot that brought the detective into the future. But knowing the havoc his plan would wreak, Godard enlisted his assistant director to draft a false treatment based on one of the original books, which was presented to the moneymen who eventually bankrolled the picture. Cash in hand, Godard set about making a movie of his own design with the cheeky subtitle une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution), essentially obliterating the character and derailing Constantine’s career.

It’s a clever bit of legerdemain as well as a fascinating example of cultural appropriation. But I tell this story because it offers a useful insight into some of Godard’s  unusual choices in Alphaville. Soulless, dystopian futures were hardly without precedent, but as far as Godard is concerned, Paris in 1965 already is just such a dystopia. He carefully avoids the most familiar sights of the City of Lights, using newer buildings and designs to reflect the changing soul of the city. But even without futuristic flourishes or scenic adornment, Alphaville the city is unmistakably Paris, with modern architecture and new devices—Caution’s Instamatic camera and Ford Galaxie were startling new innovations for the time—standing in for the future-as-now. For this reason, Godard isn’t just stealing Lemmy Caution to be his bad boy. He needs the constant of Lemmy Caution to hold on to, because he’s out to show that the modern world has become completely detached from humanity; the detective is essential as a familiar icon of a blood-and-guts world to stand up to the soul-sucking new. And even if you aren’t familiar with the character specifically, Constantine’s recognizable hard-as-nails portrayal marks him as the thing that doesn’t belong in Alphaville. Like Mike Hammer showing up in Brave New World, Lemmy Caution is here to stand out, representing humanity in all its passion and even ugliness. He is discordant just by being.

Part of what makes everything so uncomfortable is how normal it all looks, with just one thing put off-kilter to turn the prism. Caution checks into a nice hotel room and is escorted by a helpful but disengaged employee who immediately takes off her dress in anticipation of being used for sex. Every room has a helpful dictionary, which is regularly replaced with a new volume to reflect the words that have been stricken from the vocabulary at the computer’s direction. Familiar cities still exist in the outside, but their names are slightly off. Leading citizens watch passively as rebels—in full-throated protest against the computerized dictatorship—are executed in a swimming pool, after which bathing beauties haul away the bodies. Perhaps the most distressing disconnect is heroine Natasha, a dark-eyed beauty whose status as the daughter of Alphaville’s creator is curiously irrelevant. When she makes a bold proclamation at the film’s conclusion—“Je t’aime”—it signals a connection with her humanity, but the words are chillingly unpracticed, as she tries them on like a pair of shoes that have yet to be broken in.

The most science fictional element is α60, the computer that runs Alphaville and saps the population of its humanity. Godard could never have envisioned the computer as the placid and murderous HAL 9000 or the charmingly imperious Ultron. Instead, α60 is malevolent, a mob boss with a voice that mangles speech as easily as its master plan mangles souls. The computer speaks bluntly of mankind’s doom, and only Caution seems capable of (or interested in) saying no.

Godard isn’t subtle. The scientist who runs the central computer is named von Braun, a blatant call-out to the German scientist who masterminded America’s moon rocket program. As if that weren’t sufficiently on-the-nose, we learn that von Braun previously went by the name Nosferatu. And when Caution destroys α60 with a few carefully chosen words from Jorge Luis Borges, the effect is so catastrophic that human beings are suddenly unable to walk. Faced with going big or going home, he lays it all on the table.

Because Godard has no time for subtlety. He sees the cataclysm happening in real time. He is demanding that the world rise up against those who would place formulas above poems. Humanity is dying, he says, and Alphaville is his howl at the dying of the light.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It begins as a fast-moving prank that combines the amusing agitations of a character on the order of James Bond and the highly pictorial fascinations of a slick science-fiction mystery, and it makes for some brisk satiric mischief when it is zipping along in this vein. Then, half way through, it swings abruptly into a solemn allegorical account of this suddenly sobered fellow with a weird computer-controlled society, and the whole thing becomes a tedious tussle with intellectual banalities.” – Bosley Crowther, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by ubermolch. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

THE 2018 PRINT VERSION OF THE 366 WEIRD MOVIES YEARBOOK IS (FINALLY) HERE!

Every year we promise to get the previous year’s Yearbook out sooner, and every year it ends up debuting sometime in the middle of the following year. Next year will be different; and although it’s true we’ve been saying that every year, we are planning some format changes that may help us reach that goal. At any rate, longtime readers and collectors have learned to live with these delays. Fortunately, the movies examined herein are still fresh and weird.

366 Weird Movies 2018 Yearbook Cover

As always, the recycled ad copy speaks for itself:

Covering everything weird, from art house surrealism to next-generation cult movies to so-bad-they’re-weird B-movie atrocities, 366 Weird Movies has been meeting all of your weird movie needs since 2009 with a combination of sly humor and serious insight. This is our annual Yearbook covering all the weird movies released and re-released in 2018, from All You Can Eat Buddha to Zen Dog, with 40+ full-length reviews, extensive capsules and supplemental listings, and exclusive interviews with director Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) and others. If it’s weird, it’s a movie, it’s from 2018, and 366 Weird Movies covered it, you’ll find it here.

You can buy the 366 Weird Movies 2018 Yearbook here. Don’t forget that it’s also available (for a mere $3.49, or free if you have Kindle Unlimited!) in a Kindle version.

All profits derived from your kind purchase will go towards paying our hosting costs. As always, any leftover monies will be wasted on G. Smalley’s relentless and desperate pursuit of hedonistic excess: an ocean of gin, a parade of cheap floozies, and impulsive weird movie purchases that leave him feeling physically spent, but empty and soulless. Good times!

 

CAPSULE: TOP KNOT DETECTIVE (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce

FEATURING: Toshi Okuzaki, Mayu Iwasaki, Masa Yamaguchi, Des Mangan

PLOT: Mockumentary describing a bizarre Japanese cult TV show about a ronin detective who fights samurai and giant robots and eventually travels through time, and the mystery behind its sudden cancellation.

Still from Top Knot Detective (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s cute, but minor; an affectionate and entertaining 90 minutes for exploitation movie fans. “Reboot” the fake TV series and we’ll talk about weirdest of all time.

COMMENTS: In our first introduction to “Top Knot Detective,” we see the black-robed title character menaced by a ninja; our hero quickly plays a reed flute, which summons a shark. It bursts through the ground and flies through the sky to completely swallow the bad guy (and squirt liters of blood from its mouth). That may be the craziest moment in the fake series: or it might be when the detective literally catches lightning while playing electric guitar in a thunderstorm. Or the product placement for Suttafu beer. Or the late-series introduction of the detective’s armored, time-traveling, baseball-bat-wielding sidekick. Or the cheaply-designed penis monster (with the actors’ arms poking out of the sides of the pink rubber suit). You can pick your own WTFiest moment, but all of this “archival” material is presented on low-definition, mock-multi-generation-VHS stock, complete with the occasional vertical hold artifact.

Seeing outrageous clips delivered without much regard for the show’s chronology, we don’t get a real sense of how the plot arc of the series works, but that’s by design. The conceit is that “Top Knot”‘s creators pretty much made up the show as they went along—and that anything could happen from episode to episode. About all we learn about the overall plot is that “Deductive Reasoning Ronin” is searching for the man who killed his master, a poorly-motivated villain who sends ninjas, giant robots, and (apparently) penis monsters after the detective. Presumably, the detective solves mysteries in between sword fights, marking his triumphs with a heavily-accented and often inappropriate cry of “deductive reasoning”!

The movie’s real plot is the fictional backstory of the making of the TV show, told through interviews with the alleged cast, all of whom exclusively speak Japanese. The filmmakers introduce Takashi Takamoto, the dissolute narcissist and self-appointed genius behind the series, and Suttafu, the conglomerate trying to make a buck of the show’s sensationalism, along with a bitter rival and a J-pop love interest. In stark contrast to the campy re-enactments, this archival material is produced with a totally straight face, so that anyone who came in in the middle would be forgiven for thinking that “Top Knot”  was a real television show. The story of love affairs, Takamoto’s unhinged appearances on a talk show featuring an animated kitty, and tabloid scandals of a sort peculiar to Japan all ends in a murder. Like “Top Knot”‘s interrupted plotline, this crime isn’t fully resolved… although I have my theories. But while you ponder the mystery, stay tuned for another mind-boggling (fake) trailer post-credits.

If there’s one complaint to be lodged against Top Knot Detective, it’s that it plays up the whole damn-Japanese-TV-is-incomprehensibly-weird stereotype, encouraging cultural mockery rather than cultural engagement. But the project is presented with such genuine love and affection for the genre that this seems like a minor criticism indeed.

The grindhouse revival trend sparked ten years ago by and played itself out in the U.S. fairly quickly, but is still going strong in the underground Down Under. They definitely put their own odd, Aussie spin on the phenomenon. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, a documentary celebrating the island’s homegrown exploitation industry, arrived in 2008. (who appears here as a talking head) made the Grindhouse-style fake “Italian Spiderman” trailer in 2007, and went on to co-write the insane Hitler-hunting TV series “Danger 5” (one season was done in the style of 1960s men’s magazines, the other as an 80s action movie), which graced TV screens in 2011 and 2015. Narrator Des Mangan is a real Australian television cult film presenter (and screenwriter of the campy 1993 throwback Hercules Returns, which scooped the revivalist genre by a couple decades). In other words, Australians know and love their outré exploitation, and appreciate it precisely for the qualities that make it weird. As one talking head sums up the appeal of “Top Knot”: “….the whole thing doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what’s beautiful about it. When you watch a lot of media, watch a lot of movies and TV, you get bored, you get jaded, you’ve seen the same stuff over and over again, and you’re praying for some kind of weirdness, some kind of real lunacy to just grab you and shake you up and show you something new.” A better manifesto for the trash-oddity subgenre would be hard to script. These are our kind of people, folks.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“McCann and Pearce make their feature directing debut with a wonderfully bizarre and almost mind-bogglingly complex meta-treatment on not only the delightful weirdness of ’70s Japanese cinema, but also the culture of rabid fandom that eats this stuff up.”–J. Hurtado, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/24/2019

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):

Diamantino (2018): A Portuguese soccer star adopts an African lesbian immigrant, while his twin sisters are conducting secret genetic experiments. This bonkers-sounding comedy has garnered good reviews, and a limited stateside release, after a successful festival run. Diamantino official site.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009): Four friends find the titular Macguffin in the titular locale, which eventually leads to  surreal confrontations with the Cowboy Pimp and the Almighty himself. A feminist work by identical twin sisters (the Soskas) whose title perhaps oversells the level of subtlety here. Makes its Blu-ray debut this week. Buy Dead Hooker in a Trunk.

The Image Book (2018):  takes images from films of the past, digitally alters them, and philosophizes in voiceover. More late Godard for cinema masochists (we’ll probably end up joining them). On DVD or Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber.  Buy The Image Book.

The Perfection (2019): Psychological thriller about a musical prodigy. The trailer makes it look like Black Swan meets Get Out. A Netflix exclusive movie exclusively streaming on Netflix.

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: Next week Shane Wilson digs into the long-neglected reader-suggested review queue for a look at  ‘s Alphaville, a strange 1965 noir-sci fi-philosophy mashup, while G. Smalley is back from vacation with a report on the fake-Japanese-TV-show mockumentary Top Knot Detective. That rapscallion Smalley’s vacation has delayed the upcoming print release of the 2018 Yearbook—proofing revealed a new problem with the margins that cropped up just before his departure—so hopefully next week we’ll get that little issue sorted out and get those collectible items up for sale before too long. We swear, next year the Yearbook will arrive much earlier… well, at least we plan on it. 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.

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