WEIRD HORIZON FOR 1/4/2019

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.

The first week of January is even less eventful for movies than the last week of December. New releases, in theaters or on home video, are scarcer than character development in a film. Things will pick up when Sundance rolls around. For now, we only have a few repertory screenings to report on.

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 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.

365. DR. CALIGARI (1989)

“This film is like the offspring of Cronenberg and Troma.”–Luther Phillips, “The Life and Times of Stephen Sayadian”

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Madeleine Reynal, Laura Albert, John Durbin, Fox Harris

PLOT: Mrs. Van Houten is suffering from “nympholepsy” and erotic nightmares; her husband takes her to the Caligari Insane Asylum to be treated by the controversial granddaughter of Dr. Caligari (also named “Dr. Caligari”). A couple of her co-workers are concerned about the fact that seventeen of Caligari’s former patients have been “irreversibly warped,” and scheme to get her fired and rescue Mrs. Van Houten from her care. But Dr. Caligari refuses to accept the asylum director’s demands, and her experiments in neurological personality transfer intensify.

Still from Dr. Caligari (1989)

BACKGROUND:

  • Stephen Sayadian, who worked as an advertiser and a photographer for “Hustler,” made a couple of hardcore pornographic films under the pseudonym “Rinse Dream.” Nightdreams (1981) and Cafe Flesh (1982) were not mere wank material, however, but highly surreal (if explicit) avant-garde experiments that were often more disturbing than erotic. Dr. Caligari was his first and only attempt to make a (relatively) mainstream feature film.
  • The financier told Sayadian he could write and film whatever he wanted, but he had to use the “Caligari” name in the title.
  • As was the case with his other cult films, Dr. Caligari was co-written with Jerry Stahl, another interesting character whose memoir “Permanent Midnight” (later made into a movie) is one of the best first-hand accounts of heroin addiction ever written.
  • Dr. Caligari briefly played as a midnight movie under the title Dr. Caligari 3000. It gained a small cult following on VHS. The film’s executive producer, Joseph F. Robertson, was a porno executive who later formed Excalibur Video, at one time the Internet’s largest adult video mail order site. He kept the exclusive distribution rights to the film with Excalibur, but his plans to release more low-budget cult films never materialized. When Robertson sold Excalibur, the rights to Dr. Caligari went with it. The new owners have shown little interest in Dr. Caligari, but legitimate new copies of the film can only be ordered from Excalibur on DVD-R. Occasional rumors of a restoration and proper release of the film have yielded no results so far.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: During an erotic hallucination, Mrs. Van Houten opens a doorway a large pulsing column of flesh with scars and wounds and orifices that ooze candy and paint. A mouth with a waggling tongue appears on the bag of meat, growing until its larger than her head; she writes against it while the giant tongue licks her face.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dalí boob crutches; giant tongue head licking; scarecrow fellatio therapy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although it plays at being a dark and disturbing trip into the twisted psychology of a nympho and her sadistic therapist, in reality Dr. Caligari is a campy flight that never takes itself the slightest bit seriously. Its overarching message seems to be “never seek psychiatric advice from a doctor who dresses in a vinyl minidress with metal cones attached to her breasts.” It’s well worth a watch if you’re looking for something sexy, surreal and silly to fill an hour and a half. “Chinchilla!”


Original trailer for Dr. Caligari

COMMENTS: Stephen Sayadian’s pornography background is evident from the very first sequence of Dr. Caligari. It’s a “nympholeptic”‘s eight-minute wordless dream of taking a bubble bath and being Continue reading 365. DR. CALIGARI (1989)

CAPSULE: CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)

DIRECTED BY: George Clooney

FEATURING: , , George Clooney,  Julia Roberts

PLOT: Chuck Barris is a producer of game shows by day and a free-lance CIA agent by night; the successes and failures of his parallel careers are remarkably in-step with one another.

Still from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With as screen-writer and television’s slimiest visionary as the subject matter, we might have been on course for a nomination. However, director George Clooney grounds Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as conventional, hip Hollywood fare, embellished with some creative window dressing.

COMMENTS: An unlikeable protagonist, an unbelievable premise, and an odd fixation with montages add up to a dark and breezy viewing experience in George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In his directorial debut, Clooney artfully weaves a tale of Cold War intrigue, mental collapse, and really, really bad television programming. Screen-writer Charlie Kaufman’s fingerprints coat Confessions, but while self-examination-through-self-debasement oozes throughout it is simultaneously an odd character study as well as a Hollywood thriller. Chuck Barris strikes us as a skeezy guy doing the CIA’s skeezy work.

Lustful from the age of eleven, Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) crashes through his youth horny and bitter. Wanting nothing more than to score with women, he is adrift in life, failing at his job as a minor, minor television executive. His fortunes change when he encounters Jim Byrd (George Clooney), a CIA recruiter who wants to take Chuck on as a freelance agent. After his run in with this shady emissary, Chuck’s life in the Biz immediately turns around: his “Dating Game” pilot is picked up, and his career rockets to a grimy pinnacle of debased pop success. Taking his longtime lover and friend Penny (Drew Barrymore) for granted, he dallies with classically educated, icily erotic fellow contractor Patricia Wilson (Julia Roberts). Chuck’s TV ratings begin to slide at the same time his CIA career takes a dangerous, deadly turn.

Confessions‘ budget hovers just below the thirty-million-dollar mark, but considering the actors involved, Clooney makes that outlay look altogether frugal. To accommodate, he uses a lot of novel sets to  create an illusion of grandeur, some deal-making with his fellow heavy-hitters (Julia Roberts, for instance, agreed to work for a mere $250,000), and plenty of vintage television footage. Beyond that there are the montages. In fact, the whole thing feels like a montage of montages: a montage of Barris’ rise, a montage of Barris’ CIA training, a montage of Barris’ conquests, a montage of… you get the picture. With Confessions, the point where flashback montage and current montage meet is blurred by further montage.

Perhaps it’s appropriate. Chuck Barris is constantly running just to stay in place as Sam Rockwell’s sickly charm carries the character through all the depressing motions, showcasing someone that we cannot help but loathe while simultaneously rooting for. After the suicide of an assassin buddy, he refers to him as a “stagehand.” That description is strangely apt: Barris and his cohorts were the kinds of guys that constantly lurked around the periphery, making sure the show went on without others’ awareness. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind acts as a eulogy for these men and women. All those spooks and hitmen were at heart ordinary people trapped in the giant reality show of the Cold War. And though heavily laden with regret and contemptuousness, this darkly comic biopic shows the tenderness and humanity of history’s dirtbags.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The whole is less than the sum of its parts: the dueling Kaufman and Barris takes on self-flagellation don’t exactly mesh. This film, a shape-shifting apologia-biopic as weird as Adaptation, is too cold for its own good.” –Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times (contemporaneous)

ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 2018 AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

The 2018 Online Film Critics Society awards awards are out. A few weird films garnered nominations this year—Annihilation and Suspiria for Best Picture, Sorry to Bother You for Best Original Screenplay and Best Debut Feature—but we had no winners from our genre (unless you count the marginally weird Hereditary).

The Online Film Critics society has predicted the Academy Awards Best Picture winner three out of the last seven years.

Normally I add comments on my choices, but due to a time crunch this year, I am merely listing the winners, along with my votes for posterity.

BEST PICTURE

Winner: Roma

My Vote: The Death of Stalin (not nominated); Hereditary (official vote)

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Winner: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

My Vote: Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (not nominated); Incredibles 2 (official vote)

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

My vote: , Isle of Dogs (not nominated); Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here

BEST LEAD ACTOR

Winner: , First Reformed

My vote: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

BEST LEAD ACTRESS

Winner: , Hereditary

My vote: Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline (not nominated); Olivia Colman, The Favourite (official vote)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

My vote: Daniel Kaluuya, Widows (not nominated); , Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

My vote: , Suspiria (not nominated); , The Favourite (official vote)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Winner: First Reformed

My vote: , Sorry to Bother You

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Winner: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

My vote: The Death of Stalin (not nominated); Can You Ever Forgive Me? (official vote)

BEST EDITING

Winner: Eddie Hamilton, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

My vote: Mission: Impossible – Fallout

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

My vote: Mandy (not nominated); Roma (official vote)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Winner: Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk

My vote: Mandy (not nominated), First Man (official vote)

BEST DEBUT FEATURE

Winner: , Hereditary

My vote: Hereditary

BEST FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Winner: Roma

My Vote: Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (not nominated); Roma (official vote)

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Winner: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

My vote: Free Solo

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

Winners:

Annihilation, Best Visual Effects
Black Panther, Best Costume Design
Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Best Stunt Coordination
A Quiet Place, Best Sound Design
A Star Is Born, Best Original Songs

My votes:

Border, Hair and Makeup
Mandy, Production Design
November, Production Design
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Visual Effects
Suspiria, Hair and Makeup

TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2018

2018 was deep in weirdness. Although we deemed only a trio of movies (one of which was technically a 2017 release) as worthy of Certification as among the 366 Weirdest Films of All Time, there were a lot of hard cuts at the bottom of this year’s top 10 list. At the beginning of the year, we were confident that the homoheroic spoof Fags in the Fast Lane would remain among the ten strangest cinematic offerings by December, and yet it got lost among a multitude of odd releases. Chained for Life was a metanarrative farce starring real-life “freaks” making a movie in their off hours, but it didn’t sniff the top 10. Nor did ‘s Double Lover (despite featuring the year’s most innovative gynecological camerawork), Australia’s microbudgeted Hitler Lives! (despite depicting Nazi war criminals as marionettes), or the Suspiria remake (despite having the best avant-garde exploding-witch choreography of the year).

Poster for Mandy (2018) - weirdest movie of 2018Besides that wealth of weirdness on the big screen, we should note that the small screen brought us the second (and sadly final) season of the metaphysical comedy/mystery “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” while  went miniseries mad with the Nippo-Gothic “Tokyo Vampire Hotel” (also released in a condensed and even more incoherent version as a feature film). And, on a final note, we’ll mention that we’re holding off on ranking ‘s surreal Hollywood noir Under the Silver Lake, which is going back to the editing bay for a rework after debuting to puzzled audiences at Cannes (we expect his original vision will be both better and weirder, but eventually think we’ll be able to see both side-by-side for comparison).

As for the choice of movies: as always, I personally pick them using a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the degree of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I rank them in whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that. As always, films are listed in random Continue reading TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2018

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2018 – MAINSTREAM EDITION

Here is my annual top 10 list of movies, ranked according to mainstream standards. In other words, weird movies are allowed in this list, but I attempt to rank 2018 releases according to their general merit, intended for people who don’t specialize in the genre. Provocative cults film like Sorry to Bother You and Mandy can (and did!) make this list, but they will not automatically be catapulted to the top, and when ranked by mainstream standards they may even show up in a different order. Stay tuned for the top 10 weird movies of 2018 at a later hour.

2018 Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): BlackKklasman, Black Panther, Border [Gräns], Double Lover [L’amant double], Eighth Grade, Game Night, Madeline’s Madeline, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Night is Short, Walk on Girl, November, Paddington 2, A Quiet Place, Science Fair, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, Thoroughbreds, Widows, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, You Were Never Really Here

10. Free Solo: This documentary follows rock climbing legend Alex Honnold as he attempts to become the first person in history to climb Yosemite’s 3,000 foot tall El Capitan using nothing but his limbs and his wits. A fellow climber compares the feat to an Olympic competition, except that if the athlete gives anything less than a gold medal performance, he dies. My pick for doc of the year; breathtaking views, drama, and a good reminder that excellence is abnormal.

9. Incredibles 2: Mr. Incredible takes a turn as a house-husband when his wife Elastic Girl is chosen as the spokeswoman in a campaign to rehabilitate the image of surperheroes; an evil plan is afoot, and the Incredibles’ newest arrival reveals his superpowers. Superior fluff that benefits greatly from its sleek, James Bond-inspired retrofuturist design. Nice baby/raccoon battle, too. Brad Bird made this sequel an incredible(s) 14 years after the original. Don’t worry if you don’t remember the first one too well; I never even saw it, and I loved this one.

8. Mandy: Read the Certified Weird entry! A lumberjack takes revenge on the Manson-like hippie cult that killed his true love, Mandy. The prophesied Nic-Cage-kills-bikers-and-hippies-while-tripping-on-acid fantasia you’ve been waiting on is here. Somehow, the 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes translated into 0% consideration during awards season; horror movies are starting to break out of the critical ghetto, but sadly, midnight movies probably never will.

7. First Reformed: Counseling a troubled environmentalist parishioner slowly leads a minister at a “tourist church” (an intense Ethan Hawke) into the very depths of despair he preaches against. Challenging and thought-provoking character study aimed at cinephiles.  still has it. God’s lonely man, indeed.

Ad for First Reformed

6. Sorry to Bother You: Read the Certified Weird entry! When telemarketer Cassius Green learns to use his “white voice,” he shoots up the corporate ranks, becomes a “power caller,” and is asked to compromise his principles in a shocking way. Seemingly coming out of Continue reading TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2018 – MAINSTREAM EDITION

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