CAPSULE: CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (1961)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Roger Corman

FEATURING: Robert Towne (as Edward Wain), Antony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland

PLOT:  Opposed by incompetent spy Sparks Moran, a shady American expatriate and his

Still from Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)

gang of crooks try to cheat General Tostada and his crew out of gold they are smuggling out of post-revolutionary Cuba by pretending a sea monster is on the loose.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTCreature from the Haunted Sea is a strange little comedy indeed, one that feels improvised, even experimental at times.  Unfortunately, although there’s nothing else quite like it, after watching it for a few minutes you will understand why there’s nothing else like it.  It’s not funny, or meaningfully entertaining on any level; the only draw is to be awestruck by how utterly a movie can fail.  The movie has a few lukewarm fans, but basically, this is among the worst of the worst, something you should only watch on a dare.

COMMENTS:  Anyone renting Creature from the Haunted Sea thinking that it’s going to be a terrible monster flick may be surprised to find themselves watching what appears to be a terrible spy movie, until it dawns on them that they’re actually watching a terrible comedy.  Creature features a senseless, slow moving, confusing plot; confusing, because every time the action lags, the script introduces us to another “wacky” character to take up the slack.  We get General Tostada (groan); the henchman who speaks in dubbed-in animal noises (monkey cackles or elephant trumpets, as the mood strikes him); his dream girl, a hefty matron with a similar mode of communication; Roger Corman in sunglasses grinning like an idiot for no reason; an unexplained man in a suit on a desert island who feels the need to step in every tide pool along the beach; Carmelita, the senorita love-interest who arrives from out of nowhere; and Mango, the island girl who takes up with “weird strangers” as a “come-on for tourists” so her mom can sell them “coconut hats.”  Gags include Sparks being forced to eat a transmitter disguised as a sandwich and the slightly amusing theme song (a torch song that throws in the improbable non sequitur “…and the creature from the haunted sea.”) Humor is subjective, so you very well might find the silly absurdity of it reasonably entertaining; you’ll just be in a very small minority if you do.  The highlight, and the main thing most viewers remember, is the utterly ridiculous sea monster with the ping-pong ball eyes, who only appears on screen for a few seconds at a time.  Some feature movies would have worked better as shorts; this one would have worked better as a still.

The abject failure of Creature to amuse is all the more shocking since it came from the pen of Charles B. Griffith, the Corman collaborator responsible for several smartly scripted minor classics: A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), and Death Race 2000 (1975).  In true Corman cheapie fashion, this script is a recycled comic treatment of an earlier Corman production, Beast from the Haunted Cave, and was written in three days and filmed in five.  It was shot together with two other forgettable movies made in Puerto Rico for tax reasons.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the script is an unfocused mess; it’s poorly paced and structured, suffers badly from its low budget, and often ends up being just weird rather than funny.”–Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings & Ramblings

29. THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

“…someone who didn’t dream but, just the same, lived very well, yet would want to see, in dreams, a greater dimension of the imagination. For us, someone who is deprived of that is condemned to die. That’s part of what we wanted to say…  If one cannot dream and imagine things, and if one is sentenced to the everyday, to reality, it’s awful.”–Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

FEATURING: Ron Perlman, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon,

PLOT:  A mad genius living on an abadnoned oil rig, who is growing prematurely old because he cannot dream, abducts children from a nearby port city and tries to steal their dreams.  His minions seize the adopted little brother of One, a foreigner and former sailor who now works in a carnival as a strongman.  One teams up with a streetwise orphan girl in the nameless, magical city to track down his little brother’s location.

City of Lost Children

BACKGROUND:

  • This was the second and final collaboration between Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, after the black comedy Delicatessan (1991).  Caro focused on the art direction, and Jeunet worked with the actors.
  • Caro and Jeunet conceived the idea for the film fourteen years before it was completed.
  • This visual effects spectacular, incorporating early CGI technology, was reportedly the most expensive film yet  produced in France at that time.
  • La cité des enfants perdus was the opening film at the Cannes film festival in 1995 and was in competition for the Palme D’or (losing to ‘s Underground).

INDELIBLE IMAGEThe City of Lost Children is a film that’s built around images: a CGI flea using its proboscis to insert a hypnotic drug into a man’s head, a disembodied brain in a fish tank, and a horde of frightening Santas all compete for honors—not to mention the city itself, a tottering port made up of rambling stairs, arches, balconies and alleys, which resembles Venice re-imagined as a Victorian junkyard.  The most iconic image, however, is gaunt old Krank in his gleaming lab hooked up to his dream stealing machine, a multi-tentacled headdress stolen from the laboratory of an avant-garde Dr. Frankenstien.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The City of Lost Children takes place in a magical city that could not exist except in the imagination, in dreams. It’s a fairy tale, but from the first scene—a child’s Christmas Eve dream that turns unsettlingly weird—it’s clear that this is no standard fantasy world that sets out a few simple deviations from our own, but instead a world of childlike wonder where the imagination is unleashed without respect for the possible.

Short theatrical trailer for City of Lost Children

COMMENTS: There’s a scene early on in The City of Lost Children where a dozing Continue reading 29. THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/24/09

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):

Loren Cass (2006):  Merely going off the film’s own press release, it’s difficult to discern what this movie is, although we learn a lot about how difficult it was to bring to the screen.  More research reveals it to be an experimental angry teen drama about the 1996 race riots in St. Petersburg, Florida, with poetry interludes (featuring spoken word contributions by Charles Bukowski and other underground figures) and mondo-style documentary footage of a televised suicide added for shock value.  Jacob Reynolds (the “weird-looking kid” from Gummo) has a role as “The Suicide Kid”.  The few reviews are good, describing it basically as raw but intense.  Opening this week in New York, with a short limited release across the rest of the U.S. to follow before it seeks out its core audience on DVD.  Loren Cass official site.

NEW ON DVD:

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966):  A movie about a middle-class housewife prostituting herself on the side; but director Jean-Luc Godard breaks the fourth wall and philosophizes about consumerism and the Vietnam war while telling his story.  The movie was shot at the same time as Made in U.S.A. (see below) and both films are receiving Criterion Collection editions this week. Buy from Amazon.

Coraline (2009):  From our March review: “a welcome dark fantasy for children, although its themes of evil Doppelgänger moms, frightening buttons, and implied eye-gouging are too scary for very little ones… Though there’s nothing really weird to be found here, Coraline, in the best children’s movie tradition, is worth a trip even for adult fans of fantasy and pure escapism.”  Available in a single disc version including 2D and 3D versions (with 4 pairs of glasses) (buy), a two disc collector’s edition (buy), and Blu-ray (buy).

Made in U.S.A. (1966): Jean-Luc Godard’s avant-garde, Pop Art remake 0f Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep, with a female detective and an even more convoluted plot, gets the Criterion Collection treatment.  Shot at the same time as 2 or 3 Things I Know About HerBuy from Amazon.

Visioneers (2008): An absurdist black comedy about a mysterious epidemic that is causing people to explode.  It sounds promising; hopefully the presence of Zach Galifianakis (who scored a mainstream hit with his role as the slob in Hangover) will help this independent corporate satire do well in the rental market. Buy from Amazon.

Watchmen (2009): From our April review: ‘The setting is so original that the film has the power to relocate you into it’s own peculiar universe, which is what escapist entertainment is supposed to do.”   Available in a single disc theatrical cut DVD (buy), a dual disc special edition director’s cut with an extra 25 minutes of footage (buy), and on Blu-ray (buy).  Fans might want to save their money, since word on the street is there will be a 5 disc (!) set released in December.

IN PRODUCTION:

Alice in Wonderland (2010):  Alice in Wonderland has long been a source of weird movie inspirations, and offbeat fantasist Tim Burton has the pitch-perfect voice to make a live-action Alice.  Despite the fact that it’s way too soon to get excited about this, Disney released a teaser trailer today: enjoy!

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.

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART ONE: SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956)

In a brief span of four years, from 1956 to 1960, Director Budd Boetticher, writer Burt Kennedy and actor Randolph Scott collaborated on a series of seven “chamber westerns” which rank as one of the most rewarding achievements in the art of American Cinema.

Seven Men from NowWhile a number of prominent film critics, historians and luminaries have rightly praised the “Ranown” series (named after Boetticher’s production company), attention is often paid to the fact that Boetticher produced the series on a shoestring budget.  Thus, despite praise, the series and Boetticher himself are relegated to a second tier, “B” level, as if the monies poured into these films somehow affect and dictate their intrinsic value.

To the contrary, the Boetticher/Kennedy/Scott westerns are in every way equal to the larger budgeted collaborations of Ford and Wayne, Daves and Ford, Leone and Eastwood.

With these sparse, psychologically complex works, Boetticher did as much for the American western as Val Lewton did for the American Horror film in the 40’s.

The breakthrough Seven Men From Now (1956) was a long way from Ken Maynard’s white hat and bottle of milk atop a horse named Tarzan. It’s also far more aesthetically modernist, more taut, more complexly developed in character than the later, ultra-stylish westerns of Peckinpah and Leone (the exception being Peckinpah’s slightly overrated Ride the High Country, also starring Randolph Scott with Joel McCrea). Very few films in the genre can boast as richly developed characterizations. The Delmer Daves/Glenn Ford films along with the Anthony Mann/James Stewart cannon can arguably be mentioned in the same breath.

Seven Men From Now establishes Boetticher’s Ranown canvas. Randolph Scott was an actor of beautiful limitations and the director utilized Scott’s mere presence to compositional advantage.  The actor’s weathered face parallels the expressionistic, Cezanne-like rocky terrains.  Boetticher takes equal advantage of his hero’s range to etch a morally ambiguous personification.

Scott, out for revenge, seems, at first, to personify the mythological old west code of right and wrong.  He is ancient, laconic, sips coffee, and projects a virtuous nobility with a mere shifting of the eyes.  That is until his foil, Lee Marvin (superb here) astutely recalls how Scott had no qualms about stealing a friend’s wife.  Even Walter Reed, as Gail Russell’s weak, cowardly husband, surprises in an act of redemption. The power in the Boetticher films lies in the riveting conversations and in a shrewd slicing of viewer expectations.  There is a disconcerting, hushed quality throughout the film, even in those conversations, which project a tense, quiescent air of revelation.

Next week: perhaps the bleakest film of the cycle, The Tall T (1957).

CAPSULE: MOON (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Duncan Jones

FEATURING: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

PLOT: Sam, two weeks away from finishing a lonely three year contract on a one man

Still from Moon (2009)

lunar mining base, finds to his shock that he’s not alone on the moon—and the identity of his new companion leads him to investigate the true nature of his assignment.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I had high hopes of this turning weird, especially due to the guarded plot synopses that implied there might be some sort of lunatic psychological thriller angle to the film.  Unfortunately, although Moon threatens to veer off reality road and foray into the weird wilderness a few times in the early going, it soon straightens its course and plays as a straightforward work of speculative fiction.  Still, as a very well-made film with some unusual sights and an unusually thoughtful tone, it’s worth the trip to Moon for anyone seeking something off Hollywood’s well-beaten path.

COMMENTSMoon starts out as a mystery: something is “off” about the lunar base, and specifically about Sam’s role in the mission.  But the mystery is answered early on, and from that point out the film plays as a drama, milking Sam’s situation (a situation that is unique in the history of mankind) of every implication it can think of.  From Sam’s loneliness and increasing anger, desperation, and finally resignation, the film generates a genuine pathos.  The shift from mystery to drama is accomplished seamlessly, because Moon‘s the unifying principle isn’t really its plot, but its exploration of ideas about what the future may look like, what ethical challenges and basic lifestyle changes future technologies may bring us.  First time director Jones confesses to being inspired by, and borrowing from, “hard” science fiction films like Outland and Silent Running, but Moon inevitably evokes the granddaddy of them all—2001—more than anything (especially since the base’s intelligent computer, Gerty, is basically HAL updated with emoticons).  Jones doesn’t shy from the inevitable comparison, but embraces it and uses it to the story’s advantage.  Sam Rockwell’s performance, which requires him to be onscreen for nearly every shot, could be a career defining moment, craftwise.  The plot is intricate, requiring the viewer to pay closer attention than they may be accustomed to, but the tale is told well, and despite a few curve balls it’s not as confusing as it might have been.  Special effects are minimal, but the lunar landscapes exhibit all the eerie alien beauty one would hope for.

Despite its overall intelligence, Moon is far from airtight.  Some of the technologies used in the film seem more like plot devices than rational scientific solutions to problems faced by future humans.  Objections arise that could have been fully addressed in a novel or long story, but in a ninety minute movie, the audience will have to do some work on their own to fill in the gaps, or simply agree to suspend disbelief.  But, in an era when science’s role in science fiction is increasingly relegated to the production of rayguns and killer robots, Moon‘s serious speculation about the world of the rapidly approaching future is a breath of fresh oxygen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…never quite gets out from under the titanic shadow of his obvious inspirations. The movie feels like a full-length homage along the lines of Roman Coppola’s CQ, a dream within a dream rather than a soup-to-nuts vision… Moon chokes in its last reel, skirting the ambiguous terrain of Tarkovsky and Kubrick in favor of a too-pat ending. But [Jones] creates a world worth soaking up for an hour and a half, an engrossing journey in the realm of the selves.”–Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper

28. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

“You’ve seen all kinds of movies, but you’ve never seen anything like The Rocky Horror Picture ShowThe Rocky Horror Picture Show is wonderfully weird.  It’s fabulously freaky… The story is strange…  the scenery is smashing… the cast is completely crazy!”–ad copy from the extended 3 minute trailer

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, ,

PLOT:  In this musical, Brad and Janet, a very square, newly engaged couple, get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in a rainstorm and seek shelter in a nearby castle.  Inside, they find the building populated by a strange assortment of characters dominated by Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a “sweet transvestite from Transylvania.”  Frank-N-Furter has created a blond bodybuilder named “Rocky Horror” for his own erotic enjoyment, and when the cast starts bedding each other jealousy rules the day—until a rival scientist in a wheelchair complicates matters even further when he arrives looking for his murdered son.

Still from Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was an adaptation of writer/actor Richard O’Brien’s hit stage show that began in London in 1973.  The show also played Los Angeles with Tim Curry starring with a mostly American cast, including singer Meat Loaf as Eddie.  The play opened on Broadway shortly before the film version debuted and was a flop, closing after a mere forty-five performances.
  • Fox Studios wanted to cast popular musicians of the day in the main roles (including Mick Jagger as Frank-N-Furter), but the producers accepted a lower budget in order to keep the cast from the stage production mostly intact.  Meat Loaf had recorded a top 100 single years before, but would not become a major rock star until 1977 with the release of “A Bat Out of Hell”.
  • The film bombed on release, but gradually found cult audience through midnight screenings.  As early as 1976 audiences had begun shouting their own dialogue back at the screen.  This gradually developed into the unprecedented Rocky Horror audience participation ritual, where the audience is not only an active part of the movie experience, but the main attraction.  Fans come to screenings dressed as their favorite characters, speak their own scripted counterpoint dialogue to the screen (being particularly rude to Barry Bostwick’s Brad) and bring along props (e.g., water pistols to simulate the rainstorm).  In the more elaborate productions, amateur actors appear on a stage in front of the screen, dancing and pantomiming the lines during the musical numbers.
  • Rocky Horror has shown continuously in theaters since 1975, making it the longest running theatrical release of all time.  The film has taken in almost $140 million in receipts, making it the 215th highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation).
  • MTV Networks has announced plans to remake the movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  No question; Tim Curry in full femme makeup and black leather and satin drag, dressed to make glam-era David Bowie look as macho as an NFL defensive lineman by comparison.  The image will never leave your mind; for some, it will haunt your nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a rock n’ roll musical inspired by old sci-fi and horror B-movies

Original trailer for The Rocky Horror Picture Show

about an alien transvestite. From the moment Richard O’Brien conceived the idea, there was no doubt that it would be weird; the only question was whether he could mold it into something that was even mildly watchable.

COMMENTS:  Because we’re interested in weird movies here, not in weird sociological Continue reading 28. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

LIST CANDIDATE: CURE (1997)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Masato Hagiwara

PLOT:  A detective with a mentally ill wife seeks to solve a series of murders committed by ordinary people, each of whom has come into contact with a strange, amnesiac man.

Still from Cure (1997)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: There’s no doubt Cure is a weird one, what with its unexplained creatures tied to shower rods, its ambiguous antagonist, and its head-scratching ending.  It’s also a good psychological thriller, but it doesn’t quite throw the knockout punch needed to give it an undisputed place on the 366 weirdest movies of all time (although I admit the general critical consensus disagrees with that position).  Cure does seem like a movie that could well age into an outstanding vintage if it’s left to ferment in the cellar of the viewer’s subconscious for a time, which is why I suspect I’ll be returning to sample it again someday.

COMMENTSCure is a movie that seeks to sink into the lowest, darkest depths of the human subconscious and wallow there.  It’s no doubt an intriguing, and a weird, movie, but I found it somewhat unsatisfying by the end: it pulls itself apart by moving in too many different directions.  The premise is that ordinary people commit atrocious murders, using the same modus operandi, an “X” cut into their victim’s chest.  Their reactions after they’re apprehended vary from maniacal bereavement to calm detachment, but the perpetrators uniformly report that their horrific actions seemed normal at the time.  The tie that binds these unwitting criminals together is that they’ve all encountered Mr. Mamiya, an amnesiac young man who has a short-term memory span somewhere between thirty seconds and one minute, and who answers almost every question put to him with the same response: “Who are you?”

On one obvious thematic level, the film deals with the question of identity, although it does so superficially (i.e., “who is” Takabe, really: the single-minded professional, or the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: CURE (1997)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/17/09

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.

Once again, there’s nothing of weird interest debuting in theaters this week.  However, Moon (the “intelligent” science fiction movie mentioned in the Weird Horizon for 6/12/09), is coming to town here and is likely to get a capsule review next week.

NEW ON DVD:

Faerie Tale Theatre: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen (1982): Fairy tales are perhaps the oldest form of weird literature, so we always perk up our ears when a fairy tale title is released. This disc collects four episodes from the short-lived but critically acclaimed children’s television show hosted by Shelly Duvall. Included in this set are the episodes “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Nightingale”, “The Snow Queen” and “Thumbelina.” The show always attracted major acting talent: Alan Arkin, Art Carney, Mick Jagger, Edward James Olmos, Lee Remick, and Carrie Fisher star on this disc. Buy from Amazon.

For All Mankind (1989): OK, this impressive documentary about the moon landing probably isn’t technically weird, but it is a noteworthy release from the Criterion Collection.  The visuals are said to be spectacular, and images of takeoff and landing on the moon from the astronaut’s perspective certainly aren’t run of the mill; it’s also told in a non-linear, collage-like fashion and features an ambient soundtrack by Brian Eno. Buy from Amazon.

Grey Gardens (2009):  The original Grey Gardens was a 1975 documentary about two eccentric female relations of Jackie Onassis who became recluses and lost touch with the outside world (and with reality) at the decaying titular estate.  This version is a dramatic recreation of that documentary, produced by HBO and starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.   Adapting a documentary into a dramatic film seems pointless, but reviews were actually very good. Buy from Amazon.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)/Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)/House of Flying Daggers (2004): The recent run of Chinese epics tend to be colorful, magical, and fantastical, even when they’re not full-on weird (and even when they’re directed by Chinese-Americans rather than natives). If you’re a fan of the genre, and you probably should be, here’s your chance to snag a triple-featurenotable titles on Blu-ray at a bargain price. Also, Crouching Tiger is currently only available on Blu-ray in this bundle (a fact that has frankly pissed off many fans who already own the other two titles). Buy from Amazon.

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.

CAPSULE: MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

DIRECTED BY:  George Miller, George Ogilvie

FEATURING: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner

PLOT:  Loner and reluctant hero Mad Max wanders out of the desert and into a crossroads

Still from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

of post-apocalyptic vice known as Bartertown, and later discovers a colony of innocent children in a peaceful oasis who believe him to be a messiah.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If costuming alone could earn a film a place on the list of the 366 weirdest films of all time, then Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome‘s raggedy punk centurions and Tina Turner’s post-aerobic post-apocalyptic fashions would easily qualify it.  Thunderdome is also the weirdest of the Mad Max series because of its emphasis on new post-civilization rituals: for example, the bizarre legal system of Bartertown, administered by a philosophical hunchback Magistrate of Ceremonies, where tort disputes are resolved by gladiatorial battles and a breach of contract results in a random punishment spun from a wheel of fortune.  But, even though Thunderdome is the oddest of the trilogy, it’s still basically just a creative Western dressed up with sci-fi trappings; it’s weird by summer blockbuster standards, but fails to sneak across the mass appeal genre-piece border.

COMMENTS:  The “Mad Max” series was the most inventive sci-fi/action hybrid of the 1980s, one which sparked a brief but fun post-apocalyptic cycle (which produced a few genuinely weird low-budget Mad Max knockoffs).  Each Mad Max film inhabited the same fascinating universe, a world of scarce resources, shaky alliances, and dying machines held together with spit and twine, but each was very different in tone.  All are recommended.  The original Mad Max was a dark, character-driven revenge drama that gained a cult following.  Mad Max 2, more commonly known as The Road Warrior, was a rollicking action piece that caught lightning in a bottle and inspired Hollywood to pump money into a sequel.  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was… well, it was what happens when the series gets a big head and tries to be a summer blockbuster.  The Tina Turner pop song that plays over the opening credits is shamelessly anachronistic and completely inappropriate for a Max movie, but it sets the tone of confused priorities that defines Thunderdome.  The movie flits uncomfortably between the exaggerated, radioactive Casablanca of Bartertown and the brave new Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan world of the children’s tribe.  It’s also a movie that recycles and steals from other movies.  Popular elements from the Road Warrior are reused here.  The feral child has been transformed into an horde of tribal ragamuffins, Bruce Spence from Warrior reappears as a pilot (the character may be the same one from the previous movie; it’s never explained), and the finale is a shameless remake of Warrior‘s climax with a train substituting for the tanker.  There are also blatant references to Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns, and the children’s mangled language (“Time counts and keeps countin’, and we knows now finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride”) is reminiscent of the made-up nasdat cant of A Clockwork Orange.  Maybe this reusing of old bits and pieces is appropriate in a movie about an emerging society being built on the ruins of another.  The overall effect is a movie that’s jumbled and uncentered, more than a bit loopy, but still lots of fun.  That overall goofiness, combined with the unique ramshackle look of the punk-barbarian world nearly, but not quite, tilts Thunderdome into the weird zone.

Rumors of a fourth Max movie have been circulating for over twenty years now, and continue as strong as ever.  I wouldn’t hold my breath.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a movie that strains at the leash of the possible, a movie of great visionary wonders.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times (contemporaneous)

27. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)

“I think the movie is fun.  It has a lot of serious emotional stuff in it, but it’s funny in a weird way. You don’t have to worry, ‘What does the burning house mean?’  Who cares.  It’s a burning house that someone lives in—it’s funny.”–Director/writer Charlie Kaufman

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener

PLOT: Caden is a community theater director in Schenectady, New York, whose marriage and health are crumbling.  When things seem their lowest—his wife abandons him, and he believes that he’s dying—he inexplicably receives a MacArthur Genius grant.  He uses the money to create a meticulous recreation of New York City inside a warehouse, filled with actors playing characters from his own life, including one playing Caden the director himself.

Still from Synecdoche, New York

BACKGROUND:

  • Synecdoche is the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, who has been the screenwriter behind most of Hollywood’s big-budget weird films in the past decade.  His scripting credits include Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).
  • Kaufman began the script for Synecdoche as a horror film to be directed by frequent collaborator Spike Jonze.  Over two years the script evolved into its current tragicomedy form, and, as Jonze was busy with other projects, it was agreed that Kaufman would direct, with Jonze co-producing.
  • Synecdoche, New York won the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for best first feature.

INDELIBLE IMAGESynecdoche is a movie that weirds us out more through the concepts and dramatic situations than through the visuals, but there is a lovely image of a tattooed rose that physically sheds a real dead petal as its owner expires.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Charlie Kaufman.  More to the point, Charlie Kaufman unleashed; unlike Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, where weird and puzzling events are given a rational (if obscure) answer by the end, the weirdness of Synecdoche deliberately frustrates all attempts at a logical solution.  Hazel’s house, which burns and smokes for decades without being consumed, is shamelessly absurd.  The movie is an exploration of dream logic, a life journey that fractures time, space and coherence, where individual events do not add up piece by piece on a plot level, but resolve themselves on an emotional level.

Original trailer for Synecdoche, New York

COMMENTS: “There is a secret something at play under the surface, growing like an Continue reading 27. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)

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