CAPSULE: THE PERFECT SLEEP (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Alter

FEATURING: Anton Pardoe, Roselyn Sanchez, Patrick Bauchau

PLOT: A man returns to dark, nameless city to save the life of “the one who got away,” putting his life at risk and his very soul at hazard while navigating the streets and his own past for clues as to her whereabouts.

Still from The Perfect Sleep (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While the features of a shadowy noir city full of hyper-naturally Hammett-esque characters smack of something rather strange, The Perfect Sleep really isn’t all that odd, nor is it really that good. It’s more of a hyperbolic homage, a sort of tip-of-the-hat to the noir films of the 40s and 50s that’s so hard and abrupt that it tips the person under the hat. There’s tribute, there’s parody, and then there’s The Perfect Sleep, both somewhere in-between as well as something else entirely.

COMMENTS: There’s something to be said for the positively assaulting aesthetics that pervade this film. This town The Perfect Sleep exists in, extreme (and extremely hilarious) anachronisms aside, fully commits to the idea of the dark and atmospheric urban sprawl that populated so many crime dramas after World War II. Every alleyway seems dangerous, and nobody is who you think they are once you pass them in the night that seems to last forever. But once one soaks in the impressive scenery, The Perfect Sleep quickly becomes a bland song-and-dance routine that feels like an amalgam of Last Man Standing, Dark City, and Double Indemnity, aped poorly and without the safety net of an exorbitant budget. I feel, personally, that this movie’s prime directive should have been to let me in on the story at hand, what will be happening soon. Instead, we are allowed to get lost while the hero, Anton Pardoe, reads exposition distantly from a poor script. It’s like the story, and what our nameless hero is doing, is none of our business, and we’re supposed to just continue blithely along, hoping it will all get sorted out in the end.

The Perfect Sleep makes for a very passive movie watching experience that could have taken an example from The Big Sleep, a noir that had a rather weak story but a dynamic style that kept everyone engaged, thus making the mile-long plot holes seem to vanish into thin air. Instead of taking a page from that movie, though, we find ourselves locked into a story that the characters take incredibly seriously, but whose meaning is lost on the audience. As a weird movie, I would not even suggest it for its unusual moments. Some scenes, like when a freaky doctor punctures the lungs of a couple of strangers with a scalpel, work as unorthodox thriller moments or unnerving horror. But these bits are insignificant compared to the massive time spent amidst the clichés of a period crime drama/dark gangster flick. The critics were, for the most part, unanimous about The Perfect Sleep‘s banality, and I’m afraid I have to throw my hat into the ring with them, this time. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing very weird about that.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Unfortunately, Alter’s often inventive work is kneecapped by a deliriously nonsensical script, which misses the mark as both over-the-top parody and straight-faced homage, and could have been intended as either.”-Andrew Barker, Variety

JAMES FELIX MCKENNEY’S TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES

James Felix McKenney is the director of the campy cannibal fest CanniBallistic! (2002), the ghost story The Off Season (2004), the retro sci-fi robot flick Automatons (1996), and the just-released Satan Hates You (2009), a modern Christian scare movie that plays like a Jack Chick tract brought to life (view the trailer here).  You can read up on his projects at his production company website, monsterpants.net.

A top 10 list! I love making movie lists but narrowing it down my favorite ten weird ones was a real challenge!

Films by David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, José Mojica Marins, Guy Maddin, Ken Russell and Andrzej Zulawski should be included on EVERY list of this type, but I’m guessing that most visitors to this site already have them as part of their own top ten.  I also should have put a Jean Rollin film somewhere on here, but which one?  Lost in New York, maybe?  After eliminating these directors’ works from my list, I still found myself with over 30 movies to choose from.

Hausu should also be on here, but my colleague Graham Reznick recently included it on his top ten, giving me an excuse to trim my list down further.   Begotten, Phantasm, and The Wicker Man are among of my favorite movies in the world, but have already made this wonderful web site’s master list.  Other films that didn’t make it to my top ten were: The Last Movie (one of my favorite films of all time), Rubber’s Lover, The Flew, Daft Punk’s Electroma, Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare, Blood Freak, Arrebato, We Are the Strange, Zardoz, Red to Kill, Jigoku, Dementia (AKA Daughter of Horror), Gusher No Binds Me (AKA Hellevator), Abhay and Goodbye, 20th Century.

Anyway, here’s my (sort of) Top Ten.  I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one of my all-time favorites.  These are the films that make my brain hurt while putting a smile on my face.  Thanks for asking.

Deafula (1974): I used to have friends over to my house every Wednesday for a movie night.  Of all of the oddities I subjected my guests to, none ever went over quite as well as Deafula.

The awkward storytelling and bottom-of-the-barrel production values of this bizarre, so-bad-it’s-good film are almost enough to warrant a spot on any weird movie list. But when you add the fact that this is a vampire movie for the hearing impaired in which Continue reading JAMES FELIX MCKENNEY’S TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Happy 2010 to everyone!  We’re still cleaning 2009 movies out of our vaults, so next week you can expect to see reviews of the fantasy noir The Perfect Sleep and Mr. Sadman, the indie comedy/drama about a Saddam Hussein body-double on the loose in Los Angeles.  Also on tap is a capsule review of Sharon Tate’s movie debut, Eye of the Devil (1966).  And, now that the 2009 wrap-up is nearly complete we promise to get to work on that reader-suggested review queue!

Search terms used to locate the site are getting less and less weird every week, but we thought “wierd movie titles three words” was noteworthy.  A couple of weeks ago what was presumably the same searcher was looking for two-word weird movie titles; I guess he’s completed that project and moved on.

The reader suggested review queue looks like this: Greaser’s Palace (substituted for Institute Benjamenta), Waking Life, Survive Style 5+, The Dark Backward, The Short Films of David Lynch, Santa Sangre, Dead Man, Inland Empire, Monday (assuming I can find an English language version), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Barton Fink, What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams), Meatball Machine, Xtro, Basket Case, Suicide Club, O Lucky Man!, Trash Humpers (when/if released), Gozu, Tales of Ordinary Madness, The Wayward Cloud, Kwaidan, Six-String Samurai, Andy Warhol’s Trash, Altered States, Memento, Nightmare Before Christmas/Vincent/Frankenweenie, The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gothic, The Attic Expeditions, After Last Season, Getting Any?, Performance, Being John Malkovich, The Apple, Southland Tales, Arizona Dream, Spider (2002), Songs From The Second Floor, Singapore Sling, Alice [Neco z Alenky], Necromania (1971, Ed Wood), Hour of the Wolf, MirrorMaskPossession, Suspiria, Mary and Max, and Wild Zero.  Yes, we really are gearing up to start whittling this list down!

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 1/1/2010

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 White Ribbon (2009): The 2009 Palme d’Or winner at Cannes.  Mysterious accidents pile up in a sleepy pre-WWI German town.  Described as “haunting,” “creepy,” and “mesmerizing,” but unlikely to be weird; then again, reviewers are keeping the plot details very close to their chest, so who knows?   The White Ribbon official site.

NEW ON DVD:

9 (2009):  Read our capsule review.  Shane Acker’s visually thrilling, plot-lite “stitchpunk” stop-motion kiddie epic hits vidstore shelves. The original (superior, and weirder) short on which the feature is based is included as an extra. Buy from Amazon.

Half-life (2008): Despite being a festival hit, this one never got a theatrical release that we can discover and flew under our radar. The plot is a multithreaded indie drama about the travails of suburban Asian-Americans combined with surreal animated flights of childhood fantasy.  Looks interesting. The IMDB message boards for this film are amusingly overwhelmed by complaints from disappointed teenage fans of the popular, identically titled video game. Buy from Amazon.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

9: See description under DVD above. Buy Blu-ray 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.

TOP 10 LIST EXTRAVAGANZA: TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF THE YEAR, DECADE, AND MORE

Here’s my personal picks for top ten weird movies of the decade (setting aside the fact that it may be more reasonable to consider the decade as ending in 2010, rather than 2009).  This list only covers movies we’ve actually reviewed, so if you read on you’ll also find the top 10 movies we didn’t get to, the top 10 weird movies of 2009, and my top 10 picks for 2009 (regardless of weirdness).

TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF THE DECADE (2000-2009)

10. Elevator Movie (2004) – A loser is trapped inside an elevator with a former slut turned Jesus freak, for months on end, in a compelling low-budget surrealist drama mixing No Exit and The Exterminating Angel with a touch of Eraserhead.

9. Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005) – A jumbled up series of surreal short movies and music videos, linked by common characters and themes, but refusing to make sense; no one forgets the scene where the schoolgirl inserts a tube in her navel to give birth to a miniature sushi chef.

8. I Can See You (2008) -A neurotic, romantically frustrated loner goes on a camping trip with his advertising company buddies, and loses complete contact with reality.  Features a wonderfully bizarre musical sequence; an oily, omnipotent ad pitchman who talks to the protagonist inside his head; and a 20 minute psychedelic freakout at the climax.

7. Tideland (2005) – Terry Gilliam’s dark and controversial riff on Alice in Wonderland tells a bleak and frightening story of a young girl abandoned to the world of her imagination. There’s nothing explicit shown, but the nuanced and challenging scenes implying child abuse and molestation were too intense and downbeat for mainstream viewers.

6. Ink (2009) – Visually impressive low-budget fantasy about a mysterious figure who snatches a sleeping girl into a world of dreams. The nightmarish incubuses, with their smiley-faced facades displayed on malfunctioning LCD screens attached to their heads, are unforgettable, and the payoff is emotionally satisfying.
Continue reading TOP 10 LIST EXTRAVAGANZA: TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF THE YEAR, DECADE, AND MORE

DREYER’S CINEMATIC PASSION (OF JOAN OF ARC)

Every time a prestigious film institute puts together an official, stamped with authority list of “The Greatest Films of All Time” their number one pick is going to be Citizen Kane. No surprises there. Such lists might as well be packaged and sold as a 1.2.3 paint-by-numbers set. Ironically, it was the granddaddy of all film institutes that treated Kane’s creator as a heretic, refused to give him due recognition, banished him to Europe and excommunicated him for life.

Taking absolutely nothing from that film, nor Orson Welles, Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made.  That honor probably goes to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 Passion of Joan of Arc.

Rarely do classic films live up to the hype. Throughout the 1970s numerous books whispered about this lost film. It was very common to read its being compared to a fugue. Several veteran critics lamented its loss, something akin to losing a sacred relic. Only the loss of Von Stroheim’s uncut Greed inspired as much passion.

Then, in the early 1980’s a near mint condition print was found in the closet of an Italian mental institute.  When it was finally made available, many, myself included, bristled with excitement, wondering if this film was everything it was said to be.

Regardless of how much you’ve read about The Passion of Joan of Arc, nothing prepares you for it.  By the time the credits roll, the viewer feels emptied, literally drained. It is that devastating, as an emotional, spiritual, ecstatic, and aesthetic experience.

Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is an essential, time-defying, inimitable cinematic experience of (German) Expressionism and (French) avant-garde.  The producers had wanted something else altogether, but Dreyer’s film was taken directly from Joan’s trial transcripts.  This is not Joan the warrior, but a young, frightened uneducated girl, absorbed in an ecstatic religious experience and a terrifying, inevitable martyrdom.

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)The performance of this Joan of Arc, as portrayed by Maria Falconetti, is the single greatest acting that has ever been imprinted, seared, burned, into celluloid.  But, this could hardly be called acting in any traditional sense.  Rumor has it that, in certain scenes, Dreyer made Falconetti kneel on hot coals to obtain the right expression of suffering, and Falconetti certainly was in abject misery for the hair cutting sequence (Dreyer’s reputation as a tyrannical dictator, ironically a bit like Joan’s judges, was well earned, but he made the Continue reading DREYER’S CINEMATIC PASSION (OF JOAN OF ARC)

CAPSULE: PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT: A FUGUE IN THE KEY OF FLESH (2009)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Mike McKown, Jim Towns

FEATURING: Josh Ebel, Kelly I. Lynn

PLOT: A mad doctor reanimates the body of his loved one who has died in a plague.

Still from Prometheus Triumphant: A Fugue in the Key of Flesh (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Silent films have an inherently dreamlike feel to them that gives them a leg up in the weird department. Prometheus Triumphant fails to capture and exploit this feeling, leaving us with a dull and lifeless film devoid of sound, color or interest.

COMMENTS: It’s tempting to give amateur films bonus points for good intentions, but with Prometheus Triumphant it seems like the filmmakers didn’t do due diligence to create something professional looking, thinking that a cool concept alone could carry the film. The first problem, as is usually the case, is the plot, a groaningly obvious and unoriginal mix of Frankenstein and The Phantom of the Opera that’s as thin as stage blood. Action is almost nonexistent: after embarking on his grave-robbing spree, it takes “The Creator” almost ten minutes to dig up and cart away his first corpse, and most of that time is spent watching him walk with a wheelbarrow across a bleak and uninteresting field with a few prop crucifixes in the foreground.

With no surprises or suspense in the story, Prometheus needs a strong visual look to compensate, one it’s incapable of generating on its budget. A few kind critics have implied that the film evokes the look of German Expressionism, but I’m led to wonder if they’ve ever actually seen a work of classic German expressionism. It’s true that both Prometheus and its inspirations are in black and white and use Gothic imagery, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone confusing a perfectly framed and detailed still from Nosferatu or Caligari with the mundane angles and dull sets of this one. Composer Lucein Desar clearly has some talent, but not enough ideas to stretch out over 80 minutes, and the score becomes repetitive and irritating.

Not all of Prometheus‘ flaws can be forgiven due to budgetary limitations; some of them come from an endemic lack of attention to detail. A shot containing a modern steel handrail and concrete steps in 1899 might be forgiven, but a navel ring on the corpse of a dead peasant girl can’t be. Even more revealing are the mistakes that show up in the intertitles. Many people confuse “throws” for “throes,” but in this day of automatic spellcheckers, how can anyone let a goof like “existance” slip into a project that’s intended to be professional? And if you’re going to misspell a term you’re only vaguely familiar with, such as “Bürgermeister,” at least be consistent: don’t use “Bergmeister” sometimes and “Burgmeister” other times.

It may seem picky, but these mistakes help explain why the flick is so listless in the end. Everyone seems so excited by the cool overarching concept of recreating a classic silent movie that they forgot to work on the little things that make a work breathe. It’s almost as if the camerawork, imagery, acting, script, action, sets, locations, costumes, and makeup all have no higher aspiration than to be usable, and the directors were satisfied if they turned out adequate. The end result isn’t a meaningful tribute to Murnau, Wiene and Lang; if it weren’t so sincerely intended, it would be an insult. Prometheus Triumphant reinforces every negative stereotype mainstream viewers have about silent films being boring and inferior. It’s what all bad, amateur horror movies would look like today if cinema had never developed sound, color, or slashers.

The DVD contains a short film by the same directorial team, “The Sleep of Reason,” that shows a bit more promise than Prometheus actually delivered. Despite the fact that the feature didn’t work on an entertainment or artistic level, I wouldn’t write Towns and McKown off as hacks. Sometimes things just don’t come together the way the creators imagined. At least they had some fun and hopefully learned some valuable lessons; but sadly, better-made independent features are sitting on shelves, while this failed experiment gets a relatively decent distribution deal.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for all its poetic visual bravura, seems distant when it should be dynamic, yet still worth the effort.”–Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times

BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Isaach De Bankolé, Paz de la Huerta, ,

PLOT: An enigmatic hitman is sent on an obscure mission to kill an unknown man for unexplained reasons; the movie follows him as he meets with a long string of contacts of unclear significance, each of whom gives him a matchbook with further instructions and offers him a piece of dime store philosophy.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Set in an unreal moviescape of secret rendezvous and mystifying portents, The Limits of Control has definite shadings of weird. It’s a bold experiment in pure cinema, and like most bold experiments, it’s partly successful and partly frustrating. Stripping the plot down beneath its bare essentials, to the merest skeleton, Jarmusch proves that you can get pretty far on cinematic tone and technique alone. He also proves that you can’t quite get all the way to a good movie solely through cinematics.

Still from The Limits of Control (2009)

COMMENTS:  Dawn’s light breaks across the open eyes of a lone man lying in a hotel room bed. He gets up, puts on a natty suit, and does tai chi exercises, measuring each move slowly and precisely. He goes to a cafe, sits alone, and orders two espressos in two cups; he sends the order back when the waiter brings a double espresso in a single cup. Night falls. He returns to his hotel room, lies down on his hotel room bed, eyes wide open. Time presumably passes. Dawn’s light breaks across his unblinking face. A new day has begun.

It’s a typical twenty-four hours in the life of the character known only as the Lone Man, a secret agent who spends most of his days walking around, looking at the Spanish scenery or visiting the modern art gallery, sitting alone quietly in a cafe sipping espresso, and staring off into space blankly. He’s a quiet man, one who makes Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name look like a chatterbox. He won’t say one word if zero words will get his point across. Occasionally, another spy will meet him at a cafe and they will exchange Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

AKA:  Blood Island

DIRECTED BY: David Green

FEATURINGOliver Reed, Gig Young, Flora Robson,

PLOT: In this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, a a string of grisly killings is linked to an unnameable creature inhabiting the loft of an abandoned New England mill inherited by newlyweds.

Still from THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:   The Shuttered Room showcases a strange story of monsters and madness. The setting is claustrophobic and creepy, the characters are downright bizarre, and so are the situations that the protagonists stumble into. The cinematography is expertly, if not artfully, executed. Thus the viewer expects a conventional storyline, and it is unsettling when shocking events unfold.

COMMENTS:  A newlywed couple, Mike and Susannah Kelton (Young, Lynley) travel to an island off of the Connecticut shoreline to visit an old mill which Sue just inherited.  It was once her childhood home.  From the start, she has reservations, but the couple perseveres at Mike’s urging.  They need to view the property with the goal of renovating the mill into a bed and breakfast.

As soon as they arrive on the island, the locals begin subjecting them to the old “Yew ain’t from around here!” treatment (even though Sue is). Mike meets her uncle who insists that they should leave.  The uncle’s employee shows Mike his mutilated face, missing an eye, and reports that the injury was caused by the devil when he got drunk and spent a night in the abandoned mill.  The couple also meet the local ruffians, a gang of unsavory toughs led by a psychopath named Ethan (Reed), who happens to be Sue’s cousin.  Mike is a dignified magazine editor. Both he and Sue are city-slickers—and it Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

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