JUST TONY (1922) & SKY HIGH (1922)


It all began with the legendary Tom Mix, the yardstick by which all B-Western stars are measured.

Born in 1880, Mix had worked with the Texas Rangers, had been a bartender, a sheriff, and a champion rodeo rider in his Wild West Show. Hollywood had a bona fide true blue western legend.  After becoming THE cowboy movie star at the age of 30, the extremely prolific Mix worked and played equally hard, developing a love for fast cars, fast women (married five times) , and reckless spending. Most of his 20’s westerns were adapted from Zane Grey novels and were high quality entertainment for the masses.   Mix often wrote, produced and directed in addition to acting.  He was the polar opposite to William S. Hart’s dusty realism.  Mix combined humor, increased action which featured his own stunt work, a star horse named Tony, flashy showmanship and enthusiastic energy in his films.   When his stardom naturally began to dim in the 1930’s, mainly due to age, he toured with his beloved Tom Mix Circus before an untimely high speed auto accident and a flying metal suitcase to the back of the head on an Arizona highway put an end to all the Circus in 1940, but not to the legend.   For ten years after his death, the Tom Mix Radio Show continued on with immense popularity.   Tom Mix comic books were also extremely popular for several decades, as was the touring Tom Mix festival which finally ran down (but not entirely out) in the mid 90’s.  Since most of his films are silent, few today have even seen a Tom Mix film, and his reputation by far exceeds the actual films.  Here are two Mixs from Sinister Cinema’s Sinister Six-Gun collection.

Just Tony (1922)Just Tony begins, aptly enough, with a trailer.  “Hit the Trail!  The Gun Ranger is out to clean up the town!  Bob Steel, two-gun deputy whose twitching fingers itch for fights!  Outlaws Rustlers Cowboys Posses and Bob Steel as the Gun Ranger!  A Republic Release.”  This trailer promises white hat cow dude Steel kicking black hat bad guy butt, a mix of masked bandits, pencil-thin mustached villains and a pretty girl exclaiming “Oh, Dan!”

Tom has his eyes on the beautiful black wild stallion, Tony, that he wants to tame, but first things first as he has Continue reading JUST TONY (1922) & SKY HIGH (1922)

53. BRONSON (2008)

Must See

“I always wanted to make a Kenneth Anger movie, and I wanted to combine great theatrical tradition and British pop cinema of the 60s, which was very psychedelic, and at the same time, to make a movie about a man who creates his own mythology. It had to be surreal in order to pay off.”–Director Refn on Bronson

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Winding Refn

FEATURING: Tom Hardy

PLOT: Narrated from a theater inside his own mind by Michael Peterson (later to rechristen himself Charles Bronson, his “fighting name” ), the movie is an aggressively stylized account of the true story of Britain’s most notorious prisoner, who spent 30 years of his 34 year sentence in solitary confinement for his violent behavior.  Peterson knocks over a post office with a sawed-off shotgun and receives a seven year penitentiary sentence; inside, he finds he has a natural affinity for institutional life as he nurtures a burgeoning passion for taking hostages and picking fights with prison guards.  Shuffled from prison to prison, and serving a brief stint in a hospital for the criminally insane, Peterson is furloughed, becomes a bare-knuckle boxer and adopts the name Bronson, and lasts a few months in the outside world before finding himself reincarcerated, at home once more.

Still from Bronson (2008)


BACKGROUND:

  • The movie stays true to the spirit of the real life Michael Peterson/Charlie Bronson, while omitting many facts and inventing others.  The real Charlie Bronson has won several awards in prison-sponsored contests for his artwork and poetry and has published several books, including a fitness guide and an autobiography titled “Loonyology.”  In one of his hostage-taking escapades, he demanded an inflatable doll, a helicopter and a cup of tea as ransom.
  • Before incarceration Michael Peterson actually worked as a circus strongman, which may be where he developed his distinctive trademark handlebar mustache and shaved pate.
  • Danish director Refn was previously best known for the gritty, documentary style Pusher trilogy, a look at the criminal drug dealing subculture in Copenhagen.
  • Some of the paintings appearing in the film and in the animated sequences are actual drawings by the real life Bronson.  Examples of Bronson’s artwork can be found here.
  • Actor Tom Hardy put on about 40 pounds of muscle for the role.  Previously best known as “Handsome Bob” in Guy Ricthie’s RocknRolla, Hardy is poised to become a breakout star, slated to replace Mel Gibson in the new “Mad Max” series.
  • Cinematographer Larry Smith began his career with Stanley Kubrick, working as an electrician on Barry Lyndon and a gaffer on The Shining before graduating to  assistant cameraman for Eyes Wide Shut.
  • At the film’s London premiere, a tape recording of Bronson’s voice was played, stating, “I’m proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on.  As long as my mother enjoys the film, I’m happy… I make no bones about it, I really was… a horrible, violent, nasty man.  I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either, because every punch I’ve ever flung in my life I’ve taken 21 back.”  This incident caused the Prison Officers’ Association to complain, because it is illegal to record a prisoner in a British prison without authorization.  The Association also accused the film of “glorifying violence.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bronson turning himself and his art teacher into living paintings in the very strange finale.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hyperstylized to the point of surreality, Bronson is biopic as


Original trailer for Bronson

mythology, an appropriate tack when dealing with a self-deluded, self-promoting subject.  The portrait that emerges is not so much of a fascinating but essentially unknowable real-life sociopath as it is a portrait of Bronson’s pseudo-artistic attempt to create a public image as an antihero, with notes of humanizing sympathy but also with plenty of knowing irony added to deglamorize its subject.

COMMENTS:  Tom Hardy’s performance in Bronson undercuts my theory of acting.  I Continue reading 53. BRONSON (2008)

LIST CANDIDATE: WHAT? [CHE?] (1972)

NOTE: In our December 2010 poll, readers decided we too hasty to dismiss What?, and voted to make it a candidate for the List.

AKA Diary of Forbidden Dreams

DIRECTED BY: Roman Polanski

FEATURING: Sydne Rome, ,

PLOT: An American hitchhiker in Italy loses her clothes and finds a Mediterranean villa full of oddball characters.

Still from What? (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: What? is an absurdist sex comedy that’s highly absurd, mildly sexy, and not one bit comic.  It’s weird, all right, but also slapdash and frequently insufferable; in short, not good enough to make a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

COMMENTS:  Some films are ahead of their times, misunderstood on release, and are ripe for reappraisal years later.  And sometimes, the critics get it right the first time, as when they ran screaming from early showings of What?.  Sandwiched in between Roman Polanski’s intricately constructed classics Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), What? seems like the improvised work of an overconfident director who believes he can do no wrong.  Polanski may be a genius, but light tone and full-out surrealism are a poor match to his talent for creating tension through subtly weird atmospheres.  The overarching concept is great, the assembled talent is impeccable, the Mediterranean setting is sublimely elegant, Sydne Rome is a perfect specimen of femininity… yet the script sucks all the life and fun out of the movie, delivering one scene after another that lands with a dull thud.  Heroine Rome, a hippie-esque ingenue, escapes a gang rape and flees to a villa inhabited by a cadre of eccentrics.  Foremost among them is Marcello Mastroianni, uncomfortably playing a dirty old man and ex-pimp.  Despite rumors of homosexuality and venereal diseases, Rome inexplicably falls for the lecher, and their trysts involve Mastroianni dressing in a tiger skin while she beats him or dressing like Napoleon while he beats her.  It’s a novelty to see an actor of Mastroianni’s status willingly degrade himself this way, but it’s neither as fun or as funny as it sounds.  Other poorly-sketched weirdos populating the mansion include a scuba diver (portrayed by Polanski) nicknamed Mosquito, a piano playing doctor, a dying patriarch who also turns out to be a dirty old man, a priest, and a naked woman wandering about the grounds.  Absurd gags fall flat: in one of the earliest, a housemaid sprays shaving cream in the air in an attempt to kill a fly.  Later, a workman will paint the back of Sydne’s appealing thigh blue, a rather uninteresting incident that the script insists on reminding us of over and over.  The biggest running gag is that someone keeps stealing Sydne’s clothes, although the thief doesn’t pilfer quite enough of them; there are long stretches of the movie where Rome runs around clothed. Not coincidentally, the movie then starts to drag.  A few clever ideas emerge, such as when certain scenes start to repeat themselves with slight variations, but in general the movie misses several golden opportunities to ratchet the absurdity up to truly entertaining levels.  Particularly disappointing is the dialogue; the potential for clever nonsense interplay between the innocent American and the depraved Europeans devolves into crude, uninteresting jokes.  A classical music score, references to Heraclitus, and paintings by Francis Bacon and Théodore Géricault in the background are deployed in an attempt to dress up the sleazy material in the clothes of high art.  What? isn’t recommended, but it can be viewed, and even enjoyed, as a novelty.  It’s unhinged, unpredictable, and full of that slightly naive and innocent late 1960s/early 1970s experimentalism that can be refreshing in this cynical age.  But it’s clearly a product of its time, not a work that transcends it.

The film that What? most resembles is the star-studded (Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Ringo Starr) 1968 erotic misfire Candy, a doomed attempt to translate Terry Southern’s satirical porn novel to the screen.  The concept of an erotic version of “Alice in Wonderland,” with a wide-eyed innocent encountering a cast of sexual deviants, has great promise, but has never been executed properly on screen.   Alex de Renzy’s XXX feature Pretty Peaches (1978) is probably the movie that runs the farthest with that particular ball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Polanski seems to be enjoying a weird, borderline-nonsensical joke at our expense, one without a punchline or a setup… a self-indulgent mess masquerading as a trippy free-for-all.”–Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club (DVD)

SHORT: MEATBALL MACHINE: REJECT OF DEATH (2007)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Asami

PLOT: An undead schoolgirl (?) joins three ethnic stereotypes to battle a bare-breasted Meatball Machine mutant in this music video-style short.

Still from Meatball Machine: Reject of Death (2007)


WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Filmed by special effects maven Yoshihiro Nishimura in 2007 as an extra for the Meatball Machine DVD, Reject of Death was made without a net, and without a sense of accountability to anyone who might censor it for content, or for sense.  Done in the style of a music video, it displays all the narrative rigor one expects from the form—which actually serves this material well.  Add politically incorrect stereotypes to the fast-moving mix of absurdist gore, heavy metal music, and killer boobs, and you have one weird little extra.

COMMENTS: I can only imagine that the correct way to see Reject of Death is to view it before seeing Meatball Machine; not knowing the “rules” of the MM universe likely to boost the already pretty “WTF?” level into the stratosphere.  The scene is set by a schoolgirl causally hacking at her arm with a razor, only to find a glowing button encased beneath her flesh.  She presses the button, and heavy metal power chords assault our ears.  Cut to a scene of a wigged prostitute whose trick turning is interrupted by the whir of tentacles and spray of blood that indicates infection by alien parasites.  Intercut those scenes with three ethnic stereotypes—a Native America, and African, and an Asian—wandering bemused around the streets of a Japanese city.  Bring all three groups together on a rooftop for a bloody battle royale which sprinkles in kung fu posturing, hermaphrodism, and a nipple that shoots barbed chains into eyeballs, and you have yourself an out-of-control featurette that will score with fans of pop-surrealism and exploitation-extremism alike.   Rejects of Death utilizes the thin mythology set up in Meatball Machine, and very well may be an attempt to explain one character’s back story, but it stands apart stylistically from the feature that inspired it.  Unabashedly (and gloriously) offensive, the short isn’t special enough by itself to justify a DVD purchase, but packaged together with the feature film, it may be enough to inspire fence-sitters to take a chance on a rental.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…as good—and in some respects, much better—than the main movie.”–Bill Gibron, DVD Verdict

CAPSULE: CAT PEOPLE (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Schrader

FEATURING: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee,

PLOT: A young woman struggles with an ancient family curse while pursuing the purrfect mate.

Still from Cat People (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Cat People, loosely based on the Val Lewton original, is a slightly atypical, high quality horror film.  It is a variation of the old werewolf theme, focused on felines rather than canines.  It is not quite unconventional enough to be weird, but it has a strange feel compared to other horror movies.

COMMENTS: Orphaned, beautiful Irena (Kinski) comes to live with her brother Alex (McDowell) in his creepy new Orleans home, after being separated from him for years by the mysterious death of their parents.  Alex is a pastor at an even creepier chapel and he carries the burden of some rather odd baggage.  It seems that he is taken to roaming and prowling at night, climbing trees, clawing things up, wolfing down prostitutes, and getting himself locked in zoo cages.  Worse, he unceremoniously demands sex from the mousy Irena, who isn’t exactly keen on the idea.  It never occurs to poor Alex to try sprinkling some catnip on his business areas and begging to have his tummy scratched.

Irena discovers that if she rubs up against anybody besides Alex, she will turn into a puma—a carnivorous puma with an insatiable lust for rich, red, raw human flesh.  To become human again herself, she must feast on the living.  This is of course, quite understandable.  Few things are as disappointing as a menu of Fancy Feast, when one could be munching on a delicious man like John Heard (C.H.U.D.) or his lusty girlfriend Annette O’Toole (Smile).  Heard’s zookeeper character certainly gives Irena aplenty to purr about.  Irena falls in love with Heard, but will she be able to resist his charms—and the savory goodness of his tender, meaty loins and chops?  Then there’s the matter of that pesky girlfriend with the hair like red yarn.  She caterwauls her concerns surrounding Irena, and Irena wishes a cat had her tongue.  Hopefully she’s nothing a hiss and a swat can’t take care of.

Irena explores the French Quarter and her blossoming desires, and experiences some very unsettling biological changes when she’s in heat.  She becomes embroiled in a murder case as her brother stalks her, she stalks the girlfriend, chases after Heard, and Alex plays cat and mouse with the police.  Meanwhile Heard is quickly beginning to realize that toying with the supernatural is not always the cat’s meow.

Cat People is a very arty film with a distinctive visual pawprint featuring Big Easy location cinematography and some striking, unusual shots. There are some interesting ultraviolet night sequences filmed from a werecat’s point of view that are innovative for the date of release, putting the simple thermal imaging used in Wolfen to shame.  An original score by David Bowie and Girogio Moroder (Midnight Express) compliments the avant-garde look and feel of the film.  Well acted, Cat People is a pleasing change of pace from mediocre, industry standard horror movies.  It boasts an unusual, well-structured plot and a bizarre ending which nicely balances out the heavy compliment of cat shots.  And by cat shots, I mean very solid thespianism on the part of a couple of beautiful and charming black leopards (in addition to all the of naked supple human breasts, and full frontal nude footage of the spectacular specimen of feline-esque femininity, Nastassja Kinski, captured in her prime. Rowwwr!)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The obscure proceedings are often ludicrous (especially in the orange-colored primal-dream sequences), yet you don’t get to pass the time by laughing, because it’s all so queasy and so confusingly put together…”–Pauline Kael, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week you can expect to see reviews of Cat People (the 1982 remake), the overlooked biopic Bronson (a heavily stylized account of Britain’s most violent prisoner), and, from out of the reader-suggested review queue, the Roman Polanski absurdist sex-comedy (!) What (Diary of Forbidden Dreams) [Che?].  Add in another B-western review from Alfred Eaker and you have a week!

It was a poor week for weird search terms.  Did the people searching for bizarre insect porn and Napoleon riding cults take the week off?  But we found that “vega sex capsule man” (the worst superhero ever?) had a certain weird ring to it.  Honorable mention to the guy looking for “zex in zex movies.”

Here’s how the reader-suggested review queue stands: What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams) (next week); 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; 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; MirrorMask; Possession; Suspiria; Mary and Max; Wild Zero; 4; Nothing (2003); The Peanut Butter Solution; Ninja Scroll; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; Danger: Diabolik; Faust; Sublime; Battle Royale; Pink Floyd: The Wall; Escanaba In Da Moonlight; Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter; Zardoz; The Films of Suzan Pitt; Toto the Hero [Toto le Héros]; Paprika; The Holy Mountain; Brazil; The Casserole Masters; Dark Crystal; Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets; The Nines; 964 Pinocchio; The Pillow Book; Final Flesh; Lunacy [Sílení]; Inmortel; Tetsuo; Dead Ringers; Kairo [AKA Pulse]; The Guatemalan Handshake; Dead Leaves; Frownland; The Seventh Seal; Taxidermia; Primer; Maniac (1934); Hausu; A Boy and His Dog; 200 Motels; Walkabout; Private Parts (1972); Possession; Saddest Music in the World; Mulholland Drive; The American Astronaut; Blood Tea and Red Strings; Malice in Wonderland; The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. II (for Lucifer Rising, among others); The Human Centipede (First Sequence); Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ; The Bride of Frank; La Grande Bouffe; Uzumaki [Spiral]; and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

In other news, we added a slight update to Steppenwolfs Certified Weird entry after discovering this informative 2000 article from The Guardian about colorful co-producer Melvin Abner, whose idea of movie pre-production involved dropping acid with Timothy Leary!

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 3/26/2010

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):

Bluebeard [Barbe Bleu] (2009):  Sumptuous costume fairy tale retelling the story of the titular spouse-slaying aristocrat.   Directed by Catherine Breillat, notorious for including explicit sex in provocative movies like Romance, this film is receiving almost unanimous critical acclaim.  No official website.

NEW ON DVD:

Institute Benjamenta, or, This Dream People Call Human Life (1995): We’ve been awaiting the re-release of this surrealist story about a boarding school for servants from the Quay brothers, once known for their bizarre stop-animation shorts. Major props to the British Film Institute for rescuing this one from obscurity. Now for the bad news: it’s currently only available in Region 2. There is supposed to be a Blu-ray release as well, but we don’t see one in the U.S. (fingers crossed, yet).  Europeans can buy this from Movie Mail UK.

The Prisoner (2009) (Miniseries): American Movie Channel’s remake of the classic 1960s anti-authority/existential/absurdist cult-TV program about an ex-spy trapped on an island where everyone goes by a number, not a name, with Ian McKellen playing the sinister Number Two.  Fans of the original were outraged, often calling it “incomprehensible” (did they see the finale of the original?)  We’d be willing to give it a chance. Buy “The Prisoner” (Miniseries)

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.

REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

Rev. Donald Wildmon is, thankfully a dinosaur, a dying breed of self-appointed “moral crusader” bullies who blasphemously oppresses in the name of a peasant Jew who hung out with hookers and derelicts, talked a theology of love, understanding, and peace, and was brutally butchered by Wildmon’s own type some two thousand years ago.  Wildmon bullies in the name of this Jew to masquerade his own ignorance.  Each year that passes it becomes increasingly apparent that the world will be better off when he and his type are extinct.

In 1988, Rev. Wildmon saw an episode of Ralph Bakshi’s “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse.”  The show was imaginative, colorful, and witty.  Wildmon’s Methodist toupee did a double take and he screamed “The Devil” when he saw something he could not understand, let alone appreciate.  (Specifically, Wildmon saw Mighty Mouse happily sniffing a crushed flower, and presumed the scene promoted cocaine use).  So Wildmon cocked up his triple chin and let out a Tarzan styled yell to his fellow Neo-Nazi thugs.  Wildmon and the brown shirts started their march, taking it all the way to the faceless sponsors of “Mighty Mouse.”  It’s not surprising that Wildmon bedded with money to attack an imaginative kids show.  After all, that peasant Jew was killed because he messed with the money system.

The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse Flower SceneSo Wildmon and his silly cult bedded with the Pharisees and killed Bakshi’s child.  This was one of many offenses they perpetrated.  I am sure the good Reverend has several trophies on that triple chinned ego of his mantle.  With too few exceptions,”Mighty Mouse” was one of the last times in which television has shown any inclination for imagination, creativity and style.  In its place we have reality TV and trash TV that dumb down to the lowest common denominator.  Thank you, Rev.Wildmon, for your gift.  Yes, there might be a few clever television programs among the dreck, some worthwhile dramas, but aesthetically ground-breaking television, especially aesthetically ground-breaking children’s television, damn near died away when Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” went the way of Lenny Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts.”

But, that is not the end of the story, Now, finally, “Mighty Mouse” has re-emerged onto a DVD collection to save the day.  Hopefully, Wildmon and his worthless kin, who serve no purpose in life except as societal cancer, will go crawl into a hole and die away.  The rest of us can celebrate the resurrection of our fearless mouse.

Now, “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse” is, admittedly, a somewhat mixed bag, Continue reading REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Yûdai Yamaguchi and Jun’ichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai

PLOT:  Alien parasites infect human hosts, morphing their bodies into bio-combat machines who then fight each other to the death; shy factory worker Yôji and Sachiko, the lonely girl he fancies, soon find themselves caught up in the struggle.

Still from Meatball Machine (2005)


WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEMeatball Machine‘s alien gladiator-parasite setup is bizarre, but the movie never really tries to top its strangeness.  Rather, the weirdness pretty much stops at the premise, as the producers instead spend their energy indulging their true loves: gore and special effects.  The result is a movie that’s well within the weird genre, but not an outstanding example of it. (NOTE: upon further reflection, Meatball Machine was upgraded to “Borderline Weird” on 7/5/2010).

COMMENTS: To say that Meatball Machine‘s storyline is thin would be an insult to the relatively dense scripts of Michael Bay. In fact, the entire last half hour of the movie is nothing but an extended melee that persists long after the dual directors have run out of combat hooks.  To keep us emotionally involved in between (and during) the fight scenes, the plot takes a perfunctory stab at a touching love story between two losers; viewers will have to buy into this romance on their own, as neither the script nor the actors sell it.  But though Meatball Machine might be light on depth, what the movie does have going for it is unforgettable costume design and a few endearing oddnesses; and, of course, buckets of gore, for those who consider that a plus.  The alien parasites who populate this film thrive by inserting themselves inside humans and mutating the host body to create an ever-evolving arsenal of extremely implausible organic weapons, among which are biochainsaws, bioflamethrowers, and, for the necroborg who has everything, a visor complete with a windshield wiper to keep blood from splashing into his Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: MEATBALL MACHINE (2005)

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