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)

GUEST REVIEW: JESUS AND HER GOSPEL OF YES (2004)

Guest review by Kevin Pyrtle of WTF-Film

Here in Minneapolis there’s a strange little show [you’ll have to forgive me for not remembering the name of it] that plays the public access stations every week or so. It features a host of young talent who frolic in front of a blue screen in various stages of undress while ancient video effects are laid over top of it all in a random fashion. It goes on for an hour, reaching ever dizzier heights of incomprehensible nonsense and leaving you puzzled as to what, if anything, you were meant to take away from the experience.

Still from Jesus and Her Gospel of YesAll of the above could rightly be said for this Alfred Eaker film as well, which the director describes on the IMDB as ‘a surreal, complex, modern, psychedelic film retelling the life of Christ as woman and leader of the Gospel of Yes.’ The main difference between the two is that Jesus runs slightly longer, around seventy three minutes before the lengthy credits roll.

Complex it is, indeed – there’s never a moment [credits included] in which Jesus has nothing going on. We get endless loopy dialogue, re-interpreting the Gospel with frequent pop culture references and commenting on the various ills of contemporary society all the while. Not that there’s time to soak any of it in, as the words pile up in ungainly multitude and start to sound like inarticulate mush after a while. It’s akin to a rambling political address. I know that there’s a point to all of it somewhere, but the manner in which it’s put across leaves me with no interest in finding out what it is.

If interpreting the dialogue is difficult on its own, then the accompanying visuals make the task doubly so. Jesus is populated by an endless parade of excruciatingly bad visual effects that could have originated from the plugin archives of any prosumer video editing application. Most of them involve people doing random things while other people, through the magic of digital process photography, do random things in front of them. There is some interesting artwork on display [all credited at the end], but you have to look closely to even see it through the multiple layers of visual obfuscation. There is also some not-so-interesting artwork, much of which could have been accomplished in MS Paint.

Still from Jesus and Her Gospel of YesFar be it from me to say that Jesus, in spite of its obvious faults, is not a creative enterprise. Creativity is one thing its producers obviously have in spades. There’s no telling how many long days and sleepless nights went towards its realization, making it all the more a pity that something easier to appreciate didn’t result. There’s some good substantive meat to the rambling narrative [like commentary on drug abuse, abortion, and sexual dynamics], but you have to dig through piles of aesthetically repellent gunk to find any of it. I doubt that most, regardless of their artistic sensibilities, will have the patience for it.

Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes is undeniably weird and original to the max, but its crude brand of no-budget shot-on-video mayhem just wasn’t for me. While I didn’t enjoy it, I have to admire that Eaker was at least trying something new here – a rare thing in these days of utterly barren mass marketed entertainment. I have a feeling that the world would be a far better place if even a hundredth of a percent of the box office earnings from the latest Hollywood action debacle was to find its way into the pockets of the Eakers of the world.

Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes is currently available exclusively for download at DownloadHorror.com.

CAPSULE: MAN BITES DOG [C’est arrivé près de chez vous] (1992)

AKA It Happened in Your Neighborhood

DIRECTED BY: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde

FEATURING: Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux

PLOT:  A documentary crew follows a serial killer around on his daily rounds, becoming more and more complicit in his crimes as he slowly charms them, and eventually finances completion of the film with the money he steals from his victims.

man_bites_dog

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTMan Bites Dog starts with an absurd premise, that a camera crew would follow a serial killer around nonjudgmentally documenting his crimes, and follows that bizarre idea to its illogical conclusion. Once the concept is established, however, the film goes about its business with a stark realism that only rarely strays into absurd territory. The movie’s black humor and ironic celebration of violence don’t set out to give us a weird feeling; they are an intellectual attempt to disturb us, morally.

COMMENTS: Even though Man Bites Dog ultimately misses its satirical target, there is a lot to admire in the craft behind this experimental expedition from three Belgian student filmmakers.  Chief among them is the performance of Benoît Poelvoorde as the killer (also named Benoît). Poelvoorde inhabits the role with a cocky, credible naturalism that suggests he is playing himself, if only he made his living by killing old ladies and postmen for a handful of francs at a time.  As the subject of the documentary, the character of Benoît is fascinating, even when he’s not pumping bullets into a body.  He has the soul of a bad poet; a would be philosopher, he takes time to notice and pontificate on the finer things in life.   He’s capable of pausing in the middle of stalking a victim to notice some amorous doves, and discourse to the camera in hushed but knowledgeable tones about avian mating habits before resuming his hunt.  He’s also casually racist and homophobic, kind to his parents and girlfriend, constantly aware of the camera’s location and visibly anxious to make sure that it is always pointed in his direction.  He’s shamelessly unafraid to be captured on film, either killing or vomiting up a mix of wine and bad mussels, so long as he’s the center of attention.  Without such a strong, guiltily charming characterization centering the film, the extreme violence and cruelty of  Benoît’s rape and killing sprees would be unpardonable.

The film, ostensibly a black comedy, also has some very funny moments: Benoît is ambushed by a rival killer, only to find, after he dispatches him in a shootout, that his latest victim also had a camera crew following him around.  The juxtaposition between Benoît’s amiable public personality, exemplified in a conversation with his grandpa about the time the old man sold a sucker a department store-bought pair of panties claiming they belonged to Brigitte Bardot, and scenes where he discourses in a drolly businesslike manner about the various ballast ratios needed to sink bodies of adults, children and midgets, also provides an undercurrent of fun.  But unfortunately, although there are a few gems, most of the way the gags fail badly to find the correct balance between darkness and comedy, leaning much too far towards the former.  Most people find the child snuffing and gang rape/murder scene particularly, and needlessly, vile, but the Continue reading CAPSULE: MAN BITES DOG [C’est arrivé près de chez vous] (1992)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/10/09

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.

Sadly, there’s nothing new of weird interest opening in theaters this week.

NEW ON DVD:

A Day in the Life (2009): I have no idea if this direct-to-DVD release from rapper-director Sticky Fingaz is any good, but it’s a novelty, at least: all the dialogue in this gangsta-action flick is rapped, even lines delivered by elderly white women or the detective played by the fortuitously named Michael Rapaport. Buy from Amazon.

Knowing (2009):  This apocalyptic fable from sometimes weird director Alex (Dark City) Proyas about a a little girl who predicted natural disasters in a mathematical code has some nice visuals and exciting action sequences.  Not weird, but strange “X Files” like visitors provide an uncanny thrill, and it may be worth a rental for sci-fi fans.  Starring Nick Cage. Buy from Amazon.

The Unborn (2009): Horror movie about a woman who may be haunted by the malevolent spirit of her own born twin; reviews were poor overall, but reportedly the nightmare imagery (drawn from Jewish mythology) is memorably bizarre. Buy from Amazon.

NEW (OFFICIALLY LICENSED) ON YOUTUBE:

The Doom Generation (1995): A trio of teen killers drift through a stylized America in this second entry in Gregg (Nowhere) Araki’s  “Teen Apocalypse” trilogy.  With Rose McGowan, James Duval, and numerous pop culture cameos.  This is the R-rated cut, not the unrated cut.   Watch on YouTube.

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.

MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) opens with a scene of fearsome waves crashing against a desolate shore.  It could almost be described as Debussian, save for the unsettling dead and total silence that continues, unabated, throughout the film.

Maya Deren's At LandThe exotic Deren appears, emerging from a sleep, like a mermaid spit ashore from the crashing waves.

Deren begins slowly climbing a massive, twisted, dead tree trunk; the figure of Deren/Eros embarking on her great existential journey.

The nymph (her face adorned with child-like innocence) slithers on her stomach across a dining room table, populated with faceless corporates.  They do not take notice of her, preoccupied with idle chatter and many cigarettes.  Her eyes focus on a solitary figure, playing chess at the table’s end.  By the time she reaches that end (there are brief, repeated, struggled, exploratory diversions through a mass of shrubbery) she finds the player has just left and, as she gazes at the board, the rest of the room’s occupants are also leaving.

Telekinetically, she moves the chess pieces, until the pawn (one of eight) falls through a hole in the table.  She attempts to retrieve it and finds herself  back on the shore, then on a country road, walking and talking with a young man (represented by five different men).

She cannot keep up with the man and he leaves her behind as he disappears into a cabin, shutting the foreboding door behind him.

Determined not to be abandoned, she crawls under the log cabin but emerges in a contemporary, nearly abandoned home, laden with furniture, covered in white sheets.

It is not the young man she finds, but an older, bedridden man (figure number six), under a white bed sheet.  They silently stare at each other, identify Continue reading MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

APPROPRIATION AND MUTILATION: THE WEIRDEST FORM OF FLATTERY?

If you search for “366 Weird Movies” on Google, you may discover this odd tribute: an unauthorized, uncredited, unlinked “remix” of our review of The Toxic Avenger, Part II on an anonymous blog.

This new version contains a few insights that I missed in my initial review.  For example, we learn that the movie is a “moral jocose spoof” with “politically false noxiousness,” one which “should pay fans of absurdist murderousness< a harm” (all true enough statements, I suppose).

Richard Harrington’s Washington Post review, cited in our article, has been similarly reworked to produce even more profound insights.  He finds that the original Toxic Avenger had ” a dope, surreal vim” and ponders the eternal question, “What happens when you disparage a cinema that’s considerate simple derision and disparage out cold the considerate on the unharmed derision?”  Smoke a joint and try to wrap your mind around that one; it’s even better than “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

What’s going on here?  Has 366 Weird Movies become grist for some elaborate Internet Dada mill? Looking at the reworked text, it looks like someone has taken the original article and used an automated program like Babblefish to translate the review into a foreign language, and then translated it back into English to mangle the grammar and vocabulary.  They’ve also inserted the nonsense phrase “on the unharmed demeaning” randomly at several points in the text, and helpfully highlighted arbitrary words and inserted links to two unrelated blogs: one from a mom in Australia, and the other to a young Arab journalist in Kuwait. The blog itself contains page after page of similarly stolen and transformed posts from all over the Web, including columns giving relationship advice (“A functional relationship can contrariwise indeed befall when both partners are advantageous with themselves enlighten and then with each other and scoff at a oodles.”)

The blog calls itself “humorous” (the title, not a description), and the posts are Continue reading APPROPRIATION AND MUTILATION: THE WEIRDEST FORM OF FLATTERY?

WHAT WAS THAT WEIRD MOVIE?

Here’s the latest request:

“Impossible request here. When I was 4 or 5, I got up from bed and walked into the living room where my parents were watching a late night movie. It was a horror sci-fi piece of some sort. All I remember is a dog walking towards the camera and when it got near I realized it had a human head. That scene must have made quite an impression because I still remember it today. So… pre-1984 sci-fi/horror, mutant dog with human head. It’s not much of a description, but do you have any clues?”

At first I thought it might be John Carpenter’s THE THING, but the helpful folks at badmovies.org came up with a better idea–the 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS:

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