BORDERLINE WEIRD: CALVAIRE (2004)

[AKA:  The Ordeal]

DIRECTED BY:  Fabrice Du Welz

FEATURING:  Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer,

PLOT: Small time entertainer Marc Stevens ventures along a rural route to reach his next gig, but everything goes profoundly wrong. His car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, a stranger takes him to an inn, and he finds himself trapped in a countryside of insane predatory sodomites.  When Stevens is outrageously and systematically victimized for no discernible reason, he begins to go insane.  Calvaire is a fantasy that depicts a series of absurd events in a strange setting: the foggy, boggy,  deep woods of rural Belgium.

Still from Calvaire (2004)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  When I watch a weird movie I expect to be horrified, scared as hell, titillated, awestruck or otherwise captivated.  At the very least I want to be inspired to think. Calvaire failed to deliver anything like this to me.  Calvaire‘s story is oddball, but frankly, I found it to be superficial, tedious and depressing without any real point.  Calvaire is a movie that could have been greatly weird, but wasn’t.

COMMENTS:  Calvaire opens with an odd scene and becomes inexplicably more bizarre.  A small time troubadour, Marc Stevens (Lucas) sings at a nursing home.  Later, an elderly woman drops by his dressing room to seduce him.  This peculiar encounter sets the tone for the rest of the film, but bears no relation to the subsequent plot points.  The remainder of Calviare’s storyline consists of a sequential chain of ghastly but only loosely related incidents.

While driving to his next venue on isolated back roads during a heavy rain, a figure darts out in front of Marc’s van.  The vehicle stalls and won’t restart.  An oddball stranger leads him to Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: CALVAIRE (2004)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, we have reviews planned for the strange and perverse Belgian horror Calvaire and Ken Russell‘s Gothic. Also, as I write, the 366 Weird Movies High Council is meeting to decide whether we should officially certify A Serious Man as one of the Best Weird Movies of all time; we hope to have the results of their deliberations for you next week.

Weirdest search term used to locate the site last week: “Sean Gullette actually drilled his head.”  Talk about your method actors!

The scary-long reader-suggested review queue now looks like this: Santa Sangre 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; Gothic (jumping in line to come out next week!); 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; and Kairo [AKA Pulse].

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/19/2010

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 (WIDE RELEASE):

Shutter Island:  Psychological thriller about tough cops (Leonardo di Caprio and the ubiquitous Mark Ruffalo) who investigate a (possibly supernatural) disappearance in a spooky asylum for the criminally insane. Unlikely to be truly weird (although there are reports of some “small-s” surrealism), but the trailer is intriguing and a new Scorcese genre movie is always notable.  Shutter Island official site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

2009 Oscar Nominated Shorts:  Showing in select cities across the US, UK, Mexico and Canada.  Usually something mildly weird (or at least mildly experimental) will make its way into the shorts field, usually in the animated category.  The big draw should be Nick Park’s latest 30 minute installment of the popular Wallace & Gromit series, “A Matter of Loaf and Death.”  The official site is still listing the lineup from last year’s offering.  2009 Oscar Nominated Shorts Official Site.

Happy Tears (2010): Parker Posie and Demi Moore star as two adult women returning home to confront their dad (Rip Torn) and search for his buried treasure, in a film that features “surrealistic” dream sequences (apparently de-emphasized in the trailer).  Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter called it “simply weird” (comparing it unfavorably to director Michael Lichenstein’s previous feature, Teeth, which he found “weird-funny”).  Happy Tears official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Black Dynamite (2009): Not weird, but notably offbeat.  A blaxploitation parody/spoof that authentically mimics the look and feel of the 1970s genre film, even including a visible boom mic. Buy Black Dynamite.

Georges Melies Encore: 26 new, recently unearthed short films (and some fragments) from Melies (A Trip to the Moon, 1902) the French cinema pioneer trickster who was the first to recognize cinema’s natural affinity for the fantastic.  Contains some intriguing titles, like “L’hallucination de l’alchimiste” (translated into English as “An Hallucinated Alchemist,” for some reason). Historical film fanatics will be delighted by this offering. Buy Georges Melies Encore.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Black Dynamite (2009): See review in DVD above. Buy Black Dynamite [Blu-ray].

OUT-OF-PRINT HEADS UP:

The Criterion Collection has lost the rights to more than a dozen StudioCanal films, and the Criterion editions (usually the industry standard for technical quality and extras) will be going out of print.  The most notable losses for our purposes are the entire Orphic trilogy and Jen-Luc Goddard’s Alphaville.  The rights are going to Lionsgate, so the DVDs may be reissued.  You can see the complete list of lost titles in Criterion’s official public announcement of the deal.  Criterion is offering $5 off if you purchase from their website.

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.

GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

James Cameron’s Avatar is his first film since 1997’s Titanic, and Avatar looks like it’s actually going to top that monster ship as far as revenue goes.  Reportedly, with PR expenses, Avatar costs somewhere between 250 and 500 million dollars and one would think with that kind of investment, Cameron and corporation would have come up with a better script and a more substantial film.  Avatar is riddled with the same level of asinine dialogue that sunk Cameron’s cruise ship, a plot that blatantly echoes Dances with Wolves, hopelessly two-dimensional, stereotyped cardboard villains, and a mixed bag of CGI visuals which often look like Gil Kane comic characters turned into blue rubber toys amidst a computer game version of a Franz Marc rain forest.

Still from Avatar (2009)
Avatar
opens in the distant future on the planet Pandora.  A paraplegic named Jake (Sam Worthington, the latest wooden hunk) is a volunteer on Pandora’s Earthling military base.  The native Pandorans justifiably mistrust the “Sky People” who want to strip-mine their lush world to save a dying Earth.  So, the Sky People have an ingenious plot to infiltrate the Pandorans by linking human consciousness into a Pandoran avatar.  All-American swell guy Jake seems the perfect volunteer, as he is promised his lost legs back.  So, Jake gets turned into a twelve foot blue native.  The problem is that the Sky People need pesky “green” scientists to help them and, naturally those lovers of the land are going to throw a monkey wrench into Operation Pandora.

Predictably, once Jake interacts with the natives, he bonds with them and even falls in love with their princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, playing Pocahontas, in all but name.  She Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

Due to popular demand, Visitor Q has been re-evaluated and certified weird, and the review has been updated to a full entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Ken’ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: A bizarrely dysfunctional Japanese family—dad is a TV reporter on haitus after

Still from Visitor Q (2001)

being sodomized by interviewees on camera, mom is a heroin addict and part-time hooker, son is bullied at school and beats his mother at home—becomes even stranger and more antisocial after a mysterious stranger shows up in their home.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s bizarre indeed, but Visitor Q is more interested in grossing out its viewers than it is in weirding them out.  It’s more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking.  The film doesn’t lack for surreality, or its own peculiar kind of quality within its type, but it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.

COMMENTS:  Watching Visitor Q, I found myself wishing Miike had the courage to make the hardcore porn fetish movie that he really wanted to make, instead of pulling his punches by wrapping the psychological nudity in gauzily transparent strips of art and satire.  After all, the movie’s prime showpieces are father-daughter for-pay incest, sodomy by microphone, insanely copious lactation, rape, and necrophilia, all shown with as pornographic a level of explicitness as Miike could get away with (there is genital fogging, though unfortunately in a key scene there is no anal fogging).  In a virtually unshockable age, it would have been truly audacious for the bad-boy director to make an out-and-out porn film without artistic pretensions; as it is, by sprinkling his fetish video with a little redeeming surrealism, all Miike risked with the project was being hailed as the Japanese Passolini.

Visitor Q doesn’t lack either for weirdness or technical quality.  Starting with the latter, Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

48. INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Weirdest!

“My response to viewers who are puzzled by the plots is, I don’t think you’re so puzzled as you may think.  We all have a certain amount of intuition, and that is something that can be trusted and should be trusted… And so when you see something that’s abstract in a film, and you seem to be getting lost, the thing to do is to start talking to your friends, and they’ll say something and you’ll find yourself disagreeing with that, and realize that you really had formed opinions, and you had a scenario that made sense in your mind, and that’s valid.  We know more than we think.”—direct advice from David Lynch on understanding his films

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Laura Dern

PLOT: INLAND EMPIRE shifts around on a dozen tectonic plates of varying levels of surreality, but the unstable base layer involves Laura Dern as actress Nikki Grace cast in a melodrama based on an unproduced Polish screenplay which was abandoned as cursed after its two leads were murdered.  As she acts out the adulterous scenario, Grace becomes confused, coming to believe at times that she is the character in the screenplay.  After consummating a relationship with her handsome co-star, that reality slips away and Dern is seen playing several different characters, wandering around in a series of loosely interconnected sketches that involve (among other stories) an abused woman confessing her hatred of men to a psychiatrist, the lives of a gaggle of lip-syncing prostitutes, infidelity dramas, and a sobbing woman watching a room full of bunnies in an absurdist television sitcom.

Still from Inland Empire (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film began as a series of individual short films shot on digital video, as Lynch was exploring the new format.  After Laura Dern suggested working on a project with the director, Lynch later noticed recurring themes in the shorts he was shooting, and decided to put them together into a feature film.
  • In his announcement for the movie and in interviews afterward, Lynch has said that he is done shooting on film and will work exclusively with digital video from now on, citing the greater freedom afforded by the format and going so far as to say that the idea of going back to film makes him feel “sick and weak.”
  • Lynch reported that he wrote the film scene by scene, working without a finished script and trusting that connections would appear.
  • The footage of the rabbits is recycled from a series of short films called “Rabbits” that was exclusively screened on davidlynch.com.
  • Lynch has said he decided to title the movie INLAND EMPIRE after hearing Dern say that her husband hailed from that Southern California enclave, simply because he liked the sound of the words.
  • Lynch invested his own money to get the film made.  He also distributed the film himself, thus facing no pressure to make cuts to the finished product.
  • David Lynch himself sings on the soundtrack.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The nattily-dressed, stiff and deliberately posed bunny-people from the series of short “Rabbit” films, who were so evocative that Lynch decided to give them a new home in INLAND EMPIRE.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDINLAND EMPIRE is David Lynch at his most deliberately

Trailer for INLAND EMPIRE

unhinged, experimenting with how far he can stray from linear narrative while still producing a work that feels thematically whole, searching for the minimum number of recurring images and themes needed to stitch a piece together so that it tantalizingly approaches coherence without ever actually resolving.

COMMENTSINLAND EMPIRE is a frustrating movie, or, more charitably put, a Continue reading 48. INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH (2002)

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance, Catherine Coulson

PLOT: A series of six short films spanning director David Lynch’s career from the

Still from The Short Films of David Lynch

1960s through the 1990s.  We track Lynch from his early years as a highly experimental student to a macabre master of the darkly surreal with these films that show a man who needed to grow and challenge himself as a creative force.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: As collections of short films go, this is one of the most mercurial and hard-to-peg I’ve ever seen.  There’s really no denying the odd nature of Lynch’s efforts.  The first film alone, a minute-long animated loop of six hideous plaster sculptures throwing up,  stands as a timeless testament to Lynch’s nightmarish creative vision.  And the gut-wrenching scope of his silent feature, entitled “The Grandmother”, is a window into the mind of a radically different artist than the one Lynch has become.  But, honestly, the quality and sheer atmosphere present in most of Lynch’s features feels absent here, and there’s not enough memorable material to consider this a momentous release.

COMMENTS:  Much like a renowned painter or an extremely colorful luchador, a filmmaker’s work becomes more lionized as his fame grows, even his mistakes.  David Lynch is a very famous filmmaker, so it’s only appropriate that this assortment of short subjects should come out to cement his status as an iconic artist and a true visionary in the world of the nightmarish and the utterly bizarre.  But those die-hard fans of the man who seek a diamond in the rough here, a Pollack behind the frame of this small cache of movies, will likely find themselves disappointed, or at the very least conflicted.

If short films represent the transformation of a filmmaker as as he/she goes from one project to another, this gathering of shorts spanning Lynch’s career is a shadowy, rocky road.  Half of these films don’t desire to be much more than insubstantial experiments, hokey dumping grounds for ideas that are really just there to try something out.  They merely exist in a tangible form for the consumer because of the marketable name of Lynch, not because they actually have some sort of deliciously demented merit and are worth seeing for any length of time.  And while the three that are good are indeed very good, it’s easy to put this one on the borderline with the vibes I get from the other three.

Let’s break it down by feature, shall we?

“Six Figures getting Sick (Six Times)” – A minute long film loop featuring a set of six Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH (2002)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, we’re going to partially plug the gaping hole in our David Lynch coverage with two new reviews: Eric gives us his take on The Short Films of David Lynch, while 366 tackles Lynch’s latest, Inland Empire. Through in coverage of the little experimental film with the big name, Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition, and Alfred‘s take on 2009’s “event” movie Avatar, and you have yourself a week!

For the weirdest search term used to locate the site last week, we’ll go with “beethoven seventh vampire black,” simply because it suggests to us that Beethoven had six previous vampires, all of whom were white.

Here’s the updated reader-nominated review queue: Visitor Q (substituted for the currently unavailable in the US Survive Style 5+); The Short Films of David Lynch (next week); Santa Sangre; Inland Empire (next week); 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 (jumping in line to come out next week!); 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; 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; and 964 Pinocchio.

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