WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/8/09 (WITH “ILL-ADVISED HOLLYWOOD REMAKE” SUPPLEMENT)

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):

Little Ashes:  Not itself a weird movie, but an art-house drama about primal Surrealists Salvador Dali, Luis Buñuel and Federico Garcia Lorca, exploring a long rumored love-affair between Dali and Lorca.  Reviews are poor; it doesn’t appear the movie transcends its intended gay romance audience.  Little Ashes official site

Since there’s so little this week either in theaters or in new DVD releases to appeal to fans of the weird, we turn to… 

IN DEVELOPMENT (ILL-ADVISED HOLLYWOOD REMAKE EDITION):

Angel Heart:  Scheduled for 2011 per IMDBAngel Heart has dated well and features Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro, who still have box-office drawing power, so why not just re-release the original?

The Birds:  In my opinion, Michael Bay should keep his damn dirty paws off Hitchcock.  The original The Birds was a great movie with horrible special effects; we should expect the exact reverse from a Bay-produced remake.  Here’s the rumor from Film Junk.

I Walked with a Zombie:  The atmospheric and literary Val Lewton classic is getting a Hollywood update.  What director could tackle this project with the sensitivity it deserves?  The first name that comes to mind, of course, is Adam Marcus, who showed with the subtle Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday that he is the true spiritual heir of Lewton’s “quiet horror” aesthetic.  Per IMDB it’s a go.

Let the Right One In:  I haven’t even fit the original into my busy viewing schedule yet.  I suspect it will be a dumbed-down version aimed at people who loathe subtitles and quiet passages.  Unlike some of the other ill-advised titles on the list, remakes of foreign hits are inevitable.  Readers at BloodyDisgusting.com are infuriated.

The Man Who Fell to Earth:  This is slated for 2009 per the IMDB, though it’s not in production yet so time is running out.  One would assume the point of remaking Nicolas Roeg‘s cult sci-fi film would be too sanitize and de-weirdify it for mass consumption, but who knows for sure? 

Plan 9 from Outer Space:  Um, how (and why?) do you remake a movie that is notoriously considered the worst ever made?  (By the way, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 was not the worst movie ever made, not by a long shot, but it is probably the most unintentionally hilarious Z-grade film ever created).  Direct-to-video director John Johnson suggests he will do “a serious-minded retelling of the original story,” which sounds like he will simply strip off everything that made Ed’s original beloved and produce another schlocky, forgettable B-movie.  It’s set to be released in September 2009, with scream queen Brinke Stevens (in the Vampira role) apparently top-billed, and Conrad Brooks returning from the original (he’s been promoted from patrolman to lieutenant).

But not so fast!  An underground outfit named Drunkenflesh films (no website, but a Myspace page) has rushed out a virtually contentless teaser trailer announcing their own remake of Plan 9, under Ed’s preferred title, Graverobbers from Outer Space:    

 

Continue reading WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/8/09 (WITH “ILL-ADVISED HOLLYWOOD REMAKE” SUPPLEMENT)

ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏

Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema will not appear this week.  In it’s place is Alfred’s list of his top 10 weird films in the genre he calls “naive surrealism.”

For 366 Weird Movies, the following is a list of “all the way under the radar” Weird Movies.

These are the films that would fall under the category of being either “Naturally Weird” or “Naive Surrealism.”  For instance, no film of David Lynch’s makes the list, mainly because Lynch is too self consciously aware and too clever to be called natural or naive.  Nothing against Lynch’s films, which are some of the most delightfully weird films ever made (well the earlier ones, at least).  The same could be said for the undeniably great Luis Buñuel, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Jan Svankmajer, and Guy Maddin, to name a few.  In the same vein, overtly “Experimental Films” (ie: Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Daina Krummins) are excluded, regardless of the temptation.

* Also excluded is Donnie Darko which is good, but annoyingly overrated and oh so “trendy weird on the sleeve.”  The same goes for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” which is not good at all and was 1980’s “trendy weird” (besides, that band really lost it’s genuine, honest to goodness weirdness with the departure of Syd Barrett).

  1. Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Cinema’s most celebrated outsider artist; Ed Wood.  Wood defines the meaning of “natural auteur.”  One always recognizes an Ed Wood film, even when accidentally stumbling upon it.  Wood stamped his honest, eccentric personality onto everything he touched and this is what separates him from the rest of the Z grade amateurs of his time.  Indeed, Wood is far preferable to both his peers and the mere “assignment” directors.  Anything from Wood’s oeuvre could fit, but it is Glen or Glenda, rather than Plan 9 from Outer Space, that is Wood’s most zany, personal unintentional masterpiece.
  2. Tod Browning‘s The Unknown & Freaks.  Browning, could hardly be called naive, but his attraction to the outcast and misfit was sincere as he had spent many years making his living in the carnival circuit.  Browning knew and spoke the freak language, which is what made his bonding collaboration with Lon Chaney possibly the most unique Director/Actor collaboration in film history.  Both The Unknown and Freaks were among Browning’s most personal films (a third would be 1927’s The Show with John Gilbert), but The Unknown (his greatest achievement) slightly trumps Freaks with a genuinely startling plot development that is absurd, dramatic and without drawing attention to itself.  The accomplished acting of Chaney certainly helped Browning pull this off (and, no question, Chaney’s acting ranks with Chaplin and Coogan as the greatest of the silent era).  Lesser artists would have done this with bells and horns, but with Chaney and Browning, it goes way under the skin.  Browning certainly knew Freaks was going to generate reactions, but was undoubtedly taken back and unprepared for the level of intense negativity unleashed, which destroyed his career.  Tragedy aside, the ensuing drama perfectly capped his legend.
  3. Charlie Bower’s Egged On. Not enough is known of Charlie Bowers to determine whether or not his surrealistic, independent shorts were intentionally surreal or knowingly experimental.  It is known Bowers was (and remains) the perennial outsider, unfortunately inept in areas of self-promotion, marketing and perseverance.  His best films were the ones that mixed live action with animation and included his character, even if that character lacked the charismatic personality of Keaton, Chaplin, etc.  His later, strictly animated films that did not include the live action mix and character lack the overall unique whimsical quality of the earlier shorts (although some of that eccentric whimsy is present). A Wild Roomer, He Done His Best, Now You Tell One, and It’s a Bird are some of the most idiosyncratic shorts of any era (and evoke a spirit similar to the much later Dr. Seuss).   Andre Breton understandably adored him.  Egged On has to be seen to be believed and involves a basket of eggs which hatch, giving birth to a litter of miniature Model T Fords!  It is almost heartbreaking that only 15 of his films survive, but one has to be forever grateful that those 15 were finally discovered and restored.
  4. Jack Hill’s Spider BabySpider Baby has earned it’s cult status.  Nothing else Hill did (which is very little) has quite this flavor.  It’s not a surrealist film, as some have claimed, but it is an enjoyably demented one of a kind.  Lon Chaney, Jr. actually gives a good performance (reportedly he laid off the liquor as he liked the script) and the rest of the cast match him.  This low budget film seems very much like a happy accident.  It sat collecting dust for four years, was horribly distributed under numerous titles, but eventually found it’s cult audience, which is a lucky thing.
  5. John Parker’s Dementia: Daughter of Horror.  Speaking of mini budget obscurities: nothing is really known of director Parker, if he did any other films, if this a pseudonym, etc.  For several years this was believed to be a non-existent film, then a copy turned up.  Good thing, this gem of a film (which has no dialogue) is a bridge between z grade horror and arthouse; outsider art meets surrealism head on.  It first made the circuits as Dementia and later under the different title Daughter of Horror.  Both versions exist now (Daughter has narration by Ed McMahon). Continue reading ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏

R. PANET’S TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES

In this occasional feature where we ask established directors and critics to list what they feel are their top 10 “weird” movies.  There are no constraints on what the author can pick. This list comes from R. Panet, half of the production team behind Liberty or Death Productions. With partner, James Mannan she directed Hallow’s Dance, and also directed Revenant, along with assisting on numerous other productions, including Blood Moon, Quench and Going All The Way.

It takes a lot to really unnerve or disturb me these days, but these 6 films were all viewed in the 80’s when I was barely legally able to intoxicate myself, when my mind was young and unmarred by such weirdness, despite the fact that I was myself deemed weird by most anyway, and I personally blame these films for my quest to seek out all things weird, bizarre, and of the illimitable creative artistic expression, and yes, to add to my own wonderful weirdness. Before I viewed these films I did not know such a world existed. My experimental film cherry was popped.

The 6 weird movies that left a lasting impression on my young mind- in order of disturbance;

1. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo-120 Days of Sodom and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s La Montana Sagrada [The Holy Mountain] tie for first.

3. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

4. John Waters’ Pink Flamingos

5. Richard Kern’s Fingered

Continue reading R. PANET’S TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES

CAPSULE: WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY (2006)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Goran Dukic

FEATURING: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits

PLOT:  In a special afterlife reserved for suicides, three lost souls hit the road: Zia is

wristcutters_a_love_story

searching for his earthly lover, Mikal is convinced she’s here by mistake and is looking for the People in Charge, and Eugene is along for the ride because he has nothing better to do.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Despite the sunglasses-snatching black hole that’s taken up permanent residence under the passenger seat in Eugene’s old beater, Wristcutters never really crosses the shaky border into the land of the weird.  A few magical realist touches decorate this otherwise conventional, indie-flavored road movie/love triangle that’s best described as “quirky.”  (If you know of a review that doesn’t use the word “quirky” to describe this movie, please contact the proper authorities; the writer needs to have his or her critical credentials yanked).

COMMENTS:  Adapted from a story by Etgar Keret, Wristcutters is a romantic comedy disguised as a black comedy, a conventional movie disguised as a bizarre movie, and a shamelessly hopeful movie disguised as a bleak movie.  None of those disguises are particularly hard to penetrate.  “Who could think of a better punishment, really?  Everything’s the same here, it’s just a little worse,” newly deceased wristcutter Zia realizes soon after he gets a pizza delivery job in the afterlife.  In Wristcutters, new suicides wake to discover a Great Beyond that’s not so great: in fact, it’s set in the middle of the Mojave desert where everything is so run down and recycled, even the automobiles are held together mostly by duct tape.  Furthermore, in the most dreadful dissimilarity to the living world, its denizens find themselves unable to smile, a restriction that makes the sympathetic performances of the young principals all the more impressive.  Still, the movie always has a hopeful sense that the main characters can find a way out of their existential predicament, and it doesn’t disappoint those hoping for a happy ending (though some may consider it a cop-out).  Although Wristcutters sometimes reeks of missed opportunities to explore deeper themes and blacker comedy in a more mystical landscape, it’s also apparent that director/scripter Dukic has hit exactly the lightly offbeat tone he was aiming for, and he has the good sense to wrap the story up quickly after his world runs out of new Purgatorial quirks to offer.  A couple of tunes by Tom Waits (who also offers up a memorable turn as ramshackle but wizardly guiding spirit Kneller) and Gogol Bordello bump up the cool quotient considerably.

After this successful debut, Croatian director Dukic is poised between worlds: he could use this feature as springboard to do something even more conventional, or push his offbeat impulses to their logically weird conclusion.  We’ll keep an eye on him.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What makes it work is that the performers, trapped in a weird movie about a weird place, underplay their astonishment.”–A.O. Scott, New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Natalia.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (1996)

DIRECTED BY: Jim Mallon

FEATURING: Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy

PLOT:  In this feature film from the cult TV show, a man and his two robot companions are trapped in space, forced by mad scientist Dr. Forrester to watch some of the worst movies of all time with only their own witty comments to distract them from the onslaught of ineptitude; in this experiment, they tackle the not-so-bad sci-fi film This Island Earth, in which aliens with bulging craniums kidnap Earth scientists in hopes of rescuing their home planet.

mystery_science_theater_3000_the_movie

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (MST3K for short) was a fun, hip little cable TV show that ran from 1988 to 1999 wherein a man and his robots provided a humorous running commentary on old B-movies (many, like Horrors of Spider Island, of the so-bad-it’s-weird variety).  Although the concept sounds strange, the smart and often very obscure pop-culture and other references that became the show’s comic staple made it more nerdy (in the complimentary sense) than weird in execution.  Most of the movies featured were dull and incompetent rather than bizarre, and when they got their hands on something truly deranged (like The Wild World of Batwoman) the derision heaped on it by the commentators brought the absurdity to the surface and defused it.  Not that this was a bad thing; it’s a devilishly funny exercise, if you’re tuned into the show’s arch sense of humor, but it’s not weird.

COMMENTSMystery Science Theater: The Movie is essentially “MST3K for Dummies.”  It’s a nice lightweight litmus test for neophytes to see if they enjoy the style of humor on display and wish to penetrate deeper into the MST3K corpus (many original episodes are currently released on DVD; the double-disc The Essentials, featuring Manos: The Hands of Fate and Santa Claus Versus the Martians, is probably the best place to start). Distributors Gramercy Pictures were concerned that the “riffing” style of the TV show, which was filled with esoterica and in-jokes, might alienate newcomers to the series.  Therefore, no references to Kierkegard, Bud Powell or “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” make it into The Movie.  For the most part, Mike, Crow and Tom confine their wisecracks to literal commentary about what’s onscreen: when a mutant hoves into frame, Mike astutely observes that he appears to be wearing slacks, while Tom and Crow quip that the matte painting depicting the alien landscape looks like the planet was designed either by Dr. Seuss or by someone painting a Yes album cover.  The wisecracks come at the show’s typical breakneck pace, averaging perhaps three or four a minute, so there’s probably something here to tickle everyone’s funnybone. Still, the writers seem slightly out of their element in this outing: some of the bits seem too carefully scripted, and they grind out a couple of sex jokes and four letter words just to keep the film from getting a dreaded “G” rating.  After test audiences unfamiliar with the show squirmed a bit at its length, the entire movie (“host sequences” and all) was cut to a mere 75 minutes at Gramercy’s insistence: by comparison, an average episode of the TV series averaged 90 minutes and the unedited (and more coherent) version of This Island Earth ran 86 minutes! [UPDATE 9/3/2013: Shout! Factory’s 2013 release includes the deleted scenes as extras, along with an alternate ending]..

A lot of the critical and fan debate at the time of release revolved around the selection of This Island Earth as the feature film to be mocked.  This Island Earth was well-reviewed on its original release, and although the special effects are far from cutting edge today, many still consider it a minor gem.  It’s neither one of the worst of all time nor any sort of real classic, but it isn’t half bad, a fact which the cast seems to acknowledge when the evil Dr. Forrester checks in at the end to see if the movie has broken Mike’s will and finds his unfazed guinea pig and the ‘bots throwing a “Metaluna mixer” instead.  Despite it’s lack of acute badness (truly taxing schlock would have really alienated test audiences), the sci-fi potboiler was a reasonable choice for this particular venture.  There’s a scientific naïveté to the film that lends itself to gentle mockery (“increase the Flash Gordon noise and put more science stuff around,” advises Crow at one point). More importantly, although the big-headed aliens, flying saucers and mutants with exposed brains look silly today, This Island Earth is still a beautiful looking Technicolor film, with its majestic, unreal pale-blue meteorite explosions and gleaming Space Age gizmos. Looking at the film today is like looking at well-crafted vintage comic book panels from the 1950s, and the visual inventiveness of the film provides a constantly pleasant backdrop to gaze at whenever neither the film’s plot nor the ‘bots quips are quite clicking. A few established critics seemed to accept the movie’s premise that This Island Earth was one of the worst films ever made.  In the context of its time, it’s no worse than the brainless sci-fi thrills of Independence Day were to 1996 audiences, and it’s easily miles above Gramercy’s other big release of the year, the Pamela Anderson misfire Barb Wire.  One wonders what the critics who thought This Island Earth was worthy of such derision would have made of some of the TV show’s more daring experiments in cinematic dreck, such as Monster a Go-Go or Manos?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The idea behind what must surely be among the most extreme examples of TV post-modernism is as warped as the concept of a robot made of junk parts observing bad sci-fi and critiquing his man-made relatives…  ‘This Island Earth’ is so bizarrely bad that it’s utterly remarkable. When the comments from Nelson and the robots fall flat, the movie’s own wretchedness takes over.”–Barry Walters, San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: VIY [Вий] (1967)

Must See

AKA Viy, Spirit of Evil; Vij

DIRECTED BY:  Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov

FEATURING: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley

PLOT:  In medieval Ukraine, a seminarian must spend three nights praying over the

viy

corpse of a witch.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  This faithful adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 short story is a classic of world horror, deserving a place alongside the quintessential Universal fright films.  Like the works of Gogol’s contemporary, Edgar Allen Poe, Viy may have been regarded as a “weird” tale on its original publication, but today it seems a relatively straightforward ghost story, demonstrating how what was once weird may be subsumed into the mainstream over time.  It’s still unconditionally recommended, especially for fans of sublime supernatural horror storytelling that relies on atmosphere and foreboding rather than blood and guts.

COMMENTS: Viy is an unusual and exotic experience for Western viewers, for whom witches are not the prototypical supernatural villain, but most will quickly feel comfortable inside the film’s recognizable folk tale structure.  The story is impeccably told; Kuravlyov’s seminarian, who begins with a mischievous frat-boy brashness but ends up bullied and harried by both Cossacks and witches, is an eminently fallible but very likable comic-turned-tragic hero.  Varley’s nameless and mostly mute witch is eerily pretty, and manages to create a tremendous sense of menace simply by grasping blindly at the seminarian while he’s hidden from her view inside the holy circle he has drawn on the chapel floor with chalk.  The special effects aren’t always seamless (although you may wonder how some were achieved), but they are always artful and elegant, and their artificiality is an asset, creating a universe that’s far more otherworldly than it otherwise might be.  (Think of the difference between Willis O’Brien’s dreamlike and iconic stop-motion animated King Kong and Peter Jackson’s photorealistic but forgettable ape).  The gibbering gray demons that threaten to swarm over the hero in the exhilarating climax are as unforgettable an assortment of ogres as you are likely to see on film.

Mario Bava’s classic Black Sunday [La Maschera del Demonio] [1960] was also inspired by Viy, but that story veers so far from Gogol’s tale it can hardly be considered an adaptation.  Foolishly, a Russian remake of Viy is currently in the works.  The original was done perfectly, and CGI graphics cannot improve upon the stylish charm of the 1967 production.  The Russico DVD contains abundant extras, including lengthy excerpts from three silent Russian horror films: Queen of Spades, Satan Exultant, and The Portrait.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Basically a folk tale at heart, this adaptation by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov follows the main story beats, but it’s completely schizophrenic in balancing satire, low humour, and horror… Karen Khachaturyan’s score is equally uneven, although he may have been following the filmmakers’ weird blend of comedy and horror.”–KQEK.com

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Natalia.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF P

thomas_pynchon_a_journry_into_the_mind_of_pThomas Pynchon: A Journey into the Mind of P, directed and produced by the brothers Fosco and Donatello Dubini, is not so much a documentary as it is a homage to that legendary recluse of post modern literature, who wrote books such as “V” and “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

The film is broken down into four appropriate sections: “Paranoia,” “Disappearance,” “Alien Territories,” and “Psychomania,” and it’s wildly mixed reviews are a bit perplexing.  One would think that a film on such a non-conventional literary figure as Pynchon would at least attempt to be fairly non-conventional in approach.  The Dubini Brothers do not disappoint there.  But then, we’ve seen this type of reaction all too often.

A number of Beatles “fans” expressed outrage towards Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe.  What made the Beatles so unique and timeless was they refused to buy into their “religious base.”  Once they were elevated to near divine status, the artists’ response could easily have been to roll with what they (intentional or not) hit upon, follow the formula and keep that money machine rolling (aka: Elvis Presley).  Instead, fans never quite knew what to expect of the fab four.  The “White Album” was as certainly startling, perplexing and unexpected as “Revolver” had been.  Of course, that didn’t keep the pseudo fans from mantling unrealistic expectations on the solo Beatles’ Continue reading A JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF P

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/1/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Eldorado (2008): Belgian comedy about an antique car dealer and a burglar/ex-junkie who hit the road together.  Road movies are traditionally quirky; it remains to be seen whether this will cross the line into the genuinely weird.  Features the music of freak-folk icon Devandra Banhat.  Eldorado official site (in French).

I Can See You (2008):  From the New York Times:  “[Director Graham Resnick has] one eye on genre mechanics, one eye on avant-garde conceits and a third eye for transcendental weirdness.”  Sounds like a must-see to me; hope it makes it to your (and my) neck of the woods before it shuffles off to video.  I Can See You official site.

The Limits of Control (2009):  The latest from Jim (Dead Man) Jamursch about a mysterious criminal working on an unspecified job in Spain has been described as “dreamlike” and “hypnotic”.  Heavyweight thespians John Hurt and Bill Murray appear in small roles.  Definitely promising.  The Limits of Control official site.   

NEW ON DVD:

Johnny Got His Gun (1971): It’s about time this anti-war classic about a quadruple-amputee–told in hallucinations, flashbacks, and conversations with Jesus Christ (played by Donald Sutherland)–got DVD release. Buy from Amazon.

Martyrs (2008):  It sounds like an art-house version of The Last House on the Left (wait, wasn’t that The Virgin Spring)?  Whatever it is, it’s clear that the violence and cruelty is extreme, and it’s been gathering powerful negative/positive reactions from viewers, and looks like it may be on it’s way to becoming a modern cult film.  Buy from Amazon.

SCREENINGS (INDIANAPOLIS, IN):

Thomas Pynchon: A Journey into the Mind of P. (2001):  A conspiracy-minded documentary about reclusive, postmodern (and quite weird) author Thomas Pynchon.  Showing at the Earth House Collective in Indianapolis on Thursday, May 7th at 7:00 pm.

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.

CATHERINE CROUCH: BREAKING THE GENDER BARRIER THROUGH FILM

“Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” is a column published on Thursdays covering truly independent cinema: the stuff that’s so far under the public radar it may as well be underground.  The folks making these films may be starving artists today, but they may be recognized as geniuses tomorrow.  We hope to look like geniuses ourselves by being the first to cover them.

gendercatorDuring the 2007 San Francisco Frameline Film Festival, filmmaker Catherine Crouch’s short The Gendercator was accepted, then removed from the festival due to a protest, consisting of 130 signatures which claimed that the film was transphobic.  6 of the 130 protesters had actually seen the film.  This was the first time in the festival’s history that a film had been accepted and then withdrawn.

Judgment is best reserved until after seeing the film,and after doing so, it is blatantly apparent that this was a case of paranoid and shamefully militant censorship, no different than McCarthy era blackballing.  The liberal arts community rightfully protested (albeit meekly) when the Bush administration had the replica of “Guernica” covered at the U.N., yet the San Francisco Frameline Film Festival has shown it is fully capable of resorting to the same level of despicable tactics.  Worse, it’s claims to do so, in light of “sensitivity”, is made even more ironic since an overwhelming and elegiac “sensitivity” flows through every single one of Crouch’s films, Gendercator included.

The Gendercator is a charming Rip Van Winkle inspired fantasy short about a lesbian who falls asleep under a tree in the 1970’s’, only to re-awake in the year 2048.  In this future, stern binary laws are militantly enforced and the heroine is scheduled for a date with the Continue reading CATHERINE CROUCH: BREAKING THE GENDER BARRIER THROUGH FILM

CAPSULE: PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND (2008)

DIRECTED BY:  Daniel Barnz

FEATURING:  Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman,

PLOT:  Adorable, precocious and angst-ridden Phoebe (Fanning) has a psychological

Still from Phoebe in Wonderland (2008)

disorder that makes her spit on her classmates and occasionally talk to the Red Queen, among other misbehaviors; she uses her role in the school’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” as self-therapy.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  A few very brief and inorganic Alice in Wonderland hallucinations do not a weird movie make.  (In the film’s defense, it’s not trying to be weird, at all).

COMMENTSPhoebe in Wonderland is definitely an actor’s movie.  While the plot introduces us to some interesting, quirky characters—enigmatic drama-school weirdo and free-spirit Miss Dodger; conflicted mom Hilary, who loves her child dearly while resenting the fact that caring for her has overtaken her life; and of course Phoebe, who desperately wants to be a normal but can’t control her need to ritualistically hop on each stair in a correct order that exists only in her mind—it resolves itself in a disappointing Lifetime-network-feel-good-tearjerker-of-the-week fashion, with only the briefest of detours into Wonderland.  Fortunately, Dakota’s little sis Elle turns out to be every bit the actor her older sibling is, and carries the film on her tiny shoulders, with the adult veterans doing their part to keep up with her.  She evokes a heartbreaking pathos in her desire and inability to be the good little girl her parents can be proud of and her peers accept.  The visions of Wonderland she sometimes sees aren’t magically staged, and in fact make little literal sense: whatever Phoebe’s psychological issues might be, she’s no schizophrenic.  Only once does the intrusion of Alice’s world inside Phoebe’s mind work or make much plot sense: when she sees the rabbit hole yawning in front of her (it’s also the best looking of the fantasy sequences, which are mostly pedestrian and effects-free).  With that single exception, the script should have kept itself firmly on this side of the looking glass.

We go to independent films hoping to see something different than the twenty formula Hollywood movies that are permitted to dominate the United States’ 38,000 movie screens each week.  It’s disappointing to find that, when an independent film does manage to break the major studio stranglehold and get a small release, it turns out to be pretty much the kind of fare Hollywood would have released anyway, if they’d had extra room for another April drama.  Phoebe in Wonderland is just as good as any product released to the cineplexes, perhaps even a cut above in the acting department, but we have to wonder: don’t we deserve at least one screen per metropolitan area dedicated to showing something off the beaten path?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The ‘Wonderland’ motif, which could be a really cool framework for the story, is little more than a sparse reference point, and Phoebe’s occasional dalliances in the surreal are more disruptive than not.”–Jamie Tipps, Film Threat

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