WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/17/2012

Our weekly 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):

The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Disney isn’t known for backing weird movies, and the trailer for this movie about barren parents who adopt a dream child who grows in a cabbage patch looked more mawkish than odd. Still, some of the critics reviews, like this one from Mike Scott of the New Orleans Times-Picayune—“you know that fine line separating ‘good’ weird from just-plain off-putting? Today, there are mouse-shaped footprints all over it”—make us wonder if the studio hasn’t accidentally unleashed a strange one on an unsuspecting public. The Odd Life of Timothy Green official site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Chicken with Plums [Poulet aux prunes]: After his beloved violin is destroyed, a master musician loses the will to live and suffers a series of hallucinations, flashbacks and visitations from Sophia Loren and the Angel of Death. Live action from the makers of Persepolis. Opening in NYC with decent US market penetration to follow thanks to it being picked up by Sony Classics. Chicken with Plums official site.

Cosmopolis: David Cronenberg‘s latest is an adaptation of a Don DeLilo novel about a financial whiz-kid (Robert Pattison) traveling across Manhattan in a limo as financial apocalypse approaches. This one is in our reader-suggested review queue. Cosmopolis official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Father’s Day (2011): Read our capsule review. Astron-6’s absurdist grindhouse feature releases in a 4 disc (Blu-ray, 2 DVD, and soundtrack CD) numbered, limited edition set. Buy Father’s Day [Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD].

Kill List (2011): A psychologically scarred hit man agrees to the proverbial “one last mission” and finds it ironically horrifying. This mind-bending thriller has impressed critics and bewildered audiences in about equal ratios. Buy Kill List.

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009): A 16-year old girl follows a fox creature who whisks her away to a magical world. An anime version of “Alice in Wonderland” incorporating Japanese folklore? Where do we sign up? Buy Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Les Vampires (1915): A strange gang led by sexy “Irma Vep” in a black bodysuit terrorize Paris in this 10 part, 7 hour silent serial. It’s a milestone in cinema history and was a huge influence on the upcoming French surrealist movement. Buy Les Vampires.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Kill List (2011): See description in DVD above. Buy Kill List [Blu-ray].

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009): See description in DVD above. This is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Buy Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror [Blu-ray/DVD Combo]

Les Vampires (1915): See description in DVD above. Buy Les Vampires [Blu-ray].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Ninja Champion (1985): Read our capsule review! Godfrey Ho’s remarkably incompetent movie redubs an unreleased chopsocky movie and combines it with all-new ninja footage shot a decade later to create an incoherent rape-revenge-diamond smuggling ninja action mess. Best line: “Not the wine! My nipples, you jerk!” Watch Ninja Champion free 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.

LET ME DIE A WOMAN (1978)

In a round table meeting with a couple of editors, I was discussing a proposed documentary (which we abandoned). As we were dialoguing, I mentioned a scene which would require green screen. One of the editors stopped me short and said: “This is a documentary. You do not do green screen shots in a documentary.” When I explained that the scene was meant to be poetic and dream-like, which did pertain to the subject at hand, my editor persisted: “You still cannot do that. That’s against all the rules of documentary filmmaking.” I ended that with: “So who made these rules?” If I had thought that argument through, I probably would have tied the editor down and shown him two documentary films, which break “THE rules.” One would be Guy Maddin‘s My Winnipeg (2007) and the other would be ‘s Let Me Die A Woman (1978).

Doris Wishman’s documentary about sex change is cinema’s closest cousin to Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953). Like Wood, Wishman cannot refrain from coating the subject at hand with her own idiosyncratic sheen. So much the better, because like the Wood film, personality is the most salvageable quality of Let Me Die A Woman. Ed Wood was supposed to make a film about a sex change but he turned his opus into a delightfully desperate, personal plea for acceptance of transvestism. Narratively (ahem) Wishman’s film does not divert quite so far from the topic. Visually, now that’s a different story altogether.

Shots of monstrously thick, red shag carpet (which would look so at home on the set of Trinity Broadcast Network), a “what the hell is that doing there?” Siamese cat and the standard Wishman shots of feet scurrying across a dark red floor are among the countless surreal cut-aways. If Wishman’s wandering camera frequently provokes dumbfound amazement, here the cut-aways interrupt poor Leslie with callous abandon. Leslie methodically applies her lipstick, straps on her garter, looks directly at the camera and tells us: “Last year, I was a man!” Cue in cheesy music. Leslie is the attractive, post-op transsexual star who introduces the viewer into the world of “gender dysphoria.” She is candid, expressive, and the only genuine human in the entire film. Unfortunately, whenever Leslie begins to hook us into her personal story, Wishman swings her goddamned camera into WTF land!

Still from Let Me Die a Woman (1977)No one familiar with Wishman’s body of work would be naive enough to expect a sympathetic treatment of the subject. Pornographic actors Harry Reems and Vanessa Del Rio provide cameos, just to make sure we know it’s a freak show. Like we need the proof. Gratuitous sex scenes, the lamest drag queens ever captured on celluloid, and Dr. Leo Wollman each have their own tent on the carnival grounds. Wollman  serves as the downright creepy ringmaster, acting as if he belongs in one of those wretched Faces of Death videos. He lectures us from a hideously decorated office. It is blatantly obvious Wollman is reading off cue cards when he gives us details aplenty about the SEX CHANGE OPERATION! Whether we want the details or not is a moot point. Actual surgical footage, brought to you in all the ghastly glory of 1978 color, accompanies Wollman’s monotone narration. Where are the horror horn and fear flasher when you need them?

Flopping penises, dildos galore, and Dr. Wollman’s fingers probing a vagina are the visual highlights (!) brought to you by Madame Wishman. Do you really have to ask why  is in love with this mondo trash mutant of a film?

Regardless, Wishman does it her way, God bless her!  Next week, we will wrap up our series on the films of Doris Wishman with Nude On the Moon (1961)

123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)

QUESTIONER: What are the most common comparisons to other films that you hear?

CORY MCABEE: There’ve been a few. Because it’s in black and white people sometimes say Eraserhead, but other than the fact that it’s in black and white I don’t really see much… [laughter]. I get a lot of “cross-betweens,” like “a cross between Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Grapes of Wrath.” [laughter]. That’s a very large area to cross between…

–Cory McAbee at an American Astronaut Q&A session

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Cory McAbee, Rocco Sisto, Gregory Russell Cook, Annie Golden, Tom Aldredge

PLOT: Astronaut Samuel Curtis arrives on the asteroid Ceres, where he meets his old friend the Blueberry Pirate, enters a dance contest, and trades a cat for a Real Live Girl (who consists of cloned cells in a box). His commission requires him to go to Jupiter where he will swap the Real Live Girl for the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast, whom he will then take to the all-female planet Venus to exchange for the remains of an expired stud. Along his journey he is pursued by maniacal “birthday boy” (and film narrator) Professor Hess, a man who can only kill if he has no reason to do so.

Still from The American Astronaut (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer/director Cory McAbee is the songwriter and lead singer of the band The Billy Nayer Show; the then-current lineup of the band (minus McAbee) appears in the movie in the Ceres dance contest sequence.
  • McAbee was working on a script entitled Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest when he got the idea for American Astronaut and decided it was the more interesting project. He completed the script for Werewolf Hunters in 2002, but negotiations with financiers fell through. Pre-production resumed in 2011, but the actor cast as the lead died, and the project is again on hold.
  • The American Astronaut got its limited theatrical release September 21, 2001, only a little more than a week after the 9/11 tragedy.
  • After our first viewing we declined to place The American Astronaut on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately (read our shortsighted initial review), but the public decided this omission was one of our biggest oversights, as the movie won our third readers choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast dressed as the messenger god Mercury in an art-deco helmet and thick black eyeliner, raising the roughnecks of Jupiter’s morale by performing a song and dance number in a spotlight on a stage in a cavernous warehouse.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The fact that it’s an absurdist musical comedy space western, for one thing. The American Astronaut is an incredibly personal affair—Cory McAbee wrote, directed, starred, composed the songs, helped paint the backdrops, and probably sold the popcorn on opening night. McAbee brings a particular and peculiar set of personal preoccupations to the project: space operas, psychobilly, Monty Python, German Expressionism, cowboy movies, Lewis Carroll, film noir, , the wide-eyed innocence of childhood, Ed Wood, and Dadaism, among others. It’s a galaxy of influences with competing gravities, and whether they appear as a meaningful constellation or just a meaningless mass of lights may depend on where the viewer is standing. The movie probably makes the most sense when seen from Mars.


Original trailer for The American Astronaut

COMMENTS: Since it’s such a spaced-out movie, it’s appropriate that The American Continue reading 123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)

122. BARBARELLA (1968)

Recommended

AKA Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy

“Barbarella, pyschedella,
There’s a kind of cockleshell about you…”
–Lyrics from Barbarella‘s theme song

DIRECTED BY: Roger Vadim

FEATURING: Jane Fonda, , Anita Pallenberg, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau, ,

PLOT: A wide-eyed aviatrix known as Barbarella must travel to the outer reaches of the peaceful galaxy to stop rebellious scientist Durand-Durand from unleashing his weapon, the Positronic Ray. She is rescued from a gang of dolls with razor-sharp metal teeth by a man who teaches her the ways of physical love, then befriends a blind angel. Her search leads her into conflict with the Grand Tyrant in a sinful city of the future.

Still from Barbarella (1968)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on the French comic series of the same name, Barbarella‘s screenplay features her creator Jean-Claude Forest among its many credits, as well as novelist  (who also worked on the scripts for Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, among others).
  • The entire film was shot on a soundstage in Italy, meaning that the wondrous, complex sets were built from scratch for every scene. An oil wheel projector was used to create the trippy, amorphous backgrounds that visually expanded the limited space into larger territory. Several of the Italian actors are dubbed in English.
  • Among the many cut sequences from the final product is a titillating love scene between Jane Fonda and Anita Pallenberg. Publicity stills of the scene exist but it was never actually filmed.
  • At the time Barbarella was shot, star Jane Fonda was married to director Roger Vadim, known as the man who discovered (and married/divorced) the young Brigitte Bardot.
  • The bands Duran Duran and Matmos took their names from this film.
  • Barbarella was a flop on release. It was re-released in 1977 to cash in on the space opera craze started by Star Wars, with most of the nudity removed to create a PG rated version entitled Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: For many, Fonda’s titillating anti-gravity striptease over the opening credits is the highlight, or her sweaty orgasmic torture under the deadly Excessive Machine. For me the most remarkable visual moment is the Great Tyrant’s Chamber of Dreams, wherein Barbarella runs around in confusion, backed by fantastic lava-lamp patterns and floating bubbles as a rambling xylophone score tinkles over the action.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Merging elements of sex-romp comedy, ludicrous science fiction, and death-defying action-adventure with memorably psychedelic imagery, Barbarella is a series of disjointed sequences that get stranger and stranger as the story progresses. The wild costumes, over-saturated color schemes, goofy dialogue, and sly winks to the audience are punctuated with weird little details, from deadly animatronic dolls to a hair-raising futuristic sex scene with minimal physical contact.


Original trailer from Barbarella (1968)

COMMENTS: Set in a wildly distant future where war and violence no longer exist, everyone has Continue reading 122. BARBARELLA (1968)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEAR GOD, NO! (2011)

DIRECTED BY: James Anthony Bickart

FEATURING: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Olivia LaCroix, John Collins, Shane Morton, Nick Morgan, Rusty Stache, Nick Hood, Jim Sligh, Rachelle Lynn, Jim Stacy

PLOT: The Impalers are a vicious motorcycle gang rampaging across the land indulging in drug trafficking and other antisocial behavior, like rape and nun killing. After a shoot-out in a strip club, they top off the party with a home invasion, whereupon their paths cross with a mad scientist, his daughter and associate. They plan a night of fun, with humiliation, rape and murder on the menu… but the scientist has something unexpected in the basement. Meanwhile, there’s something in the woods that’s killing animals and quickly working its way up the food chain…

Still from Dear God No! (2011)

COMMENTS: Dear God, No! (official site) is another throwback to the grindhouse flicks of the 1970’s, when political correctness didn’t exist. It goes balls to the wall with the 5 B’s of Exploitation Movies – Bikers, Bullets, Boobs, Blood, Beer – all of which are in ample supply… and adds another ‘B’ to the party – Bigfoot. Like most of the neo-grindhouse films, there’s lots of loving homage on display, and most of it is done very well. Unfortunately, DGN! falls into the same trap as most other trash throwback films do, that of overkill… everything is intentionally over the top, way too much to take really seriously or to really get offended by. There’s no real sense of transgression, which most of the actual 70’s grindhouse features actually had; and, most of the comedy and acting here is really labored. That said, on the technical side of things it’s good, solid low-budget work. It’s a fun ride, and it looks like the real thing—arrested adolescents will bow down in praise, feeling ‘bad’ and ‘dirty’ for over an hour. Afterwards, they’ll be wanting something a bit more substantial. So will you, probably.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

We have an interesting week of reviews coming up, with a surprise for long-time readers who’ve been paying close attention. First off, 366 Underground says “yes” to reviewing 2011’s bikers-meet-mad-scientist grindhouse tribute Dear God No!; Alfred Eaker chooses Let Me Die a Woman (1978); and we’ll (un)cover the sexy psychedelic sci-fi shenanigans of one Barbarella (1968). By popular demand, we’ll also be correcting our earlier oversight when we passed over ‘s 2001 absurdist space rock opera The American Astronaut, finally elevating it its rightful place on the List. All that strangeness should keep you buzzing throughout next week.

Drunk ESL porn searchers once again dominate the results in our “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” contest. First up is “www.brass pinto of sexy movies &movies.com++.” Now, it amazes us that, for whatever reason, at large segment of the search population thinks that you must use the following format to get decent results on Google: “www.[this is the subject I actually want information on].com.” Yet, we never get searches for “www.what are the weirdest movies ever made?.com”; every www…com formatted query is looking for something sexual: in this case, “brass pinto of sexy movies &movies.” With that digression out of the way, we move on to the next inexplicable search, this time for “all franch porn movie 1980 that contents ships win awoman boyfriend or hadueb.” If you can make heads or tails of what that searcher is actually looking for (all French porn movies from 1980 that ship with a woman’s boyfriend?), then you should probably seek some kind of counseling. Still, neither of these impressed us as the Weirdest Search Term of the Week; not when “1. if you saw a naked woman chasing a chicken through medieval france you would know she did something wrong…what did she do?” shows up in our server logs. (We figured out the answer; that doesn’t make the fact that someone asked the question any less bizarre…)

This was the first week in years when we did not get a reader suggestion for a bizarre film to review; have we finally discovered all the great weird movie candidates? Probably not, be at any rate, here’s how that ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue stands: Barbarella (next week!); The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra] (out of print in Region 1, but we’ll keep looking); Liquid Sky (re-review); “Twin Peaks” (TV series); SocietyLittle Otik; Final Programme; Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

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