WEIRD HORIZON FOR 10/9/09

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.

Another very weak week for the weird, with nothing odd in theaters (unless you live in NYC), and no bizarre DVD releases (although there is a very welcome addition to the Blu-ray ranks).

SCREENINGS (NEW YORK CITY, ANGELIKAS FILM CENTER)

Bronson (2008):  Story about a violent British bank robber who is locked up in solitary confinement for 30 years; in prison, he transforms himself into the mythical persona “Charles Bronson.”  Loosely based on the true story of one of Britain’s most violent criminals, more than one critic has compared it to A Clockwork Orange (if for no other reason, then for its mixture of extreme violence and classical music).  Already on DVD in the UK, but it does not appear to be available in Region 1 yet.  Bronson official site.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Audition (1999) (Collector’s Edition): Perhaps Japanese shockmeister Takeshi Miike’s greatest achievement, this tale of a lonely businessman who gets more than he asked for when he looks for love by staging auditions for a fake movie has a climax that’s both shatteringly surreal and blood-curdlingly gory and extreme.  This 2-disc Blu-ray release contains full commentary by Miike (the DVD release only had commentary during the key sequence) explaining the film along with screenwriter Daisuke Tengan, and more than 90 minutes of new interviews with cast and crew on Disc 2. 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.

THE WILD AND ZANY WORLD OF TODD M. COE

Todd M. Coe is one of those secret finds that is all too tempting to keep secret.

Todd M CoeTodd’s animated shorts evoke the decade of the 1970’s, which  he is hopelessly in love with.  Drive-in commercials, exploitation, cheesy horror, 70’s adult  posters, variety show television specials, low budget spaghetti westerns, robots, the rock group Kiss, Aaron Spelling cop shows, feathered hair, plaid bell bottoms, and, of course animation are all manna from pop culture heaven for him.

Todd could undoubtedly add a few thousand items from that decade to the list, such as one of his favorites (and the delightfully of it’s period) Paul Lynde Halloween Special ,with Donnie and Marie Osmond, Mrs. Brady, Witchie Poo and Billy Barty all trading groan worthy barbs with the inimitable and much missed Mr. Lynde. Todd discussed this perennial favorite in a series of emails and his enthusiasm was admittedly infectious.

Todd is a post-modern, eclectic “slapstick surrealist”.  His four shorts can be seen on both youtube (his channel is called school pizza) and on his website—http://www.toddmcoe.com/—where you can also view his numerous illustrations, drawings and paintings.

Todd pours his obvious love of subject into all of his amazingly detailed work and, boy does he pour it on, like a good oozing heap of Aunt Jemima syrup.

Taking a tour through Todd’s website is an inspiration. After a near fatal overdose from the increasingly bland overkill of Tim Burton’s monotonous school of animation, or even more monotonous, bland Japanese Animation, Todd’s work is a much needed breath of fresh red, white and blue air.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself humming the Love American Style and SchoolHouse Rock’s Conjunction Junction theme songs as you take the Todd M. Coe ride.

I certainly did, and now I’m really fighting the urge to throw in a video of the Banana Splits, locating my 45 record of Styx’s Mr. Roboto, re-read my Green Lantern comics, fall in love with the Farrah posterall over again (God bless that angel’s soul), take a whack at the etch a sketch, and pour myself a big bowl of Crisp cereal. I doubt I win that fight.

Thank you much Mr. Coe.

CAPSULE: 9 (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Shane Acker

FEATURING: Voices of ,

PLOT:  Nine robotic ragdolls fight killer machines in a post-human, post-apocalyptic world.

Still from 9 (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: 9 is a visually thrilling movie set in a unique, humanless universe; with a more careful and detailed exploration of that world, the flick could have struck a mildly weird chord.  As it is, the movie is mostly concerned with looking gorgeous (which it does) and providing the kiddies with rambunctious action sequences than it is in digging deep into the mysteries of its fascinating milieu.

COMMENTS:  People constantly, and rightfully, complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality in plots; by the time a screenwriter’s fresh idea makes its way through the suit mill, strong and unique flavors have been ground out of it, replaced with formula salt. Sloppy, rote plotting, climaxing in a well-worn and obvious moral, is so omnipresent in Hollywood product that it seldom raises a critical eyebrow. That is, until something as visually inventive as 9 appears on the screen, when suddenly the relative poverty of imagination of the typical adventure script is thrown into stark relief. 9 is set in a brilliantly realized earth-tone post-apocalypse dominated by bombed-out buildings littered with ruined bric-a-brack. The animation is obviously influenced by Tim Burton disciple Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline), but in its brooding darkness and danger it brings to mind a more fluid and rational-minded version of or the Brothers Quay. Flashbacks of the man vs. machine war that wiped out humanity look like a 1940s propaganda film attacked by H.G. Wells’ Martians (they’re even in glorious black and white).

Such a visually inventive world promises, and deserves, to be the backdrop for an equally imaginative story, and here is where 9 falls apart. The characters (known only by number) are quickly and archetypically sketched, but that’s not a major problem; it’s satisfying enough to know that 1 is a fatally conservative leader, 6 is a visionary artist, 7 is a brash warrior, and so on down the line. The major problem is that there is little sense to the burlap doll’s very existence; they fight nightmarish robotic cats and an all-seeing globe which is capable (for some reason) of sucking out their little souls, but it seems like they should be solving the riddle of their existence. They do so, but when they get the answer, it’s a major letdown. The biggest plot problem isn’t that the Scientist created both the nine ragdolls and the beast that dogs them; it’s that, in an epic fit of absentmindedness, he imbued the same gizmo with the power both to activate the apocalypse and provide the last hope of humanity. It’s a bizarre and confusing plan (and for once, I don’t mean that as a compliment), and it’s based on some awfully hokey metaphysics that invokes the idea that if you create a device that shoots souls into the sky, it will eventually rain life-giving amoebas. The truth is, the nine exist in a script that needs menacing robots for them to fight with broken pocketknife blades as big as broadswords; therefore, these evil machines exist, and for no other convincing reason. The script isn’t interested in fleshing out this world or resolving these paradoxes, but only in getting us to the next action sequence or comforting cliche as quickly as possible. In the end, that leaves us with a film that, perhaps unfairly, disappoints us, because it has so much imaginative potential. We may be more forgiving towards Hollywood fare that aims no higher than to provide us with eighty minutes of eye candy and an injection of vicarious adrenaline, and squarely hits its mark.

Acker’s film is an Internet success story. Birthed as an eleven minute short film, 9 was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2005, but it was YouTube viewings that created the huge advance buzz for the feature version. The short contained no dialogue—only electronica, metallic battle sounds, and weird ambient noise—and also reveals none of the unsatisfactory backstory. It was far more mysterious, and a more impressive artistic achievement. When Tim Burton decided to adopt the film and serve as producer (by slapping his ticket-selling name on it), the project’s Hollywood credibility went through the roof—and the story was ground into the Hollywood scriptwriting gears.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Probably the strangest animated feature to appear since Coraline… [it has] the feeling of a perversely fascinating ballet mécanique—a movie that literally expends with humans in the way that Hollywood blockbusters have been figuratively doing for years.”–Scott Foundas, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Victor Fleming (credited), King Vidor, Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited)

FEATURING: Judy Garland, , Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley

PLOT:  A cyclone carries a Kansas girl (and her little dog, too) to a magical land over the rainbow.

Still from The Wizard of Oz (1939)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In creating a list of the 366 best weird movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz presents a huge challenge.  After all, this Technicolor extravaganza contains such trippy imagery as a bizarre cyclone that hurls snatches of a young girl’s fears past her spinning window; a land of doll-like little people threatened by a witch; talking apple trees; a giant floating green head appearing and disappearing before a curtain of flame; knife-nosed, green-faced Cossack guards; and of course, flying monkeys—never underestimate the weirdness of flying monkeys.  These should be the building blocks of a stunningly psychedelic pic, but if this magical movie only seems fantastic, never weird, it’s because the entire adventure feels so safe.  The musical numbers, the comedy, and the deliciously stagey sets serve to remind all but the very youngest children that we’re in an artificial, sheltered environment, and that no harm can ever come to Dorothy.  We’re invited to sit back and soak in the spectacle, not to experience it directly.

COMMENTS: Most reviews of The Wizard of Oz could be distilled down to two words: “me too.”  Are you a viewer who loves the movie?  Me, too.  You admire the immaculate casting and performances?  The unforgettable music?  The clever nonsense wordplay of Continue reading CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

ANNOUNCEMENT: 366 EXCLUSIVE “9″ [SHORT] UP FOR ONE MORE WEEK

Because Rouge Cinema reviewed and linked the 366 Exclusive short film “9” (no relation to the Tim Burton/Shane Acker feature), we have decided to leave it up for another week, until October 12.  Made for the 48 Hour Film Festival, “9” is an experimental, sepia-toned avant-garde film exploring generational abuse in a mythical Western setting.  Click here to watch it.

We plan to premier a new exclusive short film in “9”‘s place after October 12.

THE CREMATOR [SPALOVAC MRTVOL] (1969)

The Cremator has been promoted onto the List of the Best Weird Movies Ever Made; the Certified Weird entry is here.

DIRECTED  BY: Juraj Herz

FEATURING: Rudolf Hrusínský, Ilja Prachar, Milos Vognic, and Zora Bozinová

PLOT: In this mesmerizing, Gothic horror film, a funerary specialist becomes obsessed with what he believes to be the nobility of his calling, with terrifyingly tragic and bizarre results.

THE CREMATOR

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Cremator treats unusual, morbid, taboo subject matter in a visually dreamy way that is artful without being  gimmicky.

COMMENTS: In late 1930’s Prague, Kopfrking (Hrusínský) is a misguided, enigmatic crematorium operator. He is an impeccably groomed, eerie, and meticulous figure, always talking in a hypnotic, soft spoken, poetic manner.  He is overly preoccupied with mortality, morbidity, and the human soul, and deeply devoted to the funerary arts.

Kopfrking feels a physical affection for the instrumentality of his trade, lovingly caressing the equipment of the crematory process.  He speaks constantly, literally and metaphorically, of death and the liberation of the soul through the process of cremation.

As the story progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with his work, finding it glorifying and cathartic.  He sees visions of the ghost of his living wife in her youth, along with his future incarnation, as he begins a spiraling descent into fantasy and madness.  He is on a mission to free the souls of the deceased (and in time the not-so deceased) through the pyrolization of human flesh, be it living or dead—just as long as that flesh is consumed and vaporized by fire.

The pre-WWII German propaganda machine is enveloping Eastern Europe, polarizing aspiring Nazis and oppositionists.  Drawn toward the philosophy of the Third Reich, Kopfrking becomes morbidly obsessed with racial purity and the percentage of German blood flowing within his own veins—literally, to the point of having his vessels opened and the contents examined.  While The Cremator is not a raving anti-Nazi film, it uses the political ideology as an allegory for exploring the phenomenon of sweeping, consuming mass delusion and insanity.

The gathering of Nazi forces on the border offers Kopfrking an opportunity to realize his misguided aspirations on a grand scale, one much larger than he could have ever hoped for, one seemingly without limit.  Before applying his fervor and passion to the task, he hatches a plan to betray and destroy his own acquaintances, colleagues and family.

While there are elements of black satire in the The Cremator, the movie is so compelling as to nearly overshadow it.  The film insidiously and steadily flows to its inevitable and horrifying conclusion like a hot rivulet of liquefied fat.

The production design is crisp and symmetrical.  Stanislav Milota’s stunning black and white cinematography is haunting and beautiful.  It features successions of extreme closeups that emphasize the slightly grotesque and disturbing features of the biological condition.  Milota’s use of black and white film stock’s enhanced tonal range is artfully employed to focus attention on rich textures and multitudes of shades.  This gives The Cremator a uniquely unsettling dreamlike quality.  The musical score by Zdenek Liska is alluring, phantasmic, and aesthetically intriguing. Viewing The Cremator is akin to experiencing a nightmare that one is reluctant to wake from.

The Cremator was a Czech nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this 1968 black comedy in black and white is undeniably creepy—once director Juraj Herz enters the fractured mind of his protagonist, he refuses to budge.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

366weirdmovies here, coming to you live from sunny Orlando, Florida.  Weird movies wait for no man, vacation or not.

Coming up next week, expect to see some combination of the following: reviews of the mystical Czech horror/drama The Cremator, Ed Wood’s accidentally magnificent Glen or Glenda?, Harry Kümel’s nearly forgotten weirdfest Malpertuis, The Wizard of Oz, and the overlooked 1985 children’s adventure Young Sherlock Holmes.  Also in the works is a long article on legendary (and very weird) Russian director Rustam Khamdamov, whose surrealistic masterpieces remain untranslated and virtually unknown in the West.

It was a slow week for weird search terms used to find this site; the best we can find is “free weird mutant sex movies.”

A while back reader “Rob Steele/Mofo Rising” suggested that we review the Quay Brothers’ out-of-print Institute Benjamenta.  We were thrilled to  recently discover that this film is going to be re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in a newly restored version sponsored by the British Film Institute in March, 2010 (you heard it here first!).  For that reason, we’re going to push back our review of Benjamenta to next year, and substitute Mofo’s alternate suggestion, Greaser’s Palace, in its place.  That makes the reader suggested review queue (which we confess is getting backed up) looks like this: Cowards Bend the Knee (substituted for the unavailable Angel’s Egg), Greaser’s Palace (substituted for Institute Benjamenta), Pan’s Labyrinth, Ex Drummer, Waking Life, Survive Style 5+, The Dark Backward, The Short Films of David Lynch, Santa Sangre, Dead Man, Inland Empire, Monday (assuming I can find an English language version), The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Barton Fink, What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams), Meatball Machine, and Xtro.

SATURDAY SHORT: SULTANA MEADOWS

“Sultana Meadows” is a fine example of the delightful, under appreciated shorts by Spike McKenzie.  The unsettling images throughout this video are quite reminiscent of David Lynch, and paint a very weird and wonderful picture.

Relationships tend to slowly draw away our good side, and expose the bad.  Mayhap you’ll have much in common with this journey into the bizarre.

For more of Spike visit his YouTube account. I strongly recommend his mock kids show, “Wonderbang Island”.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 10/2/2009

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):

Zombieland:  There are many readers of this site who would flock to any zom-com offering, but the good news is that this particular post-zombie-apocalypse comedy, starring Woody Harrelson as a professional killer of the undead, is getting good advance notice, and may even be slightly weird: Andrew Wright of The Stranger is calling it “an absolute, occasionally surreal hoot.”  Zombieland official site.

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

A Serious Man: The latest Coen brothers film, a star-free philosophical dramedy about growing up Jewish in the American Midwest in the 1960s, is not making theater owners salivate at the prospect of ticket sales, but fans can safely expect to see the brothers’ trademark quirkiness on display.  A Serious Man official site.

SCREENINGS: NEW YORK CITY (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART)

Where Is Where? (2009): Experimental narrative film from Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila centers around the murder of a French boy by his two Arab playmates during the Algerian war and a poet’s attempts to understand the act years later; featuring split-screens and Death as a character.  Where Is Where? at the Museum of Modern Art.

NEW ON DVD:

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Edition (1939):  Even with flying monkeys, taking apple trees and green-faced cossacks, The Wizard of Oz might not qualify as “weird”; but there’s no doubt that the story is the touchstone of indigenous American fantasy.  This 2-disc edition is from a crystal clear 2005 restoration and features outtakes and deleted scenes, numerous interviews with the surviving cast members and featurettes, and a numerous other extras—disc 1 can even do duty as a Wizard of Oz karaoke machine. Buy from Amazon.  Also available is an “Ultimate” edition that contains a digital copy of the movie and four 8 x 10 inch posters of the main characters. Buy Ultimate Edition.

NE W ON BLU-RAY:

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition:  A scaled down Blu-ray release is probably set for the future, but first comes this extravagant 4 disc limited-edition set with 16 hours (!) of bonus content, along with a 52 page booklet, a 7oth anniversary watch (with “genuine crystals”), and reproductions of original marketing materials. 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.

HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

Still from Heart of the Beholder (2005)In 2005, Ken Tipton made a labor of love, an indie film called Heart of the Beholder, regarding the true story of the initial video release of Last Temptation of Christ and the effects it has on a family who owned a small video chain in St. Louis, Missouri during the 1980s.

The CFD, Citizens for Decency, arrived when the owners of the chain chose to carry  Martin Scorsese’s controversial film.  These God-loving red, white and blue, flag- waving Americans came out in droves to harass, bully and literally threaten their employees, family, business and life.

These are the same Americans who undoubtedly burned Dixie Chick albums when that group criticized God’s ambassador here on earth, little George W, and are the same Americans who still visit the Heart of the Beholder website telling Mr. Tipton and company that they are going to  hell while undoubtedly pleasuring themselves at the thought of the filmmakers frying  for all eternity.  Heart of the Beholder is a damned important, desperately needed film.

Although Heart of the Beholder got good reviews and even won some festival awards, predictably, no distributor would touch it.  One would surely think that the making of the film would have brought in some support, perhaps from Temptation‘s producers, Scorsese, etc.   Continue reading HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (2005) & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

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