2012 ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS MOVIE LIST

It’s that time of year again to present something a tad different for the stocking. I am going to start off with four titles recommended by . Then, beginning at number five, a list of silent-era Christmas films. These may not have been weird in their day, but are rendered so now because of their archaic texture (and that is the beauty of cinema in it infancy stage—these films now seem something from another world altogether).

1. Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972): I am with Todd on this one: this is naive surrealism on suicide watch. And yes, it’s that much of  a hoot!  St. Nick (Jay Ripley) must have swallowed some of Winter Warlock’s reindeer corn himself. Only thing is, it has the opposite effect on immortal toymakers. His sleigh gets stuck in a mound of Florida sand. The toy-licking, blue clad “Kids” belt out a song that makes Leonard Nimoy’s golden throat sound like Jose Carreras. The Kids do what anyone would do in such a circumstance, and get the help of a gorilla! The oversized Curious George is of no help, so the Kids then try out a bunch of other animals. Santa gets peeved, tells then the story of Thumbelina (a previous film by the same producers) before the Ice Cream Bunny (!) comes to save the day. Well, sort of. Actually, there’s something lascivious going on between the Creepy Clause and our cool-toned hare. I half expected a Bugs Bunny drag scene, but alas, no.

2. Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol (1978): Nearly (not quite) the Christmas equivalent of Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special (alas, it doesn’t have Kiss, Mrs. Brady, or Pinky Tuscadero). Rich plays all the characters, doing his trademark impressions including Paul Lynde as Bob Cratchet, W.C. Fields as Scrooge, Johnny Carson as Nephew Fred, Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker as Mrs. Hatchet, Truman Capote as Tiny Tim (sheer genius), Richard Nixon as Jacob Marley and, in supporting roles, George Burns, , John Wayne, Jack Benny, James Mason and Dean Martin. It’s highly inventive in Rich’s inimitable way, even for an oft-told tale.

Still from Cosmic Christmas (1977)3. A Cosmic Christmas (1977): A bizarre product of  its time, this animated Canadian short came right on heels of the initial Star Wars (1977) hysteria. Imagine George Lucas’ iconic cantina scene mixed with the Peanuts’ Linus’ explanation of the holiday’s true meaning, thrown in with the ViewMaster version of St. Luke’s yuletide tale, all in outer space with a kid named Peter standing in for the Little Drummer Boy. Oh, and there is a goose named Lucy too. Yep, that sums it up.

4. Christmas Evil (1980):Todd, I am sure Ally and Zoom know (with this suggestion) that you have moved out of the 1970s, into 1980! Shocking! I promise that I will do my utmost to block this information from Santa’s crystal ball, so as not to send the old boy into a panic. Alas, 366 Weird Movies has again beat us to the punch in covering this title. So, we will just have to refer back to that link.

5. A Christmas Carol (1901): Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost was the original title for this first cinematic (British) version of Charles Dickens’ story Continue reading 2012 ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS MOVIE LIST

132. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)

“…unique perspectives and self-sufficient lifestyles are sacred things that should be fought for and preserved. So-called ‘eccentrics’ were my earliest heroes, and one of my biggest influences.”–Benh Zeitlin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Benh Zeitlin

FEATURING: , Dwight Henry

PLOT: Six-year old Hushpuppy lives with her ailing father Wink in “the Bathtub,” a community that turns into an island isolated from society when floodwaters cut it off from the mainland. After a second flood nearly destroys the Bathtub, Wink decides that he must destroy the levee so that the water will recede. This plan brings the attention of the authorities, however, who forcibly evacuate the defiant pair from their ramshackle home, all while Wink’s health is getting worse…

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
BACKGROUND:

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild was adapted from the play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar (who also collaborated on the movie screenplay). The action was moved from Georgia to Louisiana, and Hushpuppy’s character was altered to fit the personality of actress Quvenzhané Wallis.
  • Hushpuppy was originally conceived of as 9-12 years old, but Quvenzhané Wallis was so perfect for the role that the character’s age was changed. Wallis beat out a reported 4,000 other kids for the role. She was only five when she first auditioned and, since the minimum age to be considered was six, her mother lied about her age.
  • Dwight Henry (Wink) is a New Orleans baker; this was his first acting role. He originally turned down the role in order to focus on opening a new bakery.
  • The aurochs in the movie are actually pot-bellied pigs with horns glued on.
  • Won the Caméra d’Or prize at Cannes (given to the best first film screened at the festival).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Hushpuppy coming face to face with the apocalyptic aurochs of her imagination.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Quvenzhané Wallis’ childish explanation, “once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub” turns out to be a literal description of the plot in this ridiculously original fairy tale that resembles The Tree of Life set in a post-apocalyptic bayou.


Original trailer for Beasts of the Southern Wild

COMMENTS: Although many movies purport to view reality from a child’s perspective (including Curse of the Cat People, My Life as a Dog, and Pan’s Continue reading 132. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)

CAPSULE: RESTLESS (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Henry Hopper,

PLOT: A moody boy with the ghost of a kamikaze pilot for a best friend and a hobby of attending funerals falls in love with a girl who’s dying of cancer.

Still from Restless (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Remaking Harold and Maude as a teen romance with a hot Maude and a ghost sidekick sounds like a bad idea, but Restless is even worse than you might imagine.

COMMENTS: An unquenchably perky dying woman convinces a boy with a morbid fascination for death that life is a precious gift not to be wasted. If you’re going to use a plot that’s so well-worn and sickly sweet, then by God you’d better find a pungent spice to add some flavor to the treacle. What if you made the love interest an octogenarian Holocaust survivor, and had the thanatophilic teen stage elaborate fake suicides? What, it’s been done before? Well, at least we could have them meet cute at a stranger’s funeral. You’re kidding, they already did that, too? Well, we’ll just do it anyway, and market it to teens who haven’t seen it before. Oh, and let’s throw in a ghost… make him a Japanese kamikaze pilot… they didn’t do that one yet, did they? Despite attempts to gussy up the doomed material with an infusion of quirk, if you’ve seen a dozen or so romantic movies, then Restless is one you’ve seen before. Henry (son of Dennis) Hopper puts on his best brood, but bad boy he ain’t; this pallid dreamboat is more Robert Pattison than James Dean. Despite being graced with a truly tragic backstory that gives him ample excuse for bitterness, Hopper still manages to come across as a whiny brat, and it doesn’t help matters that he’s scripted as kind of dumb, too. Ryo Kase (understandably) doesn’t appear to have a clue why his ghost character is in the story, so he hedges his acting bets and plays Hiroshi totally deadpan. (By far the film’s best—in fact, its only—joke is Hiroshi’s skill at the board game “Battleship.”) In 2011, Mia Wasikowska proved she had pro acting chops by taking the lead in Jane Eyre and an admirable supporting turn in Albert Nobbs; she comes off the best here, but there’s not much she can do to give grit or texture to such a perfect, unrealistic, idealized character. Annabel isn’t scared of dying, she’s always upbeat and positive, and she doesn’t get visibly upset even when her boyfriend dumps her on her deathbed. Chemo makes her hair look really darling, and even when she’s convulsing, she looks like a cutie-pie. Mia is pleasant and brings a life to the role, but her eternally sunny character makes no sense—shouldn’t the movie be about coming to grips with the reality of mortality, not glossing over the ugly facts of death? Mia never appears the least bit sickly, but the same can’t be said for Jason Lew’s anemic screenplay. This script is wired deep into teen paranoia. Why are all the adult authorities against the kids? Why does the funeral director care so much about Enoch respectfully attending memorial services of people he doesn’t know? Why do security guards tackle him when he’s leaving the hospital peacefully? Why does no one understand him? Despite, or rather because of, tailoring itself to teens’ distorted views of reality, this isn’t a good movie for teenagers. It’s pure pandering, and it’s either cynical, or incompetent. Restless isn’t reprehensible or badly made, but it’s worse than many movies that are, because it doesn’t really try: it merely spiffs up tired platitudes with a few quirks and fresh faces, and assumes its unsophisticated audience will eat up the result. The lack of effort or ambition is depressing. Why do so many movies that consciously set out to be life-affirming make smart people despair after watching them?

Gus van Sant is a director who’s hard to peg: he’s all over the map, making everything from gritty indies (Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant) to Oscar-bait (Good Will Hunting and Milk) to kinky would-be cult films (My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) to true WTF head-scratchers (a “shot-for-shot” remake of Psycho?) God knows what attracted him to this material, which seems tailored for a hack director. Directing Restless is like being the makeup guy at the funeral parlor—the best he can do is to make the lifeless script presentable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…they may be a little too weird for the rest of the world; they are the perfect kind of weird for each other… a movie that is as heartwarming as it is strange.”–Matthew DeKinder, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE DOUBLE HOUR (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Capotondi

FEATURING: Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Fausto Russo Alesi

PLOT: After surviving a gunshot wound to the head, a woman is haunted by apparitions of the dead and visions from what seem to be an alternate, but parallel version of her life.



WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Double Hour keeps us guessing as to whether we are watching a supernatural chiller or a psychological thriller as it shifts from reality to fantasy and back again. The technique is disorienting, but effective for presenting the story in a creative, unconventional way, and produces a viewing experience that is at times slightly surreal, and definitely perplexing and weird.

COMMENTS: Wow! Guiseppe Capotondi’s stylish, haunting mystery, wrought with paradoxes and disturbing plot twists, really kept me guessing and thinking. The heroine’s perplexing afflictions are in some way personally relevant to her, but instead of clarifying what has happened, they further darken the murky conundrum into which she inexorably spirals in this smoldering, claustrophobic thriller. Capotondi cleverly wields suspense and uncertainty so as to merge the lead character’s unfolding impressions with our viewing experience so that I found myself drawn into her to nightmare as if it were my own.

Strong performances glue The Double Hour‘s convoluted, anomalous elements together into a cohesive, atmospheric mystery. Stars Filippo Timi and Ksenia Rappoport won 2009 Venice Film Festival awards for their roles. Armchair sleuths will find themselves put to the test to try to untangle a twisty path of clues in The Double Hour. With a finale similar to The Butterfly Effect II, everything comes together in the end with no red herrings, but even the most intrepid brainteaser trailblazer will have to lift the double bill of his deerstalker cap to scratch his brow in consternation after the 20 minute mark.

The Double Hour takes it’s name from those times during the day when the numerals designating hour and minutes match. Such as 10:10, or on a 24 hour clock, 22:22. In The Double Hour, these instances hold a special significance: it’s rumored one can wish on them and the wish will come true. They seem to figure prominently in Sonia’s (Rappoport) life, coinciding with strategic events.

Sonia is a chambermaid working in an upscale hotel. She is hounded by bizarre occurrences. After a hotel guest in a room assigned to Sonia leaps off her balcony, the maid takes up a romance with Guido (Timi), a guard at a wealthy absentee land owner’s estate. While visiting her boyfriend, professional criminals raid the manor, holding Guido and Sonia hostage while they loot the mansion of art treasures. Events run awry when Guido tries to protect Sonia. A shot is fired, and everything goes black. It’s unclear what happened.

This is where The Double Hour, already a romance and now a crime caper, completely departs from what the viewer is expecting and plunges into the realm of the eerie and bizarre. The film takes up with Sonia back at work at the hotel as if nothing has happened, but clearly her world is sliding off its axis. Sonia’s life shifts back and forth between light and dark, with a maddeningly indiscernible, sickeningly deliberate design. Phantasmal apparitions and unnerving coincidences begin to gaslight the moments of her day, appearing at those times marked by double digits on the clock.

Disquieted again and again by contact from the other side, Sonia questions her interpretation of reality. How far can we trust our senses to tell us what is real? At what point does subjective experience part from objective truth? Like a Gordian tangle of thread unraveling from some bedeviled funeral shroud, Sonia’s effort to decipher her burgeoning enigma is predicated by a series of uncanny twists and turns, each successive development hurtling all that has preceded it into uncertainty.

As Sonia drifts through a limbo, The Double Hour deftly, seamlessly crosses multiple genre boundaries, from mystery, to horror, to thriller, keeping us off balance and agitated. Just as we begin to draw conclusions, the storyline bends and splits yet again down another unexpected course.

Do our lives co-exist on parallel planes, where mere chance causes outcomes to diverge into differing pathways? If we could wish to reverse tragedies, could things ever really be the way they were knowing what we know now? Be careful what you wish for. We can only watch powerlessly as Sonia discovers whether or not destiny compels those alternate pathways to converge with an eerily vexing prearrangement upon the manifestation of The Double Hour.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A love story wrapped in a way-twisty thriller, this Italian film was made to mess with our heads.”–Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

 

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Happy holidays, weirdophiles! Next week we’ll be stuffing your review-reading stocking with various cinematic presents, along with lumps of film coal (you can decide which is which). We’ll start off with the genre-bending Italian thriller (?) The Double Hour (2009); take a look at Gus van Sant’s oddly conceived teen death romance Restless (2011); and revisit Hush Puppy in the bathtub in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Alfred will provide us with alterno Xmas choices from deep in the archives of cinema to top off the pre-holiday week.

People must be taking a break from typing insane queries into search engines to go out shopping; how else to explain the dearth of truly strange search terms in this week’s “Weirdest Search Term of the Week” contest? Odd entries were so light that we even considered relatively normal searches like “every 2000 movies about teens partying with a midget” as contenders. Also on our radar were “bizarre flicks stock advisory” (“in today’s market, Eraserhead rose 6 points on news that  has officially retired from filmmaking”) and “gummo eats gumbo” (why search for a Marx brother who never appeared on film eating a spicy Louisiana stew?) For our weirdest search term of the week, however, we’ll go with “film- two friends in prison-one friend escaped by toilet-librarian-tree-sea.” What’s a toilet-librarian-tree-sea, and how can you use one to escape from prison?

Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: The Hour-glass Sanatorium [Saanatorium pod klepsidra]; Liquid Sky (re-review); Society; Final Programme; “Foutaises”; Bloodsucking Freaks; Lost Highway; Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (official Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 12/14/2012

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

Consuming Spirits (2012): Experimental animation with a story involving three rust belt newspapermen with weird names: Gentian Violet 42, Victor Blue 38, and Earl Gray 64. Playing this week at Film Forum in New York—writer/director/animator Christopher Sullivan will be there in person this Friday and Saturday. No official site: here is the link to the Film Forum screening.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

The Frame (est. 2014): , director of the Certified Weird Ink, has recently announced a new feature film project. The Frame team is being tight-lipped about the plot and the production, but I have been personally assured by an anonymous source that we can expect to see some “serious weird” in the finished product. We’ll keep an eye on it. The Frame Facebook page.

NEW ON DVD:

“Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” (2002): Two kids find themselves thrown into various dimensions (parodies of video games or TV shows) in this anime TV series. We don’t normally pay that much attention to anime, because it plays by its own set of rules that make the word “weird” obsolete, but YouTube clips of this one suggest it may be up some of our readers’ alleys. Buy “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” Complete Collection.

Miami Connection (1987): A rock band fights drug-dealing ninjas in Miami. This newly resurrected 80s camp has been championed by the Alamo Drafthouse and  as “so-bad-it’s-good,” but is it “so-bad-it’s-weird”? Buy Miami Connection.

“The Qatsi Trilogy”: Koyaanisqatsi (1982)/ Powaqqatsi (1988)/ Naqoyqatsi (2002): Koyaanisqatsi (the Hopi Indian term means “life out of balance”) was a highly innovative, wordless documentary with an influential Philip Glass score and an environmental theme. Director Godfrey Reggio followed up the surprise cult hit with two similar sequels; the Criterion Collection has assembled the trio together in one set with the usual abundance of supplemental material. Buy “The Qatsi Trilogy” (Criterion Collection).

The Toxic Avenger – Japanese Cut (1984): Read our capsule review. Okay, we’re not Toxie’s biggest boosters, but fans may be interested in seeing the 11 extra minutes of footage in this never-before-released Japanese cut of the proudly obnoxious cult hit. Buy The Toxic Avenger – Japanese Cut.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Miami Connection (1987): See description in DVD above. If you really need to see Miami Connection in hi-def, here’s your chance. Buy Miami Connection [Blu-ray].

“The Qatsi Trilogy”: Koyaanisqatsi (1982)/ Powaqqatsi (1988)/ Naqoyqatsi (2002): See description in DVD above. Buy “The Qatsi Trilogy” (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].

“The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection”: This 14-disc (!) set contains all of Kino’s Keaton Kollection. You can buy it for Sherlock Jr. and throw out the rest of the discs. Buy “The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection”.

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.

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