Tag Archives: 1991

CAPSULE: HIGHWAY TO HELL (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Ate de Jong

FEATURING: Chad Lowe, Kristy Swanson, Patrick Bergin, C.J. Graham

PLOT: A supernatural cop abducts an eloping lover and takes her to a literal Hell; her beau must rescue her from her predicament.

Still from Highway to Hell (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a fun movie with a cute premise, but it stays well within the comfort zone of your average ’90s frat boy. It’s a good beer-chugger, but it never jumps the cliff into weirdo land, when it very easily could have. What a shame!

COMMENTS: Just to get it out of the way, the band AC/DC has nothing to do with this movie, nor does their warbling appear on the soundtrack. The title, however, is shown in the first shot after the credits, as the title of an arcade video game. Confused yet? So are our protagonists, Charlie and Rachael, who are paranoid about being tailed by a cop due to their clandestine wedding plans, but don’t have the presence of mind to remove the huge pizza delivery sign from the top of Charlie’s car, which marks them with a big red arrow. As they head to Vegas to get married, they stop off at the proverbial Last Chance gas station, where they get warned by the attendant that theirs is not the safest course. Guess who’s not heeding that warning?

With absolutely no foreplay, the couple find themselves detained by a “hellcop,” who looks exactly like you’d expect a hellcop to look. Rachael is now a hostage and Charlie tasked with rescuing her. With a plot no more complicated than a Super Mario Brothers’ game, the festivities are now underway. The gas station attendant turns out to be just the guy to prep Charlie for his quest into the “hellzone,” the capitol jurisdiction of Hell City and the place of Rachael’s eventual incarceration. Charlie drives through a portal to get to this alternate universe, which looks just like the rural Arizona desert, and then has all kinds of encounters and misadventures with the citizens, who act pretty nonchalant about living in hell. As he careens from Satanic ice cream scoopers to patchwork biker gangs, who variously help or hinder his quest, you get the idea that this road movie was conceived with the cool-factor riding shotgun, common sense taking a backseat, and logic banished to the trunk.

What the movie lacks in depth, it makes up in pace. We hardly have time to ponder the silliness of frying eggs on the sidewalk (hell, it’s kinda hot, you know), before we’re being preyed upon by a AAA tow truck driver: “anarchy armageddon annihilation.” Then it’s off to Hoffa’s bar, where the go-go dancers are so hot that they literally set your arm on fire when you try to grope them. You have to be charmed by the extra dose of corny imagination, even when it’s wasted on lame sight gags. It’s also such a product of 1991 that it has cameos by Gilbert Gottfried, Lita Ford, and more than one Stiller. The whole comes off as a Python-esque series of sketches, connected more tightly and produced on a much higher budget. This is one movie where people can tell you to go to Hell, and they’re doing you a favor because you were asking for directions.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…doesn’t have the coin to fully create a towering vision of the underworld, but it offers enough strange encounters and environments to pass, giving the effort a nice lift when attention turns from Charlie’s panic to the land’s weirdo inhabitants.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

255. RUBIN & ED (1991)

“People try to make me sound a lot… weird… and just, strong, you know, I’m strong!”–Crispin Glover on “Late Night with David Letterman”

“Talk about el weirdo.”–Ed, on Rubin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Howard Hessman, , , Michael Greene

PLOT: Ed is a recently-separated loser who joins “the Organization,” a cult-like real estate pyramid scheme. Rubin is a shut-in nerd whose mother takes away his boom box and refuses to return it until he makes a single  friend. When Ed tries to recruit Rubin to attend an Organization seminar, Rubin agrees to go, on the condition that Ed helps him find a place to bury his dead pet cat.

Still from Rubin and Ed (1991)


BACKGROUND:

  • Rubin & Ed was Utah-based director Trent Harris’ first feature film after making the three documentary/narrative hybrid shorts known as “The Beaver Trilogy” (the first installment is a documentary featuring an oddball kid who performs in drag as Olivia Newton-John, while the next two recreate the first using actors and Crispin Glover, respectively).
  • Glover created Rubin Farr for another role that never materialized. He convinced Harris, who was looking for a project for his feature film debut, to write a script around the character.
  • In 1987, three years before Rubin & Ed began filming, a stuttering, awkward Crispin Glover appeared in character as Rubin on “Late Night with David Letterman.” Letterman thought Glover was there to promote River’s Edge, and walked off his own set when Glover almost kicked him in the head while wearing Rubin’s giant platform shoes. The segment only lasted a little over four minutes. Many Americans who saw it live assumed Glover was wasted on psychedelic drugs.
  • Although it had a reasonable degree of star power and was produced by major independent Working Title Films (who released the Palme d’Or winning Barton Fink the same year), Rubin & Ed initially received terrible reviews made a mere $15,000 in its original theatrical run. The film flopped so badly that the studio pulled funding for another Trent Harris project that had already been greenlit. Rubin & Ed later found a small cult following on VHS.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Rubin’s happy hallucination, which features his previously-dead cat alive and waterskiing while its owner relaxes in a floating inner-tube wearing shoes with two foot heels, on which the bikini babe motoring the speedboat compliments him.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Weaponized platform shoes; waterskiing cat; insole slurping

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though structured as a quirky comedy, not too different from the usual outing of the period, Rubin and Ed has a gaggle of weird points in its favor, including a hallucination scene with a water skiing cat and a lunatic Crispin Glover playing something very near the Crispin Glover-iest character ever written. Its sense of humor is so eccentric that it’s been forced off-road to become strictly a cult curiosity.


Trailer for Rubin & Ed

COMMENTS: “It’s going to get weird now, isn’t it?,” frets Ed, after Continue reading 255. RUBIN & ED (1991)

SECOND OPINION: NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)

We originally ruled Nothing but Trouble off consideration for the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, but Bryan Pike offers another opinion.

DIRECTED BY: Dan Aykroyd

FEATURING: Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy

PLOT: Financial publisher Chris Thorne (Chase) meets lawyer Diane Lightson (Moore) and agrees to escort her to Atlantic City.  Along the way, Thorne makes a scenic detour to the decrepit mining town of Valkenvania, and failing to comply with a stop sign is pursued by local cop Dennis Valkenheiser (Candy) who then takes them before his 106-year-old grandfather, Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Aykroyd).

Still from Nothing But Trouble (1991)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: While the film is equally bizarre in both conception and execution, the most baffling aspect is how writer-director-producer-star Aykroyd thought there would be an audience for this relentlessly grotesque, misfiring comic take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Haunted Mansion. The film is abundant with carnival-ride execution devices, adult-sized mutant babies, cleft palates, and sexually unsettling geriatric imagery. Although it has the typical story structure of an SNL alumni comedy a la Spies like Us, the imagery is truly macabre and surreal, and the tone so haphazardly uneven it’s like the film is nestled atop one of the Judge’s ball pits.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Aykroyd’s penis nose as hallucinated (?) by Chase during the revolting dinner scene.

COMMENTS: “The cat’s eyes’ll spin!” bellows the Judge from behind his clunkily automated courtroom as the bewildered captives look on. Their disconcerted reactions arguably reflect the response of viewers who happen upon this strange, forgotten oddity from the early nineties. Not gory enough to be a horror film and not eliciting sufficient laughs to be considered a comedy, this mawkishly executed film simply leaves one giggling nervously and asking, why?

Aykroyd’s creation in the arthritic, mummified, pontificating Judge Alvin is equivalent to giving the least appealing character of the Austin Powers franchise, Fat Bastard, his own film. Chevy Chase sleepwalks through his performance as snarky Thorne, and Demi Moore looks confused as to what she’s doing in the film at all. John Candy fares better as the put upon Cop, but his transvestite turn as the Officer’s sister is easy pantomime dame humor at its worst. The inexplicable presence of hip-hop group Digital Underground in Judge Alvin’s court, with a young Tupac Shakur in tow, seems intended to bring in the “young” audience by creating a signature tie-in hit tune like the titular song of Ghostbusters. I’m afraid the device wasn’t successful, neither in the film nor in real life; Nothing But Trouble had a $40 Million budget and made around $8 Million at the box office.

Once the movie reaches the Judge’s home any plotting or story gets thrown out the window in favor of a series of amusement ride set pieces: “The Bone Stripper” roller coaster which the Judge employs for execution, rooms which trap occupants inside, and even a moving Hallway that nearly crushes Chase and Moore. For all of these elaborate devices, including a slide that leads Chase into a pit of human bones, nothing significant happens in the middle of the film, leading to a sense of inertia and pointlessness about the whole proceeding. The human sized mutant babies (one of whom is also played by Aykroyd) disturb. They are filthy, ghoulish infants, attempting “cute” jokes which fall flat and playing cards with Moore, evidently to give her something to do at that point in the film.

By the time the climax rolls round and the cartoonish ending sends Chase through a wall leaving his outline behind, you’ll feel like you’ve been hit with an hour and a half of ugliness with no jokes to temper the horror. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it remains Aykroyd’s sole directorial outing and a truly weird piece of mainstream cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Aykroyd here has lovingly, meticulously created a hideous, grotesque nightmare world nobody in their right mind would want to visit the first time around, let alone return to.”–Nathan Rabin, Onion A.V. Club

CAPSULE: THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (1991)

Les Amants du Pont-Neuf

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Klaus-Michael Gruber

PLOT: A drug-addicted derelict falls in love with a newly homeless painter who is slowly losing her eyesight.

Still from The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a conventional (by European arthouse standards) romance with a few mildly surreal adornments. It’s not Hollywood, but Bridge wouldn’t lead anyone to suspect that Leos Carax had something as thoroughly weird as Holy Motors in his future, either.

COMMENTS: While the French have a stereotypical reputation as the world’s greatest lovers, a survey of their movies reveals that they are also the world’s greatest cynics about love. They specialize in a particular type of romantic story: tales of obsessive, destructive passion they call “amour fou.” You can see archetypal examples of amor fou (which translates as “mad love” but also carries the connotation “foolish love”) in works like s Pierrot le Fou (1965), Jacques Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), and more recently in the biting Love Me If You Dare (2003).

Far from groundbreaking in its narrative attitude, Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge falls well within the amour fou tradition. Bald, wiry, limping, and covered in the recurring scabs of the young clochard, the chamelonic Denis Lavant is Alex, a sometime fire-eating gymnast and full-time homeless drunk. Lying in the road, left for dead, he is sketched by nearsighted artist Michèle (Binoche). When they later wind up sharing neighboring concrete benches at nighttime on the Pont-Neuf (which is closed for construction), he falls for her. Although he shares his wine and a precious celebration with her, it quickly becomes apparent that Alex has no idea how to love someone unselfishly. He maneuvers to keep Michele away from any return to her previous life of privilege, eventually resorting to actions with deadly consequences. Binoche’s character remains more mysterious; she comes from a prosperous background, but has chosen to abase herself the face of her oncoming blindness. Previous heartbreak also factors in. She promises to fill Alex in on her backstory but never fully does so; we must piece together information, but we are left to fill in some blanks. In fact, a major event we witness in her story is contradicted by a later revelation, leaving us even more confused.

Their love story, then, is at the same time novel and familiar: an old tale of foolish love enacted by new players. The movie’s main pleasures come when Carax indulges his experimental moods in the central section: the camera reels through a Bastille day parade like a drunk; we see a soused Alex and Michèle lying in a gutter, shrunk to the dimensions of trash. The bravura sequence that everyone remembers shows the lovers drunkenly dancing across the bridge as fireworks burst behind them, with the music changing from a polka to a waltz to a rocker every couple of seconds. It’s the kind of scene a movie can hang its hat on, and a director can make a reputation with.

The government allowed Carax to film on the Pont-Neuf, but the movie took so long to make (three years) that permission expired. To finish the story Carax built a massive replica of the bridge in the countryside. This extravagance led to the film’s estimated budget of $28,000,000, which made it one of the most expensive French films ever produced to that time. Furthermore, due to disputes with distributors Lovers did not premier in the U.S. until 1999, eight years after completion. The movie’s finances were even more snakebitten than its protagonists’ romantic prospects, but like them, the filmmakers soldiered on madly. Perhaps it’s cinema fou.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This melodramatic excess leads, after a time, to a romantic conclusion that seems to dare us to laugh; Carax piles one development on top of another until it’s not a story, it’s an exercise in absurdity.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (1999 US release)

(This movie was nominated for review by Tom Trainor, who called it a “Phenomenal film. And weird as hell..” Suggest a weird movie of your own here).

LIST CANDIDATE: THE COMB (1990)

AKA The Comb: From the Museums of Sleep

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Joy Constaninides, Witold Scheybal

PLOT: A mysterious faceless figure thwarts a man’s efforts to reach a sleeping woman within her dream.

Still from "The Comb" (1991)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Cleverly combining live-action film with their signature superpowered stop-motion animation, the constructed this cheerfully cryptic little vignette. Using skillful in-camera effects, the viewer travels from the outer world into the inner one with ease, shifting from blurry black-and-white to pixie-ish color. Dream logic prevails, but in this movie the Quay brothers temper any bleakness with a refreshing sense of wonder.

COMMENTS: Inside the dreams of a slumbering woman, a lively little hero pursues a sleeping heroine, maneuvering through narrow passages, a stylized woodland, and inside (perhaps?) an impossibly high passageway tucked into an improbably small cottage. Outside the dream, the woman on the bed tosses and turns as she sleeps. The intermittent twiching of her fingers is doubled by the blurry twitchings of the dream’s antagonist—or is that cloaked figure the antagonist? Could he be the protector of the sleeping woman within her dream? A few intertitles give the place and time (“edge of the forest” and “Autumn”) and then set off the starting gun: “…suddenly the air grew hard.” What exactly is happening in “The Comb,” however, is probably impossible to know.

Of course, that is neither a hindrance to its quiet grandeur nor a disappointment to the open-minded viewer. Half a decade after “Street of Crocodiles,” the Quay brothers had broadened their horizons (becoming involved in a documentary as well as some music videos). Their creativity is undulled, however, and in many ways “The Comb” is harder to probe than any of their work that had come before. There is a rough flow of events, and a fairy-tale mood set up in the opening credits. Indeed, the dream is full of fairy-tale tropes: Autumn, “the woods”, an inaccessible heroine, ladders, mysterious menace. It’s all there, put together with a logic that, though consistent within itself, is some levels removed from our own workaday thinking.

The cinematic tricks in “The Comb” stand as the brothers’ greatest achievements up to that point. While I was trying to figure out a sense of scale as the camera moved from the forest backwards into the cottage, my efforts were disrupted when the camera dropped through an opening in the floor. The visual sleight-of-hand involved to compact a larger area into the smaller one is amazing, and there are several shots where one sees ever-climbing ladders, arranged in dreamy haphazardry. Driving the point home, the Quays even had a little traveling ladder in the background of this runged chasm. Suffice it to say, the brothers captured the dream milieu very handily, leaving the Comb‘s poor protagonist with plenty of space to cross before he could find the sleeping woman.

The most satisfying artifice of the Comb is how the (blurred) real-world is combined with the (sharp) dream-world. During the course of the movie, the camera travels between them, seemingly through a mirror (or shadow-box?) above the woman’s bed. The swaying objects within the dream are used by its figures to calm the dreamer when she is fitful in her real-world sleep. Finishing off the piece, the woman wakes up and does the normal stretching that is so enjoyable after a little sleep. Reaching to her nightstand, she shakes off the final vestiges of sleep, with close-up shots interspersed with shimmers of the dream. She pauses while combing her hair, and clicks her thumbnail down the comb’s teeth. The clicking resurrects, oh-so-briefly, the little hero from before. She remembers and smiles.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I would endorse the verdict of Slarek, whose DVD Outsider website, reviewing the Quays’ short films DVD, sums up the film as ‘divinely baffling.’”–Claire Kitson, Close-up Film Centre (DVD)

CAPSULE: THE DOORS (1991)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Oliver Stone

FEATURING: , Meg Ryan, , Kathleen Quinlan

PLOT: In the 1960’s, Jim Morrison (Kilmer), the lead singer of the rock group The Doors, plunges headlong into the world of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. He doesn’t make it out alive, dying at the tragically young age of 27 (just like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin); the film ends on a shot of Morrison’s gravestone in Paris in the same cemetery as Chopin, Bizet and Oscar Wilde.

Still from The Doors (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Just because a movie features a large number of hallucinatory LSD “trips” doesn’t necessarily make it weird.

COMMENTS: No one does overblown insanity like Oscar-winning writer-director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Any Given Sunday). On a huge movie theater screen, with huge movie theater sound, The Doors was a stunning, overwhelming experience—particularly the concert sequences, which Stone said were inspired by the orgy scene in DeMille’s Ten Commandments. But on television—even a big screen HDTV—all that spectacle is reduced to an entertainingly silly and pretentious camp exercise, redeemed by one unforgettable performance by Val Kilmer that almost alone makes the film worth seeing. Although Kilmer essentially reduces Morrison to a caricature (he never seems to be sober), he looks and sounds so much like the real thing that it’s eerie. How Kilmer didn’t get at least an Oscar nomination for this is beyond me. He blows everyone else off the screen (with the arguable exception of , perfectly cast in a cameo as ). Meg Ryan fights her girl-next-door-image as Morrison’s doomed lover Pamela Courson, and Kyle MacLachlan, Kevin Dillon and Frank Whaley have nothing to do but a slow burn as “The Lizard King”’s increasingly frustrated bandmates. Morrison is increasingly haunted by visions of his own death, the ghost of Dionysus (or something), and an elderly Native American man (Floyd Red Crow Westerman); as everyone on screen descends deeper into drugs and despair (Morrison and Courson each try to kill each other), the movie spins so far out of control it almost ventures into territory. The result is that nearly everyone in the film comes off as seriously unlikable. Morrison seems to believe he deserves to be buried with Balzac, Proust and Moliere–which he ultimately was—from frame one. That being said, some of us like silly and pretentious spectacle, so, if you are one of those, try to see this film on the biggest possible screen and the best sound system around. This would at least attempt to do justice to the Doors’ legendary music and Robert Richardson’s staggering cinematography.

Stone’s 141-minute wallow in hysterical excess and bombast is nutty and ultimately exhausting, but far from weird, particularly when it comes to movies about drugs and/or rock music.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What’s most peculiar about the film is Stone’s attitude toward his hero. He’s indulging in hagiography, but of a very weird sort. A good part of the film is dedicated to demonstrating what a drunken, boring lout Morrison was. But while on the one hand Stone acknowledges how basically pointless and destructive his excesses became, on the other, he keeps implying that it’s all part of the creative process… Amid all this trippy incoherence, the performances are almost irrelevant.”–Hal Hinson, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: River Phoenix, , William Richert

PLOT: A young, narcoleptic gay prostitute searches for his mother, with the help of a slumming fellow hustler who is heir to a fortune.

Still from My Own Private Idaho (1991)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: My Own Private Idaho weaves two weird premises together: the story of a narcoleptic searching for his mother and a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part I.” The movie then adds surreal touches and sets it all inside the world of gay street hustlers.

COMMENTS: Sometimes the line between a “glorious mess” and a plain old-fashioned mess can be very thin, and very personal, indeed. I couldn’t really argue with anyone who sees Idaho as an eccentric gem, but the film has always seemed more like a failed experiment to me. A “Henry IV” adaptation set in the world of street hustlers might have made a good movie (although Idaho suggests that a different approach, with less actual Shakespearean dialogue and no Keanu Reeves, may have been required). Similarly, a bittersweet indie about a narcoleptic hustler searching for his lost mom might have made a good movie. But when slapped together, the two storylines don’t really work; Idaho feels like an interesting story that keeps getting interrupted by a high school class’ Shakespeare rehearsal.

River Phoenix, only two years away from his fatal overdose, is beautifully cast as the fragile prostitute who falls into a spontaneous slumber when stressed (and the life of a street hustler does tend to arouse the occasional stressful situation). He’s dreamy, in both the literal and figurative senses of the word. Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, isn’t very good—but in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At this point in his career, the world did not yet know that Reeves was a bad actor, and the same pseudo-sophisticated mannerisms that would earn him well-deserved jeers for his portrayal of Jonathan Harker in Dracula play here as a campy stylistic choice. Since his lean torso and boyish sensuality suit the character physically, his weak-jawed, ersatz Prince Hal somehow fits into the entire subplot’s unreal design. It’s a case of a director turning an actor’s weakness into the film’s strength. William Richert is fine as Bob, the Falstaff substitute. Regular readers will want to keep their eyes open for weirdo favorites (in a rare seductive role) and (in a more substantial and stranger part).

Mild surrealist touches (the hustlers carrying on a conversation from the covers of male jerk mags) jostle with gritty street realities and scenes lifted almost wholesale from “Henry” to form a concoction that is occasionally interesting and touching, but which also feels cobbled together and frustratingly inconclusive. Idaho does, however, unquestionably tilt toward the weird end of the spectrum. The Criterion Collection upgraded this catalog title to Blu-ray in October, 2015.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…cracked and beautiful… a strange duck of a film, beyond comparison: street-boy angst intermingled with Shakespearean conceit.“–Stephen Hunter, Baltimore Sun (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK 2 (1991)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mark Reeder

PLOT: A young woman digs up a corpse with the intention of making him her lover; romantic complications arise when she falls for a living man.

Still from Nekromantik 2 (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Nekromantik 2 is disconcerting, at times graphic and difficult to look at, but it is not that weird.

COMMENTS: According to Wikipedia, “necrophilia, also called thanatophilia, is a sexual attraction or sexual act involving corpses. The attraction is classified as a paraphilia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. The term was coined by the Belgian alienist Joseph Guislain, who first used it in a lecture in 1850. It derives from the Greek words nekros; ‘dead’ and philia; ‘love’.” Even Disney would have difficulty making family-friendly fare based on the subject of “dead love.” German director Jörg Buttgereit had no intention of making a family film, of course. The original Nekromantik was banned in several countries.

Nekromantik 2 begins where the first one ended. Robert Schmadtke’s graphic and gruesome suicide is replayed during the credits. He stabs himself repeatedly in the stomach as his exposed erection ejaculates fountains of semen. We are then taken to a graveyard where we see a young woman digging up Robert’s corpse. She is a nurse named Monica who intends to make Robert her lover. No time is wasted establishing the premise. Monica, eluding detection, wheels Robert’s rotting corpse into her apartment. Once in the privacy of her abode she begins to fondle, kiss and undress Robert before mounting him.

The viewer is treated to a trippy slow motion scene of Monica’s coital experience. Soon she is running to the bathroom to vomit. Could it be her aversion to her own depravity making her physically ill? It seems unlikely. Monica’s character makes no apologies for her actions throughout the film. The character is not empathetic, she is a strong, independent woman obsessed with death, who also happens to have an affinity for sex with corpses. It is more likely the licking, sucking and kissing of a rotting, oozing, embalming fluid-filled corpse that is making her vomit. Robert is one nasty, icky looking corpse! The gore effects across the board were all properly gag-worthy and effective.

Enter Mark: a shy, awkward loner who does voiceovers for adult films. When a friend fails to meet him at the theater he offers the extra ticket to Monika as she happens by. The two see a black and white art film where a naked couple sit at a table covered in hard boiled eggs discussing birds. (This is apparently a cheeky wink to ‘s My Dinner with Andre). Mark and Monica hit it off and are soon dating. Mark falls hard for Monica, and tries to ignore her Continue reading CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK 2 (1991)

CAPSULE: THE FISHER KING (1991)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer

PLOT: A guilt-ridden ex-shock jock discovers he has a tragic connection to a homeless man who believes himself to be a knight questing for the Holy Grail.

Still from The Fisher King (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough, although it has a couple of transcendent moments of magical Arthurian fantasy. As weird titan Terry Gilliam’s most popular and commercial (non-Python) film, it is an important touchstone in weird movie history, however.

COMMENTS: Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King starts out strong, as a karmic drama about creep disc jockey Jack hoist on his own petard of media cynicism. When Robin Williams appears as the junkyard knight Parry, attacking a pair of punks with a garbage can lid and the power of song, it briefly becomes a wacky comedy; then develops into a redemption fable as the relationship between Jack and Parry deepens. Magical realism appears in Parry’s Arthurian hallucinations of fiery knights riding through the streets of New York. These multiple tones actually mesh surprisingly well, until the tale goes errant into the Realms of Rom-com, from whence no sane plot emerges unscathed. It concludes with a happy ending that feels very un-Gilliam; the story requires a happy ending, but this one is too pat, too Hollywood. Maybe it’s all over the map, or maybe The Fisher King just has something for everyone; high drama and mythological touchstones for the art house crowd, comedy and sentimentality for the masses.

Plot and style aside, The Fisher King is an actor’s showcase, anchored not by headliner Robin Williams, but by the excellent Jeff Bridges as a self-centered Jack (a character who inevitably evokes Howard Stern). Bridges is slick and unlovable, admired by the public only for his outrageous cruelty. But because he suffers, and because his guilt is enormous and comes from a core that has not yet been drowned in the oily cynicism that engulfs the rest of the character, we root for him to reform. Williams, of course, is the Fool. Under Gilliam’s direction, he’s restrained so that his berserk improvisatory tendencies never overshadow the story and turn it into a Robin Williams vehicle. The comic still gets plenty of moments, both manic (a nude moonlight dance in Central Park) and mawkish (his romantic stoop speech to Lydia, in which he essentially confesses to being a stalker). Mercedes Ruehl is wonderful as Jack’s long-suffering girlfriend, a typical New York Jewish/Italian mutt in trampy miniskirts. This character, who has attached herself to a down-and-out ex-celebrity, could easily have come across as needy and pathetic, but instead she is strong, sexy and noble. She justifiably won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Of the four major characters, only Plummer disappoints, slightly, and that can be blamed on the screenplay rather than her thesping. Her super-quirky, clumsy love interest role is simply unnecessary, a distraction from the film’s important relationships between Bridges and Williams and Bridges and Ruehl.

Standout moments include the Red Knight rampaging through Central Park, a massive waltz in Grand Central Station, and in a cameo as a “moral traffic light.” Curiously, one of the stylistic inspirations for the film is the Hollywood musical. Williams breaks into show tunes throughout, a fellow homeless man dresses up like Gypsy Rose Lee and does an Ethel Merman song-and-dance number, and the words “the end” even appear in the sky above Manhattan lit up like a Broadway marquee. Though not a musical, that spirit of light fantasy bubbles through the movie, leavening some of the themes of mass murder, alcoholic despondency, and homelessness. Even though The Fisher King has a strong sense of purpose, stylistically it’s more than a bit shaggy around the edges. Perhaps that’s appropriate in a film featuring a madman, and perhaps that makes it more lovable in the end.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…a wild, vital stew of a movie… veers with great assurance from wild comedy to feverish fantasy, robust romanticism and tough realism–with only an occasional stumble.”–David Ansen, Newsweek (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: RUBIN AND ED (1991)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Trent Harris

FEATURING: Howard Hessman, , , Michael Greene

PLOT: Ed, an incompetent but devoted salesman in a cult-like real estate sales “Organization,” agrees to help shut-in Rubin bury his dead cat in hopes of getting him to attend a recruiting seminar.

Still from Rubin and Ed (1991)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At heart it’s a simple quirky comedy, not too much different from the usual outing of the era, but Rubin and Ed has a few extra weird points in its favor: a sense of humor so eccentric that it’s been forced off road to become strictly a cult item, hallucination scenes with a water skiing cat, and Crispin Glover playing something very near the Crispin Glover-iest character ever written.

COMMENTS: “It’s going to get weird now, isn’t it?,” worries Ed after Rubin refuses to bury his decomposing cat in the desert because it’s “not the right spot,” despite the fact that, as Ed points out, “any cat in his right mind would be happy as a clam to be buried here!”

Although almost all of the film concerns Howard Hessman’s sad sack salesman Ed and Crispin Glover’s friendless weirdo Rubin, there are really three stars here: Hessman, Glover, and Trent Harris’ script. Glover is a no-brainer: dressed in skintight pinstripe bell bottoms and giant platform shoes (with magical martial powers), Rubin nearly defines Glover’s odd persona: the mentally ill nerd whose clueless awkwardness seems like it might explode into a burst of senseless violence at any moment. Given how broadly the character is written, Glover actually reigns in his performance, playing the oddness as much with a verbal shrug as with an outburst. Going over-the-top with such a already over-the-top character would have been a mistake, and Glover lets Rubin’s eccentricity come through naturally, rather than trying to force it.

A less expected success is Hessman, whose contribution here as straight man is under-appreciated, but possibly even more important to the film’s success than Glover’s wildness. Hessman  definitely leaves “Johnny Fever” behind for this portrait of a postmodern Willy Loman with anger-management issues, a disrespectful spouse, and an infatuation with the New Age sales teachings of a cult-like “Organization.” His Ed is a pure middle class loser, seeing himself as a trusted acolyte in the hierarchy of real estate guru Mr. Busta, while in actuality being closer in social standing to outcast Rubin.

Most of the laughs in Harris’ clever script result from Ed’s unsuccessful attempts to convert Rubin to the cause. His initial interview question—“are you 100% satisfied with your earning potential, 100% of the time?” is met with an unexpected “yep!” from penniless Rubin. Ed remains the saner of the duo, which is how the comedy dynamic works; the emotional arc of the film comes from his humbling realization that his own failings leave him with no right to judge oddball Rubin. Rubin and Ed was made in the early 90s, but the satire has a strong Reagan-era feel (Ed disappoints his mentor when suggests the best way to get money is “work” rather than the correct answer, “real estate”). The film flags a little at the coda, after Rubin’s storyline has been resolved, but in general Rubin and Ed is a sadly-forgotten, somewhat weird comedy gem that deserves rediscovery.

Rubin and Ed‘s pop culture reach may be limited to the answer to a trivia question: this is the movie Crispin Glover was promoting when he appeared, in character, on David Letterman’s late night TV show and almost kicked the host in the head. (Not knowing anything about Rubin and Ed, America assumed that Glover was wasted on powerful psychedelic drugs at the time).

Rubin and Ed was (sadly, unforgivably) never officially released on DVD, but (VHS-dub quality) copies can be purchased from writer/director Trent Harris at his personal site.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While not sacrificing an iota of Rubin’s weirdness, Glover plays him with a dead-shot comic sureness, demonstrating admirable restraint and discipline. Hesseman similarly scores comic points with Ed by keying in on the character’s humanity while letting his own buttoned-down weirdness speak for itself. “–TV Guide

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