Tag Archives: 2007

CAPSULE: THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG (2007/2013)

DIRECTED BY: Andrew Leavold

FEATURING: Weng Weng

PLOT: Curious about 2-foot 9-inch Filipino “action star” Weng Weng (For Y’ur Height Only, The Impossible Kid), an Australian video store owner travels to the Philippines to interview the people who knew the actor personally and to fill in the missing details of his scanty biography.

Still from The Search for Weng Weng (2007) (D'Wild Wild Weng, 1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:The Search for Weng Weng is an unexpectedly substantial, insightful, and even moving documentary. In weird movie terms, however, its role isn’t to crash the list of the weirdest movies ever made, but to fill in gaps in your knowledge of an esoteric cinema oddity.

COMMENTS: Reviewing a Weng Weng movie has been on my personal “to do” list for some time, but I always found something higher priority to work on instead. Poor Weng Weng still gets no respect; he’s a marginal curiosity even on a weird movie site. Andrew Leavold’s passionate, late-arriving documentary gives us an excuse to initiate some Weng Weng coverage, even if it’s only secondhand.

To be honest, a vehicle like this is probably the best way to experience the Weng Weng phenomenon; you get to see the cream of the crazy clips without the fat, and a real human interest story is thrown in as a bonus. As the title of his most notorious film—For Y’ur Height Only—makes clear, Weng Weng’s acting career was a one-joke phenomenon. The Guinness Book of World Records holder as the shortest actor ever to star in a feature film, in the West Weng is only known for two movies, the aforementioned Height and The Impossible Kid. These spoofs cast him as a secret agent and wring absurd fun from their star’s short stature by having him kung fu bad guys (who helpfully fall to the ground after being kicked in the shins) and romancing women who can carry him around like a baby. Weng Weng also did all of his own stunts, which were sometimes spectacular by B-movie standards: flying a jet pack or jumping from a building and drifting down while holding an umbrella.

Weng Weng’s time in the international spotlight began in 1982, peaked in 1982, and ended in 1982. Only two of his movies made it to the U.S., and there was almost no biographical information available save for a scant unreliable paragraph from the actor’s visit to the Cannes Film Festival (in, naturally, 1982). He would have been forgotten entirely if his two novelty films hadn’t made it to VHS tape, where enthusiasts of the oddball like Andrew Leavold rented them—and, after picking their jaws up from the floor, wondered if they could get more where that came from.

All available evidence suggested the answer was “no,” but Leavold didn’t take no for an answer. Traveling to the Philippines, the director discovered a nation in deep denial about Weng Weng. Folks either didn’t remember him at all, or were embarrassed to think that a court jester was the Philippines most recognizable cinematic export. Although most Filipino films from the Seventies and Eighties B-movie explosion have been lost, Leavold hit the national film archives and discovered a few domestic release Weng Weng gems, including a pair of previously unseen (by Westerners) Westerns. While there, the director bumped into Weng Weng’s old editor, who hooked him up with the actor’s old co-workers, leading, ultimately, to the film’s strangest surprise—an audience with former first lady Imelda Marcos, and a surreal visit to her 83rd birthday party.

This side trip isn’t as digressive as it sounds, because In Search of Weng Weng proves to be almost as much about the Filipino soul and the social context out of which Weng Weng arose as it is about the life of the forgotten celebrity. Weng Weng himself comes across as a fairly sad character, often exploited and ignored despite his fame; and yet, the picture also suggests his brief stint of movie stardom may have brought him more pleasure than he would otherwise have known in life. Because Weng Weng was no longer alive at the time of filming, we only learn about him through others, which means that we get a multifaceted portrait of an ordinary human being fated to love an extraordinary life. Some believe he was happy with his fame, others pity him. But there is no denying that, exploited or not, Weng Weng brought pleasure to millions of people worldwide, which is more than any of us can say. Despite his lack of real acting talent and his freakshow appeal, this dwarf from the slums of Manila rose to become a genuine entertainer and even an icon. When Leavold describes the climax of the unseen-in-the-West Western D’Wild Wild Weng—a finale where pygmies and ninjas suddenly show up for the final battle—as “one of the most insane Filipino B-endings, a micro-Apocalypse Now and a Dadaist triumph,” we’re swept up in his enthusiasm and genuine affection for the character of Weng Weng. We have to wonder if—pardon the unintentional but inevitable pun—we haven’t been selling the actor short.

In Search of Weng Weng was begun in 2007 and screened at festivals as a work-in-progress, which explains the 2007 date given by the IMDB. It was completed in late 2013 and shown in its final form in festivals and theaters soon thereafter. It arrived for the first time on DVD in late 2016 courtesy of Wild Eye Releasing, with a commentary track from Leavold, extended interviews with the actor’s colleagues, and other goodies, including a trailer for the lost Weng Weng feature Gone Lesbo Gone (!)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an interesting mix of the absurd and the tragic.”–Ian Shane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (DVD)

 

CAPSULE: SEXINA (2007)

AKA Sexina: Popstar P.I.

DIRECTED BY: Erik Sharkey

FEATURING: Lauren D’Avella, Adam West, Luis Jose Lopez

PLOT: When the shadowy CEO of Glitz Records devises a diabolical plot to take over the world’s music industry, it is up to Sexina, a top star at a competing label, to thwart him. A mix of huge egos, cyborgs, and assassins all collide as things build to a big showdown at a free high school concert.

Still from Sexina (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Eliciting more “okay then…”s than “what the…?”s, Sexina is certainly quirky and scattershot. But while there are moments when it hits the better side of absurd, Erik Sharkey’s pet project is more of a low key late night romp than an oddball masterpiece.

COMMENTS: “In the fine tradition of …” are generally not words a director likes to hear at the start of a review, but my suspicion is that Erik Sharkey, the man behind this pop-boy-band send-up, would not only be okay with it, but perhaps be flattered. Seeing as he did work with that venerable movie studio back in the ’90s, it is unsurprising that this has the budget studio’s unmistakable trashy aura—just without the gratuitous violence or nudity.

There’s no doubt that Sexina had more bite to it when it was released some eight years ago. Back then, to quote the Professor, “boy bands roamed the earth.” While never a difficult subject for lampooning, Sharkey ably takes the various flavors of pop sensation to their extremes. Luis Jose Lopez’s performance as the latest flash in the pan is something close to excellent. His Latino singer persona, Lance Canyon, is perhaps the most accurate distillation of commercialized machismo put to screen. His main obsession, reiterated in increasingly sexist ways, is women. (Or, more precisely, things which a male might, if one were so inclined, do with women). This slime-ball’s boss, known, appropriately, as “the Boss”, is the always-delightful Adam West. Ever since he finished his rounds at Batman lo those many decades ago, Mr. West seems to have maintained a successful career through the unlikely route of just showing up on screen and being Adam West. In Sexina, he does not disappoint.

Working less well, unfortunately, is much else in the movie. Plenty of jokes and scenes fall flat. This is somewhat made up for by the rapid pace, but there was a point about half way through that I realized I was just watching one- to two-minute vignettes loosely interspliced with each other. While I often found I was laughing despite myself, I kind of wished that there were more care given to the dialogue and timing. All the actors involved were, at the very least, competent, and it would have been good to see them given a clearer sense of the mania I felt the director was striving for. Alas, while his cast brought B-movie acting to the grade of Nigh High Art, there is only so much anyone can do with dialogue that’s “sorta funny” presented as “really funny.”

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend the movie; but I have no regrets that I’ve seen it. Despite clunkiness throughout, there was an undeniable charm to the whole thing, with the bits showcasing Adam West or Luis Lopez bringing the movie up from tolerable to amusing. Sharkey’s only follow-up to date was the fairly critically acclaimed documentary, Drew: the Man Behind the Poster, for which he was able to rally the likes of Steven Spielberg, Leonard Maltin, Michael J. Fox, as well as bunches of other A-List Hollywood types. It would be neat to see Erik Sharkey use his talent-gathering powers for the forces of good instead of the mediocre.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It feels like a gentle, nostalgic trip through some of our favorite tropes from detective/spy TV combined with a disdain for contemporary boy-band culture (a target that even by 2007 was a bit dated). Even the film’s nods to drug culture and the over-sexualization of pop stars (including a weird dialogue about the size of a guy’s penis) feel more goofy than sleazy.”–Gordon Sullivan, DVD Verdict (DVD)

TRANSFORMERS (2007)

“What I look for in a script is something that challenges me, something that breaks new ground, something that allows me to flex my director muscle.”–

DIRECTED BY: Michael Bay

FEATURING: Shia LaBeouf, , Jon Voight,

PLOT: Giant robots attack a military installation. Shia LaBeouf buys a muscle car, but it’s actually a giant robot in disguise. A team of good giant robots from outer space battle a team of bad giant robots from outer space for control of a Rubik’s Cube.

Still from Transformers (2007)
BACKGROUND:

  • The movie Transformers was so successful that it launched a toy franchise and a Saturday morning children’s show.
  • Against the studio’s wishes, director Michael Bay deleted thirty minutes of explosions from the final cut, then added an additional hour of character development. A yet-to-be-released director’s cut incorporates all the explosion footage that was shot, and runs for over four days.
  • Jon Voight was once a respected actor.
  • Shia LaBeouf is a pseudonym which roughly translates from the French as “Made-up name the beef.”
  • Within five months after receiving her paycheck for Transformers, Megan Fox declared bankruptcy. Reportedly, she spent all of the money on unlicensed Mexican plastic surgery, including $500,000 for an experimental procedure which would have installed an expression on her face.
  • Stephen “Schindler’s List” Spielberg executive produced, haters.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Oh, how about just a freakin’ awesome muscle car transforming into a bad-ass killer robot, is all.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: One of the basic tenets of Surrealism is its insistence on juxtapositions and transformations of unlikely objects. As poet Pierre Reverdy said, “the more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be — the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.” In Un Chien Andalou, we see breasts that turn into buttocks; is this any stranger or more poetic than souped-up yellow Camaros that turn into giant missile-shooting bipeds?


Original trailer for Transformers

COMMENTS: Although some snob critics disparage the work of Continue reading TRANSFORMERS (2007)

193. MY WINNIPEG (2007)

“What happens, by accident, is that the way you choose to lie, because it’s coming from you, has something of the truth in it. Whatever you’re saying is something that’s intentionally coding the truth. And then somehow that coding gets worn down the more you retell it until finally you might as well just be telling the truth—under oath, and on sodium pentothal. It’s disguised somewhat but it’s as true as, say, Homer is true, the “Odyssey,” and the great literature is true. None of the surface is true, but… So in this case I started with a mostly true surface, and the more mischievous I tried to get about it… I just found myself returning to my way of thinking about the world, or my place in it, which involves laps and subterranean things. So it’s not like I was structuring the story so that things would rhyme or echo with each other, or belong in one piece, it’s just that they came from one place—me—and ended up in one sort of cohesive place—the movie My Winnipeg.”–Guy Maddin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: Guy Maddin (narration), , ,

PLOT: “Guy Maddin” narrates a documentary about his hometown, Winnipeg, mixing fact with outrageous tall tales. In the course of the film he hires actors to portray his family and recreate scenes from his childhood. Maddin states his intent is to escape Winnipeg by “filming my way out;” but one of the running themes of the documentary is that no one ever leaves Winnipeg.

Still from My Winnipeg (2007)
BACKGROUND:

  • My Winnipeg was commissioned by Canada’s Documentary Channel.
  • The film is the third part of Maddin’s “Me Trilogy,” three partly autobiographical but fictional films all starring a character named Guy Maddin, which also includes Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) and Brand Upon the Brain! (2006),
  • During festival screenings the film was shown with live narration, usually performed by Maddin but sometimes rendered by guest narrators including and .
  • Ann Savage, who specialized in femme fatale bad girl roles in the 1940s, had not acted in 16 years (her last role was a bit part in an episode of “Saved by the Bell”) when Maddin called upon the then 86-year old actress to portray his mother in My Winnipeg. Savage died one year later.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The eleven horse’s heads, distressed mouths filled with frost, flash-frozen in the Red River after they stampeded while fleeing a stable fire. The view is so romantic and astounding that (according to Maddin) young lovers used to picnic among the icy mares’ heads.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:The Documentary Channel commissioned a documentary about the city of Winnipeg from renegade director Guy Maddin, and instead of a recitation of local facts, they got an icy plunge into the frozen lake of the director’s psyche. The mockumentary form turns out to be a perfect match for Maddin’s prankster temperament. Like the subterranean rivers the First Nations say flow with mystical power underneath Winnipeg’s surface rivers—“the forks beneath the forks”—he exhumes (or invents) fantastic myths about his hometown to try to get at deeper truths about himself.


Original trailer for My Winnipeg

COMMENTS: Relentlessly subjective, Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is Continue reading 193. MY WINNIPEG (2007)

READER RECOMMENDATION: STEAK (2007)

Reader recommendation by Caleb Moss

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ramzy Bedia, Johnathan Lambert

PLOT: After he is released from being institutionalized in a mental ward facility for seven years because he was accidentally framed for the murders committed by his high school friend Georges, Blaise is flung into a strange, incongruous near-future where 1950’s kitsch a la “Happy Days” and extreme body modification mingle together swimmingly.

Still from Steak (2007)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Quentin Dupieux, as readers of this website are fully aware, has a young, idiosyncratic film career replete with odd meta-humor and other peculiarities. This sadly maligned debut feature is no different: it distinguishes itself through its mixture of ageless plastic surgery disasters, masochistic cricket bat gang rituals, wryly absurd dialogue, and very warped buddy comedy dynamic.

COMMENTS: Blaise is a very unfortunate, albeit slightly dimwitted, individual to be friends with the likes of Georges, who is by all accounts a superficial opportunist who carelessly places Blaise into predicaments that cause his mind to slowly unravel until he becomes a disfigured shadow of the loser Georges once was. If the previous description makes it sound as if Quentin Dupieux created something along the lines of a heart-wrenching melodrama, then fret not: this film is incredibly funny, sporting strange conversational oodles which skewer humor trends, clique culture, and even a few self-referential jabs at Quentin’s own career as an electronic musician. Also noteworthy is what may be some of the finest use of shallow focus framing in Quentin’s output, quietly transforming the bandage-wrapped, post-op profile of Georges into something distorted and rather unnerving.

This film features some of Quentin’s most ambitious sound production as well, pulling together fellow French electro collaborators Sebastian Tellier and SebastiAn on board to produce a consistently eccentric and addictive soundtrack which fades and swells in and out of the film’s oddity-rife tapestry.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In many ways Steak is a much weirder film than Rubber.”–Rich Haridy, Rich on Film (DVD)

 

CAPSULE: TEETH (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Mitchell Lichtenstein

FEATURING, John Hensley

PLOT: A teenage girl involved in the abstinence movement discovers that she has an unusual mutation—teeth hidden inside her vagina, which clamp down on intruders.

Still from Teeth (2007)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s got an odd little premise, but not enough bite (c’mon, you had to see that one coming.)

COMMENTS: If you’re going to make a film about a girl who discovers she has ravenous teeth inside her vagina—you know, a poonfang flick—you have a serious decision to make about tone. The concept is so ridiculous that it can’t be done realistically: the best you could do would be to make it into a sci-fi version of a “disease of the week” movie. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein chooses to play the concept (mostly) as a straight horror movie. Since the other possibility would be to go for a horror/comedy hybrid that would inevitably degenerate into juvenile genitalia jokes, his choice seems like it should be the correct one; but based on the results here, I’m not so sure this material wouldn’t have played better with more icky genital wackiness (a la Bad Biology). Teeth is technically well-made and benefits greatly from an all-in performance by Heather Graham lookalike Jess Weixler as Dawn, who undertakes a sexually confused journey from idealistic prude to reluctant predator. But the way Teeth handles the inherent absurdity of its situation is problematic. There are no real scares—though prosthetic penises provide some gross-out moments—but there are no big laughs either. It’s impossible to be horrified by the girl’s ridiculous condition, and only slightly easier to be amused. You might involuntarily guffaw when young Dawn decides to visit a gynecologist (“I think their might be something weird going on inside”) rather than a dentist. Some may find the straight-faced parody of the teen abstinence movement in the first act mildly amusing. The movie also hits all the b-movie monster movie cliches, like overdramatic musical cues at the moment of revelation and a cutaway to a forensic scientist providing stilted explication to an investigating detective, although those segments play as much as homage as satire. The film’s message about the patriarchy’s fear of female sexuality is pure symbolism 101; its implication that all men are potential rapists may strike some as offensive (although this feature may result more from the awkward demands of the plot than from any anti-male ideology). While it would make good copy to quip that movie’s shock and comedy aspirations merge about as well as teeth and vaginas, that’s not really the case. Teeth isn’t a triumph, but nor is it a disaster—which is a real problem for critics when trying to discuss a movie that offers so many opportunities for dentition related puns. You can’t imagine how many reviewers were secretly hoping this movie would be a disaster so that they could be the first to quip “Teeth bites” or “the rotten Teeth should be yanked.”

It’s worth noting once more that Jess Weixler’s portrayal of troubled innocence is a key to making Teeth work to the extent it does. With a lesser actress in the role, the film might have ended up as pure dreck. The 2007 Sundance Film Festival jury agreed, honoring Weixler with a special jury award for “dramatic acting.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s definitely not for Aunt Minnie, but cult movie mavens will appreciate director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s willingness to push the boundaries of bad taste.”–Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Mr. Worf, who described it as “[p]art dark comedy, part horror film. Becoming a young woman is tough, especially for Dawn who is ‘very different.'”. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: WEIRDSVILLE (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Allan Moyle

FEATURING: Scott Speedman, Wes Bentley, Greg Bryk, Maggie Castle, Taryn Manning, Jordan Prentice

PLOT: Two junkies, who are planning a heist to pay off a mobster, clash with Satanists when they interrupt a ritual while burying an overdosed friend.

Still from Weirdsville (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite sucking up to us by putting “weird” right there in the title, Weirdsville isn’t strange enough to belong on a list of the weirdest movies of all time. There are a few very mild drug trip sequences, but the rest of the film never rises above the level of aggressively quirky.

COMMENTS: A stoned caper comedy starring two (relatively) lovable polydrug abusers, Weirdsville wants to be the second coming of The Big Lebowski. And while it’s great for a screenwriter to set his sights high, Weirdsville ultimately tries too hard, forcing the quirk; it’s still a fun ride, but it overplays its bid for classic status. Speedman (playing Dexter, the “quiet, introspective one”) and Bentley (as Royce, “the ideas man”—i.e. the village idiot) share a believable buddy chemistry, based on in-jokes and stories they’ve been repeating to each other in the endless lazy, hazy days since high school. No matter how much Royce annoys the more cerebral Dexter, he’s devoted to his drug-dazed pal, despite the fact that Royce’s blunders keep complicating the plot and frustrating his own plans to kick junk. (Despite being prominently billed, Taryn Manning’s part-time hooker Mattie is little more than a third wheel and a plot point). The movie builds well for the first two acts. The twin storylines of drug debt owed to vicious mobster Omar and an accidental overdose that leads to an encounter with preppy Satanists entwine to create a desperate situation for our two unlikely heroes. This in turn leads to an ill-advised burglary, complicated when its interrupted by a teenage housesitter and by the constant pursuit of the duo by angry drug dealers and Satanists. So far, so good; Weirdsville is building a crazy tension, relieving it with bouts of goofy hipster dialogue and indie rock interludes, then ramping it up again. But Weirdsville steps over the line from pleasantly quirky to desperate to be different with the introduction of a new character, a dwarf security guard. Now, the judicious use of dwarfs and midgets is one of the most difficult calls for a director to make. On the one hand there’s a long and distinguished tradition of using dwarfs in comedy, dating all the way back to the days of medieval jesters. But putting a “little person” in an unexpected role—like a security guard—is by now almost a cliché, and the gambit risks looking gimmicky and exploitative. Here, the dwarf is not only a mall cop, but also a medieval re-enactor with a gang of chainmailed cronies who are all also of sub-average stature; for me, when these guys show up swinging mini-morningstars, the movie, which had been toying with greatness, jumps the quirky shark. It’s still fun right up to the end, but any shot at greatness has been botched. In the end, the most memorable bits go to the well-heeled, straight-edge Satanists, who end up whining “Lucifer is supposed to be helping us, not plaguing us with midgets and junkies!” That line pretty much sums up the movie; if Satanists plagued by midgets and junkies sounds like your kind of scene, you’ll probably enjoy Weirdsville.

Director Allan Moyle is best known for Pump Up the Volume (1990), a cult hit among 90s teens starring Christian Slater as a high school pirate radio operator.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Some of it is funny-weird, but too much is pointlessly weird.”–Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Billy,” who argued that this “movie has zombies, drugs and midgets in it. Can’t get much weirder than that.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)