Tag Archives: 2010

CAPSULE: MEAT (2010)

Vlees

DIRECTED BY:  Victor Nieuwenhuijs, Maartje Seyferth

FEATURING: Titus Muizelaar, Nellie Benner

PLOT: An emotionally neutered detective investigates a murder at a butcher shop where all the employees have high libidos.

Still from Meat (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is no question that this is a weird one. But Meat never really matches its mystery to the grand theme or emotional resonance it’s searching for. It’s main virtue is that it’s short and sexy, making for a relatively easy watch despite its challenging narrative format.

COMMENTS: Here are some things that happen in Meat: a butcher has sex with a co-worker in a meat locker while another employee secretly videotapes it. A woman plummets to her death. The butcher is found murdered. Here are some things that may or may not happen in Meat: The woman who lives in the room above the shop is a prostitute who meets tricks there during business hours. The prime suspect is raped by a man wearing a skull mask the night of the murder. The murder investigation is conducted by the victim’s doppelganger. Here are some things that don’t happen in Meat, despite the fact that we see them: Three middle-aged customers approach the meat display case, totally nude. The detective watches man being led away from a slaughterhouse, one of them dressed like a chicken, while blood drips down his windshield. Cows, lambs and pigs find their way into the butcher shop at night and urinate on the floor.

It’s that kind of movie. After a set-up that is only marginally odd, focused more on eroticism than surrealism, the last third of the movie surrenders entirely to dream logic. Cryptic shots of a butterfly and a woman submerged in a bathtub, plus elliptical monologues about sheep-slaughtering, are spread through the early sections as harbingers of the all-out weirdness to come. Our dumpy middle-aged butcher has some sort of sexual arrangement with a woman who lives at the shop and whose main duty seems to be to sleep with all the male employees; yet, he naturally fancies the slim blond college-aged part-time worker whose short skirt is half-hidden under her floor-length butcher’s apron. He comes up to her from behind and whispers his dirty old man fantasies into her nubile ears. In the real world, his come-ons would be actionable sexual harassment; here, because they occur while the girl is breathlessly videotaping a dish full of animal organs, it’s mere sexual absurdism.

Later, the phraseology of this scene will be mirrored in the investigator’s language as he interviews the girl, now a suspect: seduction has become interrogation; desire, guilt. Meat‘s strategy is to vacillate between opposites: the body as a sexual canvas, and as a collection of organs to be hacked apart and sold; genitals as organs of pleasure, and portals for the release of bodily waste. Desire goes to war with disgust, as rationality yields to irrationality. Meat explores issues of sex, carnality and guilt—maybe with a side of vegetarianism.

After screening at a handful of European film festivals, Meat spent six years in a post-presentation, pre-distribution netherworld before Artsploitation Films picked it up for belated September 2016 DVD release. With no clear audience besides arthouse curiosity seekers, Meat is an orphan that needs your love.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…bizarre, chilling little character drama …”–Matthew Lee, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

CAPSULE: BEYOND THE GRAVE (2010)

Porto Dos Mortos

DIRECTED BY: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro

FEATURING: Rafael Tombini, Álvaro Rosa Costa, Ricardo Seffner

PLOT: A solitary policeman travels the countryside looking for the Dark Rider, one of the prime agents of evil walking the earth after the Seven Gates of Hell have opened.

Still from Beyond the Grave (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While it works nicely as an imagining of a minor zombie classic from the 1970s, its various idiosyncrasies aren’t too dissimilar from what you might find in many other low budget horror pictures.

COMMENTS: Highways invariably become desolate when the undead start out-numbering the living. Our film opens on a lone black car traveling a deserted stretch of road, and inside is the film’s hero—a determined police officer on a quest. A radio DJ broadcasts from some indeterminate location, playing music and speaking to the few survivors: “…if you’re out there, have a nice day. I hope you survive it.” The officer makes a stop at an abandoned building, enters, and dispatches the killers who have set up camp there. He narrowly avoids decapitation, revealing a preternatural ability to survive. Now nearly out of ammunition, he returns to his car and flips through dossiers in the trunk. He obviously still has unfinished business.

Though made in 2010, Pinheiro’s zombie film has the feel of a much older movie. The picture quality is slightly washed out, and looks like a relic from a bygone era. The environs and fashions hail from thirty to forty years ago. And the gist of the story—lone man, undead, Gates of Hell— all smack of the golden age of zombie pictures.

Through the course of the officer’s travels (his character, like all but one in the movie, is never given a name), he encounters a young couple, a household of survivors who’ve set up shop in an abandoned school, and a clutch of supernatural assailants keen on thwarting his mission. Ostensibly his goal is to kill someone or something called the “Dark Rider,” who always has the undead following in his wake. Though society has by and large collapsed, the officer continues doing his job. He always has his lights spinning on his car during his many long drives, more as an act of defiance against the death of civilization than anything else.

As with most supernatural movies, there are elements of the strange. The cop stumbles across ceremonial designs drawn on dingy floors, sometimes in blood. The trio of killers that he is both following and is followed by are made up of a man armed with bow and arrow, a mixta woman wearing a gas mask and armed with a handgun with a pistol-grip of human bone, and a nebulous fellow whose weapon is an atonal harmonica that when played cripples enemies with its bleed-inducing drone. There is talk of the Seven Gates of Hell having been opened, and at one point a cultist gives the officer a book with which to summon the Dark Rider (Necronomicon, anyone?) Also, this is the only zombie movie I know of that takes something of a sympathetic stance towards the afflicted. A few scenes depict cruelty toward the walking dead negatively.

Beyond the Grave clocks in at a succinct 89 minutes. While not everything is made clear, there is a consistency to the narrative. Though certainly not weird by the standards set at this website, it still is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half in an atmospheric, post-Apocalyptic detour.

Beyond the Grave is currently available for viewing free in the U.S. on Hulu.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a unique experience in the theater of the weird.”–Mark L. Miller, Ain’t It Cool News (contemporaneous)

198. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

“I love popcorn movies just as much as I love bizarre art films. And my mother, she was an experimental abstract sculptor and there were these haunted pieces of sculpture [around the house] that I always really connected with. I always felt like my filmmaking sensibility is a weird hybrid of both of them.”–Panos Cosmatos

DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos

FEATURING: Michael Rodgers, Eva Allen, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Nory

PLOT: Dr. Barry Nyle conducts experiments on Elena, a woman with telepathic powers who spends most of her time in a near-comatose daze, at the sparsely appointed “Arboria Institute” in 1983. A psychedelic flashback suggests that a bizarre ritual performed at Elena’s birth is responsible for her current condition. Elena decides to escape from the Institute, pursued by a transformed Nyle.

Still from Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)BACKGROUND:

  • This was Panos Cosmatos’ first (and as of 2015, still only) feature film. He is the son of George P. Cosmatos, the director of Hollywood blockbusters Rambo (1985), Cobra (1986), and Tombstone (1993).
  • Cosmatos said the two main inspirations for Beyond the Black Rainbow were “hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons.” He also said that as a child he would look at the covers of horror movies at the video store which he was not allowed to rent, and that the movie is his grown-up realization of the kinds of stories he imagined were contained inside those boxes.
  • Beyond the Black Rainbow proudly admits to being a pastiche of the midnight movies that would be roughly contemporaneous to its 1983 setting. George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971), ‘s Dark Star (1974), Suspiria (1977), and Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983) are some of the moviess Cosmatos and others who worked on the project cited as visual and spiritual influences. The high-contrast black and white of the flashback sequence was explicitly modeled on Begotten (1990).
  • Beyond the Black Rainbow beat out 63 competitors in a reader’s poll to be officially named to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Although it’s far from the most stunning image in a movie filled with unforgettable visions, in some ways the bit that sticks with me most from Beyond the Black Rainbow is the slow low-angle pan down the Arboria Institute’s fluorescent corridor. The shot is replayed many times: with blood red tinting as Dr. Nyle first marches to interview Elena, a ghostly pan across the glowing white panels that slowly fade to industrial blue, a shot tracking the Sentionaut as he walks towards the sleeping Elena. Although this mysterious motif recurs often enough to be noteworthy, for an indelible image we’ll go instead with the fearsome appearance of “appliance-free”Dr. Nyle: bald, eyes permanently dilated, clad in skintight black leather fetish gear, and clutching his fang-shaped ceremonial dagger.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Shamelessly allusive, sinfully trippy, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a love letter to midnight movies of decades past, a hazy conjuration overseen by the guiding spirits of , , and a thousand doped-up sci-fi dreamers that somehow manifests its own unique vision. It’s the kind of movie most of us here would make if we were handed a big bag of residuals from Tombstone and told we could do whatever we wanted with it.


Festival trailer for Beyond the Black Rainbow

COMMENTS: The very title Beyond the Black Rainbow invokes an Continue reading 198. BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

185. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

“‘The books walk a line where you wonder if it’s fantasy, or if it’s really happening, At some point it stops mattering,’ O’Malley said, adding that he believes Wright captured the “whimsical weirdness” of the series.”—“Scott Pilgrim” franchise creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, quoted in L.A. Times article

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Edgar Wright

FEATURING: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman

PLOT: Scott Pilgrim is a slacker and bassist in the garage band “Sex Bob-omb”; his heart was broken a year ago by a former bandmate who cheated on him and went on to musical stardom. Scott, who’s in his early twenties, has taken to Platonically dating a wide-eyed high school girl named “Knives”. He (literally) dreams of a quirky, assured girl his own age by the name of Ramona Flowers, but while wooing her he learns that he will have to defeat her seven evil exes in battle in order to win her.

Still from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
BACKGROUND:

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was selected to go on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies in the 5th Readers Choice Poll. Actually, it ended the poll tied and was involved in a run-off vote which also ended in a tie, at which time it was declared the winner by editorial fiat.
  • The film is based on a series of six graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The script was optioned after the first volume was published, and filming began before the series finished its run. Since the script was completed first, O’Malley provided the screenwriters with his notes on how the story was to end. O’Malley actually asked for permission to use lines from the screenplay in later “Scott Pilgrim” books. The final “Scott Pilgrim” volume was released in 2010, the same year as the movie.
  • Scott Pilgrim cost $60 million to make and earned only $30 million in its theatrical run. It has proved to be a home-video hit, however.
  • The film’s original ending, which had Scott reuniting with Knives, was rewritten due to negative audience response.
  • Naturally, the film inspired a video game adaptation.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Split screens. Besides the “Batman”-style “ka-pow!” lettering floating past during fight scenes, the visual motif you may notice most about Scott Pilgrim is the abundant use of split screens. This is not simply a stylistic affectation; the device refers to the movie’s graphic novel inspiration, mimicking the freedom of the printed page to place each image inside the frame that best suits it, however bent. That’s why we selected the fanned out rouges gallery of the League of Evil Exes as our indelible image (some of the promotional material features the same iconic image, with the actors occupying different spots on the evil spectrum for variety’s sake).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A villain sets up a duel to the death by email, then brings his own Bollywood backup singers—who happen to be levitating “demon hipster chicks”—to the fight.  When he’s defeated, he dissolves into a shower of coins. If you don’t think that’s at least a little weird, you probably need to put down the video game controller for a few hours a day.


Original trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim flopped at the box office, it became Continue reading 185. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

CAPSULE: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH (2010)

DIRECTED BY: John Alan Simon

FEATURING: Jonathan Scarfe, Shea Wigham, Katheryn Winnick, Alanis Morisette, Hanna Hall

PLOT: In an alternate-reality America, a music producer receives psychic dream transmissions from a mysterious entity known as VALIS (“Vast Active Living Intelligence System”), who provides advice for overthrowing the President of the United States, a crypto-Communist dictator.

Still from Radio Free Albemuth (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The paranoid plot is pretty damn peculiar, but the presentation isn’t unhinged enough for weird immortality.

COMMENTS: A tale of pink, pro-rock n’ roll aliens beaming hallucinatory political advice to subversives from a satellite orbiting earth, Radio Free Albemuth is totally baffling if you don’t know the backstory behind it. It may be even stranger if you do. If you want to be confused and astounded by a weird little story (and don’t demand the highest production values), you might skip this review and just take a chance on Albemuth. But if you want context, here it is. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was a counterculture science fiction author, the man responsible for the stories that were adapted into movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and others. He was also a heavy user of amphetamines and LSD in his youth; in his later years he became paranoid, and may in fact have been living with some form of mental illness. In 1974, after taking sodium pentothal for an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick began seeing visions involving pink beams of light, the sense of having lived a previous life as a persecuted Christian in the Roman era, and communication from a super-rational intelligence he dubbed “VALIS.” He described these experiences in a semi-autobiographical novel set in an alternate history timeline titled—you guessed it—“Radio Free Albemuth.” To Dick’s credit, he never surrendered to delusions altogether; he remained rational enough to suspect that the alien epiphanies he experienced may have been hallucinations. The novel, on the other hand, present VALIS’ revelations as gospel. To confuse matters, “Alebmuth” included a science-fiction writer character named Philip K. Dick, but the ecstatic pseudo-religious experiences were attributed to a different protagonist, a music producer who schemes to promulgate VALIS’ revolutionary message through subliminal messages hidden in rock records. Dick’s publishers rejected the novel, and he reworked it into a more palatable story titled “VALIS” (which became the first book in a trilogy). Dick’s original novel, of which this movie is a faithful adaptation, was posthumously published in 1985.

The insane origins of this story may help the uninitiated reader understand why the movie Radio Free Albemuth feels a bit—off. It is, almost literally, the work of a mad genius. This adaptation, made for about three-and-a-half million dollars, has production values comparable to a TV miniseries. The acting is uniformly competent—Shea Wigham’s stoic Dick probably comes off the best, and (ironically) singer-songwriter Morisette isn’t as bad as you might fear. The CGI hallucinations—wormholes, alien cathedrals, angels made of pink electricity—definitely betray their budget, but are acceptable. There is little stylistic zing to the production; the novice director lets Dick’s ideas speak for themselves, in all their delusional grandeur, and what keeps the movie watchable is waiting for the appearance of the crazy, delivered in the voice of one apparently sane. Albemuth is, at the same time, one of those goofy hypotheses that posit a sci-fi explanation for ancient religious ecstatic experiences (a step more sophisticated than UFO cults) as well as an anti-authority allegory (rock n’ roll as carrier of the torch which will incinerate American conformity). It is a weird, though not wholly satisfying, artifact from a unique mind.

None of this will mean much to the hardcore Dick aficionados (I fully realize that some of our less mature readers will titter at the preceding phrase) who are the movie’s target audience. They likely have their minds already made up, and either unconditionally support a faithful adaptation, or believe it’s sacrilege to even try to realize the author’s vision on this meager budget. Casual Dick fans (more titters) may find this either a fascinating introduction to the reality-bending postmodern wormhole of the author’s late works, or an oddity to gape at askance.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…resembles a weird artifact from the early days of science-fiction television… this lifeless adaptation only proves that making entertaining movies out of hard-to-swallow ideas is as challenging as you might think.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: IRON DOORS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Manuel

FEATURING: Axel Wedekind, Rungano Nyoni

PLOT: A man wakes up to find himself locked in a concrete vault sealed with iron doors; he hopes the key to his escape lies inside the padlocked locker that, besides a dead rat, is the room’s only furnishing.

Still from Iron Doors (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a well-made independent film heavily influenced by fantastical survival movies like Cube and Saw; while it is interesting, it languishes in the shadow of its superior predecessors.

COMMENTS: Iron Doors asks the gross, but mesmerizing, question: if you were locked inside of a concrete room for days with no hope of escape, how long would it take before you started drinking your own urine and eating maggots to survive? This is the situation a nameless man finds himself in when he wakes up with a hangover in a concrete vault, assuming he’s the victim of a prank. But as the hours pass and no one answers his calls from help—and the iron doors locking him in refuse to budge—he will be forced to draw on all of his ingenuity and will to survive. Part of a mini-genre of “people abducted and held in mysterious bondage” movies that includes Cube, Saw, the first act of Oldboy, Iron Doors is ably acted by Axel Wedekind, who rants and raves at his fate before settling down to the business of devising a seemingly impossible escape. The early reels are surprisingly involving. The purgatorial gray stone and steel of the bunker, flickering in fluorescent lights, provides an oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere, but director Manuel finds ways to add splashes of color for excitement, and the film doesn’t look dour or cold at all. Just as the script seems to have run out of survivalist tropes to mine for life-and-death drama, a surprise development in the second act gives it fresh new dynamics to explore. So far, so good; Iron Doors manages to involve us in its high stakes and mystery through the first hour of its brisk eighty minutes. The big problem is, not surprisingly, the ending. Having built up such a sense of baffling mystery, its almost certain that the resolution will be a letdown. Without giving away the secret, we can safely say that most viewers have found the ending disappointing. The filmmakers intend an allegorical reading, which is fine, but mildly ambiguous denouement doesn’t satisfy. It neither magnifies the mystery, nor provides a plot-hole free logical solution; it instead splits the difference between a mystical and a rational explanation, satisfying no one. Furthermore, the end comes on too abruptly, without a properly tense buildup, and the final shot snaps off quickly before we can process it. Despite the lack of a final killing blow, however, Iron Doors is still a fine and worthy independent effort that deserves neither its current obscurity nor its unconscionably low IMDB rating of 4.5. The principals involved here all show talent and I look forward to seeing them in future projects.

Iron Doors was made in Germany by an Irish-born director, but the main character speaks perfect English and appears to be American. The film was originally shot and presented in 3-D. This gimmick didn’t go over well with those who saw it at film festivals, who frequently complained that the stereoscopic effects were pointless given Iron Doors‘ minimalist setting. The DVD version looks just fine on a flat screen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…appears to have a lot to say but is very ambiguous about its message and intent. The twist conclusion only baffles the film further and, perhaps, for the better.”—Doc Rotten, Horror News (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)

DIRECTED BY:  Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton

FEATURING:  Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Laura Heisler, Lee Wilkof, Clark Freeman, Michael Laurino, Alex Draper, Tara Giordano, Sam Elmore

PLOT:  A small entourage of pseudo-anthropologists encounters disorientation, bedlam and horror on the trail of a historic mass disappearance.
Yellowbrickroad (2010) 450 1

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Yellowbrickroad’s set-up is not so odd—a bunch of 20-somethings lost in the woods. We’ve seen this a thousand times, although some very strange things occur in the woods in Yellowbrickroad. What pushes it over the precipice of weird is the ending, and what it means. The gruesome, ethereal ending changes the entire story into a bizarre horror odyssey, and this, combined with surreal settings and occasional use of blue monochrome cinematography, deliver a viewing experience that morphs from garden variety unusual to full-blown weird.

COMMENTS:  A fortnight ago I discussed the independent puzzler, Resolution (2012).  It’s plodding and pensive, but delivers on its clever high concept with a disturbing climax. The glibly-titled Yellowbrickroad follows a like formula and offers a similar experience. It’s enigmatic, and saves all of its open-ended answers for its lurid finale. While Yellowbrickroad has fewer puzzler paradoxes than Resolution, first time feature film writer/directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton do a pretty good job considering their half mil micro-budget, incorporating intriguing and colorful elements of mystery, and a couple of mesmerizing characters, into the script.

In Yellowbrickroad, several young academics set out to re-chart a rural New England zone inexplicably reopened and declassified after an unsolved mass exodus emptied a nearby town 70 years ago. And, you guessed, it, everyone disappeared into them thar hills. Except for their intestines, that is.

OK, not just their intestines. Other parts were found too, but not nearly enough to account for everyone. Some of the emigrants, intestines and all, just…well they just vanished. We get the general idea.

Or do we?

Because, except for several token nods to the 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz, Yellowbrickroad’s enigma is so perplexing that we mostly forget to question several pretty far-fetched plot holes. Such as why people in the town where everyone disappeared a generation ago are so tight-lipped. If everyone left, presumably today’s residents aren’t the descendents, and so have no stake in the matter.

But that’s OK, because something so unspeakable pervades the locale that just maybe it has a hold on everyone who is afraid to talk about it. One thing’s for sure: when a group of 20-somethings venture into the spooky, spooky hills in search of a macabre mystery, we can predict that…well, let’s just say, “we knew there’d be death!” A lot of it.

To its credit however, Yellowbrickroad avoids typical deep woods “boo!” and splatter clichés, instead building on the atmosphere inherent in being disoriented in a labyrinthine forest. As the team’s equipment fails, so do their minds, and the fact-seeking sleuths succumb to bedlam and violence. Time and space mean something different here, and all the while, period music from the era of the disappearance inexplicably wafts across the landscape. The trekkers can’t determine it’s source—or the way back. The path, nicknamed the “Yellow Brick Road” since its original followers departed from a local theater playing The Wizard Of Oz, held then, as today, some kind of symbolic “way out.”

Or not.

For the woods have swallowed our crew of intrepid explorers, their navigational aids won’t work, and there seems to be no way off the trail. Reminiscent of an old fable about suicide, in which those who killed themselves were presumed to be dissatisfied with reality, and wound up sentenced to increasingly topsy-turvy, contrary worlds each time they attempted escape, the Yellow Brick Road in Yellowbrickroad obviously leads to some much weirder reality, with the grim caveat of “be careful what you wish for.”

Like the aforementioned Resolution, or the engrossing but talky, independent sci-fi thriller Primer (2004), Yellowbrickroad is a niche film. It takes its dialogue-saturated time delivering us to the sensational payoff. All three vehicles would be more effective as half-hour shorts.

Yellowbrickroad offers some gruesome, blackly comedic skullduggery along the way, however, and there’s one forceful, enigmatic early hint of what is to come: an unsettling sound effect that everyone will instantly recognize, but absolutely not be able to place. Until the ending, that is, which slaps you with a sickening epitome of recognition. Understanding the sound only adds to the shock value and will have you repeating the tagline from the 1972  The Last House On The Left: “it’s only a movie.”

Yellowbrickroad (2010) 450 2

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…by about the one-hour mark, nothing has really happened, and instead of continuing to slow simmer the tension, they turn the carnage up to 11 and we arrive at something resembling a mid-’90s Marilyn Manson music video. Just bizarre.”–Michael C. Walsh, The Boston Phoenix (contemporaneous)

Yellowbrickroad movie trailer