Tag Archives: 2016

CAPSULE: THE FITS (2016)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Anna Rose Holmer

FEATURING: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett

PLOT: A preteen tomboy finds herself drawn into the dance classes at her local recreation center, but soon after she joins the group the older girls begin suffering mysterious seizures.

The Fits (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While definitely of interest to aficionados of weirdness, and a highly recommended film overall, it just doesn’t reach the levels of  bizarre we aim for with the List.

COMMENTS: Toni (Royalty Hightower) is a quiet, athletic 11-year-old girl who spends her afternoons at the local rec center with her older brother, training in the boxing gym with a group of teen boys. She finds herself compelled to join the dance drill team that rehearses down the hall, feeling shy around the girls but determined to show off her moves. Though she doesn’t appear to be naturally gifted at dance, she sticks with it and befriends some of the other new recruits, observing the older girls who lead the troupe with the curiosity of a child and the growing understanding of a young adult. When the seizures start, Toni and her friends are more intrigued than scared, and they watch from afar as more and more of the older girls are affected by this unexplained malady. Toni begins to suspect that it’s intentional, that they want it, and it becomes a kind of calling card for a cool inner circle.

Based on plot alone, The Fits sounds like a fairly standard coming-of-age drama, and in some ways it is: a shy and intelligent girl finds community within a larger group, learns about new adult realities, maintains her independence, etc. The parallels between the girls’s seizures and female puberty are obvious, as Toni feels the kind of ostracization and curiosity that preteen girls might experience as their friends start getting (and discussing) their periods. Along with fear of the unknown there is a pride attached to the phenomenon, a feeling of special knowledge and maturity. Throughout the film, we see our tomboy protagonist slowly acquiring visual markers coded as “girly,” including glitter nail polish and pierced ears, which help her fit in with her friends. But she slowly sheds them all, retaining her sense of difference. Eventually, Toni (and the audience) senses that there is a kind of freedom attached to the seizures—the precise, fluid movements of the drill team are liberally flung out the window in the sudden and erratic fits the girls exhibit. There is a beauty to letting go, to giving in to being a girl, to finding acceptance in her changing, awkward preteen body.

With a keen observational eye and resourceful use of a single location (the town recreational center), first-time director Anna Rose Holmer fully engages with the perspective of her central character. We see everything through Toni’s eyes, and the subtle, powerful performance of Royalty Hightower communicates a world of experience with little expository dialogue. But the most intriguing stylistic element of The Fits is its sound. While one might realistically expect a soundtrack of dance music, specifically pop or hip hop, to go with the performances of the drill team, the music rarely matches the action onscreen. Instead we are treated to bizarre, somewhat abstract soundscapes that create a sense of intrinsic eeriness, hinting that something must be wrong here. The surreal music serves to pick apart the weirdness of adolescence, and to heighten the anxiety and uncertainty Toni feels every day behind her stony exterior as she maneuvers the muddy waters between childhood and adulthood. Without it, the events of the film would be dramatic, but not necessarily extraordinary. With it, we are left with a distinct but ambiguous sense of strangeness, an itch we can’t quite scratch, a mystery never to be solved. And yet, thanks to an exuberant final dance number, there’s a contentment that goes along with it, suggesting the power of sisterhood.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a beautiful, hauntingly precarious coming of age film that uses mystery and an at times dream-like atmosphere to create a mesmerizing tale.”–Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ANTIBIRTH (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Meg Tilly, Mark Weber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos

PLOT: A hard living party-girl finds herself pregnant, without remembering how.

Still from Antibirth (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Antibirth is satisfying for horror fans looking for a few surreal thrills, but it’s more of an announcement of what Perez might be capable of in the future than it is a current achievement in weirdness. In the end, despite some bizarre plotting, Antibirth resolves itself as standard scare fare.

COMMENTS: Antibirth is a stoner version of Rosemary’s Baby, with a touch of Cronenbergian body horror and a dab of hallucinatoriness (and maybe a bit of Jacob’s Ladder in there, too). Disquieting dream sequences, paranoia, peeling skin, and a grossout birth highlight the horror; but what is perhaps even more surprising is that the film almost works best as a character study. When you’re in your twenties, wasting your weekends on joints, pills and whiskey at all night raves is adventurous. When you enter your thirties and you’re still chasing that buzz every day, it’s clear that you’ve given up on getting anything more out of life—including a family. This is where Lou finds herself, when she puts down the bong for five minutes of self-reflection. Hedonism has become a pleasure-free hassle for her, a hazy daily obligation. She takes the news that she might be pregnant with the resignation of someone who thinks she might be coming down with the flu. The news has no effect on her smoking, toking and drinking decisions, though perhaps some effect on her snacking choices.

Natasha Lyonne was absolutely the right choice for Lou; her defiant, almost principled refusal to take responsibility for the life growing inside her holds the film together while the plot is simultaneously spinning out of control and spinning its wheels. Traditional thinking might have been to cast the more glamorous Sevigny as the victim, putting the quirkier Lyonne into the wisecracking sidekick role; but having the heroine and the comic relief inhabit the same body works better in this context. Half of her dialogue is delivered while trying to hold in pot smoke, and she gets off some good lines: “I don’t talk about aliens when I’m getting high. I have a strict policy.” As Sadie, Sevigny gets a couple of involuntary zingers, too: “We need to accept this, every pregnancy is different,” she offers, when Lou’s already full-term after a week’s gestation.

The dream sequence featuring furry purple Teletubby mutants with expressionless porcelain faces presiding over an alien insemination is Antibirth‘s take-home vision, but there is enough oddness—a cleft-palette Russian urine slave, and the plethora of public access weirdos glimpsed briefly on antenna TV stations—to put the timid mainstream viewer off long before that pièce de résistance arrives. Overall, Antibirth is uneven, but highly watchable thanks to the compulsive trainwreck bad behavior of Lyonne’s anti-heroine. Some people just shouldn’t procreate.

We first met Danny Perez with 2010’s Oddsac, the psychedelic, feature-length “visual album” for freak-folkers Animal Collective. It’s something of a surprise that he had to wait six years before giving birth to his first feature; the material may not be mainstream, but the result is accomplished.

It is a complete, but happy, accident that this review is originally published on Labor Day.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Weird, messy and oddly fascinating, this low-budget horror movie parlays its ‘Rosemary”s Baby-to-the-nth-degree premise into a gross-out fever dream aimed at fans of the way, way out.”–Maitland McDonaugh, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: COLLECTIVE: UNCONSCIOUS (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker, Lauren Wolkstein

FEATURING: Will Blomker, Ryan Cassata, Frank Mosley, Tonya Pinkins

PLOT: In this experimental compilation, five filmmakers adapt each other’s dreams into short films.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: As both a film depicting dreams and as a formal experiment, the project presents a pressing case for inclusion on the list of the weirdest films ever made. There are a number of arresting images within this film and some truly bizarre moments.

COMMENTS: Dreams have always proved a tantalizing subject for filmmakers. Arriving from the unfettered unconscious mind with surreal imagery and associations to codify our thoughts, feelings and memories, dreams have forever enticed filmmakers to realize these bewildering experiences on screen. However, translating this phenomenon presents a number of challenges. One is budgetary, because of the opulent settings and fantastical creatures that can be found in a dream. Another is sensory: despite film’s ability to engross us it remains an outside object, never as immersive as the internal, subjective experience of dreaming.

Successful translators of the experience, such as , recognize the limitations of film immersion and focus on pacing and juxtaposition of image and sound to recreate the atmosphere and “feel” of dreams. Surrealism as an artistic movement is deeply tied to the unconscious and dreams, so it is hardly surprising that one other successful interpreter is Surrealist filmmaker , who overcame budgetary restraints through jarring combinations of everyday objects and people in unconventional ways.

Film compilations also come with their own separate challenges. Unless there is a strong through line each segment will have a different tone and pace, and invariably some episodes will be more satisfying than others. Throw in some deeply personal dreams as subject matter and you could have a hotchpotch of cinema that doesn’t gel together as a whole. Despite the technical sophistication and invention of each filmmaker—none of whom are familiar to me, so I can’t comment on the clash/serendipitous mix of subject and filmmaking styles within—I’m afraid this is the case here.

The film opens with its linking device, a man addressing the camera and attempting to hypnotize us, luring us to sleep and imploring us to lower our resistance, as dream logic demands. It is an effective device to prep us for the experience, if, like most wraparounds, narratively weak on its own. There follows some pretty if perfunctory animation from Maya Edelman before the film begins proper with arguably its most successful segment, “Black Soil, Green Grass,” directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone from a dream by Lauren Wolkstein. Combining Lynch and Buñuel’s techniques, it successfully creates a surreal, dream-like atmosphere through unusual juxtapositions of the everyday: a watchtower that inexplicably pipes a recording of a man counting sheep through loudspeakers, a man encircled Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: COLLECTIVE: UNCONSCIOUS (2016)

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

It’s fairly clear now that the DC fanboys are, in some way, shape or form, related to Trumptards. They see a vast conspiracy, most likely one that is orchestrated by the shadowy Illuminati, whose nefarious aim is to overthrow the world with mind control. These are the same invisible Zionist-ran, Koch-funded demons who manufactured the holocaust lie; conspired with the Knights Templar to hide Mary Magdalene from history; orchestrated 9/11; fabricated the Sandy Hook massacre; discredited Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and the Duggars; are trying to rig and steal the election from Lord Trump; and are a front for Rotten Tomatoes, whose critical pawns give bad reviews to beloved deities who wear their underwear outside their pants.

Never mind that Suicide Squad writer/director David Ayer has never produced anything worth a damn, and don’t be fooled by the same Rotten Tomatoes 90 % plus ratings for shows like “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” The Dark Knight, “Lois and Clark,” or Superman II. That’s a well-manufactured plot meant to distract us from their depraved intent of usurping our funny paper religion.

Still from Suicide Squad (2016)Fanboy thugs aside, Suicide Squad has reached a new low for the DC universe. Of course we expect a darker hue from a suicide squad, but Ayer and his cult seem to take the “suicide” part a tad too literally. Now, before DC fanboys add me to their most hated list, I should add that when it comes to DC VS. Marvel, I’m DC by a considerable stretch. I have unending affection for these classic characters, adorned in primary colors, who are entertaining symbols giving us a shred of hope in this hellhole. Superman, by far, is my favorite. He set the model and is what a superman should be—a trusted paternal figure who will get a cat out of a tree. He was never better than in his original incarnation in Action comics, the Fleischer shorts, and under the auspices of George Reeves (his was a Superman who tapped into Wyatt Earp, and even exercised gun control to put bigots in their place. A  retrospective on that innovative series is on my own blog). The Flash—with his red suit, sense of humor, ability to weather all the tragedies that fate could muster—Green Lantern, and Green Arrow all have had a secure place in my Christmas stockings over the decades. Now with that out of the way: Mother of Mercy, are we really this bankrupt?

The dyed-in-the-wool defense is “well, that’s my taste, I was born with it, and nothing I can do about it.”

B.S. Our tastes change in all things. We certainly weren’t guzzling coffee in our adolescence, and growing tastes have placed the Beatles above Elvis, Karloff above Lugosi, and Bing Crosby’s jazz-tainted velvet pipes above Sinatra’s pop-flavored silvery whine. Taste is a reflection of our openness and willingness to be more than what we know. Taste defines us.

Does Suicide Squad reach the nadir of Batman v. Superman? Well, no it doesn’t. I doubt (and hope) we’ll never be subjected to anything so Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)