Tag Archives: Comedy

54. YOU, THE LIVING [DU LEVANDE] (2007)

Recommended

“Be pleased then, you living one, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.”–Goethe, Roman Elegies, the quote that begins You, the Living

DIRECTED BY: Roy Andersson

FEATURING: A large cast of unknowns, who are given approximately equal weight in the story

PLOT: A man napping on a couch awakes, looks into the camera, and tells us that he had a nightmare that bombers were coming.  The movie then shows us fifty or so dryly absurd scenes involving many unhappy characters in a nameless Swedish city, some of whom relate their dreams to us.  Memorable sketches include a musician who tells us of his mutual fund performance while making love and a young girl spurned by a rock musician who dreams that they get married.

Still from You, the Living (Du Levande) (2007)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Roy Andersson made short films beginning in 1967.  After his first two features, En kärlekshistoria (1970) and Giliap (1975), he began directing commercials and did not return to movies until the critically acclaimed (and Certified Weird) Songs from the Second Floor (2000).  This, only his fourth feature film, was completed when he was 64 years old.
  • You, the Living was refused funding by the Swedish Film Institute; Andersson reportedly accused the body of nepotism after the requested funding was instead granted to a relative of a member of the Institute.   The movie was eventually completed with funding from five different countries, and is officially listed as a Swedish-French-German-Danish-Norwegian co-production.
  • The actors in the film are mostly amateurs with no previous feature film credits.  The musician is played by Eric Bäckman, a member of the Swedish gothic metal band “Deathstars.”
  • All of the scenes (except one exterior) were shot on soundstages created in Andersson’s own studio.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Everyone talks about the bittersweet wedding fantasy, although the nude heavyset woman riding a skinny man while wearing his spiked military band helmet is also fairly indelible, perhaps for the wrong reasons.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Disorientingly constructed as a series of sketches with common


English language trailer for You, the Living

characters, some completely naturalistic and some totally absurd, united by uneasy, melancholy comedy, You, the Living feels like a series of dreams trapped inside a larger dream.

COMMENTS: An enigmatic movie deserves an enigmatic title, and You, the Living gives Continue reading 54. YOU, THE LIVING [DU LEVANDE] (2007)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)

Kontroll has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. Please visit the full certified weird entry for Kontroll for comments and deeper coverage of the film.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Bence Mátyássy, Eszter Balla, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, and György Cserhalmi

PLOT: A Budapest metro transit cop copes with eccentric passengers and coworkers as he

Still from Kontroll (2003)

pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity.  The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway.   Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely combination of plot elements.  He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story.  The resulting integration presents a unique, alternate viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, neural convolutions of the Budapest underground.  A man runs for his life through a tunnel between two trains.  A hooded figure emerges from cracks in the wall to launch the unwary under oncoming subway cars.  A puzzling girl (Balla) haunts the maze-like passages disguised as a bear.  Ticket inspectors engage in madcap jousts and chases with each other when they are not comically pursuing a colorful assortment of freeloading ruffians.  A host of eccentric characters cavort and couple in a subterranean round-table of flickering signal lamps, iron Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)

LIST CANDIDATE: WHAT? [CHE?] (1972)

NOTE: In our December 2010 poll, readers decided we too hasty to dismiss What?, and voted to make it a candidate for the List.

AKA Diary of Forbidden Dreams

DIRECTED BY: Roman Polanski

FEATURING: Sydne Rome, ,

PLOT: An American hitchhiker in Italy loses her clothes and finds a Mediterranean villa full of oddball characters.

Still from What? (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: What? is an absurdist sex comedy that’s highly absurd, mildly sexy, and not one bit comic.  It’s weird, all right, but also slapdash and frequently insufferable; in short, not good enough to make a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

COMMENTS:  Some films are ahead of their times, misunderstood on release, and are ripe for reappraisal years later.  And sometimes, the critics get it right the first time, as when they ran screaming from early showings of What?.  Sandwiched in between Roman Polanski’s intricately constructed classics Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), What? seems like the improvised work of an overconfident director who believes he can do no wrong.  Polanski may be a genius, but light tone and full-out surrealism are a poor match to his talent for creating tension through subtly weird atmospheres.  The overarching concept is great, the assembled talent is impeccable, the Mediterranean setting is sublimely elegant, Sydne Rome is a perfect specimen of femininity… yet the script sucks all the life and fun out of the movie, delivering one scene after another that lands with a dull thud.  Heroine Rome, a hippie-esque ingenue, escapes a gang rape and flees to a villa inhabited by a cadre of eccentrics.  Foremost among them is Marcello Mastroianni, uncomfortably playing a dirty old man and ex-pimp.  Despite rumors of homosexuality and venereal diseases, Rome inexplicably falls for the lecher, and their trysts involve Mastroianni dressing in a tiger skin while she beats him or dressing like Napoleon while he beats her.  It’s a novelty to see an actor of Mastroianni’s status willingly degrade himself this way, but it’s neither as fun or as funny as it sounds.  Other poorly-sketched weirdos populating the mansion include a scuba diver (portrayed by Polanski) nicknamed Mosquito, a piano playing doctor, a dying patriarch who also turns out to be a dirty old man, a priest, and a naked woman wandering about the grounds.  Absurd gags fall flat: in one of the earliest, a housemaid sprays shaving cream in the air in an attempt to kill a fly.  Later, a workman will paint the back of Sydne’s appealing thigh blue, a rather uninteresting incident that the script insists on reminding us of over and over.  The biggest running gag is that someone keeps stealing Sydne’s clothes, although the thief doesn’t pilfer quite enough of them; there are long stretches of the movie where Rome runs around clothed. Not coincidentally, the movie then starts to drag.  A few clever ideas emerge, such as when certain scenes start to repeat themselves with slight variations, but in general the movie misses several golden opportunities to ratchet the absurdity up to truly entertaining levels.  Particularly disappointing is the dialogue; the potential for clever nonsense interplay between the innocent American and the depraved Europeans devolves into crude, uninteresting jokes.  A classical music score, references to Heraclitus, and paintings by Francis Bacon and Théodore Géricault in the background are deployed in an attempt to dress up the sleazy material in the clothes of high art.  What? isn’t recommended, but it can be viewed, and even enjoyed, as a novelty.  It’s unhinged, unpredictable, and full of that slightly naive and innocent late 1960s/early 1970s experimentalism that can be refreshing in this cynical age.  But it’s clearly a product of its time, not a work that transcends it.

The film that What? most resembles is the star-studded (Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Ringo Starr) 1968 erotic misfire Candy, a doomed attempt to translate Terry Southern’s satirical porn novel to the screen.  The concept of an erotic version of “Alice in Wonderland,” with a wide-eyed innocent encountering a cast of sexual deviants, has great promise, but has never been executed properly on screen.   Alex de Renzy’s XXX feature Pretty Peaches (1978) is probably the movie that runs the farthest with that particular ball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Polanski seems to be enjoying a weird, borderline-nonsensical joke at our expense, one without a punchline or a setup… a self-indulgent mess masquerading as a trippy free-for-all.”–Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club (DVD)

CAPSULE: ALICE (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Nick Willing

FEATURING: Caterina Scorsone, Andrew Lee Potts, Kathy Bates, Matt Frewer, Colm Meaney, Philip Winchester, Eugene Lipinski, Tim Curry, Harry Dean Stanton

PLOT: Karate-instructor Alice finds herself in Wonderland, 150 years after her

Still from Alice (2009 miniseries)

predecessor of the same name; things have changed drastically, as the Red Queen now rules a totalitarian society with an economy that depends on a fresh supply of people from our world to keep the natives pacified.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Alice is an imaginative, solid fantasy/adventure/comedy/romance, but it has only a few shadings of weird to it.  A SyFy channel production, it passes as “surreal” by basic cable standards, but this is the big time, guys.

COMMENTS: Tonally, Alice is only distantly related to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” but at least the movie has a decent explanation for that: 150 years have passed since Alice first fell down the rabbit hole, in which time technological advances and two world wars changed our world’s landscape and psyche forever.  An equal length of time passed in Wonderland, and things there have changed for the worse, as well.  They’ve developed automatic weapons, for one thing; for another, the anthropomorphic animals have evolved into full-fledged humans, with complex motivations and back stories.  Most importantly, thanks to the Queen of Hearts’ tyrannical rule, the halcyon days of whiling away the time with wordplay, nonsense verse and tea parties have been replaced by a deadly power struggle between the Queen, who controls the populace through narcotizing potions of curious manufacture, and various underground resistance movements.  That synopsis makes Alice sound a bit darker than it actually is; in fact, there’s plenty of comedy and whimsy running about in this postmodern Wonderland.  Much of the silly fun is provided by Kathy Bates’ arrogant Queen (always a plum role in Alice adaptations), who reminds Alice that she’s “the most powerful woman in the history of literature.”   The most memorable comic performance; however, goes to Matt Frewer’s White Knight, a bumbling, mumbling relic with delusions of grandeur.  As we might hope in an Alice movie, the costumes and set design are a plus.  Instead of a castle, the Wonderland monarchy has set up shop inside a 1960’s mod casino that might have come out of an Austin Powers movie.  Weird notes are struck by an assassin with a Brooklyn accent and a porcelain rabbit’s head, and Alice’s hypnotic interrogation in “The Truth Room” by the Naziesque Drs. Dee and Dum.  All of the major characters from Carroll’s books are referenced, often in clever ways, and part of the fun of the movie is in catching the cameos and tributes to minor characters (the unexpected appearance of the Borogoves is a particular favorite).  Downsides to the production are cheap CGI (a disappointing Jabberwock), action sequences that often fall flat (karate instructor or not, it’s difficult to credit the sylphlike Alice repeatedly knocking grown men about like cardboard cutouts), and a grand finale that swiftly gallops from merely contrived to the utterly cornball.  The cameos by cult icons Curry (as Dodo) and Stanton (as Caterpillar) are short and disappointing.  Still, Alice‘s strengths overcome it’s weaknesses, and the movie delivers solid entertainment.  The adventure and romance threads are balanced with narrative skill, the comic relief generally works, and its three hour running time allows it to invest Wonderland and its characters with an impressive amount of detail without ever seriously dragging.

British director Willing specializes in the underutilized miniseries format.  He made a star-studded, straightforward adaptation of Alice and Wonderland for NBC in 1999, featuring Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Kingsley, Martin Short, and Miranda Richardson, and others.  He also helmed Tin Man, a 2007 “re-imaging” that did for Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz what Alice did for Carroll’s books.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What ultimately sinks ‘Alice’ is that it is too normal. Carroll’s nonsense, anarchy and druggy weirdness always turned the tale into a fevered dream. Here, Alice disappears instead into a tired missing-father subplot.”–Randee Dawn, The Hollywood Reporter (TV broadcast)

49. A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

NOTE: A Serious Man has been promoted onto the List of 366 Best Weird Movies of all time after initially being placed in the “Borderline Weird” category.  For reference,  you can read the original borderline weird entry here.

“Even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the midterm.”–dream dialogue from A Serious Man

DIRECTED BY: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

FEATURING: Michael Stubargh, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Fyvush Finkel

PLOT: A Serious Man opens in the indeterminate past with a Jewish couple entertaining a man who may or may not be a dybbuk (ghost) on a snowy night somewhere in Eastern Europe.  In 1967, in suburban Minnesota, a Jewish physics professor suffers from an escalating series of problems including a failing marriage, bratty kids, students willing to do anything for a passing grade, financial troubles, and a ne’er-do-well, mildly insane brother.  Seeking advice on a life that seems to be spinning out of control, he visits three rabbis, each of whom is less helpful than the last.

Still from A Serious Man (2009)

BACKGROUND:

  • Though the film is not autobiographical, Joel and Ethan Coen grew up in suburban Minnesota roughly at the time the events of A Serious Man take place.
  • The core idea for the movie originated when the Coens considered making a short film about a boy who attends his bar mitzvah stoned.  As the story expanded from that scene, the idea was originally to make the father and son’s stories of equal weight, but as the script evolved the story of the elder Gopnik assumed center stage.
  • The prologue is not an actual Jewish folktale.  The Coens searched for an authentic legend to use but finally decided to create their own.
  • The movie makes extensive reference to quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, theories of modern physics which suggest that there are limitations on our ability to know basic reality.
  • The Coens’ script for A Serious Man was nominated for a Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscar.  The film won “Best Screenplay” or equivalent awards from the Boston Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, and National Society of Film Critics.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The very last shot, which I can’t reveal here.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Superficially, A Serious Man is only mildly weird. There are a

Official trailer for A Serious Man

few dream sequences and multiple nonsense parables, but unlike the Coens’ definitely weird Barton Fink, this story of a suburban Jewish man beset by an improbably mounting set of real life woes contains no surrealistic fireworks (although there is a conspicuous surrealistic pillow).  On the other hand, A Serious Man has a skeletal undercurrent of ambiguity and disturbance running through it like a bone cancer; it feels weird at its core.  With a head-scratching prologue and epilogue bracketing a central fable about a goy’s teeth, the thoughtful and frequently brilliant A Serious Man earns its place on the List by mining the mysteries at the basis of existence.

COMMENTS: A Serious Man is a retelling of that most fascinating parable in the Old Continue reading 49. A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

CAPSULE: CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER 4 (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: David Mattey, voice of Clyde Lewis, Heidi Sjursen, Paul Kyrmse

PLOT: An explosion inexplicably causes the Toxic Avenger to switch dimensions with his

Still from Citizen Toxie: Toxic Avenger 4 (2000)

evil Bizarro-world opposite, the Noxious Offender.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: None of the other Toxic Avenger movies made the List, so the fourth installment would have to do something different to break the pattern.  Unfortunately, it follows the same path as the previous entries, showing no ambition other than to out-gross its predecessors.  Fans of the series will want to watch to see more of the same; the rest of us will continue to marvel at how Troma continues to make unfettered anarchy seem so dreadfully formulaic.

COMMENTS:  There’s little point to debating the merits of a Toxic Avenger film: you either admire Lloyd Kaufman’s dedication to offensive insanity, or you find it  juvenile and annoying.  You either “get it,” or you like it.  What can you say about a movie that begins with a gang of automatic-weapon toting teenagers clad in diapers (the “diaper mafia,” a reference to the disaffected teens of the “Trenchcoat Mafia” who committed the Columbine Massacre slayings) taking a class of “retards” hostage—on “Take a Mexican to Lunch” day, no less?  It ain’t Jonathan Swift; there’s only the feeblest and most obvious satirical point to the reference.  More to the point, it ain’t Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, although the gag-a-minute pacing is an attempt to mimic the style of the Airplane! auteurs.  It’s the kind of thing the Zuker-Abrahams-Zucker would come up with if they spent six months sniffing paint while working on the script.  The problem is that Kaufman and his co-writers spend a lot more time and energy trying to think up ways to be offensive than they do trying to be funny.  A lot of the gags—like superheros named “Master-Bater” and “The Vibrator”— are the kind of things that are screamingly funny if  you’ve never actually heard a dirty joke before, but when they appear halfway through Citizen Toxie, you can’t possibly avail yourself of that defense.  We’re supposed to be amused on a meta-level, thinking about how “funny” it is that Kaufman would trot out lame joke after lame joke seemingly aimed at twelve year-old boys but wrapped up in a movie filled with “adult” content.  But of course, bad taste fans don’t want to hear the grumblings of a highbrow spoilsport; they want the list of anarchic atrocities documented in Citizen Toxie.  A brief survey: farting; retards shooting up heroin; a cow superhero with squirting udders; a blind woman seduced/raped by lesbian art student; a morbidly obese particle physicist turned gay prostitute; a topless interpreter for the deaf; a human slaughterhouse; the Retarded Revenger and his sidekick, a severed head; a Citizen Kane parody; God as a foul-mouthed drunken dwarf; testicles ripped off and presented to the victim; a pump-up monster- faced penis; and about 100 jokes leftover from 1961, when Jerry Lewis rejected them as too corny.  On the other hand, I did admire the originality of the scene with the twin fetuses battling to the death in the womb.  And, in a movie with this many jokes, some funny lines have to land, to wit: “heroes don’t double amputate police chiefs and hurl 12-year olds into brick walls!” and “this film is respectfully dedicated to all those who have lost their lives facing down their own evil doppelgängers.” Still, the overwhelming take home message from this film is that Ron Jeremy needs to fire his agent for landing him roles that are beneath his dignity.

Besides Jeremy, who appears as the mayor of Tromaville, other offbeat celebrities who lent their talent to the film included Hugh Hefner, Al Goldstein, and Lemmy from Motorhead—who used their real names—along with Marvel comics magnate Stan Lee (who provides narration under the pseudonym “Peter Parker”), washed-up former child actor Corey Feldman (under the pseudonym Kinky Finkelstein),  identical twin stand-up comics Jason and Randy Sklar (under the pseudonyms Foofy and Skippy Applebaum), and the Howard Stern Show’s “Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf” (who is a living pseudonym).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…imagine the zaniness of Mad magazine folded into the satire of ‘South Park’ with the grotesquery exponentially multiplied into free-for-all farce.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)

DIRECTED BY: Luc Besson

FEATURING: , Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker

PLOT: 300 years in the future, an ex-special ops agent turned taxi driver must collect four stones and discover the fifth element to stop the universe from being destroyed by evil, with the help of a scantily-clad supreme being.

Still from The Fifth Element (1997)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTThe Fifth Element is unique and has its devoted fans, but although it’s much busier and more colorful than the average Hollywood space opera, in the end, it’s not so much weird as simply chaotic and overstuffed.

COMMENTS: You can probably gauge your tolerance for The Fifth Element according to your tolerance for antic comedian Chris Tucker and his amphetaminic falsetto.  Although he’s not a major player in the story, for better or worse his blond, over-coiffed, simpering talk-show diva dominates every scene he’s in, and is emblematic of the grotesquely overdrawn elements that populate Besson’s world.  Furthermore, his unnecessary presence is introduced through a senseless plot contrivance (the idea that this Oprah-on-a-galactic-scale pop icon would be obsessed with building a broadcast around a non-celebrity contest winner), which is itself symbolic of the way the script seizes any opportunity to shoehorn in any idea that occurs to it.  A few of those ideas include a future New York City grown up to the sky and jam packed with flying cars, Milla Jovovivh as a cloned carrot-haired “supreme being” wrapped in a tiny ace bandage, and Gary Oldman as a villainous comic-relief corporate honcho with a southern accent and a dedicated phone line to receive important calls from Ultimate Evil.  It’s insanely baroque, and the craziness itself is the glue that holds it together even as the wild story makes only a token gesture at sense, relying instead on the viewer to fill in the gaps through their familiarity with conventions of other blockbuster “save the universe” sci-fi epics.  Although it starts out looking like a Die Hard/Raiders of the Lost Ark hybrid set in space, at approximately one hour in comic relief completely hijacks the movie when Oldman’s Zorg threatening meeting with a high priest ends with him choking on a cherry and frantically punching buttons for random automated tasks on his desk.  The comedy never looks back, and this reliance on humor is the film’s ultimate downfall, because it is not very funny.  It’s filled with characters comically fainting, or being shut inside a collapsible refrigerator as Bruce Willis frantically tries to entertain multiple guests in his shabby apartment, or Chris Tucker delivering yet another incomprehensibly high-pitched monologue.  The movie is messy as hell, bouncing back and forth from action to comedy to spectacle to apocalyptic mythology with an eight-year-old kid’s enthusiasm and attention span, and that lack of focus may make the movie come off as mildly weird to those used to more disciplined Hollywood epics.  The Fifth Element has one thing unconditionally in its favor: the costume and set design is masterful, keeping the eye busy and delighted even while the mind wanders off the plot.  The background characters are all so punked out that the few clean cut authority figures stand out as the weirdos.  Although The Fifth Element is a cult movie some people treasure precisely because of its idiosyncratic flaws, which make it unlike any other would-be blockbuster, I can’t count myself among them.

With it’s overwhelmingly American cast and genre, there’s little that’s distinctively French about this movie except its director, Luc Besson, who had previously scored arthouse and critical successes with the stylish La Femme Nikkita (1990) and Leon [The Professional] (1994).  Nonetheless, it was the most expensive French made film to date, surpassing the great weird fantasy The City of Lost Children [La cité des enfants perdus].

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the great goofy movies–a film so preposterous I wasn’t surprised to discover it was written by a teenage boy. That boy grew up to become Luc Besson, director of good smaller movies and bizarre big ones, and here he’s spent $90 million to create sights so remarkable they really ought to be seen.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (Cannes premiere)

44. GREASER’S PALACE (1972)

Recommended

SEAWEEDHEAD GREASER: Coo Coo.  I wish I could put my arms around each and every one of them, and let them know that everything is going to be okay.

COO COO: Why don’t you, Sea?

SEAWEEDHEAD GREASER: I’m not bizarre enough.

COO COO: Who is?

–dialogue from Greaser’s Palace

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alan Arbus, Albert Henderson, Michael Sullivan,

PLOT: Perpetually constipated Seaweedhead Greaser and his gang of hired guns run a small Western village in the middle of the desert. One day Jessy, a mild-mannered hispter in a zoot suit, parachutes into the nearby countryside. Jessy, who is traveling to Jerusalem to become an actor/singer, stops in town to walk on water, repeatedly resurrect Greaser’s son Lamy Homo after Greaser has him killed, and do a boogie-woogie song and dance number before winding up crucified.

Still from Greaser's Palace (1972)
BACKGROUND:

  • Director Robert Downey began his filmmaking career in the early 1960s with a series of low-budget, absurdist short films that gained him a devoted following. His 1969 advertising/race relations satire Putney Swope brought him the adoration of the hippie counterculture. Greaser’s Palace is his only big-budget production, made with $1,000,000 invested by an independently wealthy Broadway producer.
  • Downey’s son is the now-famous actor Robert Downey Jr.; the younger Downey appears, uncredited, as a child in this movie.
  • The credits to this film begin to scroll before the movie starts instead of afterward, and many of them are illegible.
  • The topless, mute Indian girl is none other than Toni Basil, who later went on to fame with her gratingly catchy 1982 pop single “Mickey.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Jessy, still in his striped suit and white gloves and shoes, crucified, with his pink and lavender hat perched atop the cross.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Set in a barren town in the old West, Greaser’s Palace is a series of bizarre sketches which run a gamut from arid comedy to hints of disturbing perversion. These absurd anecdotes hang off a storyline that loosely and enigmatically follows the outline of the New Testament. In a movie where the Holy Ghost appears as a cigar-smoking man wearing a bedsheet with eyeholes cut in it and a black stetson, whether the movie is weird or not is the last question you’re likely to be asking yourself.

Clip from Greaser’s Palace

COMMENTS: A man leaning on a crutch waits for the “messiah” to come and heal him. Continue reading 44. GREASER’S PALACE (1972)

CAPSULE: MR. SADMAN (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Patrick Epino

FEATURING: Al No’mani, Scott McNairy, Rudy Ramos

PLOT: When he’s scarred in an assassination attempt on the eve of the Kuwait invasion, a mute Saddam Hussein body double with no skills or interests beyond impersonating the Iraqi dictator loses his job and moves to Los Angeles to start his life over.

Still from Mr. Sadman (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  More quirky than weird.  There are some offbeat montages, including a nutty but oddly appropriate music video stuck into the middle of the film, but not enough to elevate it to true weirdness.

COMMENTS: No doubt about it, it’s Al No’mani’s airy and amiable performance as Saddam Hussein impersonator Mounir that keeps Mr. Sadman, a low-key indie comedy with an inventive premise but not quite enough laughs or plot, afloat. No’mani is the requisite dead-ringer for the fascist dictator. But more importantly, with his arsenal of friendly, vulnerable, quizzical, and despondent expressions, Iraqi-born No’mani (who died soon after filming was complete) invests his silent character with a surprising amount of humanity, turning him into something like an unhinged but harmless and sweet uncle for whom the audience roots. It was a gamble to make Mounir mute, but it pays off; the handicap gives the character an unexpected everyman aura that makes his sparse backstory irrelevant. The film features some mild satirizing of the subculture of struggling L.A. actors and technicians trying to break into the Hollywood film industry; there’s a deeper warning about the absurdity of forging our own identities by emulating celebrities, but there’s no preaching. The message is implicit in the plot. The script scores occasional chuckles, particularly with a pair of pot-smoking Hollywood wannabes whose minds get blown when Mounir walks past them at a party as they’re watching Saddam on CNN, and a scene where the middle-aged Iraqi plays basketball with some homeboys. There are also a few groaners: Mounir’s antagonists are FBI Agents Wang and Johnson (a couple of dicks, get it?) True to the title, there is an undercurrent of melancholy, and Sadman is indebted as much to the classic alienation films of the late 1960s and early 1970s as it is to contemporary quirky indies. There’s an explicit citation to Taxi Driver, an obvious tribute to The Graduate, and scenes of a man-child in a ridiculous costume strolling down city streets oblivious to urban reactions can’t help but bring to mind Midnight Cowboy. The spirits of light comedy and despairing loneliness  sometimes mix uneasily—and the laughs are largely jettisoned by the finale—but for the most part, it works okay. The cinematography, music and editing are all professional. The script requires some leaps of faith: for example, I wasn’t convinced Mounir’s new-found Hollywood buddies would risk jail time to protect him from the FBI. With the exception of No’mani and Rudy Ramos as a hotel operator, the performances are spotty. But the Iraqi’s expressive facial acting lifts the film to something that, while uneven, is often touching.

As appears to be increasingly the case in a movie business convinced its customers are demanding fewer alternatives to repetitive Hollywood fare, Mr. Sadman has not found a distributor. The director is currently self-promoting the picture, and it can be downloaded for $8 from the Mr. Sadman site. The picture quality of the download is good, and I had no problem burning it to a standard DVD+RW for viewing on my television screen (individual results may vary).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fair warning: watching Mr. Sadman does require the viewer to suspend one’s disbelief entirely… [but] Ultimately, Mr. Sadman delivers what it promises: presenting a dark comedy about the face of evil who just wants to be loved.”–Jaimie Mendoza, Asia Pacific Arts (contemporaneous)