Give Zach Galifianakis a late night show, and this is what you’ll get: sketch comedy that’s too absurd for TV. This is the first of seven episodes of Zach’s web series, “Between Two Ferns”. In it Zach interviews Michael Cera about acting in the comedy film Superbad (2007).
FEATURING: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, John Vernon
PLOT: Aliens from outer space, who look exactly like circus clowns, land their carnival-tent spacecraft near a rural town and begin abducting humans for unknown purposes.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Killer Klowns is actually a very conventional spoof with an unusual gimmick that’s well-executed; it’s a bit offbeat, but as far as weird goes, it’s strictly entry level stuff.
COMMENTS: Although Killer Klown‘s kultists will doubtlessly be offended, this movie is gimmicky, rather than original. It’s a shameless retread of the old aliens-invade-the-earth-and-interrupt-teen-makeout-sessions plot with killer clowns substituting for a killer blob. Every standard plot cliche is squarely parodied, right down to the drunken coot who thinks the landing spacecraft is a shooting star and the fact that the cops assume the teen witnesses are pulling a prank. Switching out one-eyed scaly monsters for clowns is nothing but a gimmick, but it’s a good one, and it makes this formulaic exercise watchable. The movie is so stuffed with circus gags that just when you’re certain the script has run out, a new one emerges, like yet another harlequin squeezing out of an impossibly tiny car. Popcorn, cotton candy, balloon animals, shadow puppets, and banana creme pies all become implements of doom that threaten humanity’s very existence. These jokes should be enough to keep you reasonably entertained, but the costume and set design will vie for your attention. The garish, oversized grinning clown heads evoke a campy coulrophobia. The interior of the big-top mothership is a candy-colored wonderland, with skewed funhouse sets that are even vaguely reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (and the eye-searingly bright colors and low-tech ingenuity anticipate the following year’s Dr. Caligari ). It’s also fun to see veteran character actor John Vernon ham it up as the crotchety kid-hating cop. All in all, it’s nothing earthshattering, but it’s a good time if your in the mood for a light, lightly bizarre comedy.
This film has a very powerful cult following, with Killer Klowns t-shirts and paraphernalia selling briskly to this day. I admit, I can’t quite understand why its fans show such a depth of devotion to this likable but lightweight flick. It might have to do with the fact that many people first see this movie when they are young and impressionable, when the concept of a comedy involving evil space clowns seems shockingly original and even subversive.
NOTE: A Serious Man has been promoted from the “Borderline” category onto the List of the Weirdest movies of all time! This page is left up for archival purposes. Please view the full review for comments and expanded coverage!
DIRECTED BY: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
FEATURING: Michael Stubargh, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Fyvush Finkel
PLOT: A putzy 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.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: While the early leader for Weirdest Movie of 2009, A Serious Man won’t be eligible to be officially added to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time until it receives its DVD release and the film can be pored over meticulously by our team of critics. Okay, to be honest, the home video release requirement is a way to buy time, while I let the Coens’ latest ferment in the back cellar of my consciousness. The conundrum is that, superficially, this movie is not that weird; there are a few dream sequences and 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, this movie has a skeletal undercurrent of ambiguity and disturbance running through it like a bone cancer; it feels weird at its core. Also, the way it’s currently unsettling and outraging square moviegoers points to a powerfully different movie.
COMMENTS: A Serious Man is a retelling of that most fascinating parable in the Old Testament, the Book of Job, as a postmodern absurdist comedy. The ancient Job was a good and prosperous man; God allowed Satan to test his faith by wiping out his flocks, killing his children, and smiting him with boils. The beleaguered Job, bothered by visits from three unhelpful friends who try to console him with off-base theological speculations, eventually despairs, but never doubts God’s existence or goodness. His only plea is to understand his misfortune, to be able to ask God directly, “Why me?” God, appearing in a whirlwind, bitchslaps Job for his audacity: “who are you to question me, the Author of the Universe? It’s your job to obey and suffer in silence.” (I’m paraphrasing here). After this reproof, God restores Job’s riches and lets him have new Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: A SERIOUS MAN (2009)→
PLOT: Paul Giamatti (playing himself) feels burdened by his soul, so he utilizes the services of a company that specializes in soul removal and storage; when he decides to reclaim it from its safe deposit box, he finds there’s a problem…
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Cold Souls is an excellent little movie, but it pitches its tent a few yards outside the boundaries of Weird City. It posits its impossible philosophic premise as a scientific fact, and develops a strangely believable set of consequences from it. It’s magical realism that’s heavy on the realism but light on the magic; a perfectly reasonable artistic choice, and one that works well here, but a choice that should prevent it from making the List. A brief peek inside the (rather blurry) corridors of Giamatti’s soul isn’t enough to smuggle it across the weird border.
COMMENTS: Cold Souls has three things going for it: an intriguing concept, a great sense of humor, and Paul Giamatti. Writer/director Barthes doesn’t have anything new or profound to say about the human soul—her theme is limited to the idea that it has something to do with suffering, and the fact that we’re less human if we lose it—but what new or profound is likely to be said about the nebulous, millennia old concept of soul? Instead, she wisely focuses on creating an elaborate medical mythology of the soulectomy, and builds a fascinating plot by exploring those soul mechanics. We get such concepts as soul residues, the black market soul trade (dominated by those masters of soul, the Russians, natch), and soul mules, people who implant the souls of others inside themselves to smuggle them across international borders. The jokes arise naturally from the set of rules Barthes devises: human essences manifest themselves physically in a variety of shapes, including jellybeans and chickpeas, sometimes to their owners’ dismay. It’s gratifying to find laugh-out-loud funny lines in this film, since the intellectual concept could easily have limited the humor to being merely sly, witty, and clever.
Deadpan David Strathairn, as a satirically practical plastic surgeon of the psyche, sets up some of the best gags, such as the idea that removed souls can be warehoused in New Jersey to save on state sales tax. But most of the humor and pathos come from the performance of Giamatti, who plays both a soulful and a soulless role; he’s funny when troubled, and troubling once his cares are removed. Giamatti puts his own twist on the smart, neurotic Woody Allen type, but conveys plenty of genuine existential melancholy as well. As an actor playing an actor (his painful emotional over-involvement in playing the title role in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” sets the plot in motion), he truly tests his range. It’s quite a challenge for a polished actor to portray a bad thespian, and Giamatti gets to showcase two failed Vanyas: one that’s subtly off because he’s too depressed, and one that is a complete, farcical burlesque. With the range he shows here, Giamatti merits Oscar notice. On the negative side, one could criticize the flat ending, which is not ambiguous so much as inconclusive, and the fact that the obvious similarities to Being John Malkovich tempt unflattering comparisons. Cold Souls is still a rewarding watch, a smart movie that avoids pretension and delivers solid chuckles.
Eric Young‘s alternate take: it should be borderline weird, at least: Cold Souls is a weird movie in the same way that Southland Tales is weird, except that it’s not horrible. It has that paranoid misgiving about the future that begs to be analyzed like a cinematic psychological disorder. There’s something definitely weird about the world that surrounds Paul Giamatti here: it’s foreign, it’s vaguely (and at times obviously) threatening, and it fuels a very strong, underlying neurosis in Paul. Sophie Barthes’ odd cinematic landscape was not the best place for him to go and get something as emotionally and philosophically ponderous as a soul removal, I believe.
Cold Souls is one of the weirder films I’ve seen in 2009, a year soundly devoid of anything resembling true weirdness a laDavid Lynch (or Crispin Glover, if you’re feeling frisky). It seems the indie circuit has taken the ideas brought forth by the cinematic pioneers of oddities from yesteryear and used them to fit their own kitschy agenda. This new breed write bizarre movies without really bringing much attention to the deformed elephant they’ve written into the room: see Growing Out, as well as flicks like Nicole Kidman‘s Fur and, to a lesser extent, Wristcutters. Their efforts have been of dubious quality, for the most part, as most indie directors are a little too insistent on navel gazing to examine the strangeness in their midst, but Cold Souls has something different about it. It’s a well-made movie with a star in his prime that has its priorities lined up, and while existential ponderings by resident schlub Giamatti are priority numero uno, introducing us to the fascinatingly bizarre world of illegal Russian soul trafficking and all the unusual characters involved is pretty high on the list, much to the delight of anyone who’s willing to try something different and new.
FEATURING: Devon Lott, Ryan Sterling, Michael Hampton
PLOT: An aimless musician gets a job cleaning up an old William Castle-style spooky mansion. In the basement he finds a hand emerging out of the floor, and the longer he works there, the more he watches the mysterious person appear from below…
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Normally, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you why a man slowly rising out of the sandy floor of a scary old basement isn’t weird, but if we’re going to count down the WEIRDEST movies of all time, this really doesn’t scratch the surface. It’s a guy-meets-girl movie with a few Lynchian twists thrown in, and that’s really not enough to hang with the big boys, now is it?
COMMENTS: Perhaps a penetrating metaphor for the encroaching distance that separates our true selves from our public personas, or perhaps a cheap, quick flick about freaky shenanigans in a creaky old house, Growing Out is a movie that tries to reach out and grab a very particular audience, specifically the indie horror crowd, and it does this with a gusto that is atypical of independent features like this. And, for what it is, it’s indeed enjoyable. It’s quite thrilling to see a young director and cast just go for it—even though the results aren’t all that spectacular, their enthusiasm is in itself kind of spectacular. The film looks good, the actors—in particular, the peripheral characters—are a lot of fun to keep track of, and the scenario is rife with possibilities. The problem it faces as a weird movie, though, is that it places a lot of limiters on itself. It wants to be a relationship movie so badly, with the usual current-jerk-boyfriend-in-the-way-of-the-aspiring-sensitive-boyfriend scenario, that it forgets the oddities it sets up in favor of meet-cutes and lonesome emotional guitar playing scenes. It’s not conducive to what they seemingly wanted to do with this kitschy film full of hipper-than-thou hopefuls. What about the guy growing out of the ground? What about the freaky house? And how about the strange man that lives in a trailer in the back yard? These factors seem unimportant compared to how our troubled troubadour is going to wind up with the girl of his dreams, and while I for one was interested to a point, it left me at the end feeling slightly disappointed and expecting a slightly more charming, slightly smarter, slightly weirder movie that just didn’t come. If you want well-paced and well-shot on a shoestring budget, this is a good bet, but this isn’t what you’re thinking of when you’re thinking of a bizarre film.
If you were at Tromadance a couple weeks back, you probably heard about this little comedy pearl (and, while we’re on the subject, did you see me there? I was the guy in the yellow shirt with the melting, pulsating face). It was a modest success at the festival, and hopefully that appearance leads to a bright future for this film, because I stand before you today a man who, on his first assignment for the amazing 366 Weird Movies, has struck pay-dirt. Zorg and Andy is a low-budget feature with a lot of what makes independent movies so intriguing; the glorious smacking of ambition. I appreciate anything that tries harder than it needs to, and this little movie, made for less than $25,000, truly breaks from its ilk and strives for some really good stuff here. Is it weird? A little. But as long as it’s enjoyable and a tad bit more off-the-beaten-trail than, say, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, isn’t that what counts?
So the movie revolves around the wacky, ZANY antics of our soon-to-be best pal Andy. Andy is a loser who sucks at just about everything, and this is just the way things are for him, and probably will be for the rest of his life. Fortunately, before his loser status gets him kicked out of college, he lands a work-study job at the local museum cleaning artifacts. When he arrives, he meets his overworked handler Jen and she puts him to the task of cleaning a very important artifact rushed to them by the museum director herself. It’s a fertility statue of unknown origin with a strange, let’s call it “protrusion”, sticking out of its forehead. Andy does an almost perfect job of cleaning it and relaxes for a second to congratulate himself, when suddenly a strange and mysterious MILF appears and seduces poor Andy. She asks him for the statue, calling it “Zorg” and saying that she’s been waiting to pick it up. He buys this line, obviously in the throes of her charms, and, in a flash, she leaves with statue in hand. Afterward, he tells Jen all the good work he did with cleaning “Zorg” and giving it to the mysterious lady, and she naturally flips her lid. In a rage, she demands that Andy use what little intelligence he possesses to find the statue and bring it back before the museum director notices what has happened. So it becomes a scramble to find this “Zorg”, unearth why this woman wants it so badly, and do it under the nose of museum staff. Hopefully Andy can show the world that he’s not a total waste of space before it’s too late!
Director Guy Davis gets a thumbs-up from yours truly for making a film of surprising quality with so few resources. Everything about this film belies its cost. The music, mostly composed by a gent named Kevin MacLeod, is very good and exceptionally fitting. It’s flirty, fun, and peppy, marking the bubbly mood of this b-movie comedy. The special effects, almost entirely digital, are passable, using the ol’ standby, day-for-night, like it was about to be outlawed and making the use of some quirky CG for various menaces standing in Andy’s way. The shots are all textbook, and first-time director Davis must be commended for his utilitarian framing and shooting the first-time around, not botching a single scene.
At a light and breezy 62 minutes, Zorg and Andy is the comic equivalent of Binaca; the effects wear off pretty fast and the sensation isn’t as refreshing as you’d like it to be, but it packs a bit of a bite for what its worth. There are some pretty effective gags here for such a budgeted affair. I mean, the statue alone gets me a little bit; it’s so penis-y! Andy himself is played to quite a few laughs, his stupidity spreading thick over the movie like a peanut butter and idiot sandwich.
But one of my favorite gags is one of the things that makes this film on the verge of being weird, and that is the presence of Stuart and The Pig. They’re the two students featured in the picture above, and they’re the gurus of all the goings-on in University news. You might be wondering why The Pig has a papier-mâché pig’s head on. Well, it’s never explained, and he never takes it off; all we know is that he’s a benefactor of Andy and seems to be highly respected around the campus for his rarely-dispensed wisdom. And Stuart is Stuart. ‘Nuff said.
The acting by Andy, played by Scott Ganyo, is fair, verging on good, and I especially enjoyed his confused-but-happy attitude that carries that film on an “aww-garsh” Goofy-like sentiment. Even though he’s a feeb, and a vague jerk, you’ll somehow still like him enough to not want him to die. But not enough for him to get away scot-free, of course. That’s where Jen comes in, played by Kate Rudd. She’s the workaholic boss of Andy who has the distinction of yelling at him for about 3/4 of the film. She’s also passable, but I found her to be a little flat, and I felt like she wasn’t as into it as she could’ve been. I’d definitely give her another chance, but if you end up watching this, you’ll know what I mean when I say, “Eh.”
So run, don’t walk! to the internet to catch this light and fast b-movie surprise. It’s cute, it’s fast, and it’s somewhat odd as far as the plot goes. You won’t find much better for $25,000, and I mean that in the sincerest way possible. I would check this out for Stuart and The Pig alone, though, so I might be insane! You can go to their website at www.zorgandandy.com, where DVDs will be arriving soon, if you’re interested. [ED: DVDs are now available from Film Baby.] Out of a possible four, all things considered, I give Zorg and Andy 3 stars and a wink/nod from across cyberspace.
Thanks, 366 Weird Movies, for allowing me to get my hands on this. You’re the best, and I hope this will be the first of many more collaborations between you and I!
Another Saturday brings another short film for our readers.
This week was exceptionally difficult, but with some help I selected another short film, “Henri” directed by Will Braden. Henri is a feline who is going to show us a different view on the seemingly carefree life of a house cat. Although this clip is not very weird, it is quite amusing, and certainly worth viewing. Give it a shot. Henri enjoys the attention.
“…Gilliam fearlessly brings the logic of children’s literature to the screen. Plunging headfirst into history, myth, legend, and fairy tale, Gilliam sends his characters—a boy and six good-natured if rather larcenous little persons (i.e. seven dwarves)—careening through time-twisting interactions with Napoleon, Robin Hood, and Agamemnon (played, respectively, by Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Sean Connery). The landscape is populated by the giants, ogres, and sinister crones of legend and fairy tale, all in the service of Gilliam’s weird, ecstatic vision.”–Bruce Eder, “Time Bandits” (Criterion Collection essay)
PLOT: 11-year old Kevin is largely ignored by his parents, who are more interested in news about the latest microwave ovens than in encouraging their son’s interest in Greek mythology. One night, a gang of six dwarfs bursts into his bedroom while fleeing a giant floating head, and Kevin is swept up among them and through an inter-dimensional portal in their scramble to escape. He finds that the diminutive and incompetent gang is tripping through time robbing historical figures using a map showing holes in the space-time continuum of the universe that they stole from the Supreme Being; things get complicated when Evil devises a plan to lure the bandits into the Time of Legends in order to steal the map for himself.
Time Bandits is the first movie in what is known as Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” or “Trilogy of Dreams.” It deals with the imagination in childhood; the second movie, the bleak Brazil (1985), with adulthood; and the third, Baron Munchausen (1989) with old age. Gilliam did not intend from the beginning to make three films with similar themes; he only noticed the connection between the three films later, after fans and critics pointed it out.
Gilliam began the script in an attempt to make something marketable and family-friendly, since he could not find anyone interested in financing his innovative script for Brazil. The success of the idiosyncratic Time Bandits allowed Gilliam to proceed making imaginative, genre-defying films.
The film was co-written by Gilliam with his old Monty Python’s Flying Circus mate Micheal Palin, who is responsible for the snappy dialogue.
Ex-Beatle George Harrison helped finance the film, served as executive producer, and is credited with “songs and additional material” for the movie. Only one Harrison composition is featured, “Dream Away,” which plays over the closing credits.
Gilliam shot the entire movie from a low angle to give an impression of a child’s-eye view of the world.
Sean Connery was not originally intended to appear in the final scene, but was meant to appear in the final showdown with Evil. The actor’s schedule did not allow him to appear when the battle was being shot, but Connery suggested that he could play a role in the final scene. His second, quite memorable, role consists of two shots, filmed in an afternoon.
A low budget release, Gilliam’s film cost about $5 million to make but grossed over $42 million.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The avenging floating head of God appearing out of a cloud of smoke.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As an utterly original blend of history, comedy and theology wrapped in Monty Pyhton-eque verbal sparring and presented as a children’s fable, Time Bandits starts with a weird enough design. As the film continues and the bandits journey from history into myth, the proceedings get more mysterious and existential, until the flick winds up on a shatteringly surreal climax that is bleak enough to supply the most well-adjusted of kiddies with years of nightmares. As the tagline says, it’s “All the dreams you’ve ever had—and not just the good ones.”
Firstly, I’d like to thank Ayla (of Twisted Celluloid) for the idea of this week’s short, “Betty Boop in Snow-White”. The change over the past seventy-five years has been a big one, and it is very evident in this cartoon. In this short you will find some very out of the ordinary dancing and singing (featuring Cab Calloway), a brief mention of alcohol, and no morals to end on. Enjoy!
PLOT: Walter Mitty-style daydreamer George becomes manager of an independent television station, and his bizarre programming becomes a surprise hit.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I wouldn’t begrudge Al his weirdness, but he means something more juvenile by “weird” than we do. UHF has an irreverent and independent spirit and takes a few turns into the decidedly offbeat, but it’s basically Al’s mildly skewed idea of mainstream comedy.
COMMENTS: UHF saw pop-parodist “Weird Al” shift his gentle satirical sights from hit singles to movies and TV. The framing plot is stock: likable ne’er-do-well comes to have responsibility for a failing enterprise and unexpectedly makes it a success, drawing the ire of soulless corporate powers who seek to crush him. While you won’t be surprised to find out the Weird Al wins the day and gets the girl back, the plot is just a frame on which to hang a series of skits and parodies. Al tackles movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the facetious Gandhi sequel Gandhi 2, and Rambo. Like his music videos, the satire is not exactly incisive (Conan the Barbarian becomes Conan the Librarian, for example), but that’s OK: Weird Al is in the business of making puns, not enemies. Film nuts will enjoy the subtler nods to This Island Earth, Network, and a real groaner based on Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The parodies of Eighties movies should have gone stale by now, but they haven’t, largely because Hollywood keeps recycling the same cliches twenty years later. You don’t need to have seen the original Rambo to recognize what’s being lampooned when the musclebrained hero’s automatic weapon’s causes bamboo huts to randomly explode. The TV skits, which for the most part stand on their own without requiring knowledge of long forgotten shows, are funnier and more inventive than the straight parodies; they allow Al to show off a more unique and absurd sense of humor. “Wheel of Fish” is a memorably ludicrous game show, and “Raul’s Wild Kingdom” (hosted from his apartment, where he investigates his ant farm and teaches poodles to fly) is another highlight. Squeaky Emo Phillips, improbably cast as a shop teacher (!), gets off the film’s darkest and most hilarious line after an accident with a table saw. But the best of all is Michael Richards as a slow, mop-loving janitor whose children’s show (where the kid who finds a marble in a vat of oatmeal is rewarded by getting to “drink from the firehose”) becomes the station’s flagship hit. Richards steals most of his scenes and demonstrates some of the herky-jerky physical comedy that would make him beloved as Seinfeld’s “Kramer” in a few years. All in all, UHF is a meandering, light-hearted series of gags in an Airplane! vein that makes for a pleasant enough afternoon matinee. The PG-13 rating is for some silly cartoon violence. Other than that, it’s sweet, sex and swear-word fee, and appropriate for older kids, who will eat up the booger humor.
“Weird Al” sold millions of parody records in the 1980s (redoing Michael Jackson’s #1 hit “Beat It” as “Eat It” and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” as “Like a Surgeon.”) Hoping to cash in on Al’s already fading popularity,UHF was intended as a summer blockbuster by Orion studios, but the movie critically savaged and tanked at the box office. Orion went bankrupt soon after. The film later became a huge hit on VHS and DVD. It’s not nearly as bad as the cold-hearted critics initially claimed (Roger Ebert called it “the dreariest comedy in many a month”), or as hilarious as the Weird Al cultists who made it one of the best-selling videos of all time would have it. Instead, it’s diverting spoofery for the ten-year-old inside all of us that should keep you amused for 90 minutes.