Tag Archives: Comedy

CAPSULE: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Olallo Rubio

FEATURING: Edward Furlong, Peter Coyote

PLOT: A man checks into a Las Vegas hotel room on the eve of the apocalypse to ponder the meaning of his fading existence.

Still from This Is Not a Movie (2011)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not good enough. Although it’s technically well-made considering its budget, it’s full of stoned, faux-profound ruminations and (often explicit) references to much better, more original movies.

COMMENTS: Peter Nelson is holed up in a suite at the Dante-themed Apocalypse Resort and Casino “…trying to solve a deep existential conflict before I drink myself to death. It’s a very ambitious and pretentious goal.” Writer/director Olallo Rubio is at least aware that his own movie is “ambitious and pretentious,” and tries to deflect criticism by making his movie self-aware of its own limitations. The gambit doesn’t work, but we do have to grudgingly admire his roundabout honesty and sincerity. The script plays like a series of incidents and revelations jotted down in notebooks by couple of sophomore English majors during an all-night bull/sensi-smoking session. This one room chamber piece made up mostly of a single actor conversing with different versions of his own split personality, tied together by a weathered metafictional conceit and interspersed with movie trailer parodies, is the kind of pitch any Hollywood producer would immediately nix unless  and Angelina Jolie were already attached. But that fact alone makes the movie interesting as a curiosity; pot-smoking humanities majors bursting with ideas their forebears already came up with years ago comprise a legitimate demographic, and their visions almost never reach the big screen. Pete Nelson worries about “the System,” a vaguely conceived capitalist conspiracy composed of politicians, corporate propaganda, and general American vulgarity (a spoofy propaganda film-inside-a-film suggests that the conspiracy encompasses the Catholic Church, the Beatles, Hitler, and Gene Simmons of KISS). He argues with his drunken cowboy alter-ego that the System is responsible for his memory loss, until a surfer dude version of himself pops up to supply a more metaphysical explanation for his dilemma. The first part of the movie is unpredictable (who saw the ghost coming?), which is its biggest strength. Unfortunately, a finale that is even talkier than the rest of the film lays all the cards on the table, with disappointing results. Visually, the movie is interesting, with large portions shot in arty black and white, liberal use of split screens, and psychedelic CGI; the soundtrack (by Slash) is also pro. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Leaving Las Vegas (mentioned by name), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and The Holy Mountain (seen on TV), among other films, are all referenced either explicitly or implicitly: Rubio clearly has good taste in influences, but constantly reminding your audience of similar but vastly superior movies is seldom a good idea. I can see why many people hated This Is Not a Movie, and it’s hard to argue with them, except to aver that at least it achieves its badness by being infuriating rather than by being boring. Late in the movie, Rubio again anticipates his critics through dialogue, when Pete describes what he thinks a movie is (and isn’t): “…it’s a form of entertainment that enacts a story based on a dramatic arc. It has plots, subplots and storytelling devices to maintain the interest of the viewer. It needs a story, not just moments of conflict, witty talk, activity, and fucking symbols.” Characterized that way, This Is Not a Movie is not a movie; but Pete’s constricted definition is a challenge to the viewer to expand their own notion of “movie” to something beyond a mere carrier for a story. So, This Is Not a Movie is a movie—it’s just not a very good one, because its solipsistic conceits aren’t novel, fresh, or particularly clever. Still, This Is Not a Movie illustrates my pretentious movie theorem: an intellectually ambitious failure is more interesting than an unpretentious failure. I may not have been impressed by this film’s grandiose ideas, but I was happy to see it at least had some.

This Is Not a Movie (2011) should not be confused with This Is Not a Film (2011), the documentary shot by Iranian director Jafar Panahi while under house arrest for propaganda against the state, which was smuggled out of the theocracy on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake and screened at Cannes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“To call This is Not a Movie weird is disingenuous. Rubio’s film is a simulacrum of weird, a copycat approximation of what the mass public perceives as being so… True visionary weirdness comes from creating original iconography and doing something no one else could ever conceive of. That’s what all the people Rubio is ripping off did.”–Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk (DVD)

MANTUA (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Jorge Delarosa, Wyl Price, Jim Johnson

FEATURING: Mike Akers, Hank Fiorini, Susan Martin, Lauren Ashley Carter

PLOT: FBI agent Stephanie Bellman—a man, by the way, and a sex addict—investigates some

Still from Mantua (2012)

very strange goings on in the sleepy burg of Mantua, Ohio, all of which seem to involve “The Organic Ones,” a murderous cult who are “harvesting” the earth’s “weeds,” i.e. the undesirable people polluting the planet.

COMMENTS: Mantua is the brainchild of the artist collective The Slow Mutants, based in NE Ohio. Comprised of 3 short films Black,” “Green,” and “Red,” with connective tissue added, the movie is fitfully entertaining in spots but the execution is just too amateurish to fully recommend. Which is too bad, because there’s just enough here to prove that there is some talent involved. The story suggests a variation on “Twin Peaks,” but even more tweaked and off-center. It’s not boring, and that’s the film’s biggest strength. What tries one’s patience, however, is the level of the performances and the backyard quality of the production which sandbag the ambitiousness of the project.

It’s not without merit—there’s no ineptness on display here. In my opinion, it’s more a matter of the filmmakers having bitten off more than they could chew at the time. As their craft improves, the final results will too—hopefully. In fact, I’d like to see them reboot this after they get a few more projects under their belts. Until that time, if you can sit through a comedic “Twin Peaks” variation with public access TV production values, give Mantua a try. But first, you might want to take a look at their upcoming punk rock documentary Gangrene, for some perspective.

Copies may be ordered via e-mail from the Slow Mutants Home Page.

LIST CANDIDATE: MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (2010)

DIRECTED BY: , Yoshihiro Nishimura,

FEATURING: Yumi Sugimoto, Suzuka Morita, Yuko Takayama,

PLOT: On her 16th birthday a bullied teenage girl discovers she’s really a half-breed mutant with

Still from Mutant Girls Squad (2010)

a claw for a hand; she joins up with others of her kind and must decide if she will help them destroy humanity and usher in an age of mutants.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At least one of these new wave Japanese  movies will eventually make the List; it’s just a question of which one can raise its head (or more appropriately, spout its geyser of blood) above the mad crowd. This entry in the cycle has the advantage of being a collaboration between three of the top talents in the sleazy subgenre—Noboru (RoboGeisha) Iguchi, Yoshihiro (Tokyo Gore Police) Nishimura, and Tak (Yakuza Weapon) Sakaguchi—as well as being bat-guano insane in its own right.

COMMENTS: You’ll probably know whether you want to see Mutant Girls Squad or not on the basis of the still above. Three of Sushi Typhoon’s top directors each handle a thirty minute chapter of this thinly-plotted, tripped-out triptych, and each is intent on outdoing the other in outrageousness. It’s a testament to the anything-goes interchangeability of the mutant-bioweaponry genre that you probably wouldn’t realize three hands were in this pie without being told; each of the directors promiscuously mixes up styles within his own segment, from teeth-chattering action sequences to absurd organ-oriented comedy to a terrorist music video medley mixing “Ave Maria,” calypso dancing, and suicide bombings. This filmmaking procedure may result in a certain level of discontinuity (schoolgirl Rin discovers and activates her mutant claw in the first chapter, and then goes through the mutant awakening procedure all over again in the succeeding segment), but that’s not too much of an issue in a style that makes comic books look like hardcore realism by comparison. The loosely sketched storyline involving a war between humans and mutants is just a clothesline on which the filmmakers hang as many “WTF?” moments as they can. To wit, you get soldiers equipped with masks that fire bullets from their noses; a baker ironically carved up into a baguette; a mutant pop with deformed nipples and genitalia; a flashback to a decapitated head on a birthday cake; a final boss with two giant boobs on either side of his head that shoot acidic milk; and so on, and so on. All this craziness becomes so expected, in fact, that it’s the quieter touches that stand out: in context, it’s actually more bizarre that the mutant cheerleader girl wears a bright yellow sweater reading “I [heart] Texas” than that she can extrude a chainsaw from her rectum. Of course, if you’re familiar with these movies at all, you know they’re not intended for anyone squeamish around blood and guts. Squad lives up to its forebears with all the expected exploding heads, absurdly abundant fountains of blood jetting from decapitated necks, and other demonstrations of the infinitely malleable meatishness of our all-too-frail human forms. Mutant Girls Squad‘s only real ambition is to zip from one outlandish, grotesque image to the next, and to do so as fast as possible so its audience never has the slightest opportunity to get bored. It achieves that ambition, but the effect is like scarfing down a pile of candy on Halloween; it’s tasty while you’re guzzling it down, but you might feel a little sick and guilty when the feast’s over. You also might feel that you’ve been robbed of a proper nutritious meal.

Since Meatball Machine essentially founded the mutant splatterpunk genre in 2005, Japanese studios have been churning out these chaep, absurdly bloody vehicles at the rate of 3-4 videos per year. In 2010 Nikkatsu Studios (makers of yakuza potboilers and pink films, and the company that infamously fired for making movies that were too weird) spun off a sub-label called “Sushi Typhoon” to pump out these b-movies and market them to the lucrative Western market.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The insanity and inventiveness is absolutely over-the-top.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

CAPSULE: THE TEN (2007)

DIRECTED BY: David Wain

FEATURING: , Winona Ryder, , Famke Janssen, , A.D. Miles,

PLOT: A series of short comedic stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments.

Still from The Ten (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It has a few bizarre moments, but The Ten is nowhere near consistently weird enough to number among the 366.

COMMENTS: It’s both easy and difficult to review an anthology movie like The Ten. There are ten mini-movies, so going in you realize that there are inevitably going to be hits and misses, and that spread over ninety minutes the quality is likely to average out. Actually watching the movie is just a matter of confirming that there’s neither exceptional brilliance or exceptional incompetence at work here, and that the whole does indeed converge towards the predicted mean. Although the segments span some stylistic territory, including one obscenely animated Commandment, there are more similarities than differences. Scripted by two of the co-creators of the MTV sketch comedy show “The State,” the pieces here don’t have a “short film” feel so much as a “TV sketch” sensibility, only with mild blasphemy, cuss words and (way too many) jokes about prison rape added to take advantage of the fact there are no advertisers to alienate. The sketches all begin with an absurd premise—a woman is erotically obsessed with a ventriloquist’s dummy, Jesus has returned for the Second Coming but is procrastinating about starting the rapture, a clueless doctor has a dimwitted excuse for killing one of his patients—and then develops it for seven to nine minutes before moving on to the next segment. Two of the ten stories are done in a radically different style. One is a spot-on parody of a -style scene involving urbane ex-lovers meeting on a Manhattan street. Then there’s the weirdest bit, an X-rated animated sequence (recalling Fritz the Cat) involving depraved anthropomorphic animals, including a heroin-dealing rhino who inexplicably poops flowers, ending in an interspecies orgy. The framing device involves a narrator whose domestic problems keep spilling over into his introductions, and the movie ends with the entire cast singing a musical recap (“I introduced each story, there were ten, you couldn’t have missed ’em/I was surrounded by gigantic prop tablets, but I didn’t heed their wisdom…”) To make The Ten seem less disjointed, some of the main characters from one tale play a supporting role in other stories. All of the sketches are irreverent, but there isn’t a consistent satirical outlook across the entire movie, and so the “Ten Commandments” hook never becomes more than a gimmick. The connection between the gag and the illustrative Commandment is often stretched; for example, “thou shalt have no God before me” inspires a silly spoof on celebrity worship. The writers managed to draw major talent to the project: Wynona Ryder features prominently in two of the stories, the late Ron Silver shows up in an actor’s dream vengeance role as a talent agent, Jessica Alba appears as a bimbo, and Oliver Platt gets the movie’s best bit as an impressionist who specializes in doing a mediocre Arnold Schwarzenegger (although it’s better than his Eddie Murphy). But despite the infusion of name-value movie stars, The Ten remains televisionesque; it’s missing that extra “oomph” needed to justify feature film status. Basically The Decalogue re-imagined as a grossout sketch comedy series, The Ten is sporadically amusing, but non-essential viewing.

Written by David Wain and Ken Marino, alumni from MTV’s minor cult hit “The State,” and featuring many of that series’ regulars, The Ten might have been banking on “State” fans showing up a decade after cancellation for what almost amounted to an uncensored reunion show. That didn’t happen, as the film debuted to tepid reviews and went on to recoup less than a million dollars of its $5.2 million budget at the box office.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a series of stone-tablet-based short films — from the gross to the surreal to the certifiably nuts… A ‘Decalogue’ for special-ed students, ‘The Ten’ leans too often toward the bizarre and the bewildering.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Kallisti, who conceded it “might not be the weird you’re looking for but it’s worth watching.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)

QUESTIONER: What are the most common comparisons to other films that you hear?

CORY MCABEE: There’ve been a few. Because it’s in black and white people sometimes say Eraserhead, but other than the fact that it’s in black and white I don’t really see much… [laughter]. I get a lot of “cross-betweens,” like “a cross between Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Grapes of Wrath.” [laughter]. That’s a very large area to cross between…

–Cory McAbee at an American Astronaut Q&A session

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Cory McAbee, Rocco Sisto, Gregory Russell Cook, Annie Golden, Tom Aldredge

PLOT: Astronaut Samuel Curtis arrives on the asteroid Ceres, where he meets his old friend the Blueberry Pirate, enters a dance contest, and trades a cat for a Real Live Girl (who consists of cloned cells in a box). His commission requires him to go to Jupiter where he will swap the Real Live Girl for the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast, whom he will then take to the all-female planet Venus to exchange for the remains of an expired stud. Along his journey he is pursued by maniacal “birthday boy” (and film narrator) Professor Hess, a man who can only kill if he has no reason to do so.

Still from The American Astronaut (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer/director Cory McAbee is the songwriter and lead singer of the band The Billy Nayer Show; the then-current lineup of the band (minus McAbee) appears in the movie in the Ceres dance contest sequence.
  • McAbee was working on a script entitled Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest when he got the idea for American Astronaut and decided it was the more interesting project. He completed the script for Werewolf Hunters in 2002, but negotiations with financiers fell through. Pre-production resumed in 2011, but the actor cast as the lead died, and the project is again on hold.
  • The American Astronaut got its limited theatrical release September 21, 2001, only a little more than a week after the 9/11 tragedy.
  • After our first viewing we declined to place The American Astronaut on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately (read our shortsighted initial review), but the public decided this omission was one of our biggest oversights, as the movie won our third readers choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast dressed as the messenger god Mercury in an art-deco helmet and thick black eyeliner, raising the roughnecks of Jupiter’s morale by performing a song and dance number in a spotlight on a stage in a cavernous warehouse.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The fact that it’s an absurdist musical comedy space western, for one thing. The American Astronaut is an incredibly personal affair—Cory McAbee wrote, directed, starred, composed the songs, helped paint the backdrops, and probably sold the popcorn on opening night. McAbee brings a particular and peculiar set of personal preoccupations to the project: space operas, psychobilly, Monty Python, German Expressionism, cowboy movies, Lewis Carroll, film noir, , the wide-eyed innocence of childhood, Ed Wood, and Dadaism, among others. It’s a galaxy of influences with competing gravities, and whether they appear as a meaningful constellation or just a meaningless mass of lights may depend on where the viewer is standing. The movie probably makes the most sense when seen from Mars.


Original trailer for The American Astronaut

COMMENTS: Since it’s such a spaced-out movie, it’s appropriate that The American Continue reading 123. THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)