Tag Archives: Drama

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: MEEK’S CUTOFF (2010)

DIRECTED BY:  Kelly Reichardt

FEATURING:  Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, , Shirley Henderson

PLOT: A small group of settlers faces an indefinite fate when they gamble their survival on the veracity of two diametrically opposed guides, each of questionable character.

Still from Meeks Cuttoff (2010)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: On its face, Meek’s Cutoff appears to be a steady, plodding historical-fiction drama, a slow, tense tale about the perils of trust and the tedium of uncertainty. And it is…to an extent. But there’s something going on under the surface. When the film refuses to relinquish it’s heavy, solemn tone by employing a musical score or comic relief as the unrelentingly grim and heavy nature of the characters’ conundrum intensifies and hangs on our conscience like dead weight, and as the subtly surreal nature of the setting and the situation sinks in, the weirdness mounts. The effect combines the absurdist, futile tedium of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, the eerie sense of a malignant grand design of Yellowbrickroad (2010), and the pensive, serenely surreal atmosphere of Housekeeping (1987). The result is unique and unsettling.

The sudden, quietly shocking ending and the location in the story in which it occurs appalls the viewer with a sickening insight. This epiphany reveals that the movie is not about the drama which has been unfolding up to this point, or about how it is to be resolved, but that it concerns something entirely different. Upon grasping the filmmakers’ message, we realize we have had a genuinely weird viewing experience.

COMMENTS: From the first frame, it’s obvious that Meek’s Cutoff is a serious, authentic, carefully crafted story. As is the case with so many independent art films, a majority of viewers may reject it. Audiences who are pining for a reprise of Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider should skip Meek’s Cutoff and instead opt for something like True Grit. They will find Meek’s Cutoff  boring, and it’s climax confusing, unsatisfying and disturbing.

Viewers who enjoy artfully cerebral movies with ambiguous conclusions however, will like Meek’s Cutoff. The clever ending dramatically drives home the thrust of the film, revealing it to be much Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: MEEK’S CUTOFF (2010)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

DIRECTED BY:  Julia Leigh

FEATURING, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie

PLOT:  A quiet but reprobate student blindly contracts for unconventional assignments with an enigmatic madam to cater to the peculiar perversions of the ultra-rich.

Still from Sleeping Beauty (2011)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTSleeping Beauty is not a sex-movie, but rather a tense, eerie multiple character study. The focused, unadorned manner in which it is shot, without a musical score, combines with the bizarre nature of its story to set an unusual mood which demands that we take it seriously. This atmosphere, and the choices the writer and director made in deciding what elements of its story to show us, to make Sleeping Beauty a weird and unusual viewing experience.

(Ignore the website and DVD jacket descriptions of this slick Aussie thriller; because US distributors don’t know how to present unusual efforts to a general audience, the synopses grossly mischaracterize this effort as some sort of racy potboiler. Sleeping Beauty is not a sex piece, even though Emily Browning looks just like a Real Doll sex doll in the trailer. Sleeping Beauty is not another Eyes Wide Shut. It is not designed to be racy or titillating. Nor is it a murky, confusing David Lynch-style movie, although fans of Lynch’s works will surely love it. Sleeping Beauty is in no way what I expected. It is unpredictable and although it declines to utilize a demented twist ending, I assure the reader he will never guess where it is heading).

For additional fun, be sure to look for an appearance by actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the crazed “Toecutter” in 1979’s Mad Max.

COMMENTS: Wow! What a gem! I was hoping for something different and creepy from the trailer. I was not disappointed! Yet I was surprised. I was expecting something sci-fi or horror, about turning girls into living sex dolls. Sleeping Beauty turns out to be so much more unsettling, sophisticated and subtle. From its opening frames, the somber cinematography and unabashed, close-in concentration on its characters makes it clear that you are watching a serious, high-quality effort crafted by a writer and director who know exactly what to do. There’s a controlling sensation that your impressions are being skillfully manipulated by the filmmakers. Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: PALINDROMES (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Todd Solondz

FEATURING: , Richard Masur, , Sharon Wilkins

PLOT: A teenager falls in with a group of anti-abortionists in her quest to become pregnant.

Still from Palindromes (2004)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As if the plot isn’t off-beat enough, Palindromes‘s teenage porotagonist is played by a variety of actors of different ages, sizes, races, and even genders.

COMMENTS: The standout feature of Palindromes is the unorthodox casting of a series of different actresses (and one actor) in the role of Aviva Victor. The variety of thespians allows Solondz to express the evolution of Aviva’s self-image, physically reflecting changes in her emotional state during the movie. When we first meet Aviva, she is played by a young African-American girl who wears her emotions on her sleeves and in her facial expressions. She is the only child to middle class parents (Barkin and Masur) living in an anonymous suburb in the Northeast United States. Horrified at the probable suicide of her cousin Dawn and alienated by the material nature of her mother’s love, Aviva becomes obsessed with the idea of having lots of babies to ensure she has someone to love her. Then, as a Caucasian brunette in her early teens, she has an ill-advised encounter with the son of a family friend, and gets pregnant. As a reedy, red-haired, slightly older girl, she strenuously resists but eventually accedes to getting an abortion. As a more confident and more attractive brunette, she runs away with the help of a truck driver, with whom she has sex in the hopes of once again getting pregnant. Abandoned by the truck driver, she wanders through wilderness in the shape of a teenage boy and then is discovered—now as a large, older African–American woman—by the driven and very Christian Mama Sunshine, who runs an orphanage for children with medical infirmities. Here Aviva is least like herself: in a completely alien environment, she has to lie about her name and her past to fit in, and her self-doubt and anxiety are apparent in her magnified size, awkward movement, and change in race. The plot unfolds from there involving more pedophilia, a quest to assassinate the doctor who aborted her fetus, and a shootout in room 11 of a seedy motel, with Aviva switching from shape to shape, becoming more assertive and mature. At the point where she feels most grown-up, she returns to her family as a world-weary, bedraggled 20-something waif (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She holds her own in an existential debate with her older cousin, Mark, and easily wins arguments with her parents. But, as the title of the movie suggests, things come around: Aviva meets up with the boy who got her pregnant to begin with, reverts mentally through the chain of actors who have portrayed her, until she is once again the vulnerable, out-of-place, emotionally needy little black girl. As seductive as the message is that everything eventually returns to its beginning state, palindrome-like, some things in the film are irreversible: death, certain operations, and murder among them. In the end, it’s these things that will eventually shape the person Aviva will eventually become, but she’s not yet become them yet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What makes this strange story even stranger is Aviva is played by eight different performers… Solondz constructs a deadpan sheltering bubble around his film, thereby defusing most of the issues he raises. It’s all one Warholian shrug. Still, ‘Palindromes’ is unlike anything you’ve seen at the movies.”–Bob Longino, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (contemporaneous)

108. BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)

“Christ, kid, yer a weirdo!”–Pop

DIRECTED BY: Rolf de Heer

FEATURING: Nicholas Hope, Carmel Johnson, Claire Benito, Ralph Cotterill

PLOT: With only a rudimentary vocabulary but a gift for mimicry, middle-aged Bubby has been raised by his mentally ill, abusive mother with no knowledge of the outside world inside what is essentially a fallout shelter. One day an interloper enters their underground hovel, shattering the only reality Bubby has ever known. Eventually he finds himself released into a modern Australian society he can hardly comprehend, but must learn to fit into somehow.

Still from Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

BACKGROUND:

  •  Partially as an experiment and partially for practical reasons, de Heer chose to shoot the film with thirty-two different cinematographers, essentially one for every location.
  • Bad Boy Bubby uses binaural sound: the film’s soundtrack was recorded and mixed from two microphones Nicholas Hope wore behind his ears, so that the audience would experience the sonic world exactly as it would be heard from Bubby’s perspective. On home video the effect is largely lost, with the end result being only that a few of the conversations in the film sound frustratingly muffled.  The director suggests that the theatrical experience can be reproduced by listening to the movie while channeling the sound through a pair of stereo headphones.
  • Originally, the underground scenes were to have the sides matted to create a narrow, claustrophobic aspect ratio, and the film was to expand into widescreen when Bubby surfaces into the outside world.  Director De Heer thought the effect was too intense and made the film “unwatchable” and dropped the idea.
  • Bad Boy Bubby won a FIPRESCI International Critics Prize, along with several less significant festival awards.
  • We initially passed Bad Boy Bubby over for inclusion on the List, declaring it to be only “borderline weird.” You can read the original review here.
  • A search for reviews of “Bad Boy Bubby” on the Los Angeles Times website yields no results, but offers the helpful suggestion, “Did you mean ‘bat boy’ bubbly?”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bubby the punk rock front man performance artist, on stage in a priest’s collar, holding a blowup doll with enormous breasts wearing a gas mask, backed by a band whose heads are swaddled in cling wrap.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In my original review of Bad Boy Bubby, I demurred adding the film to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies by noting that the movie “has a unique tone that’s hard to capture, but the first words I’d choose to characterize it are ‘relentlessly offbeat,’ rather than ‘weird’… for the most part de Heer chooses to tell his story using a straightforward, realistic narrative style that makes us believe bizarre Bubby is a real person in a real world.” The first words I’d use to describe it are still “relentlessly offbeat,” but on further reflection I’ve concluded that Bubby‘s offbeat moments come relentlessly enough that “weird” is a fine choice for the second word I’d use to describe it. I do not want to be in the business of denying the weirdness of movies that feature middle-aged feral children, cling-wrap murders and bizarre swings in tone, especially when they have rabid cult followings and excellent critical reputations.


Short clip from Bad Boy Bubby

COMMENTS: Bad Boy Bubby is a film that moves slowly from deep darkness into light. It is Continue reading 108. BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)

CAPSULE: MY JOY (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Sergei Loznitsa

FEATURING: Viktor Nemets

PLOT: A Russian truck driver veers off the main highway and into a hinterland of institutionalized

Still from My Joy (2010)

corruption and disjointed narrative.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: My Joy is serious, slow, bleak, oblique, and political; put together, all these adjectives coalesce into “important” in the mind of the average film critic or festival programmer. They do not, however, add up to “entertaining” in the eyes of the average viewer. Add to this the fact that the adjective we are most interested in—“weird”—is present in the film only at trace levels, and My Joy is more of interest to cineastes who make it a point to see important films, as well as to those with a special interest in the sociopolitical situation inside modern day Russia, than it is to pure weirdophiles.

COMMENTS: My Joy‘s confusing journey into the Russian heart of darkness makes more sense after a second viewing, although thanks to plentiful narrative elisions there are still many mysteries that are never resolved. After an unexplained funereal opening, the story proper begins when long haul Russian truck driver Georgy slips away from a couple of crooked checkpoint cops as they are distracted by a more attractive detainee. In a brutal flashback to the days of the post liberation of Berlin Red Army, an aged hitchhiker tells him a story of how military bullies stole his suitcase, his wife, and even his name. (It’s not the last time the film will travel back in time to that particular era; this bitter nostalgia suggests both that the current Russian situation resembles those anarchic times and, more fatalistically, that graft and thievery are the way business has always been done in this part of the world). A child prostitute then shows Georgy a detour around an accident, and he finds himself lost in the wilderness with his cargo until he meets a group of petty thieves. At this point, about an hour has passed—very slowly, in the Russian style, with lots of long shots of people milling about and cab-level views of the trucker driving along deserted roads between the sparse action. Suddenly, it seems that Georgy (the only decent and honest man in all of Russia, as far as we have seen) disappears from the story, as we find ourselves Continue reading CAPSULE: MY JOY (2010)

106. LA GRANDE BOUFFE (1973)

AKA The Big Feast; Blow-Out

“If you don’t eat, you won’t die.”–Ugo, La Grande Bouffe

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , ,

PLOT: Four middle-aged, upper middle-class men (a judge, a TV personality, a pilot and a chef) hole up at a country villa to feast; it is gradually and casually revealed that they plan on eating themselves to death. They gorge themselves constantly, but the pilot can’t stand to go even for a day without sex, so prostitutes are invited to join them—along with a schoolteacher who attaches herself to the group willingly. As the gluttonous orgy continues the whores flee in disgust, but the teacher joins in the bacchanalia with gusto.

Still from La Grande Bouffe (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • All of the main actors use their real names. All four of the male stars were well-established (Mastroianni, of course, was an international star and sex symbol). Except for Noiret, each had worked with director Ferreri before. Each had also had prominent roles in weird films from other European directors (Mastrioanni, most famously, in Federico Fellini films, but Noiret appeared in Zazie dans le Metro for Louis Malle, Piccoli was a mainstay in Buñuel movies, and Tognazzi had small roles in Roger Vadim’s Barbarella and  Fellini’s Satyricon). The quartet would reunite with the director the next year for a surrealist rendering of Custer’s last stand called Don’t Touch the White Woman (starring alongside another weird favorite, ).
  • The scatological content of the film scandalized some viewers at Cannes, but the film nonetheless won a FIPRESCI prize for Ferreri.
  • At its British showings La Grande Bouffe was protested by infamous decency crusader Mary Whitehouse; her attempts to have the movie banned ironically led to modification of the Obscene Publications Act to exempt films with artistic merit.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The visions that will probably stick with you when you think back on La Grande Bouffe are scenes of four great European actors stuffing their faces with turkey legs, a castle made out of pâtés, and a pair of matching cakes shaped like breasts. Michel Piccoli dancing with a pig’s head is another strong candidate, as are the numerous gross scatological moments. But, the strangest and most lingering image may be the final one: sides of meat scattered around the villa lawn—a slab of beef wedged in the crook of a tree—and a pack of dogs sitting and looking attentively at the carcasses, making no move to eat.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: La Grande Bouffe takes an absurd premise—four men decide to eat


Brief scene from La Grande Bouffe

themselves to death—and plays it out with illogical realism, proffering no explanations or motives for what happens.  It’s an unnatural but straight-faced parable that suggests nothing about how we’re supposed to take it. It’s a grotesque spectacle, but a strangely engrossing one, with a fascination that comes largely thanks to a dream cast of 1970s Euroweirdos.

COMMENTS: In the course of their Grande Bouffe, the four suicidal gourmands scarf Continue reading 106. LA GRANDE BOUFFE (1973)