Tag Archives: Independent film

CAPSULE: JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Evan Neumann

PLOT: Scenes from the life of schizophrenic Julien and his bizarre family.

Still from Julien Donkey-boy (1999)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Made between his startling debut Gummo (1997) and his acerbic comeback movie Trash Humpers (2009), Julien Donkey-Boy is the Harmony Korine experiment that falls through the cracks. Sure, it’s got its fertile weird moments—Korine puts Werner Herzog in a gas mask and has him swill cough syrup—but its indifference to narrative or structure makes for a lot of dry patches, resulting in a frequently dull movie that’s of interest to hardcore Korine-ophiles only.

COMMENTS: Switching from familial underwear wrestling matches to hidden camera thrift store excursions to snippets from a freakshow talent contest, with all the footage apparently shot by a drunk and edited by a psychotic, the movie Julien Donkey-boy is as schizophrenic as its protagonist. Julien himself is ably, if unpleasantly, portrayed by Scottish Ewan Bremner, who drools and slurs ridiculous monologues from behind a grill of gold teeth (presumably the source for the “donkey-boy” title reference). Julien’s brother is an aspiring wrestler; his sister practices ballet in her room at night, but she’s in her third trimester. Lording over this motley brood is pop Werner Herzog; he swigs cough syrup (from a slipper), listens to Dock Boggs and occasionally wears a gas mask. He has given up on Julien and his sister and focuses all his hopes and attention on their athletic brother. We absorb these relationships slowly as the movie weaves from one improvised incident to another. Julien spies on his sister dancing, then takes a bath and gibbers out a prayer, then the family has dinner and Herzog discusses the false-teeth cleaning habits of famous people, and so on. Other scenes are simply impressionist camera experiments, with out-of-focus, seasick handheld shots and experimental lighting. Korine keeps up his obsession with grotesqueries and freaks, finding ways to shoehorn a dwarf who plays drums with his feet, a rapping albino, and a human ashtray into the story. One bizarre, disconnected scene shows a nun masturbating. The deliberately undisciplined technique of stitching together sketches shot in various styles is carried over from Gummo, but the collage approach doesn’t work as well for painting a portrait of an individual as it did for a town. By repeating words like mantras and babbling nonsense syllables to fill in the empty spaces in his monologue stream, Julien’s speech resembles a real schizophrenic. But, like a real schizophrenic, although you feel sorry for him, you also don’t want to spend a lot of time with him. The character manages to be simultaneously irritating and boring, which are not the defining characteristics you want in a movie protagonist. In a key scene, Julien proudly recites a poem at the dinner table: “morning chaos eternity chaos midnight chaos noon chaos eternity chaos…” It goes on for several stanzas before Herzog interrupts, explaining he doesn’t like the poem because it’s too “artsy-fartsy.” He then describes the climax of Dirty Harry as his idea of great art. Korine seems to be mocking the public preference for meaningless exploitation over artistic ambition, but the irony is that anyone would consider Dirty Harry a greater achievement than Julien’s nonsense poem. Julien Donkey-boy emerges as the least interesting of Korine’s experimental features, which is a shame because it’s also his most humanistic pictures, and the only one where he seems to truly like his characters (Julien was based on Korine’s uncle). The scene where Sevigny pretends to be Julien’s dead mother while talking to him on the telephone is unexpectedly touching, and the shots of the pregnant blonde meandering through a golden field of sunlit grain while singing hymns counts as the most legitimately beautiful thing Korine has ever filmed. It’s too bad these few sympathetic moments are drowned out by a cascade of babble.

Julien Donkey-boy starts with a certificate (signed by ) proclaiming that the movie was produced in accordance with the Dogma 95 movement. Dogma was a set of rules set forth by von Trier and other Danish filmmakers intended to make filmmaking more naturalistic: i.e. there should only be handheld cameras, no music added, only natural lighting, etc. In practice, almost no Dogma film ever followed all of these arbitrary rules (although, as Armond White incisively pointed out, almost every amateur porn movie did). Julien Donkey-boy includes a non-diegetic musical score and lots of optical trickery that should have precluded it from being certified as a Dogma film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Korine emerges more clearly this time as a filmmaker exploring the territory where the circus sideshow meets the avant-garde.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric SG, who rhapsodized that it was “frickin’ weird… Korine’s finest/weirdest accomplishment to date.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012)

NOTE: John Dies at the End has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time; the official Certified Weird entry is here.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, , , Glynn Turman,

PLOT: A young paranormal investigator relates his strange and twisted backstory to a skeptical reporter. It involves alien creatures, a drug that gives its users heightened senses and psychic abilities, and a parallel universe whose twisted denizens are edging their way into our own.

John-Dies-at-the-End


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Its labyrinthine plot and genre-bending themes make John Dies at the End an interesting experience, with plenty of bizarre characters and twists, but at times the film is just weird for the sake of being weird, forsaking good storytelling in the process.

COMMENTS: Blending the well-worn motifs of alien invasion, inter-dimensional travel, and the over-confidence of youth into a heady concoction of oddities, John Dies at the End isn’t easy to summarize, or even encapsulate. The narrative flits back and forth erratically as Dave (Chase Williamson) attempts to communicate his experiences to a bemused journalist played by Paul Giamatti. It all starts—sort of—with a late-night phone call from Dave’s excitable friend John (Rob Mayes), whose ingestion of an out-of-this-world drug known as “Soy Sauce” sends him down a time-traveling, mind-reading, future-predicting rabbit hole. Dave accidentally takes some Soy Sauce himself, and soon he is escaping from a hardened police detective (Glynn Turman) who suspects him of several gruesome murders, while trying to save John and two other high school friends who’ve been kidnapped by a demonic being from an alternate universe. And then a lot of other stuff happens, but not always in chronological order.

Without prior knowledge of the webserial/novel this is based on, John Dies at the End can only be a surprise. It rapidly transitions between wry humor, gross-out gore, paranormal mystery, hallucinatory freak-outs, and sci-fi adventure, all set amidst general confusion. This is the type of film that was made to be a cult classic, with little hope for or interest in appealing to a wide audience. At times this obvious intention to be weird means that the film’s comedic and mystery elements are sacrificed for nonsense, but if you’re looking for straight-up bizarre then it’s not a huge loss. The low-quality special effects are mostly excused by unique visual ideas and some well-placed animation.

With its nonlinear narrative structure and consuming focus on strange happenings, the film doesn’t spend too much time developing characters, and as the protagonist Dave is a little weak: for the most part Williamson just shows off his “Sarcastic Inner Monologue” expression or various reaction faces. He and Mayes are both very regular-seeming guys, the kind you probably knew in high school or college. They are surrounded by a charismatic supporting cast, including the lovably loudmouth Giamatti, the imposing Clancy Brown, the hardcore Glynn Turman, and the naturally creepy Doug Jones. Shuffled about by an intricate story and ever-uncertain motivations, they seem to relish the script’s absurdities.

John Dies at the End is uneven as a whole, driven to episodic distraction with an abundance of half-realized subplots and unanswered questions, but it has a way of worming itself into the brain that results in a kind of fascination. The twisted creatures, unexpected sight gags, colorful settings, and surreal visions create an idiosyncratic aesthetic that’s as funny as it is fantastic. Frozen meat comes to life, mustaches fly through the air, headless zombies attack, alien bugs take over unsuspecting drunk teenagers… By the time Dave and John leap into an alternate dimension populated by nude figures with eerie masks ruled by a giant hyper-intelligent spider monster, I was convinced of its Weirdness.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Everybody pretty much gets weird throughout this trippy head-shaker of a movie. It’s hard to be sure if the film adds up logically — seems doubtful — but it’s so bizarre you don’t much care.” –Tom Long, The Detroit News (contemporaneous)

135. FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)

RecommendedWeirdest!

“…[a] spontaneous creation without thought to logic, reason or consequences.”–Richard Elfman on Forbidden Zone

DIRECTED BY: Richard Elfman

FEATURING: , , Marie-Pascale Elfman, Phil Gordon, Matthew Bright (as “Toshiro Baloney”), Viva, Danny Elfman

PLOT: A curious girl wanders into the surreal “Sixth Dimension” located behind a door in her basement. There she encounters all manner of strange creatures and characters, including a lascivious dwarf king and his jealous wife, while her family members and a hapless schoolmate search for her. Numerous silly musical numbers are dispersed through their adventures.

Still from Forbidden Zone (1982)

BACKGROUND:

  • Forbidden Zone was initially developed as a short film project for the cabaret performance troupe Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which included brothers Richard and Danny Elfman. They wanted to capture the essence of their live performances at their most grandiose; afterwards, their musical style and stage show moved toward a smaller-scale, New Wave sound (at which point they shortened their name to just Oingo Boingo and became especially popular on 80’s comedy soundtracks, but that’s another story).
  • Composer and singer Danny Elfman, who also appears as the Devil, eventually went on to become a highly successful film composer, known especially for his collaborations with .
  • Several of the songs are reworkings of jazz and swing tunes from the 1920’s and 30’s, including songs by Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker.
  • Marie-Pascale Elfman, who stars as Frenchy, was married to director Richard Elfman at the time, and also designed the playful sets and backdrops.
  • The violent, rowdy school scenes are inspired by Richard Elfman’s Los Angeles high school, which is located in the same neighborhood where Boyz n the Hood later takes place.
  • Warhol superstar Viva was convinced to play the small role of the Ex-Queen because she was able to write her own lines, which mostly consist of a drawn-out monologue about her imprisonment.
  • Hervé Villechaize was once roommates with co-writer Matthew Bright (who plays siblings Squeezit and René) and had dated his co-star Susan Tyrrell. He helped fund the film through its constant financial woes, and in fact most of the actors fed their paychecks back into the production.
  • The film was met with controversy upon release due to its use of blackface and Jewish stereotypes, but eventually it gained cult status.
  • Richard Elfman has mentioned working on Forbidden Zone 2 since 2005, but nothing concrete has materialized—yet.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A lot of scenes stand out in my mind, especially the musical numbers. While Danny Elfman’s “Squeezit the Moocher” sequence is a personal favorite, Susan Tyrrell’s solo song, “Witch’s Egg,” exemplifies a lot of the film’s visual ingenuity, sexual abandon, and lyrical fun.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Between the puzzling storyline, psychedelic sets and animated sequences, frequent gender-bending, old-timey jazz/new wave fusion musical numbers, lighthearted sado-masochism, laughably terrible acting, and strange creatures, it’d be more of a challenge to discuss what’s NOT weird about Forbidden Zone. Its cartoonish visuals, eclectic cast, and memorable musical sequences make for a compelling experience, peppered with utterly bizarre additives throughout.

Short clip from Forbidden Zone

COMMENTS: Opening on a lopsided two-dimensional house, Forbidden Zone‘s prologue explains in text-format that a dealer who stashed his drugs Continue reading 135. FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)

THE BOOK OF DALLAS (2012)

The Book of Dallas, Season One is a 10 episode web series from KoldCast TV. The series comes from the production team of Joe Atkinson, , and Marx H. Pyle. Atkinson wrote the series in response to a crisis in faith. The directing is divided between the three producers.

Dallas McKay (Benjamin Crockett) is a young Catholic atheist (is there any other kind?). Dallas gets into a theological debate at a bar (something akin to theology on tap). His lack of belief offends the self-proclaimed Christians (surprise), then fate takes the upper hand when speeding vehicle meets Dallas on the street.

Still from The Book of Dallas Season1 (2012)Heaven is a coffee shop where Dallas meets a highly emotive St. Peter (David Ross) and a quirky God (Kristine Renee Farley). Yes, God is a girl who likes to eat lots of waffles. I knew it all along. With a mouthful of syrup, God asks Dallas to write a new bible, one which will not inspire people to judge and kill one another. After writing it, Dallas is to go on a book tour and sell it. Real simple.

Now back on Earth, Dallas needs some cash to get started. God gives him the winning lottery numbers. Dallas and his roommate Hank (Clay Evans) are on a mission from God. After finally finding a publisher, Dallas’ book, “The Word,” creates publicity and controversy. The evangelicals predictably hate Dallas, but he does attract a follower named Benjamin (Kevin Roach), who fills in for Dallas after a fundamentalist nut job sends Dallas back to heaven for a spell. Benjamin creates The Church of Unitism. Yes, a new religion.

The Book of Dallas starts off as an overly familiar revisionist look at the state of religion, the likes of which we have seen before (Dogma, Religioulous, et al). The best humor in the series is provided by actors David Ross and Kristine Renee Farley. Aside from these, the comedy is too subdued for this topic. More problematic are the plot solutions, which are too simplistic (a convenient lottery win, miraculous surviving of near-death experiences).

Something more complex would have been more rewarding. The fact that the protagonist survives his ordeals, virtually unscathed, nullifies any real questioning of his supernatural encounters (for Dallas and the audience—the only nonbelievers are the certifiable Christians of the film, which, come to think of it, is probably all too apt).

The biggest issue I take with the series is in “The Word” itself. What does “The Book of Dallas” actually say? We are never really privy to that information. Therefore, Dallas’ actual message is so vague that it fails to connect with us emotionally, intellectually, or theologically. Likewise, the fundamentalist outrage towards the book never quite registers beyond surface. The angry religious mob is merely taken for granted.

The Book of Dallas starts to live up to its complex potential by the 10th episode. Of course, every successful revolutionary movement faces the possibility of becoming  an institution. The Unitist movement veers dangerously close to that fatal error. Upon seeing this, the fire within Dallas is sparked. For the first time, close to the season finale, we sense the prophetic nature swelling within Dallas, along with narrative possibilities for richer, provocative exploration.

Atkinson’s sincerity and effort is to be applauded, despite the occasional “too safe” missteps. The series feels like an opening spark, which may reap rewarding challenges in the second season (and, hopefully, that second season will come to fruition).

Bilinski, a director previously covered here, directs the first, fifth and seventh episodes. The first episode has a texture and pacing similar to elements of his previous Shade of Grey (2009).


. “The Book of Dallas” trailer.

133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

Recommended

“In my mind, it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious — something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoonfed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema, and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working.”–David Lynch

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Robert Loggia

PLOT: Fred is a free jazz saxophonist who finds that mysterious videotapes are being dropped off on his doorstep. After an encounter with a mysterious pale man at a party, he blacks out finds himself accused of the murder of his wife. In prison Fred begins having headaches, and then one day he disappears and a completely different man—a young mechanic—is discovered in his death row cell.

Still from Lost Highway (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • The screenplay to Lost Highway was co-written by Barry Gifford, who also wrote the novel “Wild at Heart” that Lynch adapted into a film in 1990.
  • Lost Highway received two “thumbs down” ratings from Siskel & Ebert’s “At the Movies” syndicated movie review program. Lynch insisted the movie poster be rewritten to highlight the critics’ dual pans, describing the bad ratings as “two good reasons to go and see Lost Highway.”
  • The film cost about 15 million dollars to make but grossed less than 4 million at the U.S. box office.
  • Lost Highway boasts a number of cameo roles, including rockers Henry Rollins as a guard and Marilyn Manson as a porn actor,  mainstay  in a voiceover, and Richard Prior as one of Pete’s co-workers.
  • This film marks the last onscreen appearance of , who appeared in all of Lynch’s films until his death in 1996.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Robert Blake’s “Mystery Man,” an eyebrow-free, perpetually grinning pasty-faced ghoul who likes to crash L.A. cocktail parties and whose idea of small talk is to call himself on his cell phone to deliver obscure metaphysical portents of doom.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine you’re on a desert highway. It’s long past midnight and you can ‘t see anything but the onrushing yellow traffic lines a few feet in front of the car’s headlights.  is crooning “funny how secrets travel” from the stereo. David Lynch is at the wheel, he’s jittery from drinking too much coffee, and neither you nor he has no idea where you’re going. Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a wild ride.


Original trailer for Lost Highway

COMMENTS: Made five years after the divisive mixed blessing that was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway marks the beginning of the Continue reading 133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

132. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)

“…unique perspectives and self-sufficient lifestyles are sacred things that should be fought for and preserved. So-called ‘eccentrics’ were my earliest heroes, and one of my biggest influences.”–Benh Zeitlin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Benh Zeitlin

FEATURING: , Dwight Henry

PLOT: Six-year old Hushpuppy lives with her ailing father Wink in “the Bathtub,” a community that turns into an island isolated from society when floodwaters cut it off from the mainland. After a second flood nearly destroys the Bathtub, Wink decides that he must destroy the levee so that the water will recede. This plan brings the attention of the authorities, however, who forcibly evacuate the defiant pair from their ramshackle home, all while Wink’s health is getting worse…

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
BACKGROUND:

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild was adapted from the play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar (who also collaborated on the movie screenplay). The action was moved from Georgia to Louisiana, and Hushpuppy’s character was altered to fit the personality of actress Quvenzhané Wallis.
  • Hushpuppy was originally conceived of as 9-12 years old, but Quvenzhané Wallis was so perfect for the role that the character’s age was changed. Wallis beat out a reported 4,000 other kids for the role. She was only five when she first auditioned and, since the minimum age to be considered was six, her mother lied about her age.
  • Dwight Henry (Wink) is a New Orleans baker; this was his first acting role. He originally turned down the role in order to focus on opening a new bakery.
  • The aurochs in the movie are actually pot-bellied pigs with horns glued on.
  • Won the Caméra d’Or prize at Cannes (given to the best first film screened at the festival).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Hushpuppy coming face to face with the apocalyptic aurochs of her imagination.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Quvenzhané Wallis’ childish explanation, “once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub” turns out to be a literal description of the plot in this ridiculously original fairy tale that resembles The Tree of Life set in a post-apocalyptic bayou.


Original trailer for Beasts of the Southern Wild

COMMENTS: Although many movies purport to view reality from a child’s perspective (including Curse of the Cat People, My Life as a Dog, and Pan’s Continue reading 132. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)

CAPSULE: RESTLESS (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Henry Hopper,

PLOT: A moody boy with the ghost of a kamikaze pilot for a best friend and a hobby of attending funerals falls in love with a girl who’s dying of cancer.

Still from Restless (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Remaking Harold and Maude as a teen romance with a hot Maude and a ghost sidekick sounds like a bad idea, but Restless is even worse than you might imagine.

COMMENTS: An unquenchably perky dying woman convinces a boy with a morbid fascination for death that life is a precious gift not to be wasted. If you’re going to use a plot that’s so well-worn and sickly sweet, then by God you’d better find a pungent spice to add some flavor to the treacle. What if you made the love interest an octogenarian Holocaust survivor, and had the thanatophilic teen stage elaborate fake suicides? What, it’s been done before? Well, at least we could have them meet cute at a stranger’s funeral. You’re kidding, they already did that, too? Well, we’ll just do it anyway, and market it to teens who haven’t seen it before. Oh, and let’s throw in a ghost… make him a Japanese kamikaze pilot… they didn’t do that one yet, did they? Despite attempts to gussy up the doomed material with an infusion of quirk, if you’ve seen a dozen or so romantic movies, then Restless is one you’ve seen before. Henry (son of Dennis) Hopper puts on his best brood, but bad boy he ain’t; this pallid dreamboat is more Robert Pattison than James Dean. Despite being graced with a truly tragic backstory that gives him ample excuse for bitterness, Hopper still manages to come across as a whiny brat, and it doesn’t help matters that he’s scripted as kind of dumb, too. Ryo Kase (understandably) doesn’t appear to have a clue why his ghost character is in the story, so he hedges his acting bets and plays Hiroshi totally deadpan. (By far the film’s best—in fact, its only—joke is Hiroshi’s skill at the board game “Battleship.”) In 2011, Mia Wasikowska proved she had pro acting chops by taking the lead in Jane Eyre and an admirable supporting turn in Albert Nobbs; she comes off the best here, but there’s not much she can do to give grit or texture to such a perfect, unrealistic, idealized character. Annabel isn’t scared of dying, she’s always upbeat and positive, and she doesn’t get visibly upset even when her boyfriend dumps her on her deathbed. Chemo makes her hair look really darling, and even when she’s convulsing, she looks like a cutie-pie. Mia is pleasant and brings a life to the role, but her eternally sunny character makes no sense—shouldn’t the movie be about coming to grips with the reality of mortality, not glossing over the ugly facts of death? Mia never appears the least bit sickly, but the same can’t be said for Jason Lew’s anemic screenplay. This script is wired deep into teen paranoia. Why are all the adult authorities against the kids? Why does the funeral director care so much about Enoch respectfully attending memorial services of people he doesn’t know? Why do security guards tackle him when he’s leaving the hospital peacefully? Why does no one understand him? Despite, or rather because of, tailoring itself to teens’ distorted views of reality, this isn’t a good movie for teenagers. It’s pure pandering, and it’s either cynical, or incompetent. Restless isn’t reprehensible or badly made, but it’s worse than many movies that are, because it doesn’t really try: it merely spiffs up tired platitudes with a few quirks and fresh faces, and assumes its unsophisticated audience will eat up the result. The lack of effort or ambition is depressing. Why do so many movies that consciously set out to be life-affirming make smart people despair after watching them?

Gus van Sant is a director who’s hard to peg: he’s all over the map, making everything from gritty indies (Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant) to Oscar-bait (Good Will Hunting and Milk) to kinky would-be cult films (My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) to true WTF head-scratchers (a “shot-for-shot” remake of Psycho?) God knows what attracted him to this material, which seems tailored for a hack director. Directing Restless is like being the makeup guy at the funeral parlor—the best he can do is to make the lifeless script presentable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…they may be a little too weird for the rest of the world; they are the perfect kind of weird for each other… a movie that is as heartwarming as it is strange.”–Matthew DeKinder, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE FOURTH DIMENSION (2012)

DIRECTED BY: , Aleksei Fedorchenko, Jan Kwiecinski

FEATURING: , Igor Sergeev,

PLOT: An anthology of three stories: a lecture by an American motivational speaker; a man invents a time machine but can only watch events through someone else’s eyes; and four Poles party in a town that’s been evacuated ahead of a flood.

Still from The Fourth Dimension (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The three tales are only mildly weird, and only mildly interesting.

COMMENTS: “Lotus Community Workshop,” the much-anticipated team-up between actor Val Kilmer and director Harmony Korine, is obviously the main draw in this triptych of timely tales, but unfortunately (and perhaps predictably, given the hype) it disappoints. Kilmer plays a motivational speaker whose nonsensical rhetoric nonetheless thrills a motley crowd of ordinary people at a neon-washed roller rink. In between inspirational snippets we see him contentedly riding a bicycle, piping on a flute, and playing a videogame with a girlfriend played by  (who would be too young for the fiftyish Kilmer even at her real age of 26—she looks and acts like a teenager here). Kilmer, who goes as gonzo as the limited space allows, gives some absurd and mildly amusing advice—he tells the assemblage about the time he encountered the mothership, advises them to stop riding horses and to bury gold under their bathtubs, and describes his vision of a world like cotton candy—but the satire seems more pointless than pointed, and the quiet scenes add nothing. This is Harmony Korine with all the shock value removed, and what remains is uninspiring. Putting Korine first gave film festival poseurs a chance to sneak out early, which is sad because the succeeding films are at least as interesting and might even be slight improvements. The second installment, “Chronoeye,” is the only short here that addresses the concept of “the fourth dimension” head on. It concerns a Russian genius who has built a time machine, but it only allows him to see events through someone else’s eyes, and he can’t pick his vantage point; so, for example, he goes back in time to view the execution of scientific martyr Giordano Bruno, but sees it through the eyes of a little girl who’s focusing on a ladybug. Meanwhile, a tax collector is trying to carve a pound of flesh out of him, while his upstairs neighbor is a beautiful dancer who keeps annoying him as she pounds on the floor practicing for an upcoming recital. The joke about focusing on insignificant details of major historical events is repetitive, but Igor Sergeev sells it with an expression of increasing frustration with every new failure. We in the audience become as frustrated as he is, because we see events from his past whose significance will never be clear to us. An abrupt but mysterious ending mixes up past, present and future. The finale “Fawns” follows a group of opportunistic young hipsters as they treat a town that’s been evacuated ahead of a flood as their own private playground. At close to forty minutes it’s longer than the other two offerings, but much of the opening is spent just watching the youngsters roam around the deserted suburbs whooping, playing on swings and looting soda shops. Eventually, a plot develops as one of the quartet wanders away without explanation and the remaining trio must decide whether to search for him or flee as the blare of sirens and rumble of helicopters, heralds of the encroaching floodwaters, increase in their insistency. Then, a chance encounter throws a moral monkey wrench into their plans for a clean escape. It ends, as expected, on an ambiguous note. Each of these offerings raise a mild degree of interest, but none of them truly succeed as standalone efforts, nor do they mesh well together. The “fourth dimension” theme is used as a joke by Korine and treated obviously by Fedorchenko, while Kwiecinski merely name-checks the concept. The Fourth Dimension doesn’t meet its lofty goal of “challenging our ideas of 4th dimensions,” unless, of course, your idea of the fourth dimension is that it’s inherently fascinating, in which case you can consider that notion shot down.

The idea for The Fourth Dimension was co-sponsored by Grolsch beer and Vice Magazine. Each of the three filmmakers were given a set of rules to follow; those we see quoted in the film include that each director’s segment “must contain more real life than anything else you have ever made” and “must blur the line between what is real and what is fake.” Other dogmas, reportedly, were that each director must direct one scene blindfolded. At the time of this writing, the film is exclusively available to watch (for free) on Vice‘s YouTube channel.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a tour de force of what seems to be improvisational lunacy from the behatted, bicycling Kilmer, whose performance has fewer concrete things to say about Los Angeles, con jobs or mass therapy than it does about the merits of watching a gifted actor walk a high wire.”–John Anderson, Variety (contemporaneous)

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CAPSULE: THE FP (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Brandon Trost, Jason Trost

FEATURING: Jason Trost, Caker Folley, Lee Valmassy, Art Hsu

PLOT: In the future rival gangs fight for control of a lawless suburban town, gaining power and street cred by winning dance video game duels.

Still from The FP (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It dances to the beat of its own beat machine, for sure, and will strike a chord with some, but it’s not weird enough to overcome its own lightweight aspirations.

COMMENTS: Although I can’t unconditionally recommend The FP, I do admire its willingness to play its goofy premise with a (mostly) straight face. There are only a couple of outright jokes in the movie’s entire run-time (including a pretty funny one about the ecology of alcoholics and waterfowl). Most of the time, we’re allowed to generate our own humor from the absurd spectacle of wannabe gangstas settling deadly scores on video game dance floors. Eye-patched hero J-Tro quits the 248 gang after brother B-Tro drops dead, presumably of shame, after losing a hoofing contest to mohawked L Dubba E, leader of the 245 clan. Coaxed out of retirement by monumentally irritating sidekick KCDC, J-Tro returns to the FP to find L Dubba E monopolizing not only the suburbs’ liquor supply, but also his would-be New Wave squeeze Stacy. This leads, inevitably, to a series of training montages before J-Tro faces L Dubba one-on-one for some beatbox vengeance. Meanwhile, a cast of spastic punk extras say the f-word while dressed in mix-and-match outfits from Road Warrior and Karate Kid (the ladies dress like Cyndi Lauper in the depths of a depraved cocaine binge). From the Commodore 64-style opening graphic scroll to the synthpop theme, the movie is oh-so-Eighties it hurts. It’s a parody of all those shy-and-stoic underdog defeats the arrogant villain and gets the girl flicks, and also a satire on today’s white suburban youth acting all ghetto (not the most challenging of satirical targets, for sure, but sometimes you aim at what you can hit). The slang is thick to the point of near impenetrability (“J-TRO jumped his ass and was like bow to the bridge, yo kick it! Believ’ dat!”), but it’s too near real contemporary teen talk (characters actually say “whatevs” and “for realz”) to have any poetic charm. Odd moments include an attack with an electric tennis racket and a drug trip where a freaked out J-Tro believes he’s being attacked by hipsters in rainbow wigs, but the weirdest thing about the movie is that none of the characters realizes that none of the other characters in the movie actually has a “black ass.” The 248 crew refer to each other as “Niggas” (“nig” for short), which they explain stands for “Never Ignorant in Gettin’ Goals Accomplished.” To me, a more accurate acronym for their behavior would be “Willfully Insipid Goofiness Galls Adults.” I desperately wanted to enjoy this offbeat movie, but I couldn’t, because every character was constantly screaming at me in a stream of profanity-laced, alphabet soup jargon, and I wanted them all to die in grisly ways. With its head-rattling techno soundtrack and post-apocalyptic rave visuals, The FP seems hellbent on giving anyone over the age of 30 a screaming headache; if that sounds like an endorsement to you, then by all means give it a watch.

The FP was released by Drafthouse Films, the new distribution branch of the famous Alamo Drafthouse saloon/cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…just a flat out bizarre experience that never quite clicks.”–Jeremy Lebens, “We Got This Covered” (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Terrance Zdunich, , Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Dayton Callie

PLOT: A suicide, a jewel thief, and a thug’s girlfriend die and find themselves at an afterlife circus run by the Devil; he reads the stories of their sins retold as fables, which they re-enact to musical accompaniment supplied by carnies.

Still from The Devil's Carnival (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Devil’s Carnival is a lot like director Darren Lynn Bousman’s previous horror musical effort, Repo: The Genetic Opera, only on a smaller scale. If that one didn’t make it onto the List, then logically this one shouldn’t, either.

COMMENTS: Hell is eternal musical theater! I knew it! The Devil’s Carnival looks like refugees from a circus took over unused sets from Moulin Rouge. Hell’s color scheme is candy apple red and hot dog mustard yellow, and all the demons have mime-white faces with black and red designs equally inspired by medieval harlequins and KISS. The plot to this musical is delightfully warped, in more ways than one. It involves suicide, thievery, and women in masochistic relationships, but it also benefits from a wild narrative that veers between reality, fantasy, and song and dance numbers at a whim. Fittingly, none of the denizens of the carnival seem the slightest bit surprised by any of it; the three hellbound souls receiving their poetic punishments wonder why they’re suddenly at a state fair designed by David Lynch for all of five seconds before they start accepting the dream at face value. I always like it when a movie script takes on too much and mixes its metaphors. Carnival starts off as Dante by way of Cirque du Soleil, then, one-third of the way in, after each of the three stories is already in progress, the Devil starts reading a book of Aesop’s fables which illustrate the sins (adding to the confusion, the last section, “The Devil’s Due,” doesn’t even refer to Aesop—the quote’s from from Shakespeare and the plot’s from nowhere in particular). Along with the three fables, we also get a backstage peek at the Devil’s lieutenant casting the night’s morality plays and a subplot about the Lucifer-God rivalry, all shoehorned in around a dozen songs in a movie that’s only an hour long. The script’s a mess, but I don’t mean that as a criticism: the overabundance of ideas and references in The Devil’s Carnival gives the entire enterprise a loose and crazy feeling that’s appropriate and appealing. The costume and set design is superlative, and the demonic hoofers—the Hobo Clown, the Painted Doll, and plastic-haired greaser Scorpion—are all a morbid hoot. Where The Devil’s Carnival loses me is with the songs. They are impressively staged and consistently performed in a Weimar-era German cabaret style. The Hobo Clown, ragged hat extended for alms, croons a demented doggerel silhouetted by footlights while a topless woman is whipped in the background (like all of Carnival, this is a surprisingly PG-13 rendition of some very dark material). But the melodies, while appropriately carnivalesque, aren’t memorable, and the libretto can’t match the ambition of the mise-en-scene. There’s too much repetition, and more than once the lyrics fall back on the cheap trick of incorporating children’s nursery rhymes to cop a little irony. Songs like “Kiss the Girls,” with a man menaced by a gang of sexy clowns in Bozo’s of Hollywood lingerie, look great, but make little sense. The lip-syncing is also frequently off, providing another distraction. Ivan L. Moody, a veteran of several minor metal bands with a surprisingly melodious baritone, gives the best performance; but the best conceived number is “Prick,” a love badly sung by a painted waif to a bullfrog that makes clever use of the double meaning in the title. Still, there is nothing here that you’d want to put on your I-Pod (Repo cultists, many of whom bought this soundtrack on the release date without having heard a note, may naturally disagree). Divorced from their presentations, the songs are all competent but forgettable, and, like its predecessor Genetic Opera, it’s that lack of memorable tunes that keeps The Devil’s Carnival from making the leap to the next artistic level. If Bousman could just borrow the talents of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, or even , for just a week sometime, he might make something really magical. The film is part of a planned series, and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Carnival may not have blown me away, but the best compliment I can give it as that it has me looking forward to the next installment—and, it makes me consider looking backward to reassess Repo.

While Bousman continues to make horror movies like Mother’s Day within the Hollywood system, The Devil’s Carnival cements his credibility as a cult filmmaker and suggests he’s dedicated to the more interesting, less-marketable horror-musical concept. The mid-range production values, cable TV-friendly naughtiness, cliffhanger ending and hour-long length of Carnival make it look like a pilot for an HBO series, although there’s no evidence it was ever intended for the small screen. The marketing of the film, which was self-financed by Bousman and partner Terrance Zdunich (who wrote the script and plays the Devil), is innovative: a VOD/Netflix streaming release, supplemented by a collector’s edition DVD/Blu-ray (limited to 6660 copies) and a “carnival road tour.” Hopefully this nontraditional distribution strategy will work and allow the pair to retain their artistic independence by selling directly to the fans.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Dismiss Repo and Carnival as weird musicals for weird people if you like, but there’s always room for a filmmaker who treats his ticket-buyers well and delivers something sort of … unsafe.”–Scott Weinberg, FearNet (contemporaneous)