Tag Archives: Jeff Goldblum

CAPSULE: LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)

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DIRECTED BY: Wes Anderson

FEATURING: , , , , ,

PLOT: An aging underwater nature documentarian assembles a team to hunt down the jaguar shark that ate his partner, including a pregnant journalist he has a crush on and a pilot who may or may not be his illegitimate son.

Still from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Oh, Wes Anderson, you come so close to making weird movies, but you just can’t take that final step over the brink of madness, can you? Set in a skewed, child’s-eye reality where aquatic documentarians are major celebrities and decorated with toy-like animated glow-in-the-dark sea creatures, Life Aquatic is probably the closest thing to a weird movie Anderson has made. Looking at the direction of his latest projects like Grand Budapest Hotel, which are moving towards the mainstream, if ever so marginally, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever go full-out surreal. But his singularity makes him a director we will have to continue to monitor for signs of weirdness.

COMMENTS: Aside from their acknowledged “quirkiness,” Wes Anderson’s comedies are distinguished by their deadpan style: the characters are detached and weary, expressing profound feelings of love or betrayal while fighting off an overwhelming urge to nap. The other thing that makes an Anderson movie is the heightened, obsessive sense of design; each individual scene is costumed and decorated like a diorama exhibit. This mixture results in a highly artificial oeuvre, and Life Aquatic may be his most formalistic movie. Aside from the hard-to-believe plot, a mashup of “Moby Dick” and “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” which involves the laconic Zissou searching for a possibly mythical “Jaguar Shark” while dealing with family squabbles and fending off pirates and rival oceanographers, Aquatic features a deliberately fake (but extremely colorful) marine fauna—peppermint-striped crabs, rhinestone-studded stingrays—almost the types of fish designs you’d expect to see at an “Under the Sea”-themed prom. (These creatures are often stop-animated by none less than ). The running soundtrack supplied by a Team Zissou sailor (Seu Jorge) with a guitar and a David Bowie obsession, who performs amazing acoustic renditions of “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” and “Changes” in Portuguese, adds to the movie’s one-of-a-kind feel. Poker-faced Bill Murray is a natural match for Anderson’s dry style. Murray’s Steve Zissou is an impressive portrait of the artist in a midlife crisis: he’s still competent, but showing cracks. Maybe he’s gone mad: is the jaguar shark he seeks revenge upon real, invented as a publicity stunt to stir up interest in his faltering career, or a hallucination brought about by nitrogen narcosis? Murray makes Zissou complicated, flawed, and sympathetic. The cast of supporting characters is sprawling and the adventure epic. There’s a topless script girl, a three-legged dog, and a seahorse in a champagne glass for additional color. All around, it’s hard to be bored, and I’d say Life Aquatic is Anderson’s most interesting and strangest movie.

Anderson’s style can be frustrating—why does he insist on inserting so many layers of “look at me!” between the audience and the material?—but his meticulous craftsmanship is undeniable. I’m not a part of the Anderson cult, but I find it impossible not to appreciate his vision.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The script’s] bittersweet weirdness leaves a residue even as the narrative disintegrates.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Cindy Hoskey.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

112. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984)

“Would a watermelon in the midst of a chase sequence not be, in its own organic way, emblematic of our entire misunderstood enterprise? At once totally logical and perfectly irrational?”–W.D. Richter, explaining why there is a watermelon inside the Banzai Institute

DIRECTED BY: W.D. Richter

FEATURING: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, , , , Vincent Schiavelli

PLOT: We are first introduced to Buckaroo Banzai as he rushes by helicopter from completing a delicate neurosurgery to test-drive a trans-dimensional race car in the Nevada desert. Banzai successful breaches the Eighth Dimension with his oscillation overthruster, but the experiment attracts the attention of the mad Dr. Lizardo, as well as a gang of Lectroid aliens who also want the device. Between rock and roll gigs and particle physics press conferences, Buckaroo and his band of scientist/musician/adventurers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, will uncover an alien conspiracy that (naturally) threatens the fate of the world.

Still from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was writer W.D. Richter’s first directorial effort after having half-a-dozen screenplays produced (including the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Banzai eventually became a hit on VHS but was a huge flop in theaters, losing six million dollars and bankrupting the production studio. Richter only directed one other movie, the 1991 independent comedy Late for Dinner, although he continued to write screenplays (including Big Trouble in Little China). Richter did not write the script for Buckaroo Banzai, however; it was penned by his pal Earl Mac Rauch.
  • The name of the evil front corporation in Banzai, Yoyodyne, is a reference to a fictional corporation that appears in Thomas Pynchon’s novels.
  • In 2003 Entertainment Weekly ranked Buckaroo Banzai as the #43 cult movie of all time.
  • The sequel promised by the end credits, Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League, was of course never made, although legend has it that Richter is still trying to get it produced to this day. In 1998 pre-production work was done on a Buckaroo television series for the Fox network, but the show was never picked up. The Buckaroo brand has persisted through the years with a novelization and comic book adaptations.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We require a flashback to show how the Eighth Dimension was originally discovered by a then-sane Dr. Emilio Lizardo—but how to introduce it without disrupting the flow of the story? This movie believes the most natural way to incorporate the memory is to have a now-insane Dr. Lizardo hook electrodes onto his tongue and shock himself so that arcs of lightning fly out of his eardrums. We have to assume this bizarre home-electroshock therapy explains the perfect cinematic precision of the following flashback sequence, because no other sane theory is offered for Lizardo’s act of high-voltage masochism.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Refer to the plot synopsis. Any movie that successfully incorporates


Original trailer for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension

a band of rock and roll scientists, an invasion by aliens uniformly named “John,” the Eighth Dimension, inexplicable watermelons, and Jeff Goldblum as a New Jersey neurosurgeon who dresses like a cowboy—while working inside the Hollywood system, with a $12 million dollar budget—has worked hard enough to deserve a space on the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.

COMMENTS: According to an unofficial Buckaroo Banzai FAQ, the most frequently asked Continue reading 112. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: POWDER (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Victor Salva

FEATURING: Sean Patrick Flanery, , ,

PLOT: A supernaturally gifted teen misfit fights against the grain when he is forcibly integrated into a backward community.

Still from Powder (1995)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  A strange blend of fantasy and drama, Powder has shadings of The Enigma of Casper Hauser (1975), Carrie (1976), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).

COMMENTS: In a situation reminiscent of Casper Hauser’s enigma in the 1975 film, Jeremy Reed (Flanery) is discovered sequestered in his grandmother’s basement upon her death in a podunk Texas town. A bright, sensitive boy, he has been raised without contact with the outside world, with which he is acquainted only through books. He happens to be albino, and not just like Edgar Winter—he is mime white.

Additionally, he is hairless. Because of his unsettling appearance he attracts the unbecoming nickname “Powder.”  He also attracts static electricity. His father rejected him because of his appearance; his grandparents sheltered him. Contact with the outside world is novel and very troublesome for Powder, and for those who meet him.

The film opens with his premature birth after his mother is struck by lightning. This turns out to be foreshadowing: concepts of electricity and energy are dispersed throughout the film. Powder’s body exudes an interactive electromagnetic field. Wristwatches run backward when he’s upset, televisions overload with static, electronic devices run haywire. In a discussion with his teacher, the instructor tells Powder that Einstein allegedly said he wasn’t sure death exists, because energy never ceases to exist, and that if man ever reaches a point where he can use all of his brain, he would be pure energy and not need a body. This catches Powder’s attention.

Powder is still a minor, and not exactly the picture of conformity. Ideally, he needs to be in a progressive, tolerant environment; so, of course, the local authorities lock him up in a violent rural boys’ home that’s more reform school than orphanage. As one can imagine, he is welcomed with open arms by the crude, hostile ruffians. Well, not exactly; they harass and torment him incessantly, with murder in their collective eye.

While he is a ward of the state, two staffers played by Steenburgen and Goldblum try to help him. Powder takes aptitude tests. His unusually high scores indicate that he has a profound intellect, but nobody believes it. His test results are challenged by a panel of  hostile state goons. Meanwhile, the bullies in the state boys home discover that he can defend himself with telekinetic electromagnetic powers.

Like a faith healer, Powder cures a dying woman. This development adds a religious element to the film that complicates efforts to comprehend Powder’s true nature. While his in vitro exposure to lightning bestowed him with electromagnetic powers, he has other abilities as well, including psychic ones. Difficult to classify and out of his element, Powder is like a stranded alien.

As Powder and the confused, disturbed locals continue to clash, the chasm between them grows wider. Many are awed by and fearful of his unusual talents. All Powder wants to do is go home and live in seclusion. He escapes the group home and tries to return, but his family property has been foreclosed upon. Some town officials encourage him to run away, others want him back in the boys’ home.

Near the end of the story there’s a suggestion that Powder is just too unique for this world; he’s portrayed like a Christ figure. It is dubious that this is really what the filmmakers had in mind. Powder is a science fiction fantasy about nonconformity and social rejection, not a religious allegory.

Like the title character of ‘s Carrie, Powder is gifted and different, ostracized and misunderstood. Powder, however, does not take a spectacular revenge based on his seething resentment. Instead, he strives and strives to escape somehow, always trying to find a away to transcend his dilemma.

The conflicts, uncertainty, tension and turmoil come to a flashpoint when a huge thunderhead approaches the town and Powder rushes into the storm. In a spectacular cinematic sequence, many uncertain elements of Powder’s riddle merge in an unexpected way that is unconventionally conclusive and magical.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Imagine Edward Scissorhands under the control of a mainstream director rather than someone offbeat and eccentric like Tim Burton. The result would have been just another motion picture about a prototypical misfit trying to find his niche — a movie with a lot of manipulation and too many easy answers. Powder is such a film.”–James Berardinelli, Reel Views (contemporaneous)