Tag Archives: Parenthood

CAPSULE: BAD MILO (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Jacob Vaughan

FEATURING: , , Gillian Jacobs, Stephen Root, Patrick Warburton, , Toby Huss

PLOT: An accountant finds that his searing intestinal pains come from a monster that lives in his lower digestive tract, who emerges from his bowels to kill whatever is causing him undue stress in his life.

Still from Bad Milo (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Playing like a cross between a  splatter goof and The Brood remade as a comedy, Milo has minor midnight movie aspirations, but lacks the gut impact to become one of the top weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS: For a movie about a demon that lives in an accountant’s colon and emerges to slay his enemies, Bad Milo isn’t nearly as much of an exercise in bad taste as you might think. There’s only one scene of spraying fecal matter, and it’s rather light, almost a mist. There’s more blood than poop, but Milo isn’t a gorefest by horror movie standards, either. The movie’s grossest moments are all left up to your imagination, suggested only by Ken Marino’s labored grunts. Whether this modicum of restraint constitutes a relief or a disappointment is up to you, but the odd fact is that Milo the movie ends as surprisingly good-natured as Milo the killer puppet is disarmingly cute. Ray Romano-lookalike Marino plays accountant Duncan as a put-upon pushover who gradually grows a pair when forced to defend his family from his own intestinal impulses. Marino is ably supported by a familiar cast of character actors whose presence give the movie a polished and professional feel (again, whether “polished and professional” is what you want from your butt-monster movie may be a matter of personal taste). Peter Stormare, as a disheveled, New Age-y hypnotherapist (“witch doctor!,” accuses his parrot) is the movie’s quirkiest creation. Mary Kay Place amuses as Duncan’s cradle-robbing mom who gives her son T.M.I. about her S&M lifestyle. Stephen Root plays a pothead whose laid back attitude proves a constant struggle for him, while Patrick Warburton proves a natural as a genially sociopathic middle manager. For the most part, the script’s humor emerges easily from the absurd premise and capable performances, and rarely feels strained.

Milo‘s unexpectedly layered psychology involves learning to cope with buried neuroses rather than letting them become impacted, paternal abandonment issues, and, most importantly, a fear of parenthood angle. Duncan may explicitly deny that the monster up his butt is a metaphor, but the movie begs to differ. And that very fact may hurt Milo with its target audience: by being more thoughtful and probing than the usual movie about butt-monsters, it passes up a lot of scatological opportunities, which may explain why it failed to wow the midnight movie crowds. This is a case where the movie might benefit from a less tasteful approach.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its creators usually know when to let their inherently insane ideas speak for themselves.”–Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE TRUTH ABOUT EMANUEL (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Francesca Gregorini

FEATURING: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel

PLOT: A troubled teenage girl becomes obsessed with the single mom who moves in next door.

Still from The Truth About Emanuel (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This metaphorical psychodrama is dreamy, but not quite dreamy enough to qualify as “weird.”

COMMENTS: Although it flirts with head games, The Truth About Emanuel is steadfastly a drama and not a psychological thriller; it does contains a twist, however, that makes it hard to discuss the plot without giving away an intended surprise. Suffice it to say that the twist arrives early, isn’t too terribly difficult to guess, and is milked almost entirely for its surface metaphor rather than as a source of suspense. Emanuel (Scodelario) is a smart but sullen teen girl, a female Holden Caulfield with a morbid streak. She has her name (spelled in the masculine form) tattooed on her arm, and nothing but sarcastic comments for her desperate-to-connect stepmother and a nerdy coworker. Emanuel feels existential survivor’s guilt due to the fact that her mother died giving birth to her. Enter new neighbor Linda (Biel), a young mother in constant need of babysitting services, with whom Emanuel immediately connects (inspiring vicarious maternal jealousy and lesbian panic in her stepmom). The two women’s relationship quickly takes a turn for the symbiotically, and symbolically, unhealthy. Despite the fact that the film’s big bombshell is dropped at the end of the first act, the movie as a whole feels very slow-developing. It can also be heavy-handed, moving its characters around stiffly so that they hit their psychological marks on cue. On the plus side, the acting and general technical quality of the film is good. Kaya Scodelario has a fine presence (the camera loves her big, haunted blue eyes), and although her role as a morose teen doesn’t require her to stretch her talents too much, I expect to see more of her in coming years. Biel is natural as always, putting in another of her effortlessly classy performances that make me wonder if maybe she shouldn’t be a bigger star than she is. The two women share good chemistry in this very gynocentric film. Even aside from the thematic obsession with motherhood and the mother/daughter relationship, Emanuel is very much the aggressor and dominant partner in her budding romance with her Elijah-Wood-as-Frodo-looking boyfriend; this movie, in fact, would fail the reverse Bechdel test. Despite some slightly distracting budget CGI, a lovingly constructed dream sequence works as an emotional and symbolic centerpiece. Along with one glancing shot that introduces some subjective ambiguity into the entire scenario, that dream gives the film just a touch of weirdness, although there’s not much here that will stretch the aesthetic boundaries of anyone who’s seen an independent film or two in their times. The Truth About Emanuel isn’t subtle in its symbolism, but it is an earnest and a generally effective exploration of maternal longing, brainier and more poetic than the average chick flick.

The Truth About Emanuel played Sundance in 2013 under the more intriguing title Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. The revised, generic title may sound less weird, but it is arguably more misleading than the Truth About Fishes. It’s being released on video-on-demand contemporaneously with its limited theatrical release, which has now become the official distribution strategy for independent films.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…has elements that are weirdly creepy, yet it still manages to be surprising and achingly sad.”–Nina Garin, San Diego Union-Tribune (contemporaneous)

 

CAPSULE: RICKY (2009)

DIRECTED BY: François Ozon

FEATURING: Alexandra Lamy, Mélusine Mayance, Sergi López

PLOT:  A single mom factory worker gives birth to a very special baby; of course, every mother

Still from Ricky (2009)

thinks her baby is miraculous, but in this case the press thinks so, too.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  A minor but sometimes effective meditation on motherhood, Ricky might not be good enough to make this exclusive list even if it were extremely bizarre.  Its “what if” premise and strange, vacillating tone is just off-normal enough to place the movie within the weird genre, but it in no way pushes the boundaries of the bizarre.

COMMENTS:  If you’ve read other reviews of Ricky, you might have already discovered what it is that makes this baby special; only a few critics have managed to keep the film’s turning point a secret.  I don’t think it’s necessary to give away the surprise to discuss the film, but you might be able to figure it out anyway from context.  It’s less important precisely what it is that makes Ricky a special baby, which is mainly a matter of concern for the special effects crew, then it is to consider the role Ricky’s “specialness” plays in the story: a metaphor for the wonder with which a mother views her own offspring.  The wizardry that brings the baby to life is inconsistent—the analog elements are neat looking, if unconvincing, while the digital realizations are just unconvincing—but that’s not what most people will find unsatisfactory about the film.  Ricky begins life as a dreary domestic drama, then shifts gears about halfway through and tries to be a whimsical semi-comedy before gliding into a mystical, suspiciously happy ending.  As the movie gets weirder the tone gets lighter, but the hard realities of the earlier drama still weigh it down.  The two hemispheres of the movie work against each other; the part of the movie that’s well done is kind of boring, while the more intriguing portion often seems thrown together on the fly.  As stressed lower-middle class parents Katie and Paco, Alexandra Lamy and Sergi López are believably flawed: they bicker and accuse each other, they sometimes neglect Katie’s older child Lisa, and they can be irresponsible parents (no pediatrician for Ricky?), but in the end they fight through their own limitations to do the right thing for their offspring.  Lamy sells the film’s potentially ridiculous emotional climax and makes it affecting; a poor performance would have turned it into pure camp.   It’s a serious and thoughtful movie with points to praise (particularly Lamy’s performance); but, even as an experiment in deliberately inconsistent tone, it’s hard to say the film works on the whole.  In the end, Ricky never really gets off the ground.

The movie begins with an out-of-sequence prologue that’s incompatible with the rest of the story.  Although the scene frustrates and confuses some viewers, it’s a great tear-jerking moment for Lamy; and, more importantly, by it contrasting the grim reality of single parenthood with the fantasy that follows, it’s the key to the film’s psychology.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film is bewildering. I don’t know what its terms are, and it doesn’t match any of mine. I found myself regarding it more and more as an inexplicable curiosity.”–Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times (contemporaneous)

73. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF LITTLE DIZZLE (2009)

Recommended

“It was smart and weird and different and exciting.  I was just curious to see how it would turn out.”–Actress Tania Raymonde on The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle script

DIRECTED BY: David Russo

FEATURING: Marshall Allman, Vince Vieluf, , Tania Raymonde, Tygh Runyan

PLOT: Dory has a good job as a data manager, but he throws it all away when he stomps a co-worker’s cellphone in a fit of sanctimonious anger.  Jobless and desperate, he takes up with a band of janitors led by Weird William, a transvestite Gulf War vet.  When the cleaning crew pilfer experimental cookies from the garbage can of a marketing research firm, they discover that the addictive treats have odd side effects: not only do they cause hallucinations, they also make men who eat them pregnant.

Still from The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer/director David Russo worked himself through college as a janitor.  He was deeply affected by an incident where he found an undisposed of miscarriage in a toilet bowl, and that sight became the genesis of The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle.
  • Dizzle is only cinematographer Neil Holcomb’s second feature film as Director of Photography, but since childhood he has worked on over fifty major movies and television shows as a gaffer, best boy, or grip.  At age twelve he got his second job in movies, working in the electrical department on David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet (1986) .
  • The film was distributed by Tribeca Film, in association with American Express.  It’s strange to see corporate sponsorship for an underground, anti-corporate movie, and it will be interesting to see if the trend continues.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A smear of fluorescent blue in a porcelain-white toilet bowl.  Other images are more arresting, but this is the one that recurs over and over: in hallucinations, hanging on the wall of a snooty art gallery, and as a “grade A blowout” discovered in a commode by the janitors on their appointed rounds.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  It may be a comedy about male pregnancy, but this is no obvious Hollywood yuk-fest like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Junior.  There’s a minimum of morning sickness jokes, and a maximum psychedelic cookie freak-outs.  About society’s outsiders and their skewed experiences in a society that’s more insane than they are, Dizzle is made in the underground spirit of Alex Cox’s Repo Man, but with contemporary digital visual gags reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.  This is a movie that contains a cross-dressing, pot-smoking, ex-military entrepreneur named “Weird William”—and he’s barely a footnote in the catalog of the movie’s oddities.


Original trailer for The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle

COMMENTS:  For about ninety minutes, Little Dizzle races along with an insane, kitchen sink Continue reading 73. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF LITTLE DIZZLE (2009)

CAPSULE: SPLICE (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Vincenzo Natali

FEATURING: Adrien Brody, , Delphine Chanéac

PLOT: When two geneticists (Brody and Polley) mix some human DNA into a cloning

Still from Splice (2010)

experiment, they end up with a rapidly aging chimera child whom neither of them can control.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite some bizarre mutation imagery, most of the film remains solidly within the realm of the horror-infused family melodrama, and tends to be more icky than weird.

COMMENTS: Canadian writer-director Natali, best known for his low-budget thriller Cube, has created a love letter to mad scientist stories, from Frankenstein to Cronenberg’s The Fly.  All the expected clichés are present and accounted for, from the sterile, blue-tinted milieu of industrial science right down to the Jurassic Park-worthy mantra of “What’s the worst that could happen?”  In Splice, however, these trappings are refashioned to create a demented parable about the dangers of bad parenting, and much of the film’s commentary in this vein is delightfully on-target.  The scientific method gets entangled with the geneticists’ emotional hang-ups as they try to raise the part-human Dren (Chanéac).  This results in hilarious exchanges like one where Brody cries, “Specimens need to be contained!” and Polley responds, “Don’t call her that!”

However, as the story moves from the laboratory to a rural farmhouse, the film realizes its unpleasantly taboo-violating trajectory.  From there on in, the film trades its humorous insights in for gross-outs and gore, with a climax so unnecessarily vile it makes you want to take a shower while bemoaning its reductive view of gender. Still, Splice has a lot to offer the weird movie fan, as certain images, such as a press conference that becomes a bloodbath or Dren’s development into a bald, feral adolescent, won’t soon be forgotten.  Like his characters, Natali is a kind of mad scientist, deftly integrating the pains of child rearing into an age-old sci-fi premise; maybe next time, there’ll be a little more method to his madness.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s fascinating, sweet and especially grotesque – a distorted aspect of an overall analysis of post-millennial parental fears – all at the same time, and makes for some utterly bizarre imagery. In fact, I think I can say, without a shred of hyperbole, that this movie has some of the strangest moments you’ll see on film this year. If not in the next several years. Or maybe you’ve already seen a man dancing the waltz with a beautiful woman who is reverse jointed, has a mirror effect face, a monkey’s tail and a scorpion’s stinger?”–Nick DaCosta, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: GRACE (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Solet

FEATURING: Jordan Ladd, Gabrielle Rose, Stephen Park

PLOT: A mother gives birth to a stillborn baby girl after a car wreck leaves her young family dead. The baby, however, comes back to life shortly after she is born. Unfortunately, the infant girl, with her proclivity to attract flies and drink human blood, is far from what her mother expected from parenthood.

Still from Grace (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are sequences in Grace that approach a state of uncomfortable strangeness, but too often the movie subverts itself and stews in its own conformity by sticking to horror conventions. By the time there’s a chance for a chance for what might have been a truly remarkable climax, the film has devolved into a maternal instincts cat-and-mouse thriller of sorts.

COMMENTS: Out of the gate, Grace has a strong concept that needs to be applauded. The undead-baby market has been virtually untapped, and I’m glad someone finally “went there.” The indie horror circuit has buzzed about writer and director Paul Solet as the next big thing, and this, his feature-length debut, is a notable entry amidst the middling horror releases this year. This is a strong film that is fresh, fairly terrifying, and smarter than one might think.

Grace’s complicated spirit masks itself in familiar trappings. It has an intellectual mindset, full of surprisingly difficult questions about a myriad of issues: veganism, lesbianism, midwives, maternal instincts, and coping with loss. And while we don’t always know where the filmmakers stand on said issues, posing the questions is intriguing enough. The ideas revolve around the modern family, and its new-found complexities in the 21st century coalescing with the timeless trials of parenthood. We witness complex relationships where people are intertwined in ways that are hard to understand, and at times hard to take; this is a movie where a woman asks her husband to suck her breast like he was a baby out of maternal grief for her dead son!

But in the end, it chickens out quietly and ends up being a horror movie like all the rest. The plot untangles rather quickly as we shift from a particularly nasty mother-daughter relationship to a thriller involving a mother-in-law off her rocker. In a brief 87 minutes, we’re back to basics, with only a hint of weird lying around as a memento in the form of Grace, a somewhat zombified child. What could have been something remarkable is instead just good, and while it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, I was really looking for something more from a film that proposed such interesting ideas.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a horror movie but not a simple genre widget. That it’s rooted in reality gives its strange images the power to disturb. Even its environment is unusual, informed by women’s studies and alternative medicine.”-Michael Ordona, LA Times (contemporaneous)

22. ERASERHEAD (1977)

“He showed me this little script he had written for Eraserhead.  It was only a few pages with this weird imagery and not much dialogue and this baby kind of thing.”–Jack Nance

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY

FEATURING: ,

PLOT:  Henry is a factory worker living in a dingy apartment in a desolate urban nowhere.  His girlfriend Mary’s mother informs him the girl has given birth to his child–although Mary objects, “Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!”  Henry and Mary get married and care for the monstrous, reptilian, constantly crying infant until Mary can take no more and deserts the family, leaving Henry alone to care for the mutant and to dream of the oatmeal-faced woman who lives inside his radiator and sings to him about the delights of heaven.

eraserhead

BACKGROUND:

  • Eraserhead was started with a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute while Lynch was a student at their conservatory.  Initially, the 21 or 22 page script was intended to run about 40 minutes.  Lynch kept adding details, like the Lady in the Radiator (who was not in the original script), and the movie eventually took five years to complete.
  • When Lynch ran out of money from the AFI, the actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Hollywood production designer Jack Fisk, contributed money to help complete the film.  Fisk also played the role of the Man in the Planet.
  • Lynch slept in the set used for Henry’s apartment for a year while making the film.
  • After the initial screening, Lynch cut 20 minutes off of the film.  Little of the excised footage survives.
  • Eraserhead was originally distributed by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films and was marketed as a “midnight movie” like their previous underground sensation, El Topo (1970).
  • Based on the success of Eraserhead, Lynch was invited to create the mainstream drama The Elephant Man (1980)  for Paramount, a huge critical success for which he received the first of his three “Best Director” nominations at the Academy Awards.
  • Jack Nance had at least a small role in four other Lynch movies, and played Pete Martell in Lynch’s television series, “Twin Peaks.”   His scenes in the movie adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1990) were deleted. Nance died in 1997 after being struck in the head in an altercation at a doughnut shop.
  • Lynch has written that when he was having difficulty with the direction the production was heading, he read a Bible verse that tied the entire vision together for him, although he has refused to cite the verse and in a recent interview actually claims to have forgotten it.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The iconic image is Henry, wearing that expression permanently lodged between the quizzical and the horrified, with the peak of his absurd pompadour glowing in the light as suspended eraser shavings float and glitter behind him.  Of course, Eraserhead is nothing if not a series of indelible images, so others may find the scarred man who sits by the broken window, the mutant infant, or the girl in the radiator to be the vision that haunts their nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDEraserhead is probably the greatest recreation of a nightmare ever filmed, a marvelous and ambiguous mix of private and cosmic secrets torn from the subconscious. Or, as Lynch puts it, it’s “a dream of dark and disturbing things.”

Original trailer for Eraserhead

COMMENTS:  When you tell people you are interested in “weird” movies, I’d wager at least half Continue reading 22. ERASERHEAD (1977)