Tag Archives: Quirky

CAPSULE: ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (2005)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: John Hawkes, Miranda July, Miles Thompson, Brandon Ratcliff

PLOT: A cross-section of humanity, led by a shoe salesman and an aspiring performance artist, struggles to make connections in a world dominated by digital barriers to humanity.

Still from Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Much of the weirdness here comes from the unusual situations that seemingly ordinary people find (or put) themselves in. Ultimately, the outrageousness of some of July’s premises are unexpected and threaten propriety, but they’re not really weird in and of themselves.

COMMENTS: Richard and Christine walk down a street; at the end, they will part company to go separate ways to their cars. But they can see the end coming, and the walk becomes much more. One of them views the stroll as a surrogate first date; the other sees it as an entire relationship encapsulated in these few fleeting minutes. The stakes are high, but leavened with artifice. It’s a meet-cute and a relationship-cute all in one.

July is an artist, so there are plenty of moments like this in her debut feature. In fact, Me and You and Everyone We Know (and that’s the last time I’ll type out the whole title) is a movie of moments, and each of those moments is carefully observed. A magic trick with a flaming hand, the pending demise of a goldfish, an explanation for an inspirational t-shirt… these bits and more are treated with great importance and gravity. Your answer to the question of whether films need to spend more time exploring the inner lives of the characters will ultimately determine whether you view this as unusually fulfilling or as tedious and self-indulgent.

In the spirit of filmmakers like or , everyone is connected in Everyone We Know, but no one can connect. In particular, the lead roles stand as stark opposites in their relation to the world around them. Hawkes’ Richard clearly wants connection, but has been so unsuccessful in making it happen that he’s essentially written it off. July’s Christine, meanwhile, is determined to reach out to others, and is willing to bypass conventional norms to make it happen. She creates artwork that places herself in front of invented throngs of attentive viewers or among people she barely knows; she ferries the elderly around town in a personal driving service, and facilitates a romance for one of her patrons; she even accosts Richard’s ex in a department store and persuades her to buy a picture frame. She’s essentially made the Manic Pixie Dream Girl into the star of the movie, instead than a construct to facilitate a hero’s awakening. We see her desperation as pure, but it’s also not surprising that she comes across as inappropriate, even oppressive, in her determination to break through to others.

Interestingly, while the central romance is viewed purely through emotional need, most of the people in their orbit see love exclusively through the prism of sex, and that’s where the film plays with surprising and incendiary material. A man sidesteps laws about pedophilia by posting his dirty thoughts on signs he hangs in his window. Two teenage girls attempt to prove their maturity by performing oral sex on a neighborhood boy they don’t even much like. In the most shocking interlude, that same boy’s much younger brother unwittingly engages in a corprophilic chatroom session and then arranges an assignation with his online partner. At every step, the same question arises: “Are they really going to go there?” July absolutely is going to go there, because she wants to show how inarguably deluded these people are, mistaking kink for being grown-up, crudeness for connection.

It’s tempting to say Me and You features adults acting like children and children acting like adults, but that undersells the dangerous behavior everyone finds themselves engaging in. These are all children, some chronologically, all emotionally. July sees a way for all them to grow up, but it’s something they’re going to have to do together. As the film closes, some of them are going to try, and from July’s perspective, that’s cause for hope.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In an age of formula films, writer/director/actor Miranda July has discovered the priceless value of people – ordinary people who behave in a magnificently bizarre fashion. Yet every single one of them in Me and You and Everyone We Know seems highly credible, more real than imagined. A clever screenwriter and inspired director, July takes us places no other filmmaker has ever visited.” – Bruce Feld, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

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

CAPSULE: MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Dash Shaw

FEATURING: Voices of , Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham,

PLOT: An antisocial sophomore writer for the school newspaper becomes a hero when an earthquake causes (as the title suggests) his entire high school to sink into the sea.

Still from My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The central premise is more macabrely whimsical than surreal, and while the animation is out there, it’s not enough to advance this underground comic come to life to the grade of “weird.”

COMMENTS: An offbeat collision between “Daria” and The Poseidon Adventure, Dash Shaw’s My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (adapted from his own comic) dips its toe into the waters of weirdness, but never wholly submerses itself. That’s fine, because it really isn’t aiming at all-out satire or savage surrealism. It’s content to be what it is: a quirky, amused, and almost-but-not-quite nostalgic look at horrors of high school cliquiness. Dash Shaw (yes, the protagonist is named after the writer) is a pretentious high school sophomore only recently recovered from a plague of freshman acne, with high hopes for the upcoming school year. He writes for the school paper and quarrels with his only friend, Assad, when the latter strikes up a romantic relationship with their editor, Verti (proving that just because you’re a nerd doesn’t mean you can’t also be a jerk). When an earthquake sends their precariously-perched school sinking into the sea, the three junior journalists team up with the sophomore class president and an ass-kicking lunch lady to save as many of their fellow students as possible.

Characterization, plot and comedy take a back seat to the visuals, which, while generally crude squigglevision-style inkings, are at the same time enormously inventive and constantly shifting so that the eye is never bored. Cut outs, silhouettes, and a yogic lung-cam are among the styles Shaw assays, along with undersea lava lamps and a psychedelic scene that features super-closeups on individual pixels. Tributes to Mortal Kombat and the Peanuts are among the visual gag, and Shaw gives the “normal” scenes unreal color schemes to further liven things up.

Satirical highlights include a popular girl eaten by sharks and a senior football star who sets up his own fiefdom, but the plot is just a serviceable frame to hang the animation on. As a comedy, it doesn’t produce a lot of laughs, but the gently snarky, tongue-in-cheek tone is pleasant. It comes close to earning a “recommended” tag, but while High School easily earns a passing grade—we’ll say a B+ average—it’s not graduating with honors. It’s a bit of a slacker, honestly, skating by on natural intelligence and outsider charm. It does earn a qualified recommendation for experimental animation fans, high school satire completists, and anyone looking for an amiable way to kill 90 minutes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A super-fun, bananas-weird tale of thrilling heroics and life-defining friendships animated with collage, line art, paint, Sixties liquid-light effects, and realistic botanical and animal sketches.”–Ashley Moreno, Austin Chronicle (festival screening)

CAPSULE: GIRL ASLEEP (2015)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rosemary Myers

FEATURING: , Harrison Feldman, Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon, Imogen Archer, Eamon Farren, Maiah Stewardson

PLOT: A socially awkward girl falls asleep at her disastrous and unwanted 15th birthday party and enters a fantasy world.

Still from Girl Asleep (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Content to dawdle pleasantly through a merely quirky opening, Girl Asleep doesn’t make a mad dash for the weird until its midpoint. It’s an eccentric and worthy entry in the feminine coming-of-age subgenre, but not strange enough for the List.

COMMENTS: Girl Asleep is like what might result if you put Labyrinth, Napoleon Dynamite, and a random movie in a blender. Other critics have been quick to pick up on the last two influences, but not so much on the first one, which is crucial to us. Girl takes a radical turn at the midpoint, when Greta enters a blatantly allegorical dream world, which takes it in a direction Anderson probably would never have gone. ( might have, but he would not have kept it so sweet).

But let’s back up a bit. Girl starts off simply enough, with soon-to-be 15-year old Greta at a new school on the first day. (The fact that “new school: first day” is written on a basketball being thrown up in the air is our tip-off that this film will have a spry and offbeat sense of humor—look out for objects with informational titles spread throughout  the film). Cue Elliot, the movie’s indefatigably upbeat nerd, who’s the first to strike up a friendship with the newcomer. Second to approach her are Jade, Sapphire and Amber, the school’s bitchy-cool girls, who “take a shine” to her like a team of Australian Heathers. Dad wears short-shorts and Mom wears denim pantsuits—this is the Seventies, after all, as the home’s gold-and-avocado color scheme informs us. Older sis is aloof, but her smooth-talking boyfriend’s plunging neckline and aquamarine party van stir instincts inside of Greta. After a string of ordinary teenage humiliations, things get really embarrassing when Mom plans a fifteenth birthday bash for the wallflower so she can meet the neighbors in the most awkward way possible. A magical realist album cover from chain-smoking heart-throb Benoit Tremet and spontaneous disco numbers keep a weirder-than-average vibe going through the first forty minutes.

Fleeing to her bedroom mid-party, an electric shock from a music box sends Greta into a dark Gothic woods to retrieve her symbolic innocence from a bird puppet and a mucousy swamp thing with a porn stache. It never gets uncomfortably weird, but she sees lots of strange sights in the woods, derangements that persist when she returns to her party. The easy-to-grasp analogies between Greta’s real life and her dream world, strengthened by the fact that the same actors portray characters in the fantasy, will remind experienced travelers of familiar psychic terrains (from Mirrormask and the aforementioned Labyrinth). The simplified sub-Freudian symbolism is appropriate for the target age group, just frightening enough to hint at the challenges of adulthood without tossing Greta into the frightening orgies of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. The plot’s zigs and offbeat jokes keep us on our toes and, despite the mild absurdism, the kids are as likable, flawed and realistic as any John Hughes cast. Overall, it’s a fun movie that will serve as a fine escalation of the possibilities of fantastic cinema for adolescents, while the quirky setting amuses adults.

Matthew Whittet, who also plays the dad, adapted Girl Asleep from his own play. Rosemary Myers directs. Although Whittet has an established career as an actor (appearing in Moulin Rogue! and The Great Gatsby), this is his first published screenplay. Girl is the first credit of any kind for Myers. Both have promising futures, as do Bethany Whitmore and Harrison Feldman, the film’s two young leads.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…plays like the love child of Jane Campion and Guy Maddin, an otherworldly quinceañera that celebrates female rites of passage and the hallucinatory power of film.”–Serena Donadoni, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

255. RUBIN & ED (1991)

“People try to make me sound a lot… weird… and just, strong, you know, I’m strong!”–Crispin Glover on “Late Night with David Letterman”

“Talk about el weirdo.”–Ed, on Rubin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Howard Hessman, , , Michael Greene

PLOT: Ed is a recently-separated loser who joins “the Organization,” a cult-like real estate pyramid scheme. Rubin is a shut-in nerd whose mother takes away his boom box and refuses to return it until he makes a single  friend. When Ed tries to recruit Rubin to attend an Organization seminar, Rubin agrees to go, on the condition that Ed helps him find a place to bury his dead pet cat.

Still from Rubin and Ed (1991)


BACKGROUND:

  • Rubin & Ed was Utah-based director Trent Harris’ first feature film after making the three documentary/narrative hybrid shorts known as “The Beaver Trilogy” (the first installment is a documentary featuring an oddball kid who performs in drag as Olivia Newton-John, while the next two recreate the first using actors and Crispin Glover, respectively).
  • Glover created Rubin Farr for another role that never materialized. He convinced Harris, who was looking for a project for his feature film debut, to write a script around the character.
  • In 1987, three years before Rubin & Ed began filming, a stuttering, awkward Crispin Glover appeared in character as Rubin on “Late Night with David Letterman.” Letterman thought Glover was there to promote River’s Edge, and walked off his own set when Glover almost kicked him in the head while wearing Rubin’s giant platform shoes. The segment only lasted a little over four minutes. Many Americans who saw it live assumed Glover was wasted on psychedelic drugs.
  • Although it had a reasonable degree of star power and was produced by major independent Working Title Films (who released the Palme d’Or winning Barton Fink the same year), Rubin & Ed initially received terrible reviews made a mere $15,000 in its original theatrical run. The film flopped so badly that the studio pulled funding for another Trent Harris project that had already been greenlit. Rubin & Ed later found a small cult following on VHS.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Rubin’s happy hallucination, which features his previously-dead cat alive and waterskiing while its owner relaxes in a floating inner-tube wearing shoes with two foot heels, on which the bikini babe motoring the speedboat compliments him.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Weaponized platform shoes; waterskiing cat; insole slurping

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though structured as a quirky comedy, not too different from the usual outing of the period, Rubin and Ed has a gaggle of weird points in its favor, including a hallucination scene with a water skiing cat and a lunatic Crispin Glover playing something very near the Crispin Glover-iest character ever written. Its sense of humor is so eccentric that it’s been forced off-road to become strictly a cult curiosity.


Trailer for Rubin & Ed

COMMENTS: “It’s going to get weird now, isn’t it?,” frets Ed, after Continue reading 255. RUBIN & ED (1991)

LIST CANDIDATE: LI’L QUINQUIN (2014)

P’tit Quinquin

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bruno Dumont

FEATURING: Alane Delhaye, Bernard Pruvost, Philippe Jore, Lucy Caron

PLOT: A big city detective with facial tic disorder comes to a remote French beach village to investigate a bizarre double murder: parts of the victims were found inside the bodies of cows.

Still from Li'l Quinquin (2014)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Bruno Dumont’s sprawling (206 minute) longform Gallic mystery is quirky and ominous in about equal measure, with an ambiguous non-conclusion that adds to the weirdness while also making the entire enterprise feel strangely incomplete.

COMMENTS: Because of its quirky dark humor and strange-outsider-in-a-stranger-town mystery plot, L’il Quinquin almost always dubbed “the French ‘Twin Peaks.'” Indeed, it shares many of that series’ strengths and weaknesses: absurd, dark humor; meandering subplots that can become more interesting than the main thread; fascinating rural eccentrics; a hint of the supernatural; and an unsatisfactory resolution.

That last part bears keeping in mind. Although L’il Quinquin is presented as a mystery, beginning with the macabre discovery of human body parts inside of cows, the murders are, most frustratingly, not solved at the end. This fact is in accord with the director’s wishes—he presents a world where evil is allowed to triumph, even to the extent of remaining anonymous—but, after such an amazing buildup, the anticlimax inevitably leaves a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste.

That disappointment won’t arrive until the very end, however, and there is much to savor up until then. We’ll start with the performance of Bernard Pruvost as Commandant Van der Weyden, a detective who looks like Albert Einstein with uncontrollable facial tics—his expression changes an average of two times per second. Pruvost projects a weird sort of competence, and serves as the film’s disapproving moral center, but shares the limelight with Alane Delhaye as the titular Quinquin, a mischievous “bad kid” who absorbs the town’s unreflective racism, but is redeemed by his innocence and his genuine love for a neighbor girl (Lucy Caron, whose penetrating stare recalls the blank intensity of Kara Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom). There’s also an African Muslim boy who snaps when a popular white girl rejects him; a beautiful and talented young chanteuse who seems bound for the big city; Carpentier, Van der Weyden’s dim and nearly toothless second-in-command; Quinquin’s uncle, a speechless, nearly catatonic wreck just back from the institution, given to wandering around in circles; and dozens of other weirdos in brief bits (like the developmentally-disabled English man who throws dishes in a restaurant while the detective is giving a status report to his superior officer). Offbeat comic touches, often quite absurd, break up the serious dramatic sections: a pair of priests preside over an awkward funeral and giggle inappropriately; Quinquin is bedeviled by a costumed younger boy calling himself “Speedyman!” who shows up on his doorstep without explanation; a car careens down the street on two wheels. But in the midst of all this everyday madness, things grow ever darker, as secrets are uncovered and more and more bodies are found, leading the detective to his eventual, apparently final, conclusion: “l’enfer, ici” (“this is Hell, here”).

But for all L’il Quinquin‘s assets, it ends on little more than that involuntary eyebrow shrug by our detached detective. I appreciate an ambiguous ending, when well done, but the idea of a mystery that is never resolved, yet is wrapped up in a way that the audience will find emotionally satisfying, remains cinema’s elusive white whale.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a wonderfully weird and unexpectedly hilarious murder mystery.”–Scott Foundas, Variety (festival screening)

207. ARIZONA DREAM (1993)

“Hollywood bureaucracy has been established precisely to prevent films like this from being made.”– Roger Ebert on Arizona Dream

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Johnny Depp, , Faye Dunaway, , Jerry Lewis

PLOT: Axel, a fish-tagger in New York City, dreams of an Eskimo boy who finds a fish with both eyes on one side of its head. His old friend Paul, an aspiring actor, visits him and tricks him into returning to his childhood home in Arizona to attend the wedding of his uncle, a Cadillac dealer, who wants Axel to join the family business. Axel decides not to return to his old life when he becomes romantically entangled with an emotionally unstable older woman and her suicidal stepdaughter.

Still from Arizona Dream (1993)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was Serbian director Emir Kusturica’s first (and so far, only) American film. For some reason, Warner Brothers threw gobs of money at a Yugoslavian director known for his surreal political art films, then was surprised when the result wasn’t a typical romantic comedy. The film was completed in 1991 but Warner sat on the property, not releasing it in the US until 1994, after a successful European run. Warner also cut 20 minutes from the film so that it would come in under 120 minutes. Kusturica and Hollywood did not make a good match, as both parties would surely agree.
  • A 12-minute final sequence that featured Uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis) flying to Earth from the moon in a Cadillac was cut from the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Clearly, as every film poster and DVD cover for the film demonstrates, the halibut swimming through the desert air past a Saguaro cactus is the movie’s unforgettable bit. Kusturica himself agrees: “Isn’t this image of a fish swimming in a deserted architecture… the image of what we are? Dumb fishes, unable to do anything essential for their existence…”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Eskimo dreams; floating fish; pantyhose suicide

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With intrusions of magical realism and cod-philosophizing by a cast of fish-counting dreamers, madwomen who dream of flying, and suicidal turtle-loving accordion players, Arizona Dream plays out like a European attempt to make a Coen brothers comedy. It’s quirkiness magnified to a metaphysical level.


French trailer for Arizona Dream

COMMENTS: Gently floating by, Arizona Dream winds up nowhere in Continue reading 207. ARIZONA DREAM (1993)

LIST CANDIDATE: RUBIN AND ED (1991)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Trent Harris

FEATURING: Howard Hessman, , , Michael Greene

PLOT: Ed, an incompetent but devoted salesman in a cult-like real estate sales “Organization,” agrees to help shut-in Rubin bury his dead cat in hopes of getting him to attend a recruiting seminar.

Still from Rubin and Ed (1991)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At heart it’s a simple quirky comedy, not too much different from the usual outing of the era, but Rubin and Ed has a few extra weird points in its favor: a sense of humor so eccentric that it’s been forced off road to become strictly a cult item, hallucination scenes with a water skiing cat, and Crispin Glover playing something very near the Crispin Glover-iest character ever written.

COMMENTS: “It’s going to get weird now, isn’t it?,” worries Ed after Rubin refuses to bury his decomposing cat in the desert because it’s “not the right spot,” despite the fact that, as Ed points out, “any cat in his right mind would be happy as a clam to be buried here!”

Although almost all of the film concerns Howard Hessman’s sad sack salesman Ed and Crispin Glover’s friendless weirdo Rubin, there are really three stars here: Hessman, Glover, and Trent Harris’ script. Glover is a no-brainer: dressed in skintight pinstripe bell bottoms and giant platform shoes (with magical martial powers), Rubin nearly defines Glover’s odd persona: the mentally ill nerd whose clueless awkwardness seems like it might explode into a burst of senseless violence at any moment. Given how broadly the character is written, Glover actually reigns in his performance, playing the oddness as much with a verbal shrug as with an outburst. Going over-the-top with such a already over-the-top character would have been a mistake, and Glover lets Rubin’s eccentricity come through naturally, rather than trying to force it.

A less expected success is Hessman, whose contribution here as straight man is under-appreciated, but possibly even more important to the film’s success than Glover’s wildness. Hessman  definitely leaves “Johnny Fever” behind for this portrait of a postmodern Willy Loman with anger-management issues, a disrespectful spouse, and an infatuation with the New Age sales teachings of a cult-like “Organization.” His Ed is a pure middle class loser, seeing himself as a trusted acolyte in the hierarchy of real estate guru Mr. Busta, while in actuality being closer in social standing to outcast Rubin.

Most of the laughs in Harris’ clever script result from Ed’s unsuccessful attempts to convert Rubin to the cause. His initial interview question—“are you 100% satisfied with your earning potential, 100% of the time?” is met with an unexpected “yep!” from penniless Rubin. Ed remains the saner of the duo, which is how the comedy dynamic works; the emotional arc of the film comes from his humbling realization that his own failings leave him with no right to judge oddball Rubin. Rubin and Ed was made in the early 90s, but the satire has a strong Reagan-era feel (Ed disappoints his mentor when suggests the best way to get money is “work” rather than the correct answer, “real estate”). The film flags a little at the coda, after Rubin’s storyline has been resolved, but in general Rubin and Ed is a sadly-forgotten, somewhat weird comedy gem that deserves rediscovery.

Rubin and Ed‘s pop culture reach may be limited to the answer to a trivia question: this is the movie Crispin Glover was promoting when he appeared, in character, on David Letterman’s late night TV show and almost kicked the host in the head. (Not knowing anything about Rubin and Ed, America assumed that Glover was wasted on powerful psychedelic drugs at the time).

Rubin and Ed was (sadly, unforgivably) never officially released on DVD, but (VHS-dub quality) copies can be purchased from writer/director Trent Harris at his personal site.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While not sacrificing an iota of Rubin’s weirdness, Glover plays him with a dead-shot comic sureness, demonstrating admirable restraint and discipline. Hesseman similarly scores comic points with Ed by keying in on the character’s humanity while letting his own buttoned-down weirdness speak for itself. “–TV Guide

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

CASPULE: LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (2004)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, , , ,

Still from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Incidents (2004)
PLOT: After the brainy Baudelaire children—Violet (Browning), Klaus (Aiken) and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman)—are orphaned, they move in with their closest living relative, the sinister ham actor Count Olaf (Carrey). Soon after turning the kids into his servants, Cinderella-style, Olaf simply decides to kill them so that he can inherit their parents’ enormous wealth. Will the children’s kindly, snake-loving Uncle Monty (Connolly) and severely phobic Aunt Josephine (Streep) come to their aid? Or are their lives fated to be a series of unfortunate events?

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While highly enjoyable in a -esque sort of way (more on that later), this black comedy for kids is all too reminiscent of earlier, similar tales from the likes of Roald Dahl, Charles Addams, and Edward Gorey. It’s definitely quirky, but not really all that weird.

 COMMENTS: After the staggering success of the Harry Potter franchise, every movie studio in town was looking for a series of fantastical young adult novels that could profitably be filmed. One of the most artistically and commercially successful films of this period was Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is a delightfully mean-spirited good time but also a terribly episodic 107 minutes. This movie is based on Daniel Handler’s first three “Snicket” novels—“The Bad Beginning” (1999), “The Reptile Room” (1999) and “The Wide Window” (1999)—and therein lies the problem. The film, written by Robert Gordon (responsible for the great Galaxy Quest), and narrated in the dulcet tones of Jude Law, is all too clearly an adaptation of three separate books, so that the story seems to resolve itself, than starts up again, than resolves itself again and so forth. There were eventually 13 novels in the series, so sequels to this movie could have been made, but never were. As it is, the film’s curiously stop-and-start pacing is its one great flaw, but almost everything else about it is stellar, particularly the art direction. The movie is set in an indeterminate era; the cars are from the 1950’s, but Meryl Streep dresses like a Dickensian matron. Lemony Snicket features eye-catchingly monochromatic cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki, impressive costumes by Colleen Atwood and stunning production design from Rick Heinrichs (indeed, the film was shot entirely on soundstages, like The Wizard of Oz). This is the same cinematographer/costume designer/production designer team that did Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, and the movie, with its decidedly Grimm sense of humor, is definitely an imitation of Burton’s style— even has an unbilled cameo—but it’s a highly skilful imitation. (Casper’s Brad Silberling was the actual director.) In fact, Silberling’s movie is more “Burton-esque,” and superior to, some actual Burton films like Planet of the Apes and Alice in Wonderland.

The deadpan performances from the kids, whose characters are constantly threatened with death by train, snake, fire and hurricane, and the delightfully over-the-top turns from Carrey (at his manic best), Streep (who matches his nuttiness), and the always delightful Connolly make the pitiful waste of the all-star supporting cast (including Timothy Spall, Catherine O’Hara, Cedric the Entertainer, Luis Guzman, Jane Adams, Jennifer Coolidge, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Handler, Jane Lynch, and the voice of Gilbert Gottfried) easier to take. (As recently as 2014, Craig Ferguson used his talk show to good-naturedly grouse about how his “Person of Indeterminate Gender” character was practically cut out of the film). There is also some extremely impressive animation over both the opening and closing credits, which makes the movie worth sitting through in its entirety. It’s all good, dark, unpleasant fun, but not all that much weirder than the average episode of “The Addams Family.” In fact, director Barry Sonnenfeld, who made the film Addams Family Values, was originally supposed to direct Unfortunate Events. He later criticized Silberling’s movie for spending too much time on Carrey’s scenery-devouring Count Olaf and not concentrating enough on the Baudelaires.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Director Brad Silberling has essentially made a Tim Burton movie, but without the weird shafts of adolescent pain.”—Ty Burr, “The Boston Globe” (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)

Recommended

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.)

CAPSULE: TWISTER (1989)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Suzy Amis, ,

PLOT: A man seeks to reconnect with his daughter and her alcoholic mother, who rarely leave the mansion they share with the family patriarch and a weirdo artist brother/uncle.Twister (1989)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This shambolic mass of quivering quirk is for fans of the cast only—specifically, for fans of Crispin Glover, who, bullwhip in hand, is acting somewhere near the acme of his Crispin Glover-ishness here as a fey would-be artist.

COMMENTS: Harry Dean Stanton is mini-golf mogul and patriarch of the crumbling Cleveland clan in Twister, Michael Almereyda’s odd but mostly unsuccessful debut film. Stanton, who is romancing a local Christian kids’ show host (Lois Chiles), is mildly eccentric, but his children have gone around the bend. Howdy (Crispin Glover) is an effete, sensitive artist in a shaggy Prince Valiant haircut. He plays guitar and sings (badly) and looks constipated most of the time. Sister Maureen (Suzy Amis) is a mess: constantly drinking beer, passing out on the lawn, and imagining helicopters are watching her. According to the story’s plan she’s supposed to be quirky and charming, but her behavior is too unpredictable and dangerously immature to be endearing. She’s an unfit mother, guilty of child endangerment just by being herself. Observing all the crazy are a trio of somewhat normal outsiders: live-in nanny Lola (Charlaine Woodard), whose underdeveloped part seems to be on back-order; victim kid Violet (Lindsay Christman), who is currently normal (against all odds) but in desperate need of rescue; and decent-guy protagonist Chris (Dylan McDermott), who just wants to put his family back together and get his daughter out of the Cleveland’s madhouse.

The title implies a cataclysmic upheaval that never comes. The Cleveland men get and lose girlfriends, the maturity-challenged siblings make plans to visit their absentee mother that don’t get very far, and Chris tries to woo the mother of his child despite increasing evidence that she’s too far gone into alcoholism and mental illness to make a commitment that lasts more than five minutes. By the end, despite the script’s hopeful protestations, we don’t believe that anyone has learned anything, or that anything is going to change for the core family, no matter what new living arrangements they propose. Twister is a character-driven story without genuine character development; things continue to happen, it keeps teasing us that it’s about to turn interesting, and then suddenly it ends, in a light breeze rather than a tornado.

Twister‘s main asset is its cast, and one of its coups was getting beat novelist to show up and deliver a few lines of dialogue. Watching Glover’s performance alongside Burroughs, you sense that the actor based his laborious, over-enunciating schtick on the junkie icon’s odd cadence. Seeing these two cult figures exchange carefully-crafted but halting lines of dialogue is one of Twister’s only small pleasures.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Almereyda finds exactly the right tone: a loopy, understated deadpan that invites empathy rather than ridicule.”–Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by dthoren, who said it “stars Harry Dean Stanton as patriarch of an insane family, including a bullwhip-wielding Crispin Glover in one of his trademark terrible wigs. I love it, and I hope you will too.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)