Tag Archives: Science Fiction

CAPSULE: OPEN YOUR EYES (1997)

Abre los Ojos

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Amenábar

FEATURING: Eduardo Noriega, , Chete Lera, , Fele Martínez, Gérard Barray

PLOT: A playboy’s life is destroyed when his good looks are destroyed in an accident—although his court-appointed psychiatrist, defending him on a murder charge, insists that his face was perfectly reconstructed and it’s all in his imagination.

Still from Open Your Eyes (1997)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Why won’t the dreamlike psychological thriller Open Your Eyes make the List of the Weirdest Movies ever made? Simply because of the film’s ending, where the characters sit down and, with almost airtight logic, explain away every mysterious event that has been going on through a combination of exposition and flashbacks—at one point even using a visual aid.

COMMENTS: It almost goes without saying that Open Your Eyes, the original Spanish psychothriller, is superior to Vanilla Sky, the 2001 remake with . Not that I count myself among the detractors of the Hollywood version—other than the unfortunate turn by the usually reliable Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from the original but with a then-inadequate grasp of the English language, and a few too many pop singles, it’s quite competent. But you owe it to yourself to see the darker, stripped-down original first.

Eduardo Noriega plays Cesar, a handsome, womanizing one-percenter who has everything any guy could ever want: money, leisure time, good looks, and a new plaything in his bed every night. He sees it all taken from him after his face is mutilated in an automobile accident, brought about (indirectly) through his own past philandering—ironically, on the morning after he meets a woman who could be the One who makes him settle down for good. At least, that’s the tale as related to Cesar’s court-appointed psychiatrist from the prison cell where he languishes, awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend. But his story doesn’t add up. For one thing, Cesar, hiding behind a mask, insists that his face is still disfigured, while his psychiatrist tells him it’s been reconstructed. He is also losing his mind, convinced that the woman he is accused of killing was an impostor. Not only that, but he is having vivid dreams that he (and therefore, the audience) can’t immediately distinguish from reality, including one in which he wakes up in a Madrid that has been completely depopulated (a scene memorably re-staged with in an eerily empty Times Square in Vanilla Sky). And to top it all off he has another, fragmentary, set of dreams, which are almost completely obscured; these are visualized onscreen through a hazy filter that makes the action look almost rotoscoped. The psychiatrist’s investigation will eventually unveil the real explanation behind Cesar’s condition.

In the “puzzle movie” genre, Open Your Eyes is a classic, one of the most successful at building up an ontological enigma, then explaining it away with an ingenious (if highly speculative) plot device. The closedness of the narrative solution, however, works against the movie’s weirdness—the movie’s cryptic tension is too fully released, leaving us nothing more to ponder. Still, Open Your Eyes this is highly recommended for those who prefer their mysteries to be completely resolved at the end. And if the hallucination scenes had been just a little more harrowing and fantastical (a la Jacob’s Ladder or Dark City), Open Your Eyes might have squeaked onto the List—or into a rating, at the very least.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…unlikely to satisfy those who insist on linear storytelling and pat endings. But in its deliberately vexing way, ‘Open Your Eyes’ is a film with enough intellectual meat on its stylish bones to give more adventurous moviegoers something to chew on afterward.”–Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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

331. DARK CITY (1998)

Recommended

“The fleetingly improvised men are transient figures of human shape, which naturally disappear or slowly dissolve after a short period of existence. Their appearance always is the result of a wonder.

Fleetingly improvised men lead a dream life. As a result, they are incapable of entering a regular conversation with people around them.

Fleetingly improvised men sometimes resemble dead people.”–M. Rautenberg, Daniel Paul Schreber: Beginner’s Guide to Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

DIRECTED BY: Alex Proyas

FEATURING: Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson

PLOT: John Murdoch awakens in a bathtub, remembering nothing: certainly not the reason why the dead, mutilated woman is in the other room. As he travels through a night-cursed city to discover his identity, John is simultaneously pursued by a dogged police detective, a psychiatrist who knows more than he lets on, and a coterie of very pale gentlemen in black coats and hats. Ultimately he discovers that his alleged past is just that—and that the forces behind the frame-up are responsible for something far more grand and sinister.

Still from Dark City (1998)

BACKGROUND:

  • The opening narration, included over Alex Proyas’ objections, was included at the insistence of producers who feared the audience would be confused by being thrown into this world. Many fans think it’s a spoiler of the worst kind. Proyas’ director’s cut of the film excises the exposition.
  • Proyas based the Strangers’ looks and mannerisms on Richard O’Brien’s “Riff Raff” from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Proyas also wrote the role of “Mr. Hand” specifically for O’Brien.
  • The Matrix not only ripped off did a variation of Dark City’s central premise, it also re-used a number of its actual sets after Dark City‘s production had wrapped up.
  • Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Dr. Daniel Schreber, was named after an early 20th-century schizophrenic who wrote a memoir of his illness.
  • Proyas intended the final showdown between John Murdoch and Mr Book to be an homage to the famed manga comic (and anime) Akira.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll cast aside the montages of warping buildings, stylish noir streets, and sinister Stranger gatherings in favor of the mirroring scenes of Mr. Hand and John Murdoch after their respective imprints. Both rise from the gurney with comparable looks of grim determination, after painfully twitching through a series of forced memories.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Steampunk brain syringes; quick-rise concrete; creepy kid with teeth

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: About five years ago we argued that Dark City shouldn’t make the list. Since then, our minds have been changed—possibly while we were asleep. Any movie the plot of which can be described as “telekinetic collective memory space jelly bugs abduct tens of thousands of earthlings to populate a jumble-Noir cityscape in perpetual darkness in order to find out more about us” deserves a slot on the list of the weirdest movies ever made. The fact that it follows its dream logic into uncanny valley Gothic visuals is to its credit as well.


Original trailer for Dark City

COMMENTS: Focus. Focus. Every event flows into, bolsters, and undermines every other event. John Murdoch can defeat the Strangers Continue reading 331. DARK CITY (1998)

GEORGES MELIES TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) FLICKER ALLEY BLU-RAY REVIEW

‘ “Trip To The Moon,” made in 1902, is, I believe, the oldest film covered on 366 Weird Movies. Yet, in many ways Melies was not only ahead of his time, he is still ahead of his time. Many have called this director “the first true artist of cinema,” and indeed his influence on the most significant art form of the 20th century cannot be overestimated. As a fantasist, he saw himself become unfashionable, and his descent into  poverty and bankruptcy is well-known. Although, Melies considered 1908’s “Humanity Through The Ages” (1908) to be his most ambitious and favorite film (unfortunately, it’s lost), it is “Trip To The Moon” that is his most iconic.

Given its age, this film has been consigned to subpar home video releases over the last two decades. That has changed with Flicker Alley’s new Blu-ray release.

For years, there was no known copy of Melies’ hand-colored “Trip,” until a nitrate print was discovered in Spain in 1993. Its condition was so deteriorated that it was believed to be unworkable. However, in 2010, 108 years after its release, Lobster Films undertook one of its most ambitious film restorations to date. Working with 13,000 frames, they premiered their digitized reconstruction a year later at the Cannes Film Festival with a new soundtrack by Nicolas Godin and Jean Dunckel.

The Flicker release also features “The Extraordinary Voyage,” an informative and dramatic 65 minute documentary about the film’s labor-heavy restoration. It’s so well-constructed as to be almost mandatory after seeing the film.

Also included is:

  • The black and white version (the only one I saw in my youth) is well-restored, but surprisingly not quite to the level of the preferred (and much more surreal) hand-colored edition. The biggest attraction in this version is the alternative piano score by Frederick Hodges and a voice-over narration by Melies himself; oddly, neither are available in the color print.
  • A twelve-minute interview with the band AIR who provided a new musical score. It’s surprisingly effective in not being overcooked (as is often the case with restoring silent films). While the music is certainly postmodern, the band is sensitive and erudite in paying homage to Melies’ film.
  • Two Melies’ shorts: “The Astronomer’s Dream” (1898) and the surreally erotic “Eclipse: The Courtship of the Sun and the Moon” (1907). Neither film attains “Trip”‘s level of wonder, but both are recommendable in their own right. However, the latter does gives credence to period criticism that by this time Melies was repeating himself and a certain sense of fatigue was setting in.

Still from restored A Trip to the Moon (1902)The Flicker release comes with a gorgeous scholarly 25 page book that includes an essay, drawings, and stills.

New viewers may be surprised at the level of wit in “A Trip To the Moon.” The plot (based on elements of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) is simple: European scientists (all dressed in wizard robes), aided by the army (all women in tight short shorts) shoot a rocket to the moon, land in its eye (the most famous image), and due to a storm on the surface, are forced underground where they encounter a crazed crab king and his bug-like subjects. The scientists fight off their attackers, the king gets whacked (by an umbrella/mushroom, which causes him to vanish in a puff of smoke), make it back to the rocket, and become heroes to their naysayers.

At roughly 15 minutes, it’s remarkable not for its plot (although it is one of the earliest  narrative films), but for its aesthetics, made all the more stunning in color. The rapid editing is a marvel, as are the hand-painted sets and the optical illusions typically found in Melies’ oeuvre.

Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray is essential.

CAPSULE REVIEW: NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: DEATH AND REBIRTH (1997)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , , ; , Amanda Winn-Lee, Tiffany Grant (English dub)

PLOT: Three children are recruited to defend humanity from a series of monstrous Angels.

Still from Evangelion: Death and Rebirth (1997)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While certainly bizarre, there’s no reason to put an uneven recap of a television series in the List when a superior candidate exists in End of Evangelion.

COMMENTS: Despite its reputation as the seminal weird anime, for the majority of its original 26-episode run Neon Genesis Evangelion was not particularly unusual, aside from its penchant for psychosexual and biblical imagery. The series’ most notable quality, its focus on the emotional and psychological well-being of its cast, was remarkable in its depth but hardly unprecedented. Mobile Suit Gundam, arguably the most iconic and influential mecha series of all, made the traumatic nature of war a core part of its storytelling nearly two decades before Evangelion’s existence. The bizarre, surrealist elements that Evangelion is best known for today mostly comprise the last third of the series, culminating in its astonishing final two episodes.

The depletion of the series’ budget forced creator and director Hideaki Anno to complete it using narration over a combination of concept art, storyboards and stock footage. Whether by necessity or choice, the last two episodes of Evangelion more or less abandon the series’ narrative. Instead, they are expressionist psychological studies of the series’ protagonist, Shinji Ikari, and seemingly of Hideaki Anno. Today, Evangelion’ s final episodes are jaw-dropping, but in 1996 they were reviled by fans seeking resolution to a series they loved.

Evangelion: Death and Rebirth only makes sense in the context of the backlash to Neon Genesis Evangelion’s final televised episodes, because it clearly targets jaded fans of the series rather than newcomers. Death and Rebirth feels like a make-good from Anno to fans disappointed by the series’ finale. It is split into two parts: the first, Death, is a 70 minute compilation of clips from the original series, while the second, Rebirth, is a 30 minute preview of End of Evangelion, the film released four months later as a replacement conclusion to the television series. Death serves to remind fans why they loved the series, while Rebirth promises them a more satisfying ending.

Summarizing a plot as dense and labyrinthine as Neon Genesis Evangelion’s in 70 minutes is likely an impossible task. Death and Rebirth makes no effort to actually do so, and is a better film for it. Instead, Death uses events from the series to summarize the emotional journey of its three main characters: the anxious and self-loathing Shinji Ikari, the depressive and reserved Rei Ayanami, and the competitive and narcissistic Asuka Langley. The trio of teenagers are tasked with Continue reading CAPSULE REVIEW: NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: DEATH AND REBIRTH (1997)

CAPSULE: ANNIHILATION (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Garland

FEATURING: , Oscar Isaac,

PLOT: As her husband, the only survivor of an expedition into a bizarre phenomena referred to as the Shimmer, recuperates, a biologist enters the region in search of answers.

Still from Annihilation (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Novelist-turned filmmaker Alex Garland, who wrote the screenplay for Never Let Me Go before making his directing debut with the excellent feature Ex Machina, probably has a really weird movie in him somewhere. This one isn’t quite it—its ambiguities are just a bit too unambiguous—although it’s definitely an off-cadence step in the right direction.

COMMENTS: Without giving away much more of Annihilation than you will find in the trailer, the story involves a trip into a rapidly expanding zone (existing behind a border which looks like a soap bubble) in which Earth’s scientific laws—especially the laws of biology—have gone wacko. Inside the Shimmer, the exploratory team finds deer growing flowers from their antlers, crystalline trees sprouting on the beach, killer animals with unusual mutations, and gruesome videos detailing the misadventures of the previous expedition. (One of these provides the film’s most squirmworthy scene, a true test of the viewer’s intestinal fortitude.) The Shimmer is an extremely colorful world with rainbow colors and (feminine?) floral motifs. That said, I wasn’t always a fan of the film’s visuals, which seemed too unnatural, at the same time too clean and too soft, and sometimes needlessly intrusive (little prismatic sunlight beams distractingly filtering through the forest). Still, the look arguably gives the film a necessarily artificial sheen, and the flowing, fractal climax is well worth the wait for connoisseurs of acid trip visuals.

Annihilation glances at a couple of an science fiction themes: the enclosed “Shimmer” unavoidably recalls Stalker‘s mystical “Zone,” while the ambiguity of the ending is reminiscent of  Solaris. It naturally nods at 2001: A Space Odyssey, the grandaddy of “psychedelic” sci-fi films, too. These are only touchstones, of course: contra Tarkovsky and Kubrick, the movie is modern Hollywood in its overall approach, maximalist in its flowery CGI, and it even includes action sequences and jump scares (and bankable stars like Portman and Isaac) as accommodations to commercial realities.  Whereas 2001 was a meditation on evolution on a macro (even a cosmic) scale, Annihilation draws its scientific impetus from inside, from cellular biology and the fundamentally unfair tricks it plays on us poor humans. Instead of 2001‘s telescope, Annihilation looks at the cosmic through a microscope. The title refers, among other things, to the concept of programmed cell death, the idea that our DNA is coded to self-destruct—a theme mirrored by the film’s psychological exploration of self-destructive personalities. The mutations found within the Shimmer are a sort of alt-science, alien alternative to our biological status quo. Scientifically speaking, they might as well be magic: no firm explanation is ever provided for either the source or motive of the mutations. It leaves you free to ponder questions like whether aliens were behind the phenomenon, why humans are programmed to die, and, curiously, why the last group of volunteers sent into the Shimmer are 100% female.

Annihilation is based on a series of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, but reportedly departs significantly from them (even courting a whitewashing controversy by changing the race of the protagonist). After a short theatrical run, it will play exclusively on Netflix, where it will debut internationally as early as March 7 in some markets (U.S. and Canadian dates are not yet known).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a compromised film, one caught awkwardly between its source material’s daring and its producers’ fears that someone, somewhere might not get it. ‘Be weirder!’ I occasionally grunted at the screen. At the same time, studio horror films starring Oscar winners are rarely this weird. Taken on its own terms, this Annihilation does offer rewards.”–Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SKELETONS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Nick Whitfield

FEATURING: Ed Gaughan, Andrew Buckley, Tuppence Middleton, Paprika Steen, Jason Isaacs

PLOT: Two psychic investigators—memory extractors who literally find “skeletons in the closet”—investigate a missing person case at the request of an eccentric family.

Still from Skeletons (2010)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Skeletons is sort of a whimsical corporate memory scenario, with a dash of humor, on an obvious low budget. Its ambition makes you want to root for it, but the end result is so minor that it ultimately doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

COMMENTS: Naturally gifted but troubled Davis and big-boned Bennett, the more stable of the team, are a pair of—psychic exorcists? Through a combination of technology and mental gymnastics, they are able to enter into people’s memories (entering via their home closets) and discover their secrets. The rules to this procedure are never clearly laid out. We stumble upon certain concepts in the course of the investigation, which is generally a good way to introduce information while keeping up the suspense, but here the technique is sometimes clumsy. (Why the necessity to build a “bypass” around the family’s homestead after the “triangulation fails,” except to buy the script more time to explore a parallel plot development?) At other times, the procedure’s dodgy mechanics lead to amusingly absurd results: “glow chase” too often, and you might end up “going Bulgarian.” One of the strangest things about the premise, which was never explained to my satisfaction, is who exactly the market is for these services. It appears to be couples who are afraid to tell each other their deepest secrets and require professional interventions, New Age dilettantes, and skeptics who end up embarrassed by the revelations; not much of a customer base, in my opinion. Although it’s presented as an unusual assignment, the idea of the two being sent on a missing persons case makes more sense—perhaps their objective perspective will allow them to find a clue in someone’s memory that person would miss. In fact, the movie might work best as the pilot episode for a weekly psychic mystery series that never happened.

Gaughan and Butler, veterans of British television, show good comic timing and chemistry. Each shows a mixture of loyalty to, and exasperation with, the other that makes their long-term partnership believable. They spend their long walks (for budgetary reasons, I guess, no one in their organization owns a car) discussing whether Rasputin was morally admirable. Bennet is concerned about Gaughan’s lifestyle and covers for him, but that doesn’t stop the pair from bickering on the job. The supporting characters do their jobs well: Paprika Steen as the quirky possible widow/potential love interest, Jason Isaacs as the bullying boss. The oddly-named Tuppence Middleton is the weakest link, if only because her suspiciously mute character often plays like more of a plot device than an organic presence. The comedy works, at least in spurts, at its funniest when Gaughan reads off his bureaucratic checklist (“have you ever seen a bear?”) and makes sure clients dot their i’s when signing forms (“yeah, but can you verbally confirm it?”) All in all, Skeletons is an amiable, reasonably witty indie that can’t quite figure out how to efficiently get its multitude of ideas across to the audience, resulting in a near-miss at cult status.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an intriguing, well-acted, quietly funny film that, though it is outright weird most of the time and certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, has a quirky charm and emotional heart all its own.”–Owen Van Spall, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “D-2.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BAD TASTE (1987)

Recommended

 

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Jackson, Pete O’Herne, Terry Potter, Mike Minett, Craig Smith, Doug Wren

PLOT: The citizens of the sleepy town of Kaihoro, New Zealand are killed and packed into boxes by alien operatives marketing a new intergalactic fast-food taste sensation; only a crack squad of fearless Ministry operatives stands between them and total world harvestation.

Still from Bad Taste (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Even if we were at movie zero, Peter Jackson’s debut wouldn’t qualify. It’s gross and, considering the budget, very well made, but it’s more silly than strange. It is also hilarious, and the only really weird thing about it is how often it manages to be simultaneously charming and disgusting.

COMMENTS: Directorial debuts are always interesting, if only to see a filmmakers’ interests and techniques in their beginnings.  planted his flag early with The Falls, establishing himself as an obtuse, technically brilliant painter-turned-documentarian-turned-narrative filmmaker. threw down his gauntlet with Reservoir Dogs, and has pursued a path between hyper-violence and hyper-loquaciousness ever since. And then there’s Peter Jackson. With Bad Taste, he somehow established how he would not turn out. Tone-wise, it would be difficult to find a film further from his beautiful first foray into the “main(er)stream” (1994’s Heavenly Creatures), or his towering fantasy achievement, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, the only connections one could reasonably find between Bad Taste and his popular Tolkien adaptations are staggering competence and New Zealand locations.

A desperate call for help, listened to by a no-handed man. The Minister is panicking and wants to call in the army and air force to deal with the murderous menace; the no-handed man says no: “I think this is a job for real men.” Those real men are none other than Derek (Peter Jackson), Barry, Frank, and Ozzy. Their job: keeping mankind safe from any and all extraterrestrial threats. The enemy: alien harvesters working for “Crumbs Crunchy Delights”, who have killed, chopped, and packed the inhabitants in the small town of Kaihoro. The aliens hope to get a permit to serve humanity, in all its deliciousness, to hungry interstellar fast food connoisseurs. Will our hometown heroes save the day, or will Lord Crumb (Doug Wren) and his swarms of alien goons escape with the samples? One thing’s certain: never before have inhuman monsters underestimated a gang of New Zealand lads so completely.

Bad Taste is a mountain of silly gore that amuses as it grosses out. The movie constantly reinforces the cheekiness of the premise, and the tone never slips into “grisly.” Its most (in)famous scene—the secondhand dinner enjoyed by the third-class aliens in their base—is about as far as Bad Taste pushes its… bad taste. Overall, though, it plays like a nonsense romp through alien-invasion-sci-fi-action. With the bulk of the movie a showdown between the boys and the alien horde, we enjoy a lot of well-executed amateur stunts and gags. That being said, there’s nothing too “weird” here, but “wacky”–most definitely.

To justify, if only slightly, the film’s “Recommended” status, let me say straight-up that this is neither one of the better movies out there, nor even one of the better Peter Jackson movies out there (nor, even, the best low-budget sci-fi movie out there). Before watching it for this review, the last time I’d seen it was during my high school days when I was beginning my exploration of offbeat cinema. The movie, made in 1987 for very little money, has held up astonishingly well, and I’m almost always pleased to boost movies made for the sake of making movies. The subject matter is ridiculous, definitely, but that’s part of its charm. Bad Taste earns its recommendation because it shows what a handful of talented artists can do if they put their minds to it. It doesn’t over-stay its welcome, it’s full of life, and its ample bad taste is more than matched by its charm.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…so over-the-top it achieves a unique level of surreal slapstick.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Review (DVD)

318. CUBE (1997)

“Five improbable entities stuffed together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation, just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the darkness.”–Rod Serling, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”

DIRECTED BY: Vincenzo Natali

FEATURING: Maurice Dean Wint, Nicole de Boer, David Hewlett, Nicky Guadagni, Andrew Miller

PLOT: Apparently selected randomly, people appear in a mysterious, abstract structure which proves to be a vast complex of interconnected cubical rooms harboring random death traps. They struggle to find answers to their predicament and escape. Their lack of trust in each other gradually begins to pose as big a threat to their survival as does the Cube itself.

Still from Cube (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • Cube was shot in twenty days on a sound stage in Toronto with a budget of $350,000 (Canadian), under the auspices of the Canadian Film Center’s “First Feature Project.” CORE Digital Pictures supplied the post-production effects free of charge to show support for the Canadian film industry. It easily made its money back and has developed a cult following since.
  • Only one room was built for the set, although a partial second room was created to be visible through doors between rooms. Gel squares inserted over the lighted wall panels supply color changes.
  • All of the characters are named after prisons, and each name is alleged to have significance for their personalities and fates. Maybe it’s just a fun fan theory?
  • If you search the web for “industrial die holder,” you’ll see what they used for the door handles. Pick one up at the hardware store and add it to your arcane prop collection.
  • Cube has two sequels. Cube 2: Hypercube is basically more of the same, with new and more devious traps, while Cube Zero was an unapologetic B-movie prequel that supplied unnecessary answers to the Cube’s existence. Writer/director Natali was not involved in the sequels.
  • A remake, to be directed by , was announced in 2015.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a claustrophobic production like Cube, our choices are narrowed down to which architectural gimmick makes the deepest impression. We might as well spoil as little as possible and select the first one, where a bald character gets diced by a fast-moving razor-wire trap. It’s all the more shocking because he’s the face featured on all the film posters. The fact that he freezes a few second before collapsing into a pile of chunky salsa just adds to the impact: it’s a Wile E. Coyote moment (and a visual pun, because the character got cubed), yet doesn’t play silly enough to lose us.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Aliens or government?, prime number permutations, the edge

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cube is a great example of how a movie’s premise doesn’t need to dictate its weirdness factor. The plot is straight out of the pulp horror ghetto, but the execution is original and intriguing enough that it transcends its genre. The developments between the characters and the structure of their prison lends itself to a puzzle just tantalizing enough to lead viewers into thinking they’re right around the corner from solving it, without ever actually answering much. The end result is an engineer’s fever dream.


Original trailer for Cube

COMMENTS: Are you an aspiring filmmaker with limited resources Continue reading 318. CUBE (1997)

366 UNDERGROUND: STAR TREK TIME WARP TRILOGY (2010-2013)

DIRECTED BY: Brandon M. Bridges

FEATURING: Brandon M. Bridges

PLOT: A series of time paradoxes reunite a Starfleet captain with a friend he’d long thought dead.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While a handful of scenes approach delightfully high levels of weirdness, the trilogy as a whole is too monotonous and just plain boring to be worthwhile.

COMMENTS: For the lover of outsider cinema, fan films are a tricky lot to evaluate. On one level, fan films make up one of the most plentiful sources of DIY filmmaking. Persons whose movie production experience ranges from amateur to none gather together out of nothing but a shared enthusiasm for their subject to make films. They write their own scripts, sew their own costumes, scout out whatever locations their friends and family have access to, and rent or buy their own equipment, all with zero expectation of commercial recompense due to copyright law. The best of fan films are filmmaking for filmmaking’s sake, regardless of budget, experience or competence, and that’s fertile ground for weird cinema.

There’s something at the root of the fan film, however, that often prevents it from being a truly weird product. By its very nature, the fan film is intrinsically tied to the aesthetics and ideologies of the commercial film industry, because it’s the output of that very industry that fan filmmakers are trying to imitate. Fan films might be described as an audiovisual form of cosplay. Be it “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” or “The Lord of the Rings,” most fan films aim to replicate their source material as closely as a limited budget and volunteer crew and cast allows. While there’s still plenty of room for creative expression within these confines, just as there is in fan art and fanfiction, the firm ties to pre-established canons and aesthetics severely hamper the fan film’s potential for weirdness.

I don’t know if I’ve seen a fan film that typifies this dichotomy between slavish devotion to source material and bizarre outsider weirdness as much as Brandon Bridges’ Star Trek: Time Warp trilogy. Its visual fidelity to the “Star Trek” universe comes down to minute details of each ship and uniform, and it’s made all the more impressive by the fact that it was all done by one man. At the same time, the constant insertion of what are clearly the director’s personal interests throws all that fidelity into disarray. Archived video of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” plays a vital role in the protagonist’s attempts to determine the identify of a time-traveling warlord. Bridges also has a relationship with “The Price Is Right” that’s akin to ’s relationship with angora wool. Serious plot developments occur in holodeck recreations of the Bob Barker era set, and the game show’s full theme plays in each of the three films.

Maybe the strangest thing about the Time Warp trilogy isn’t its length, or its obsession with mid-70s daytime television, but rather how un-“Star Trek” the narrative feels. On a surface level, the story has many of the staples of “Trek,” particularly the original series and “Next Generation” films of the 80s and 90s. There are temporal anomalies, starship battles, and political conspiracies to disrupt peace in the universe. But most of the run time isn’t spent on any of these things; instead, it’s devoted to long, verbose conversations between the characters about their personal and emotional lives.

This isn’t to say emotional storytelling hasn’t been a focus of certain incarnations of “Star Trek,” but at their creative peak the franchise wove such storytelling into its narrative, revealing characters’ interior lives through their reactions to the events surrounding them. In Time Warp, sci-fi touchstones like time travel and alien invasions come off as little more than nuisances rudely interrupting the crew’s navel-gazing. While the concept of a mid-century melodrama occasionally interrupted by Romulans is appealing, the execution here is unfortunately just boring.

Each film in the Time Warp trilogy is available to view for free on Youtube.

WORLD OF TOMORROW EPISODE TWO: THE BURDEN OF OTHER PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS (2017)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of ,

PLOT: “Episode Two” picks up some time after the events of the first film, with a previously unmentioned spare Emily clone seeking out the original Emily Prime. This “back-up copy” clone, recognized only by a 6 on her forehead, travels back through time to capture Emily Prime’s memories, as she will never receive third generation Emily’s memories due the Earth having exploded, thus destroying Emily’s bloodline. Confused? As with the wealth of ideas in the first episode, there is a lot to digest here.

Still from World of Tomorrow 2: The Burden of Other People's Dreams (2017)

WHY IT WONT MAKE THE LIST: The original “World of Tomorrow” remains a long shot due to its short running length, and this sequel only improves on that aspect by about five minutes. It is equal, but not superior, to the quality of the first episode, and as a result will not be a List contender.

COMMENTS: The first “World of Tomorrow” arose from a series of audio recordings of Hertzfeldt’s niece, Winona Mae, then four years old, rearranged to form a script. The recordings for the sequel were made when Mae was five, and the dialogue was considerably more difficult to sculpt into a coherent work: “It turns out that writing a story around the unscripted audio of a four-year-old is pretty easy compared to writing around the unscripted audio of a five-year-old. Where once I had short and expressive reactions that could be gracefully edited, suddenly I was facing down long, rambling monologues from a small crazy person.” Difficult or no, Hertzfeldt has crafted another elegant and irreverently funny work here that captures much of the same resignation and melancholy of the first, while narrowing the focus of the narrative.

Where the first short took us to robot mining colonies and museums where living clones aged on display, here Hertzfeldt limits our gaze primarily to back-up clone “6’s” experiences. We see the distant planet where 6 grew up, and the friendship she formed with back-up clone 5, called “Felecia” to discriminate her from other Emily clones. Together Emily Prime and 6 explore 6’s mind and memories. A particularly poignant moment comes when Prime discovers a shining thing in a stream, which 6 identifies as “a glimmer of hope,” something that has become much rarer in 6’s mind. 6 informs Prime that her mind used to be young and idealistic like Prime’s, but then 6 grew up and she hasn’t “seen a new glimmer of hope… in many years.” Scenes like these conjure up the wistfulness for childhood that characterized much of the first film, that yearning for dreams that went unrealized, marred by the disappointments of adult life.

The disconnect between Prime and her clone’s perceptions of the same moment greatly informed the comedy in the first film, and this element returns in the sequel. Prime doesn’t understand the significance of much of what 6 describes, and her innocent, childish reactions are often hilarious. When 6 plaintively asks Prime if she recognizes the planet where Felecia is exiled, Prime innocently suggests it might be “near Kitty land?” before offering other imaginative possibilities. In between these moments of disconnect, Hertzfeldt expertly weaves affecting dialogue (“The closer I look at things, the less I know”) as characters move across a backdrop of digitally conjured imagery. This feast of kinetic eye candy takes the form of swirling, nebulous particles, replacing the geometric patterns of the first episode.

Does Hertzfeldt’s description of a difficult second birth translate to the film emerging as a flawed outing? No, there are no major sequel shortcomings here: “The Burden of Other People’s Dreams” captures the tone and aesthetic of the first, pushing them in a slightly different, more specific direction. Perhaps narratively it is less than the first film’s full course meal (the glimpses of the larger world and story sidelines are missed), but ultimately “Episode Two” is even more intimate and affecting due to its limited scope. Without distractions from her story, we come to genuinely feel for 6, so that when the film reaches its climax and her current consciousness dissolves and Prime fulfills 6’s childhood hopes, we are moved on the same level as we would watching a live action film. The emotive power of Hertzfeldt’s films continues to be the strongest element of his uncompromising, independent oeuvre.

“World of Tomorrow, Episode Two” is available exclusively on Vimeo on Demand.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If ‘World of Tomorrow’ was a journey outwards to the furthest reaches of thought, ‘World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts’ is an epic voyage inward, a dizzying spin down the rabbit hole of the human subconscious.”–David Ehrlich, Indiewire (contemporaneous)