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CAPSULE: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Jim Jarmusch

FEATURING: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits, Chloë Sevigny, , Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez,

PLOT: The townsfolk of Centreville, USA find their quiet routine is interrupted by re-animated undead who rise when the Earth is thrown off its axis by polar fracking.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jim Jarmusch opts for restraint in his take on the zombie genre, resulting in a Xanaxed, matter-of-fact “horror” movie that will tickle zombie movie revisionists and infuriate dogmatic enthusiasts. “Oddball” describes the tone well, as it describes pretty much everything Jarmusch has put his hand to.

COMMENTS: I’ve been advised by 366’s executive board on a handful of occasions that the movie image I choose for my reviews should be “more dynamic.” I am flouting that admonition for Jarmusch’s latest outing because, though it is certainly well-shot, its overall tone is “languid.” Indeed, the preponderance of A-list actors delivering hyper-low-key performances nearly tipped The Dead Don’t Die into apocrypha candidacy—that, along with its self-awareness, and humorous streak being coupled with an unfailing adherence to every zombie-movie rule in the book. Jarmusch’s venture into the realm of horror-comedy doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights for certification, but to its credit it’s also a near-miss for the “” designation.

The story is as old as time itself (or at least as old as 1968), as a tiny American town finds that it’s on the front line against a horde of shambling undead. The action kicks off with Centreville’s chief of police, Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), with his sidekick Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver, proving he isn’t the mopey so-and-so his more famous films would suggest), investigating the alleged theft of a chicken from Farmer Frank (a “Make America White Again”-hat-wearing-hick incarnation of Steve Buscemi) by Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, who also acts as a Greek chorus throughout). “This isn’t going to end well,” Ronnie tells us. And it doesn’t. Despite the best efforts of the police force, as well as the local merchants (the ever-reliable Danny Glover as the hardware store owner, the ever-mustachioed Caleb Jones as the gas-station/horror memorabilia shop-keep, and the ever-mysterious Tilda Swinton (as the possibly Scottish undertaker who is Not of This Town and is on a mission to “accumulate local information”), events teeter on, slowly and lugubriously, to the doomed showdown in the town cemetery.

I never thought I’d see the day that I’d recommend a Jim Jarmusch movie. While I’ve always respected him as a filmmaker for doing things differently, I’ve never been one to much enjoy what he was up to (barring a handful of the vignettes in Coffee and Cigarettes). However, any artist that can make a jab at himself (delivered by Bill Murray at his world-weariest, no less) is all right in my book. And The Dead Don’t Die is an unequivocally fun movie that takes jabs at other worthy targets: hardcore horror buffs, small town America, and, in particular, hipsters (“…with their ‘irony'”). All the pokes are light and playful, though, as if Jarmusch has come to realize that the many people in the world who aren’t his fans (and the greater number who have no idea who he is) are people, too.

Indeed, the whole thing is worth it just to hear nerd-cop Adam Driver matter-of-factly remark, “I have an affinity for Mexicans.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The Dead Don’t Die very occasionally seems flippant and unfinished, an assemblage of ideas, moods and prestigious actors circling around each other in a shaggy dog tale. But it’s always viewable in its elegant deliberation and controlled tempo of weird normality – and beautifully photographed in an eerie dusk by Frederick Elmes.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: TWIXT (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, Alden Ehrenreich, David Paymer, Don Novello, Anthony Fusco, Tom Waits

PLOT: Horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is in decline, hacking out formulaic product and going on book tours to nowhere places, like the town of Swan Valley. The local sheriff (Bruce Dern) tells him about an unsolved massacre that took place in the town years ago, suggesting a collaboration on a book, which Hall doesn’t take seriously—until he starts dreaming of a young girl, V (Elle Fanning), who may be connected with the murders, and may be either a ghost or a vampire; and of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), who becomes a spiritual muse the deeper Hall delves into the mystery.

Still from Twixt (2011)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: What gives the film an aura of weirdness is its visual style, elements of which recall earlier Coppola films (mainly the more experimental ones like Rumble Fish and One from the Heart), along with the elements of autobiography that thread through the film. While it may be a bit too early to declare this as Essential Coppola, there are rewards to be found here for the adventurous moviegoer.

COMMENTS: Twixt has had a tortured time getting out to an audience; originally scheduled for release in late 2011 after several festival screenings and Comic Con hype, the movie has been released in France and England and only recently made its domestic premiere in San Francisco, with no concrete word (as of this writing) as to wider release in the U.S. Which is not that surprising, considering that most of the domestic reviews pretty much ripped the film to shreds. To a certain extent, they have a point—most of those reviews have commented on the murkiness of the narrative, which Coppola has stated had its origins in a dream. Most of those reviewers probably think that Coppola’s best creative days are behind him, or that he needs to return to more commercial fare to be ‘relevant’ again. It’s probably very telling that what North American distributors and critics have seen as a problem, Europe has eagerly embraced (especially France, where critics have acclaimed the film).

Twixt is a messy concoction, and for most audiences who are used to storylines where everything is clearly presented and all the twistedness will eventually be straightened out by the time the end credits roll, it won’t be a fun ride. Coppola describes it as “one part Gothic Romance, one part personal film and one part the kind of horror film I began my career with,” which is a pretty packed sandwich—not everything will fit neatly there. However, those concerned with neatness will conveniently overlook good performances by Kilmer, Dern and Chapin and some intriguing autobiographical references.

Twixt is available on R2 DVD and Blu-Ray. Again, no word as of yet when it will be available on R1 disc.

UPDATE 12/28/2015: In 2013, Twixt was released on R1 Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox with excellent picture quality and sound. It’s light on extras, but what’s included is very interesting – a documentary on the making of the film shot by Gia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, prior to her feature film debut with Palo Alto (2014).

Twixt official site

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WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…easily [Coppola’s] silliest work… a mishmash of absurd horror tropes with a gush of blood…”–Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

98. IDIOTS AND ANGELS (2008)

“The look of the film is very Eastern European – something like what Jan Svankmayer might make, or David Lynch if he made animation – very dark and surreal.”–Bill Plympton, Idiots and Angels Director’s Statement

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DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

PLOT:  A loathsome man spends his days in a dingy, depressing bar where he lusts after the blonde barmaid, who is also the bartender/owner’s wife.  One day he discovers he is growing wings on his back; initially, he’s thrilled to be able to fly, but comes to hate them when they develop a mind of their own and force him to do charitable acts.  Other, equally venal, men plot to steal the wings to use them for their own selfish purposes.

Still from Idiots and Angels (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • Bill Plympton has been nominated for Oscars twice for his animated short films.
  • Plympton made Idiots and Angels independently with a small team of four assistant artists for an estimated $125,000.
  • Per Plympton, the film consists of 30,000 drawings.
  • Per Plympton, the film was rejected by thirty distributors.  The animator is self-distributing the movie.
  • Idiots and Angels won the Best Film award at the Fantasporto festival in 2009 (previous Fantasporto winners that were Certified Weird are Toto the Hero and Pan’s Labyrinth).
  • Idiots and Angels is “presented by” Terry Gilliam.
  • The amazing soundtrack, featuring Pink Martini, Nicole Renaud, Tom Waits and others is not available for purchase at this time—and due to licensing issues probably never will be.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The obvious choice would have something to do with wings: maybe a manacled butterfly, or a fat stripper showing off her wingspan to a crowd of leering males, or an angel mooning a passing airliner.  More shocking and unforgettable, however, is the moment near the film’s climax when a full-grown man, wrapped in a placenta, emerges from another man’s navel.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Plympton sets his pitch-black parable about a wicked man who grows angel wings in a dialogue-free barroom Purgatory.  Fantastic daydreams mix with increasingly surreal realities to paint a wordless portrait of the eternal, internal struggle between good and evil.  A hip, hypnotic art-pop soundtrack helps sweep the viewer away into Idiots and Angels‘ weird world of bitter cocktails and unexplained appendages.


Scene from Idiots and Angels

COMMENTS: The unnamed antihero of Idiots and Angels (the official plot synopsis calls him Continue reading 98. IDIOTS AND ANGELS (2008)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp,

PLOT: A 1000 year-old mystic enlists the help of a seedy amnesiac to save his daughter, whose life he exchanged for eternal youth, from the clutches of the Devil.


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a return to extreme fantasy for Terry Gilliam, who hasn’t delved so deep into the realm of untethered imagination since The Adventures of Baron Muchausen. It is a madcap vaudevillian escapade that is anything but ordinary, a rekindling of the fires of whimsy in modern cinema that has not been lit in some time. Gilliam conjures a tale that comes from the divine and the pedestrian, fills it with colorful, albeit thin, characters, and lets the magic happen as the elements coalesce into a Victorian sideshow of epic proportions.

COMMENTS: Set over a thousand years of the titular character’s life (although it’s mostly set in modern day England), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantastical meditation on choices: good ones, bad ones, the weight-laden overabundance of decisions we all face at some point, and the demeaning lack of options we also experience. From literal metaphors involving people choosing their destinies in a realm of imagination to the figurative posturings of the opposition between that which is right and that which is merely easy, director Terry Gilliam muses in this film on the ages-old dilemma of free will and how these characters will go about using it.

But forget about that!  What everyone wants to know is how well they shoe-horned in all of Heath Ledger’s stand-ins during post-production! As you’re well aware, I’m sure, this is the final performance of the late, great Heath Ledger. Mr. Ledger died during the production of this feature, leaving his role, that of the amnesiac Tony, woefully incomplete. Gilliam, being ever the professional, and no stranger to ill circumstances Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009)

SATURDAY SHORT: “SPACIOUS THOUGHTS”

The music video is the one form where directors can be weird and experimental without fear of being shunned by the world at large. Made for the band N.A.S.A.’s album “The Spirit of Apollo,” where the concept was to pair unlikely musicians, “Spacious Thoughts” mixes the smooth rap of Kool Keith with the grumblings of ever-weird Tom Waits. Director Fluorescent Hill animates Keith as a black sphere wearing cowboy boots who breathes out Tom as an angry cloud.

CAPSULE: DRACULA (1992)

AKA Bram Stoker’s Dracula

fourstar

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, , Tom Waits

PLOT:  Vlad Dracula, a defender of Christendom against invading Muslims, curses God and becomes undead when his beloved bride throws herself from the castle walls due to false reports of his death sent by Turkish spies; centuries later, he plots to seduce his love’s reincarnation in Victorian London.

Still from Dracula (1992)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Coppola’s take on the Dracula myth is dreamy, glossy, and visually experimental for a blockbuster, but too mainstream to be truly weird.

COMMENTS:  Coppola had a chance to make one of the classic Dracula films; in the end, he made not a classic, but he did make the most visually advanced and beautiful vampire movie of our times.  The early reels are taken up with crisp visual experiments, such as when the Transylvanian countryside outside Johnathan Harker’s carriage turns blood red while Dracula’s eyes appear superimposed in the sky.  Another trick Coppola employs—making the Count’s shadow move independently of its host, displaying his hostile intent while its host blathers on about business matters—has become iconic.  The best sequence the director invents is Harker’s encounter with Dracula’s three beautiful undead brides, a scene that moves effortlessly from dreamy eroticism to outright surreal horror when the temptresses reveal their true nature (one of the bloodsucking succubi was played by soon-to-be-famous, ethereal beauty Monica Belluci).  The scene of an enticing vampiress scuttling on the masonry like a startled spider is pleasantly jolting, and the entire picture in fact swings back and forth between the sexual and the diabolical with a natural ease.  Coppola displays great discipline in the film, making the film stylish, sexy and horrifying in audience-pleasing measures.  The various camera tricks, the shadow plays, the grandiose sets and costumes, the boldly unreal colors, the switches between film stock, never draw too much attention to themselves, but always work in service of creating an operatic hyperreality, a world that’s strange and exaggerated, but cinematically familiar.

What prevents the movie from being a classic is the uneven ensemble acting.  The good Continue reading CAPSULE: DRACULA (1992)