Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe


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DIRECTED BY: Yorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: , Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie

PLOT: A triptych of twisted modern fables from Yorgos Lanthimos: a boss dictates every aspect of his employee’s life; after his missing wife returns, a police officer suspects that she’s been replaced by a close copy; two cult members search for their messiah.

Still from Kinds of Kindness (2024)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It’s narrative unpredictability from Hollywood’s foremost Greek surrealist, with trice the weirdness. John McEnroe’s broken racket will be gifted (and stolen), Emma Stone will cry “lick me again!” (not what you think), and dogs will (mostly) have a blast on the beach.

COMMENTS: With Kinds of Kindness, Yorgos Lanthimos seems intent on jettisoning any casual fans who might have come on board with Poor Things. Reuniting Lanthimos with screenwriting collaborator Efthimis Filippou, and shot several months after the hit fantasy with much of the same cast, Kindness was knocked out in a spiffy three weeks. Featuring murder, abortion, cannibalism, roofies, canine supremacy, and other kinds of bad behavior, the kindness-free Kindness works as a bitter palette cleanser for the frothy and sweet (by Lanthimos standards) Poor Things.

The three tales are linked by one “R.M.F.,” a peripheral character whose lends his name to all three titles. The stories range in tone from absurdist to magical realist, with digressions into genuine surrealism, but their dim view of core human behavior brings everything together. This time, Lanthimos steers away from stylistic excesses—no affectless acting, no ultra-wide lenses, no baroque sets—and lets the stories’ bizarre high concepts carry the weight. The director takes advantage of everyman Plemmons, a new addition to what is fast becoming a regular troupe, putting him front and center in the first two stories. In “The Death of R.M.F.” Plemmons is an exceptionally needy employee hiding behind a mustache, while “R.M.F. Is Flying” sees his cop descend into a paranoia that slowly transforms him into the coldest-hearted of bastards. Stone plays a key roles, especially in “Flying”—particularly her monologue about what happened to her when she was stranded on a deserted island, which, with its followup in the midpoint credits, lands as Kindness‘ most out-there moment—but really takes the spotlight for the finale, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.” There she plays the more obsessive of two traveling cult members on the messiah candidate-vetting circuit, who also has a troubled relationship with the child and husband she left behind to pursue this strange vocation. She drives a purple muscle car like a maniac and gets a Lanthimos-trademark weirdo dance scene. Dafoe and Qualley (and to a lesser extent, Chau and Athie) add fine support as they drift through the trilogy of tales, possessing the bodies of various characters as needed.

If there is a complaint, it’s that, while each story stands on its own at about 45 minutes, watching them back-to-back-to-back can be a bit trying. There’s little relief from the dour atmosphere. (It would work brilliantly as a three-episode miniseries.) But that’s a mighty small disclaimer, given the uncommon bounty here: literate absurdism delivered by a top-notch, thoroughly dedicated cast and crew.

There is a common theme running through the each of these parables: unthinking obedience, the willingness of people to commit any atrocity in exchange for a sense of belonging. This makes it a sly political allegory for our times. Kinds of Kindness could be set in any era, but it speaks to just how horrible it is to be alive in 2024.


“Director Yorgos Lanthimos trips over himself reconnecting with his inner freak in ‘Kinds of Kindness,’ a frustrating triptych that works hard to reconfirm his weirdo cred after he experienced a pair of mainstream successes.”–Adam Graham, The Detroit News (contemporaneous)



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Still from "The Kingdom"

DIRECTED BY: /Morten Arnford (Kingdom, Kingdom II); Lars von Trier (Kingdom: Exodus)

FEATURING: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Søren Pilmark, Birgitte Raaberg, , Mikael Persbrandt, Lars Mikkelsen, Tuva Novotny, , , Lars von Trier

PLOT: This limited TV series follows goings-on, bureaucratic and supernatural, at Denmark’s largest hospital. As the prologue of each episode states:

“The Kingdom Hospital rests on ancient marshland—where the bleaching ponds once lay. Here, the bleachers moistened their great spans of cloth. The steam from the cloth shrouded the place in permanent fog. Then the hospital was built here. The bleachers gave way to doctors, researchers—the best brains in the nation and the most perfect technology.

To crown their work, they called their hospital ‘The Kingdom’. Now life was to be charted and ignorance and superstition never to shake science again. Perhaps their arrogance became too pronounced—like their persistent denial of the spiritual. For it is that the cold and damp have returned. Tiny signs of fatigue are appearing in the solid, modern edifice.

No living person knows it yet, but the portal to The Kingdom—is opening again.”

COMMENTS: It’s not out of line to call “The Kingdom” Lars von Trier’s ““; he’s stated that the David Lynch series is a direct influence.  But there’s much more to it. Both shows are anchored in the 90s, and both were resurrected some twenty-five years later to continue and conclude their stories. Both are, ultimately, about the ongoing battle between Good and Evil. “Twin Peaks” did so within the framework of the late 80s/early 90s nighttime network soap operas, grafted with Lynch’s retro-50s style, and adding surrealism, cosmic horror, and a pinch of meta commentary. “The Kingdom” frames that battle within the hospital/medical show, a staple of television drama. Many Americans will think of “E.R.”, although a more apt comparison would be “St. Elsewhere” with a little bit of “M*A*S*H” and an aesthetic heavily influenced by “Homicide: Life in the Streets.” It’s also firmly anchored in institutional satires like The Hospital (1971) and Britannia Hospital (1982). Stephen King1 is also a big influence. Von Trier uses popular tropes to deliver the horror bits: a ghost girl, haunted transports (ambulances in early seasons, a helicopter in “Exodus”), mass graveyards (or bleaching ground stand-ins), spirits on the premises. There’s also some play with severed body parts, and “Kingdom”‘s big set piece, the introduction of ‘Little Brother’ at the end of the first series.

The tropes of medical dramas are twisted here: the heroic doctor figure runs an underground black market; a doctor researching a specific form of liver cancer has an organ transplanted into him Continue reading CHANNEL 366: THE KINGDOM TRILOGY (THE KINGDOM, THE KINGDOM II, THE KINGDOM: EXODUS)

44*. POOR THINGS (2023)

“Nature gives children great emotional resilience to help them survive the oppressions of being small, but these oppressions still make them into slightly insane adults, either mad to seize all the power they once lacked or (more usually) mad to avoid it.”― Alasdair Gray, Poor Things

DIRECTED BY: Yorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef

PLOT: When a pregnant woman throws herself off a bridge, scientist Godwin Baxter spots an opportunity to conduct an unprecedented science experiment by transplanting the fetal brain into her mother’s body. The result is Bella, a woman with a grown-up physique and an infantile mind, who develops at a rapid rate and soon discovers many adult pleasures not otherwise accessible to an impressionable youth. Speaking with a frankness about herself and others that flies in the face of standards for propriety, she leaves home to explore the world, first in the company of caddish attorney Duncan Wedderburn and later as an employee in a Parisian bordello, returning  home  to discover that a figure from her past has located her.

Still from poor things (2023)


INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bella’s very raison d’etre is to explore the world on her terms, following her bliss and flagrantly disregarding social niceties. Nothing better expresses this impulse than her spin on the dance floor, staggering about in full thrall to the music, limbs flung in every direction, and doing so with such verve and joy that even Mark Ruffalo’s Duncan is compelled to join in.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Bubble burps; “I have to go punch that baby”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A spectacular blend of quirky plot, offbeat setting, and demented execution, Poor Things is joyously inappropriate. In a film where virtually nobody behaves according to convention, the heroine is someone who casts aside any semblance of decorum in favor of a life lived as she chooses. The result is an unexpected blend of Frankenstein, Big, Candide, and The Opening of Misty Beethoven.

Official trailer for Poor Things

COMMENTS: The most dreaded phase for parents rearing a child is Continue reading 44*. POOR THINGS (2023)


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Poor Things has been promoted onto the Apocryphally Weird movie list. Please read the official entry.


FEATURING: , , , Ramy Youssef

PLOT: Bella, a mad scientist’s creation with the mind of a child (literally), runs off with a rakish attorney to explore the world.

Still from Poor Things (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA:  A bizarre reanimation of Frankenstein played as a sexually-charged, surreal social satire, Poor Things is packed with mad science and madder art. There’s even a crazy dance scene that trumps the one from Dogtooth.

COMMENTS: In Poor Things, Emma Stone embodies Bella, an experiment of the Frankensteinish Dr. Godwin (whom she calls “God”). She begins the tale with the mind of a child, for extraordinary reasons that may already have been spoiled for you by the online conversation (I won’t spoil things further, in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid them). Since this is a darkly whimsical fantasy/science fiction hybrid, her mind races towards adulthood at an allegorical pace: she goes from throwing tantrums and delighting in the sponginess of a squished frog to sipping gin and studying for anatomy exams in mere months. She begins the film clunking humorously around Godwin’s estate, cared for by the beyond-eccentric doctor and his meek assistant Max, who becomes smitten with the “very pretty retard”; but as she gains self-awareness (including, crucially, awareness of her clitoris), she demands to see the outside world. In the company of hedonistic playboy (a brilliantly foppish and comic Ruffalo), she adventures through a steampunk 19th-century Lisbon, takes a trip on a cruise ship, and interns at Parisian brothel before returning to London a wiser woman, ready to face what she is and to wrap up the first act’s carefully planted plot points.

It’s easy to see why the three supporting males are all mesmerized by Bella in their own ways: she is an utterly unique creation, unburdened by society’s expectations of proper behavior— especially in regards to sex, which she refers to as “furious jumping.” She journeys from childlike innocence to an outsider’s adulthood in the course of two-an-a-half hours. Joining her on her quest of self-discovery are the aforementioned Ruffalo (who will likely earn a best supporting actor nod), Max (Youssef, likable if largely inefficacious, he’s the character using a conventional moral lens to examine the questionable ethics of the entire scenario), and the astoundingly conceived Godwin (Dafoe). The good (?) doctor sports a face crisscrossed with a lattice of scars that makes him look like a mad surgeon gave up trying to make his head into a jigsaw puzzle halfway through, has a gastric disorder that makes him belch large bubbles after eating, and reveals a fancifully cruel backstory that explains his bizarrely empirical outlook on life. Stone, Ruffalo and Dafoe are all great; Youssef is more than adequate; and while a few of the supporting performers have difficulty striking the odd comic tone Lanthimos is going for, the acting in general is astonishingly good. Based on Alasdair Grey’s novel, the script mixes overly-elaborate locutions (“Hence, I seek employment at your musty-smelling establishment of good-time fornication”) with punchy one-liners (like, “I must go punch that baby,”) mostly delivered by Stone—although the increasingly frustrated Ruffalo gets off some fine obscenity-laced tirades.

The production design keeps pace with the acting quality, capturing the insanity of the scenario. Godwin’s mansion is a Victorian cabinet of curiosities (including such curiosities as a chicken-dog); Lisbon has a touch of steampunk with cable cars in the sky; the snowy streets of Paris house brothels with facades like cathedrals. Sets are elaborate, with yellow and blue trompe l’oeil clouds blanketing the sky. The short intertitles separating the chapters are minature works of art. Lanthimos continues to indulge the cinematographic experiments he began in 2018’s The Favourite. Some are purposeful: the film is in black and white while Bella is protected in Godwin’s care, and turns to vivid color once she seizes her independence. Others seem arbitrary: we sometimes view the action through a peephole matte (which sometimes signals imprisonment, but not always), or through an ultra-wide fisheye lens (used for panoramas—I think this look has become part of Lanthimos’ standard toolkit at this point). The visual switches suggest Bella’s disorientation in a world that’s entirely new to her, but I confess I found them sometimes distracting. Jerskin Fendrix’s nearly-atonal score, which sounding like classical snippets designed by avant-garde A.I., played by automatons on faulty pump organs or badly-tuned guitars, accomplishes the same distancing feat more efficiently.

Poor Things is a meticulously-created world, a twisted Victorian fairy tale set inside a fanciful snow globe. Gleefully disdaining polite manners and amoral on its surface, it gradually develops empathy and posits one value as supreme above all: freedom of choice. Like the Portuguese custard tarts Bella learns to scarf in one bite, Poor Things is incredibly rich.


“I’ve heard a few people say that, based on the trailer, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film, Poor Things, looks too weird for their tastes. To be honest, the trailer made me think this ‘gender-bending Frankenstein’, as it’s being sold, looked too weird for my tastes… It is weird, no doubt. But it is the sort of weird we can do. And not so weird that I had to Google it afterwards.”–Deborah Ross, The Spectator (contemporaneous)


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DIRECTED BY: Abel Ferrara

FEATURING: Willem Dafoe

PLOT: The owner of an outpost on the snowy outskirts of nowhere journeys through the countryside and his memories alongside his team of dogs.

COMMENTS: Were I to pitch this disingenuously, I could make the case that this movie is weird. There’s the chanting dwarf woman in her wheelchair, in a cave. Willem Dafoe dances around a maypole with a dozen or so children. And at one point a dead fish in a metal dish utters some cryptic remarks. Cryptic, now, that’s something that Siberia has in a spades. Once again, Abel Ferrara is working with Willem Dafoe, who seems to keep the actor in his pocket for any art-house forays. And once again, Ferrara plumbs intensely personal depths, this latter-day habit depicted on-screen when Dafoe’s character falls down a chasm that appears in the basement of his Siberian tavern.

Clint (Willem Dafoe) tends bar and is intermittently attacked by demons—of the metaphorical variety, alas. He appears to be friends with a native (not a local Slavic Russian, but a Native native), without understanding a word of the hunter/trapper’s language. Clint also seems to know no Russian, as evidenced during a visit from a babushka, her daughter, and, indirectly, the third generation of that family: the unborn child in the daughter’s womb. This encounter is the first of a series of odd, possibly meaningful scenes involving Clint kneeling before a bare-breasted woman and then having sex with her.

Stylistically, Ferrara is a lingerer. He will keep his shot going until he’s satisfied, regardless how awkward it may make the viewer feel. There are obvious overtones of lust and fertility in the Clint/breast scenes, but they are executed in such a way that appreciation seems to morph into supplication, itself morphing into something less definable (but bordering on creepy). His gaze is not just salacious, however: it is filled with pathos. The graceful lines of Dafoe’s gaunt face shift in severity between awe and dismay and surprise, as in one moment he observes a sunrise in a subterranean lake, then witnesses a congregation of tormented ghosts in the cave, and the next moment listens to his dead father outline a fishing trip. This segment includes one of the film’s incongruous bursts of comedy as the two men (both played by Dafoe) converse: “Dad, don’t you remember what the doctor said?” asks Clint, “What was that?” responds the father. “He said you’re dead.”

There is a reliable floor to the quality of any Abel Ferrara film, going all the way back to his pseudonymously directed debut. He knows technique, form, dialogue, timing, all that. However, he’s going through a bit of a navel-gazing stage in his career. Some brief research gave no indication that Clint’s memories are the director’s own (though considering he wrote the screenplay, I have my suspicions); but regardless of whom Clint is based upon, Siberia is little more than a modestly surreal, moderately compelling, and much too cryptic slice of an old man’s mind.


“This sort of visceral movie is about the experience, not the logic. Graphic nudity and violence ensure that scenes literally bleed from one to another. Along the way, the passages weave an odd and surreal continuity, with moments of quiet boredom that segue swiftly into ferocious visual jolts.” -Thomas Tunstall, Irish Film Critic (Blu-ray)