CAPSULE: DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Albert Shin

FEATURING: Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, Eric Johnson,

PLOT: Returning home to Niagara Falls after her mother’s death, a woman remembers a childhood incident that haunted her—witnessing a one-eyed boy being abducted in the woods—and decides to investigate.

Still from Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019)

COMMENTS: Clifton Hill is a tourist trap street in Niagara Falls, Canada. Although a memorable scene in Disappearance at Clifton Hill occurs at Clifton Hill, the titular disappearance doesn’t occur there. Make of that bit of misdirection what you will.

The disappearance we’re concerned with occurs upriver, and about twenty-five years before Abby returns to Niagara Falls after her mother’s death. Abby wants to preserve Rainbow Inn, the old family business which has fallen into disrepair, from being bought up by the Charles Lake corporation; her sister wants to sell and move on with life. Browsing through mom’s old photographs turns up a picture that sparks Abby’s memory of the day she saw the boy abducted, and she begins investigating. Her followups bring her into contact with a podcaster and local historian who operates out of a UFO-shaped cafe and who knows where the bodies aren’t buried, a husband and wife magic act modeled on Siegfried and Roy, and the dashing Charles Lake III. Evidence of what might have happened to the boy builds slowly, while a series of glitchy, tiger-infected dreams that look like bad montages edited on third-generation VHS tapes liven things up (and provide the film’s sole weird moments).

The ultimate mystery has as much to do with Abby’s past, slowly revealed through her interactions with her sister and others, as it does with the disappearance she’s investigating. Abby’s backstory isn’t a twist, exactly; it’s more of a change of focus that turns Disappearance from a thriller into a character study. The movie’s eventual revelations about Abby do, however, illuminate a couple of incidents that might not have made complete sense otherwise (for example, why Abby’s parents never contacted the police after the incident in the woods). The switch of emphasis works; the script slowly (and purposefully) undermines its own narrative.

Full of psychological unease rather than jump scares, Clifton Hill plays well within its budget. Superior writing elevates it from merely a “modest thriller” to a “modest-but-clever thriller.” An ace performance from lead Tuppence Middleton carries the film, aided by an unnerving woodwind and synth score.

In some quarters, much is being made of David Cronenberg‘s small role as a podcaster (first seen in a wetsuit). While Old Croney holds his own against the more established actors, there’s nothing revelatory in his performance. The significance of his presence has more to do with his endorsement of the film, which is a major marketing point for a not-flashy indie that relies on a slow-burn to pull you in.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Shin isn’t shy about laying on quirky details and liberal oddball splashes to make his third film swing from bizarrely entertaining  to dark (helped by an excellent moody score from instrumental group BadBadNotGood).”–Linda Barnard, Original Cin (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE POINT (1971)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Fred Wolf

FEATURING: Voices of Ringo Starr, Mike Lookinland, Lennie Weinrib,

PLOT: The Pointed Village is going about its business, as it has for as long as anyone can remember, with pointed people making pointed buildings and pointed goods, until Oblio, a round-headed boy, is born.

Still from The Point (1971)

COMMENTS: I can tell you from experience that The Point is a good way to get on the path toward discovering, discussing, and dissecting weird movies. During my formative years, I watched it again and again (though at the time, I must admit that I was frightened by one of the sequences, therefore using the fast forward button regularly). As with so much of what 366 reviews, in my less aware moments I’d regard this Nilssonian flight of fancy as “normal,” but it is in actuality a strange combination of children’s cartoon and beatnik daydream.

In fine musical style, we are introduced to the “Land of Point”: more specifically, the Pointed Village, the town where everbody’s got ’em (and couldn’t do without ’em). Couched in the framing story of a father (voiced by Ringo Starr at his most paternal) reading to his son (Mike Lookinland), The Point concerns Oblio (also Lookinland), a boy born without a pointed head. Oblio makes the mistake of making a fool of the Count’s bully son in a game of Triangle Toss. When the defeated youth complains to his powerful father, a sham trial results in Oblio’s banishment to the “Pointless Forest.” Oblio’s adventures (with his trusty dog Arrow by his side) bring him in contact with a magical assortment of guides—beatnik Rock Man, capitalist-extraordinaire Leaf Man, the bouncing Jelly Women, among others—and he learns that nothing is without a point.

Nilsson’s concept album is primarily a vehicle for his catchy and charming songs concerning love, life, and death. Fred Wolf’s movie alternates between straight-up story (marked by Starr’s narration) and song animations. This coexistence is impressively seamless, as the tunes bring Oblio’s contemplations to life. Some of them are heady things for a small boy—one of the things that kept me coming to this, aside from my limited video menu at the time, was that it didn’t speak down to me—and in its post-psychedelic way, everything has a fresh, oddball feel to it. Watching it again for the first time in decades, I also noticed the many odd things the filmmakers got up to: drug culture (the Rock Man character, both as a whole, and particularly with the line, “us stone[d] folks are everywhere”), anti-capitalism (the ridiculousness of the “leaf manufacturing” Leaf Man), right down to the strangely vulvic foliage where the fat, naked, jolly Jelly Women cavort mischievously.

With its minimalist-but-quirky animation (and gloriously pointo-gothic-brutalist architecture), mental digressions (contemplating a tear’s life cycle through an ancient whale), and moments of Shakespearean grandeur (the villainous Count could be Iago’s closest friend), The Point hits a lot of great notes, particularly for a primetime-broadcast, made-for-TV cartoon. That such a quirky little movie like this slipped past the watchful eye of the normality police makes it all the more laudable.

Previously available on DVD, MVD Rewind released The Point on Blu-ray in 2020. Although full of extra features and billed as “The Ultimate Edition,” many hardcore fans were disappointed that it lacks the original Dustin Hoffman broadcast narration (Hoffman’s contract was for a one-time performance, and subsequent broadcasts and home video releases used different narrators).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Whether Wolf, best known for his work on The Flintstones, took inspiration from Dr. Seuss, I couldn’t say, but there’s a similar sensibility at work in terms of the quasi-surrealistic look of the thing… It’s that unique combination of the expectedly childlike, the surprisingly adult, and the just-plain weird that makes The Point! work as well for me now as it did in grade school when I’d play the album over and over again, flipping the pages of the illustrated booklet all the while.” -Kathy Fennessy, Seattle Film Blog

(This movie was nominated for review by Jeffery, who commented “My favorite scene in it is the one with the fat ladies.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CONTEST: HELP SET THE FIELD FOR OUR UPCOMING APOCRYPHA TOURNAMENT AND (MAYBE) WIN A “WE” BLU-RAY

A recap, in case you haven’t been here in over a year: last year we completed the official List of the 366 Canonically Weird Movies. Rather than shutting down, we began a second list of 366 Apocryphally Weird Movies, to catch the runners-up and the new movies that will inevitably be made after the List closed. Your input and suggestions are now desired—and maybe you can win a prize in the bargain.

Here’s how this round works. Just nominate a movie not currently on the list for Apocryphally Weird status in the comments below. You can see what’s already on the complete Canonical list in the sidebar to the left on desktops, or at the very bottom of your screen on mobile devices. Serious entries only; we will disregard any nominations for Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Transformers, or the like. Ideally, your choice should be available for us to screen on home video; we may make exceptions to that rule on a case-by-case basis.

We’ll take nominations and contest entries up until February 29 (Leap Day—the weirdest day of the year). We’ll gather all the nominees and create a tournament bracket from them, for our irregularly held March Mad Movie Madness competition. The winner of that contest will be officially named as Apocrypha.

You may nominate a movie even if you aren’t eligible for the contest or don’t wish to receive the prize; just mention you’re not in it for the swag when you announce your choice.

Contest eligibility rules: You must make a nomination by commenting on this post and informing us of your desire to be in the contest. Due to the adult nature of the prize, you must be over 18 years of age to enter. To receive the Blu-ray, you must supply us with a mailing address in the United States. (Don’t publish your address in your comment! We’ll contact the winner through email). 366 contributors are not eligible to win the prize, but may nominate a movie for the competition.  We’ll stop accepting entries this Saturday, Feb. 29, at midnight EST. The winner will be chosen randomly from all eligible comments. If the winner does not respond to our request for a mailing address within 48 hours we’ll email a runner-up, and so forth, until the prize is given away.

We Blu-ray coverAs for the prize:  It’s a fresh Blu-ray copy of the newly-released nihilist teen drama We (2018).  Film International says “We holds viewers’ attention” but goes on to warn “Sometimes, however, it is hard to watch.” The box cover explains, “During one hot summer, a group of suburban teens hang out and play increasingly depraved games to break the listless monotony. Their descent from innocence to ruthless predators involve arson, prostitution, pornography, assault and blackmail. This controversial and explicit coming-of-age tale is imbued with sex, nihilism and amorality and is reminiscent of the films of Hamony Korine, Larry Clark and Lars von Trier.” Contains explicit scenes. (Note: the cover to the right is the safe-for-work version; the Blu-ray the winner actually receives features rear nudity. You can see it and read more about the film at distributor Artsploitation Films’ slightly NSFW We page).

Now let’s get started!

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/20/2020

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Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Je t’aime moi non plus (1976): A truck stop waitress (Jane Birkin) falls in love with a gay garbage truck driver () and convinces him to sleep with her—but there’s a catch. Directed by musician , who put out an album of the same title. Out on Blu-ray or DVD from Kino Classics with a commentary track and interviews. Buy Je t’aime moi non plus.

Teorema (1968): Read the Canonically Weird review! Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s chilly, ambiguous fable about a mysterious stranger who sleeps with, and destroys, a bourgeois family is now in the Criterion Collection, your choice of Blu-ray or DVD. Buy Teorema.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We’ll only list irregularly scheduled one-time screenings of this audience-participation classic below. You can use this page to find a regular weekly screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Next week, Giles Edwards gets to The Point (1971) (the reader-suggested TV feature cartoon dreamt up by Harry Nillson during an acid trip) and G. Smalley looks into the  Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2020). We’re thinking of throwing a new contest/poll in there as well; check in for that. Onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: THE DEATH OF DICK LONG (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michael Abbott, Jr., Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Virginia Newcomb

PLOT: Two dimwitted band members try to cover up the suspicious death of the third member of their trio in a small town.

Still from The Death of Dick Long (2019)

COMMENTS: “Hey… ya’ll mfers wanna get weird?,” asks the eponymous (and still living) Dick Long in the opening scene. The Death of Dick Long does get—sort of—weird, though not in the way you might be expecting from half of the directing duo behind Swiss Army Man. Like the crude joke in the movie’s title, which makes you think you’re headed for a raunchy redneck comedy, the word “weird” is a little bit of misdirection. Though the movie is set in Alabama, the “weird” here is of the species you’d expect to see in a headline beginning with the words “Florida Man…”

Initially submitted as a regional black comedy with subtle situational humor, Death quickly moves to dealing with the consequences of the trio’s “weird” night, which we gather must have involved something more intense than the beer bongs, joints and fireworks we see in the opening montage. At first, Dick’s body (which his bandmates surreptitiously dumped at the emergency room door in the wee hours) is unidentified, and the precise cause of death unknown. Zeke and Earl aren’t too good at coverups, but fortunately for them the hometown cops—led by a sheriff with a cane and her friendly lesbian deputy—aren’t too good at solving unexpected crimes, even when the suspects literally hand them clues. The first half settles into a Fargo-esque groove that we’ve seen before, as sleep-deprived Zeke forgets to cover up bloodstains and neither conspirator shows much skill at improvising cover stories under pressure. Then, around the midway point, Dick Long takes its outrageous premise and, unexpectedly, wrings serious drama out of it. This tonal shift was a huge gamble, but it pays off.

The acting, from a string of unfamiliar and semi-familiar faces, is universally strong—actually, close to great. Michael Abbott, Jr. handles the lead with tragicomic aplomb. He doesn’t want the secret to get out, sure, but he’s even more afraid of losing his wife and child, which makes it easy to root for him despite his duplicity. His buddy Earl (Andre Hyland) is a comic foil and actually kind of a dick, a vapin’ fool whose philosophy of life distills down to a beer and a shrug. Sarah Baker makes you think that someday soon she might grow up to be Alabama’s answer to Marge Gunderson. Virginia Newcomb has a supporting role as Zeke’s wife, but gets a major moment when hubby awkwardly and reluctantly confesses after inconsistencies in his story give him no other choice. The smaller roles are handled with equal ability. Scheinert deserves credit for assembling and guiding this fine ensemble.

The Death of Dick Long put in a token appearance in theaters before showing up on a extras-free DVD and Blu-ray in December. This solo outing for Scheinert does not mean that he’s broken up with directing partner . The Daniels are currently at work on a new project, Everything Everywhere All at Once, described as an “interdimensional action film.” 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Never remotely as goofy as [Swiss Army Man] but still bizarre in its own way, it’s sort of difficult to believe the film exists. But in a post-Mother and Sorry to Bother You world, perhaps anything can… takes a turn for the weird around the halfway point, and what happens shouldn’t be spoiled…”–Justin Jones, CBR

 

366 UNDERGROUND: SHADOWPLAY (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Tony Pietra Arjuna

FEATURING: Tony Eusoff, Megat Sharizal, Juria Hartmans, Iman Corinne Adrienne, Radhi Khalid

PLOT: Anton Shaw is an unlicensed detective hired to track down a missing college student, but his own traumatic past keeps derailing his investigation.

COMMENTS: Under a glaring neon sign, at the cross-section between pulp-detective and pulp-romance, you will find Tony Arjuna’s Shadowplay—a movie with ambition. Among the themes explored, it primarily focuses on:

  • The effects of childhood trauma
  • The influence of dreams on reality
  • The slipperiness of identity
  • The cross-section between the written word and real life
  • The unreliability of memory

The question then becomes, does Arjuna’s reach exceed his grasp?

The story, as best as one might decipher, involves a would-be private investigator named Anton Shaw (Tony Eusoff), as he minds the shop for his friend and mentor (who is busy with a run of the mill adultery case). To kill the time, Anton reads a “choose your own adventure” novel, one with no author credited and no publishing house mentioned. The phone rings. Does he choose to answer? Turning to page 18, he does so, and thus begins the investigation of a young woman’s disappearance—an investigation that neatly mirrors his own past. His choices in the book are shown in real life, or perhaps vice-versa. For Anton, nothing is made clear until the end—and even then, he may have gotten no further than the chair in his friend’s office.

I’ll say right now that there are problems. The acting quality is very inconsistent, particularly with the female characters. As this is a riff on the “hard-boiled detective” story, there needs must be a femme fatale–several, in the case of Shadowplay. This numerousness is fine, but hearing a sultry dame huskily inquire, “Are you of indigenous descent?” strained even my generous incredulity. Perhaps it’s the script: the story is truly novel (so to speak), but many of the players are stuck with platitudinous lines that even the best actors would have difficulty giving weight to. Also, the scattered nature of the narrative leaves a lot of unhelpful ambiguity.

But, Shadowplay succeeds in two key ways. It’s beautifully shot, with a clever lighting and color scheme that creates a genuinely otherworldly aura. The aerial shots—of a very ’80s-looking Kuala Lumpur—ably define the environment, a nighttime hybrid of neon reality and neon dreams. The soundtrack, also very 1980s, enhances this effect, and by the film’s end I was in one of those pleasantly altered states of contemplation; the movie had transported me from my viewing room to its twilight vision of shadowy luminescence.

Shadowplay is, in all honesty, a very amateur outing, but it does give me hope for Arjuna’s future. He’s got a lock on sound and vision, and if he can just tighten his stories (and find better actors), I’ve no doubt he’ll be making great–and, hopefully, weird–movies in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Shadowplay is halfway there thanks to its aesthetic, I cannot stress enough how beautiful this film is to look at. Arjuna deserves praise for turning Kuala Lumpur into a psychedelic neon dreamland and…the soundtrack is outstanding, but this is where the good ends.” -Husna Anjum, EasternKicks.com (contemporaneous)

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