All posts by Gregory J. Smalley (366weirdmovies)

Originally an anonymous encyclopediast who closely guarded his secret identity to prevent his occult enemies from exposing him, a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that "366weirdmovies" is actually Greg Smalley, a freelance writer and licensed attorney from Louisville, KY. His orientation is listed as "hetero" and his relationship status as "single," but Mr. Smalley's "turn-ons" and "favorite Michael Bay movie" were redacted from the FOIA report. Mr. Smalley is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.

CAPSULE: COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, , Joely Richardson,  Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliar

PLOT: A meteorite lands at a remote New England farm and spreads alien madness to a family.

Still from Color out of Space (2019)

COMMENTS:  The color out of space is actually lavender, or maybe it’s more of a fuchsia. At any rate, it’s in the pink/purple spectrum.  It’s possible that this choice is a nod to From Beyond, which is also inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and which I once wrote was “the pinkest horror movie ever made.” (Besides Beyond, Color reminded me of a number of 80s horrors, with shadings from The Shining, Poltergeist, and even Society.) Director Richard Stanley is committed to this color palette, which is prefigured in the streak of purple dye in Lavinia Gardner’s otherwise golden hair. In Lovecraft’s original story, a color never before seen by man was a metaphor for the ineffable quality of the alien visitor. In the movie, that color necessarily must be represented literally, and Stanley takes the literalism so excessively—slathering the film with liquid lilacs and violets—that the effect becomes almost as strange as an indescribable extraterrestrial hue. In fact, you only know when the alien presence has departed because the scene becomes drained of all color.

Bookended by quotations from Lovecraft‘s text, Color follows a standard horror movie arc: character setup, arrival of an evil presence, and steadily escalating eerie incidents that come to a climax. There are a lot of unusual sights along the way, however, starting with the purple mutant grasshopper/dragonfly hybrid with tie-dye spider-eye vision and progressing to general madness among the entire cast and a ian mother/child re-assimilation. The utter inscrutability of the aliens’ nature and purpose is true to Lovecraft, though it may not be to some modern horror fans’ taste. Questions of whether the color arrives on the pink glowing meteor by accident or purposefully, and why it seems to suddenly depart—or perhaps just to go dormant—are left unanswered. “What touched this place cannot be understood or quantified by human science,” is the best those hoping for an explanation will get.

Despite being featured in the film’s promotion, Cage, as the family patriarch, doesn’t dominate the story. He doesn’t even start Cage-ing until halfway through, going all Jack Torrance after his kids forget to feed the alpaca, gesticulating wildly and switching accents mid-monologue. It’s the young stars Madeleine Arthur (as Lavinia) and Elliot Knight (as the surveyor) who are the main protagonists. I came into the experience looking forward to Cage bringing the crazy, but ended up happy that his peculiar lunacy merely seasoned the film a bit, rather than dominating it.

Due to its provenance— a weird fiction classic that’s been adapted many times, but never properly; a cult director come out of retirement to helm the project; Nic Freaking Cage— Color Out of Space is the hot ticket among cult film fans in early 2020. The movie doesn’t actually do anything truly unexpected, but nor does it disappoint. With Cage, a retro-80s horror pace and feel, and plenty of pretty swirling colors, it’s going to hit the sweet spot for a lot of viewers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Oh, Richard Stanley, how we have missed your intoxicating weirdness… there is no preparing you for this space oddity.”–Preston Barta, Fresh Fiction (festival screening)

CAPSULE: THE WAVE (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Gille Klabin

FEATURING: , , Donald Faison, Tommy Flanagan, Ronnie Gene Blevins

PLOT: A corporate lawyer decides to cut loose one night, but regrets it when a strange drug dealer convinces him to try an exotic hallucinogen whose effects last several days and make him randomly skip forward in time.

Still from The Wave (2019)

COMMENTS: I was confused as to what genre to place The Wave. It’s not reality-based enough to be science fiction, and nor is it divorced enough from reality to be fantasy. It’s not magical realism, either. The issues it explores are more philosophical than dramatic.  Psychological thriller kind of works, but the film is not nearly as dark as that term usually implies. The pacing (and the occasional light mugging from the leads) suggests that the movie wants to be taken as a comedy. Indeed, the setup, with straight-laced corporate lawyer Frank sneaking out for a night on the town with his more adventurous (and nigh-irresponisible) buddy suggest suits-cut-loose shenanigans a la Something Wild are coming. But the movie also takes itself kind of seriously, and lacks moments that play for big laughs.

The mongrel term “dramedy” is a possibility, but in the end I think The Wave really belongs to that rare and disreputable subgenre, the “trip movie.” It’s not an exploitation piece—although there are drug porn moments, like when we see a heaping mound of hundreds of thousands of dollars of uppers, downers, pills and powders spread across a grinning dealer’s table. The Wave‘s money shots are its wavery lysergic visions—especially when one of the mystery drug’s waves kicks in at a corporate board meeting, turning the executives into a bunch of Mammon-channeling demons. (The visuals here are simple but effective—it looks like they digitally painted over every frame of film, an effect that looks like rotoscoping done in MS Paint). At its core, the script posits that psychedelic drugs have legitimate spiritual healing qualities—that all that most self-centered lawyer needs is a high enough dose to turn himself on, grok karma, and become a self-sacrificing hippie.

The script may be naive at heart, but it hides it well. After Frank takes the mystery drug, the plot barrels along, lurching forward in time. Frank might suddenly find himself in a deserted house, or in the middle of a car chase, without explanation. Blackouts may be a side effect of the drug, but there’s something mystical about the process, too. By the end, the plot points snap into place nicely. The leads are all pro. Donald Faison provides good buddy support, playing the bad angel or good angel as needed; Sheila Vand, the mystic pixie dream girl, is luminous in her dream sequences; and Ronnie Gene Blevins overacts quite appropriately as the hellbent drug dealer antagonist. Justin Long makes a great Frank. He has a pleasant John Krasinski-meets-Fred Armisen quality here; you can’t stay mad at him, even when blind ambition is leading him to screw the beneficiaries of a dead firefighter out of their rightful proceeds. The screenplay hates the game, not the player, and redemption is just a trip away. Everything doesn’t quite work as it should: some characters, like the shrewish wife and the ruthless CEO, are cardboard caricatures; the score adds little; and, since the mystery drug comes at you in waves, the movie probably should have been titled in the plural. But if a mysterious Scotsman in a fur coat offers you The Wave, consider taking it. Rough patches aside, the crisp acting, inventive visuals, and speedy pace make it a trip you probably won’t regret taking.

The Wave shows up in selected cinemas, and more widely on video-on-demand, this Friday, January 17.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a fairly clever, trippy saga with its heart in the right place.”–Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm (festival screening)

 

CAPSULE: VHYES (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Jack Henry Robbins

FEATURING: Mason McNulty, Christian Drerup, Jake Head, Rahm Braslaw

PLOT: We see the results when 12-year-old Ralph tapes late night 1987 cable television shows, and his own adolescent antics, over his parent’s old wedding tape.

Still from VHYes (2019)

COMMENTS: VHYes had me at the moment when, after brushing in some happy snowcaps for the mountains she’s been crafting, the somnolently friendly Bob Ross-style PBS painting instructor announces “now, let’s get back to the spaceship.” She’s just one of the demented characters you meet as young Ralph experiments in preserving his short-attention span channel surfing for posterity: a kindly cowboy full of inappropriate advice; a couple of shopping channel salesfolk who banter passive-aggressively; an “Antiques Roadshow”-inspired host who appraises some unusual artifacts; the shy hostess of a punk rock public access show (and her supportive parents); and a prescient cultural philosopher who describes the phenomenon of “tape narcissism” and warns that “one day the world will exist only to be filmed.” Naturally, there are also a slew of vintage commercial and infomercial parodies. This smorgasbord of ersatz crapola plays like a found footage 1980s version of The Groove Tube, except that it periodically returns to check in the adventures on Ralph, his best friend Josh, and his mom and dad. Some bits are silly and overdone (there’s a bit more splattered blood than you’d normally see in an alarm company commercial ); others are subtle and absurd. The big finale is reminiscent of the kind of short that might play on “” post-midnight: Ralph finds himself surreally transported into a jumbled reality where the layers of the tape all bleed together.

VHYes is a breezy compendium of skewed nostalgia, sometimes hilarious, sometimes weird, and, unexpectedly, sometimes touching. The most substantial complaint to raise against it, in fact, is that it’s too short. There must have been plenty of unused tape, and I would have loved to see even more backstory on young Ralph. His scenes are more than just the gimmick that explains the existence of the artifact we’re watching; his story of coping with childhood fears and disappointments offer a meaningful counterbalance to the goofy comedy sketches, like the commercial for an ointment that grants cubicle workers “freakish flexibility.” On the other hand, maybe it’s best to consider VHYes‘ zippy 70-minute runtime an asset rather than a liability. It’s a “little” film, but in the best sense: short, punchy, homemade, thoughtful in its unassuming way, and—like the ongoing saga of Hot Winter, an ecologically-aware 80s porno with the lesbian orgies edited out—innocent at its heart.

VHYes was shot entirely on vintage VHS and Betacam cameras. The bits with the spooky painter (starring Kerry Kenney, of “Reno 911” fame) are spliced in from Robbins’ 2017 Sundance short “Painting with Joan”; the edited porno scenes from “Hot Winter” were also a standalone short. Director Jack Henry Robbins is the son of and , who executive produced and have eye-blink cameos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strange yet sweet film that is one-part coming-of-age dramedy, one-part found-footage comedy, and one part channel surfing.”–Kristy Puchko, Pajiba (festival screening)

ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 2019 AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

The 2019 Online Film Critics Society awards are out. Weird films didn’t fare well in the nominations this year. I Lost My Body was nominated for Best Animated Film; Florence Pugh for Best Actress in Midsommar; and we saw a Best Supporting actor nom for and a Best Cinematography bid, both for The Lighthouse. (The Lighthouse should have at least earned a Best Original Screenplay nod, too, but whatever). None of them won, but it’s some consolation that received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

As always, despite the levity in my tone, I take my voting responsibility very seriously, and I do not put forward weird films at the expense of worthier mainstream candidates just because it’s “my thing.” Here is the list of this year’s winners, along with my choices and a touch of personal commentary.

BEST PICTURE

Parasite (2019)Winner: Parasite

Also nominated: 1917, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Uncut Gems, Us

My pick: Knives Out

Comments: Parasite‘s win is in no way a surprise; since winning the Palme d’Or, it’s been fending off all contenders in critical repute. The movie is excellent, a black comedy that becomes a thriller, set in a background of South Korean economic despair and inequality. I thought Knives Out, on the other hand, was the crowd-pleaser of the season, and one of the very few Hollywood films of recent years that hits on all cylinders. Parasite had best foreign offering locked up anyway, but I can’t complain about losing to a Bong Joon-ho joint.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Winner: Toy Story 4

Also nominated: Frozen II, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Missing Link

My pick: I Lost My Body

Comments: The unnecessary but unexpectedly confident Toy Story 4 would be my second choice, but I Lost My Body was legitimately thrilling in its Pixar-meets- adventures of a severed hand fending off pigeons and rats; and moving, too. A close call.

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Also nominated: Sam Mendes – 1917, Celine Sciamma – Portrait of a Lady on Fire,  The Irishman,  – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My pick: Quentin Tarantino

Comments: It’s hard to split up the Best Picture/Best Director combo. I went with Tarantino largely to acknowledge his at times underrated talent at working with actors—from Leonardo DiCaprio’s falling cowboy star to Bard Pitt’s tough guy to Margo Robbie’s star-eyed Sharon Tate to the entire Manson clan, he wrings nothing but Continue reading ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 2019 AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2019

In just a few more hours, 2019 will be in the books. Actually, for the purposes of weird movie monitoring, we put 2019 to bed last month; from now on we’ll be ending our personal movie calendar on the last day of November, to allow our future 366 Weird Movies Yearbooks to go out in December. We’re not missing out on much; usually, December releases are limited to Star Wars sequels and Oscar bait dramas. (Although we do regret not being able to fit the animated severed hand romance I Lost My Body into 2019, a review will keep until early 2020. And, of course, we regret not considering December’s Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation that divided the furry community).

Under the Silver Lake key artAs always, there were hard cuts at the bottom of the top 10 list. After all, 2019 saw (as a mortician) and (as the homeless guy Wiseau bef(r)iends) renew their onscreen chemistry in the sprawling two-part epic Best F(r)iends. gave us another gonzo performance as a truck driver whose dead wife’s spirit possesses the body of his new girlfriend’s hot jailbait daughter in Between Worlds. And speaking of speaking with the dead, who can forget Holy Trinity, about a dominatrix who  develops necromantic abilities after huffing cans of new age air freshener? Well, you can’t forget what you never saw, and that one, along with Alien Crystal Palace, the French sex film that casts the Egyptian god Horus as a mad scientist, and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, wherein the messiah and an Ethiopian President/superhero figure into a social media virus plot, have so far proven too weird to be picked up by distributors. Maybe 2020 will bring these gems to wider audiences.

As for the choice of movies: I personally pick them using a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the degree of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I rank them in whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that. (This year, I actually solicited second opinions for each of the nominees, but I’ll still take all the blame if you want to complain that The Forest of Love should have been the fifth weirdest film of the year, not the sixth).  As always, films are listed in random order—the weirdest of orders.

So, on to the official Weirdest Movies of 2019 List! May each successive year grow stranger and more challenging than the next…

7. Diamantino: A right-wing political party tricks a simpleminded, empathetic Portuguese soccer star into becoming its spokesman. With visions of puppies, an adopted refugee who’s actually a government spy, and hermaphroditic side effects of a cloning project, this political satire gets pretty wild by the final act. As explains, “[t]he film’s delightfully crazy sense of humor and surreally satirized reality, contrasted with the sincerity with which it treats its main character, makes for a definite achievement.”

1. Under the Silver Lake: A Los Angeles slacker becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his hot blonde neighbor; his investigations Continue reading TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES OF 2019

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2019: MAINSTREAM EDITION

Here is my obligatory annual top 10 list of movies, ranked according to mainstream standards. In other words, weird movies are allowed in this list, but I attempt to rank 2019 releases according to their general merit, intended for people who don’t specialize in the genre. Provocative cults film like Under the Silver Lake can (and did!) make this list, but they will not automatically be catapulted to the top. When ranked by mainstream standards, they may even show up in a different order (and do!). Stay tuned for the top 10 weird movies of 2019 at a later hour.

2019 Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Chained for Life, The Forest of Love, Jojo Rabbit, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Little Women, Luce, Transit, Us.

Contenders I couldn’t fit in screenings of before this article’s the deadline: Atlantics, HoneylandUncut Gems.

10. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote: Read Giles Edwards’ review! Toby, once an idealistic filmmaker and now a director of commercials, revisits Spain to find that the old shoemaker he cast as his lead in his “Don Quixote” student film now believes he is Quixote and Toby is Sancho Panza. It would have been a relief if the result of this legendary event that spent almost three decades in development hell was just acceptable. It’s actually good. gives us a whacked-out classical postmodernism reminiscent his 80s and 90s classics, with near-perfect comic chemistry between ‘s “Quixote” and ‘s “Sancho” and an almost overwhelming serving of medieval spectacle in the billionaire costume ball finale.

Still from The Man Who Killed Don Quixote_2

9. Under the Silver Lake: Read the Apocryphally Weird review! A Los Angeles slacker becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his hot blonde neighbor–his investigations uncover increasingly bizarre conspiracies involving a dog murderer, hidden messages in songs by the hip new band “Jesus and the Brides of Dracula,” and secret death cults. If you were jonesing for more Inherent Vice, here comes another messy California-set stoner conspiracy theory noir; this one puts you right inside the mind of its paranoid and dangerously unhinged antihero. It had a troubled debut at Cannes and a delayed theatrical release, but it’s destined to find an audience and be a crowned a “cult favorite” in the near future.

8. Apollo 11: An assemblage of restored footage from NASA and other sources chronologically documenting 1969’s 8-day Apollo 11 mission that landed a man on the moon. Will the crew make it back safely? Is the Earth really round? Did accidentally leave a visible boom mic in frame? You’ll have to watch to find out.

7. Toy Story 4: Woody, now with a new owner and no longer the favorite toy, tutors a newcomer, finds a lost friend, and tries to defend himself against a broken antique doll who wants his voice box. Old favorites return, but this late sequel features new toys: two stuffed carnival prizes, a Canadian motorcycle daredevil, and of course, Forky. It features some surprisingly complex moral choices, for a toy Continue reading TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2019: MAINSTREAM EDITION

CAPSULE: MONOS (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Landes

FEATURING: Sofia Buenaventura, Julianne Nicholson, Moisés Arias, Wilson Salazar

PLOT: A paramilitary squadron of teenagers guard a hostage at a remote jungle location; bad decisions by the inexperienced soldiers lead to tragedy.

Still from Monos (2019)

COMMENTS: Monos is a movie that reminds everyone of other movies, of Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now and Aguirre the Wrath of God. That’s not a knock on director Alejandro Landes; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, when existing styles are the best means to tell the story you want to tell.

A co-ed group of eight teenagers are given rifles and tasked with guarding an American hostage (and a cow) on a lonely mountaintop. To pass the time, they play blindfolded soccer and shoot automatic rounds into the air; as the story begins, their life is more like summer camp than boot camp. They have code names like “Rambo” and “Bigfoot” and work for “the Organization,” with their single point of contact with the outside world a ripped dwarf dubbed “the Messenger.” We do not know why they are fighting or who they are fighting for or against. Besides providing an ambiguous ambiance, there’s an important reason for the lack of specific context to the military campaign–it puts you in the same position as the conscripted kids, who have no ideology and show no understanding of the prospects or merits of their side of the conflict.

Monos is a worthy movie, but it’s mostly a work of psychological realism exploring the dynamics of a group of child soldiers. The kids struggle against their hormones, form internal alliances, seem to not understand why their hostage isn’t friendlier to them, and make immature decisions that lead to their numbers being whittled down over the course of the movie. Its slim claims to weirdness stem from a number of impressionistic, ritualistic montages—in particular, one where three of the team discover psychedelic mushrooms on the eve of a government ambush—which gives it that surreal fog-of-war haze found in war films like Come and See. Mica Levi (Under the Skin ) contributes a misty, atonal score that heightens the ethereal unease.

Wilson Salazar (“the Messenger”) was himself drafted into the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) at the age of thirteen. He was initially brought in to train the kids to act like soldiers, but the filmmakers liked his look and persona so much that they cast him in a prominent role.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

…surreal, wildly beautiful… Easily one of the best films of 2019.”–Tara Brady, The Irish Times (contemporaneous)