Category Archives: List Candidates

SLAMDANCE 2024: SLIDE (2024)

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DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

FEATURING: Voices of , Jim Lujan, Tom Racine, Ana Sophia Colón, Daniel Kaufman

PLOT: Emerging from a desert whirlpool, a mysterious slide guitarist defends the locals—and the local monster—from the corrupt machinations of the mayor of Sourdough Creek.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Plympton’s absorbingly grotesque animation style, paired perfectly with his oddball storytelling, make his films a shoo-in ’round these parts.

COMMENTS: A bearded hick, launched from his horse-driven observation perch above an incomplete dam, hurdles through the air as dozens of flying logs arc in his direction. He screams, and the camera appears to crash through his mouth, past his teeth, down his esophagus, through his guts, and out again through the… other end. This dramatic journey is animated in Bill Plympton’s signature, jaunty style, and is just one of the countless examples of him playing with lines in motion.

The man in question is Jeb Carver, the mayor of hickturesque Sourdough Creek, the rustic locale where Tinselwood Studios is hoping to film their latest blockbuster. Never one to abstain from milking a chance for all its worth, Carver takes this opportunity to convert his logging town into “Monte Carlo del Norte,” pushing his citizens to deadly lengths to whip up a dam, casino, and resort over the course of a week. The immigrant fishing village gets leveled, the “service girls” work extra shifts, and the band is banned from playing slow music. Enter a mysterious stranger, and his slide guitar.

The silly plot is pushed forward with silly machinations, silly dialogue, and a sinister (but still fairly silly) monster which is disturbed by the deforestation. This silliness serves mostly to allow Plympton to play around with his weird cartooning. Characters chase other characters up interminable stairs; dozens of unnaturally proportioned firearms pop up and fire from trees, fish, and hats; teardrops slide and slosh in extreme closeups; bosoms bounce up and down (and, for the kinky types, side to side) courtesy of the in-film technological marvel, The Sugar Shaker; and Yellow Submarine-esque fantasies play out like nauseous reimaginings of psychedelic whimsy.

Slide is not groundbreaking, it’s not “big” in any sense of the term, and as a pastiche, isn’t “new” per se. But, it is unfailingly interesting to watch (a necessity for a cartoon—something that other animation studios would do well to remember) and oh-so-reassuringly bizarre. Bill Plympton is a talented artist, particularly for having chosen the (difficult) route of animation in his unique style of comical grotesquerie writ (er, drawn) large. Kick back, keep your eyes peeled, and allow Plympton’s latest eccentricity to Slide deep down your pie-hole.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Named after its completely mute lead character and his ‘slide guitar,’ this surreal movie overflows with ideas and mesmerizing imagery…. If Slide sounds bonkers, it absolutely is.” — Josh Batchelder, Josh at the Movies (festival screening)

SLAMDANCE 2024: LOVE AND WORK (2024)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Peter Ohs

FEATURING: Stephanie Hunt, Will Madden, Frank Mosley

PLOT: Diane and Fox love to work, a banned practice which may land them in “Time Out,” but this does not thwart their pursuit of productivity.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Quirky black and white dystopian rom-com: sure, we can dig it. But Love and Work‘s particular breed of social commentary is unlike any other I’ve encountered.

COMMENTS: Diane and Fox extol the virtues of The Weekend, without fully grasping just what it is; but in their gut they know The Weekend is good, and that it is good only because of what comes before. Their former boss, still recovering from a stint in Time Out and a close run-in with the Reminders after trying to recreate the workplace, seeks answers from them as they stand on a street corner holding inspirational placards.

It’s better than a hobby. It’s better than a job. It’s The Weekend.

“What’s ‘The Weekend’?”

The answer to all your troubles.

Peter Ohs’ Love and Work is among the breeziest of bleak future visions put to screen. In this world, jobs are outlawed—a mandate enforced, free of charge, by busy-bodies whose only qualification is having memorized every governmental ordinance.

An underground network has grown among those who wish to work, employing coded language to dodge the Reminders who would put them in Time Out (a much-dreaded punishment, though not quite so bad as “The Relaxation Room”). In the foreground are Diane and Fox, two rebels who crave supervision, productivity, and shifts as long as possible.

Will Madden’s gangly Bob Fox attempts to woo Stephanie Hunt’s tight-lipped Diane. Love and Work efficiently pushes romantic comedy tropes to their extreme to bring this pair of ambitious workers together, instilling a level of awareness generally lacking in the hobby-filled, run-down town in which they’re stuck in. A previous boss winces as he shows them the ukulele he’s been doomed to play, and a former co-worker stealthily knits a sweater whilst lurking in a back alley after a crack-down on a job site.

It’s all rather silly, and delightfully so. But it serves a purpose. Loath though I am to phrase it this way, Love and Work is a manifesto, and Ohs and his team have an agenda. The scenario could have been a hyper-capitalist dream: “See? People want to work! They long for it!”; alternately, it could have been some wispy musing on the evils of forced productivity. To my surprise and palpable relief, it turned out to be neither. Love and Work is a fun, oddball little comedy, passing along to the viewer a message of hope: hope for a sensible world, where everyone can truly enjoy The Weekend.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even the character’s speech feels unnatural and broken, almost a cross between a Yorgos Lathimos screenplay and kids trying to sound like adults. The tone of the dialogue works perfectly in tandem with the setting to create the feeling of peeking in on a surreal, alternate universe.”–Elle Cowley, Slug Mag (festival screening)

SLAMDANCE 2024: THE COMPLEX FORMS (2024)

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DIRECTED BY: Fabio D’Orta

FEATURING: David White, Michele Venni, Cesare Bonomelli, Enzo Solazzi

PLOT: An out of work cook needs cash, and a mysterious organization can provide it, so long as he is willing to undergo temporary possession.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: D’Orta’s background in commercials, music videos, and set design is on display here—in a mighty fine way, to be sure. And while there are plenty of odd flourishes, ornate screen compositions, and the noodle-scratching premise itself, the “entities,” and their grand bejeweled appearance, is what delightfully seared my mind.

COMMENTS: There is a villa deep in the Italian countryside, and every so often a shining black Mercedes saloon pulls up to deliver a new occupant. This guest is, invariably, a middle-aged man with scant prospects and no family to speak of—but in good health. The management prefers the men be hard-up loners; the “clientele” prefer them healthy.

My thoughts on art house films would be more positive if there were more art house paranormal thrillers. The Complex Forms is among the few of those. (I’d be interested to hear further recommendations in the comments.) The action takes place in a hotel that looks plucked straight out of Marienbad, with officious, cryptic—and friendly—staff. We are often assured that, once an occupant leaves, “He’s fine. He’s left the villa. Nothing to worry about. Go back to your rooms.” While this would be unconvincing on its own, it’s typically intoned after a dramatic visitation from the beings who occupy the woods surrounding the lushly appointed edifice.

D’Orta’s film is an always beautiful, often menacing, and occasionally puzzling examination of angst, ritual, and time, done up in the guise of a horror film that occasionally borders on creature feature. The rote choreography of the dispirited guests, whether synchronicly mopping or dining in isolated assembly, lends a monastic quality to the film, while the protagonist’s occasional nightmares and growing fear spike the proceedings like a thumbtack jabbed, ever so slightly, under the fingernail.

And then, as I’ve mentioned, there are those sylvan forms. Are they are what the title refers to? Probably yes; but, the film does kick off with the main character filling in an exhaustive survey before traveling to the villa. No matter. D’Orta has crafted a playful and enigmatic debut, whose slick looks and cheeky musical cues meld perfectly with the heavy melodrama of the narrative. And in addition, he does us the favor of serving up many memorable, majestic monsters.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: POOR THINGS (2023)

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

DIRECTED BY:

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.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“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)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: RABBITS (2002)

“…scientists in Steve Heine’s lab at the University of British Columbia wanted to see if acetaminophen could also dampen those feelings of uncomfortable uncertainty that occur when our sense of the meaning of life is threatened — like when we think about our death or watch a surrealist film. To test their theory, they ran two experiments. First, they asked participants to write a few paragraphs about what will happen to their bodies when they die. In the second experiment, they showed participants a clip from David Lynch’s 2002 film ‘Rabbits.’”–The Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2013

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: Scott Coffey, , Naomi Watts, Rebekah Del Rio

PLOT: Lynch’s own tagline reads, “In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain … three rabbits live with a fearful mystery.” These human-shaped bunnies occupy a bare living room, where they confirm the time, question whether there have been calls, and occasionally listen to the rantings of a demon, all to the accompaniment of canned applause and laughter. 

Still from "Rabbits" (2002)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: “Rabbits” goes pretty far toward weird on its overall theme of dread and foreboding. Absurd in their enormity, the titular animals nevertheless deserve empathy for their moments of uncertainty and terror. What takes the project to another level is the suggestion of a logic underpinning the enterprise. The dialogue is almost entirely non sequitur, but it hints at an order that remains just out of reach.

COMMENTS: To my knowledge, David Lynch has never directed a stage play. But he clearly has an affinity for performances on stages. Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and “Twin Peaks” are some of the selections from his oeuvre wherein everything stops and someone takes command of the scene to put on a show within the show. So the least surprising thing about “Rabbits” is that Lynch would create a work in which that style of performance was the entire show. 

Of course, David Lynch has a very different notion of what constitutes a compelling stage show than most of us. There’s little action. Most “Rabbits” episodes open with sorrowful train horns, a steady rain beating down,  and a baleful Angelo Badalamenti theme, while Suzie stands upstage in a dressing gown, ironing, and Jane stays seated on the couch. After a moment or two, Jack walks through the front door in the kind of entrance usually accompanied by a hearty “Hi, honey, I’m home” greeting. Enormous applause from an appreciative audience greets Jack’s entrance, as though he were a TV legend making a welcome return to the small screen. But the stage offers only disquiet. 

What follows is mostly disjointed dialogue: “I am going to find out one day.” “There have been no calls today.” “It was a man in a green suit.” There are enough common elements—secrets, lost things, the time of day—to make you feel that the dialogue could be reassembled into something approaching linear coherence, but no sense that doing so would bring clarity.

But that’s not to say “Rabbits” doesn’t mix things up. Two episodes are devoted to monologues, while a third features a haunting musical number. Periodically, the telephone rings ominously, the only event that occasions an insert shot. And on two separate occasions, the room turns dark and an unintelligible monster appears on the back wall. At one point, there is a piercing scream offstage. Two episodes conclude with all of the coneys huddled on the sofa, clinging to each other for whatever comfort they can find. Lynch is almost cruel in calling his creation “a sitcom.”

The production itself is plenty bizarre. Lynch built the stage in his backyard garden and filmed at the same time each night to ensure consistent lighting, much to the annoyance of his neighbors. It appears that it really is Harring, Coffey, and freaking Academy Award-nominee Watts inside those big bunny costumes. And there’s not even a single way to watch the show. It originally appeared on Lynch’s now-defunct website in eight installments. Portions were later incorporated into his next film, Inland Empire. (In fact, those wascally wabbits were our Indelible Image.) He has since reformatted it on his own “David Lynch Theater” YouTube channel as a four-part presentation, minus the installment showcasing Del Rio’s musical contribution. (You can find the pieces assembled into a single presentation, likely taken from Absurda’s out-of-print “Lime Green Box,” while another YouTuber has helpfully adapted the series into an ambient loop, in case LoFi Girl isn’t giving you the focus you need.) 

That we are watching something being performed is implicit in the static camera, the characters’ careful respect for the downstage fourth wall, and most notably by the presence of an audience—or at least a raucous laugh track seemingly imported from an episode of “Married… with Children.” The faux audience laughs uproariously at distinctly non-comedic lines, and bursts into effusive applause every time Jack enters the room. It’s unsettling, then oppressive, and ultimately terrifying.

“Rabbits” has remarkable stickiness for such a short and static production. It has the familiar feel of Lynch’s other works, but there’s something pure about the way he whittles away the decadence of his features, including such baubles as scene-setting, linear movement, or continuity. It’s all mood, and the mood is unsettling. It’s easily the grimmest show about rabbits this side of Watership Down. They’re doing their best to hold it together in the face of awful uncertainty, but just barely. And if the rabbits can’t stay strong, what hope is there for the rest of us? As Jane says, “I wonder who I will be.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..this is Lynch at his most nightmarish, a bizarre and disconcerting series of disconnected moments that slowly builds in its weirdness towards a typically Lynchian moment of horror at the end.” – David Flint, The Reprobate

David Lynch The Lime Green Set [DVD]
  • A collection of his own films picked by director David Lynch, including the Lynch supervised hi def re-mastered edition of Eraserhead, a collection of The Short Films of David Lynch, Blue Velvet with brand new 5.1 sound mix supervised by David Lynch, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted, and The Elephant Man, along with new Lynch produced extras and Lynch direc

(This series was nominated for review by panicalmechanical. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)