Category Archives: List Candidates

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

DIRECTED BY:  Julia Leigh

FEATURING, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie

PLOT:  A quiet but reprobate student blindly contracts for unconventional assignments with an enigmatic madam to cater to the peculiar perversions of the ultra-rich.

Still from Sleeping Beauty (2011)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTSleeping Beauty is not a sex-movie, but rather a tense, eerie multiple character study. The focused, unadorned manner in which it is shot, without a musical score, combines with the bizarre nature of its story to set an unusual mood which demands that we take it seriously. This atmosphere, and the choices the writer and director made in deciding what elements of its story to show us, to make Sleeping Beauty a weird and unusual viewing experience.

(Ignore the website and DVD jacket descriptions of this slick Aussie thriller; because US distributors don’t know how to present unusual efforts to a general audience, the synopses grossly mischaracterize this effort as some sort of racy potboiler. Sleeping Beauty is not a sex piece, even though Emily Browning looks just like a Real Doll sex doll in the trailer. Sleeping Beauty is not another Eyes Wide Shut. It is not designed to be racy or titillating. Nor is it a murky, confusing David Lynch-style movie, although fans of Lynch’s works will surely love it. Sleeping Beauty is in no way what I expected. It is unpredictable and although it declines to utilize a demented twist ending, I assure the reader he will never guess where it is heading).

For additional fun, be sure to look for an appearance by actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the crazed “Toecutter” in 1979’s Mad Max.

COMMENTS: Wow! What a gem! I was hoping for something different and creepy from the trailer. I was not disappointed! Yet I was surprised. I was expecting something sci-fi or horror, about turning girls into living sex dolls. Sleeping Beauty turns out to be so much more unsettling, sophisticated and subtle. From its opening frames, the somber cinematography and unabashed, close-in concentration on its characters makes it clear that you are watching a serious, high-quality effort crafted by a writer and director who know exactly what to do. There’s a controlling sensation that your impressions are being skillfully manipulated by the filmmakers. Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: PALINDROMES (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Todd Solondz

FEATURING: , Richard Masur, , Sharon Wilkins

PLOT: A teenager falls in with a group of anti-abortionists in her quest to become pregnant.

Still from Palindromes (2004)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As if the plot isn’t off-beat enough, Palindromes‘s teenage porotagonist is played by a variety of actors of different ages, sizes, races, and even genders.

COMMENTS: The standout feature of Palindromes is the unorthodox casting of a series of different actresses (and one actor) in the role of Aviva Victor. The variety of thespians allows Solondz to express the evolution of Aviva’s self-image, physically reflecting changes in her emotional state during the movie. When we first meet Aviva, she is played by a young African-American girl who wears her emotions on her sleeves and in her facial expressions. She is the only child to middle class parents (Barkin and Masur) living in an anonymous suburb in the Northeast United States. Horrified at the probable suicide of her cousin Dawn and alienated by the material nature of her mother’s love, Aviva becomes obsessed with the idea of having lots of babies to ensure she has someone to love her. Then, as a Caucasian brunette in her early teens, she has an ill-advised encounter with the son of a family friend, and gets pregnant. As a reedy, red-haired, slightly older girl, she strenuously resists but eventually accedes to getting an abortion. As a more confident and more attractive brunette, she runs away with the help of a truck driver, with whom she has sex in the hopes of once again getting pregnant. Abandoned by the truck driver, she wanders through wilderness in the shape of a teenage boy and then is discovered—now as a large, older African–American woman—by the driven and very Christian Mama Sunshine, who runs an orphanage for children with medical infirmities. Here Aviva is least like herself: in a completely alien environment, she has to lie about her name and her past to fit in, and her self-doubt and anxiety are apparent in her magnified size, awkward movement, and change in race. The plot unfolds from there involving more pedophilia, a quest to assassinate the doctor who aborted her fetus, and a shootout in room 11 of a seedy motel, with Aviva switching from shape to shape, becoming more assertive and mature. At the point where she feels most grown-up, she returns to her family as a world-weary, bedraggled 20-something waif (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She holds her own in an existential debate with her older cousin, Mark, and easily wins arguments with her parents. But, as the title of the movie suggests, things come around: Aviva meets up with the boy who got her pregnant to begin with, reverts mentally through the chain of actors who have portrayed her, until she is once again the vulnerable, out-of-place, emotionally needy little black girl. As seductive as the message is that everything eventually returns to its beginning state, palindrome-like, some things in the film are irreversible: death, certain operations, and murder among them. In the end, it’s these things that will eventually shape the person Aviva will eventually become, but she’s not yet become them yet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“What makes this strange story even stranger is Aviva is played by eight different performers… Solondz constructs a deadpan sheltering bubble around his film, thereby defusing most of the issues he raises. It’s all one Warholian shrug. Still, ‘Palindromes’ is unlike anything you’ve seen at the movies.”–Bob Longino, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: LA JETÉE (1962)

Note: In the third reader’s choice poll, 366 readers voted to make La Jetée a candidate for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made; we’ve upgraded its status accordingly.

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jean Négroni (narrator), Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain (models)

PLOT: After World War III, a man is trained as a time traveler to try to find a cure for the devastation, but he is more interested in locating the woman on a pier whom he briefly glimpsed as a child and whose image burned itself into his memory.

Still from La Jetee (1962)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTLa Jetée has all the cinematic quality it would need to qualify for the List, and a significant enough level of weirdness to justify inclusion. The film’s only drawback is its length; at a mere 30 minutes, it would need to be ghost-of-Hunter-S.-Thompson-on-a-peyote-trip bizarre in order to take a spot on the List away from a movie that’s three or four times its length. It is, however, a historically important film with links to lots of other weird movies, and any serious student of cinematic surrealism should be sure the name “La Jetée” at least rings a bell.

COMMENTS: The credits introduce La Jetée not as a film, but as a photo-roman (photo-novel). Filmmaker Chris Marker made this experiment, his only significant fiction film, between his usual essay-style documentaries; the story is told entirely through still photographs (with one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it motion sequence), third-person narration, and sound effects. The technique is surprisingly effective and remarkably cinematic, and it dovetails with the movie’s theme of memory; each image is itself like one of the nameless hero’s stored memories, which he accesses as if he’s browsing an interior museum. Sometimes the pictures fit together in sequence to compose a fragmented scene, and other times they make giant leaps into the future or past, in the same way that the mind jumps back and forth between present and past as it composes reality in real time. The story is vague in its details—we get no information about the war that nearly destroyed the world, and the potentially troubling etiquettes of romancing a woman across a gulf of time are glossed over—but we accept the fabulous story more easily and focus on its emotional and intellectual messages better without a lot of distracting Continue reading CAPSULE: LA JETÉE (1962)

DUCK SOUP (1933)

“Movies gave them a mass audience, and they were the instrument that translated what was once essentially a Jewish style of humor into the dominant note of American comedy. Although they were not taken as seriously, they were as surrealist as Dali, as shocking as Stravinsky, as verbally outrageous as Gertrude Stein, as alienated as Kafka. Because they worked the genres of slapstick and screwball, they did not get the same kind of attention, but their effect on the popular mind was probably more influential.”–Roger Ebert on the Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers were, understandably, the darlings of the surrealists; and that should be a red flag to contemporary audience members belonging to the religious cult of Hyperrealism.

I say that up front because I have watched this film in the company of such alien types as the Hyperrealists. Their melodramatic, aggressive reactions were the same as I saw in a showing of the films of  Busby Berkeley (be forewarned: a series on Berkeley is coming). Naturally, I saw it as my aesthetic duty to cut those sophistic assailants down to size.

The Marx Brothers, perhaps, are the quintessential comedy team with an edge. exhibits a comparable level of surrealism, but as a predominantly solo act, he’s a mono whisper compared to the quadrophonic Brothers. 1930s audiences showed themselves to be a somewhat more imaginative lot (not by much) than us in that they not only accepted the Brothers level of unhinged zaniness, but they even made stars out of them.

Still from Duck Soup (1933)Note that “but not by much,” because Duck Soup (1933) was the Marx Brothers most revolutionary film, a surrealist-politico masterpiece, and it totally bombed at the box office. This resulted in the Brothers being released from their Paramount contract.  MGM and Irving Thalberg were quick to snap them up, but Thalberg, a self-confessed fan, knew he had to polish their act in order to increase their accessibility.

The MGM films that followed Soup Continue reading DUCK SOUP (1933)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969)

The Bed Sitting Room has been promoted to the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. This post is closed for commenting. Please make all comments on the official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Michael Hordern, Rita Tushingham, Richard Warwick, Arthur Lowe, Mona Washbourne, Marty Feldman, Spike Milligan, Dudley Moore,

PLOT: After the Bomb falls, a family who lives on a still-functioning subway train travels to the surface in search of a nurse for their pregnant daughter.

Still from The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This absurd anxiety nightmare about the Bomb could only have come out of the Swinging Sixties; it’s one of the weirder relics of an era when filmmakers felt it was their patriotic duty to laugh in the face of the imminent apocalypse.

COMMENTS: The Bed Sitting Room began its life as a one-act play, written by comedian Spike Milligan and John Antrobus in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that time, at the height of Cold War paranoia, nuked-up powers were playing games of chicken with each other and worldwide nuclear annihilation seemed inevitable. In the average person’s eyes the world and its leaders had gone insane, and who better to depict the inevitable aftermath of our self-destructive impulses than Milligan and his “Goon Show” squad, under the cheerfully absurd direction of A Hard Days Night‘s Richard Lester? The results are a ridiculous apocalypse the likes of which has never been depicted on screen before. Looking like it was shot in a Welsh garbage dump, with heaping mountains of discarded boots and crockery and the police flying through the sky in a burnt-out VW bug attached to a balloon, the movie anticipates the junkyard visuals of post-apocalyptic films to follow. Tonally, however, Bed Sitting Room is miles away from the cutthroat scavenger worlds of Mad Max or A Boy and His Dog; it’s Theater of the Absurd performed by vaudevillians. The jokes are almost feather-light, contrasting with the inherent horror of the situation. “I’m not eating,” complains a patient. When the doctor asks why, he answers matter-of-factly, “can’t get the stuff.” In another scene a lonely recluse asks “would you do for me what my first wife did?” to a nervous middle aged woman who’s fallen into his fallout shelter. Having no choice, she reluctantly agrees, and he hands her pots, pans and teacups to throw at him as he dodges them shouting “she means nothing to me!” The movie is full of corny Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: RUBBER’S LOVER (1996)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Norimizu Ameya, Yôta Kawase, Mika Kunihiro, Sosuke Saito

PLOT: In the midst of bizarre and intricate top secret drug research, four mad scientists run

low on test subjects and use one another as guinea pigs. Their equipment malfunctions as the team succumbs to the drug’s psychotic effects. The entire experiment spirals horribly out of control, turning the final test subject into a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster—with a unique twist.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The bizarre story, unconventional filming, and shocking imagery in Rubber’s Lover make it a weird viewing experience, even by the standards of the Japanese cyberpunk genre.

COMMENTS: Kinetic editing and dark, shocking images define this unusual, experimental Japanese horror film. In a modern update to the Frankenstein plot, a team of rogue scientists conduct experimental drug, sensory, and mind control research on abducted human subjects in a secret government torture lab. The results are promising, but they can’t seem to get the dose right; the subjects keep dying. (Who might have predicted that?) Worse, they are running out of hard-to-obtain “patients” and time is running out to conclude experimentation. Their horrifying lab is full of eerie black iron devices and electronics, all maddeningly grotesque in appearance.

Threatened with impending shut-down and loss of grants if they don’t achieve viable results soon, the crazy quartet decides to give their last living human guinea pig a mega dose of their weird drug cocktail. His brain explodes, dosing an assistant by spraying blood on him. Now the assistant is instantly addicted, semi-psychotic, and useless for being anything but, you guessed it, the next test subject.

The researchers fight over which of their two drugs they should test on him, as both have developed competing formulas. One decides to test his drug on his partner, turning the hapless associate into a mad sex offender who then marathon-rapes a female executive sent to shut down their lab. To prevent her leaving and making a bad report (why would she want to do that?) Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: RUBBER’S LOVER (1996)

LIST CANDIDATE: TUVALU (1999)

Tuvalu has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry. Comments on this post are closed.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Chulpan Khamatova, Terrence Gillespie, Philippe Clay, Catalina Murgea

PLOT: Can a picturesque but dilapidated Turkish bathhouse pass a government inspection, and can love between a poolboy and a female patron flourish after the girl’s father is killed when a piece of the crumbling ceiling falls on him?

Still from Tuvalu (1999)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Stylized to the T’s and set in a bleak world where crumbling Romanesque baths sit in fields of rubble, Tuvalu shows all the right cinematic influences and has the instinctual organic oddness necessary to be canonized in the halls of weirdness. In fact, it falls short of making the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies on the first ballot by as slim a margin as is possible. Visually, Tuvalu is a stunner; it only falls short of classic status due to a stiff storyline. While it’s hard to imagine 250 or so more impressive weird movies to make the list ahead of this one, we’re going to hold back for the moment and hold out hope we do locate them; if not, we expect Tuvalu will be back to take up the slack.

COMMENTS: Stylistically, Tuvalu takes its cue from the weird world of , in more ways than one. Director Veit Helmer challenges himself to tell the story with the minimum amount of dialogue possible; only names and very occasional words (“no!,” “technology!”) are spoken. Remarkably, from the context, the characters convey almost as much information to us just by saying each others’ names with the proper inflection, and the story is effectively told entirely on the visual level. The color scheme is 1920s monochrome, sepias for indoor scenes and steel gray for exteriors, with a brief explosion of color appearing in the rambunctious storybook hand-tinting of the fantasy scenes. There are ample references to , too, with certain sequences cranked-up Keystone Kops style, and put-upon poolboy Anton (craggy-faced Lavant) constantly scurrying about his family’s Turkish bath putting out fires started by the eccentric denizens of this timeless movie-caricature world. More recent Tuvaluan influences come from famed French fantasists (in the rapturously baroque Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: TUVALU (1999)