CAPSULE: NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL (2017)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Kana Hanazawa,

PLOT: A shy, lovestruck senior follows a peppy junior (“the Girl with Black Hair”) from afar over an almost endless surreal night that includes philosophical drinking contests, an encounter with the God of Used Books, a peripatetic musical theater, and a cold epidemic.

Still from Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: At this writing, there are only five slots remaining on the List. If not for that shortage, Walk on Girl might have a shot. Fortunately, we already have a slightly more famous, slightly better movie to represent Masaaki Yuasa on the List—but if he keeps making anime this weird, we may have to reconsider that hard 366 cap.

COMMENTS: A cross-dresser, a man who has vowed not to change his underwear, and a love-besotted student walk into a bar… Well, actually it’s a wedding reception, not a bar, and Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is not a joke, although it is a comedy. Nevertheless, that is the opening setup for a yarn that will quickly unfurl into a surrealistic nocturnal journey. The object of the student’s affections is the Girl, who starts with her own romance-free agenda: she wants to experience adulthood, and figures the best way to do this is through a night of heavy drinking. As she meets perverts, sophists and fellow drinkers, the evening develops into a quest for a mysterious liquor known as Imitation Denki Bran, climaxing in a drinking contest against an elderly pessimist. Meanwhile, her admirer has his underwear stolen and discovers his friend leads a secret team of electronically-omniscient high school hackers. And all that’s just in the first 20-30 minutes; the not-so-short night has many more wonders to unfurl, including another competition (this time involving lava-eating), musical numbers from “The Codger of Monte Cristo” (with meta-lyrics referring to both the main plot and subplots), and a flying fever dream finale.

The look of the film is bright and clean, with a mild retro feel: space age graphics and clean modernism, with bold use of color and geometric motifs—especially flower petals, which go drifting through the canvases like blossoms falling off invisible psychedelic cherry trees. There are plenty of abstract sequences, split screens, hallucinations, and other animated digressions, but the transition between styles flows smoothly, not chaotically as in Yuasa’s previous Mind Game. The story glides along from incident to incident in a similarly fluid fashion. Episodes are packed inside four major chapters: bar hopping, the used book fair, the play, and the cold that lays the entire neighborhood low. It’s a pleasant structure to organize the anything-can-happen action and keep us from getting totally lost in the film’s hubbub.

Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is weird, but light. The title character’s girlish optimism sets a sprightly, happy tone. While her pursuer’s actions sometimes verge on the stalkerish, we never doubt the purity of his affection, and we naturally root for the two to get together. Girl‘s dream logic is totally blissed-out; someone must have spiked the imitation brandy with mescaline. It’s a night well spent; you may even wish it was longer.

Night Is Short, Walk on Girl played theaters in a limited engagement over the past summer. It’s scheduled to appear on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD in January 2019.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weird, very bemusing and sometimes wonderful anime…”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: LIKE ME (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Mockler

FEATURING: Addison Timlin, Larry Fessenden, Ian Nelson

PLOT: A teenager embarks on a low-impact crime spree in support of her burgeoning social media presence, but feels pressured to escalate in the face of blistering online criticism.

Still from Like Me (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Off-kilter sound, picture, and editing all combine to keep viewers on unsteady footing throughout, but Like Me ends up being a lot like the cereal its heroine grossly consumes: empty calories, all color and no nutrition.

COMMENTS: To be a creator of any kind—whether your forum be art or music or performance or, God help you, a writer of online movie reviews—is to crave an audience. Even if you yourself want no part of the attendant fame and controversy, the compulsive need to be heard remains. Sia may hide behind surreal dance routines and bichromatic wigs, Banksy might destroy his own work by remote control, even the mind behind the reboot of “Nancy” might prefer to fly under the radar, but they all still have something to say and want you to listen. You may have already noticed me , waving meekly at you in hopes that you will heed what I have to say about offbeat cinema. It’s no small knock on this writer that the most comments I have ever received on this website came not from a careful consideration of an epic montage or a dissection of the cinematic adaptation of one of theater’s seminal works, but rather for that time I caused a controversy by mentioning an alert to sensitive material with insufficient care. I mean, we all just want to be loved.

Kiya, the teenage protagonist of Robert Mockler’s debut feature, understands instinctively the importance of being heard, and she’s coming to realize how it is equally valuable to have something to actually say. Twice, she asks another character to “Tell me a story,” as if she knows that she is an empty vessel who desperately needs something hearty and substantial to fill her up and give her meaning. She never really gets that need met, though, and instead fills her days with hopelessness and her nights with making videos of humiliating pranks which a portion of the population devours as rich content.

Mockler has real visual flair. His jittery camera, rapid-fire editing, random imagery, and electrified color palette all speak to a deliberate and ambitious cinematic strategy. He isn’t shy about using his bag of tricks, most notably in a nightmare sequence where Kiya’s beat-up clunker motors through a candy-colored underwater bubblescape in a 900-degree long take, like Children of Men on shrooms. But what soon becomes apparent is that the weirdness is less of a mission than it is joint compound; cinematic spackle smoothing over the emptier, more aimless stretches of the thin plot. Unusual imagery does help put us inside the mindset of our quixotic, sometimes drug-buzzed protagonist, but more often than that it’s padding.

Like Me is undoubtedly titled ironically, as it’s next to impossible to like anyone in it. As Kiya’s online nemesis, Burt, spews venom at her online art project, it’s possible to agree with his harsh assessment of the pointlessness of her efforts and the vapidity of those who would lavish their attention on her while simultaneously concluding that he is an obnoxious blowhard. Her hostage-collaborator, Marshall, is both a pitiable figure for his predicament (I kept worrying about his unattended motel) and a wretched, pathetic loser. Even a little girl we meet at a service station is corrupt, shooting everything she sees with a toy gun “because it’s fun.” And then Kiya herself, played with real movie magnetism by Addison Timlin, is strangely the most compelling of all, managing to be intriguing despite having no clear inner life whatsoever. Not likeable at all, mind you. But fascinating.

There’s a lot of talent on display in Like Me, and enough of an understanding of the allure and the method of the wired world to give it verisimilitude rarely found in more mainstream films. But the whole of the movie is so much less than the sum of its parts; it can warn of the hollowness of our way of life or stoke incipient distaste for affirmation measured in followers and thumbs-ups. But once it has our attention with its sharp imagery and flowery language, nothing of consequence lingers. Which I guess is a red flag for all of us who insist on sharing our voices with the universe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an impressionistic portrait of modern estrangement, using all manner of stylistic devices to capture his protagonist’s tumultuous psyche. The film’s lack of a traditional narrative will no doubt alienate many, but for the more adventurous, it offers a uniquely weird take on loneliness and lunacy.” – Nick Schager, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: CANIBA (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel

FEATURING: Issei Sagawa, Jun Sagawa

PLOT: Confessed cannibal Issei Sagawa monologues to the camera, his face often out of focus, and talks to his caretaker brother, who is revealed to be almost as deranged.

Still from Caniba (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Caniba would make a list of the most disturbing movies ever made—easily. It’s subject is a weirdo par excellence—in fact, he may be the world’s strangest living monster—and the film takes an experimental, offbeat approach to depicting him. Yet everything shown here is tragically real, and the effect goes beyond “weird” into “despairing.”

COMMENTS: Issei Sagawa, an intelligent but shy Japanese man studying French in Paris, killed and ate a female classmate in 1981. He spent five years in a mental institution in France and then was deported to Japan where, due to quirks of the judicial system, he was freed. Since then he has lived a marginalized existence, making a meager living off his infamy. He is now weakened by a stroke and holed up in a dingy apartment, cared for by his brother.

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, Harvard-based anthropologist filmmakers, chose to follow up their arthouse hit Leviathan (an uncontroversial documentary about commercial fishermen in the North Atlantic) with this perverted provocation about Sagawa. Most of the movie is out-of-focus shots of the ailing cannibal, closeups of his twisted, trembling hands or his blank face as he delivers halting, unhinged monologues (“I know I’m crazy,” he confesses). When he talks at all, he speaks as if he’s in a trance, gathering the strength to push out each phrase, about five or six words per minute, with long pauses in between. We also meet his caretaker brother Jun, who eventually reveals some shocking fetishes of his own—leading one to wonder whether there is a genetic curse on the Sagawa clan, or whether Jun was driven mad by knowledge of his brother’s crimes. Old black-and-white home movies of the two show what look like happy, normal children.  Back in the present, we have a very odd pixilated porn sequence starring Sagawa, inserted without any context, followed by a tour through the manga he drew celebrating his crime. Jun is both fascinated and disturbed by the graphic drawings of the girl’s corpse and his brother’s erection when faced with it. “I can’t stomach this anymore,” he says, but continues turning the pages. Issei, distant as always, seems embarrassed, if anything, reluctant to answer the questions his brother poses. For the final scene, they bring in a prostitute (or groupie?) dressed as a sexy nurse to read the cannibal a bedtime story about zombies, then take the invalid demon out for a wheelchair stroll around the neighborhood. The end.

I am glad someone documented these two twisted specimens of humanity with minimal editorializing, but the result is no fun whatsoever, and offers no insight to their pathologies, making it a very difficult watch on multiple levels. It’s of interest to sick thrill seekers and serious students of abnormal psychology. You should know this movie exists. God help you if you watch it. There is no guarantee it will get a commercial release. The film seems destined to remain forever underground, where it probably belongs.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A weirdo documentary…  strange and unpleasant…”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

CAPSULE: THE RELATIONTRIP (2017)

DIRECTED BY: C.A. Gabriel, Renée Felice Smith

FEATURING: Matt Bush, Renée Felice Smith, voice of Eric Christian Olsen

PLOT: A couple of neurotic, directionless twentysomethings take a weekend trip that turns into a fantastical, compressed version of a relationship.

Still from The Relationtrip (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a reasonably hip twist on the romantic comedy formula with a few clever (and borderline surreal) ideas. The Relationtrip pleasantly tweaks the romantic comedy formula, but takes care not to twist it so hard that it can’t snap back into shape in time for the expected resolution.

COMMENTS: Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Depressed twentysomething loser plays video games all day. Is talked into going to a party full of strangers where he does something embarrassing. Cute girl there approaches him. They bond. Go out for tacos. Witty repartee. They complain about all their friends getting all married and boring. They dare each other to take a trip together—but promise they’ll stay just friends. They fall in love. A secret emerges that threatens their budding romance. They break up. They each have an epiphany about how fear and insecurity keeps them from finding happiness. A speech demonstrating personal growth. They get back together.

OK, maybe you have. But have you heard these? The couple peel each others’ faces off at breakfast. They lie in a hammock that turns into a cocoon. Turns out the girl is a never-nude. There’s a dead angel stripper stag film. A visit from a giant mommy. A couples counselor in a pillow fort. A fight with an abusive beer-drinking puppet.

The Relationtrip takes the pop-psychology clichés of screen (and real) relationships and serves them up as big, absurd, literal metaphors. It’s an idea that’s clever enough to be amusing without being subversive. It’s a parody, not a satire, and the movie still believes in love and in all its expected obstacles. The young actors are good-looking and likable, although their constant armor of hipster irony can grow wearisome. The concept is high enough that I can’t help but wonder whether this might have been a box office hit with better-known leads, a quirkier best friend confidant, a killer one-liner or two, and a script that dialed back the surrealism just a tad. And a less clunky title, of course.

Although the word “weird” gets bandied around a lot in discussions of this one—they even stuck it in the official synopsis—you’re not going to mistake Relationtrip for does When Harry Met Sally or anything. On the other hand, if you’re reading this site, you’re probably not a particular fan of formulaic romantic comedies; this is one that you’re likely to find tolerable, and maybe even involving.

The co-writers/co-directors are a real-life couple. You might recognize Renée Felice Smith from “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As the road trip rolls on, ‘The Relationtrip’ gets weird. Not cute-silly weird, but clever-smart weird, all bolstered by Smith and Bush’s fun and easy chemistry.”–Kate Erbland, Indiewire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: APOCALYPSIS (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Eric Leiser

FEATURING: Maria Bruun, Chris O’Leary

PLOT: In a dystopian future/present/alternate history, a saintly albino woman has visions while reading the book of Revelation, and tries to convert an atheistic conspiracy theorist/hacktivist who’s being hunted by agents of the New World Order.

Still from Apocalypsis (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This straight-faced CGI-Revelation cum New World Order paranoia piece, steeped in psychedelic visuals, is a curiosity piece; a worthwhile trip if you want to follow the author’s off-center obsessions for 90 minutes, but it’s not essential weirdness.

COMMENTS: Taken at face value, Apocalypsis is an ecumenical outreach from the end times crowd to the chemtrails crowd, with bad acting and cheap but surprisingly effective acid trip visuals sprinkled throughout. I think that writer/director Eric Leiser is correct in assuming that people who will swallow a main character trying to use organite to shut down “the Grid” are also likely to find the Book of Revelation as credible a source of solid factual information as Infowars.

You have to grant that Apocalypsis avoids the pitfalls of boring, preachy “faith-based” films in favor of something more challenging. It replaces those pitfalls with conspiracy theory rabbit holes, but I’d much rather fall into those. Your spinster great aunt who goes to Bible study five nights a week is probably not going to dig Apocalypsis. It’s informed by experimental movie aesthetics, with about twice as many trippy montages as plot points. (Maybe Leiser’s recruiting the acidhead crowd, too?) The movie starts off by peering into some sort of cosmic whirlpool and never looks back, giving us double images, time lapse photography, fisheye lenses, negative images, and so on throughout the film to give it an on-the-cheap “mystical” aura. Most notable are the heroine’s Revelation visions, where you will see, among the CGI fractals, crudely animated scenes of what look like child’s dolls playing out Bible verses involving prophets, skeletal angels, seven-eyed lambs, and other briefly seen figures, accompanied by a “whooshing” sound. It’s surprisingly effective; going for too much realism would have been a huge mistake. It somehow seems right that the Archangel Michael and a seven-headed dragon are sculpted out of plasticine, and their choppy stop-motion battle is almost as unnaturally memorable as one of Ken Russell‘s bizarro green screen compositions in Altered States.

The main character, Evelyn Rose, is impossibly good, impossibly white, and persecuted by agents of the NWO for feeding the homeless. Leiser likes to shoot his albino subject in overexposure, to create glowing white-on-white compositions. Subplot visions send her to Japan to help with a nuclear disaster, but mostly she spends her time trying to convert her atheist friend Michael, who does an underground radio show where he warns listeners about the NSA trying to wipe out dissidents by nanobots, or radiation, or something. Michael has the squeakiest voice of any leading man in a 2018 feature, which is probably why his radio show’s ratings are so low. After Evelyn takes him to Church, he squeals, “That was so awesome!,” but he still professes “self-divinity” for a while. Black helicopters and such follow them both around a lot, and there are also guardian angels wandering around in the script. Much of it seems to have been shot in Central Park. According to the director-supplied IMDB synopsis, the whole film takes place in “a parallel universe entering a black hole,” although the screenplay doesn’t reference anything of the sort. It is, at bottom, a weird movie, for reasons both intended and unintended.

Apocalyspsis is actually the third part of a trilogy, although neither of the leads appear in the previous installments. Maybe the other two films explain more about that black hole, though. If anything, Apocalypsis feels like the opening movie in a trilogy; instead of resolving anything, it leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. Like, what just happened? Did we just get raptured through a black hole or something?

Apocalpysis is available solely on VOD at the present time.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s as though David Lynch and Ridley Scott fell asleep in a candy store and collaborated on the same psychedelic dream.”–Porfle, HK and Cult Film News (DVD)