Category Archives: Capsules

CAPSULE: MOBY DOC (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Rob Gordon Bralver

FEATURING: Moby,

PLOT: A wandering, essay-style autobiographical documentary by musician Moby, who discusses his career, his alcoholism, and his veganism in a series of sketches that range from comic to philosophical.

Still from Moby Doc (2021)

COMMENTS: “I know we’ve been in a fairly conventional narrative for a while, but now we’re going to go back to being weird,” sings Moby, accompanying himself on banjo, at about the twenty minute mark. We then see him dressed as a Buddhist monk, walking down an L.A. street striking a bowl with a rod while a group in white robes and animal masks follows him. Alternating typical documentary techniques with weirdo tableaux is the method here, but while there is plenty of rambunctious imagination to the sketches, this isn’t quite the “surrealist biographical documentary” it’s pitched as. Moby Doc is not surrealist, although it contains the fleetingly surreal imagery you’d catch in any modern music video. It is, more accurately, a “collagist biographical documentary,” a story that moves logically and chronologically through Moby’s life and career, but proceeds by stitching together scraps of information cast in different styles and textures. Thus, we have Moby monologues, comic psychodramas where miscast New York actors play Moby’s parents, appreciations from David Lynch, career-spanning concert footage, staged therapy sessions, humorous one-way telephone conversations, space shuttle footage, grandiose shots of Moby standing alone atop a majestic mesa, animated bits, a -esque gag where Moby talks to Death, and a tribute to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” video.

As someone with a casual acquaintance with Moby—a few tracks from “Play,”  downloaded on mp3 a decade after they were recorded, have made it into my rotation, and I knew virtually nothing of the artist behind them—I think this documentary may play better for people like me than for longtime fans. Rabid followers have heard all these stories before (the musician has already published two memoirs), and there’s not much new music here. The quirky presentation, tailored to a cultured rather than a mass audience, means it serves well as an introduction to those of us with a marginal interest in the musician. Well aware that he is aging out of dance floor relevance, Moby seeks to rebrand himself as an elder statesman and Serious Artist: thus, the recent concert footage of orchestral arrangements of his electronica hits.

As candid as Moby is about his hedonistic excesses—the middle section of the film is peppered with unflattering AA-styled confessions, some involving poop—critics point out that parts of his history are whitewashed or ignored (a scandal involving goes unmentioned). Such spin is to be expected in a self-funded vanity project. The bigger issue is how you respond to the narcissist paradox at the film’s core. which may determine how well you like the film (and, by extension, how well you like Moby). He begins the film by announcing he intends to explore nothing less than “the why of everything,” but then, naturally, proceeds to explore nothing more than the why of Moby. He realizes that he is addicted to fame, confessing how bad reviews and “kill yourself” troll comments wound him, and reveals that he aggrandizes his image in order to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. He wants to share universal wisdom—much of it genuine—-with the viewer, but he has enough self-awareness to realize that this mission will inevitably make him look pompous. He compensates with little self-deprecating jokes: when he talks about his music as a form of self-healing, he cuts to a reaction shot of his fake therapist stifling a yawn.

So Moby Doc ultimately becomes a lavish, 90-minute, million dollar humble brag. This could understandably rub some people the wrong way. But I relate to Moby’s dilemma: everyone has something to teach others, everyone has valuable life-lessons to share, but how can we do this without looking presumptuous and egotistical? Comic irony is the go-to strategy, and Moby deploys it as well as he can. So instead of being a recitation of rock-n-roll clichés about an artist seduced by fame, money, and pleasures of the flesh who goes through some shit and comes out the other end rededicated to his Art, Moby Doc is an obfuscational comedy: Pink Floyd the Wall with a sense of humor. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s probably as much profundity as a man who’s lifelong passion is to make music for teenagers to shake their asses to can hope to produce.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a self-portrait, an acid flashback, a therapy session, a rumination, and a surrealist music-video package all rolled into one.”–Owen Gleiberman, Variety (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: PINOCCHIO (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Matteo Garrone

FEATURING: Federico Ielapi, , Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Marine Vacth, Maria Pia Timo

PLOT: A traveling puppet show comes to his dusty town, inspiring impoverished Gepetto to make his own marionette; but the wood he uses to craft the boy is alive, and has a deep-rooted wanderlust.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Is it the slow-talking snail-form maid who’s sanguine about the trail of goo she leaves everywhere? Is it the pair of anthropomorphic swindlers, Cat and Fox? Is it that puppets seem to be their own species? Yes, and more: Matteo Garrone’s fusing of fairy tale whimsy with Southern-Italian Gothic realism is what makes Pinocchio so strange. Gepetto crafts a living, sentient son out of wood, and the most the townsfolk can muster is, “We’re happy for you, Gepetto, really, but can stop shouting about it? It’s the middle of the night.”

COMMENTS: Pinocchio‘s climax is a long shot of a boy crashing through a field of wheat, shouting enthusiastically for his father. His joy is palpable; and his many stumbles inspire a chuckle. His reunion with the much put-upon carpenter is heartwarming. And the scene takes a looong time. No storyteller relates the puppet boy’s narrative more thoroughly than Matteo Garrone, which is both a curse and a blessing. A curse because, at over two hours, Pinocchio is beyond the patience of its ideal audience; a blessing because the film gives so many wondrous characters and spectacles time to blossom.

Pinocchio’s quest is Homeric in spirit, if not quite in length—though it’s pretty darn close in that way, too. Summary: wooden puppet carved from a magical log, occasional advice proffered by a supernatural cricket, a fairy godmother figure with a pocketful of fresh chances, and much succumbing to temptation. But as in his earlier fantasy (Tale of Tales), Matteo Garrone populates Pinocchio’s world with entities both grotesque and magical. The gloriously named carnival master, Mangiafuoco (“fire eater”) is, in effect, a slave owner. His show’s intricate and well-articulated marionettes are sentient creatures, whose “strings” are merely the restraints of bondage. When a stage puppet spots Pinocchio in the audience, they marvel at his freedom, a freedom Mangiafuoco soon quashes, shanghaiing him first to be part of his act, then to be fuel for his campfire. (“I hated eating half-roasted mutton!”)

These dark entities (the lighter ones, too) inhabit a world best described as “Dust Bowl Fairy Tale.” Beneath a subduing filter, you can see the popping colors used to fill this poverty-stricken milieu. Homes, streets, even the good fairy’s country estate: everything is falling apart. Gepetto is on the cusp of beggary. He uses chisels, adzes, and all the tools of his trade to whittle away at a strange cylinder. We soon learn he is extracting the few remaining edible pieces of cheese from their desiccated wheel. The tragic villains Cat and Fox, who attempt to murder Pinocchio after robbing him, become more desperate and crippled each time we see them.

Carlo Collodi’s original story is a tragic morality tale. While Matteo Garrone scales back the tragedy (a little bit—our boy here, as I’ve spoiled, enjoys a happy ending), his movie is striped throughout with cruelty. It has morality in spades: each time Pinocchio errs—selling his school book to see the puppets; abandoning his father; and, of course, his near-fatal run-in with Mr Butterman, the too-smiling guide to the Land of Toys—he pays heavily for it. But I focus too much on the darkness. Gepetto ridiculously seeks jobs from the innkeeper by nearly breaking his tables, chairs, and door; the young fairy with her snail maid ooze old world wonderment; and Pinocchio laments to Mr. Tuna while in the belly of a giant dogfish, “But I don’t want to be digested!” Pinocchio the film is a bit of slog, but one bursting at the seams with curiosities; not unlike Pinocchio’s journey.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There is so much that Garrone’s Pinocchio appears to resemble: there’s a bit of Tod Browning’s Freaks (and a bit of Frankenstein): echoes of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the Old and New Testament… Pinocchio is a thoroughly bizarre story; Garrone makes of it a weirdly satisfying spectacle.” -Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Anonymous, who dubbed it “”a strong Apocrypha candidate, in my opinion.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

NORTH BEND FILM FESTIVAL 2021 FEATURES PART 2: FOUR MORE

The North Bend Film Festival runs through July 18. Online ticketing is available, but is geo-locked to residents of Washington, Oregon or Idaho. In the future, these movies may be available through alternate venues—stay tuned to this website for updates.

Cryptozoo (dir. Dash Shaw) – Of all the films available for online access at North Bend, ‘s Cryptozoo was the one that most caught my attention as a connoisseur of weird cinema. The animator/writer/director of My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea spreads his wings here with an equally absurd and fantastical, but decidedly more R-rated, take on “cryptids” (which in this case means mythological characters like gorgons, unicorns and Pegasuses more than modern legends like Bigfoot and Nessie). Set in the late 1960s, the premise is that these mutations really exist and are traded on the black market, with poorer collectors settling for alkonost feathers, while the ultra-rich enslave the critters themselves. Lauren is an agent who rescues cyptids from their captors and brings them to live at a special zoo/sanctuary run by her wealthy patron Joan. Meanwhile, the U.S. army is also in the cryptid-capturing biz, hoping to weaponize the creatures—especially the dream-eating baku (a creature also referenced Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer), an entity with whom Lauren has a special connection.

Cryptozoo (2021)I hinted that Cryptozoo is more “adult” than High School, a fact that’s immediately apparent from  the pre-title sequence, which includes both full-frontal nudity and unexpected unicorn violence. Human and cryptid players alike will spend much of the third act covered in blood. Shaw’s handmade, hand-animated style is like a series of graphic novel panels strung together, making for a choppy viewing experience that may alienate those accustomed to slick, big-budget Hollywood animation. But the compositions are eminently artistic: a sky full of new constellations, a golden-hued grazing unicorn, a naked woman standing in front of a will-o’-the-wisp light show. There isn’t one big psychedelic sequence like High School‘s drowning, but miniature hallucinations are scattered throughout, like a pink fetal head flopping out of a purple and green egg . There’s even a throwaway dream of storming the capital (only this time, the rioters are hippies bringing in an egalitarian utopia). The well-researched creature designs are fascinating, and you can expect to see most of your favorites (especially if you’re into Greek mythology), as well as many unfamiliar ones. Cryptozoo also features a top-notch collection of voiceover talent (Lake Bell, , , )—but it’s the artwork that dazzles here. Cryptozoo already has a distributor and should be released to theaters later this year—if you’re a fan of trippy animation, you should check it out.

Code Name: Nagasaki (dir. Fredrik Hana, by Fredrik Hana and Marius Continue reading NORTH BEND FILM FESTIVAL 2021 FEATURES PART 2: FOUR MORE

NORTH BEND FILM FESTIVAL 2021, FEATURES PART 1: FIVE FILMS FOR YOU

The North Bend Film Festival opens today and runs through July 18. Online ticketing is available, but is geo-locked to residents of Washington, Oregon or Idaho. In the future, these movies may be available through alternate venues—stay tuned to this website for updates.

Swan Song (dir. Todd Stephens)— Opening night feature Swan Song is the most shamelessly sentimental and fabulous biopic I’ve had the pleasure of watching. My greatest complaint is the by-the-books competence of its actual crafting, but that quiet framework allows Udo Kier to re-enact the heartwarming final days of Pat Pitsenberger, hair stylist for the well-heeled and well-connected country-club set of 1980s Ohio.

Pat’s unabashedly gay mien makes up for Swan Song‘s rote style. We first meet him suffering the tedious indignities of nursing home life. Pat’s daily routine of unfolding and refolding the facility’s paper napkins is interrupted by a lawyer summoning him to ‘do one last favor for an old client: style her hair for her funeral. His journey from living death on Sandusky’s outskirts into the remnants of its underground gay havens is bittersweet, but heavily dosed with witty flamboyance (Pat is surprised when a store clerk recognizes him; she exclaims, “Who could forget ‘the Liberace of Sandusky’?” Pat’s response: “Was I that butch?”).

Swan Song also explores the gay community’s dramatic culture change from forty years ago to the relative openness of today. Watching two dads playing with their kids in the park, Pat observes “I wouldn’t even know how to be gay any more.” Sentimental, perhaps, but proud as well. Much like the glorious queens and queers of days gone by.

Luchadoras (dir. Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim)—Life in Cuidad Juarez is hard, and even harder for women. The city is home of countless unsolved murders, and a masculine attitude with a mean streak. Luchadoras explores these phenomena through the lens of three “women fighters,” as the title’s translation makes clear. I initially felt this clarification was superfluous. It was only after watching the whole documentary that I realized its necessity. These women fight for everything: their livelihood, family, and self-esteem. That’s what attracts them to the world of luchadora combat: at least on the ring, they fight on their own terms, with their own kind, and for their own satisfaction.

One fighter, Lady Candy, is trying to attain partial custody of her children after they were kidnapped by their abusive father and brought to live in El Paso. Baby Starlight is aging, so her chances of Continue reading NORTH BEND FILM FESTIVAL 2021, FEATURES PART 1: FIVE FILMS FOR YOU

CAPSULE: THE MASK (1961)

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AKA Eyes of Hell; Face of Fire

DIRECTED BY: Julian Roffman

FEATURING: Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker, Martin Lavut

PLOT: A South American mask causes its wearers to have 3D hallucinations when they wear it, and then to strangle women afterwards.

Still from The Mask (1961)

COMMENTS: The Mask is short, weird, good movie covered up by a shoddy B-movie. The premise is simple: a bunch of Canadians wanted to rake a bundle of Canadian dollars by making a 3-D horror film, but the 3-D process itself was expensive, so they didn’t want to shell out cash to make the entire film pop. Therefore, we get three short (four to five minute) scenes set in the third dimension, with a flat, lame wraparound story about a cursed mask that causes its wearer to hallucinate. Whenever the 3-D segments are about to begin, a voice commands the mask’s victim (and the audience) to “put the mask on now!,” and the stereoscopic horror show begins.

Fortunately, the brief hallucination sequences are memorably bizarre and surreal—proto-psychedelic, truth be told. The mosaic Aztec mask appears floating in the air, and turns into a skull with two eyeballs popping out. Later, the eyeballs melt away and snakes crawl from the empty sockets, coming straight at the viewer. A zombie walks through a haunted forest. Hooded and cowled figures flank an altar over which the now-giant mask floats. Pillars spout claws. Charon takes us on a boat ride. The mask shoots fireballs. This dialogue-free stream-of-archetypes is accompanied by one of those noisy period horror/sci-fi scores, full of futury noises, shrieks, and heavy reverb. These scenes are straight-up coolness.

The problem comes with the majority of the movie, a formulaic horror scenario where nothing makes much sense (in a thoughtless way, not a surrealist way). The cursed mask is passed from a young archeologist to his psychiatrist. A contrived chase scene where the psychiatrist’s fiancee wrests the mask away from him and runs off with it, get into a cab, tip the cabbie enough so that he takes the forbidden artifact and hides it in the Natural History museum for her, only for the psychiatrist to walk in and find it in an office almost immediately, burns up about five minutes of screen time. The mask itself doesn’t seem to have given much thought to its end game: it possesses scientists, one at a time, makes them hallucinate and strangle, sure, but what’s it all leading to, really? There has to be more an evil entity could do with its incomparable supernatural powers than gaslight the occasional idiot. There’s a perfunctory attempt to portray the mask an allegory for drug addiction, but the story’s still a yawner.

The soapy acting is only slightly better than the script: the first victim is a poor excuse for a hand-wringing  , the lead cop is solicitous and ineffective, the psychiatrist breathlessly recites silly lines like “I must experience the greatest act of a human mind: to take another life,” and the fiancee leaves no impression whatsoever.

It’s not that the narrative section doesn’t show some directorial talent; the camera swings the angle where a trembling sapling blocks our view of a too-gruesome-for-the-day strangling. In a similar vein, the camera cuts away from a suicide to focus on a nodding  bobblehead. Touches like these imply that Roffman’s talents lay entirely with visual storytelling; he doesn’t have much of a way with actors, dialogue, pacing, or the other elements in a filmmaker’s toolkit. Or, maybe, Roffman (whose only other feature credit is the unremarkable juvenile delinquent B-movie The Bloody Brood) really was a complete hack, and the credit for the movie’s successes should go the art department and to one Slavko Vorkapich, who is credited with “script for the dream sequences.”

This unevenness—boring, senseless exposition wrapped around three relatively brilliant experimental shorts—puts The Mask in an odd category of movies that aren’t all that good, but which you should hunt down anyway. It’s a bucket list movie, but it’s at the bottom of the bucket.

The cardboard red-blue glasses that come with the Kino Blu-ray or DVD worked a treat. The disc even provide a sample image for you to calibrate them. The DVD also includes an audio commentary, twenty minute documentary on Roffman, and a twenty minute 3-D introduction to the film. The Blu-ray includes all the above plus the 2015 3-D animated short “One Night in Hell.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an exercise in strangeness, but only in spurts… Surreal horror meets television procedural in the mediocre feature, which carries an abundance of eeriness, encountered through the display of some truly unsettling visuals.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Nick,” who elaborated that it “incorporates really surreal nightmarish visions throughout the entire film when the ‘mask’ is put on; it’s very strange, especially when the year it was released is put into perspective.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: KILLDOZER (1974)

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DIRECTED BY: Jerry London

FEATURING: Clint Walker, Carl Betz, Neville Brand, James Wainwright, Robert Urich, James A. Watson Jr.

PLOT: Construction workers on a remote island inadvertently unearth a meteor containing a malevolent spirit from beyond the stars, which proceeds to possess a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer and stalk the men.

Still from Killdozer (1974)

COMMENTS: We rely on our machines, but we don’t trust them. They function in ways that produce the illusion of sentience, but most of us can’t begin to understand how they work. Particularly unsettling are the ones that we operate like beasts of burden. They are faceless, eyeless mammoths that dwarf us, and the damn things move. The Car… Duel… Christine… big soulless behemoths that girdle the globe clearly tap into a raw, soft spot in our primal brains. So it only stands to reason that a particularly powerful beast – like, I don’t know, say… a bulldozer – would prove especially stimulating to our amygdalas.

The title, therefore, does a lot of the work. Killdozer is a magnificent portmanteau, forcing a chuckle at the pure chutzpah of the enterprise. Like Snakes on a Plane or Sharknado, it promises delightfully absurd levels of bloodlust and mechanized mayhem. Alas, it ultimately cannot deliver on that promise, and doesn’t really seem to want to.

The possessed crawler would seem to have a lot going for it as an unstoppable killing machine: it’s very big, it’s made entirely of impenetrable metal, and it can level anything in its path. One thing that the possessed earthmover does not have in its arsenal is speed, and that probably results in the greatest disconnect between terror and reasonable fear. Lacking even the handling and acceleration of a Roomba, a grisly fate at the hands (treads?) of the Killdozer seems eminently avoidable. Perhaps that’s why it spends so much of the film biding its time, watching from the underbrush or peering down from lofty hills, somehow clothed in stealth despite being enormous and bright yellow and spewing black smoke and deafening noise.

Does that sound dumb? Well, the Killdozer turns out to be well-matched against its prey. The cadre of construction workers frequently runs directly into harm’s way. One dives for cover inside a metal pipe. Another stares into the vehicles headlights like a deer, waiting patiently for the lumbering killer to reach him. And leading the way for humanity is Clint Walker, with his modeling-clay voice and taciturn visage. We’re told that he is suffering from mortal blows to his credibility and self-assurance thanks to bouts with the bottle. Ultimately, though, he displays about as much personality as his opponent.

Perhaps most surprising – and to the film’s great detriment – is the extreme earnestness with which it treats this remarkable situation. No postmodern irony for Killdozer. It’s deadly serious, this tale of an enormous piece of construction equipment gone mad. Which is extraordinary, because if you can’t flash a wry smile at a movie called Killdozer, what else have you got?

So Killdozer doesn’t have much to offer (except possibly as promotional material for Caterpillar, should they ever wish to extol the destructive power of their products). As a title, it’s a cute punchline. But as a movie, it’s probably best left buried.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Despite having a place in the bad movie vernacular, Killdozer is really a crushing bore of a film that never lives up to the cheesiness its title and premise promise. The film is very slow going, even more slow moving than the titular bulldozer itself.”  – Jon Condit, Dread Central

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