WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/14/2020

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Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs and Blu-rays (and hot off the server VODs), and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Impossible Monsters (2019): A sleep-study participant is murdered; is it a literal nightmare? Another “blurring the line between dreams and reality” psychothriller. Impossible Monsters official site.

FILM FESTIVALS – South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) (Austin, TX, Mar. 13-22):

If you can’t get your indie film into Sundance, the massive SXSW festival in Austin, Texas is your next best bet. With the continued mainstreaming of Sundance, and the increasingly homogenized “indie” product spotlighted there, if your movie’s a bit on the weirder side, SWSX may even be a better fit. Among this year’s offerings are the surreal St. Vincent mockumentary The Nowhere Inn, a holdover from Sundance. Here are some newbies we’ll look out for down the road:

  • Nine Days – A man pits spirits in a competition; the winner will be born into our world. This debuted at Sundance, but the brief synopsis gave little hint it might be weird; subsequent reviews have raised our expectations a tad.
  • PG (Psycho Goreman) – Kids use a magical amulet to control an alien bent on destroying the world. Competing in the “Midnighters” category.
  • The Show – Highly anticipated (by us) story of a parallel fantasy world existing alongside the mundane British town of Northampton, scripted by Alan (Watchmen) Moore.
  • Witch Hunt – A teenager helps smuggle two witches into Mexico in an alternate reality where witchcraft is real (and banned in the USA).

SWSX official home page.

IN DEVELOPMENT (Completed):

Listen, Little Man[Čuj mali čoveče] (2020): We can’t really make heads or tails of ‘s underground feature from the trailer; you try. The movie is completed and has played at least once in its native Serbia; it’s seeking festival bookings as we speak. Keep your eyes open.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Greener Grass (2019): Read the Apocrypha Candidate review! The baby-gifting suburban satire arrives in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, with extended/deleted scenes included as the main bonus. Buy Greener Grass.

Heartbeeps (1981): Robot Andy Kaufman falls in love with robot Bernadette Peters. Somehow, this family-friendly comedy ended up in our reader-suggested review queue, and on Blu-ray. Buy Heartbeeps.

In Fabric (2018): s latest is a surreal horror about a haunted dress. On Blu-ray only. Buy In Fabric.

The Point (1971): An oblong-headed boy is ostracized in a community where everyone has pointed heads. Singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson supposedly came up with the idea for this children’s special while tripping on acid. It’s been in our reader-suggested queue, and now it’s on Blu-ray with a bunch of featurettes. Buy The Point.

Shutter Island (2010): Read our review. A limited edition 4K ultra HD steelbook release of ‘s psychological thriller. Buy Shutter Island.

Suburban Birds [Jiao qu de niao] (2018): An engineer investigating a sinkhole discovers a diary what seems to contain prophecies about his own life. A 5.7 on IMDB and 81% positive on Rotten Tomatoes; that’s the kind of spread that suggests a movie is either really boring, or really weird (or both). Buy Suburban Birds.

Terror Firmer (1999): A low-budget film crew is picked off by a serial killer; directs and casts himself as the director. This 20th anniversary Blu-ray includes a couple documentaries (including one of feature-length) you won’t get if you stream the thing. Buy Terror Firmer.

The Wave (2019): Read our review. This tale of an insurance lawyer taking a mysterious and powerful psychedelic rolls out on Blu-ray and VOD this week. Buy The Wave.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We’ll only list irregularly scheduled one-time screenings of this audience-participation classic below. You can use this page to find a regular weekly screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Happy Valentine’s Day to you! We don’t have a holiday-themed post for you, but if you don’t mind something recycled you can always re-read this one. We love you that much!

We’ll have three more reviews next week, as Pete Trbovich will weigh in on Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Giles Edwards looks at the low-budget Malaysian feature Shadowplay, and G. Smalley describes the black comedy The Death of Dick Long. That should help you get through the late winter; don’t worry, spring is coming. Onward and weirdward!

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that we have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

CAPSULE: GRETEL & HANSEL (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Osgood Perkins

FEATURING: Sophia Lillis, , Samuel Leakey

PLOT: Cast out by their poor mother, Gretel takes her brother Hansel into the woods, where they come upon a house inhabited by a witch.

Still from Gretel & Hansel (2020)

COMMENTS:There’s no gingerbread house in Gretel & Hansel, but there is an unnatural abundance of food that appears on the old woman’s table day after day, despite the absence of livestock or a garden. Near starvation, Gretel and her younger brother Hansel aren’t picky about where this abundance is coming from—at first.

Oz Perkins’ spin on the ancient fairy tale focuses on the relationship between Gretel and the witch, who is both an antagonist and a perverse sort of mentor for a girl without a female role model. To expand the slim folklore to feature length, the screenplay provides a rich backstory for the witch.  Wickedly played by a creaky Alice Krieg, she’s not just a boogey-woman, but a full-fledged herbalist and pagan practitioner. After a prologue describing her origins—a fairy tale inside the fairy tale—the story begins in earnest with Gretel discovering her prospects are limited in a famine-plagued village. With mom providing no help, she takes Hansel as a ward and sets off in search of a better life. An out-of-place episode involving what appears to be a mutant zombie, and a bout with hallucinogenic toadstools, provide a couple of bumps in the road before the pair arrive at the mysterious cottage. Once there, the eldritch atmosphere takes over as Gretel settles into a routine: days sparring with the witch, nights filled with nightmares. All the while, Hansel is getting fatter, and sees no reason to flee a good thing…

This gently spooky middle part of the film is the strongest. Gretel ends on a too-short climax that, while true to both the folklore and to the narrative the script builds, disappoints a bit in its obviousness. There’s not much budget for elaborate effects, but the dark cinematography is dreamy and intoxicating. Shots are filled with occult symbolism: not just the pentagram Hansel finds scratched on the tree, Gretel’s eye caught in a triangle like an Eye of Providence, and the pointy roof of the witch’s house framed alongside an eternally crescent moon.

Thematically, Gretel is a bit muddled. It’s a coming-of-age story, sure. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to menstruation. Gretel herself changes during the course of the story, growing from an unsure virginal girl to a confident virginal young woman; Sophia Lillis captures the transformation capably. More interesting, though, is the focus on fairy tales as warnings, and particularly a bit of play on the ideas of poison and gifts. The witch explains to Gretel that, although poison tastes bitter, imbibing a bit is salutary because it builds immunity. By contrast, the pastries on the witch’s table taste sweet, but hide bitter realities.

Gretel & Hansel is relatively slow paced, with art house aspirations that will please critics more than its PG-horror audience. It’s no wonder that it was dumped in theaters in February with little promotion; the bigger mystery is how this mid-budget horror got a relatively large scale release. Even though the movie’s not quite as filling as it might have been, we should be grateful for its relative abundance in a time of cinematic famine.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s got ‘cult movie’ written all over it in strawberry jam, which probably isn’t actually strawberry jam, and audiences who tune into its unusual wavelength will no doubt be grateful for such a beautiful, frightening, intelligent new venture into an age-old nightmare.”–William Bibbiani, The Wrap (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Sebastian Murrilo, who thought it was “Panos Comsatos-esque” and was “shocked to see this in a multiplex theater.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

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DIRECTED BY: Julien Temple

FEATURING: , Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayons, Jim Carrey, Charles Rocket

PLOT: Valerie discovers her fiancé is cheating on her, but finds her “Mister Right” when a trio of furry aliens crash land in her pool.

Still fromEarth Girls Are Easy ()

COMMENTS: Seeing as I’m on probation for recommending Apocrypha status for movie musicals, it was a dangerous decision to dive into Julien Temple’s cult classic, Earth Girls Are Easy. While I had my typical “so, this is weird…” reaction that I do with every musical I see, at least this time the environment wasn’t as off-kilter as a magnified downtown London; it was merely off kilter in a “Dear-God-1980s-Hollywood” kind of way. Temple’s film–which is really the brainchild of Julie Brown, the go-to Valley Girl  at that time–runs longer than it should with plenty of awkward moments of stupidity. That said, once it finds its footing it hovers within a stone’s throw of recommendable.

Earth Girls Are Easy does not begin with said Earth girls, but with the aliens who discover them. Mac (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey), and Zeebo (Damon Wayons) are a crew of brightly colored, fur-covered aliens on a mission of… well, it’s not clarified, and it doesn’t matter. While Mac is in stasis, Wiploc and Zeebo are puttering around the ship looking for a transmission signal, preferably one transmitting an image of hot women. When one of them prompts the navigation system to go haywire, they crash on a nearby planet, right into Valerie’s pool. Because she’s recovering from a spat with her now-ex-fiancé (lovely ’80s-slimy Charles Rocket), and because this is a musical, the plot becomes an engine for getting her together with one of the extraterrestrials. Dance numbers, big hair, and lite satire ensue.

A number of factors scream, “This movie merits no further thought.” It’s an ’80s movie about the ’80s, so its humor is obvious; it’s a musical, so its plot is of tertiary concern; and it’s directed by a guy with a music video career, so though the film’s look is lively, it breaks no new ground. However, the presence of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis lifts Earth Girls up from dreck to the lofty designation of “fun.” Goldblum, in particular, gives Mac a nuance, and at times a pathos, that the subject material doesn’t remotely deserve. During a night on the town, after the aliens have absorbed countless television soundbites, Mac inquires of Valerie, “Are we limp and hard to handle?”, giving this query from an advertisement a sensitivity that well explains why he’s one of his generation’s greatest actors.

Geena Davis, who co-starred opposite Goldblum in Cronenberg’s haunting version of The Fly, rekindles that tragic romance in a bubblegum setting. Golblum and Davis are cute together, and have a real connection; though this is really the only thing to recommend about Earth Girls, it gives it enough gravity to be worthwhile.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Great, wacky-sexy title. Attractive, amiable cast, with Davis, Goldblum and pop singer-satirist Julie Brown. Promising concept, with three space creatures—very humanoid, very male, very horny—crash-landing in the swimming pool of a gorgeous woman who has just thrown her philandering boyfriend out of the house. So why is this movie about as much fun as a bowl of cold Spaghetti-O’s?” –People (contemporaneous)

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE (1984)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Avi Nesher

FEATURING: Sandahl Bergman, David Goss, Harrison Muller

PLOT: Two brothers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland go off on a quest to rescue their kidnapped sister, meeting a menagerie of mid-grade antagonists along the way as a million flavors of all hell breaks loose.

Still from She (1984)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What a tragedy that She (1984) is so obscure, its title so Google-unfriendly, and its competing versions so better-known. If not for these handicaps it might have squeezed onto the List. It is a gonzo anything-goes claptrap of nonstop action with costumes, sets, and indeed whole scenes made out of whatever the filmmakers had lying around. If weird movies are a flea market, She rolls in Crazy Glue and runs through the bazaar, buying whatever sticks.

COMMENTS: The first rule of She (1984) is that it sets out to break every rule of filmmaking, and the second rule of She is that it circles back to break the first rule again. The goal of all this seems to be to make film reviewers look like fools; so allow me to draw the roadmap for the twists and turns ahead. She starts out bluffing with a trite and cliched approach, then steadily gets friskier along its run-time, until by the end it has become a completely different movie. It’s like the whole crew grew up over the course of shooting, or else they just improvised and got lucky. It starts out as a tired post-apocalyptic action clunker in the same vein as Mad Max and Tank Girl, only way less interesting than either of those. Somewhere between shooting the beginning and the end, the crew must have discovered—I’m guessing—Monty Python, Mel Brooks, something in that vein. It’s like they tried to make a serious Road Warrior-ripoff, but gave up after twenty minutes and decided their budget was better suited to making a campy satire; but, rather than withering away the fun, as you’d expect, they discovered they happened to be really good at comedy. Whatever happened, they sure as hell chucked the source material. This is allegedly an adaptation of “She: A History of Adventure,” but if you’re expecting anything to do with H. Rider Haggard‘s typical Victorian adventure universe of Allan Quatermain and King Solomon, you’re queuing in the wrong line.

After elaborate animated credits which also have nothing to do with the movie, we’re plopped “year 23 after the Cancellation.” Siblings Tom, Dick, and the sister Hari pilot a barge to a post-apocalyptic flea market selling cereal and chess sets, when a warrior tribe of “Norks” (composed of Clockwork Orange droogs, bikers, quarterbacks, Roman centurions, and Nazis) raid the market and haul Hari away screaming. The brothers now have a convenient plot: they have to go rescue Hari! If you liked that fight scene, you’ll look forward to the rest of the movie, which has one noisy brawl after another. The defining characteristics of post-apocalyptic people here are that they’re all Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE (1984)

SHORT: WHAT DID JACK DO? (2017)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: David Lynch

PLOT: A detective interrogates a monkey suspected of murder.

Still from What Did Jack Do (2017)

COMMENTS: David Lynch made the curious short “What Did Jack Do?” in 2017 for a French museum exhibit, and screened it once more at his own Festival of Disruption in 2018. Other than that, this bit of monkey business was an overlooked footnote in his filmography, until Netflix dropped it onto their streaming service on January 20, 2020 (on Lynch’s 74th birthday).

Shot in Eraserheadian black and white, with Lynchian signatures like coffee and a left-field musical number1, “Jack” is basically a two-hander (almost a one-hander, since Lynch not only plays the interrogating detective, but also provides the monkey’s voice). There is a plot, of sorts, but mostly, its the detective and his simian suspect trading absurdist quips that occupy a space between the ineffably sinister and the ambiguously cliched: “Don’t worry. I’ve heard the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ A perceived fundamental. There are, of course, exceptions.”

“What Did Jack Do?” is, in essence, Lynch futzing around with the Surrealist potentialities of Syncro-Vox—the technique pioneered in the 1950s in which human lips are superimposed over animals or animated characters. Lynch’s experiment is extremely sophisticated, with his usual attention to detail: visually, the lips are blended so well that they almost pass as a real feature of the Capuchin monkey, remaining just off enough to supply an uncanny undertone that harmonizes wonderfully with the overt absurdity of a talking monkey in a suit and tie. Jack’s face is, of course, blank, and his gaze flits randomly, but depending on dialogue Lynch chooses to put in his mouth he can appear lovesick, resentful, or nervous. That’s a wonderful surrealist illusion. The result, while arguably slim, is still arresting and worth your time—and it goes without saying, a must-see for Lynch completists.

I showed it to a young Lynch neophyte; her main takeaway was “Jack is cute!”

Netflix’s business practices give them a lot to answer for, but they deserve credit when they get it right.  “What Did Jack Do?” is a super-niche offering that won’t be bringing the streamer new subscribers, but they’ve done a hell of a service to the cinephile community by making it available at all.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s weird as hell, man, and I can’t get enough of it.”–Miles Surrey, The Ringer (Netflix release)

AND THE WINNERS OF THE 10TH ANNUAL WEIRDCADEMY AWARDS ARE…

In just a few hours, the telecast of the Oscars (or, as we refer to them, the “Weirdcademy Awards for squares”) will begin. We are happy to steal the Academy’s thunder by announcing cinema’s weirdest winners of 2019 now.

In the category of “Weirdest Short Film,” the winner is for “Future Beach.”

In the category of “Weirdest Scene,” the Weirdcademy Award goes to The Lighthouse, for the final shot. Those who have seen it know that the scene elicited a lot of loud “WTF”s from the audience—even from those with a background in classical mythology. So we won’t spoil it for those who have yet to see the film. (The still below comes from the second-to-last-scene.)

The Lighthouse Weirdest Scene of 2019

In the category of “Weirdest Actress,” the Award goes to Aleksandra Cwen (below, left) in Hagazussa, as the creepy gal on the mountain who keeps mom’s skull on the mantle and masturbates around goats.

Aleksandra Cwen Weirdest Actress 2019 for Hagasuzza

In the category of “Weirdest Actor,” the Award goes to , in The Lighthouse, for introducing himself with a fart and for starting his monologues with “Hark, Triton!”

And finally, the award for Weirdest Picture of 2019 goes to… drum roll… The Lighthouse, in a cakewalk.

Thanks to all voting members of the Weirdcademy, and see you again next year!

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!