WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/5/2019

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 (WIDE RELEASE):

Midsommar (2019): Read our review! ‘s while-the-iron-is-hot followup to the hit horror-drama Hereditary is a relationship movie done in the style of The Wicker Man. Midsommar official site.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

The Passing (1984): Converging science fiction tale about a couple of elderly WWII veterans and a young death row inmate which is described as “increasingly surreal.” Probably the least anticipated of the four movies Vinegar Syndrome is releasing this week (which includes two titles listed below along with the low budget 1993 vampire flick Night Owl). The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack  includes four 1970s shorts from director John Huckert. Buy The Passing.

Putney Swope (1969): Read our review. This (a Prince) absurdist satire about a militant black man becomes head of a Madison Avenue advertising agency receives its first-ever Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome. They even got Downey to record a commentary track, among the many extra features. A DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Buy Putney Swope.

Taking Tiger Mountain (1983): Radical feminists brainwash a World War III draft-dodger (, in his film debut) and send him on a mission to assassinate the Welsh Minister of Prostitution. An experimental film adapted from a story that was left unfinished in 1974 and completed by a different director in 1983, now in a DVD/Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome. It’s also in our reader suggested review queue. Buy Taking Tiger Mountain.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: After pushing up the review of Midsommar to yesterday, we have a minimal slate on tap next week. A review of the punk-feminist grindhouse experiment Dead Hooker in a Trunk is certain, and we should be able to fit in another mystery title. Giles Edwards is busy packing his bags for the Fantasia Festival 2019 (which actually begins this Thursday, although he’ll likely need some time to settle in and actually see something before sending out dispatches). Stay tuned to the homepage for developments (or follow us on Facebook or Twitter). Onward and weirdward!

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MIDSOMMAR (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

PLOT: American grad students travel to a remote Swedish village above the Arctic Circle during the midnight sun to witness an ancient festival.

Still from Midsommar (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With just two features under his belt, Ari Aster impresses with his ability to encase deep and painful psychological dramas inside true-to-form horror stories. The emphasis on bizarre rituals and the wavery psychedelic interludes make Midsommar a weirder candidate for our endorsement than 2018’s (excellent) Hereditary.

COMMENTS: Although it features a memorably schizo performance by a tormented Florence Pugh, flowery pagan pageantry, brilliant cinematography, a frightening folk horror score, and daytime nightmares that bleed into reality, the one thing Ari Aster’s Midsommar lacks is surprise. It’s obvious to anyone who’s seen The Wicker Man (or any horror movie, really) that things won’t go well for the four American master’s thesis students visiting the apparently quaint and welcoming remote hamlet where the villagers still remember the Old Ways. Aster also retreads a lot of the same ground that made his debut Hereditary so intoxicating: grief-based psychological drama, a strong female lead, leisurely pace, ian  pans, and obsessive invention of occult rituals. The one surprise is that Midsommar works admirably on its own terms despite reminding us of so many other movies (including Aster’s last one).

A pair of foci orbit around each other throughout the movie. The first is the failing relationship between the two leads. Christian, an unfocused grad student with no idea what he’s going to write his masters’ thesis on, feels trapped by the emotionally needy Dani. She’s already neurotic, popping lorazepams to dampen her frequent panic attacks, before the tragedy she fears actually strikes, making it unseemly for Christian to abandon her. Swedish student Pelle invites Christian, along with two buddies, to visit his remote northern homeland, an isolated pseudo-utopian commune where the people live in harmony with nature, for a pagan midsummer festival that only takes place once every 90 years; a trepidatious Dani tags along, even though the affable Swede seems to be the only one who actually welcomes her presence. When they arrive, the film’s other focus comes to bear (so to speak), as Aster builds a familiar-yet-novel nature worshiping cult out of details like icky surreptitious love potions, runic holy texts dictated by deformed inbreds, and an elaborate (and rigged?) drugged dance around the maypole. The two plots collide in a finale that should leave you with a queasy, ambiguous feeling, since it works quite differently on the metaphorical and the literal levels.

As the only horror movie I can think of filmed almost entirely in bright daylight, Midsommar gives a new symbolic meaning to “day for night” shooting. With its white-haired elders in white robes standing on white cliffs above rune-encrusted white standing stones, the film is lit in blinding, blanched whiteness, decorated with red and yellow wildflowers and lush green fields. The special effects for the psychedelic scenes are legitimately shroomy, with the dilated camera showing off lots of breathing objects, including a flower disc that pulses independently in Dani’s headdress. It’s lovely to behold.

The audience, a mix of Hereditary fans and patrons shut from sold-out screenings Toy Story or Spider-Man, gasped collectively at the midpoint when the villagers’ rites suddenly turned from the picturesque to the grisly. The third act brought genuine, if uncomfortable, laughter with one of the most awkward sex scenes ever filmed. People muttered as the credits rolled. These are sounds you like to hear in the theater.

We’re living in a golden age of adult psychological horror at the moment, so enjoy it while it lasts. Personally, I could do with a new Jordan Peele release every winter and a new Ari Aster release every summer for the foreseeable future. Just throw in more frequent pictures while you’re at it, please.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Midsommar‘s core themes still land when they come back into focus in the third act; it’s the indulgent weirdness in the build-up that dilutes the movie’s overarching impact… it’s hard to imagine that this one won’t end up going down as the most WTF wide release of 2019.”–Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by J.R. Kinnard, who gushed, “The third act is a masterpiece of weirdness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MY NIGHTS WITH SUSAN, SANDRA, OLGA, & JULIE (1975)

Mijn Nachten met Susan, Olga, Albert, Julie, Piet & Sandra

DIRECTED BY: Pim de la Parra

FEATURING: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Hans van der Gragt, Franulka Heyermans, Marja de Heer, Nelly Frijda, Marieke van Leeuwen, Serge-Henri Valcke

PLOT: Anton is sent by Barbara to pick up her friend Susan, who has exiled herself in the countryside; the errand goes awry when two of Susan’s housemates murder an American passing through their town.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though it is a perk, having professional opportunities to watch classic lite-porn isn’t the main reason I took up writing for this site. Pim de la Parra and producer Wim Verstappen once again limbo below the bar of “weird” to deliver a quirky, flesh-filled … thriller?

COMMENTS: It’s got a title Peter Greenaway would love (particularly the more thorough Dutch version), establishing shots ripped off from Alfred Hitchcock, and more carefree nudity than you could shake a stick at. (Being very careful, under the circumstances, in so doing.) In fact, other than breezing along a tad too quickly, I have no real complaints about this movie. Even the director’s introduction video for the blu-ray was disarming and convivial, “Please don’t forget: it’s a small movie from a small country, and I am also a very small man, as you can see.”

Our story begins with Sandra (Marja de Heer) and Olga (Franulka Heyermans) hucking rocks at some swans, stopping their mindless fun to flag down a car driven by an American. He’s smoking a big-honkin’ cigar, he’s wearing garish sunglasses, he’s blasting some kind of proto-R&B in his drop-top’s cassette deck (this is 1975, remember). Topping it off, he’s drinking “Bourbon, USA” brand whiskey. He’s an American—and he’s doomed1)For the sake of decorum, I did not use a word that rhymes with “shucked”, despite the fact it’d allow for the pithy follow-up, “…both literally and metaphorically.”. Sandra lures him into some car sex while Olga looks on jealously. Smash goes the bottle, down goes the Yankee, and the story begins anew, with hunky-hunk Anton (Hans van der Gragt) zipping up to a farmhouse on his motorcycle on a mission to extract erstwhile model Susan (Willeke van Ammelrooy) at the behest of an unseen “Barbara” who wants Susan back in the city. All the non-Barbara ladies live together (not forgetting, of course, Julie—who is either asleep or helpfully wearing a t-shirt with her name written on it). In fact, there are others lurking about the farmhouse not included in the English-language title. More plot than can fit in eighty-five minutes gets sliced down further to allow for some “romance”.

The whole thing was so strangely whimsical and fun, I regret having put off watching it for as long as I did. As the final release of de la Parra’s and Verstappen’s “Scorpio” production label, it’s also a nice capstone for what was probably the end of whimsical soft-core mainstream-ism. AIDS lurked around the corner, and the Cold War was reaching its awkward, saggy middle. Scorpio goes out with a bang, figuratively, but with My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie it also crams in some psychodrama (just a smidge), a latter-day witch, and rounds out its lilting excess with some nice fiery vengeance for the delight of an audience of corpses. This little movie fills a void I didn’t know existed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“For approximately an hour Parra does different things — which should not be spoiled – that essentially provide his film with a Hitchcockian identity but the humor keeps chipping away its edges, which makes all of the key relationships look a bit odd. However, it all begins to make perfect sense when you realize, like I did an hour later, that the real distraction that throws everything out of sync is actually the Hitchcockian material.”–Dr. Svet Atanasov, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

References   [ + ]

1. For the sake of decorum, I did not use a word that rhymes with “shucked”, despite the fact it’d allow for the pithy follow-up, “…both literally and metaphorically.”

CAPSULE: THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Joana Ribeiro, , Jordi Mollà

PLOT: Toby, a narcissistic ad man, discovers that the aging star of his student film has come to believe himself to be Don Quixote, and is enlisted as the knight-errant’s squire while on the run from the law.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: When he chooses, Terry Gilliam can go full-bore weird, but also has a long-established (relatively) down-to-earth side to him. In this adaptation he’s worked on for a quarter of a century, he does tap into his ever-ready spigot of wonder, but Don Quixote‘s story and style is grounded in a humorous humanist tone.

COMMENTS: At the cross-section between exasperation and relief, you can find Terry Gilliams’ The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Anyone  familiar with his career knows that this movie, in the works in one way or another since at least 1989, has hung over Gilliams’ head like tantalizing, forbidden fruit. He felt compelled to admit as much with the note preceding the opening titles, “And now, after twenty-five years in the making…and unmaking…” His quest to make this movie was itself quixotic. Having gotten that obvious remark out of the way, I can move on with this review—much like Terry Gilliam can now move on with his artistic career.

Once an idealistic film student, Toby’s final student project was (wink, wink) an adaptation of Cervantes’ pre-modern-written, post-modern-toned classic, Don Quixote. Young Toby discovers his star, an old shoemaker “with an interesting face” named Javier Sanchez (Jonathan Pryce), while traveling through rural Spain. He also finds Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), a young tavern keeper’s daughter who he promises can make it in show biz. Ten years later, Toby (Adam Driver), now a flippant, shallow, and highly sought after TV ad director, discovers that their small hometown is a quick ride from his film shoot. He rediscovers Javier, who is locked away in a trailer, trapped re-enacting his role of Don Quixote against a projected backdrop of student film footage. Javier believes the grown Toby to be his faithful squire Sancho come to free him, and the two go off on a picaresque romp through the countryside, encountering friend, foe, police, producers, a battered Angelica, and an evil Russian oligarch. Throughout the journey, Toby’s grip on reality increasingly blurs with the chivalric world of Javier’s imagination.

Woof, long-winded. Indeed, about two-thirds in, Don Quixote chides Sancho “Toby” Panza for not being able to keep up with the plot. This movie oozes plot, sidetracks, and everything you’re looking for in a Gilliam fun-time adventure. It tells a story he wants to tell, reveling in the barely-controlled chaos of his flights of fancy and allowing plenty of potshots at the money men who have done their level best to thwart him over the years. What bitterness there is, though, is well coated in humor, and the whole tone is one of joyful excess.

Having read “Don Quixote” a few years back (mostly while sobering up or hungover), little snatches of the story resurfaced in my memory during the many nods to the source material. It also occurred to me that Terry Gilliam was the ideal director to bring that novel to life. “Don Quixote,” the book, is cluttered, long-winded, meandering, bizarre—and a work of comic genius. Gilliams’ oeuvre is all of those things, too. Having lost two potential leading men (Jean Rochefort and ) trying to make this story and getting no younger himself, it’s a relief to know that Gilliam finally got his dream project assembled for the world to see; and a true joy to watch such a good movie made by one of cinema’s best story-tellers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s an uneven and unflinchingly weird movie… [Gilliam]’s He’s unafraid to dive into the shadows and root around for weird and wonderful surprises. There are gaudy set pieces and bizarre relationship dynamics and a tenuous divide between truth and falsity – all Gilliam hallmarks.”–Allen Adams, The Main Edge (contemporaneous)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 6/28/2019

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):

Verotika (2019): A horror anthology sponsored by metalhead Glenn Danzig, inspired by his line of adult horror comics; the title is a portmanteau of “violent” and “erotica.” A couple of horror outlets  have hailed it as “insane,” while more mainstream critics are calling it unintentionally funny. Previewing in Los Angeles this week and hoping for a wider release around Halloween. Glenn Danzig official site.

NETFLIX:

Anima (2019): If Danzig’s effort is getting mostly jeers, fellow musician Thom Yorke’s latest short film is earning near-universal cheers. It helps that it’s directed by multi-Oscar nominee (and director of the Canonically Weird Inherent Vice) . It’s only fifteen minutes long and is being described as “dreamlike.” Anima on Netflix.

FILM FESTIVALS – Karlov Vary International Film Festival (Karlov Vary, Czech Republic, June 28- July 6):

Though in it’s 54th year, Karlovy Vary is overshadowed by other, bigger summer European film festivals. Despite being held in out-of-the-way Karlov Vary, the festival manages to snag some major releases (the new Spider-Man even has its regional debut there this year). It also features a fine slate of restorations and repertory pics, often of Czech classics. We’ve noted a couple of films screening here before: s fashion horror In Fabric and the Danish fairy tale horror Koko-di Koko-da. Here is some new (and old) stuff of potential interest we spotted in the program:

  • The Cremator – World premiere of the new “digital restoration” of the Canonically Weird Czech New Wave classic about a strange Tibetan Book of the Dead-obsessed cremator who eventually becomes a Nazi collaborator.  Screening 6/29-6/30, 7/3.
  • Die Kinder Der Toten –  Elfriede Jelinek’s respected Austrian literary horror novel is given an over-the-top Super 8 silent movie treatment by a couple of New Yorkers. 6/28, 6/30, 7/2, or 7/4.
  • The Flames of Royal Love – A seldom-screened film from 1990 chronicling the love affair of a prince and a commoner, described by programmers as a “peculiar cinematic hallucination.” Catch it on 6/30 or 7/2.
  • Happy End (2015) – A short animated movie presented in reverse chronological order, this seems inspired by obscure Czech New Wave film of the same title. 7/5 or, 7/3, 6/29 screening.
  • In the Arms of Morpheus – This Dutch documentary uses surreal imagery to explore the condition of chronic insomniacs. 7/3, 7/4, or 7/6.
  • The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea – A “dreamlike” thriller about a resentful female cop banished to a middle-of-nowhere Greek town, starring Greek Weird Wave icon . 6/28, 7/1, 7/3, & 7/5.
  • Monos – Enigmatic Colombian film about a purposeless group of soldiers camped in a fog-shrouded jungle. On 6/29, 7/2, 7/4, or 7/6.
  • Satantango‘s slow-paced, epic opus about hucksters bleeding a poor Hungarian village. Set aside eight hours to see it on 6/28 or 7/6.

Karlov Vary Film Festival official home page.

NEW ON HOME VIDEO:

Birdy (1984): A Vietnam vet tries to help a shell-shocked comrade who believes he’s a bird. An early turn for and and ‘s immediate post-Pink Floyd the Wall (1982) film. Previously on DVD; now on Blu-ray (and VOD). Buy Birdy.

“Divorced Dad” (2018): A newly divorced dad hosts a 1980s-era public access self-help show that inevitably devolves into chaos. Originally conceived of by the odd Canadian comedy ensemble as a webseries, banned from YouTube (for an ISIS joke), and now assembled on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, with unseen episodes and shorts to round out the package. Buy “Divorced Dad”.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001): Read the Canonically Weird review! The Criterion Collection releases this wigged-out gender-bending musical on Blu-ray (or 2 DVDs) with a suite of extras both new and repurposed. Buy Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Lost Highway (1997): Read the Canonically Weird review! Those holding out for a Criterion edition of ‘s utterly surreal mid-period film will have to make do with this Kino Lorber Blu-ray instead, which comes with no special features and has been slammed by Lynch himself because it wasn’t restored from his original negatives (although independent reviewers have praised the quality). Buy Lost Highway.

Transit (2018): As the Fascists crack down in France, a man assumes the identity of a dead man whose papers he’s stolen and attempts to flee the country. Director Christian Petzold took a novel set in WWII and adapted it to present times, an anachronistic experiment with an effect described as “dreamlike.” On Blu-ray and VOD (no DVD release). Buy Transit.

CERTIFIED WEIRD (AND OTHER) REPERTORY SCREENINGS:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). We won’t list all the screenings of this audience-participation classic separately. You can use this page to find a screening near you.

FREE MOVIES ON BREAKER:

Perfect (2018): A troubled young man is sent to a clinic where he is given various implants to remove his imperfections. We haven’t tried Breaker yet, but his release is not (yet) available in any other format that we can find. Requires an app download and the code “perfect.” No warranties from us. Watch Perfect free on Breaker.

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE: Next week Giles Edwards clears out his files as he preps for his third annual trip north to the Fantasia festival in July. So, expect to see his takes on Terry Gilliam‘s curse-breaking project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and on the mildly strange 1975 Dutch softcore thriller My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie. Onward and weirdward!

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

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