CAPSULE: CORALINE (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Henry Selick

FEATURING: Dakota Fanning (voice), Teri Hatcher (voice)

PLOT:  A petulant little girl finds a parallel universe behind a hidden door in an old house, a world where her parents are more attentive, her neighbors more fascinating, and the entire universe seems set up to pamper and delight her; she can stay there forever, but of course there’s a catch.

Still from Coraline (2009)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I attended a screening with a ten-year old and asked him if he thought the movie was “weird.”  His answer: “Nah, not unless you think every fantasy movie is weird.”  Smart lad.

COMMENTSCoraline is a welcome dark fantasy for children, although its themes of evil Doppelgänger moms, frightening buttons, and implied eye-gouging are too scary for very little ones.  Since it’s from Hanry Selick, the director of the borderline weird Nightmare Before Christmas, we suspect going in that the art direction and stop-motion animation will be the real stars.   Selick does not disappoint, shuffling the viewer through three distinct visual styles: the dingy earth tones of real life, a brightly colored, eye-popping fantasy world, and a sinister, disintegrating universe with an insect trapped in a spiderweb theme.  The storyline, and the unexpected scares once the movie shifts from childhood fantasy to childhood horror in the third act, make Coraline more than just eye candy for the kiddies.

Presented in theaters in 3-D, but the novelty doesn’t add anything significant to experience: I would have been just as happy to watch the same moving pictures tell the same story on an unabashedly flat screen.  Though there’s nothing really weird to be found here, Coraline, in the best children’s’ movie tradition, is worth a trip even for adult fans of fantasy and pure escapism.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Coraline discovers a Wonderland filled with surreal characters and dark implications that make a kid grow up quick… those who tough it out with this twisted, trippy adventure in impure imagination will only be the better for it.”–Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/27/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Birdsong [El Cant dels Ocells] (2008):  Nearly silent, nearly plotless tale about the Three Kings journey to visit the newborn Jesus.  This minimalist approach won’t bring in the punters, but the critics believe it to be a work of high visual art.  No official site.  Birdsong IMDB link

Dillinger is Dead [Dillinger è Morto] (1969):  A sixties absurdist/existentialist/leftist drama about an engineer who discovers a gun that may have belonged to John Dillinger.   Art film archivists Janus films have given this film a belated American release, to play at very select theaters throughout the country this spring and summer, beginning this week in Brooklyn. Dillinger is Dead press release from Janus Films

NEW ON DVD:

Four Flies on Grey Velvet [4 mosche di velluto grigio] (1971): From Dario Argento, the master of stylish grue, comes this twisty early giallo about a rock musician who is blackmailed for killing a stalker. It’s described as one of Argento’s odder films. A very belated and highly anticipated (by Argento fans) DVD release.

Requiem for a Vampire (1971):  Another of Jean Rollins surreal, cheap, and unabashedly exploitative vampire sex films. 

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Akira (1988):  This mindblowing cyberpunk feature about a mystical apocalypse in Neo-Tokyo helped launch the anime cult in America.  Definitely weird stuff.

The Bird with Crystal Plumage (1969): Another early giallo by Argento (see the Four Flies on Grey Velvet entry). Many consider this straightforward thriller debut to be one of Argento’s best, although it’s not weird.

Vanishing Point (1971):  Another in the short-lived cycle of Western existentialist road movies (see also Two-Lane Blacktop) inspired by Antonini’s Zabriske Point (1970).

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.

12. TROMEO AND JULIET (1996)

“Body piercing.  Kinky sex.  Dismemberment.  The things that made Shakespeare great.” –Tagline for Tromeo and Juliet

DIRECTED BY:  Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: , Jane Jensen, Lemmy, Debbie Rochon

PLOT:  Alcoholic Monty Que and unscrupulous Cappy Capulet have a long running feud dating back to their days as partners in a low-budget sleaze movie studio, and they have passed on their personal vendettas to the next generation.  Monty’s son, Tromeo, falls in love with Cappy’s daughter, Juliet.  The two young lovers must overcome the bloody gangland antics of their friends and family, Juliet’s upcoming arranged marriage to a self-mutilating meat-packing heir, and Cappy’s tendency to beat Juliet and lock her in a plexiglass box, among other crossed stars.

tromeojuliet

BACKGROUND:

  • Original drafts of the script had the parts played by costumed characters from other Troma studio releases: The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman, and so on.
  • Much of Shakespeare’s original dialogue was included in the rough cut, but most was removed after negative audience reaction.
  • Rock n’ roll cult figure Lemmy (of the band Motörhead) played the role of the narrator for free, and also donated the song “Sacrifice” to the soundtrack.  Several less famous bands also donated songs for free or for a nominal price.
  • Shakespearean actor William Beckwith played the role of Cappy Capulet under the pseudonym “Maximillian Shaun” because he was a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild and Tromeo and Juliet was a non-union film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Many of the more memorable images in Tromeo and Juliet are too obscene to be depicted in stills.  The best sequence is when Juliet’s belly unexpectedly and rapidly distends and splits open to give birth to…  a surprise.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Redoing a classic Shakespearean tragedy as a low-budget, offensive farce is a promisingly weird, if obviously gimmicky, premise. Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma team were inspired by the concept, however, and put more creativity into the project than they did in their usual formula schlock fare. The typical Troma anarchy and bad taste reign again here, but the producers add a healthy dollop of bargain-basement surrealism (Juliet’s disturbing sex dreams) and some on-the-cheap arthouse effects (the lovemaking scene in a plexiglass box against a starry backdrop). The result is a movie that’s completely unpredictable, despite a plot known to every high schooler. Tromeo is revolting one moment, and oddly sweet and beautiful the next, an incongruity that only adds to the weird atmosphere.

Short promotional clip for Tromeo & Juliet

COMMENTS: Troma is a low-budget film producer/distributor formed in 1974 to promote Continue reading 12. TROMEO AND JULIET (1996)

11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

“Something weird is going on here.  What is it about us?  Even in ‘Nam it was always weird.  Are we all crazy or something?” –line in original screenplay to Jacob’s Ladder

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adrian Lyne

FEATURING: , Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello

PLOT:  Jacob Singer (nicknamed “Professor” by his army buddies due to his glasses and Ph.D.) is wounded in Vietnam after a harrowing, disorienting battle.  While he is on duty in Vietnam, his young son dies; years later, he works in New York City as a postman and has a sexy new girlfriend, Jezzie.  Jacob begins suffering flashbacks of the day he was wounded, along with hallucinations in which everyday people take on demonic forms—catching brief glimpses of tails, horns, and howling faces with blank features—and eventually discovers that the other members of his unit are experiencing similar symptoms.

jacobs_ladder

BACKGROUND:

  • The script for Jacob’s Ladder shuffled between Hollywood desks for years, impressing executives but not being viewed as a marketable project.  The script was cited by American Film Magazine as one of the best unproduced screenplays.
  • Before he asked to direct Jacob’s Ladder, British director Adrian Lyne was best known for sexy, edgy, and profitable projects such as Flashdance (1983), 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
  • Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who later wrote Ghost [1990] and other commercial properties) says that his script was partly influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Adrian Lyne states that some of the hellish visual cues in the film, including the whirring and vibrating head effect, were inspired by the woks of grotesque painter Francis Bacon.
  • Lyne deleted scenes and changed the ending after test audiences found the film to be too intense.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A blurred, whirring human head which shakes uncontrollably from side to side at tremendous speed, seen several times throughout the film.  The effect looks mechanical, as if the head were an unbalanced ball attached to an out-of-control hydraulic neck.  It was achieved by filming an actor casually shaking his head from side to side at four frames per second, which produced a terrifying effect when played back at the standard twenty-four frames per second.  The technique has been imitated in movies, video games, music videos, and even a porno flick since, but has never since been used to such fearsome effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Like many psychological thrillers, Jacob’s Ladder strives to keep the audience disoriented and off-balance, wondering what is real and what is false. The movie achieves this effect wonderfully, but what gives it it’s cachet as a weird movie are two intense hallucination sequences: one at an horrifically orgiastic party intermittently lit by a strobe light, and one where the protagonist lies helpless on a hospital gurney as he’s wheeled down an increasingly bizarre and alarming hospital corridor. Both scenes are difficult to forget, equal parts creepy surrealism and visceral body-horror.

Original Trailer for Jacob’s Ladder

COMMENTS: I can’t watch Jacob’s Ladder without comparing it to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart.   The similarities are obvious: both were psychological thrillers with supernatural Continue reading 11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/20/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

NEW ON DVD: 

Choke (2008): Black comedy about a sex-addict and his demented dying mom (Angelica Huston) doesn’t sound especially strange, but in a slow week for the weird the fact that it’s another adaptation from cult novelist Chuck (Fight Club) Palahniuk makes it worth mention. Also, this may be the most heavily advertised movie on IMDB ever, and the first I’ve seen to come with its own MySpace-style layout–an unwelcome marketing trend.

Dead Like Me: Life After Death (2009): A feature length film revival of the short-running Showtime comedy about ordinary folks who become Grim Reapers.  Seems squarely aimed at fans of the now cancelled TV series. 

The Outrage (1964): This is a remake of the classic Japanese film Rashomon, with a screenplay by Kurosawa himself, set in the old West.  Four witnesses give vastly different, incompatible accounts of a rape.  The intriguing cast includes Paul Newman, Claire Bloom, Edward G. Robinson, and William Shatner!

Rachel, Rachel (1968):  This low-key drama with some fantasy interludes was the directorial debut of Paul Newman, who gave the lead role of the melancholy middle-aged spinster to wife Joanne Woodward.

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.

10. ARCHANGEL (1990)

“And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (quote originally intended to introduce Archangel)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Kathy Marykuca

PLOT: In 1919, one-legged Canadian airman Lt. John Boles finds his way to the Russian port of Archangel in the endless night of Arctic winter.  There, he meets Veronkha, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of Iris, his dead love.  Veronkha has problems of her own, in the form of an amnesiac husband who wakes up every day believing this is the day they are to be wed, but Boles tires to woo her nevertheless as Archangel’s ragtag militia battles the Germans and the Bolsheviks without realizing that both World War I and the Russian Revolution are over.

archangel

BACKGROUND:

  • The city of Archangel was the port of entry for Allied soldiers during World War I; therefore, soldiers from America, Canada, and the European allies might very well have been found gathered there (although probably not East Indians and Congolese, as depicted in the film).  Many Allied soldiers were sent to Russia, partially to help assist the Imperial (White) Russians against the Bolshevik Communist rebels (Reds).
  • Some reports say that the version presented on the “Guy Maddin Collection” DVD is a different cut from the theatrical and original VHS version, with tinting and intertitles added.  I haven’t been able to confirm whether differences exist.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  As his dying act, a lifelong coward strangles a bestial Bolshevik with a length of his own intestine (which is obviously a sausage link).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The tale of an obsessive, grieving soldier who thinks he’s found

Short clip from Archangel (French subtitles not in original)

the reincarnation of his lost love in a benighted Russian city where the citizens continue to fight a war that is over would be weird enough if told straight.  Director Guy Maddin exaggerates the already dreamlike quality of this tale by clothing it in the archaic period dress of an early sound film, complete with intertitles describing the action, dubbed voices that are occasionally slightly out of sync, and casually disorienting jumps/glitches in the film.  He pushes this inherently confusing story of terminally confused characters further into strange realms with deliberately surreal elements, such as women warriors going to the front dressed in elegant evening headwear, and even odder sights.

COMMENTS: The city of Archangel seems the perfect place to dream.  Isolated from the Continue reading 10. ARCHANGEL (1990)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 2/13/09

A look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Polanski [Polanski Unauthorized]:  The controversial director of Repulsion (and other weird flicks) gets his own limited-release biopic.  The trailer makes it look like a hatchet job focusing on Polanski’s sex scandal… not that that’s necessarily an unfair tack to take on the subject.  Polanski Official Site

NEW ON DVD:

Blindness: An English language film with Julianne Moore by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, this fable about a town where (almost) everyone is suddenly struck blind escaped notice in its theatrical run.  A long, brutal rape scene in this otherwise philosophical picture seems to have alienated mainstream critics.

The Exterminating Angel (1962):  Cause for celebration: The Criterion Collection has released a 2-disc special edition of the 1962 Luis Buñuel surrealist classic about guests who can’t seem to leave an opulent dinner party.

My Name is Bruce: Directed by cult star Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead series), starring Bruce Campbell as Bruce Campbell, this horror-comedy about Bruce Campbell saving a Bruce Campbell fan from an ancient Chinese demon is like a Valentine from Bruce Campbell to Bruce Campbell.  Needless to say, it’s by a Bruce Campbell fan, and squarely aimed at Bruce Campbell fans.

Simon of the Desert (1965):  Not content with bestowing The Exterminating Angel on the weird masses (see above), The Criterion Collection also gives Buñuel’s bizarre pseudo-religious short feature the special edition treatment, and adds a 50 minute documentary on Buñuel in Mexico as an extra.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Donnie Darko (2001):  This lovably fascinating mess of a movie (see review) gets its Blu-Ray debut.  The good news is that both the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut are on the disc!

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!