REQUIEM FOR TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP

Apparently Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie is actually in production and is slated for a 2011 release.

There has always been an uneasy relationship between avant-garde and outsider art. In 1985, Tim Burton and Pee-Wee Herman brilliantly thumbed their noses at any pretense of tension between the two with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Herman and Burton seemed refreshing fresh air to a relatively young medium that was dangerously growing stale with mass manufacturePee Wee's Big Adventured Hollywood product.

Of course, Herman went on to produce what was possibly the best television program in the last twenty years with Pee Wee’s Playhouse, that is until some uptight Florida cops busted him when they caught him pleasuring himself in an adult theater (which is bit like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500, one would think). This was during the heyday of the now practically extinct video store. Panic ensued and everyone from the Blue and Yellow Giant down to drug stores yanked every Pee Wee video from the shelves. Oddly enough, not too long after O.J. Simpson was accused of decapitating two people, those same video chains were in a panic trying to get every O.J video into their stores, which is quite a commentary on American mores: Hmmm, let’s see, it’s much worse to masturbate than to kill people. Now would I rather my child grow up to have a healthy sex life, or be a mass murderer?  (PS: On September 12th, 2001 those same corporate video chains were hustling to get all the Nostradamus videos in, feeding off American paranoia).

Meanwhile, Burton showed much promise.  The flawed Beetlejuice and Batman lived up to that early promise. Despite the absurd Hollywood fight ending, Edward Scissorhands was a Continue reading REQUIEM FOR TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP

36. PI (1998)

AKA π; π: Faith in Chaos

“Very much like the universe itself, the more technologically advanced we become and as out picture of π grows larger, the more its mysteries grow.”—From “Notes on π” on the Lions Gate Pi DVD

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Darren Aronofsky

FEATURING: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis

PLOT: Max, a reclusive mathematics genius, searches for a pattern that will help him predict the stock market with the assistance of a supercomputer he has built in his apartment.  He also suffers from terrible migraines which cause him to hallucinate, and believes (sometimes correctly) that people are stalking him.  As he gets closer to locating a certain 216 digit number that may have mystical predictive qualities, he finds himself caught between the machinations of a large corporation and a mystical sect, both of whom want the knowledge inside his head and will stop at nothing to get it.

Still from Pi (1998)

BACKGROUND:

  • Pi was made for a mere $60,000, financed largely by $100 contributions from friends and family.  Each of the cast and crew worked for an identical salary and a share of the film.  Pi eventually grossed over $3 million domestically.
  • The movie was shot in high contrast black and white reversal film stock (usually used for still photography).  In his DVD commentary Sean Gullette says that Pi was the first feature length fiction film shot this way.
  • Pi won the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury prize (losing to the now largely forgotten Slam).  It won the main prize at several smaller film festivals.
  • Aronofsky also created a graphic novel called “The Book of Ants” that presents a slightly different take on the story of Pi.
  • This was the first soundtrack scored by former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint Mansell, who has now become an in-demand Hollywood composer.
  • Aronofsky went on to further critical success with the bleak addiction parable Requiem for a Dream (2000); the weirdish science fiction/romance The Fountain (2006); the straightforward drama The Wrestler (2008), which earned Oscar nominations for stars Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei; and five more Oscar nominations (with a statuette for Natalie Portman) for Black Swan.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A brain crawling with ants that shows up in the strangest places, including on a subway staircase and in a sink.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Math wiz Max’s frequent migraine induced hallucinations give Pi


Original trailer for Pi

all the weird cachet it needs, but even without them, the hermetic world created by the mix of grainy high-contrast monochrome photography, rapid-fire montage editing, a pulsing electronic soundtrack, and ideas too grandiose and metaphysical to be completely described would have created a movie seething with weirdness.  It also features a tough, streetwise gang of devout Hasidic Jews, which by itself gives it an extra weird point.

COMMENTS:  “When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun.  So Continue reading 36. PI (1998)

CAPSULE: NINJA CHAMPION (1985)

Ninja Champion has been voted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. Comments on this initial review are closed. Please see the official Certified Weird entry to comment.

DIRECTED BY:  Godfrey Ho

FEATURING: Nancy Chan, Bruce Baron, Richard Harrison

PLOT: The hard-to-unravel plot involves a raped woman seeking vengeance, her relationship with the ex-fiance Interpol agent who deserted her, diamond smugglers, identical twins, and ninjas.  No champions appear.

Still from Ninja Champion (1985)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTNinja Champion is like manna from heaven for bad movie fans, who will want to check it out posthaste.  Its only weirdness, however, comes from the utter incoherence of its cut-n-paste plot, and this chopped-up chopsocky needs more than that to escape out of the kung fu jungle and crack the List of the best weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS:  Godfrey Ho is a director who believes that basic continuity is a luxury only big-budget productions can afford; he’s confident that the meat-and-potatoes masses won’t care if a movie makes absolutely no sense, as long as there are frequent ninja battles in it.  You must turn off your rational faculties to enjoy Ninja Champion. Otherwise, you will be rewinding the DVD every five minutes, trying to solve riddles like “where did that actress’ new blouse come from?,” “who was that guy and why he just disappear for no reason?,” and “how in the heck did she get those handcuffs off?”  The film seems to be simply another cheesy, cookie-cutter kung fooey, until the first really wacked out scene appears.  To prove her smuggling cred to an opium-smoking crime boss, our heroine Rose opens her blouse wide to display the diamonds she has been hiding.  It’s obviously a cheap ploy to smuggle some nudity into the film—but—the actress’ breasts (and the pilfered jewels) are blurred so that nothing can be seen. (It’s not a case of censorship, as a naked breast does appear in the film later, courtesy of a body double). It looks like someone smeared a thick wad of Vaseline on the bottom half of the camera lens. We are even treated to leering, full-frame closeups of her smudged, impossible to ogle chest.  This begs the question: is Godfrey Ho the first director in exploitation movie history to manage the oxymoronic feat of including a gratuitous topless scene with no nudity in it?  Hot on the heels of this bungled attempt at smut comes the badly integrated ninja storyline, wherein a Caucasian ninja randomly hunts and kills other ninjas (sometimes wearing headbands helpfully describing themselves as “ninja”) while they are practicing their circus tricks.  In between trying to follow the twisted, ludicrous plotline and watching for continuity errors, you can thrill to sparkling lines of dialogue:

“OK, you can help me kill them if you like, but I’m still going to kill you!  It’s over, George!”

“We ninjas are getting bored.  Can we start now?”

And of course, this immortal exchange:

“The wine, there must have been something in it!  Oh God!”

“Not the wine, my nipples, you jerk!”

Ho “directed” over 40 movies with “Ninja” in the title.  His method was to buy up cheap footage from unreleased Hong Kong movies and to intercut them with film he shot of American actors playing ninjas, then dub the older movie to incorporate a ninja subplot.  The results were then dumped into U.S. video stores in an attempt to cash in on the minor 1980s craze for ninja movies.  Without having seen any of his other efforts, I’m going to declare Ho’s Ninja Champion his weirdest, because the diamond smuggling/rape revenge/identical twin plot is so bizarre and confusing on its own that I doubt he could have found a more incompetent film to use as the base movie.

Although Ninja Champion is sold separately or packaged with various other kung fu, the best deal is Mill Creek’s “Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack,” which also contains the borderline weird Kung Fu Arts and 48 other silly butt-kickers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…simply one of the most insane so-called ‘movies’ that I’ve ever seen.”–Keith Bailey, The Unknown Movies (DVD)

366 EXCLUSIVE: “9″

We are pleased to debut Alfred Eaker and Robbin Panet’s short film film “9” on the web.  This is the movie they made for the 2009 48 Hour Film Festival.  The rules of the contest festival are simple: every team has only 48 hours to complete the film, and each must incorporate three elements given by the festival : a character name, a line of dialogue, and a prop.  Look for a character named “Professor Sherman Kane,” a ball, and the line “I’m not talking to you.”

Rather than making a straightforward short that looked like everyone else, “9” takes an experimental approach, becoming a sepia-hued exploration of domestic abuse through the generations, in a Western setting.  The bizarre free-association poetry of John M. Bennet replaces traditional narration.  It runs approximately seven and a half minutes.

Alfred’s description of the making of the film can be read in his Reflections on the 48 Hour Film Festival and the “9” Diary.

9

[Our license to display “9” has expired.  We will inform you if this film is released, on DVD or otherwise, in the future.]

At the producers’ request, this film will not be released to YouTube or other video hosting sites, and will be available here for one month only.  UPDATE: Because this film was reviewed and linked from Rogue Cinema, we are leaving the film up for another week, until October 12, 2009.

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: HAPPY HERE AND NOW (2002)

Review writing contest #1 winner, by Pamela De Graff.

DIRECTED BY: Michael Almereyda

FEATURING: Clarence Williams III, David Arquette (who also co-produced), Ally Sheedy, former super model Shalom Harlow, model Gloria Reuben, Karl Geary, rhythm and blues star Ernie K-Doe

PLOT: Happy Here and Now is a surrealistic satire in which a young woman tries to find

Still from Happy Here and Now (2002)

her missing sister by investigating eccentric New Orleans characters who are entangled in a web of cyber-intrigue.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Happy Here and Now is a dream-like atmosphere piece which artfully combines unusual visual and acoustic elements. This movie is unusual in its story telling structure. It guides us through a netherworld of oddball people, their cryptic actions and strange gadgets via a series of vignettes that are ultimately connected.

COMMENTS: In this quirky odyssey, Canadian actress Liane Balaban plays Amelia. She has come to New Orleans to locate a missing sister who has erased every trace of herself. Clarence Williams III plays a limping ex CIA agent with an unexplained leg wound that just won’t heal.

Williams forensically dissects the sister’s laptop hard drive. He finds traces of cryptic conversations held online with a poetic but sinister misfit (Karl Geary). The stranger uses a special technology to change his real-time appearance and country of origin on webcam-conference.

Amelia attempts to determine the presence of a connection between the late night Internet chats and her sister’s disappearance. She does so with Thomas’ assistance by contacting Geary’s puzzling character and conducting a fresh set of webcam conversations. What are his motives, what is he truly capable of? Why does he change his appearance and answer questions with questions?

Did this enigmatic stranger lure Amelia’s sister to her fate in a snuff film? Amelia must figure out how to trace and outwit him by playing a game of deception online.

Throughout her quest for answers, Amelia encounters a cascade of artistic dilettantes. One of several exceptions is the real-life Ernie K-Doe, famous for his 1961 number one hit, “Mother-in -Law,” who appears as himself in his actual New Orleans club.

Nearly all of the characters are in some way unknowingly interconnected via a subplot orchestrated by David Arquette’s character, Eddie Mars. Mars is a creatively misguided, self-employed exterminator who entwines the protagonists via a film project. It is a soft-porn, direct-to-digital Internet film about a time traveling Nicola Tesla. (And there might be some termites and a spherical fire breaking out in a space station, he hasn’t decided yet.)

Happy Here and Now is a dream-like atmosphere piece which artfully combines unusual visual and acoustic elements. It highlights a smattering of New Orleans lore and culture. Thomas’ character weaves a narrative of local lore as the camera pans by local cemeteries, barbecue joints, The Napoleon House, and a few other unconventional landmarks. We get a nice sample of New Orleans homes and interiors, blues clubs, fauna, and steamy avenues by streetlight. Odd characters such as man wearing Napoleonic clothing wander the streets.

The film is open-ended as to its message. Enthusiasts of movies that conclude with a concrete sense of finality should look at Happy Here and Now as being a piece that is intended to inspire the imagination.

The film features musician, performance artist and electronics whiz “Quintron” (Robert Rolston’s stage name) as himself. Quintron has distinguished himself in arcane circles for, among other things, inventing clever but peculiar electronic musical instruments. One of his Tesla coils is featured in the film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Strange by even its director’s ultra-eccentric standards, Happy Here and Now takes Michael Almereyda’s usual reality-blurring, video-mediated experimentation to new what-the-f*** levels…” -David Ng, The Village Voice (2005)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Here’s what’s coming up on the site next week…

The exclusive web debut of Alfred Eaker and Robin Panet’s short film, “9” (no relation to the Tim Burton feature).  This is the movie they made in two days for the 48 Hour Film Festival, as described in the article Reflections on the 48 Hour Film Festival and the “9” Diary.  This is the first exclusive video we have ever hosted, and we’re excited about it!  It will only be available for streaming for one month.

Also, reviews of Darren Aronofsky’s paranoid experimental debut, Pi (1998), and Godfrey Ho’s nearly nonsensical kung-fu pastiche, Ninja Champion (1985).

Weirdest search term used to locate the site this week: “nuns movies with the cross in the cover.”  Winner, brutal honesty division: “stalker 1979 wtf?”

Here’s the ever-growing reader suggested review queue to give you an idea what will be coming further down the road: Nekromantic (still looking for a copy), Pi (next week), Angel’s Egg, Institute Benjamenta, Pan’s Labyrinth, Ex Drummer, Waking Life, Survive Style 5+, The Dark Backward, The Short Films of David Lynch, Santa Sangre, Dead Man, Inland Empire, and Monday (2000).

READER RECOMMENDATION: AFTER HOURS (1985)

The “Reader Recommendation” category includes films nominated by our readers as deserving of consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time.

by reader “Rajiv”

DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese

FEATURING: Griffin Dunne, Rosana Arquette, Catherine O’Hara

PLOT:  One night, Paul Hackett ( Griffin Dunne), New York computer word-processing consultant, is trapped in SoHo because his last dollar has flown out of the cab window on his way to a late night date with a woman he’s just met. His dream to score with a pretty woman ends up to be a waking nightmare when one mishap after another strands him in a hostile neighborhood in his quest to return home before morning.

Still from After Hours (1985)

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST: From the plot description itself, we should aware that this is a weird film. The execution is also very weird. This is technically a black comedy, but it plays like a suspenseful thriller. A lot of surprisingly unpredictable things happened to force Paul Haggis, who just wants go home that night, to stay in SoH.

COMMENTS: A strange, original, and totally underrated movie from Mr. Scorsese. This film is a little bit ‘Coen brothers-ish,’ full of fantasies and surprises. This film proves Scorsese is a master filmmaker. He can create a moments with any subject matter, and make the audience feel certain feelings. Watch out especially for the ending of After Hours, it will make your feelings turn 180 degrees, it’s a shock! After Hours really deserved more attention as one of Scorsese’s best works.

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