WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 1/23/09

A new feature looking at potentially weird films that are currently in theaters, coming to DVD soon or in production. Visit the official sites to see trailers.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED REALEASE):

Growing Out: There’s not a lot of information or many early reviews about this low-budget independent horror (?) production, but the plot summary states that it’s about a songwriter who develops a strange relationship with a person that begins growing out of his basement floor sounds intriguing.  Growing Out Official Site

IN PRODUCTION:

9:  A dark, post-apocalyptic animated fantasy.  May be geared towards kids and mass audiences, but it’s produced by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), whose name always makes weird-film fans ears perk up.  9 is a remake of a 2005 Oscar winning short film.  Trailer is available from slashfilm.

NEW ON DVD:

Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008):  Announced in the very first Weird Horizon, Repo is already on DVD after its micro theatrical run.  Gory sci-fi musical comedy about a future where organs are bought on the open market, and occasionally have to be repossessed.  Adapted from am underground LA stage play.  Very poorly reviewed.  The initial entry forgot to note the presence of Paris Hilton in the cast; she’s already been nominated for a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie for her performance.    Repo: The Genetic Opera Official Site

Tokyo Gore Police (2008):  By all accounts this is another bizarre and perverse Japanese gore film, in the tradition of Ichi the Killer.  The name is certainly weird enough, but it remains to be seen whether Takashi Miike’s followers can make films with as much style as the master.   Tokyo Gore Police Official Site (Japanese Only)

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.

CAPSULE: CUBE ZERO (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Ernie Barbarash

FEATURING: Zachary Bennet, Stephanie Moore, Michael Riley

PLOT:  Audiences return to the cube from Cube in this prequel, only this time

cube_zero

we see the diabolical prison from the vantage point of its bureaucratic overseers as well as the poor souls trapped inside.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  While the first Cube sequel (Cube 2: Hypercube) tried unsuccessfully to ratchet up the weirdness factor by throwing in more effects and a hyperbolic, reality-twisting plot, Cube Zero instead chooses to focus on a standard rescue narrative.  It also purports to answer (although unrealistically) pretty much every question one might have as to the cube’s design or purpose, thus completely exorcising the mysterious atmosphere of the original and leaving nothing left to be said or done in the Cube universe.

COMMENTS:  Unlike its predecessors, which showed b-movie influences but had higher aspirations, Cube Zero is an unapologetic action/sci-fi vehicle.  The paranoia of the previous entries only arises sporadically: once when drone Wynn asks a co-worker about his memories, and once in a highly effective scene that poses a surprisingly literal theological question.  Otherwise, the movie is more interested in the cube’s traps, imbuing them with gleefully gory capabilities (in an early scene, a victim startlingly dissolves into a pile of gooey grue before our eyes).  Add to this formula a cartoonish villain in the person of Jax, who sports not only a cane and an ironically genteel cadence but also a glittering metal implant where his eye once was, and you get an effective (if standard issue) b-movie, but a highly ineffective weird movie.

Some Cube fans (who apparently missed the major point of the movie) yearned for answers to the riddle of the Cube’s existence.  They finally got them with this installment.  Unfortunately, since these revelations destroy the fragile mystery and deliberate ambiguity that made Cube special, Cube Zero probably deals a fatal blow to the franchise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… if you enjoyed the last two ‘Cube’ movies, then you’ll feel right at home. True, there’s nothing overly original in ‘Cube Zero’… [although the] movie does offer a lot of answers, there’s that unshakeable sense of [deja] vu. Introducing Wynn and the other operators marks the sequel’s best decision, but adding the wacky Jax and his two black suited underlings takes away some of the film’s gloomy disposition and makes ‘Cube Zero’ something of a comedy, with a lot of ‘Brazil’-esque kooky bits and set scenery that seems to exist for the singular purpose of being kooky.” —Beyond Hollywood

CAPSULE: CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Andrzej Sekula

FEATURING: Kari Matchett

PLOT: Just as in the 1997 surprise hit, eight strangers wake up stripped of

cube_2_hypercube

their memories in a mysterious, deadly cube composed of indistinguishable rooms–but this second generation “hypercube” has some new tricks to play on its captives.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTCube 2: Hypercube can get pretty weird, especially when the film throws in gratuitous alternate realities in an attempt to up the original Cube‘s ante.  The sequel also does a fair-to-middling job of recreating the atmosphere of paranoia and existential anxiety from the original.  The first movie is a classic, but if there is to be room for more than one Cube movie on the list of 366, Hypercube needs to take the series in a startling, original new direction.  This, it fails to do; the sequel merely attempts to provide this audience more of what they loved about the first movie.  It can’t possibly achieve this feat, however, because what people loved about the original was it’s originality: the shock and surprise of finding a low-budget independent science fiction gem that was thoughtful, exciting, and weird.

COMMENTSCube 2: Hypercube is of interest mainly to fans of the original who want to revisit the cube and hope only for a few new twists.  The CGI special effects are mildly upgraded, and the cube has a new gleaming white color scheme, which may make some happy.  One of the things that made the original so exhilarating, however, was the varying reactions of characters to the predicament of being trapped inside the bizarre structure: some fight to survive, some give up hope, some become paranoid and suspect their fellow travelers know something about the cube and are trying to deceive them, some simply go mad.  The way the trapped inmates bounced off one another made Cube at times seem more like a character-centered play rather than an effects-centered movie.  Although Cube 2 tires to recapture this interplay, wooden acting from several of the leads frustrates the attempt.

Cube 2: Hypercube also stumbles when it takes baby steps towards trying to explain why the cube exists.  In the original, although the structure exhibited signs of order that suggested a diabolical intelligence behind it, there was no unambiguous hint to its origin or purpose; this made the cube a powerful metaphor for brute existence.  While trying to recapture the ambiance of the first movie, Cube 2 deliberately takes steps towards demolishing its essence.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Cube 2 is somewhat more gimmicky and certainly less conceptually neat than the first Cube was. There’s lot of fascinatingly weird happenings and these are all eventually given an explanation – alas not one that comes with the beautiful sense of a puzzle falling into place that we saw in the first film. The disparity can clearly be seen in comparing the story structure of the two – the first film has the logic of a detective story unfolding, whereas Cube 2 is merely a flight through a collapsing labyrinth.” –Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Movie Review Site

8. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

Gretchen: “You’re weird.”

Donnie: “Sorry.”

Gretchen: “No, it was a compliment.”

Must See (Theatrical Cut)

-or-
Recommended (Director’s Cut)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Kelly

FEATURING: Jake Gyllenhaal, , Mary McDonnel, , , Kathryn Ross

PLOT:  Troubled teen Donnie sees visions of a six foot tall demonic bunny rabbit named Frank, who demands that he commit acts of vandalism in a sleepy suburban town in 1988.  Donnie narrowly escapes a freak accident when a jet engine crashes into his bedroom after Frank has awoken him and called him away.  Frank tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, on Halloween night, and Donnie attempts to figure out what he can do to save the world while simultaneously dealing with a new girlfriend, bullies, a motivational speaker he sees as a cult leader, and ever-escalating hallucinations.

BACKGROUND:

  • This was the first feature film for writer/director Richard Kelly.
  • With Barrymore, Swayze and Ross attached, there was a tremendous buzz for the film going into the Sundance Festival.  The movie was not a hit at there, however, and was only picked up for limited theatrical distribution by Newmarket Films at the last moment.
  • Although Donnie Darko was initially a flop on its domestic release, a strong showing overseas helped it to nearly break even.  The film then became a cult hit on video, earning back more than double its production cost.
  • The director’s cut, containing about 20 minutes of extra footage and including pages from the fictional book “The Philosophy of Time Travel,”  was released in 2004.  It was controversial due to the added footage, which  caused some fans to complain that Kelly didn’t seem to understand his own movie.
  • Kelly created a website (now hosted at donniedarkofilm.com), which is structured like a puzzle.  Navigating the website can reveal supplemental material and backstory to the film.
  • Donnie Darko is one of the most talked about films on the Internet, with several competing fan sites and FAQ’s that attempt to clarify and explain the convoluted plot.
  • Followed by a poorly received direct-to-video sequel about Donnie’s sister called S. Darko (2009), which angered many fans.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Frank, the six-foot tall man dressed in a twisted, metallic bunny suit, who only Donnie can see.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Donnie Darko at first appears to be a dizzying collision of genres, themes and ideas. For the first few reels of the film, the audience can have no conception where the film is heading. The director drops clues through these opening segments that appear at the time to be simply bizarre, but spark numerous “a-ha!” moments later, when incidents that seemed like throwaway moments or coincidences at the first glance turn out to make a sort of sense.  The identity of Frank, the demonic bunny, is the most thrillingly chilling such moment. Donnie Darko creates a sense of wonder and mystery throughout its running time, and sparks hope and faith in the watcher that all will be made clear before the curtain drops. It nests this expectancy inside a bed of genuine empathy for tormented Donnie and his colorful cast of supporting characters.  But perhaps the weirdest thing about Donnie Darko is that it asks us to take its plot at face value; it works very hard to try to convince us that what appear on the surface to be the hallucinations of a paranoid schizophrenic teenager are, in fact, real occurrences with a metaphysical explanation.

Trailer for Donnie Darko

COMMENTS: Even putting the mindbending plot aside for a moment (we’ll come back to Continue reading 8. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 1/16/09

A new feature looking at potentially weird films that are currently in theaters, coming to DVD soon or in production. Visit the official sites to see trailers.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

$9.99: A Claymation feature about a young unemployed man’s search for the Meaning of Life through the wisdom to be found in a booklet on the subject, priced at an affordable $9.99.  From an Etgar Keret short story, with voices provided by Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia.  $9.99 Official Site.

IN PRODUCTION

s. Darko (2009):  Post-production.  Yes, it’s Donnie Darko 2.  Yes, it’s a bad idea.  The plot picks up with Donnie’s now-teengaed younger sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase, reprising her role from the first movie).  Fans of the original are up in arms.  Writer/director Richard Kelly is not involved; undistinguished Chris Fisher (Dirty [2005]) will helm.  Expectations are so low the film probably can’t help but exceed them.  IMBD pageMovie Poster and Plot Summary at moviesonline.ca.

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.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 1/9/09

A new feature looking at potentially weird films that are currently in theaters, coming to DVD soon or in production. Visit the official sites to see trailers.

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: An adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who is born elderly, but grows younger as he ages. Starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, directed by certified weird director David Fincher (Fight Club). The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Official Site

Australia: Down-under epic is unlikely to be extremely weird, but magical powers of the Australian aborigines taken at face value have raised some critical eyebrows. Director Baz Luhrman (William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge) also has some weird leanings. Starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and a cute kid.  Australia Official Site

The Spirit: Appears to be a rehash of the comic book style of graphic novelist turned director Frank Miller’s cult hit, Sin City.  Reviews have not been kind, although they do occasionally call it “incomprehensible,” which sounds promising.  With Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johnasson, and Samuel L. Jackson.  The Spirit Official Site

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!