BORDERLINE WEIRD: OLDBOY (2003)

Must See

DIRECTED BY

FEATURINGMin-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang

PLOT:  A drunk Dae-su Oh is seized off the streets and imprisoned for years in a private apartment without any explanation; when he is just as mysteriously released, his former captor toys with him, giving him clues to help Dae-su track him down and, more importantly, discover why he was imprisoned in the first place.

Still from Oldboy (2003)


WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Oldboy is certainly extreme, certainly stylized, certainly cultish, but it may be a stretch to call it “weird.” What gives it some weird cred is the high implausibility of the fabulous plot, which is more concerned with intriguing us through its psychological truth than its believability. Watching Oldboy leads to the same punched-in-the-psychic-gut feeling as the best weird movies do. It’s that effect that keeps it on the borderline.

COMMENTS: Oldboy spins its improbable yarn with stylized realism. There are a few weirdish digressions: when a stir-crazy Dae-su hallucinates that ants are crawling under his skin (an ant also briefly appears to Mi-do in a mirror image phantasm); a scene where, instead of showing the avenger graphically bashing in his adversary’s head, the director freezes frame and draws a dotted line on the screen from Dae-su’s claw hammer to the villain’s noggin; and a brilliantly impossible kung fu battle in a narrow corridor that seems imported from a completely different movie. Part of what makes this Chan-wook’s most successful work is that neither these cinematic stylistic touches, nor the improbably convoluted plot, cause our brows to permanently freeze in a skeptical furrow, or totally overwhelm the sense that this fantastic story could have happened essentially the way he tells it. There are maybe a dozen points in the film where if Dae-su chooses to follow path X rather than path Y, the entire plot collapses; there are another half-dozen plot contrivances that could only be accomplished by a cartoon supervillain with unlimited resources. But our logical objections never rise to the fore while we’re watching the film. Oldboy seems “real” because the actors are able to convey an emotional realism, because Chan-wook creates legitimate suspense that makes us want to believe so we’re fully invested when we discover what happens next, and because, like a Shakespearean tragedy, the story rings psychologically true. On one level, Oldboy is a simple and elegant dramatization of the self-annihilating power of revenge, inflicted with unflinching emotional brutality on the poor hero. What gives the film extra intensity is that we sense it’s not the villain, but the dread hand of Fate manipulating and battering Dae-su. The force that torments him is too relentless and omnipotent to be human, to cruel and senseless to be karma.

Every successful foreign film is the subject of a Hollywood remake rumor, and Oldboy is no exception. What is just as bizarre as Oldboy‘s plot contrivances are the names linked to the remake (actually an adaptation of the same source material, to avoid quibbles): Steven Speilberg and Will Smith. If even Hollywood’s most daring talent would inevitably chicken out and make Oldboy pointless by sanitizing its unflinching psychic brutality, what will these two squeaky-clean icons of normality do to it?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“At once real and completely unreal, familiar and deeply strange, violent and comically absurd… It says something when you come out of a film as weird and fantastical as ‘Oldboy’ and feel that you’ve experienced something truly authentic. I just don’t know what. I can’t think of anything to compare it to.”–Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times (contemporary)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: DR. CALIGARI (1989)

Dr. Caligari has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: [AKA Rinse Dream]

FEATURING:  Madeleine Reynal, Laura Albert, John Durbin

PLOT:  The granddaughter of Dr. Caligari (of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame) performs illicit neurological experiments on patients in her asylum, focusing especially on a nymphomaniac and a shock-therapy addicted cannibal.

Still from Dr. Caligari (1989)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: This is a good time to explain that the category “Borderline Weird” does not refer solely to a movie’s inherent strangeness, but to whether it’s both weird and effective enough to rank among the most recommended weird movies ever made. No doubt about it, Dr. Caligari is about as weird as they come, and would make a list of “weirdest movies regardless of quality” on first pass. The problem is that this movie is held back by amateurism in the production (especially the acting) and a lack of focus in the story.  I wouldn’t feel ashamed elevating it onto the official List of 366 films, but I wouldn’t want it to take the place of a more serious and professionally produced film, either, so Dr. Caligari will be locked up in the Borderline Weird asylum until I figure out what to do with this curious case.

COMMENTS: The origin and history of Dr. Caligari is almost as strange as the film itself. Director Stephen Sayadian is better known as Rinse Dream, the creator of arty avant-garde hardcore porn films with ambitions of crossing over into the mainstream. His Cafe Flesh (1982), the story of a post-apoclayptic future where most of the population consists of “sex negatives” forced to obtain erotic fulfillment vicariously by watching “sex positives” perform, was generally well-reviewed and very nearly the crossover hit Sayadian craved. It and was released in theaters in an R-rated version for those with tender sensibilities. Seven years later, the director again attempted to return to the mainstream with this, his only work aimed directly at an audience not wearing raincoats and sunglasses.  Intended as a midnight movie, Dr. Caligari had some limited success in LA theaters, and then gained a small but devoted following when released on video.

Dr. Caligari never got a proper DVD release, however, and fell out of the public eye; most Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: DR. CALIGARI (1989)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Just a reminder of what’s going on with the site…

First, we hope you liked the first in what we hope will be a long-running feature… the Saturday Short, where we plan to feature a new short film (usually by an up and coming filmmaker) weekly! Please welcome Cameron Jorgensen, who has graciously agreed to watch short weird movies and select the best for your enjoyment, to the 366weirdmovies team!

Hopefully, with the addition of this column we can begin to update 7 days a week, so you no longer have to wait through the weekend to start getting your weird movie fix again on Monday.

As for what’s coming up next week… reviews of the softcore surrealist flick Dr. Caligari and Chan-wook Park’s ultraviolent psychological epic Oldboy are definitely on tap, with a surprise or two (read: we haven’t decided exactly what to publish just yet.)

Don’t forget that you could win an A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray by writing a review for the site. As of now, we only have two entries (both of which will be published in the future), so your chances of winning aren’t too bad. The contest is open until September 3, 2009. Get all the details here.

We love to look at server logs (who doesn’t?) and check out the oddest search terms used to locate the site. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen “Coraline phallic” (missed that connection in our review of the children’s film), “amateur defecation movies” (weird indeed, but you’re not going to find what you’re looking for here), along with such odd requests as “busty zombie,” and “deadphallus.” But our favorite search term had a touch of honest bemusement to it: “What’s with these weird Japanese movies?” I’m not sure we can answer the question, but if anyone finds out the answer, please post it.

The reader suggested review queue looks like this: Dr. Caligari (upcoming this week), Nekromantic, UHF, Delicatessen, Pi, Angel’s Egg, Institute Benjamenta, Pan’s Labyrinth, Ex Drummer, Waking Life, Survive Style 5+, The Dark Backward, The Short Films of David Lynch, and Santa Sangre. We hope to knock off at least one of these per week, two on a good week. Some of those are out-of-print and difficult to locate, so they may be tackled in a different order than they were submitted.

Enjoy the upcoming week!

SATURDAY SHORT: “CROOKED (ORCUS) ROT”

“Saturday Short” (suggestions on a better title are welcome) is a new feature where we’ll be featuring a new (to us), full-length, weird short every Saturday.  Shorts are selected by our new “shorts editor” Cameron Jorgensen.

This stop-motion animation by David Firth is just over a year old.  David found a lot of the props he uses in this animation in his own backyard.  Beware, most of his shorts are very creepy, and “Crooked (Orcus) Rot” is no exception.  A lot of his work can be defined as dark humor while this would better fit under experimental.  Musical score written by Marcus Fjellstrom.

For more of Firth’s work be sure to visit his site:  http://www.fat-pie.com/

Filmmakers: if you have a short you’d like to see featured in this space, please contact us using the contact form.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 8/21/09

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

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

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

Inglourious Basterds:  Led by Brad Pitt, a group of Jewish soldier/vigilantes in World War II hunt and slaughter Nazis in this alternative history lesson from the irrepressible Quentin Tarantino.  Unlike to be more than mildly weird, but QT is always worth a gander.  Inglourious Basterds Official Site.

Shorts:  While Tarantino hogs the opening week spotlight, sometime collaborator and fellow offbeat auteur Robert (Sin City) Rodriguez quietly releases this kiddie fantasy about a rainbow-colored rock that grants wishes.  Critics describe it as hyperactive and unfocused: Toby Young of the Times goes so far as to say that it’s “[S]o structurally complicated that it almost qualifies as an experimental film.”  Shorts Official Site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha:  If nothing else, now septuagenarian Melvin Van Peebles has given us the weirdest movie title since his own Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song with this semi-autobiographical, semi-allegorical piece of picaresque performance art adapted for the big screen.  Van Peebles plays a teenager and has a love scene with a gorilla: this one’s going to be weird (and self-indulgent), no doubt about it.  No official site (the work of the Man?)

The Headless Woman [La mujer sin cabeza] (2008): Argentinian film about a woman who experiences a mysterious form of amnesia after striking something—a dog, or a child?—with her car.  Described as head-scratching, slow and oblique.  The Headless Woman Official (?) site (French).

NEW ON DVD:

Absurdistan (2008): The title of this fantastic, magical-realist German about a mythical Muslim country where the women stage a “Lysistrata”-style sex strike until the men fix a broken water pipeline suggests that this movie is right up our alley. Buy from Amazon

Icons of Sci-Fi: The Toho Collection [Mothra (1961), The H-Man (1958), Battle in Outer Space (1959)]:  This three disc letterboxed (well, “Tohoscoped”) collection is big news for kaiju and Japanese sci-fi fans.  Mothra, featuring the giant moth-monster and his miniature princesses, is the chief draw;  The H-Man brings us radioactive slime creatures; and Battle in Outer Space is an “aliens attack the world” movie. All three features were directed by the talented Ishirô (Godzilla, Attack of the Mushroom People) Honda and have either been AWOL on DVD or available only in inferior full-frame versions until now. Buy from Amazon

Surveillance (2008): Jennifer (Boxing Helena, daughter of David) Lynch’s long delayed second feature is a psychological thriller about two FBI agents trying to solve a string of grisly killings with the help of three witnesses who tell conflicting stories. Brutal, perverse and likely (given her heritage) to be highly weird, Surveillance arrives on DVD after token theatrical release. But from Amazon

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Play Time (1967): This nearly plotless comedy on the absurdity of then-modern life involves clown M. Hulot (director Jacques Tati) lost in a bizarre, futurist re-creation of Paris as he tries to make an appointment. Considered by many to be Tati’s masterpiece. The Criterion Collection issued this on DVD in 2006 and is getting around to upgrading their Blu-Ray versions. Buy from Amazon.

Surveillance (2008): See the DVD section above for description. Buy from Amazon.

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.

THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART TWO: THE TALL T (1957)

Shot in a mere twelve days, The Tall T is one of the most remarkable westerns in a decade that unquestionably belonged to the western genre.  Burt Kennedy scripted a pure, taut, and crisp script from an Elmore Leonard short story.Still from The Tall T (1957)The Tall T is an actor’s film. The first surprise lies in Maureen O’Sullivan’s performance as homely, whimpering Doretta Mims; a performance that can almost be seen as a bookend to her far different, equally superb performance as the independent, strong-willed, sensual Jane of Tarzan and his Mate (1934). Here, she is the newly married, timid wife of unsympathetic louse John Hubbard. By film’s end she emerges from self-pity’s well, dress coming off shoulder, hair loosed down and radiating a fire akin to Prometheus unbound as she is pressed up against the pure, granite-hard, phallic form of .


Scott’s character is one of his most interesting and fully developed in the Boetticher cannon. The film opens with Scott visiting  friends at the Way Station.  Upon Scott’s departure, the young , amiable, grandson of the station manager gives the laconic cowboy a penny for some rock hard candy from the town store. Naturally, the good-natured Scott promises to do so.  However, on the way back to the station, Scott, more animated than normal, loses his horse in a bet in a scene evoking archetypal good old boy western humor.  The calm before the proverbial storm.

Taking a stagecoach on the way back to the station, Scott has a bit of camaraderie with old buddy and stagecoach driver Arthur Hunnicutt (a character favorite in dozens of westerns, he typified the grizzled sidekick) who is transporting newlyweds O’ Sullivan  and her louse husband;,John Hubbard (surprisingly, a standard stock coward, nowhere near as developed as Walter Continue reading THE EXQUISITE CHAMBER WESTERNS OF BUDD BOETTICHER, PART TWO: THE TALL T (1957)

34. STALKER (1979)

“My dear, our world is hopelessly boring.  Therefore, there can be no telepathy, or apparitions, or flying saucers, nothing like that.  The world is ruled by cast-iron laws, and it’s insufferably boring.  Alas, those laws are never violated.  They don’t know how to be violated…. To live in the Middle Ages was interesting.  Every home had its house-spirit, and every church had its God.”–Writer, Stalker

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, , Nikolai Grinko, Alisa Freindlich

PLOT:  A mysterious phenomenon known as the Zone arises in a small, unnamed country.  The military sent soldiers in and the troops never returned; they cordon off the Zone with barbed wire and armed guards, but rumors persist within the populace that inside the Zone is a room that will grant the innermost wish of anyone who enters it.  A Stalker, a man capable of evading both the police and the traps formed by the Zone itself, leads a writer and a scientist into the Zone in search of the mystical room.

Still from Stalker (1979)

BACKGROUND:

  • For information on director Tarkovsky, see the background section of the entry for Nostalghia.
  • Stalker is very loosely based on a science fiction novel with a title translating to “Roadside Picnic” written by two brothers, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.
  • After shooting the outdoor scenes for over a year on an experimental film stock, the entire footage was lost when the film laboratory improperly developed the negatives.  All the scenes had to be re-shot using a different Director of Photography.  Tarkovsky and Georgy Rerberg, the first cinematographer, had feuded on the set, and Rerberg deserted the project after the disaster with the negatives.
  • Tarkovsky, his wife and assistant director Larisa, and another crew member all died of lung cancer.  Vladimir Sharun, who worked in the sound department, believed that the deaths were related to toxic waste the crew breathed in while filming downstream from a chemical plant.  He reported that the river was filled with a floating white foam that also floated through the air and gave several crew members allergic reactions.  A shot of the floating foam, which looks like snow falling in spring or summer, can be seen in the film.
  • The Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened seven years after the film was released.  The quarantined area around the disaster site is sometimes referred to by locals as “The Zone,” and guides who illegally and unwisely take tourists there as “Stalkers.”
  • A popular Russian video game named “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl” involves the player penetrating a “Zone” and evokes a similar visual sense as the movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Like most of Tarkovsky’s works, Stalker is a movie full of awe-inspiring visual poetry and splendor, making it hard to pick a single sequence.  One key scene that stands out is Stalker’s dream.  The film stock changes from color to sepia—but a very warm brown, almost golden—as the camera pans over a crystal clear stream.  A female voice whispers an apocalyptic verse and the mystical electronic flute theme plays as the camera roams over various objects lying under the water: abstract rock formations, tiles, springs, gears, a mirror clearly reflecting upside down trees, a gun, an Orthodox icon, a fishbowl with goldfish swimming in it.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Stalker is an ambiguous, but despairing, existential parable containing narrative non-sequiturs wrapped inside of strange and gorgeous visuals.


Scene from Stalker

COMMENTS: It’s not fair to the potential viewer unfamiliar with Tarkovsky to start a Continue reading 34. STALKER (1979)

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