CAPSULE: MAN BITES DOG [C’est arrivé près de chez vous] (1992)

AKA It Happened in Your Neighborhood

DIRECTED BY: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde

FEATURING: Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux

PLOT:  A documentary crew follows a serial killer around on his daily rounds, becoming more and more complicit in his crimes as he slowly charms them, and eventually finances completion of the film with the money he steals from his victims.

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WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTMan Bites Dog starts with an absurd premise, that a camera crew would follow a serial killer around nonjudgmentally documenting his crimes, and follows that bizarre idea to its illogical conclusion. Once the concept is established, however, the film goes about its business with a stark realism that only rarely strays into absurd territory. The movie’s black humor and ironic celebration of violence don’t set out to give us a weird feeling; they are an intellectual attempt to disturb us, morally.

COMMENTS: Even though Man Bites Dog ultimately misses its satirical target, there is a lot to admire in the craft behind this experimental expedition from three Belgian student filmmakers.  Chief among them is the performance of Benoît Poelvoorde as the killer (also named Benoît). Poelvoorde inhabits the role with a cocky, credible naturalism that suggests he is playing himself, if only he made his living by killing old ladies and postmen for a handful of francs at a time.  As the subject of the documentary, the character of Benoît is fascinating, even when he’s not pumping bullets into a body.  He has the soul of a bad poet; a would be philosopher, he takes time to notice and pontificate on the finer things in life.   He’s capable of pausing in the middle of stalking a victim to notice some amorous doves, and discourse to the camera in hushed but knowledgeable tones about avian mating habits before resuming his hunt.  He’s also casually racist and homophobic, kind to his parents and girlfriend, constantly aware of the camera’s location and visibly anxious to make sure that it is always pointed in his direction.  He’s shamelessly unafraid to be captured on film, either killing or vomiting up a mix of wine and bad mussels, so long as he’s the center of attention.  Without such a strong, guiltily charming characterization centering the film, the extreme violence and cruelty of  Benoît’s rape and killing sprees would be unpardonable.

The film, ostensibly a black comedy, also has some very funny moments: Benoît is ambushed by a rival killer, only to find, after he dispatches him in a shootout, that his latest victim also had a camera crew following him around.  The juxtaposition between Benoît’s amiable public personality, exemplified in a conversation with his grandpa about the time the old man sold a sucker a department store-bought pair of panties claiming they belonged to Brigitte Bardot, and scenes where he discourses in a drolly businesslike manner about the various ballast ratios needed to sink bodies of adults, children and midgets, also provides an undercurrent of fun.  But unfortunately, although there are a few gems, most of the way the gags fail badly to find the correct balance between darkness and comedy, leaning much too far towards the former.  Most people find the child snuffing and gang rape/murder scene particularly, and needlessly, vile, but the Continue reading CAPSULE: MAN BITES DOG [C’est arrivé près de chez vous] (1992)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/10/09

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.

Sadly, there’s nothing new of weird interest opening in theaters this week.

NEW ON DVD:

A Day in the Life (2009): I have no idea if this direct-to-DVD release from rapper-director Sticky Fingaz is any good, but it’s a novelty, at least: all the dialogue in this gangsta-action flick is rapped, even lines delivered by elderly white women or the detective played by the fortuitously named Michael Rapaport. Buy from Amazon.

Knowing (2009):  This apocalyptic fable from sometimes weird director Alex (Dark City) Proyas about a a little girl who predicted natural disasters in a mathematical code has some nice visuals and exciting action sequences.  Not weird, but strange “X Files” like visitors provide an uncanny thrill, and it may be worth a rental for sci-fi fans.  Starring Nick Cage. Buy from Amazon.

The Unborn (2009): Horror movie about a woman who may be haunted by the malevolent spirit of her own born twin; reviews were poor overall, but reportedly the nightmare imagery (drawn from Jewish mythology) is memorably bizarre. Buy from Amazon.

NEW (OFFICIALLY LICENSED) ON YOUTUBE:

The Doom Generation (1995): A trio of teen killers drift through a stylized America in this second entry in Gregg (Nowhere) Araki’s  “Teen Apocalypse” trilogy.  With Rose McGowan, James Duval, and numerous pop culture cameos.  This is the R-rated cut, not the unrated cut.   Watch on YouTube.

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.

MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) opens with a scene of fearsome waves crashing against a desolate shore.  It could almost be described as Debussian, save for the unsettling dead and total silence that continues, unabated, throughout the film.

Maya Deren's At LandThe exotic Deren appears, emerging from a sleep, like a mermaid spit ashore from the crashing waves.

Deren begins slowly climbing a massive, twisted, dead tree trunk; the figure of Deren/Eros embarking on her great existential journey.

The nymph (her face adorned with child-like innocence) slithers on her stomach across a dining room table, populated with faceless corporates.  They do not take notice of her, preoccupied with idle chatter and many cigarettes.  Her eyes focus on a solitary figure, playing chess at the table’s end.  By the time she reaches that end (there are brief, repeated, struggled, exploratory diversions through a mass of shrubbery) she finds the player has just left and, as she gazes at the board, the rest of the room’s occupants are also leaving.

Telekinetically, she moves the chess pieces, until the pawn (one of eight) falls through a hole in the table.  She attempts to retrieve it and finds herself  back on the shore, then on a country road, walking and talking with a young man (represented by five different men).

She cannot keep up with the man and he leaves her behind as he disappears into a cabin, shutting the foreboding door behind him.

Determined not to be abandoned, she crawls under the log cabin but emerges in a contemporary, nearly abandoned home, laden with furniture, covered in white sheets.

It is not the young man she finds, but an older, bedridden man (figure number six), under a white bed sheet.  They silently stare at each other, identify Continue reading MAYA DEREN: AT LAND (1944)

APPROPRIATION AND MUTILATION: THE WEIRDEST FORM OF FLATTERY?

If you search for “366 Weird Movies” on Google, you may discover this odd tribute: an unauthorized, uncredited, unlinked “remix” of our review of The Toxic Avenger, Part II on an anonymous blog.

This new version contains a few insights that I missed in my initial review.  For example, we learn that the movie is a “moral jocose spoof” with “politically false noxiousness,” one which “should pay fans of absurdist murderousness< a harm” (all true enough statements, I suppose).

Richard Harrington’s Washington Post review, cited in our article, has been similarly reworked to produce even more profound insights.  He finds that the original Toxic Avenger had ” a dope, surreal vim” and ponders the eternal question, “What happens when you disparage a cinema that’s considerate simple derision and disparage out cold the considerate on the unharmed derision?”  Smoke a joint and try to wrap your mind around that one; it’s even better than “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

What’s going on here?  Has 366 Weird Movies become grist for some elaborate Internet Dada mill? Looking at the reworked text, it looks like someone has taken the original article and used an automated program like Babblefish to translate the review into a foreign language, and then translated it back into English to mangle the grammar and vocabulary.  They’ve also inserted the nonsense phrase “on the unharmed demeaning” randomly at several points in the text, and helpfully highlighted arbitrary words and inserted links to two unrelated blogs: one from a mom in Australia, and the other to a young Arab journalist in Kuwait. The blog itself contains page after page of similarly stolen and transformed posts from all over the Web, including columns giving relationship advice (“A functional relationship can contrariwise indeed befall when both partners are advantageous with themselves enlighten and then with each other and scoff at a oodles.”)

The blog calls itself “humorous” (the title, not a description), and the posts are Continue reading APPROPRIATION AND MUTILATION: THE WEIRDEST FORM OF FLATTERY?

WHAT WAS THAT WEIRD MOVIE?

Here’s the latest request:

“Impossible request here. When I was 4 or 5, I got up from bed and walked into the living room where my parents were watching a late night movie. It was a horror sci-fi piece of some sort. All I remember is a dog walking towards the camera and when it got near I realized it had a human head. That scene must have made quite an impression because I still remember it today. So… pre-1984 sci-fi/horror, mutant dog with human head. It’s not much of a description, but do you have any clues?”

At first I thought it might be John Carpenter’s THE THING, but the helpful folks at badmovies.org came up with a better idea–the 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS:

26. THE MILKY WAY [LA VOIE LACTEE] (1969)

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”–Matthew 10:34-36

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Laurent Terzieff, Bernard Verley, Edith Scob, ,

PLOT:  Two tramps follow the ancient pilgrimage road leading from France to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of the apostle James are supposed to be interred.  Along the way they meet strange characters from various times who debate ancient Catholic heresies, a child with a stigmata, an angel of death, and a nun voluntarily undergoing a crucifixion.  Also scattered throughout the film are recreations of fictional and historical events, including dramatization of an Inquisition trial, a cameo by the Marquis de Sade, and scenes from the Gospels.

milky_way_coie_lactee

BACKGROUND:

  • In retrospect, director Luis Buñuel realized that The Milky Way formed the first part of a trilogy about “the search for truth” along with The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Phantom of Liberty (1974). The subsequent two films use the same fragmented, non-linear narrative style pioneered in The Milky Way.
  • The film is exhaustively researched, with many of the episodes composed of direct quotes from the Bible or the writings of heretics.
  • Released while the general strike and student protests of May 1968 were still fresh in France’s mind and a spirit of liberal revolution was in the air, some leftists were not happy that one of their own had chosen this moment to make a non-political film about the history of heresy in the Catholic church.  According to anecdote, Buñuel’s novelist friend Julio Cortazar accused the director of having completed the film with financing from the Vatican.
  • Although the film is often blasphemous on its surface, it was well-received by the Catholic Church, who even intervened with the Italian censors to reverse their decision to ban the film.  This was an unexpected reaction, as the Vatican had declared Buñuel’s 1961 film Viridiana “blasphemous”.
  • With its large, almost epic cast, it’s inevitable that several French actors with significant contributions in the weird movie arena appeared in cameo roles, including Delpine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad) as a prostitute, Julien Guiomar (Léolo) as a priest, and Michel Piccoli (La Grande Bouffe, Dillinger is Dead) as the Marquis de Sade.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The execution of a pope by a gang of anarchists, a scene that leads to the film’s funniest and most unexpected punchline.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  In The Milky Way two worldly pilgrims make their way through a strange, heresy-obsessed world in which every maître d’ is an expert theologian and Renaissance fops duel to the death over arcane philosophical doctrines, while any random stranger they meet may actually be God, an angel, or the fulfillment of a recent prophecy.

Hollywood-style VHS trailer for La Voie Lactée

COMMENTS:  Of all the great directors, Luis Buñuel was the greatest prankster.  His son, Continue reading 26. THE MILKY WAY [LA VOIE LACTEE] (1969)

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 7/4/09

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 (LIMITED RELEASE):

Tony Manero (2008):  A Chilean black comedy, set during the Pinochet dictatorship, about a lowlife thug and murderer who’s obsessed with the Manero character from John Tavolta’s Saturday Night FeverThe London Times calls it “wonderfully bizarre.”  Tony Manero official site (Spanish).

NEW ON DVD:

Dark Streets (2008): A noirish musical fantasy set in 1930s New Orleans. With a soundtrack featuring Natalie Cole, Etta James, Dr. John, Richie Sambora, and co-star Bijou Phillips, it’s almost certain to sound good, if nothing else. Buy from Amazon.

Hide (2008): Described by the producers as “Tarantino meets Bonnie and Clyde,” this indie action flick apparently has a twist ending that has baffled many viewers. Starring Rachel Miner and Christian Kane. Buy from Amazon.

Tokyo! (2008):  A suite of three fantastic, surreal short stories directed by three different international directors (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Joon-Ho Bong), all set in Tokyo.  Not surprisingly, the stories appear to focus on the theme of urban alienation.  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.

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