Our weekly 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.


“Channel 2020” (coming 2013): A web series devoted to exposing the “interstellar shape-shifting reptilian overlords” of the very near future through a glimpse at their very own TV network. This is a co-production by  (late of the Certified Weird Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez!) and David Krofta, co-writer/puppeteer of IFC’s “Food Party.” “Channel 2020” official site.


“Sex City” (coming 2013): OK, the guys at Everything Is Terrible are super-busy trying to top DW! PW! by expanding into the realm of web series. This one involves teenagers who plant porno mags in the woods and come back years later to discover these seeds have grown into a full-fledged Sex City, and they are considered its gods. “Sex City” production journal.


The Spirit of the Beehive (1973): A seven-year old girl in Franco’s Spain sees Frankenstein (1931) and believes the Monster is real. This celebrated Spanish drama mixing reality and fantasy was an obvious inspiration for Pan’s Labyrinth. Buy The Spirit of the Beehive (Criterion Collection).


Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): This existential road movie from eccentric director  has two aimless gearheads (called “the Driver” and “the Engineer”) racing cars across the endless American highway, until a girl comes between them. The Criterion Collection upgrades this cult favorite to Blu-ray. Buy Two-Lane Blacktop (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].

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.


* This is the first in a two-part series.

Charles Chaplin left Mutual Film in 1917 and signed a contract with First National. Their agreement amounted to more than a million dollars per year. Chaplin was the first movie star to sign such a lucrative offer. Loyal to his inner circle, he brought leading lady Edna Purviance and heavy  with him, among others.

Although Chaplin’s first feature length film, The Kid (1921), would emerge from his five years at First National, his relationship with the studio was not an amiable one. The struggles between artist and executives would inspire Chaplin to form his own studio, United Artists. Again, this was a first for Hollywood.

Most critics and film historians consider the First National films a notch below the work Chaplin did for Mutual. In the First national shorts, Chaplin’s level of inspiration often noticeably wanes, so the general consensus is, for once, correct. Still, even lesser Chaplin is worthwhile (well, until we get to the late Chaplin features).

A Dog’s Life (1918) was Chaplin’s first short for First National. It was also the first movie to make a million dollars, more than justifying its considerable budget. Chaplin is in full Tramp mode here. Although an immensely popular film, and containing elements which Chaplin would develop more fully in The Kid, A Dog’s Life is an uneven effort.

Dawn brings only another day of misery in poverty. The Tramp ingeniously tires to steal a hotdog, but policeman Tom Wilson shows up to soil the spoils (Wilson would appear as the same character in The Kid).

Still from A Dog's Life (1918)In flight, the Tramp saves a mongrel, Scraps, from a scrape with a pack of dogs. Scraps, like the Kid (and, the Gamin later still) is a reflection of sorts of the Tramp, creating an identifying bond between the two.

The Tramp is a scrapper himself, fighting desperately for employment, but to no avail, alas. Dog and man enter The Green Lantern bar to find a mother and wife figure in Edna, who, as an amusingly awkward torch singer, has the locals in buckets of tears. (Literally. This scene also includes Henry Bergman in mighty uncomfortable drag).

Edna’s Big Boss Man threatens her with: “flirt or you’re fired! Give them a wink and smile!” Poor Edna’s just no good at flirting. “Do you have something in your eye?” asks the Tramp. Now Edna’s out of a job.

Lo and behold, some local bank robbers have buried some money, which Scraps has located. It looks like Paradise has been found, but not before at least one more scrap (which involves a surreal rendezvous with the crooks in a booth).

An over-written, bucolic finale rings phony. Ambiguity pointing to a release from the hell of poverty would have worked considerably better.

Shoulder Arms (1918) finds Chaplin again in social commentary mode, which was a gutsy move considering that the star was under intense Continue reading CHAPLIN AT FIRST NATIONAL (PART I)

133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

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“In my mind, it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious — something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoonfed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema, and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working.”–David Lynch


FEATURING: , , Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake,

PLOT: Fred is a free jazz saxophonist who finds that mysterious videotapes are being dropped off on his doorstep. After an encounter with a ghostly pale man at a party, he blacks out finds himself accused of the murder of his wife. In prison Fred begins having headaches, and then one day he disappears and a completely different man—a young mechanic—is discovered in his death row cell.

Still from Lost Highway (1997)


  • The screenplay to Lost Highway was co-written by Barry Gifford, who also wrote the novel “Wild at Heart” that Lynch adapted into a film in 1990.
  • Lost Highway received two “thumbs down” ratings from Siskel & Ebert’s “At the Movies” syndicated movie review program. Lynch insisted the movie poster be rewritten to highlight the critics’ dual pans, describing the bad ratings as “two good reasons to go and see Lost Highway.”
  • The film cost about 15 million dollars to make but grossed less than 4 million at the U.S. box office.
  • Lost Highway boasts a number of cameo roles, including rockers Henry Rollins as a guard and Marilyn Manson as a porn actor,  mainstay  in a voiceover, and Richard Prior as one of Pete’s co-workers.
  • This film marks the last onscreen appearance of , who appeared in all of Lynch’s films until his death in 1996.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Robert Blake’s “Mystery Man,” an eyebrow-free, perpetually grinning pasty-faced ghoul who likes to crash L.A. cocktail parties and whose idea of small talk is to call himself on his cell phone to deliver obscure metaphysical portents of doom.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine you’re on a desert highway. It’s long past midnight and you can’t see anything but the onrushing yellow traffic lines a few feet in front of the car’s headlights. is crooning “funny how secrets travel” from the stereo. David Lynch is at the wheel, he’s jittery from drinking too much coffee, and neither you nor he has no idea where you’re going. Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Original trailer for Lost Highway

COMMENTS: Made five years after the divisive mixed blessing that was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway marks the beginning of the Continue reading 133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)


From the Online Film Critics Society press release: “The Online Film Critics Society has announced the winners of its 16th annual movie awards. Ben Affleck’s film Argo, about the fake film shoot that was used as a cover to extract six Americans from Iran during the Iran Hostage Crisis, was named by the organization as the Best Picture of the 2012.”

The results of the OFFS tend to fall in line with results of other film critics polls, rather than the more populist Academy Awards, and should not be seen as a predictor of future events: in fact, the OFCS and the Academy have only agreed on the Best Picture three times during their coexistence. When they disagree, however, the OFCS tends to go with the better and bolder choice, selecting the gritty L.A. Confidential ahead of the treacly Titanic in 1997, recognizing both Memento and Mulholland Drive (both snubbed for Oscar noms) ahead of A Beautiful Mind in 2001, giving the nod to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (another Academy slight) over Million Dollar Baby in 2004, and having the foresight to recognize The Tree of Life as Best Picture last year (not that The Artist was bad, but come on—Life was monumental).

As a voting member of the organization, I take these awards seriously. I try to see all the nominees, and I do not push “weird” candidates unless I truly feel that they truly belong among the year’s best. I have listed all the winners of the various categories below, along with my thoughts on the winner and my reasons for casting my ballot as I did. Of course, no comment below, however snarky, is meant to disparage the opinion of any of colleague (or reader) who voted differently than I did. I believe everyone voted their conscience.


Winner: Argo

Also Nominated: Holy Motors, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty

Our Vote: The Master

Comments: Argo, the story of the rescue of diplomats stranded in revolutionary Iran in 1980 by a CIA agent pretending to be a producer scouting locations for a science fiction epic, is a consensus-type pick. It’s a very solid thriller from a director who’s paid his dues, and it helps its credibility that it’s also based on true events (qualities it shares with Zero Dark Thirty, which was hurt mainly by the fact that it arrived in theaters so late that many voters didn’t get the chance to see it). Argo is a conventional formula flick, but it executes its script nearly flawlessly, mixing tension, political import and comic relief in effective ratios. I liked it, but I believe it lacks the kind of serious artistic ambition necessary to be a real Best Picture contender; as good as it is it doesn’t transcend its genre. Argo‘s proponents probably don’t feel as passionately about it as champions of some of the other films do, but the movie also has fewer downsides—excepting ZDT, the other nominees all have alienating features that drive conservative voters away. The remaining non-Argo votes are split between the three more peculiar films. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Argo to do well with the Academy, particularly since it also pokes gentle fun at the Hollywood film industry, something voters tend to respond to (see The Player).

Personally, I would have voted for Beasts of the Southern Wild as Best Picture, had it been nominated. It takes far more chances than Argo, and while it’s not perfect, I’ll take a great but flawed performance with a high degree of difficulty over a perfect rendition of a standard routine any day. Of the remaining candidates, I thought The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s existential tale of confused post-War spirituality, produced the best blend of strong filmmaking and artistic vision. The wild card was Holy Motors, which I was shocked to see nominated. The fact that I ignored MotorsContinue reading 16TH ANNUAL ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES AND COMMENTS)

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