Tag Archives: 1999

WEIRD VIEW CREW: THE ITEM (1999)

In The Item, the chick, the fat guy, the mustache guy, and Dan Clark pick up a mysterious briefcase in a scenario that was intended to evoke Pulp Fiction as made by . The result, instead, is a 2.7 IMDb rating. Pete soldiers on gamely, with some herbal assistance.

(This movie was nominated for review by Val Santos. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WEIRD VIEW CREW: ROCK N’ ROLL FRANKENSTEIN (1999)

Beware

This review isn’t too NSFW (we’d rate it PG-13 for penile synonyms), but the movie sure is. Kids shouldn’t watch Rock n’ Roll Frankenstein. Other people who shouldn’t watch Rock n’ Roll Frankenstein: people who care about movies or about being entertained.

(This movie was nominated for review by Brian O’Hara, director of Rock n’ Roll Frankenstein. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: ONE SOLDIER (1999)

DIRECTED BY: Steven Wright

FEATURING: Steven Wright, Sandi Carroll

PLOT: A Civil War soldier looks back upon his life and contemplates the nature of human existence in the days leading up to his execution for murder.

Still from One Soldier (1999)

COMMENTS: For years, Steven Wright built his comedy empire on peerless one-liners that required 5 seconds to fully sink in and another 30 to stop laughing. Long before successors like Mitch Hedberg and Demetri Martin picked up the torch, Wright was unspooling hour-long sets built out of dozens upon dozens of jokes that lay like unexploded mines waiting to go off. It’s frankly all I can do to resist the temptation to just spend the whole review quoting him. (I’ll allow myself this one famous joke for the unacquainted: “I spilled spot remover on my dog… and now he’s gone.”) This earned him many opportunities to apply his hangdog stare and drier-than-the-Sahara monotone to a variety of projects as a supporting actor and voice artist, but there have been fewer opportunities to try to translate his voice as a writer to the screen. In 1988, he wrote, produced, and starred in “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings,” the tale of a hapless psychiatric patient that earned Wright that year’s Academy Award for live-action short. That success under his belt, he then waited 11 years to make another short, this time assuming the director’s mantle as well.

The initial joke is that, even though his milieu is now the American Civil War, Steven Wright in a Union uniform is still Steven Wright. The elements are in place for a “Drunk History”-style collision of history and comedy, as mournful violins accompany Wright’s walks through an empty New England landscape. But when he launches into his narration in his classic disaffected drone, the subject matter is immediately more philosophical, touching on the inscrutability of life and the inevitability of death. Soon enough, his wife Becky joins in with her own reflection, and each hints that his fate may already be sealed. Essentially, “One Soldier” is like if “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” were a comedy sketch.

Of course, Steven Wright can’t not be funny, or at least not indulge his quirkier side. Particularly as regards his fate, which he anticipates by plucking petals off a flower. Even his deepest musings are tinged with silliness, like his recollections of his job in the war, playing the concertina to soothe the nerves of the top brass. A heartwarming reunion with his wife is tempered somewhat by his insistence on wearing a harmonica, even during intimate moments. And there’s a comedian’s love of the absurd, best typified by this line of dialogue which is no less bizarre when heard in context: “When she said the number 25 in German, it drove me wild.”

Wright’s soldier is a philosopher who hasn’t done the work and doesn’t have the language to describe the uncertainties he feels. That makes “One Soldier” a most unusual vanity project: it can’t carry the burden of the weighty issues it confronts, so it leans into that weakness. But there’s still something haunting that comes through, perhaps best exemplified by the film’s final thoughts: “First you don’t exist, then you exist, then you don’t exist. So this whole thing is just an interruption from not existing.” Steven Wright finds the comedy in the tragic notion that a person’s last thought on this earth is that he’s been thinking too much about the meaning of life.

“One Soldier” is available as a bonus feature on “When the Leaves Blow Away,” a recording of a one-hour Wright stand-up set from 2007.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It is a fine blend of deep theological ponderings, modern Zen koans, and comic schtick. Like Wright’s live stand-up, the film’s slow pace and ponderous subject matter have a rather hypnotic effect, drawing one into the skewed reality of Wright’s brilliant mind.” – J. C. Shakespeare, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by RobinHoodsun, who mused “it was very very weird and it left me with a starnge feeling lol.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MEMENTO MORI (1999)

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DIRECTED BY: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong

FEATURING: Kim Gyu-ri, Park Ye-jin, Lee Young-jin, Gong Hyo-jin, Baek Jong-hak

PLOT: When Min-ah finds a diary written by two of her classmates, she is pulled into their story of romance, rejection, and retribution.

Still from Memento Mori (1999)

COMMENTS: From the first frame of the Korean horror/romance Memento Mori, we are immersed in girls’ school culture: imagine Lord of the Flies in a Michaels arts and crafts store. The entire film is embedded in this world on the brink between childhood and adulthood, equal parts bedazzled pink hearts and vicious social game play.

Within this microcosm, there are best friend duos and trios. Best friends are affectionate and vulnerable with each other, and these connections mean everything. For one pair—Hyo-shin and Shi-eun—this relationship goes further, and they become a romantic couple.

Even today, South Koreais not LGBTQ-tolerant. In 1999, having a lesbian relationship in a movie—especially a movie aimed at young people—led to government censorship. And made Memento Mori an instant cult classic.

Hyo-shin and Shi-eun create an ornate diary together, evidently something taken from real-life girl school culture. It is highly decorated, has hidden pockets, and possibly has the ability to cause hallucinations, or at the very least flashbacks. But mostly, the diary is full of confessions of their love for one another.

Min-ah, another student, finds the diary, and from that moment on, it will not let her leave it behind. She becomes possessed with it, if not by it, and the diary becomes the central storytelling device.

All does not go smoothly in Hyo-shin and Shi-eun’s relationship, not least because of their rejection by their peers, and Hyo-shin takes the breakup hard. She also might be pregnant by one of the teachers. Unable to bear one iniquity or the other, or both, she kills herself. Hyo-shin then comes back to haunt the school. Her supernatural view of her classmates is portrayed through a washed-out and yellowed film technique might have called “Ghost-O-Vision.”

Ghost Hyo-shin kills a couple people who were mean to her. Terror ensues. Mayhem follows. The cinematography and editing go a little nuts toward the end, and there are a few delightfully surreal moments. But all of this excitement is squashed into the last third of the movie.

Memento Mori has plenty of qualities besides government censorship that explain why it’s a Korean cult classic. It goes to great lengths to accurately portray a realistic courtship between teenage girls, and it doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that happen in adolescence (e.g., bullying and being groomed by a trusted adult). It also shows a teenage girl’s unhinged vengeance.

This is a fair-to-middling girls’ school horror movie with a few neat film tricks, a story told out of sequence, and a couple hallucinatory scenes. Beyond that, it is an early (especially in Korean cinema) and sensitive portrayal of a queer adolescent relationship, and for that it is important.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“On a horror/cult movie level, it combines the hallucinatory horro[r]s of Repulsion with Lynch-ian flourishes that reside in a Pandora’s Box where the past and the present are as one.”–Steve Langton, The Spinning Image (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Micah, who said he was “oddly fond of [this] very very flawed movie” that is ” similar to Donnie Darko in feel and content…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BUDDY BOY (1999)

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DIRECTED BY: Mark Hanlon

FEATURING: Aiden Gillen, Emmanuelle Seigner, , Mark Boone Junior

PLOT: Francis, a lonely, emotionally stunted man living with his stepmother, begins spying on Gloria; after a chance encounter on the street, they strike up a romantic relationship, but Francis becomes increasingly violent and unstable.

Still from Buddy Boy (1999)

COMMENTS: Like the hybrid the world was waiting for, Buddy Boy arrives with a healthy blend of paranoia and violence, neatly planting the man-against-the-world narrative inside a milieu of seediness, squalor, and surrealism. It’s a heady brew, and the success of the whole thing rests on the shoulders of our central character, a simple man who may be deeply mentally disturbed.

Francis’ unreliability is clear from the outset. Coming home to his apartment, he finds his stepmother laid out on the floor dead, an empty bottle of cleaning fluid at her side. He lays the old woman in her bed as if unsure of what to do. But by the next morning, she is quite evidently back among the living with no explanation. Did she ever die? Did any of what we’ve seen actually happen?

This uncertainty is central to the dilemma of Francis. When he watches Gloria through his peephole, he sees her heartlessly chopping up bloody cuts of meat in direct defiance of her professed veganism. And yet, when he confronts her, only vegetables are to be found. He’s understandably confused, and his uncertainty transitions steadily into horror. He scrubs his bloody hands raw with Ajax. He wears gloves and a mask to keep out the germs he imagines are everywhere (more than two decades ahead of schedule). He sees his own head served up as the main course at a dinner party. And at no point does he ever seem to entertain the notion that there might be something wrong with him. He’s that most terrifying of victims, the one who is certain he’s the only one who is sane.

At every turn, it’s becomes increasingly clear that Francis has seen the lie he wants to see, proof the world’s mendacity and his own unworthiness. As a result, you start to doubt everything onscreen. Just how likely is his relationship with Gloria? What does she see in him, and why is it enough to overcome his own self-loathing? Is his hideous stepmother (Susan Tyrell, in a performance that starts in fourth gear and accelerates from there) anything like the monster we witness, or is this just his frustration running wild? Meanwhile, the visions compound: he’s positive he’s seen a missing girl in the photographs he develops at a grungy photo processing shop. Guests at a dinner party are openly hostile to his faith, while his own priest seems to be a charlatan. People on the bus seem to be getting sicker and sicker. And what is wrong with the bathtub, anyway?

Trapped as we are inside Francis’ head, it’s ultimately impossible to trust anything we see. That’s damaging to Hanlon’s story, because once we lose the find reality in the things Francis experiences, there’s no suspense or surprise. Aiden Gillen’s central performance goes a long way toward holding the whole thing together; he’s enormously sympathetic, even as he makes choices that are increasingly worrisome. As the stakes heighten, though, it starts to feel artificial. Sure, Francis’ world is driving him mad. But in a life this hollow, a world this grim, any other outcome seems impossible.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Fans of serious decadence (you know who you are) are vigorously advised to check out a curious, unsettling, darkly conceived and absolutely fascinating little film opening in a shroud of silence, called Buddy Boy. Not since Roman Polanski at the pinnacle of his European weirdness have I seen a film this strange and riveting leaves you shaken, with a penetrating vision as poisonous as gangrene.” – Rex Reed, New York Observer (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Brian, who called it “very weird, very compelling, very memorable.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)