Tag Archives: 2000

READER RECOMMENDATION: BRUISER (2000)

Reader Recommendation by Jason Steadmon

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jason Flemyng, , Nina Garbiras, Leslie Hope, Tom Atkins

PLOT: Henry Creedlow works to provide for and please his cheating, social-climbing wife. An event from a masquerade party takes on a real world tangibility, signifying his nobody existence but also allowing him to take forceful and violent control of an out-of-control life.

Still from Bruiser (2000)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: George Romero’s filmography has never shied away from the strange, but the lack of an explicit reason for Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: BRUISER (2000)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ISLE [SEOM] (2000)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim

PLOT: A mute woman who runs a fishing resort becomes obsessed with a suicidal fugitive hiding out in one of the floating cabins.

Still from The Isle [Seom] (2000)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bizarre, perverted sadomasochistic love story in a unique setting, made with skill and a few touches of surrealism.

COMMENTS: One of the most unique features of The Isle is the peculiar setting: a fishing resort on a picture-postcard lake dotted with one-room floating cabins for rent. Guests spend their days drinking beer, staring at the misty mountains in the distance, and fishing off their doorstep; while there they are almost completely dependent on the stunningly beautiful, mute proprietress, who ferries them back and forth to the shore and delivers bait, coffee, and prostitutes in her dinghy. (The hideaway appears to make more money off of escort services and wealthy men sailing their mistresses out to a bungalow for some floating hanky-panky than it does off of fishing). One day, the woman pilots a quiet, handsome man out to the yellow float; he catches her eye when she discovers that he is suicidal and has sailed out to the lake to work up the courage to bump himself off. This is the setup for a very odd romance that develops between two lovers with tormented pasts—backstories that are never fully explained but are hinted at by the obsessive fury with which they fall for each other and the self-loathing ferocity with which they mutilate themselves.

For a romantic drama, The Isle has a relatively high body count; but, despite a few horrific moments, no one will confuse this arthouse effort with a slasher. The tone is always straightforward and serious—even solemn—and this matter-of-fact treatment makes some of the bizarre occurrences near the end seem almost believable. The aquatic setting supplies a built-in metaphor for submerged meanings and hidden psychological depths, and beautifully murky underwater shots abound. Particularly lovely is a shot where Jung Suh, whose character moves above and below the waterline at will, peers down into the fathoms while her long jet black hair floats like seaweed behind her. Other strange and memorable moments include what is likely to be the most improbable and painfully gruesome suicide attempt you’ve ever seen, and a mysteriously surreal parting shot of a bushy island of green reeds. Evoking the mysterious power of mutually destructive attraction, The Isle is a movie that just might get its hooks in you—although hopefully not as literally as it gets its hooks inside its characters.

Fair warning to animal lovers: it does not appear that the Korean chapter of PETA was allowed on set for this shoot, as violence against vertebrates is a running theme in the film. The Isle features a frog skinned and pulled apart, sushi made and eaten from a living fish as it flops around, a drowned bird, and a dog choked by a leash and struck. Although some of the cruelty is faked, some of it clearly is not.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a thoroughly original item that adds further fuel to South Korea’s recent rep for sexually themed offbeaters.”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Spass.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

125. LITTLE OTIK (2000)

Otesánek; AKA Greedy Guts

“I do not work with intentions… That has nothing to do with freedom of the imagination… My preference is certainly for subsequent interpretation rather than intention. In Little Otik, the child devours its ‘parents.’ Otik is the product of their desire, their rebellion against nature. This is not a child in the real sense of the world, but the materialization of desire, of a rebellion. That is the tragic dimension of the human destiny. It is impossible to live without rebelling against the human lot. That is the proper subject of freedom.”–Jan Svankamjer, 2006 interview with Peter Hames

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jan Svankmajer

FEATURING: Kristina Adamcová, Veronika Zilková, Jan Hartl

PLOT: Karel and Bozena are an infertile couple obsessed with becoming pregnant; one day, as a joke, Karel brings his wife a tree stump that looks a little like a child, but the woman immediately begins treating it as if it were a real baby. Bozena goes so far as to fake a pregnancy, and the husband is shocked when the piece of wood actually comes to life. Parenthood proves difficult when they discover in that the wooden child needs to be fed and has an insatiable craving for red meat; meanwhile, their sexually curious ten-year old neighbor is also obsessed with little Otik and begins to suspect his secret…

Still from Little Otik (2000)

BACKGROUND:

  • The story is a modern adaptation of the Eastern European fairy tale “Otesánek,” as collected by the folklorist K.J. Erben. The original fable is recounted in a storybook-animated film-within-a-film.
  • Jan Svankmajer’s late wife, the painter Eva Švankmajerová, had illustrated “Otesánek” for a children’s book in the 1970s.
  • Per Svankmajer, in Czech the word “otesánek” (which is derived from the verb “to hew” plus a diminutive “-ánek” which denotes a child) is used for a person “who devours and digests everything (not only food).”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Crazy-eyed Bozena breastfeeding a log in maternal bliss—particularly when the camera zooms in to show a closeup of Otik hungrily suctioning milk through his stump. (As a footnote, one of Little Otik‘s iconic images isn’t actually in the movie. A bizarre still of Alzbetka licking a fried egg was featured prominently in the Otik‘s promotional material, but that precise shot does not appear in the film).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This modernized fairy-tale adaptation about an insatiable man-eating tree stump baby is actually Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer’s most conventional and accessible story (by far). Of course, in Svankmajer’s world, a conventional narrative includes scenes where street vendors fish infants out of tanks, wrap them in newspaper and sell them to passersby. There’s something seminal about this freaky film that mixes black comedy with dashes of horror and flecks of surrealism; it’s an excellent, comprehensible-yet-mysterious entry-level bizarre film for the neophyte weirdster.


American trailer for Little Otik

COMMENTS: When erotically curious youngster Alzbetka hides a textbook on sexual Continue reading 125. LITTLE OTIK (2000)

TV CAPSULE: JAM (UK, 2000)

DIRECTED BY:  Chris Morris

FEATURING:  Chris Morris, Mark Heap, Amelia Bullmore, David Cann, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon, Roz McCutcheon

PLOT:  “Jam” was a six episode TV series that originally aired on UK TV Channel 4.  Each 25 minute episode was aired without ad breaks or credits.  The show featured various “sketches” and faux interviews dealing with suicide, murder, sexual abuse, rape, child death, and medical malpractice.  The whole thing was backed by occasionally intrusive ambient music and some segments were filmed or dubbed in an out-of-sync fashion that made them even more awkward and disturbing than the subject matter would suggest.

Still from Jam (2000)

The show was repeated at a later hour as “Jaaam!”  This variation took the original sketches and remixed the visuals to make the viewing experience more tricky and surreal with shots sped up, fed through filters and replaced with stills.   Many of the sketches were born in a BBC Radio 1 very late night/early morning show called “Blue Jam” which mixed vocal skits with ambient tracks.  Some of the radio sketches were taken directly from the old soundtrack and then lip synched on TV, resulting in another layer in the onion of weird that was “Jam.”

COMMENTS:  To mix preserves, “Jam” is like Marmite: you’ll either love it or hate it.  Allow me to give you a taster.

A couple believes their young daughter is a 45 year old man trapped in a young girl’s body, so they have the genitals of a 45 year old man grafted to her body.

A woman calls a plumber to her house to fix her dead baby.  He is aghast, but she explains the baby is only 3 weeks old and they’re meant to last longer than that, and after all “it’s just pipes really.”  In a throwaway comment she reveals that the father has said he will leave if she doesn’t stop “going on about the pipes.”  An offer of £1000/hour convinces the plumber to give it a try, and later he takes her up to the bedroom to see his work.  He’s plumbed the baby’s corpse into the heating system to make it warm and added a little tap so it will gurgle.

A couple bargaining for a house negotiate a reduction in price in return for sex sessions with the seller.  When he receives a better offer, he threatens to renege on the deal, so they offer the services of the husband’s mentally disabled sister.

Some folks will have already decided that “Jam” is not for them, and I can’t really blame them.  Continue reading TV CAPSULE: JAM (UK, 2000)

87. MAELSTROM (2000)

“Maelstrom, from my humble point of view, was inspired as follows: we all have an amazing built-in system of personal and social defense: we interpret the world and construct for ourselves an image of it, which comforts us and eases our conscience, and we do this instinctively.  For me, Maelstrom is a playful call to be responsible and to be careful.  Some of my friends found this definition childish and tried to convince me that Maelstrom was, instead, a dark and serious drama about a woman emerging from chaos and mythomania.  Others consider it a luminous noir fable of a voyage to the limits of reality and myth.  That’s ridiculous.  Don’t believe a word they say.”–Denis Villeneuve, Director’s Note to Maelstrom

DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve

FEATURING: Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Pierre Lebeau (voice)

PLOT: A fish about to be chopped up and made into seafood explains that, with his last breaths, he would like to tell a “pretty story” about a young woman “on a long voyage toward reality.”  We then meet Bibi, undergoing an abortion; later that day, she will lose her position in the family business, then leave the scene of the accident after striking a pedestrian while driving drunk.  In the guilt-ridden weeks that follow, she tracks down the man she struck to find out who he was and what happened to him.

Still from Maelstrom (2000)

BACKGROUND:

  • Maelstrom swept the 2001 Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Awards), winning the Best Picture, Director, Lead Actress, Screenplay, and Cinematography awards.  Other than film festival appearances, the movie received little distribution outside of Canada. A DVD was released in 2003 with little fanfare, and Maelstrom has been largely forgotten since.
  • Set in Montreal, Maelstrom was filmed in French, but a small portion of the dialogue is in untranslated Norwegian, as is the opening epigraph.
  • Maelstrom was included in film critic Richard Crouse’s book “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” (coincidentally, this makes the eighth of the titles Crouse chose that we’ve independently reviewed).
  • In 2010 Denis Villeneuve scored an international arthouse hit with the (not weird) Incendies, a story about twins traveling to the Middle East to uncover a family secret, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The grotesque, philosophical fish who croaks out the tale between gasps while waiting for the fishmonger (sharpening his blade on a stone and looking like an executioner) to finish him off.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The story is narrated by a dying fish.  If you need more than that, there’s the confusing, impressionistic, nonlinear timeline (that replays certain scenes); some incredible plot and thematic coincidences; and the stylishly stoned scenes of Bibi drowning her woes in booze and pills. But I keep coming back to the fact that the story is narrated by a (surprisingly reflective) dying fish. Talk about cod philosophy!


Trailer for Maesltrom

COMMENTS: “You’ll get nightmares from eating stale octopus,” Bibi’s friend warns her Continue reading 87. MAELSTROM (2000)

CAPSULE: WILD ZERO (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Tetsuro Takeuchi

FEATURING: Masashi Endô, Kwancharu Shitichai, Guitar Wolf, Makoto Inamiya

PLOT: Guitar Wolf (frontman of the pistol-packing punk outfit Guitar Wolf) makes Ace a blood brother when the would-be greaser is injured during a showdown between the band and an evil club owner; the rock star gives him a whistle he can use to summon the band in times of need, which comes in useful when Ace finds himself trapped in a town overrun by zombies.

Still from Wild Zero (2000)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s more “wild” than “weird,” and more “awesome” than “great.”  The surrealism sometimes seems to result from carelessness—as if the director is thinking, “no one’s going to care if this character suddenly shoots lasers from his eyes, as long as something blows up and the soundtrack’s loud”—rather than an ideological dedication to absurdity. It’s a crazy, fluffy pop confection made from zombies, punk rock and flying saucers, fun but totally non-nutritious; the younger, or the drunker, you are, the more likely you are to fall in love with it.

COMMENTS:  When Wild Zero‘s advertising proclaims it a “super rock and roll jet movie!,” it reminds us that Westerners are as fascinated and amused by the way the Japanese absorb and alter American pop culture, chewing up and spitting our entertainment idioms back at us in twisted forms.  Wild Zero is a fairly obvious mashup of Rock and Roll High School and Night of the Living Dead, but when seasoned with casual Oriental surrealism, it turns into something that feels unique and unclassifiable: a “super rock and roll jet movie!”  The band Guitar Wolf, with their leather jackets, shades, shared surname (frontman Guitar Wolf shares the stage with sidekicks Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), and fast and furious odes to teen rebellion, shamelessly crib from the Ramones.  However, they add their own flavor to the recipe.  The Ramones never had magical powers, arsenals of munitions, or flames shooting from their microphones, and to my knowledge they never went so far as to act as superheroes for their most dedicated fans, explode zombie heads with glowing guitar picks, or use samurai blades hidden in guitar necks to gut alien motherships.  Superhumanly cool and macho, like Clint Eastwood if he Continue reading CAPSULE: WILD ZERO (2000)

77. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR [Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)

“Beloved be those who sit down.”
–César Vallejo

“People have wondered how to classify my film. Absurdism or surrealism? What the hell is it?… This film introduces a style that I’d like to call ‘trivialism.’ Life is portrayed as a series of trivial components. My intention is to touch on bigger, more philosophical issues at the same time.”–Roy Andersson, DVD commentary to Songs from the Second Floor

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Roy Andersson

FEATURING: Lars Nordh, Stefan Larsson

PLOT:  Set at the dawn of the millennium in a nameless city that seems to be undergoing an apocalyptic panic—traffic is at a standstill as people try to leave all at once, parades of flagellants march down the street, and the Church considers returning to human sacrifice—Songs unfolds as a series of brief, seemingly unrelated, vaguely surreal scenes.  Eventually a main thread emerges involving a family: the father’s furniture business has just burnt down, one son has gone insane from writing poetry, and the other son is a melancholy cab driver.  The father enters the retail crucifix business and begins seeing ghosts.

Still from Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was inspired by the verse of the relatively obscure avant-garde Peruvian poet César Vallejo (1892-1938), whose poem “Stumble between to stars” is quoted in the film.  Anyone who thinks Andersson is obscure would do well to avoid Vallejo, whose work—with its invented words and grammar and difficult symbolism—recalls James Joyce at his most impenetrable.
  • Songs  from the Second Floor was Andersson’s third feature film, and his first since 1975’s Giliap.  He spent most of the intervening time directing commercials, although he did complete two highly regarded short films.
  • Andersson discovered Lars Nordh shopping for furniture at an IKEA.
  • Many of the exterior shots were actually shot inside Andersson’s studio with trompe l’oeil paintings or three-dimensional models as backgrounds .
  • All scenes are completed in one take.  The camera only moves once (a calm tracking shot in the railway station).
  • At the time of the film’s release reviewers consistently marveled that none of the scenes had been scripted or storyboarded beforehand.  The method here shouldn’t suggest that Andersson simply made up the film as he went along, however, as unused footage shows that each scene was meticulously rehearsed and refined dozens of times, often on incomplete sets with stand-ins for the actors, over what must have been a period of weeks or months.  Andersson says they sometimes shot twenty to twenty five takes per scene to achieve the perfect performance.
  • The film took four years to complete.
  • Songs from the Second Floor tied for the jury prize at Cannes in 2000 (the jury prize is the third most prestigious award after the Palme D’Or and the Grand Prix).
  • Andersson followed up Songs with You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007) (also Certified Weird). The two movies are extremely similar both thematically (the comically apocalyptic mood) and stylistically (made up of intricately composed, brief vignettes). Andersson has said he intends to create a trilogy; however, he has suggested that the third film may not follow the same style as the first two.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Fat Kalle standing at a deserted crossroads by the pile of discarded crucifixes, gazing at the figures approaching on the horizon, is an image worthy of European arthouse greats like Buñuel or Fellini.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: There are a few moments of magical realism in Songs from the Second Floor, involving subway commuters bursting into classical verse and the matter-of-fact appearance of ghosts, but even if these interludes hadn’t been included, the movie would feel strange because of the high artificiality of Andersson’s style: the static camera, the constant crowds of expressionless figurants gazing dispassionately at the action in the foreground, the carefully controlled compositions filled with background detail. Adding deadpan absurd black humor, bleak existentialism, and a sense of looming catastrophe into the mix produces a singular concoction, one that captured Sweden’s—and the West’s—mood of anxious despair as the new millennium dawned.


Scene from Songs from the Second Floor

COMMENTS: Songs from the Second Floor uses deep focus—the photographic technique Continue reading 77. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR [Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)