Tag Archives: 2001

CAPSULE DOUBLE FEATURE: HOTEL (2001) & HOTEL (2004)

There’s something inherently weird about hotels. After all, they are a temporary domicile, a place you call home for a limited time, and you share the experience with dozens of other people you will never know. (I’ve stayed on more than one occasion at a chain dubbing itself “Home 2,” like it’s the sequel to the much-loved original.) It might explain why we see so many films about them on this site, from hotels that house transient mental patients to hotels stored in the private parts of ancient vampires to hotels where couples meet again and again to decrepit hotels to hotels on the edge of the apocalypse and beyond. So maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising to find two different films in our suggestion box that are content to leave the title at Hotel. Arguably, that alone should tell you it’s about to get strange up in here.

Notably, this pair of films offers us differing points of view: one largely concerning the guests, the other centered on a member of the staff.

HOTEL (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Mike Figgis

FEATURING: Saffron Burrows, , , , , , Burt Reynolds, , David Schwimmer, Mark Strong

Still from Hotel (2001)

PLOT: A film company attempts to shoot a guerilla-style version of “The Duchess of Malfi” while based in a hotel that practices cannibalistic vampirism.

COMMENTS: This hotel variant is a directorial showcase. Figgis indulges all the techniques at his disposal: handheld cameras shooting hyper-saturated video, improvised dialogue, and the same quad-split screen storytelling that he indulged in Timecode. Some have suggested (and a line of dialogue insinuates) that he’s actually playing with Dogme 95 techniques, although his production violates most of Dogme’s rules. What he really seems to be doing is utilizing the same let’s-film-and-see-what-happens philosophy that he’s depicting. So it’s improvised. Real. Which is potentially interesting, especially when his actors are up to the challenge. But it can be equally deadening if they’re not. Sometimes there’s a payoff, like Burt Reynolds’ inexplicable turn as the director of a flamenco troupe, yes-anding his way through a scenario that would not seem to call for him at all. But you’re as likely to get a scene like Salma Hayek and Lucy Liu screaming at each other. Is that really the most interesting thing they could think of to do? It’s weak improv, which makes it weak cinema.

The all-star cast is a huge part of the appeal. It ends up playing like one of those live theatrical experiences where you get a different experience based upon which actors you choose to follow. The real-world examples of this can result in something classy or trashy, and much the same is true here. Consider Rhys Ifans’ gleefully confident turn as a power-mad director, a performance which borders on parody but is the liveliest thing in the film, until he is curiously sidelined before the halfway mark. His counterpoint is David Schwimmer’s Continue reading CAPSULE DOUBLE FEATURE: HOTEL (2001) & HOTEL (2004)

CAPSULE: HUMAN NATURE (2001)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Miranda Otto

PLOT: A scientist and a woman cursed with hirsuitism discover a feral man living in the woods and train him to live in civilized society.

Still from Human Nature (2001)

COMMENTS: Human Nature feels a bit like—and was certainly interpreted by contemporaneous critics as—an unpublished script that was dusted off and polished up to capitalize on the unexpected success of Being John Malkovich (1999). In fact, the script had originally been optioned way back in 1996, when it was circulating together with Malkovich, although it’s not clear which screenplay Kaufman completed first. After his 1999 hit, passed on directing Human Nature; he served as a producer instead, and recommended the already-established music video/commercial director Michel Gondry for the job.

That partnership was also destined to bear fruit in the future, but the team did not immediately meet with success. Human Nature didn’t live up to its immediate predecessor in either the originality of its premise or in its bizarre humor; critics who loved the first movie were generally disappointed, while those who never bought in to Kaufman in the first place relished the opportunity to proclaim that the newly crowned Emperor had scanty clothing. Twenty years later, seen outside of Malkovich‘s immediate shadow, Human Nature looks much better: smart, easy to watch, and wispily Freudian in its depiction of sexual conflict between the superego and id.

Human Nature begins by divulging its three main characters’ eventual fates: Lila is imprisoned, Puff is testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, and Nathan has a conspicuous hole in his head. Flashbacks explain how we got here: Lila, cursed with simian body hair, becomes a famous nature writer but decides she needs a man and so undergoes extensive electrolysis before being introduced to Nathan, an inhibited prude of a psychologist who’s work involves using electrical shocks to train lab rats to use the correct salad fork. They form a desperate, co-dependent relationship until discovering a feral man (later dubbed “Puff”) in the woods, whom Nathan decides would make an even better test subject for his behavioral modification studies than the mice—unlike rodents, he can train the ape man to read “Moby Dick” and discuss Wittgenstein, and to refrain from humping every woman he comes across. Predictably, things go awry, with everything further confused when various competing romantic axes and rivalries start to develop between this threesome and Nathan’s assistant, Gabrielle.

Quirky highlights include an incongruous, Disneyesque strolling-through-nature song where Lila embraces her hairiness (“my new friends, these split-ends…”); early whimsical “Gondryeqsque” sequences of white mice seated at a dinner table (done with a combination of puppetry, stop-motion, and trained animals); and Gabrielle’s contextually inexplicable accent. These bits combine with the oddness of the comic scenario and the movie’s arch approach to sexual repression to create an intelligent and off-key chamber piece effectively poking fun at our civilized foibles (“apes don’t assassinate their Presidents, gentlemen!”), while falling well short of the existential weirdness of Kaufman’s debut. By conventional Hollywood standards, Human Nature is fairly odd; by Gondry/Kaufman standards, it’s an attempt at a completely mainstream movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Written by Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), this superficially surreal film is in fact a surprisingly straightforward fable… overall the film feels forced and awkward, as though it’s trying too hard to be weird, culty and profound..”–Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

(This movie was nominated for review by Nick Gatsby, who said it was “perfect for this list. I’m deathly surprised it’s not on here already.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

READER RECOMMENDATION: FREDDIE GOT FINGERED (2001)

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Reader recommendation by June Culpepper

DIRECTED BY: Tom Green

FEATURING: Tom Green, Harland Williams, Marisa Coughlan,

PLOT: Gord Brody (Tom Green), a slacker with a dream of becoming a cartoonist, goes to California to get his cartoon made.

Still from Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Panned by critics to this day, this film is a -esque prank on both the film industry and the audience, more of a nightmarish combination of Sweet Movie, Adaptation, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie than another Jack and Jill.

COMMENTS: Tom Green did not want to make a movie. After his meteoric rise from Canadian public television to MTV fame with “The Tom Green Show” (a late night talk show that combined gross-out stunts with surrealist humor, predating “The Eric Andre Show” by two decades), Hollywood most certainly took notice.  “We don’t understand him, but the kids seem to love him,” the execs probably said. “Let’s give him 15 million dollars.” After handing him the check, Tom went back to a shack in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and came out nine months later with Freddy Got Fingered.

Freddy Got Fingered works as a sort of deconstruction of the gross-out comedy schlock of the era, taking every trope of these sorts of films and stretching them to their absolute limit, to the point where the audience is left to wonder why they liked these gags at all. The angry father who disapproves of his son’s wild dreams is played by Rip Torn, a screaming warthog in a human skinsuit. The love interest, who in most of these films is just there to satisfy the lead’s sexual needs, is a wheelchair-bound Marisa Coughlan, who is obsessed with rocketry and fellatio.  Green takes the essential pillars of gross-out comedies and breaks them down to the point where you can never build them up again.

Freddie Got Fingered also has a meta-cinema tinge to it, almost as if the film itself is the joke. The movie, in a weird way, is about the movie itself being made. Gord, who is obviously a stand-in for Green himself, has a meteoric rise to fame, in a way that almost feels out of his control. He then blows all of his money on pointless nonsense (the movie itself).  In his own words, “Easy come, easy go.”

This film is an over-the-top combination of meta-cinema, surrealism, punk spirit, and weird gross-out moments that caught me so off-guard that I don’t even want to spoil them. Tom Green got to make his perfect film, and weirdos making their magnum opuses are what this site is all about.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this movie is super weird…  someday it will be acknowledged as a triumph of absurdist filmmaking.”–Andrei Alupului, Spectrum Culture

(This movie was nominated for review by “Frank,” who said ” I feel the farcical, insanity of Freddy Got Fingered is at least worth a look.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

4*. ELECTRIC DRAGON 80000 V (2001)

Erekutorikku doragon 80000V

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Sogo Ishii [AKA Gakuryû Ishii]

FEATURING: , , voice of Masakatsu Funaki

PLOT: A boy who survives electrocution while climbing an electrical tower grows up to be “Dragon Eye Morrison,” a human battery and “reptile investigator” who tracks missing lizards and who can only control his violent impulses by playing his electric guitar. Meanwhile, “Thunderbolt Buddha,” a half-man, half-metal being who was also struck by lightning as a child, hears of our hero, and wants to test his electrical superpowers against his counterpart’s. The villainous Buddha provokes a high voltage showdown with Morrison on a Tokyo rooftop.

Still from Electric Dragon 80000V

BACKGROUND:

  • Sogo Ishii was an established director whose work was influenced by punk music and style. He was an influential figure for Japanese underground filmmakers, but his work is seldom seen outside of his homeland.
  • Industrial/noise band MACH-1.67, an occasional ensemble that included director Ishii and star Asano, provided the music. They subsequently performed concerts with this film playing in the background.
  • Composer Hiroyuki Onogawa said he had never written rock music nor worked much with the electric guitar before this project.
  • The movie was a cult success in Japan, running to packed houses in one theater for two months. Plans for a Part 2 were discussed, but never materialized.
  • Reports suggest that the film was shot in three days (other accounts say three weeks, and obviously post-production took much, much longer) and largely improvised.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’re going to go with the visage of the movie’s villain, a half-man, half-statue. (Beyond the fact that he was struck by lightning as a child, his alloyed origins are never explained.)

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Thunderbolt Buddha, TV repairman; pre-rage noise solo

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A team of Japanese industrial punks decide to made a surrealistic black and white superhero noise musical. If this sounds awesome to you, we won’t argue.

Original trailer for Electric Dragon 80000V

COMMENTS: We can dispense with any sort of search for deep Continue reading 4*. ELECTRIC DRAGON 80000 V (2001)

1*. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)

Katakuri-ke no kôfuku

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida,

PLOT: The Katakuri clan retires to a remote mountain area to run a bed and breakfast, but the place seems cursed, as every guest who stays there dies. The Katakuris try to cover up the deaths to avoid bad publicity, while frequently bursting into song and dance numbers.

Still from The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake (some say a “very loose” remake) of a Jee-woon Kim’s (non-musical) Korean black comedy The Quiet Family.
  • Miike made Katakuris the same year as Visitor Q, an even blacker comedy which also deals with the theme of a “happy” Japanese family. Katakuris and Q were two of a remarkable eight movies the prolific auteur released in 2001.
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris received the highest number of total votes in 366 Weird Movies first Apocryphally Weird movie poll, making it arguably the most popular weird movie left off the 366 Weird Movies canon.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll have to go with that little claymation yōkai/imp that pops out of a random diner’s soup and falls in love with her heart-shaped uvula—with bizarrely comic results.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Claymation infatuation; reanimated corpse song and dance

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Katakuri clan came about as close to making the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made as possible; we held off honoring them partly because their movie, while weird indeed, was overlong and uneven, and partly because Takashi Miike was already well-represented with three Canonically Weird movies, and it was time to give someone else a shot. The movie’s inclusion on the secondary list of Apocrypha titles was assured, and it’s a highly appropriate choice for the inaugural title in our runners-up category.

Short clip from The Happiness of the Katakuris

COMMENTS: The Happiness of the Katakuris begins with a four-minute scene, which really has nothing to do with the rest of the Continue reading 1*. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)