Tag Archives: 2017

CAPSULE: MOLLY (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Colinda Bongers, Thijs Meuwese

FEATURING: Julia Batelaan, Annelies Appelhof

PLOT: Gifted with supernatural powers, Molly survives as a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world, while a warlord tries to capture her and force her to become his champion in deadly cage fights.

Still from Molly (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Molly‘s main—well, only—claim to weirdness is its namesake’s superpowers, and the fact that they’re entirely unexplained. That’s not enough to qualify it as a truly bizarre film, let alone one of the weirdest ever made. Still, although it may have mainstream genre aspirations, normals will never see Molly as one of their own.

COMMENTS: Detailed worldbuilding is not Molly‘s strong suit. It would rather focus on kicking ass. It throws you into its post-apocalyptic milieu without much explanation, trusting you have seen enough Mad Max movies to know what’s going on. Tropes like the lone scavenger, the orphan of the wasteland, the barter-based economy, and a scaled-down Thunderdome-style arena ground you. Other concepts are not fully explored: what exactly are the “supplicants”? They seem to be either an underclass (everyone who is not a warlord), or a nickname for the cage fighters, or simply people who (futilely and foolishly) ask others for food. Most significant of all, Molly’s telekinetic superpowers are not explained, although there are a few obscure hints, and the ending suggests that an (unlikely) sequel might explain more about her origins.

Molly’s magical abilities are important because they level the playing field, helping to explain how this slip of a gal, just barely out of her teenage years and not tipping the scales at much more than a hundred pounds, can slug it out toe-to-toe with the baddest asses the Wasteland has to offer. Make no mistake, fighting is what Molly is all about. She can be shrewd, to be sure—she uses a rope to retrieve her only arrow so she can fire it multiple times—but mostly, she takes on crews of guys almost twice her size with nothing but kicks, punches, and swipes from her wicked handsaw. There are three or four major fights sprinkled throughout the first part, but the final act is basically an extended thirty-minute melee as Molly carves her way through a small army of punk henchmen and drug-crazed zombie fighters on a oil rig turned floating fiefdom. Few of Molly‘s performers, including the lead, are especially athletic or polished; but, as other reviewers have pointed out, the film uses its performer’s clumsiness to its advantage. The battles feel authentic, like messy, stumbling, bone-crunching street brawls rather than precisely choreographed ballets. (At one point, Molly pelts an assailant with tin cans grabbed off a shelf.) Clever editing, including some invisible cuts used to make some of the fights appear to be done in a single take, helps immensely. At times it the camera employs a high shutter speed (the “Saving Private Ryan effect”) which reduces motion blur, making scenes seem choppier but allowing you to see details like water droplets or globs of sand suspended in the air. It’s a technique I find annoying in high budget films, but in a modest effort like this I think it’s a good choice to add some camouflage to the amateur stunt work. Sometimes the filmmakers shoot with a jerky handheld camera to emphasize the chaos, and at other times the camera is stable, allowing the performers to stagger about; they aren’t locked into a particular style, but go with whatever feels right for the scene. The pièce de résistance occurs when Molly finds herself hanging upside down over the fighting pit while supplicants claw at her. Molly—both character and film—survives by pure ingenuity.

Molly is far from perfect, as befits its modest, ramshackle setting. Freckly Batelaan is appealing in the lead—though I kept wondering how she kept her bookworm glasses on through all the fights, when mine fall off my face every time I bend over to pick up my car keys. The rest of the acting is iffy; the main villain is not over-the-top enough, and his top henchwoman, with her cybernetic arm, easily outshines him. The small budget is apparent throughout. But despite these handicaps, Molly manages to assemble an entertaining ninety minutes, and it does it the hard way—by making a fast-paced action film rather than relying on dialogue. Fight scenes are difficult to stage, and if Molly‘s crew can produce reasonable-looking ones on this meager budget, we can only imagine what they’d pull off with significant resources behind them. As a rental, you could do a lot worse than Molly; and, as a filmmaker, you could do a lot worse your first time out than making a movie people could do a lot worse than seeing.

In an earlier age Molly might have graced drive-in screens. Nowadays, Artsploitation releases it straight to home video and video-on-demand. The DVD and Blu-ray come with thirty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and a director’s commentary from Thijs Meuwese; these featurettes will be inspiring to fellow low budget filmmakers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Colinda Bongers and Thijs Meuwese have managed to create a fun post-apocalyptic caper, and even more impressively: they manage to surprise.”–Ard Vijn, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)

CAPSULE: THE BOOK OF BIRDIE (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Elizabeth E. Schuch

FEATURING: Ilirida Memedovski, Kitty Fenn, Suzan Crowley, Kathryn Browning

PLOT: A young woman is brought to a convent to protect her from an unspecified danger. There, she explores both her emerging spirituality and womanhood.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Schuch’s movie relies heavily on a theological flavor of “magic realism”. While it explores various fringe topics—(clerical) sisterhood, puberty, paganism, and suicide—using a variety of stylish techniques, it doesn’t push boundaries as far as it should, and ultimately doesn’t adequately explore the various narrative avenues it goes down.

COMMENTS: Director Elizabeth Shuch cannot be accused of lacking in ideas. With her directorial debut, she touches on many. So many that I feel compelled to type (some of) them out, bullet-style:

  • The intersection between Femininity and Christianity.
  • The intersection between Christianity and Paganism.
  • The intersection between Paganism and Femininity.
  • Coming of age, first love, and suicide.

Throughout The Book of Birdie, Shuch touches on all these topics while maintaining a precarious narrative thread.

Our story begins in a dying convent consisting of a dozen or so nuns. Young Birdie (Ilirida Memedovski) has been brought there for the protection and (ostensible) comfort that a life of wholesome religiosity may bring. Birdie integrates with her new wards slowly, but surely, while also making acquaintance (then friendship, then love) with Julia, the daughter of the convent’s groundskeeper. Birdie learns prayers, attends services, and sees the ghosts of two dead nuns haunting the convent. After staining her bedding with a heavy menstrual flow, things become slightly more unreal.

Arthouse film techniques abound. There are long shots of Birdie’s entrancingly dark eyes. Ephemeral lighting illuminates the inside of the compound while the bleak sun saturates the outdoors. Stylized animations of symbolic imagery are seamlessly integrated. While the camera-work and editing flirt along the edge of heavy-handedness, they never fall into parody. The nun characters—both alive and dead—help to keep the film grounded in the reality of this hollowed-out haven. One enthusiastic nun in particular stands out. She confides her aspirations to Birdie: “I knew Jesus was the only man for me when I had my First Communion. I felt the wafer sizzle in my mouth and I felt him calling to me. Everything I’ve done since then has been to prepare me for a spiritual life. I want to be the best.” Unfortunately, it is Birdie who experiences the transcendence that this nun strives for—without even trying. The cause (effect?) of this transcendence brings me to a needful observation.

This film has a lot of blood in it. A lot of menstrual blood. It shows up in specks around the chapel, it shows up in trails, and it shows up in the small vials that Birdie fills with it and on occasion drinks from. She also crafts what I can only describe as a “fetus fetish” from porridge and stores it in vinegar. This entity comes to life on occasion, as does a statue of Christ—as do her reproductive organs, which we see escaping her body and flying off, like an angel. There is a mountain of symbolism of which, with my limited catechism, I can only understand fleeting hints.

The important question , though, is whether this works as a movie. To that I say, “Yes… mostly.” The performances are all tip-top and the limited scenery provides a real sense of a derelict, isolated haven. And, I suppose, the narrative moves from one point to the next, with a beginning, middle, and end. However, I can’t help but feel that this movie is like an empty Chinese puzzle box. Fascinating to watch unfold, but ultimately yielding nothing. An ambiguously tragic life is explored with ambiguously theological symbols to bring us to an ambiguous, but tragic, ending. All spirit and no flesh, perhaps?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weird, glittery, feminine fever dream.”–Lindsay Pugh, Woman in Revolt (festival screening)

CAPSULE: ALL YOU CAN EAT BUDDHA (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Ian Lagarde

FEATURING: Ludovic Berthillot, Sylvio Arriola, Yaité Ruiz

PLOT: A vacationing gourmand stays on indefinitely at an all-inclusive resort, performs ambiguous miracles, and is treated as a messiah.

Stil lfrom All You Can Eat Buddha (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s one of those indie experiments that’s content to hang out in its own strange little surreal corner of the film world, but lacks the sense of purpose or urgency necessary to break into big time weird.

COMMENTS: Director Ian Lagarde is better known as a cinematographer (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear). That background shows in his eye for composition in his debut feature, which contrasts bright tropical travelogue footage of a Cuban resort with moody images from the surrounding ocean, with the film’s color palette growing increasingly shadowy as it progresses. He also finds a surprisingly charismatic lead in chubby Ludovic Berthillot, who, as Mike, looks like a melancholic Quebecois Curly Howard, yet somehow becomes believable as a mystical guru and sex god.

Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be said on a positive note for All You Can Eat Buddha, a surreal slog that’s ultimately less eventful than a day spent dozing and sunbathing at the beach. The credits play over a mini-symphony of crashing waves, whale calls, and discordant strings while a dark sea undulates with a ghostly negative image of Mike’s Buddhistically serene visage superimposed over it. This prologue promises a deep, somber, hypnotic energy, but the subsequent film is more somnolent than dreamy. The frumpy, solitary, and mysterious Mike arrives at the El Palacio, wanders around the beach speaking to no one, dines at the all-you-can-eat buffet, and decides to stay on. The film takes nearly twenty minutes to hit its first real plot point, although it’s a good ‘un: Mike rescues a grateful octopus caught in a net and the eight-legged sea beast grants him enlightenment. He then performs an ambiguous miracle or two, sleeps with a couple of lonely middle-aged women, and grows a small group of followers as he becomes a sort of anti-Buddha, renewing earthly desires rather than renouncing them. But then, like the viewer, the script loses interest in this plot line, and instead focuses on a “change of administration” in the hotel management (a political allegory?) that leads to the place deteriorating, as Mike’s body simultaneously falls apart. A sort-of subplot about a hotel maid and her son has no real resolution, and the movie limps to an ambiguous non-ending that’s neither a satisfactory convergence of themes nor a mystery that lingers; the film simply messes around for a while, then ends. A hard-eating hero, a telepathic octopus, beaches, a reference to Buddhism, adulation, and maybe some politics: it’s a puzzle movie, but one where the pieces all seem to come from different boxes.

All You Can Eat Buddha debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in late 2017, then shuffled off to video-on-demand and a freebie stint on Amazon Prime without ever stopping on physical media—an unfortunate trend that will prevent smaller films from having any sort of extended shelf life.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film’s steep turn downward is eventually triggered by its shift from merely bizarre to flat-out abstract, as Lagarde’s script takes a turn akin to 2016’s disastrous High-Rise and becomes an unwatchable portrait of civilization coming undone.”–David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews (festival screening)

CAPSULE: “DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY, SEASON 2” (2017)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Douglas Mackinnon (episodes 1 & 2), (ep. 3 & 4), Richard Laxton (ep. 5 & 6), Wayne Yip (ep. 7 & 8), Alrick Riley (ep. 9 & 10)

FEATURING: , , , Amanda Walsh, , , , , John Hannah, Alan Tudyk

PLOT: After the events of Season 1, Todd and Farrah are on the run and Dirk is a prisoner in a secret military facility; a new mystery begins when a visitor from the magical land of Wendimoor reveals that Dirk is prophesied to save their world from an evil Mage.

dirk_gently's_holistic_detective_agency_season_2

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: TV series, not movie. But it’s a series you may want to take note of: otherwise, we wouldn’t be reporting on it, would we? “Dirk Gently”’s mix of absurd humor, bewildering but addictively complex plotting, and fanboy-friendly sci-fantasy tropes was just intriguing enough that that BBC America took a chance on it as potential cult item, but also so weird and difficult that it was cancelled after only two seasons.

COMMENTS: “Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life?”

The following synopsis may not make much sense to a lot of you. This includes veterans of “Dirk Gently Season 1” as well as newcomers to the series. The one advantage Season 1 viewers have over total neophytes is that they understand “Gently”’s method—throw about a dozen subplots and random events at the viewer in episode 1, then spend the rest of the season slowly connecting the dots, with every little detail merging in a “holistic” (and fantastic) fashion. So, I’ll just lay it out: season 2 introduces a gay pink-haired hero with a scissor sword. A train in the sky. A fishing boat run aground in a field in Montana. A friendly, sort of slow sheriff and his hard-partying deputy. A beleaguered middle-aged woman with a limp, a crummy son, a crummy husband, and a crummy job at the quarry where her crummy boss is making shady deals. A dashing gangster in a snappy white suit with a black tattooed hand and a fabulous mustache. A magic wand. A car stuck in a tree. (The literal Purple People Eater won’t show up until episode 4).

It does all connect, naturally. This high-fantasy based plot is perhaps not as satisfying as Season 1’s time-travel yarn, but on the other hand the show devotes more time to building up its underlying infrastructure, dropping hints about Project Blackwing and introducing new “anomalous individuals” like Dirk and the Rowdy 3. (They’re all sort of a team of metaphysical X-Men gone renegade.) Rather than dominating the plot with his clueless exuberance, Samuel Barnett’s Gently is sidelined a bit this season, moping through most of the story in an existential crisis. He and Elijah Wood’s Todd Brotzman invert their Season 1 dynamic, with Todd now eager to solve the case for his own reasons, dragging the reluctant detective along with him. Other characters pursue their own arcs. Farrah shows more vulnerability, and there are hints of burgeoning romance between her and Todd. Todd’s sister Amanda develops magical powers, making her character more relevant—although this development feels a little forced. Ken is set up for a heel turn. And holistic assassin Bart (Fiona Dourif) remains the most fascinating entity. Her fans will be thrilled with her opportunities to prove she is the ultimate badass killing machine, and she gets by far the best lines: “I think that sometimes when you’re killing people they don’t like it, and it makes them unhappy, and scared, and also dead, which they don’t like, I don’t think…” If that monologue doesn’t intrigue you, then “Dirk Gently” isn’t the show for you.

Unfortunately, the series has been canceled, and we’ll never get to see where creator was ultimately headed with all of this. The most bittersweet part of what turned out to be the series finale is that the last shot sets Bart up for a dramatically increased role in the unmade Season 3.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a show where weird things happen in literally every frame…”–Hahn Nguyen, IndieWire (season premier)

366 UNDERGROUND: THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Joe Badon

FEATURING: Linnea Gregg, Dorian Rush, Collin Galyean, Alex Stage

PLOT: Eliza, an average Jane in a contemporary US city, has lost her boyfriend to a mystic cult; she gets pulled into the cult too, experiencing how much it sucks to be without a man in the 2010s, as a big Roman-candle middle finger to Alison Bechdel.

Still fromThe God Inside My Ear (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a banal, vanilla, ordinary, trite lover’s lament about a woman getting dumped by her boyfriend, with a stale can of film-festival cliche symbolisms spray-painted over its face. The weirdest part of this movie is the realization that apparently 366 Weird Movies is now so popular that impostors are wearing a disguise and flashing our gang signs in the hopes of infiltrating our cool kids’ club. If that makes you feel dirty just for liking weird movies, just watch some good Buñuel or Gilliam and the hangover will vanish in minutes.

COMMENTS: We’ll save some time here if you want to take shortcuts: The God Inside My Ear starts out faintly clever and then loses one IQ point per minute of runtime until its brain-dead ending. The cold open skips the credits to flash a series of images, eyeballs and teeth, pyramids and dolphins, little girl in an orchard and mysterious red-robed figure in fog. Nice try, but I take notes, and these better all tie together later! The image of the tattoo of an ear on the palm of a hand at least gets explained first, as in the first scene Eliza’s boyfriend dumps her at a cafe because he’s found this cult that’s showing him enlightenment, see, and he gets messages through the ear-palm job. Goodbye plot, it was nice knowing you! In case you missed it, the entire point to this movie is: “boy dumps girl; girl sad.” Thank you, folks, goodnight.

Now we have 95 minutes for the autopsy of Eliza’s achy-breaky heart. Her coworker unsympathetically tries to hit her up for a rebound date, while her barfly friends tell her she’s better off without the loser, and her nosy neighbor pries into her business. Eliza recounts a long parable about the magician who yanks the tablecloth off the table to illustrate how she feels shattered like a wine bottle. Valentine’s Day gets brought up a lot, as her friends push her back into the dating pool. Cue the montage of quirky failed date candidates, babbling dialog that sounds like they’ve watched too many Richard Linklater films. Her only friend seems to be a sympathetic telemarketer, whose mysterious voiceover gives the the wisest counsel, but the script even drops that bit to opt for the telemarketer to become just one more male creep in Eliza’s life. Alas, he will be back as a creepy stalker, because this cruel world is out to get Mary Sue—oops, I mean “Eliza”—which is why it stole her boyfriend.

Are you ready to tell Eliza to just buy a vibrator already? By this time, anybody watching cannot possibly give a damn whether Eliza ever finds love again, because she has been given no character development, no backstory, and no B-line subplots for the movie to hang onto. We also saw nothing of her much-lamented lost relationship; the all-important sperm donor gets one goofy scene at the very Continue reading 366 UNDERGROUND: THE GOD INSIDE MY EAR (2017)