Tag Archives: 2018

CAPSULE: SHIRKERS (2018)

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DIRECTED BY: Sandi Tan

FEATURING: Sandi Tan, Jasmine Kin Kia Ng, Sophia Siddique Harvey, Georges Cardona

PLOT: In the summer 1992, Sandi Tan and her friends filmed “Shirkers”, only to have their would-be feature debut spirited away by their enigmatic guru, Georges Cardona.

COMMENTS: A quick look at IMDb will show you that Georges Cardona was not involved in the production of Apocalypse Now. And though one of his protegés was involved in making Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Georges was not, nor was it possible that he was the basis of James Spader’s character Graham. Georges was not born on a ship heading out from Germany in 1949. What his life actually consisted of was stories, stories he would tell to anyone who would listen—and many did, including Sandi Tan. Something of an awkward teenager, Sandi felt repressed by her Singaporean upbringing, and felt liberated by the transcendental intellectual attraction and attention from Georges Cardona, a mysterious film teacher who believed in her as much as he probably believed in his own fabricated history.

But Shirkers is not about Georges Cardona. It is a movie memoir about Sandi and her friends Jasmine and Sophia, who did the unthinkable in Singapore in 1992. With no training and no money, but with superhuman drive and ever-percolating minds, Sandi & Co. filmed a story about a strange collector of people, titled “Shirkers.” Shirkers, the documentary about that film’s strange production history, is the director’s personal recollections and interviews with those involved, spliced with footage from the original project along with various contemporary private recordings, many featuring Georges Cardona: one of the most mysterious entities to grace a film, as well as a mystical influence in lives of many filmmakers and storytellers.

Shirkers is a masterful documentary. The facts behind the whole mystery-shebang would have been adequate to keep my attention without any bells, hooks, and whistles, but Sandi Tan proves as adept at spinning a yarn as she is at documenting her life over the past quarter century. The flow is constantly interrupted by asides, proliferating like branches of narrative that miraculously reconverge by the story’s end. Her narration suggests fragility, and at times resignation, but beneath her entire recounting one can hear a strength of character, forged in no small part by the fools-gold Svengali whom she met at her most impressionable stage in life. Sandi’s reunion with her two dear friends after so many years of intermittent contact feel genuine, because her friends pull no punches when reminiscing about that fraught and bizarre summer of their early adulthood.

Again, this isn’t the story of Georges Cardona. But he is the central prop—the elephant in the story that cannot be ignored, but cannot be perceived except in pieces, like in the parable of the blind men. Georges insinuated himself into the lives of young and talented raconteurs, but in the case of Sandi Tan, Shirkers is her story, and how she managed to live her own life despite this massive weight of egocentric mystery that encumbered her for decades.

Shirkers is a Netflix exclusive.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s no counting the creative projects begun in youth that have been abandoned, forgotten, scrapped. Sandi Tan’s bears the weird and painful distinction of having been stolen.” -Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Orson Welles

FEATURING: John Huston, , Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Robert Random

PLOT: On the last day of his life, director Jake Hannaford shares footage from the movie he’s been trying to complete despite a desperate lack of funding, the disappearance of his leading actor, and the doubts of his crew, his peers, and the Hollywood press.

Still from The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

COMMENTS: It’s natural to be wary of a movie where the story behind it is more interesting than the one on the screen. On the other hand, it’s arguable that Orson Welles never made a movie where that equation wasn’t in play. From his very first feature, a little picture about a newspaper publisher, the story off-camera has always been at least as compelling as the one made for public consumption, and usually with a good deal more tragedy attached. As the major studios turned against him and his efforts to assemble financing and infrastructure became more haphazard and idiosyncratic, the subject of Welles himself invariably took precedence over whatever story he actually hoped to tell.

But even by his own yardstick, the road to The Other Side of the Wind is unusually winding and protracted. Welles filmed over the course of six years on two continents, with multiple parts recast over the years and the lead role unfilled until Year 3, and with the filmmaker insisting that there was still more to shoot. Completion was held up by variety of obstacles, including producer embezzlement, flooding in Spain, Hollywood indifference, and the Iranian revolution. Like so many of Welles’ projects, Wind would remain unfinished at the time of his death, another dream lost to history… until, 42 years after principal photography wrapped, a team of Welles collaborators and admirers endeavored to assemble the many pieces of his last great work into a form he might have intended. (Whatever you may think of Netflix, they did cinema history a favor by not only bankrolling this effort but by releasing it alongside a documentary about Welles’ torturous efforts to complete the film, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. It’s an invaluable companion piece for anyone interested in this chapter of the great man’s legendarily troubled career.)

It is impossible to know how successfully this reconstruction got to the vision locked inside Welles’ head. After all, Welles himself changed his intentions throughout production. Furthermore, he seems to have been going for something entirely new and alien to him. Welles made much of the fact that neither the framing film or Jake Hannaford’s work are meant to be in a style in any way recognizable as his own, so we can’t even rely upon the director’s previous works as a guide. Today, we recognize Welles’ use of improvisation and documentary techniques as what we’ve come to call “mockumentary,” but in the early 70s, there was very little precedent (except, possibly, Welles’ own “War of the Worlds”). But we know enough of Welles’ increasing focus on the subjects of abandonment, thwarted ambition, and betrayal to recognize that Wind is not only a continuation of those themes but maybe his most personal exploration of them.

Welles denied suggestions that the film was autobiographical, which Continue reading CAPSULE: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (2018)

24*. KEEP AN EYE OUT (2018)

Au Poste!

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DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux

FEATURING: , , Marc Fraize, Anaïs Demoustier

PLOT: Having discovered a dead body under not-very suspicious circumstances, Louis is brought in by the police for questioning. His account of the event arouses the suspicions of police commissioner Buron, but Louis is even more suspicious of the police because of their circular arguments, penchant for distraction, and curious behavior. Louis becomes concerned that he will bear the responsibility for an increasing number of unlucky events, and must recount his actions in fine detail in an effort to affirm his innocence.

Still from Keep an Eye Out [Au Poste!] (2018)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was native Frenchman Dupieux’s first feature actually produced in his home country.
  • The film’s original French title translates as “To the police station!” It can also be translated to mean “at the office.” It can also be interpreted to mean someone who is at their assigned spot (“at one’s post”), in much the way a call of “Places!” summons the actors to their marks at the start of a play.
  • Scenes at the police station were filmed in the headquarters of the French Communist Party, designed by acclaimed architect Oscar Niemeyer.
  • Alain Chabat is credited with providing “screams of pain.” Chabat appeared in Reality as a film director attempting to win an Oscar for the best wail of pain.
  • The film’s poster parodies that of the significantly more action-oriented Jean-Paul Belmondo crime thriller Peur sur la Ville (Fear over the City).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Philippe, a hapless cop-wannabe, suffers from an unfortunate condition, and its reveal is a genuine shock. It’s not merely that he has only one eye. It’s that the whole upper quadrant of his face is smoothed over, as though the mere idea of an eye socket never existed. And once he begins espousing his hyper-preparedness for even the most surreal of accidents, it is absolutely inevitable that Chekhov’s Plastic Angle Square will fulfill its destiny.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Near nude conductor; crunchy oyster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: by way of with a healthy layer of Douglas Adams and a final punch of Sartre, Keep an Eye Out is a fantasia of absurdism. Dupieux and his actors seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can be the most deadpan, and the tone never wavers, neither in the face of escalating ridiculousness nor an unexpected and tragic conclusion.

Original trailer for Au Poste!

COMMENTS: We begin with an orchestra in a meadow, accompanying the opening credits under the baton of a mustachioed man clad Continue reading 24*. KEEP AN EYE OUT (2018)