Tag Archives: 2021

CAPSULE: ON OUR WAY (2021)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

On Our Way is currently available for VOD rental.

DIRECTED BY: Sophie Lane Curtis

FEATURING: Micheál Richardson, Sophie Lane Curtis, Keith Powers, Paul Ben-Victor, Adam G. Simon

PLOT: A first-time filmmaker’s movie dreams are crushed when tragedy strikes; a ghost helps him complete his script.

Still from On Our Way (2021)

COMMENTS: “People don’t want to see his hopeful ending,” says financier Adler as On Our Way‘s first act comes to a close. “They want to see dark, twisted, freaky, gritty, bizarre weird shit.” That statement, delivered at the close of the first act, makes me question the supposedly savvy Adler’s appraisal of public taste. It also leads me to believe that this movie will definitely have a happy ending. I won’t spoil whether that expectation is met or not.

To the small extent that On Our Way is weird, it’s weird in an expectedly indie way: a somewhat fragmented storyline with editing to match, the occasional arty shot from an unexpected angle, mildly surrealistic imagery like the bank of televisions on the beach or a tunnel of bedsheets, and flirtations with meta-movie shenanigans that nevertheless keep the line between fantasy and reality clear. It deviates slightly from Hollywood formulas, but never approaches the “bizarre weird shit” that the public is supposedly clamoring for.

The plot is ambitious for many reasons, not in the least for daring the pitfall-laden “struggling filmmaker makes a first film” scenario. Starting from what appears to be novice filmmaker Henry’s suicide attempt, the script incorporates numerous flashbacks as it jumps back and forth in time between his romance with the leading lady in his autobiographical film and his relationship with his father, a disreputable but kindly drunk given to wearing layers of gold chains while dancing around shirtless with a joint in one hand and a whiskey in the other. The details of this both tragic relationships are slowly revealed alongside the gradual sabotaging of the film-within-the-film by the heavy-handed producer. The storytelling is handled cleanly enough that we never get confused by all the shuttling about, although the dialogue is sometimes a bit cringeworthy (“you know that feeling when you’re like ‘how the hell did I get here?’ There ought to be a word for that.”). It’s also not an extraordinarily fresh or engaging tale, although it has just enough narrative and emotional heft to it keep you watching. Technical details (sound, cinematography, editing, etc.) are all handled with competence. The acting, on the other hand, can be uneven, with (unfortunately) Curtis’ performance as love interest Rosemary the low ebb.

The odd thing about On Our Way is that, for her first film, writer Curtis casts herself not as the struggling artist, but as the struggling artist’s stand-by-your-man muse. This might come across as humility, but the problem is that she under-writes a role she created for herself. Curtis provides Henry a wealth of personal history, while Rose is… beautiful and self-sacrificing, with no backstory or motivation of her own. She exists merely to love and be lost; a manic pixie dream girl without the pixyish mania. But Curtis was only 26 when this was completed, and probably younger when it was conceived and written. Her direction is solid, her plotting is decent, and while she might be fine in some more limited roles, I think her future may lie more behind the camera than in front of it.

and Franco Nero are prominently mentioned on the poster, but their actual cameo makes an eye blink seem like an eternity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… too interesting to dismiss, if entirely too slight, too repetitive, self-absorbed, pretentious and wandering to endorse.”–Roger Moore, Movie Nation (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: FREAKS VS. THE REICH (2021)

AKA Freaks Out

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Freaks vs. the Reich is currently available for VOD rental.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Gabriele Mainetti

FEATURING: Aurora Giovinazzo, Claudio Santamaria, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini, Franz Rogowski

PLOT: In 1943 Nazi-occupied Rome, Matilde, Fulvio, Cencio, and Mario are the stars of the Half-Penny Circus; Franz, a Nazi with oracular abilities, wishes to get all twelve of his fingers on the troupe of freaks in the hopes of averting disaster for the Reich.

Still from Freaks vs. the Reich (2021)

COMMENTS: In a world saturated with superheroes, I say, “bring on the Super Freaks.” Gabriele Mainetti’s feature-length debut has rip-rollicking adventure, charming humor, concerts, explosions, Nazis, swarms of bugs, and—and everything I’d be looking for in a big-screen period piece. Having been lucky enough to catch this at Fantasia last year, it nearly pained me not to treat it with the full writeup it deserves. My fond recollections of this film are best captured with my remarks jotted down immediately following the screening:

“Come one, come all, to the Half-Penny Circus. Witness the aerial insect artistry of Cencio the albino! Giggle at the pratfalls of Mario the magnetic clown! Behold the raw strength—and ample fur—of Man-Beast Fulvio! And delight in the electrifying acrobatic artistry of Matilde, who powers light bulbs with the touch of her fingers!”

Freaks Out deftly walks a thin tight-rope while simultaneously pulling off an impressive hat trick (I shall now dispense with the carnival metaphors). Mainetti quite obviously, and quite unashamedly, dips into several buckets of influence: superheroes, Nazi baddies, buddy comedies, and action movie razzle-dazzle. These are all reliable, if perhaps well-worn, sources, but the alchemical combination makes the concoction shine. Just in the opening scene featuring the Half-Penny Circus, we witness whimsy, true magic—and a shell-blast of stark, wartime realism as the performance is interrupted by the surrounding carnage. The four freaks all feel fleshed-out, and fresh, as they follow their mentor-cum-manager through the blasted streets and hillsides of Rome under Nazi occupation.

But the coup de grâce comes, as it so often does, from the villain:  mild-mannered, six-fingered, future-glimpsin’, ether-huffin’ Nazi Franz, who wants to save the Fatherland while simultaneously being denigrated by his countrymen’s allegorical stand-in, his older brother. Rogowski brings gravitas, tenderness (the performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” by twelve-fingered piano-man is an early show-stopper), frustration, machination, and, against all the odds, sympathy to his performance. In one scene Franz liquidates “sub-standard” freaks, and in another mutilates his body to conform with the able-ist standards of Nazi knuckle-beaks.

I’m repeating myself from before, I realize, but my nostalgia for Freaks Out hit me to a degree I was not anticipating. That in mind, I will leave you with some words of advice, and hearty request. Stand by your friends, say “No!” to Nazis, and find the time to watch Freaks Out on the biggest screen and through the biggest speakers you can find. Mainetti has obviously set this troupe up as a franchise, so get the word out about Freaks Out. I want to see them smash the Nazis again. (And again…)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A strange and complex muddling of X-Men and The Shape of Water, with an abundance of Nazi’s, Freaks Out will have you crying, laughing, wincing, and smiling as it tells its epic story of belonging and embracing your weirdness.”–Kat Hughes, The Hollywood News (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LEDA (2021)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Samuel Tressler IV

FEATURING: Adeline Thery, Nicolle Marquez, Douglas Cathro, Todd Mazzie

PLOT: After the death of her widowed father, Leda succumbs to visions during a pregnancy.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Stroboscopic and synthophonic cues and miscues toy with the viewer as Tressler unravels his adaptation of the Leda myth, rendering a tragic tale as a cryptic, layered, dialogue-free nightmare.

COMMENTS: We have at hand four known events: Leda’s mother died young; her father dies unceremoniously during a fox hunt; her cousin visits after the funeral; and there is a wedding to a young local. But Tressler’s exposition is so slippery that even, perhaps, that last event is unclear. We also know a fifth component—not fact: Leda has recurring visions of an egg in the forest, and her mind is haunted by a swan. This mixture of loosely established narrative and striking dreams is saturated in bright lights, dark nights, too-white whites, and bloody sights.

Tressler’s dark dream is saturated with watery imagery. The opening scene is by a pond, where nothing is happening. Inside a stately—and near empty—manor house, a young woman lies hunched over in a bathtub, leaning forward, face down, as if drowning. A steady drip of subconscious dread intermingles with the drips of water, the steam of a kettle, and walking upon water. Leda alternates between wan and pallid, a doomed ghost traveling through a quietly tragic life and a sharply punctuated reverie. Tressler is, by nature if not vocation, a photographer, arranging his scenes with precision. The protagonist’s striking journey on beast-back through a luscious black-and-white idyll, with a sinister moon looming over a flare-tinged forest, is the stuff of high-fantasy paintings. A sudden-but-smooth visual flip of Leda tentatively crossing a pond’s surface in the dark of night swaps the sky for the aquatic in the blink of an eye. Sunlight has rarely been this worrying, and nature’s tranquility has rarely been this ominous.

Leda brings to mind “Meshes of the Afternoon”, in long-form, with repetitive shots, reverse motion, and a piercing absence of temporal and physical clarity. I was also reminded of the more recent short, “A Tale Best Forgotten,” a story conveyed through camera movement and illusions that also took place at an inhospitable home by a body of water. Tressler speaks masterfully with his camera; his characters speak not at all. Ambient sounds, a hypnotic score, and occasional scratches and flickers of stroboscope render the unclear into the incomprehensible. An egg looms large in the woods, a swan hovers fluidly between mysterious, ridiculous, and terrifying, and further deaths herald a troubling birth. Leda only fades to color in the final shot—a sombre combination of the film’s beginnings.

Leda is offered on disc in a 3D version (a regular 2D copy is included as well).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Leda is unlike anything else out there. It is a bold, dazzling cinematic experiment that is as heartbreaking as it is surreal.” -Bobby LePire, Film Threat (contemporaneous)