Tag Archives: Absurdist

12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

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“I think we’re living in a world that in fifty years we’re not going to recognize, because now we produce real objects. But with augmented reality… we’re going to transform the world.” -Miguel Llansó

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Miguel Llansó

FEATURING: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe,  Lauri Lagle

PLOT: Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch must enter the CIA-created alternate reality, “PsychoBook”, in order to investigate a sentient computer virus, Soviet Union. Abandoned within the virtual reality, Gagano finds himself in _Beta Ethiopia, where strongman/president/superhero-villain BatFro conspires with Soviet Union to distribute a VR byproduct known as “the substance.” Gagano’s reality-side fiancée, who hopes to open a kick-boxing academy, must now live with the prospect of him being trapped in a portable television display.

BACKGROUND:

  • An Estonian computer museum provided inspiration for the hardware aethestic in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, but the machines on screen were mostly Apple products from the early 1990s.
  • Solomon Tashe,  who plays the African strongman dictator “Batfro,” , is a much-loved Ethiopian media personality.
  • The unusual name “Mister Sophistication” was lifted from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. However, like other characters in Llansó’s films, he was based on a regular at the Club Juventus, a gathering spot in Addis Ababa for Italian ex-pats and other larger-than-life clientèle.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick. Perhaps it’s stop-motion Richard Pryor and Robert Redford investigating a house infiltrated by a computer virus assassin. Perhaps it’s the “Jiminy Cricket” CIA AI spouting knee-high advice to Agents Gagano and Eldritch. And perhaps it’s the melodramatic conversation between a super-sweetie BBW kick-boxer and her television-bound lover. For the record, however, the official “Indelible Image” is cross-dressing super-spy, Captain Lagucci, sprinting off a roof to save a portable television. Much like Miguel Llansó, Lagucci just… runs with it.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Coked-up Batfro to the rescue!; CIA Man trapped in a TV

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Llansó manages to make an “anything and everything” approach to imagery, symbolism, dialogue, and scenario gel into a unified whole. Obviously the plot for JSYtWttH is bonkers, and that’d be enough, but its mountain of antiquated tech, dizzying opening credits, vibrant colors, bug aliens, MIT conspiracizing, Cold War derring-do, and… You get the picture; just about everything in this movie makes it weird.

Trailer for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway

COMMENTS: “Loading. Please wait.” Not a typical beginning for a Continue reading 12*. JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (2019)

SOUTHLAND TALES (2006) – THE CANNES CUT REPORT

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This essay discusses the recently-released “Cannes Cut” of Richard Kelly‘s cult satire, Southland Tales. You may want to refresh yourself by reading Alice Stoehr’s original review of the theatrical cut.

Fifteen years have passed since Southland Tales‘ premiere, and more than a decade since our first review of the theatrical cut. At that time, the verdict was “Borderline Weird.” Is Southland Tales an indulgent mess? Yes it is. There’s no way around that, and that’s probably a deal-breaker for most. But the film has a solid structure that holds seemingly disparate elements together into a cohesive whole, rather than a mish-mash. The Cannes Cut supports that view (though there will be those who will disagree, of course).

Most of Southland Tales problems come from it’s ambition: it was a Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for the iPod Generation. Kelly has stated that his original conception was to make something like one of those madcap romp/chase movies that were staples of 60’s cinema (so maybe more of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for the iPod Generation?) The script acquired more of political angle after 9/11, however.

Southland Tales is a 10 -13 episode Netflix show, conceived before Netflix was even a player, stuffed into a 2 1/2 hour running time. There’s so much information to absorb, and Kelly didn’t help himself by filming this as the last three parts of a six-part tale! You don’t need a lot of backstory to enjoy Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi (the prequel trilogy is therefore pretty useless, to be honest). But for Southland Tales, that background is necessary to fully understand the plot. Ths backstory is present, but in the Cannes Cut it plays out mainly in dialog and mise en scène; the viewer is thrown into the deep end of the pool and expected to sink or swim. The theatrical cut, by contrast, attempted to provide some context and clarification, with the “Doomsday Scenario Interface” montage sequences incorporating panels from the graphic novel prequel. Still, I would also argue that the information overload in the Cannes Cut is intentional, and part of the humor. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension attempts the same trick, though its overload is fairly straightforward in comparison to Southland Tales.

The Cannes cut is 13 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, 158 min versus 145 min, and I think that it plays slightly better; but I also don’t mind getting thrown into the deep end. Some of the CGI-fx work was not yet complete when the film debuted at Cannes (mainly some sweetening for the zeppelin, and extra damage in L.A. from the insurrection). Some scenes were later shifted around in the theatrical cut.  The movie’s over-the-top element is more pronounced in Continue reading SOUTHLAND TALES (2006) – THE CANNES CUT REPORT

CAPSULE: BUTT BOY (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Tyler Cornack

FEATURING: Tyler Cornack, Tyler Rice

PLOT: I.T. specialist Chip becomes obsessed with sticking items into his rectum; years later, he becomes an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor for a police detective who grows to suspect Chip is involved in a child’s disappearance.

Still from Butt Boy (2019)

COMMENTS: Butt Boy is the inverse of the bigger-budgeted horror/drama Swallow (2020), which is a very serious and psychological-minded take on a woman with pica which causes her to swallow inedible objects. (Indeed, although I’m fairly sure neither filmmaker saw the others’ work beforehand, a couple of shots of the respective protagonists studying objects with a mind towards inserting them into admittedly different orifices are eerily similar.) Superficially, Butt Boy is (almost) equally serious to Swallow in tone, but its focus on the opposite end of the digestive tract (and its title) makes it impossible to take seriously.

Despite lacking the high poetry implied in the term, “magical realism” would be a technically correct designation for Butt Boy. What makes the experiment work, to the extent it does, is its dedication to remain absolutely deadpan, never wavering, never winking. It is, most definitely, weird in its conception; but not, for the most part, in its execution. In fact, the idea of a detective who suspects his A.A. sponsor of having committed a terrible crime is so rife with inherent drama and suspense that, in a fit of spontaneous normality, I almost thought it was wasted in a movie where the chief suspect is—literally, not figuratively—an asshole.

Director Tyler Cornack tackles on the central role with a dull and detached take that suits the dry tone, but Tyler Rice, who has sort of a Joe Pesci-in-a-goatee thing going on, brings a needed burst of energy in the role of detective Fox. The perpetually defensive mannerisms of a newly recovering alcoholic mesh perfectly with the eternally suspicious nature of the archetypal career cop. (He even comes with a poignant backstory, efficiently conveyed through a glimpse at a mysterious woman through a cracked door.) Passable cat-and-mouse action takes up the second act, although there are no real surprises or standout suspense scenes to be had (at least, not until the blankly funny moment where Chip drops trou during a violent confrontation). It’s done well enough to pass the time until act three, however, when the movie goes all the way to the end of its alimentary canal of a premise.

Inspired partly by the horror he has seen, and a narrow escape, Fox falls off the wagon just as things start to get really weird. Naturally, his by-the-book supervisor refuses to entertain his explanation for the disappearance, so he’s forced to go looking for the missing boy himself. We then get into the bowels of the story, so to speak; and although thankfully things don’t get too gross, the sights are not for the meek. Then again, the meek probably won’t be streaming something titled Butt Boy in the first place.

While your attention will naturally be drawn to the Butt, but pay attention to the Boy as well. While Butt Boy may play like a simple parody, if there’s any serious subtext under the surface, it’s an attitude towards fatherhood that isn’t necessarily obvious.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The whole thing is just a gross-out joke stretched to absurd proportions, seemingly designed to attract epithets like ‘weirdest film of the year.’ But you know what? It works.”–Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, The Daily Dot (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EXECUTIVE KOALA (2005)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Elli-Rose, Hironobu Nomura1

PLOT: A koala in a business suit who works for a Japanese pickle company is accused of killing his wife and girlfriend, and can’t defend himself because he’s got selective amnesia.

Still from Executive Koala (2005)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Consider this “Apocrypha Candidate” designation a placeholder for Minoru Kawasaki. This is the first of his movies we’ve seen, and we’re impressed with his manic-yet-deadpan sense of absurdity;  it suggests something of his will be worthy of an honorable mention designation on our weird movie canon. Is Executive Koala the one, though? Or should Calimari Wrestler or Rug Cop occupy that slot?

COMMENTS: There’s a point in Executive Koala where a pretty woman (Japanese singer Shôko Nakagawa, making her first movie appearance) sees our hero Tamura buy a sack of groceries from a frog-headed convenience store clerk and quizzically comments, “A koala? A frog?”  Aside from the occasional background double-take from a passerby in the street (suggesting scenes shot guerilla-style in the wild), this is the only time anyone notices anything odd about the man in the business suit with a giant round fuzzy head and claws, or the frog, or the bunny rabbit president of Rabource Pickling Co., Ltd. It’s a kind of fourth-wall breaking moment: Nakagawa addresses the audience indirectly, acknowledging the absurdity of a world that apparently contains a total of three anthropomorphic animals whose existence otherwise surprises no one.

Aside from one montage of paintings depicting a surreal Australian koala massacre, complete with crucified marsupials, little is made of the fact that Tamura’s a koala; he might as well be Korean. So, viewed from one angle, Tamura’s koalaness adds little to the script: Koala could have been a competent psychological thriller without the gimmick (at least, until the story devolves into complete goofy chaos at the climax). The resulting film would have been serviceable, but forgettable, parody riff on American Psycho.

But there’s just something about casting a cute fuzzy mammal as the lead in your serial killer thriller that lets the audience know not to take anything too seriously, you know? The casting ensures that every frame of film is stained with absurdity that can’t be scrubbed off. Considering the fact that the only part of Tamura’s face that moves (and sometimes light up) are his eyes, the actors that wear the koala suit do a remarkable job in bringing the executive to life through head shakes, claw gesticulations, and simple props like a handkerchief used to mop his furry brow when he’s nervous. Tamura’s uncredited voiceover actor deserves praise, too, because we quickly come to accept this character’s reality (within his world). At times, we too forget that he’s of another species, and simply see him as a harried salaryman fretting about putting together a deal with a Korean kimchi magnate while under investigation for the murder of his wife and girlfriend.

Although the acting is deadpan, the film doesn’t simply play its premise as a straightforward thriller that happens to star a koala. Although it builds its absurdity slowly, it gradually accrues dream sequences, a martial arts demonstration against a bacon backdrop, more fakeout dream sequences and false memories, behind-the-scenes footage hidden inside the actual movie, a musical trial, and extensive koala kung fu. Oh, and believe it or not, there might be a few plot holes and loose ends flying around, too—like just who the hell was the frog? It may not all add up, but all in all, you get your entertainment dollar’s worth from Executive Koala. He may even deserve a raise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While funny in the ‘boy, that’s odd’ sense more than the ‘laugh ’til you ache’ sense, the film is fast-paced and freewheeling… This is a director who makes movies designed to leave audiences saying, ‘I watched the weirdest thing last night.'”–Noel Murray, The A.V. Club (DVD box set)

(This movie was nominated for review by AlgusUnderdunk, who described it as “a strange Japanese film I still can’t quite describe…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TOKYO TRIBE (2014)

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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono

FEATURING: Kunihiko Kawakami, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Ryôhei Suzuki,

PLOT: When crazy Buppa releases the Waru gang onto the streets of Tokyo, the tribes unite and fight for survival to the sick beats of gangster rap.

Still from Tokyo Tribe (2014)

COMMENTS: If Tokyo Tribe came from any other director, I’d probably say he was trying too hard. However, having seen a few Sion Sono films now, I can see that this is just how the man operates: on a plane with far more mania and extravagance than we mere mortals. Minutes after opening on two urban youths playing with sparklers, dreaming about making a difference, we become fully tuned in to the manga world of Santa Inoue’s serialized epic. Live-action comics, rap battle exposition, and the silliest feud imaginable—Sion Sono delivers all this with his own amped up brand of gusto.

The mean streets of post-post-modern Tokyo are riddled with crime, prostitution, bootleg tapes, ineffectual cops, and close to two dozen gangs of themed thugs. The biggest and nastiest of all the gang lords is Buppa, a man of staggering vulgarity and true psychosis (performed by Riki Takeuchi as if he were a brain-damaged John Belushi). His prime henchman, Mera, holds a grudge against Kai, the leader of the “peaceful” gang, the Musashino Saru tribe. Kai offended Mera in a sauna some years back, and that’s all we’re told. The catalyst for action is the disappearance of the virginal daughter of the High Priest, who needs her for a sacrifice. The plot I’ve just provided is superfluous, and any more would force me to ramble on for some pages. Suffice it to say, you should just check your brain at the door and run with it.

Tokyo Tribe isn’t a weird movie—it is far too accessible for that (and yes, it is a bit weird how accessible this movie feels). But it does stand as one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen (which is something I say neither lightly nor disparagingly). The glorious excess of Sion Sono’s vision of an alternative Tokyo has more than its share of hard R-rated shenanigans, but is somehow approachable throughout (although by the end, we’ll have seen a beat-box tea maid, balloon sex corridors, a case of cigars and fingers, and a black ninja giant who says only, “Bring me! To a! Sauna!”) While Tokyo Tribe doesn’t break the weird ceiling, it does lustily gouge at the plaster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Words can never do justice to the awe-inspiring, brain-eating weirdness of Sion Sono’s Japanese dystopian hip-hop kung-fu musical Tokyo Tribe…  should all be either horrifying or hilarious — or, less generously, ridiculous and offensive — but somehow, it’s not. There’s a strange power to Sion’s filmmaking that goes beyond the midnight-movie oddness of the plot.”–Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: VHYES (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jack Henry Robbins

FEATURING: Mason McNulty, Christian Drerup, Jake Head, Rahm Braslaw

PLOT: We see the results when 12-year-old Ralph tapes late night 1987 cable television shows, and his own adolescent antics, over his parent’s old wedding tape.

Still from VHYes (2019)

COMMENTS: VHYes had me at the moment when, after brushing in some happy snowcaps for the mountains she’s been crafting, the somnolently friendly Bob Ross-style PBS painting instructor announces “now, let’s get back to the spaceship.” She’s just one of the demented characters you meet as young Ralph experiments in preserving his short-attention span channel surfing for posterity: a kindly cowboy full of inappropriate advice; a couple of shopping channel salesfolk who banter passive-aggressively; an “Antiques Roadshow”-inspired host who appraises some unusual artifacts; the shy hostess of a punk rock public access show (and her supportive parents); and a prescient cultural philosopher who describes the phenomenon of “tape narcissism” and warns that “one day the world will exist only to be filmed.” Naturally, there are also a slew of vintage commercial and infomercial parodies. This smorgasbord of ersatz crapola plays like a found footage 1980s version of The Groove Tube, except that it periodically returns to check in the adventures on Ralph, his best friend Josh, and his mom and dad. Some bits are silly and overdone (there’s more splattered blood than you’d normally see in an alarm company commercial); others are subtle and absurd. The big finale is reminiscent of the kind of short that might play on “” post-midnight: Ralph finds himself surreally transported into a jumbled reality where the layers of the tape all bleed together.

VHYes is a breezy compendium of skewed nostalgia, sometimes hilarious, sometimes weird, and, unexpectedly, sometimes touching. The most substantial complaint to raise against it, in fact, is that it’s too short. There must have been plenty of unused tape, and I would have loved to see even more backstory on young Ralph. His scenes are more than just the gimmick that explains the existence of the artifact we’re watching; his story of coping with childhood fears and disappointments offer a meaningful counterbalance to the goofy comedy sketches, like the commercial for an ointment that grants cubicle workers “freakish flexibility.” On the other hand, maybe it’s best to consider VHYes‘ zippy 70-minute runtime an asset rather than a liability. It’s a “little” film, but in the best sense: short, punchy, homemade, thoughtful in its unassuming way, and—like the ongoing saga of Hot Winter, an ecologically-aware 80s porno with the lesbian orgies edited out—innocent at its heart.

VHYes was shot entirely on vintage VHS and Betacam cameras. The bits with the spooky painter (starring Kerry Kenney, of “Reno 911” fame) are spliced in from Robbins’ 2017 Sundance short “Painting with Joan”; the edited porno scenes from “Hot Winter” were also a standalone short. Director Jack Henry Robbins is the son of and , who executive produced and have eye-blink cameos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a strange yet sweet film that is one-part coming-of-age dramedy, one-part found-footage comedy, and one part channel surfing.”–Kristy Puchko, Pajiba (festival screening)