Tag Archives: Apocalyptic

CAPSULE: STARFISH (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Al White

FEATURING: Virginia Gardner

PLOT: Aubrey is understandably depressed: her best friend dies, and soon after the end of the world arrives in the form of an invasion of alien monsters.

Still from Starfish (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Starfish is a weird exercise with interesting ideas and a good performance from Gardner, but its mopey and lingering moments drag it down. Still, it’s a promising, professional-looking debut from Al White.

COMMENTS: Just like Starfish‘s heroine, whenever I get tired of the hassle of dealing with other people, I sometimes fantasize that an apocalypse has hit and wiped out everyone but me. I’m free to roam around grocery store aisles and grab all the bags of Lays Sour Cream Potato Chips I can carry, and eat all the pints of Ben & Jerry’s before they melt.

This is a common solipsistic daydream, even though we all realize that this predicament would be nightmarish in reality. For Aubrey, both the fantasy and the tragedy of this scenario become “real.” I put “real” in quotes, because it’s clear that depopulated world in Starfish is a metaphor for the protagonist’s bereavement and isolation. The death of her best friend and confidant sparks her crisis, but a guilty memory that we glimpse in fragments as Starfish (slowly) progresses fuels her alienation. Starfish does not spell out its underlying story in sxplicit detail; it’s more impressionistic and often dreamlike. The literal plot is inessential: there’s no attempt to make the end of the world seem reasonable, no serious explanation of where the monsters that roam the streets came from, little backstory on the survivors who occasionally break the silence to speak to Aubrey via walkie-talkie. The “mixtape” she assembles is a roadmap to redemption (it contains seven songs, just like the Seven Stages of Grief), and the “signal” is a pure MacGuffin. And so, given the symbolic nature of the script, the ending may be a bit too ambiguous for the audience’s liking; after everything Aubrey’s been through, it would have been nice to end on a more unconditionally hopeful note. (The ending we got would have been perfect for a different movie.)

Virginia Gardner deserves praise for carrying the film; she’s alone in almost every scene, usually either talking to herself or bouncing ideas off a turtle. Gardner conveys a real sense of loneliness—nothing that she does (or wears) matters, yet she carries on, finding a purpose and dragging herself through the wreckage of the world. The deliberate pacing, which punctuates long pauses with brief, intense bursts of crisis, aids in conveying that sensibility. And yes, while slow at times, the movie is duly weird, with frequent dream sequences—from the dinner settings that suddenly turn weightless to a radical (if brief) stylistic change at the halfway point (I won’t spoil the surprise, but it would have been more of a  shock in a less-strange movie). Underwater, surf and oceanic imagery (including a reading from the opening of “Moby Dick”) flood the film, further reinforcing the sense of loneliness, as if Aubrey is marooned on a desert isle or bobbing alone on a life raft far at sea. Or in the process of slowly drowning.

It’s not a movie for those who value plot, but Starfish earns a recommendation for anyone who appreciates a heavy dose of psychological drama in their genre films.

Debuting director Al White (also known as A.T. White) also heads the U.K. based band Ghostlight. He wrote all the songs heard in the film, from the spooky cello cues to all seven of the indie-pop mixtape songs (a number of which have a silly “They Might be Giants” vibe; others rock). He’s got talent and is still young, and idealistic: he says that all of his profits will be donated to cancer research. Starfish plays at select theaters throughout the U.S. through April. Click here for a list of screenings. Home video/streaming dates have not yet been announced.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a beautiful, emotional, weird, and fascinating movie.”–Germaine Lussier, io9.com (festival screening)

364. NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE END OF EVANGELION (1997)

“…for who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
Devoid of sense and motion?”–John Milton, Paradise Lost

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , , ; , , (English dub)

PLOT: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion picks up where Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth ended, with NERV under attack by the JSSDF and Asuka unconscious in the hospital. NERV mastermind Gendo frees a Rei clone which merges with the body of Adam. The resulting entity then initiates the “Third Impact,” which might bring about the end of the world, but leaves the final decision to angsty teen Shenji.

Still from Neon Genesis Evangelion: End of Evangelion (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • The “Neon Genesis Evangelion” franchise began as a television series (and concurrent manga) in 1995. The final two episodes of the series were abrupt, abstract, psychological, and generally impenetrable and unsatisfactory to many fans. Creator Hideaki Anno received a stream of hate mail from fans after this polarizing ending, including at least one death threat. In response, The End of Evangelion was conceived as an alternate ending. Before it was released, the studio produced the feature Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, which recapped the series and began the new ending which concludes in End of Evangelion.
  • Anno was severely depressed when he conceived the “Evangelion” series, and some interpretations often suggest the entire work is a form of self-psychoanalysis.
  • In 2007 Anno began a complete feature film reboot of the series, beginning with Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone in 2007. To date the reboot has produced three movies, with the conclusion to the planned tetralogy due in 2020.
  • “Time Out” ranked The End of Evangelion #65 on its 2016 list of the best animated movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The poster features a picture of goddess Rei’s giant white head rising from a blank landscape. That glowing face, with its sharp anime nose, is indeed iconic, but we’ll go instead for the moment when Rei’s head is floating in the upper atmosphere, a vagina-shaped third eye suddenly opens in the middle of her forehead, and a phallic cross drops into it, suturing it shut. But yeah, just about anything from the movie’s last half hour could qualify.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Shenji the strangler; 1,000 permutations of a giant Rei head; sandbox stagelights

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: End of Evangelion is like a Jungian treatment of the Kabbalah performed by giant anime robots. You need to just float along on the occult imagery of the last half. Don’t try to understand it; like its Western cousin “Revelation,” it becomes disappointing when reduced to a literal meaning.


DVD release trailer for Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion

COMMENTS: You can’t possibly understand anything in The End of Continue reading 364. NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE END OF EVANGELION (1997)

CAPSULE: AIMY IN A CAGE (2015)

DIRECTED BY: Hooroo Jackson

FEATURING: Allisyn Ashley Arm, Michael William Hunter, Sara Murphy, Terry Moore,

PLOT: While a mysterious virus ravages the outside world, a quirky teenage girl is forced to undergo brain surgery to become “normal,” then imprisoned by her family. Still from Aimy in a Cage (2015)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Weird? Yes, indeed. But this stylish debut, while pretty, doesn’t quite pull all its ribbons together into the tidiest of bows.

COMMENTS: Allisyn Ashley Arm may headline, and Crispin Glover’s name may sell tickets, but the real star of Aimy in a Cage is Chloe Barcelou, the production and costume designer. She creates an arresting world that looks like a post-apocalyptic “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” Set in a single sprawling flat that recalls visual icons like , , and even or a wacked-out at times, the movie looks like a trippy graphic novel come to life. In Terry Moore’s first scene, she wears improvised beer can rollers in her hair. Aimy earns herself headgear that looks like added several extra feet of ductwork on top of the Robot Monster‘s helmet. I adored the faerie mushrooms embossed on the outside of Aimy’s door. The barrage of stylistic techniques—Fleischer brothers cartoons, mad pans and angles, circular masking, fisheye lenses, paint dripping over the lens—can be a little much, but they are all well executed and add to the film’s ramshackle, cluttered charm.

Unfortunately, the story does not engage us nearly as much as the film’s visual milieu does. The problem is with Aimy herself. Not with the performance of Arm, an ex-Disney Channel star who seems like she would be lovable in another project. She does exactly what she is asked to do here, which is to act bratty and scream a lot. Aimy is totally narcissistic, in that bright teenage girl way; she’s the kind of character who complains, “why can’t you all just accept me for who I am?” while doing an interpretive dance and throwing fistfuls of candy into the face of her long-suffering boyfriend. The movie starts out with misunderstood Aimy breaking her grandmother’s treasured vintage doll and getting into a shrieking contest with the old bat, and it just gets more and more shrill as it goes on. Aimy is abused, its true, but in the opening reels she gives as good as she gets, and we can totally understand and sympathize with the family’s decision to tie her to a chair and gag her. When the girl taunts her grandmother, hateful though the old harridan may be, about her fiancé’s recent abandonment and laughs that the old woman will die alone, are we really supposed to take her side? It’s as if the script simply assumes we will side with the young against the old and the artist against the conformist, and so doesn’t feel the need to make Aimy likable in any way.

Does that mean the girl earns the torture that is heaped on her in the later reels, which ranges from psychological abuse to lobotomy to being tied in a chair and force-fed while begging to die? Of course not. But successful antiheroes, from Alex deLarge to the Comedian of Entertainment, have two things Aimy doesn’t: they are given some redeeming, humanizing characteristic for the audience to latch on to, and their suffering is treated seriously, as something real, no matter how unreal their surroundings may otherwise be. Aimy’s chaotic character is closer to abrasive roles in ‘ early comedies, but she doesn’t have the drag queen’s perversely lovable outrageousness.

Glover’s character, a sort of southern gentleman gigolo in a fur coat, is decent, but the role’s subdued nature means his casting takes more advantage of the actor’s weirdo cred than his gonzo energy. For Glover, however, not spazzing out all over the screen is stretching as an actor, and it’s interesting to see him take on a subtler weird role. is prominently billed, but her appearance amounts to a forgettable cameo that makes no difference in the story.

In Aimy‘s defense, it does effectively capture a budding teenager’s sense of self-absorption and paranoia; that alone does not, however, make for a pleasant or rewarding moviegoing experience. Still, there will be those who will want to uncage Aimy for the visuals alone, and I won’t dissuade you: as long as you have a high tolerance for abrasive adolescent antics, it may be worth a VOD rental. Aimy in a Cage does not have an official release set yet, although a Blu-ray is listed with the possibly specious date of April 1, 2016.

There is one additional weird point to make about Aimy in a Cage, but it relates to the film’s funding rather than its content. Writer Hooroo Jackson invested almost everything he had in Bitcoin in 2012, when the price of a digital coin stood at $10, and cashed out when the virtual currency rose to $650. He used the proceeds to fund a movie version of his own graphic novel. I can’t think of any nobler way to dissipate a lightning-in-a-bottle windfall than that.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not just that the always quirky Crispin Glover is featured in Aimy in a Cage that makes it weird… Fans of twisted independent cinema might celebrate Aimy in the Cage (it won the Director’s Prize at the Portland (Oregon) Film Festival), and it is a beautiful film to behold, but the damn thing is madder than Alice’s Hatter!”–Elias Savada, Film International (contemporaneous)

191. GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro

“A fiendish vampire from a strange world in outer space drains his victims’ blood and turns them into weird corpses!”–U.S. tagline for Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell

DIRECTED BY: Hajime Satô

FEATURING:Teruo Yoshida, Tomomi Satô, Eizô Kitamura, Hideo Kô, Kathy Horan

PLOT: A Japanese airliner crash lands in a remote mountain area after a close encounter with a UFO during a hijacking attempt. On the ground, the hijacker flees but is drawn to the glowing flying saucer, where the blob inside splits open his forehead and possesses his mind. Meanwhile, on the crashed plane the survivors squabble in a power struggle between an arms dealer, a senator, and the take-charge co-pilot.

Still from Goke Body Snatcher from Hell (1968)
BACKGROUND:

  • Goke was the most notable of four horror/science fiction films made by Shochiku studios (previously best known for Yasujirō Ozu’s award-winning chamber dramas) in the late 1960s to attempt to replicate the success of rival Toei’s smash hit Godzilla.
  • Goke wasn’t shown in the U.S. until 1977, when it played on a drive-in double bill with 1965’s Bloody Pit of Horror.
  • This movie is a favorite of , who paid tribute to Goke‘s blood red skies in an airplane scene in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s tempting to pick the scarlet heavens the airliner cruises though in the opening scenes, which makes it look the the clouds are saturated with hemoglobin and about to rain blood. After all, this was the image Tarantino chose to homage in Kill Bill. Instead, we’ll go with the vertical slit that forms in the assassins forehead at the climax of his psychedelic encounter in the alien spacecraft, a look affectionately know to the film’s fans as “vagina face.”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Goke is a run-of-the-mill alien-blobs-in-glowing-orange-UFOs-turn-airplane-crash-survivors-into-vampires-by-crawling-inside-bloody-slits-they-carve-into-their-foreheads flick, but with a delirious psychedelic twist.


Japanese trailer for Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro

COMMENTS: Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell is frequently described Continue reading 191. GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968)

CAPSULE: THE BIRDS (1963)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Alfred Hitchcock

FEATURING: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, , Veronica Cartwright

PLOT: Without explanation, birds begin attacking the quiet seaside town of Bogeda Bay, interrupting a burgeoning love affair between a socialite and a lawyer.

Still from The Birds (1963)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A great movie, but only the raw inexplicability of the avian attacks makes this Hitchcock worthy of any particular weird notice.

COMMENTS: The crow has long been an omen of death, but never have our fine feathered friends been so conspicuously thantatotic as in Alfred Hitchcock’s first true horror (as opposed to suspense) film. Hitch’s typical plotting trick—beginning with one situation, then springing a twist in the movie’s first half that makes the opening irrelevant—has never worked as well thematically as it does here. Melanie and Mitch’s coy flirtations, cultured as they may be, are rendered ridiculous midway through the film in light of the raw realities of the assault from above. And yet, by the time the first wave of pecking finches swoop through the chimney, we’re invested in the pair. The birds—natural, inexorable, and inexplicable, brooding on their makeshift roosts—are the perfect images of death, looming for all of us. Thoughts of romance may occupy the early reels, but as the story moves on, the birds’ inevitable victory over our heroes becomes clear, and the tale turns to the desperate, if doomed, fight for survival.

Incredibly, you will sometimes hear people complain that the movie is flawed because it does not explain why the birds are attacking. Providing an explanation would have turned The Birds into the silliest type of B-movie fare. How unsatisfying would it be if  it turned out the birds had gone mad from drinking water contaminated with waste from an experimental nuclear reactor? The heart of The Birds‘ horror is the incomprehensibility of the attack, which reflects the incomprehensibility of our own mortality. The inconclusiveness of the scene in the restaurant where the townsfolk debate the cause of the catastrophe is the centerpiece of the film, dramatizing the residents’ utter failure to come to grips with the situation and the futility of their plight. One citizen theorizes that, unmotivated, the birds have suddenly declared war on humanity; a scientist absurdly spends her time explaining why what is happening can’t be happening; the crazy old coot in the corner warns that it’s the end of the world. (That last guess is probably the closest to being correct, though there’s no Biblical element to the story).

One woman assumes that, because there were no bird attacks before Melanie came to town, the disaster is the interloper’s fault. Perhaps; Melanie’s reaction (slapping the woman) suggests guilt. Melanie’s arrival stirs the Freudian pot between Mitch and his widowed mother, and brings schoolteacher Annie’s buried feelings back to the surface—she’s a destabilizing sexual force. (Curious that almost all the major roles in the film go to females, with Mitch alone at the center of a web of women). Besides those psychological teases, there’s also an inevitable Cold War subtext the film. When the birds strike and the family is holed up in their homes, seeking any news of the disaster on the radio, it surely must have struck a cord with American audiences still on edge from 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis. The chilling final shot of a bird-strewn pre-dawn landscape is like a post-apocalyptic world covered in feathered fallout.

Universal’s 2014 Blu-ray release is essentially the single disc version of The Birds disc from the “Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection” 15-disc box set. It’s packed with extra features too numerous to list here; there are actually more minutes devoted to the bonuses than to the two-hour movie itself. Hitch’s blackly ironic trailer where he “lectures” on humanity’s historical relations with his fine feathered friends is typically droll and brilliant.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Few films depict so eerily yet so meticulously the metaphysical and historical sense of a world out of joint.”–Richard Brody, The New Yorker

BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

It is all there in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): from Alpha to Omega, from Moses to St. John of Patmos all the way through to Martin Luther’s antisemitism.

We last saw Taylor (Chuck Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes crying like a baby, making mud pies before the post-apocalyptic ruins of the Statue of Liberty with dumb (i.e. mute) brunette Nova (Linda Harris, in a bad performance) by his side. Insert invisible wormhole to swallow Taylor up whole. Nova now waits for new knight-in-a-loincloth Brent (James Franciscus) to rescue her.

Yes, American astronaut Brent has a loincloth too, and cuts a leaner, more-sylphlike figure than Heston (of whom he gives a second-rate impersonation. Franciscus fared better in his best performance as blind detective Mike Longstreet in the TV series “Longstreet,” which is as lamentably forgotten as Franciscus himself). Nova and Brent go cave exploring and what do they find? An elongated and pointless rehash of the first movie.

Cornelius (David Watson, briefly replacing as the chief chimp) and Zera (Kim Hunter) do much hand wringing. Meanwhile, there is a gorilla named Ursus (James Gregory) who is prone to booming his own second-generation, agenda-laden scripture. (“The only good Jew is a dead Jew” has far more expansive potential when mouthed as “the only good human is a dead human.”) A simian neo-Fascist yahoo, Ursus takes his cavalry into the Forbidden Zone, hot on the trail of Brent and Nova. A prophetic Jonestown awaits.

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) laments: “Someone has outwitted the intelligence of the gorillas.”

“The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!” Hallelujah, General.

The hippie apes protest the impending war (i.e. Vietnam).

Still from Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)Meanwhile, our Adam and Eve protagonists (make that Second Adam with Eve) have been bamboozled into joining a charismatic, apocalyptic religious cult, a la Jim Jones.

Former King Tut Victor Buono (with Moses’ staff and sacred scroll in hand) starts slaying in the spirit and whips up a pillar of fire, apparently delivered personally by a cobalt-cased deity, to stall the Mighty 7th. Ursus may just be another replacement for the Pharaoh, but with Gregory’s evangelical charisma practically melting the ape makeup, the stoic  could never have competed.

“If you are caught by the gorillas, you must remember one thing.”

“What’s that?

“Never to speak!”

“What the hell would I have to say to a gorilla?”

“That thing out there, an atomic bomb… is your god?” “Get outta my head!”

Continue reading BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

THE OMEGA MAN (1971)

I recently saw two films for the first time since childhood. If there is ever proof that we are not born with taste, that taste is a reflection of our willingness to move past what we know or are exposed to, then the proof is in this proverbial pudding. Two of the coolest movies to an adolescent in the early 1970s were Elvis On Tour (1972) and The Omega Man (1971). However, the sight of a pasty Rock and Roll King, dressed as a lounge lizard Batman, bejeweled in a string of rhinestone Christmas lights, with a shoe-polished football helmet for hair and sideburns reaching down to his collarbone, singing Sinatra’s “My Way”, is the stuff of nightmares.

Even more horrific is Omega Man‘s  as a doomsday martyr with a Savior complex, dying for our sins. Boris Sagal’s apocalyptic oater is a delightfully dated and tacky fantasy. Who better to fill that role than all-American, granite-jawed Heston? The dialogue is jaw dropping. Omega Man was one of several ideologically right-leaning science fiction films that Heston gravitated to. (His choice of roles revealed a shrewd awareness on the actor’s part towards development of a public persona). It was a natural to follow epic Biblical melodramas with parts casting him as a messianic loner. The essence of American power and strength, highlighted by his carved-in-marble Roman profile, Heston was built for adolescent males to emulate and females to swoon over.

Throughout the 60s and 70s Heston gravitated to roles that called for him to be impaled in the arc of the drama. El Cid (1961), Khartoum (1966), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Will Penny (1968), Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973) and The Last Hard Men (1976) all find Heston in St. Sebastian-mode.

Omega Man was (poorly) based on Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend. The story had been previously filmed with a femmy  in Last Man on Earth (1964), and would be later with Will Smith in I am Legend (2007). No version got it right, but the closest was ‘s Night Of the Living Dead (1968), which was merely inspired by Matheson’s novel, rather than a direct adaptation.

Still from The Omega Man (1971)Heston never looks more like an old man Jesus figurine than he does here, in his polyester white Baptist dress shirt and Fred Mertz-style high trousers, oozing blood. Heston is Neville, the lone survivor of the 1975 apocalypse.He shoves in an 8 track tape of Strangers In The Night as he cruises through the ghost town that used to be New York City (of course). He steps into a theater, turns on the projector, and watches Woodstock (1970) “showing in its third straight year.” Neville has every line of dialogue memorized.

He hears the city’s imaginary phones all ringing simultaneously and does his best James Franciscus impersonation: “There is no phone ringing, dammit! There is no phone!” (a line which echoes Jimmy’s’ “Get out of my head!” in Beneath the Planet of the Apes). Neville sees a shadowy figure running behind a skyscraper window. Continue reading THE OMEGA MAN (1971)