Tag Archives: Apocalyptic

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: PERFECT SENSE (2011)

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DIRECTED BY: David Mackenzie

FEATURING: Eva Green, Ewan McGregor, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremner, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielsen

PLOT: Epidemiologist Susan and chef Michael meet and begin to fall in love, but their romance is complicated by a slowly unfolding global pandemic that methodically strips the human race of its physical senses.

Still from Perfect Sense (2011)

COMMENTS: Hey, remember the COVID pandemic? Wasn’t that a ton of fun? We learned—and perhaps are continuing to learn—a whole lot about how our society would react to a worldwide health crisis, and the answers involve far more skepticism, selfishness, and general ignorance than we might have preferred. So there’s nothing quite like watching a movie in which the protagonists don masks to try and prevent the spread of an airborne virus that is threatening the entire world. Such happy memories come rushing back!

It seems that the cinema was prescient about such things about a decade before we got the real deal. Audiences had recently been treated to the horrors of outbreaks in films such as I Am Legend, Quarantine, Carriers, and (heaven help us) The Happening. One, Blindness, even focused specifically on a health crisis that deprived the populace of one of its senses. And in the year 2011, you had a choice: get a glimpse of the near-total failure of our public infrastructure in ’s thriller Contagion, or deal with the effects such a worldwide disaster would have on a budding romance in Perfect Sense, a love story suffused with foreboding and melancholy.

Diseases often propagate by preying upon our desire to help and comfort one another. But the contagion in Perfect Sense is unusually cruel, by turns capitalizing on our natural inclination to be kind toward one another, then exposing us at our most primal and emotional level, and finally stripping away that which allows us to interpret and enjoy the world. The film finds a particular power in images of the populace as a whole suddenly losing all control and self-possession, overcome by bouts of rage, despair, or even gluttony and pica. In each case, people try to pick up the pieces as best they can, and director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson envision these victims reaching out to each other to fill the ensuing losses with hope, which is a welcome grace note in a film about the encroaching end of the world. 

The story of this ever-evolving sickness is an odd counterpoint to the more intimate tale of two people who are rotten at love but find each other. Green and McGregor have terrific chemistry, impressive considering they are introduced to us as particularly poor romantic prospects: she’s an emotionally unavailable pessimist and he’s a frictionless cad. They have a genuinely effective, character-driven meet cute, and despite the obvious nature of their jobs—she works with diseases, his job revels in the senses of taste, smell, and sight—they act as worthy avatars for the damned human race. Just as their fellow humans find ways to go on, so do Susan and Michael keep after their mutual attraction, determined to hang on to their story even as the world falls apart.

The central figures in our story are so strong that it can be frustrating when the movie cuts away to share the ongoing collapse of the human race, complete with an omniscient narrator to explain “what it all means.” Unlike it’s cousin Contagion, which juxtaposes personal stories of survival against the global effort to defeat the pandemic, Perfect Sense works best at the micro level, with Susan and Michael navigating the crisis alongside their relationship with their friends and family. (McGregor also gets two reunions of a sort, with a fellow chef portrayed by his Trainspotting co-star Bremner, while his boss at the restaurant is none other than his own uncle Lawson, with whom he also shares a Star Wars pedigree.)

It’s only in the peculiar landscape of Perfect Sense that the closing moments of the film could be considered in any respect a happy ending: the world overtaken by a wave of unreserved euphoria, followed by Susan and Michael realizing the depth of their feelings and racing through the streets of Glasgow toward a heartfelt embrace—at the precise moment that their ability to see is snatched from them. Humanity won’t be long for this world, and all they will have is the sensation of this final, passionate embrace, but they will have that. It’s a dark but oddly hopeful conclusion regarding the one thing we learned for certain during the course of the pandemic: we humans are nothing if not persistent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Perfect Sense is, to put it bluntly, a weird film… Overall Perfect Sense is a very strange and grim oddity that evokes the wrong reaction.” – Maxine Brown, Roobla (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Erin. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Perfect Sense
  • DVD
  • Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • English (Original Language), English (Unknown)
  • 1
  • 92

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE LAST WAVE (1977)

aka Black Rain

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Note: As this review discusses a film featuring Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal actors, we wish to inform any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers that this article contains the names and images of individuals who have died. No disrespect is intended. (Guidance taken from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Weir

FEATURING: Richard Chamberlain, David Gulpilil, Nandjiwarra Amagula, Olivia Hamnett

PLOT: An Australian tax attorney takes defends a group of Aborigines accused of murder, and begins to recognize his dreams as apocalyptic visions; his clients confront him with his role in the coming cataclysm. 

Still from The Last Wave (1977)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The Last Wave takes the already-mysterious and disorienting world of dreams and infuses them with Aboriginal mysticism, virtually guaranteeing dissociation and confusion in an audience which the filmmakers know will be predominantly made up of Western-thinking white people. If you find yourself struggling to understand what one man’s cryptic nightmares have to do with the historically unbalanced relationship between Australia’s native population and the Europeans who colonized the continent, then everything is going precisely according to plan.

COMMENTS: Peter Weir tells the story of a screening of his 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, at which one prospective distributor reportedly threw his coffee cup at the screen in fury at having wasted two hours of his life on “a mystery without a goddamn solution!” The moment clearly stuck with Weir, and I suspect it was bouncing around in his mind as he began to conceive The Last Wave. It didn’t exactly persuade him to be more explicit about his intentions, but the film feels like it’s actually delving into the passions that fuel the rage over What Art Means.

Richard Chamberlain’s comfortable solicitor, David Burton, could very well be standing in for that cup-slinging critic. A white man in Australia, and a lawyer to boot, he is the very picture of upright, unquestioning conformity. With his wife, two kids, and backyard tennis court, he would seemingly have everything he could want in life. The last thing he needs are questions without answers. So all the strange dreams he’s been having about water, a mysterious Aboriginal man, and the end of the world are most unwelcome.

What follows is a chronicle of one man’s effort to provide an explanation for what seems inexplicable. He interprets the request to serve as counsel for a group of Aborigine defendants as a quest for a deeper truth. As David learns more about the cultural standards of the community that underlie the killing, he becomes increasingly determined to present the mystical elements as a solid defense. He instinctively knows he is expected to let these things go, but his desperate need for order and explanation override his sense of his place Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE LAST WAVE (1977)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ONCE WITHIN A TIME (2023)

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RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: , Jon Kane

FEATURING: Sussan Deyhim, Tara Khozein, John Flax, Apollo Garcia Orellana, Brian Bellot, mystery celebrity guest

PLOT: Curtains open on a glowing, chanting golden tree woman, then children watch a couple with wicker cages around their heads wander through incidents of apocalypse, technology, and wonder.

Still from Once Within a Time (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Simultaneously ancient and hyper-modern, Once Within a Time is as an apocalyptic dispatch from the far reaches of reality. A bold and foolish (in the complimentary sense) work of cinematic art, dense with imagery and symbolism, this is octogenarian Godfrey Reggio‘s first narritivesque film—his vision of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century, teetering on the brink of cataclysm, but balanced by wonder and creative possibility.

COMMENTS: Godfrey Reggio announces Once Within a Time as a “bardic fairy tale”; an imposing description, but one that the film lives up to. Set to a new score by Philip Glass—with snatches of other music floating through the mix—it’s a carnival of free-flowing imagery and ideas, a techno-gnostic hymn about cataclysms and the birth of new worlds. After the red curtains pull back, we are launched into scenes of an Earth goddess singing from her glowing heart, and innocent children spinning on a merry-go-round. Then, Adam and Eve appear, only to have their equanimity quickly destroyed by a digitized Apple. Cell phones recur as dire artifacts: as cages, as monoliths, as bricks on a road that leads to an audience of faceless puppets. We watch a dance of harlequin emojis. Entertainers and demagogues speak gibberish. UFOs zoom into dreamspaces and blast giant robots with their ray guns. Monkeys experiment with virtual reality goggles. There’s a reference to 2001 that will probably draw laughs, and maybe cheers, from savvy live audiences. There is even a special celebrity guest whose appearance I don’t want to spoil, who speaks in John Coltrane solos and acts as a pied piper. And throughout it all, reaction shots of children, bemused, delighted, taking in the helter-skelter as best they can, their little minds gathering fuel… hope for the future.

The visual aesthetic is faded yet bright, digital but evocative of finely aged film stock. The style and imagery brings to mind experimental films of the 1950s-1970s, specifically : the wicker baskets around the lead adult’s heads like the birdcages of the Pleasure Dome, the UFOs possibly on loan from Lucifer Rising, the whole thing seasoned with occult premonitions of a New Age Dawning. There are fleeting scenes of destruction, decay, despotism, mushroom clouds: but the imagery returns, unfailingly, to dwell on innocent children at play, and themes of creation and re-creation. It ends on a Botticelli tableau, with children as angels and Venus yet to emerge from her throbbing egg sac.

A new Philip Glass score is, of course, something to celebrate. The soundtrack here is more of a suite of short pieces than a large scale composition, moving through numerous flavors to illustrate the Reggio’s many different settings. Glass’ hypnotic minimalism may not get the chance to do its accumulation-by-repetition thing here, but he makes up for with a wider palette of colors: unfamiliar elements like chanting, accordions, and even African percussion offer the composer new settings for his ideas. The contributions of Iranian singer Susan Deyhim (who also plays the tree) are most welcome.

The runtime is listed as 51 minutes, but the credits take up the final 8, so the film itself is a manageable 45-minute experience. Watching this on a big screen with an appreciative audience would be magnificent; it makes perfect sense that it debuted at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. It is uncommercial, personal, specialized, and fated to be underseen, but Once Within a Time is a major cinema event in 2023. Make it a point to track it down when you can.

Once Within a Time official site for trailer and screening calendar.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this strange new experiment — less scripted than staged — revisits early cinema with the same doom-laden playfulness that [Reggio’s] previous work used to push the medium forward. “–David Ehrlich, IndieWire (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: UNCLE KENT 2 (2015)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Kent Osborne

PLOT: Defying advice from friends and professionals, Kent Osborne pursues his vision of making the unnecessary sequel to Uncle Kent.

Still from Uncle Kent 2 (2015)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: It’s alternately mumblecore, surreal, awkward, and spiked with one big shot of violence; all told, Kent’s journey through a San Diego convention is pretty strange. But its bed-rising, guest-star-studded 5 & 1/2 minute jack-off finale really took commitment.

COMMENTS: I became so intrigued that I very nearly looked up who the heck this “Kent Osborne” guy is. But no: I came to know him well enough through Todd Rohal’s Uncle Kent 2, with all his insouciant eagerness, playful eccentricity, and defiant self-satisfaction. The onscreen storytelling is low key madcap, with the inexplicable and impossible gelling with the mundane, like Walter Mitty’s daydream jaunts through banality. There are too few “fluffy” movies in the realm of weird cinema, and I am grateful for having met Kent Osborne in such an outing.

This Kent Osborne (Kent Osborne) faces difficulty only once, in facing down his one detractor: Joe Swanberg. Swanberg directed the little-seen microbudget mumblecore drama Uncle Kent, and sees no reason to revisit the premise (loose, indeed, though it was in the first place). He is an utter killjoy at the opening party scene. The following morning, Kent sees his physician on an unrelated matter (chronic ear-worm). After a very long “follow the finger” neural exercise, his physician advises strongly against his patient paneling at a convention in San Diego to promote his latest comic book, “Cat Agent.” But as Kent defied Swanberg’s downerism, so he defies medical advice. What ensues is a whimsical exploration of artistic living and convention culture that becomes increasingly masturbatory.

I will return to this “masturbation” in a moment, but first you should be grounded in an underlying premise behind Uncle Kent. The singularity is real, and it is coming. For those unfamiliar with “simulation theory,” in brief, it is very much as it sounds: we live in a simulation. All these developments toward computerized living are but a replay of something that has already occurred: mechanical intelligence, and humans confined to a Matrix-y way of living. The sweet thing about Kent in Uncle Kent 2 is, he doesn’t mind. He goes through motions, as we all do, with upbeat resignation. He revels in rewatching, and sharing, his own artistic output.

At the convention he makes the acquaintance of a “Cat Agent” cos-player, and the strangeness within his life and this movie accelerates. As he is about to have sex with her, the incarnation of his own mind’s work, she zaps out of existence. He gathers a post-Apocalyptic gaggle of citizens terrified by the rapture-style disappearances. In the middle of a pitch to a co-star of Uncle Kent, just after she requests he begin masturbating for her, she disappears as well. But, Kent masturbates anyway. He’s finished making a movie about himself and his work. Hotel staff, strangers, Swanberg, and even appear and interrupt but, the climax comes—as is its wont—and everything wraps up nicely. Rohal knows we’ve done this all before: mumbling, relationships, whimsylow drama, mid-comedy, and you know what? That’s all right. We’ve got time to kill. Uncle Kent 2 is casually wacky ride (and unless you’re too close to the TV, it won’t make you go blind).

Uncle Kent 2 received a surprise Blu-ray release in 2023 from Factory 25.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the wtf movie of the year. Though it’s not likely to land with, or even screen to, a mainstream audience, Uncle Kent 2 is so thoroughly dedicated to messing with its viewers, the film deserves the very highest accolade at the piss-takers ball, if only such a thing existed.” -Zach Gayne, Screen Anarchy (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE RAZING (2022)

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The Razing is currently available for rental on Vudu.

DIRECTED BY: J. Arcane, Paul Erskine

FEATURING: Jack Wooton, Laura Sampson Hemingway, Logan Paul Price, Nicholas Tene

PLOT: Four friends from high school gather at Corey’s place for his birthday, as they have for years; this time around, it seems as if their world may be ending.

Still from The Razing (2022)

COMMENTS: There are some guidelines one should bear in mind when crafting film characters. If the characters aren’t entertaining, they should be relatable. If they aren’t relatable, they should be convincing. And if they aren’t convincing, they should be out of the way. In their film The Razing, directors J. Arcane and Paul Erskine never reach any of these levels, and so we’re left with a moody, stylized mess of melodrama.

The camera skulks around, centering the action (so to speak) in a vignette frame. Ostensibly it focuses on a stylishly open-plan home—the home of emotionally-addled rich boy Corey, to be precise—but it looks more like a gauchely decorated penthouse suite. Together with Ellie and Ray, he waits on Lincoln’s arrival. Ray’s brought his girlfriend, possibly against protocol; Lincoln eventually meanders in with his latest boy-toy. Together, the six sit down to an unpleasant dinner in which more scenery is chewed than food—an unimpressive feat given the scenery is merely a bougie dining room table. While some kind of apocalyptic incineration may be going on outside, the only action within these sprawling rooms is odd delivery of overblown dialogue about some past predicament illuminated through a series of flashbacks.

I will overlook the cinematographic decisions out of deference to the directors. While camera’s ooze-flow may not have been my cup of tea, it adequately fits the action’s (read: dialogue’s) lack of clarity: this story is rife with dangerous drugs and unreliable memories. However, I cannot bring myself to forgive the script. Lines like “I may have ended his life, but I wasn’t the one who stopped his heart”; “You sound like someone I used to know”; and “You can’t run from who you are” are among the ceaselessly unspooling rejoinders to ill-delivered outbursts of emotion. The Razing is peopled by characters all in desperate need of therapists, or perhaps just of a reminder that they really needn’t live like this.

It’s worth mentioning two elements in the film’s favor. First, despite everything, The Razing left me feeling contemplative afterwards. Second, I had never heard the nickname “Ellie-Belly” for someone named Eleanor before. But whatever guignol-flirting was going on here, I couldn’t buy it, no matter how hard I pulled on the rope which suspended my disbelief. It’s a muddled movie presented in a muddled fashion, and no one on the screen managed to rally a scintilla of concern on my part. As tragedy befell, I befelt it couldn’t befall fast enough.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Between the obnoxious, shouty characters and the distorted sound and visuals, the effect was more like dropping acid at a bad party than watching a horror movie.”–Jim Morazzini, Voices from the Balcony (contemporaneous)