Tag Archives: Beware

CAPSULE: THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003)

Beware

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“I’m not so good with the rhyming.”  – The Cat (Mike Myers)

DIRECTED BY: Bo Welch

FEATURING: Mike Myers, , Spencer Breslin, ,

PLOT: Two children left alone at home encounter a human-sized talking cat who leads them on a series of wacky and destructive misadventures.

Still from Cat in the Hat (2003)

COMMENTS:

Shall I spin you a tale of a movie gone wrong?
Of 82 minutes that feel three days long?
Then I’ll tell unto you, just right there where you’ve sat
Of the travesty known as The Cat in the Hat.

‘Twas a gray day in Hollywood, no dreams to dream,
When one junior executive cooked up a scheme:
“What we need’s some IP we can plunder for cash.
It can be mediocre, can even be trash!
All we need is the title; who cares if it’s rank?
They’ll fill up the theaters, and we’ll all make bank.”

“You’re so right,” said his colleagues, “it’s easy as pie.
For familiar content, we won’t even try.”
So those vultures considered what might be of use
And decided to dig up our dear Dr. Seuss.

“We’ve done it before,” they all cried. “It’s a cinch.
We grossed two-sixty mill on that trash heap, The Grinch.
Which proves that we needn’t pretend like we care. No,
That garbage still vacuumed up mucho dinero.”

The honchos began to assemble the parts
That would demonstrate all of their filmmaking smarts.
A novice director? Sure, that’ll be fine.
“We’ll pick some guy known for production design.”

“And a script?” a small voice piped up. “I took a look
And it might be a challenge to translate a book
That’s so short. We’ll get ripped by the Dr. Seuss nerds;
It’s one thousand six hundred and twenty-six words.”

“Damn the length!” came the riposte. “Damn logic and plot.
For those minor objections,” they said, “we care not.
Once we get a big star, we’ll have no cause for worry.
His comedy chops will fix things in a hurry.”
So they looked at the feline displayed on the front
And decided to try an uproarious stunt.
Tall and thin, long of limb, with a wide, gleeful eye…
“Mike Myers!” they cried. “There’s no doubt he’s our guy!”

And perhaps that is how we arrived at this place,
At a movie so lacking in wit and in grace.

Continue reading CAPSULE: THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003)

CAPSULE: PERIOD PIECE (2006)

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BewareWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Andrews

FEATURING: Bill Tyree, Giuseppe Andrews

PLOT: Intertwined stories of a number of absurd characters including a French dwarf who has rough sex with a teddy bear and a perpetually naked old man who has sex with an imaginary woman.

Still from period piece (2006)

COMMENTS: “WARNING: This film contains senior citizen nudity and dead pigs.”

Now, geriatric nudity is no big thing (although when the octogenarian attempts to holds pork rinds between his buttcheeks, you may disagree). That dead pig, though… we’ll get to it.

Period Piece is a series of absurdist sketches that rarely rise to the level of jokes, and never to the level of insights. They aren’t planned out, they are just passing spurts from the brain of director Giuseppe Andrews, whose mind is not filled with classical allusions like a or scathing anti-bourgeois fantasies like a , but mostly with dirty words, bodily function imagery, and trailer park culture. The result is arrested development surrealism, like something made by if he were a complete psychopath.

You get segments about two guys who siphon gas to get money to shoot heroin in a car wash. Two other guys mime eating each others’ farts (which they slice with a plastic knife and eat with a fork, in about the closest the film comes to eliciting a chuckle.) Stop-motion tater tots have sex in front of a shrine to Charles Manson. A guy eats raw hamburger. That kind of stuff. It’s shot in camcorder glare, and the editing is deliberately bad, as if a few “good” fifteen second takes were assembled to make a scene. Sometimes the same line repeats with slightly different inflection. It’s unpleasantly disorienting and visually unflattering, so Andrews does achieve the Americana nightmare feel he’s going for. And just so you won’t be fooled into thinking you’re watching something with socially redeeming value, it opens with a bit where a guy wearing a fake mustache and speaking in a Pepe le Pew accent sodomizes a teddy bear with an industrial sized can of calm chowder. (The repeated, graphic molestation of the stuffed sex slave is an ongoing motif.) Also, a lot of people shoot themselves in ineffective mock suicides. It’s as disgusting as it sounds, and much of the time, it’s repetitive and tedious, but it’s capable of holding your interest—against your better judgement.

Although the climactic dead pig is explicitly named “Society,” the main target of the film’s ongoing and pervasive anger has been women and scarcity of sex. The teddy bear who “likes it rough” seems to stand in for woman as sexual objects. In one vignette a man threatens to kill a “whore” for cheating on him. A father and son leaf through the gynecological displays in well-worn stroke mags, and the son dreams of scoring someday. The naked old man delivers obscene, scatological monologues about vaginas. Although Andrews had  a girlfriend at the time, and there is a woman in the cast, the whole project gives off the vibe of something conceived by poor white guys who’ve lost all hope of ever getting laid. Therefore, when Andrews’ attempt to top Pink Flamingos in the grossout department has the naked old man hack at the pig’s head with a hatchet while screaming insults at it, I was put more in mind of incels releasing sexual frustration than outsiders taking revenge against a system that has marginalized them.

The ending of the film disclaims that “no animals were hurt in the making of this film… they were already dead!” This is not strictly true. What about the human animals in the audience who had to watch it?

proudly (?) picked up Period Piece (and some other Andrews movies) for distribution, despite the fact that it’s much darker (and even cheaper) than their usual fare. The DVD features an incongruously cheerful introduction by , a Kaufman interview with Andrews, trailers for other Andrews movies, an obscene misogynist poem written by Andrews and read bumblingly by Tyree, and the entire 70-minute bonus feature Jacuzzi Rooms— which is literally just an unscripted chronicle of four rednecks drinking heavily in a motel room. Fun stuff, for people for whom nothing matters.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Take John Waters at his shock heights, a sizable helping of Harmony Korine’s Gummo, and a completely amateur visual aesthetic you have a vague idea as to what kind of film your in store for… From frame one you are forced into its full tilt bizarro world. You either get on for the ride or reject it completely.”–Infini-Tropolis (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Tally Isham, who said “Not sure if I recommend seeing it, but it’s zero-budget weirdness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: NEW YORK NINJA (1984/2021)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: John Liu/Kurtis Spieler (re-dub)

FEATURING: John Liu, voices of Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Leon Isaac Kennedy

PLOT: When his pregnant wife is murdered by thugs, a TV reporter turns vigilante to take down the gang of abductors responsible for his misery.

COMMENTS: ‘s mega-opus, Hitler: A Film from Germany, with all its intellectual musings, puppets, and art-housery was a highly enjoyable single-sitting film throughout its seven-plus hours. ‘s three-hour epic of mumbling bleakness, Hard to be a God, felt like a breeze. Heck, even Béla Tarr‘s meandering two-hour ennui fest Damnation felt a pleasure compared to the leaden hour-and-a-half of Vinegar Syndrome’s re(ish)-release of New York Ninja. There are times when an opinion may be deemed incorrect, and I admit that what you are about to read will come across to many as woefully misguided. That proviso provised, New York Ninja is one of the most wearisome movies I’ve ever endured.

The film’s backstory and re-creation make for an interesting tale. Back in the mid 1980s, John Liu toppled his directorial career by bankrupting his film studio during the production of New York Ninja. Back in the early 2020s, Vinegar Syndrome came into possession of some eight hours-worth of footage that had been shot for the project, and recreated the story from scratch, calling in a bunch of voice-over/dubbing heavy-weights. I tip my hat to Kurtis Spieler (the re-director) for his chutzpah and enthusiasm.

However, the resulting film is a trial by tedium. The story is chock-full of silly elements (not a bad thing)—plucky reporter lady, random kid-cum-acolyte, and whimsically attired New York City goons; and eccentric elements (a better thing)—a mysterious, effete baddie collecting women, and his Plutonium-cursed ex-CIA henchman, only seen without his bitchin’ shades when dosing himself with radiation. But the (bad) dialogue timing is all off, the silliness falls in that awkward too much/not enough layer, and from the original and re-do only one actor makes it out with respectability intact. (This being Leon Isaac Kennedy, who voices the police detective played by…? Someone.)

It is never my ambition to rain on anyone’s parade, particularly if it’s a low-budget parade with its heart in the right place. However, I could not in good conscience advise that anyone waste their time with this experiment. Whether or not the original New York Ninja would have been watchable is a mystery to remain unsolved until, perhaps, the hereafter, where all unfinished whack-o gems may get their time in the Heavenly lime-light. And I respect Vinegar Syndrome, both for their mission statement (saving old, oddball films), as well as trying their hand at this great re-jigging effort. Their ultimate goal was to recreate 1980s martial arts cheese. But left to age for four decades, this cheese has gotten too moldy to consider eating.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the movie packs in a lot of cult craziness: seemingly trying to bundle as much 80s movie madness into 90 minutes as it can…. It’s this manic energy and commitment to the absurd that makes ‘New York Ninja’ so much fun.” -Andrew Skeates, Far East Films (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HANGER (2009)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Ryan Nicholson

FEATURING: Dan Ellis, Nathan Dashwood, Wade Gibb, Ronald Patrick Thompson, , Candice Lewald (as Candice Le), Alastair Gamble

PLOT: A deformed 18-year old who survived a coat hanger abortion teams up with a vigilante to hunt down the pimp who killed his hooker mom.

Still from Hanger (2009)

COMMENTS: Tastelessness is one of the very few weapons low-budget filmmakers have in their arsenal that their big-budget counterparts can’t match. That is, at least, an explanation for Ryan Nicholson’s Hanger, if not an excuse. There is not much a movie with this kind of budget and shooting schedule can do to set itself apart from the pack of cheap VOD horrors—which themselves have to compete for scarce viewing eyes against the huge glut of what most audiences consider “real movies”—except to try to show you what Hollywood doesn’t dare.

In simpler times, exploitation films could survive on nudity, sex and violence, but since the big studios now dominate these niches, too, the scum at the bottom of the entertainment bucket are nudged instead towards the scatological, the pornographic, and the nihilistic. Hanger exists as a string of shock scenes hung on a dull and talky narrative that leads nowhere. We get a graphic (if incredibly fake-looking) coat hanger abortion; penis grilling; grotesque prosthetic putty slathered on nearly every character; prostitutes murdered with car doors; misogyny and homophobia; yellowface and Asian stereotyping; fart torture; the N-word; an explicit female masturbation scene; a stoma rape with chocolate pudding prop; tampon tea; bad gore effects, bad sound, and bad attempts at comedy. And, because talk is cheap, lots of talking.

Half-assed is the aesthetic choice here. Like its title character, Hanger is an ugly, angry outsider, fated to be a loser and pissed off about it. Unlike its title character (but like its comic relief character), it believes itself to be funny. I think. I didn’t laugh once, but it does appear that parts were intended to be humorous: specifically, scenes of the intensely annoying Wade Gibb, in a prosthetic mask narrowing his eyes to slits, talking in a high-pitched sing-songy “Chinaman” squeal straight out of a WWII-era propaganda film about how he loves tampons and other unfunny topics that are difficult to discern due to a combination of fake buck teeth, a badly crafted accent, and abysmal sound. These scenes double as painful comic relief and interminable padding. The movie’s highlight is Lloyd Kaufman’s appearance as a “tranny” prostitute who gets his penis burned off; Lloyd flew in, learned his lines when he arrived, shot his scene, and (wisely) got the hell out of there. If you’re unfortunate enough to see Hanger, you’ll spend more time watching it than Kaufman spent filming it.

The DVD and (2 disc!) Blu-ray are filled with an unusually high number of extras. Kaufman’s 11-minute behind-the-scenes home video is more entertaining than the entirety of the feature.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If you like this sort of stuff, have a good sense of humor, a strong stomach, and a pad on your floor, (you’ll need it for the number of times your jaw drops) you’ll come away from this singular experience with a new red badge of courage.”–Kurt Dahlke, DVD Talk (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by jef t-scale, who advised “think street trash but more trash and more weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE ONE YOU FEED (2020)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Drew Harwood

FEATURING: Gareth Koorzen, Rebecca Fraiser, Drew Harwood

PLOT: When a hiker is injured, a man and woman bring him back to their remote farm to recuperate, where they engage in mind games of attraction and power that are destined to meet a calamitous end.

Still from "The One You Feed" (2020)

COMMENTS: The One You Feed luxuriates in its silences. The Stranger’s wanderings through a Western landscape are a wordless reverie, and the only residents of the ranch where he finds himself laid up after a wild animal attack speak in rudimentary instructions, when they deign to speak at all. He is an isolated character, by choice and then by happenstance, and we are forced to consider the world largely via the visual information available to us.

It soon becomes clear that the silence may be as much out of a lack of things to say as it is a mission statement. Writer/director Harwood (he also takes credits as editor, production designer, and casting director, and shares producer, story, costume design, and set decoration credits with Koorzen) has created a funhouse mystery, with a pair of antagonists (The Woman and The Man) who behave curiously and arbitrarily. They live in a timeless space, with modern tools on their farm but a 19th-century aesthetic indoors. Harwood clearly hopes that by withholding information, he’ll stoke interest. The names of the characters point to his dedication to this strategy.

The result, however, is not intriguing, but frustrating. If no one talks, then we’re going to rely on actions to guide us through. But if no one takes action, then it’s going to be damn hard to figure out what anybody’s game is. So we have to settle for what we can see: the Stranger is crippled by injury (and by a haunted memory which will be teased out over the course of the film). The Man is beefcake, dressed in his overalls with one strap carelessly unbuckled, delivering sparse dialogue that alternately identifies him as a himbo or an aspiring poet. Meanwhile, The Woman is harsh and shrill with a soupcon of neediness, and her propensity for plunging necklines suggests she shops exclusively in the Sexy Homesteader section at Spirit of Halloween. It’s all tropes, but tropes without consistency of purpose.

I’ve seen this film described as “romantic,” and while both of The Stranger’s healers/tormentors copulate with him, both encounters border on or fully embody rape. When he ultimately makes his plea to one of them to join him, the moment hasn’t been earned by anything that has come before. If this is supposed to be a universal tale of love, attraction, and jealousy, then the universality is based on capriciousness and hostility.

Ultimately, the roots of the film’s faults can be found in the title, which alludes to a metaphor about two wolves living inside a person’s heart. One thrives on love and hope, the other on hate and despair, and they are in perpetual conflict. Which will win? See the title. But in The One You Feed, there is no love, no hope. Violence is only a moment away, and anything more than a stock motivation is nowhere to be found. There’s only one wolf in this tale, and it eats the only thing it is served.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s a dreamy tone to this artful drama… The plot is meandering and vague, so it’s not clear what actor-filmmaker Drew Harwood is saying, but the ideas that he throws around have an intriguing kick to them, while the archly surreal tone and quietly intense interaction holds the interest.” – Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall (contemporaneous)

14*. THE BABY OF MÂCON (1993)

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RecommendedBeware

DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Julia Ormond, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Stone, Jonathan Lacey, Frank Egerton

PLOT: A passion-play performed in 17th-century Florence tells the story of a child born to a geriatric woman. The old woman’s daughter claims to be the child’s virgin mother and makes brisk business selling the “miraculous” infant’s blessings, while the local bishop’s son suspiciously observes her. Meanwhile, the local nobles in the audience interact with the onstage proceedings.

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was partially inspired by an uproar surrounding an advertising campaign that featured a newborn baby still attached to its umbilical cord. Greenaway was perplexed by the public’s reaction, and set out to create an unflinching depiction of the actual evils of murder and rape.
  • The Catholic Church revoked permission for the film crew to shoot in the Cologne Cathedral after Greenaway’s previous film, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, & her Lover, aired on German television two days before shooting was to begin.
  • The Baby of Mâcon premiered at Cannes, but was seldom seen after that. Although it booked some dates in Europe, no North American distributor would agree to take on the film due to its subject matter. To this day it has still not been released on physical media in Region 1/A, although it finally became available for streaming in the 2020s.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It is a perennial challenge to choose one image from a Greenaway picture; he regards film as a visual medium, not a tool to adapt literature. The shot of the bored young aristocrat, Cosimo de Medici, knocking over the two-hundred-and-eighth pin, signifying the end to the erstwhile virgin’s gang-rape, best merges Greenaway’s sense of mise-en-scène, his disgust for authority, and his undercurrent of odd humor.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Body secretion auction; death by gang-rape

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fusing the most ornate costumes this side of the Baroque era with organized religion at its worst, The Baby of Mâcon is a lushly beautiful, sickening indictment of a fistful of humanity’s evils. Stylized stage performances integrate increasingly seamlessly with the side-chatter of (comparatively) modern viewers’ commentary who concurrently desire to take part in the make-believe. Greenaway moves his actors and their audience around each other with an expertise matched only by the growing moral horror developing onscreen.


Short clip from The Baby of Mâcon

COMMENTS: As the audience for The Baby of Mâcon, we bear witness to its iniquities. As witnesses, we bear responsibility: responsibility for the fraudulence of the baby’s aunt when she alleges she’s Continue reading 14*. THE BABY OF MÂCON (1993)

CAPSULE: KINETTA (2005)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Giorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos

PLOT: “At a Greek hotel in the off-season, a chamber maid, a man obsessed with BMWs, and a photo-store clerk attempt to film and photograph various badly reenacted struggles between a man and a woman.

COMMENTS: If I am reviewing a film I enjoy or respect (or better yet, both), I am often apprehensive when I sit down to write about it. This is because, despite having written hundreds of reviews by now, I am always fearful I won’t find my “window” into the movie: that first sentence, or first idea, that opens up the rest of my thoughts as I write. If I am reviewing a film that I did not care for, this is not a problem, as there’s usually at least one withering put-down that acts as my window. With Kinetta, I was spoiled for choices. A high point in the movie came early on when I was relieved to find that I wouldn’t, as I was fearing, have to make use of “Closed Caption” subtitles: it turned out the film already had standard subtitles pre-rigged in the stream. This resolved, I watched and took notes; to my right, my cat, Goose, did the sensible thing and slept soundly through the entire film.

Whoever provided the summary on IMDb (which I lifted straight from the site, for the second time only), is a very well-spoken person. That is exactly what Kinetta is “about”, and no amount of “walk time” padding or shaky-cam “fight” footage can stop my train of thought from slapping quotations around everything in a vain attempt to convey how mind-numbingly pointless this cinematic exercise is. Of the three leads, the least charismatic (the “BMW”-fanboy, who may be a cop [?]) gets by far and away the most dialogue. Cameraman, with beard, has perhaps half a dozen short lines, but comes across as the only reasonable person of the bunch. The scene in which he saves the hotel maid character from a drug overdose makes for the only worthwhile stretch of movie—right in the final minutes. But well before that point, a question came unbidden to my mind, “Why don’t the MST3K or RiffTrax people make better use of their skills by tearing art-house garbage to pieces?”

I dove into this review because it was put out there by Management toward the top of the to-do pile. Though I’ve seen one of the director’s more recent movies (with other 366ers, no less), I was totally unfamiliar with his name. So I say to you, Mr. Lanthimos, as I am sure you are reading a review of your (kind of) feature debut from fifteen years ago: good job on overcoming the naysayers. While the likes of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster prove you know how to make really good movies, Kinetta stands as proof-in-celluloid that you can make a really horrible one if you put your mind to it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Viewing ‘Kinetta’ with the benefit of hindsight, you can see inklings of visual and staging ideas that Lanthimos would explore more fully later on… But time hasn’t made it more than a cryptic curiosity.”–Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times (2019 revival)