Tag Archives: Comedy

CAPSULE: REFLECT (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Dana Kippel

FEATURING: Dana Kippel, Ryan Jack Connell, Grace Patterson, Marissa Patterson, Ariana Williams, Jadelyn Breier

PLOT: Five women travel to Sedona, Arizona to win a cash prize for completing a “spiritual obstacle course” (which turns out to be a front for an alien reality show).

Still from Reflect (2023)COMMENTS: Reflect, a girls-trip comedy that morphs into a psychedelic journey of self-discovery, seems to be aware that some of its ideas may come across as ridiculous. That may be the reason for the playful subplot pretending that character’s spiritual pilgrimage to the energy-vortex-ridden metaphysical mecca of Sedona is also an interdimensional alien reality show. Their lisping spiritual guide, Hermes, is a holy fool, bleating like a lamb, laughing off his own spiritual declarations, and engaging in silly hijinks like playing maracas while walking backwards, then giving status updates for the alien TV audience. Before embarking on the journey, the bougiest participant howls, “Time to get our chakras aligned, bitches!” And the movie is peppered with a few trailer-ready quips like “I’m down for being abducted. I’m not down for being killed by shadow people.”

But while Reflect sometimes presents as a comedy, at other times, it’s harder to tell whether it’s joking or not: our protagonist, Summer, tells the carload of down-to-chakra-align babes “so, aliens are basically higher versions of ourselves, right? So maybe these vortexes are doorways to other dimensions, like a wormhole.” The other women scoff, but maybe Summer’s just read the script. The gentle jokes—which never get within spitting distance of satire—are a preemptive defensive reaction: writer/director/star Kippel showing that she’s not taking all this too seriously. This language may sound silly to you, but it’s all really just a metaphor to help you… reflect. But the humor slips away as the movie progresses, and the script grows more earnest. By the midpoint, another guide delivers the monologue “Pluto is in Capricorn until 2023. This means that Pluto is forcing an upsurge of awareness of the current patriarchal ruling that uses control, fear, and destructive practices of the industrial world. It is time for a triune society…” without an ounce of irony.

What we have here is a bunch of basic white girls (even the black girl) with the optional astrology upgrade, off on a drug-free vision quest. A helpful opening scorecard associates each participant with a Tarot card and describes, among other relevant facts, their “shadow.” (One of the girls’ shadows is listed as “depression,” which is not exactly in-depth analysis, but I guess it’s OK given the space allotted). The “spirituality” they seek is amorphous, but is really more about basic psychology, overcoming generic neuroses about sexual orientation, suburban trauma (nothing too dark), and resentment towards their mothers. The ladies achieve insights into the source of their psychological quirks—I mean, “shadows”—and then, for unexplained reasons, fail at whatever undefined test the obstacle course/alien reality show is proposing. Summer goes through exactly the same process as the others, and passes the test (although the movie cuts off before she receives her cash prize). Enlightenment is a mysterious thing.

Fortunately, we do get some trippy surface weirdness in the second half to complement the subtextual weirdness of the movie’s vaguely ridiculous belief system. A series of eccentric guides, nightmare flashbacks, glowing spheres, blurry double-image lenses, and encounters with a trio of sarcastic goth vampires highlight the film’s hallucinogenic character (which, again, is explicitly not tied to drugs). But for many, Reflect‘s true surrealism will come from gawking at a the relics of the New Age subculture. This film is aimed at a specific demographic, and they have eaten it up. But it’s easier to believe that aliens are using the Sedona vortexes as sets for their interdimensional reality shows than that a low-budget indie sorta-comedy full of unknown generic blondes deserves the same 8.1 IMDb rating as Jaws or The Seventh Seal. The good news is that there is a market for tiny subcultural niche films like Reflect. The bad news is that, when those of us not in that subculture see it, we must resist the ungallant urge to mock that which we don’t believe. It’s an internal struggle not every viewer will be able to overcome.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Writer-director-star Dana Kippel might be exploring the psychic scars of the mother-daughter bond (she herself is adopted) via the characters and their trippy encounters and hallucinations on this vision quest… [but t]he ‘insights’ are trite, the characters thinly-sketched irritants and the indulgent, self-absorbed ‘journey’ story makes too little sense to be easy to “trip” through.”–Roger Moore, Movie Nation (contemporaneous)

WEIRD VIEW CREW: CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989)

Is the almost-90s feminist satire Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (starring Bill Maher, Adrienne Barbeau and Shannon Tweed) weird? Cannibal Women inspires Pete Trbovich to offer four rules to tell whether the movie you’re watching is weird or not. (Hint: if it offers a “time of the month” joke, it’s probably not weird.)

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

SLAMDANCE 2024: ODDS & ENDS

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Bitcoin Car

Trygve Luktvasslimo has many things to say about the evils of global business, agricultural affairs, and especially bitcoin. As screeds go, Bitcoin Car is, at least, a largely whimsical one. The plot description (if you’ll pardon the long quotation)—“a musical adventure in which a young goat farmer on a small coastal village finds herself on collision course with the megalomaniac death wish of a young crypto investor. After her brother comes home for the summer, she has to explain that she’s partially responsible for the gold-plated bitcoin mining facility located on top of the cemetery where their parents are buried because she accepted a lot of money in order to pimp out — and gold plate — her old Toyota”—suggests a number of possibilities, and its oddness is what caught our eye.

However, Gloria’s campaign against Big Crypto is peppered with long remarks extolling the evils of This (I do feel that bitcoin mining is an appalling waste of resources), and the goodness of That (I do not feel that digging in a hole in the ground should be romanticized). Bitcoin Car is capably executed by all involved, and has a few fun musical interludes with singing angelic electrons (“My Electric Blues,” with accordion and holy chorus, is an unalloyed delight), but it is far more preachy than weird.

Darla in Space

Are you getting enough from your kombucha? Sure, it may revivify and refine your gut—but where are the mind-blowing orgasms? Susie Moon and Eric LaPlante feel you deserve more. It’s nothing tawdry (despite the motel backdrop), it’s therapeutic, a “menage.” And unless your scoby is getting your rocks off, are you really having a refreshing quaff of kombucha?

Darla in Space is a fairly compact experience in cuteness, supported by solid performances and a charismatically deadpan scoby around the size of a kiddie pool. Darla is in horrible debt to the IRS (courtesy of her insensitive mother), and a chance discovery of a sensitive, sentient scoby (referred to as… “Mother”) puts her on the path to paying off her massive tax burden through its power of delivering mind-blowing orgasms.

Characters are established (Darla is quirky, as we know from the start with her advertisement for “Kitty Kaskets”), plot points are ticked, montages montage, and complications in the film, as in life, get complicated. But, this being a movie, we know all loose ends will be tied. Alex E. Harris keeps the hipster-awkward Darla just this side of believable, and J.S. Oliver provides a cuddlier take on the HAL phenomenon. Perhaps worth another look by our crack squad here at 366, but at least all the synopses, trailers, and press releases are up-front about the hyper-quirk. You have been warned. (Or, just as reasonably, you have been intrigued.)

The Washer

Major points awarded to writer/director/&c. Nils A Witt for this science-fiction oddity. His protagonist’s assuredness and mechanical aptitude renders The Washer a combination of Primer and Pi,  as our hero (of sorts) falls deeper and deeper into developing his time-bending invention comprised of an ever-growing array of synchronized washing machines. There is never any point in this tech-thriller where the premise is explained, even with the clever inclusion of various academic-looking types explaining this, that, and the other about the physics of time, space, light, and causality.

Jan is at the start of his career with what appears to be a small but respectable law firm, but his growing fascination with the spinning, watery-eye of his washing machine’s view port shunts him down a rabbit hole of strange science and personal alienation. As his research deepens, a mysterious woman stalks the periphery, and his failure to pay his bills—alongside the tremendous increase in water and electricity use noticed by the municipality—grind him down, leaving him covered in grease, clothed in ragged garments, and limping by the time he has fully assembled his rig. While Witt’s directorial debut makes the human toll all too clear, the science is left both mysterious and mundane. The Washer is a nice, quiet little speculative noodle-scratcher, and I look forward to another Witt work, whether I’ll understand it or not.