Tag Archives: Comedy

CAPSULE: SPACE JAM (1996)

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DIRECTED BY: Joe Pytka

FEATURING: Michael Jordan, Bill Murray, Wayne Knight; voices of Billy West, Dee Bradley Baker, Bob Bergen, Kath Soucie, Danny DeVito

PLOT: Recently retired basketballer Michael Jordan is abducted by Bugs Bunny and the “Looney Tunes” gang to help them avoid enslavement by the evil Swackhammer, corporate overlord of Planet Moron.

COMMENTS: The other night, I let the mid-’90s wash over me like a quarter-century-old wave of dodged memories. They were all there: late-to-new-career Michael Jordan, mid-career Bill Murray, post-career “Looney Tunes,” and radio-friendly basketball hip hop . Wheaties, Gatorade, and KFC all had name drops or slogan references. And there I was: having very little idea who any of these athletes were. However, I did recognize the salient cinematic points of interest. Space Jam is the kind of movie that screams 1990s: the pacing, the musical score, the editing transitions, and the impressively hit-and-miss humor. Growing up, everyone I knew from school had seen this; now, I too can say that I have seen Space Jam, and I find myself utterly unbothered for having done so.

The story takes little more than sixty minutes to tell, which I gather is appropriate for a game consisting of four fifteen-minute quarters. Michael Jordan (Michael Jordan) has just announced his retirement from basketball in order to pursue his dream of mastering the world of baseball. He does badly on the Boston Barons team, but is beloved by the holdover fans. His life evolves from mildly depressing to mildly annoying when Stan Podolak (Wayne Knight) becomes his personal assistant. In the parallel story, alien overlord Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito) orders his goons to filch a new attraction for his failing amusement park, sending them lightly brained but heavily armed to the land of “Looney Tunes.” The real and animated worlds collide mid-golf round while Jordan is on the links with Bill Murray and Larry Bird. Soon, the big game comes and…

…and at around the thirty-seven-minute mark, when everything had been set up, I began to worry. There were still fifty minutes of this benign nonsense to go, and I couldn’t imagine how far they might stretch it. However, this being “Looney Tunes,” I should have known to count on it not over-staying its welcome. Before the fifteen-plus minutes of credits, we meet sassy, mid-’90s “Don’t Ever Call Me ‘Doll'” hot bunny girl Lola, view an inordinate number of Bugs Bunny butt-shots, hear a delightful bitch-o-logue from Daffy Duck while he visits our world to retrieve Jordan’s lucky sports gear, and sit in adequately-entertained wonder while a well-paced finale teaches us the importance both of self confidence and having a Murray-ex-machina on the sidelines.

Space Jam is a childhood touchstone for many, and having watched it for the first time in (comparatively) old age, I begrudge them not a jot. This viewing is timely, too, as we brace ourselves for the new Space Jam saga; I know I’m not the only one hoping we can get Alfred Eaker‘s two cents on that forthcoming cultural feast.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This weirdly entertaining little curiosity, which seamlessly combines vintage Looney Tunes characters with live-action footage, is dominated by Jordan’s nice-guy personality.”–Joe Baltake, Sacramento Bee (contemporaneous)

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

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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)

CAPSULE: LAVA (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Ayar Blasco

FEATURING: Voices of Sofía Gala Castiglione; (English dub)

PLOT: The world is invaded by mysterious beings whose arsenal includes broadcast hypnotism and giant cats; a tattoo artist and her friends try to survive.

Still from Lava (2019)

COMMENTS: There’s a threat to mankind, and it goes well beyond the mysterious bus-sized cats, the paralysis-inducing video broadcasts, and the ever-increasing horde of giant Wicked Witches patrolling the streets. Yessir, the real threat is the rise of the “Lachrymal Culture”.

For a movie as silly as Lava, the nigh-archaic term “lachrymose” crops up a lot. However, it’s what Débora and her friends must fight against. We are told that the tattoo artists are the chosen ones, and they will be saved; we are told that “fanzines” are the only way to combat the menace; we are told that the cats can be thwarted with a K4 automatic rifle—or, as with regularly-sized cats, spritzed water will do. We are told a lot of things as this gang of Argentine misfits wanders around. Further topics of discussion include: mythology (particularly Norse), fluid identity, and layered conspiracies.

With something this breezy and laid-back (and adequately amusing), it’s tough to be too critical. It’s also tough to find much to write about when the “Plot” description above hits just about all the major points. Between that and the screen-capture provided, you’ll probably know if Lava is right for you. The movie’s barely over an hour long, and it feels like a web-toon series pasted together (the animation style strongly suggests it, with cuts to black every five-to-eight minutes reinforcing the sentiment). I haven’t watched it in the original (Argentine) Spanish, but the dub worked well enough—perhaps even adding some amusing incongruency, what with Garofalo and others performing in their American tones while referring to Spanish-language signs and newspapers.

On a personal note, as an advocate of interpersonal communication in person, I approved of Lava‘s general “anti-smartphone” attitude. And, naturally, the giant cats were darn cute.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this isn’t for everybody. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s for a narrow range of film buffs who grew up in the 90s, have a certain simpatico for sci-fi and fantasy, don’t mind a little romance, and prefer their movies to be as completely whacko as they possibly can be – the less mainstream, the better… don’t say I didn’t warn you about the weird part.”–Carlos de Villalvilla, Cinema 365 (contemporaneous)