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“I proudly slam my flag in the sand that Saint Bernard is not for ‘them’— whoever ‘them’ is, but you and I know who ‘them’ are— and I don’t want ‘them’ seeing the film.” —Gabriel Bartalos
DIRECTED BY: Gabriel Bartalos
FEATURING: Jason Dugre
PLOT: An orchestra conductor travels through an increasingly bizarre milieux while carrying a dog’s severed head in a bag.
Gabriel Bartalos only directed two features, the bizarro slasher film Skinned Deep (2004) and this one. He was, however, much in demand as a practical special effects and makeup expert, working on many popular horror movies (including several Frank Henenlotter projects). He also provided effects and makeup Matthew Barney‘s “Cremaster” films (2, 3, and 4).
The film is dedicated to Benoît LeStang, a French make-up/special effects artist involved in, among many other projects, Brotherhood of the Wolf.
Saint Bernard was shot on 35mm film over the course of 10 days in a screen ratio of 1.78:1; standard dimensions in France—a country somehow on the hook for producing this.
The movie is only known to have screened once—at the San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival—before being released to Blu-ray in 2019.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Seeing as this story is chock-full of unsettling and grotesque sequences, the whimsical emergence of young conductor Bernard from a sweet-dreams variant of the Něco z Alenky mansion stands out for its sunny magical surrealism. The smiling lad in a crisp white suit and bow-tie ably batons through a classical performance amplified from an iPod for a receptive audience of his peers.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Doggie bag; Uncle Ed the Music Monster
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Saint Bernard is intensely cryptic, but always engaging—even as the symbolism (or, perhaps mere randomness) is slapped on without mercy. Our cursèd conductor endures the unfathomable: liberation by chainsaw-wielding Frenchman; a run-in with a deformed wino police chief; a would-be escape through a fecal puddle emitted by Static Boy. Is it all meaningless? Perhaps; but this is Goremeister Arthäus . It may waste your time, but it does so with gooey gusto.
PLOT: When a local business magnate begins selling Angel Dust, he’d better watch out for Tucker Williams: an ex-cop turned… Disco Godfather.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: This was a borderline case right up until the final minutes, its tone kept a bit off-kilter by recurring PCP-hallucination interludes. With the protagonist (unwillingly) dosed to the eyeballs for the climax, Disco Godfather grooves into avowedly bizarre territory, culminating in a strangely unsettling closing shot.
COMMENTS: “He’s alone. But how? That’s what I call balls!”
Rudy Ray Moore, as the Disco Godfather, does have balls—and a mission to “attack the Wack!” That’s right. This “wack” threatens to ruin the Godfather’s dance-loving city, and more personally, to ruin his nephew’s NBA prospects. From the opening disco dance sequence, to the later disco dance sequences, even to the climactic martial arts raid, there is a lot of disco. Quotable lines twang forth like a steady bass-line. Hair is tall, as are the shoes, with heels as elongated as the collars are wide. (Face it, you already know from the title whether you want to see this.)
After the opening number wheels out the titular hero (nearly always referred to as “Disco Godfather”, even by his former boss, police Lieutenant Whitey Hayes), it then introduces Bucky: swell guy and aspiring basketballer who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Through Bucky, the Disco Godfather is made aware of a new scourge assailing the city’s youth. The subsequent action is fairly by-the-numbers: the Godfather visits a PCP ward full of swaying crazies; he hits up the police station to confab with his ex-partners; he’s targeted for a hit by evil business; and, of course, he jives through a “cleaning up the city” montage, laying down some righteous violence on the dope peddlers while on a hunt for information leading to Mister Big. (All of this being scored, of course, to disco.)
So, Disco Godfather has more than enough disco to live up to its name. The question becomes: does it have enough weird? This is a question it takes its sweet time answering. Bucky’s hallucination sequence on the dance floor—having puffed an Angel Dusted cigarette—is a hint of the weirdness to come. Bucky exhibits strange tics, spastic behavior (remember, disco is supposed to be all about the Smooth, with a capital “Smoo”), and strange exclamations. But we are also shown what Bucky is enduring: an odd dark-room madness with red-eyed demons, basketballers wielding six guns, and a recurrent nightmare dancer brandishing a machete. Every time we witness a PCPerience, it’s a different variation of this macabre theme, with the most elaborate and sustained trip being that suffered by the Disco Godfather himself. Fusing low-rent effects, sinister voice-over, karate chops, the boogying bopper “Shermanizing/One Way Ticket To Hell” blaring in the background, and a Wacked-out Godfather, things get way out there, man.
Part disco dance movie, part blaxsploitation, and part evangelizing, Disco Godfather is an uneven experience, but whenever the choreography stumbles, it instantly bounces back into stylish saunter. It’s got too much funk to be sunk, too much soul to feel old, and enough velour to ensure that when Tucker comes calling, the baddies start falling.
PLOT: Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop, suffers a permanent spinal injury when rescuing a convict neck-deep in floodwater from Hurricane Katrina. Shortly thereafter he is promoted to the rank of police lieutenant and develops an opiate addiction, accrues massive gambling debts, and finds himself investigating the murder of five Senegalese immigrants. Over the course of the case, he teams up with local crime kingpin, “Big Fate,” in the hopes of keeping his head above water.
Abel Ferrara made the cult film Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel as a drug, sex and gambling addicted cop investigating the rape of a nun, in 1992. Port of Call: New Orleans is neither a sequel nor a true remake.
The original New York City setting was changed at Nicolas Cage’s request in order to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (How the gesture would accomplish this is unclear.)
Director Werner Herzog claimed to never have seen Abel Ferrara‘s original, only signing on to the project because Cage requested him so to do.
It took nearly a decade for Werner Herzog and Abel Ferrara to bury the hatchet after Ferrara expressed his dismay at the project going forward without any input from him.
Adding to his list of “unlikely ingestibles”, Nicolas Cage inhaled baby powder every time his character snorted cocaine (or heroin).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: With the entire feature viewed from Lieutenant McDonagh’s perspective, its unreliability is a given—this is a man who loves his uppers, downers, and sleep deprivation. On the off chance the viewer considers taking his story at face value, this notion is disabused by a pair of phantom iguanas eyed suspiciously by McDonagh to the dulcet tones of “Please Release Me.”
TWO WEIRD THINGS: “There ain’t no iguana”; break-dancing soul
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cram a police procedural through the esoteric whims of Werner Herzog’s brain, then project this mishmash of corruption, drugs, nostalgia, and iguanas onto the frantic gesticulation of Nicolas Cage as a chronic back-pain sufferer going through some really heavy shit right now, and you have Bad Lieutenant.
Trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
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DIRECTED BY: Janek Ambros
FEATURING: Chris Blim, Alex Loynaz, Alyssa Sabo, Jessica Jade Andres, Ted Evans
PLOT: A being from the 5th dimension enlists the help of a purveyor of magic mushrooms and observes a cross-section of the town’s residents in an effort to define the concept of “mondo.”
COMMENTS: The fabled Hollywood sign, symbol of dazzling entertainment throughout the world and physical representation of the film industry’s outsized sense of self-importance, began its existence as an advertisement. “HOLLYWOODLAND” arose in the Santa Monica mountains nearly 100 years ago to lure prospective Southern California residents to a new real estate development. The last four letters were stricken when the sign made its shift from billboard to civic symbol, and the sign enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom.
So while the most obvious inspiration for the title of Mondo Hollywoodland would seem to be the similarly named 1967 quasi-documentary about the region’s curious subcultures, the newer film leans more into Hollywoodland’s origins as a neighborhood. The Dream Factory is ever-present in the lives of the absurd, deluded, ridiculous people chronicled here, but they are still people, and this is a movie that looks for the community among them.
Early on, when the narrator identifies himself has being from the 5th dimension (presumably not the band), we can take comfort in knowing that everything about to ensue is pretty silly. Further exemplifying the flimsy structure of this endeavor is the decision to divide Southern California society into three classes, each of which is trying to buy into the Hollywood dream despite repeatedly seeing the cracks in the façade.
We begin with the Titans, ostensibly the power brokers who make blockbuster entertainment and break the hearts of aspiring stars. And yet our focus on Ted, a perpetually coked-up mid-level executive desperately trying to bring a Disney Channel starlet to heel, reveals these masters of the universe to be puny. There is no world beyond sci-fi epics and last-minute dialogue changes for these Titans, and Ted’s triumphant fist pump (earned by completely caving in) belies his fear at losing what little power he has.
The Weirdos occupy the opposite end of the spectrum, determined to better their world and generally clueless about how to do so. Hoping to take down a Trump-allied neo-Nazi, they pass out flyers at a gun-sense rally. Meanwhile, on the artistic front, they advocate for harmony. One even mediates a conflict between two pieces of wood. They are obsessed with politics, the state of the world, and whether their empathy and good intentions are enough to bring about utopia. At least, they are when they’re not tripping. Weirdo Daphne is so disillusioned with the slow pace of change that she takes matters into her own hands, torching a car. “Hope they got the message,” she says, even though it’s doubtful if even she knows what the message might be.
Enter the Dreamers, certain that their taste of fame and fortune is just around the corner. Not surprisingly, this section of the film flirts with sadness, as all these dreams seem to be deferred. From an agent whose clients are all up for the biggest roles but never get the gig to an acting coach whose credibility derives entirely from his stint on “Mad About You” to a wannabe fitness guru who longs for even the reflected glory of training the stars. Central to this section is Anna, the granddaughter of a one-time Grace Kelly stand-in who goes on a date to a concert by the grandson of Bing Crosby. The barest glimmer of Hollywood’s allure is being pushed away by generations.
Boyle, the hapless mushroom dealer, is our connecting thread, popping in and out of stories while still carrying on his own peculiar battle against the rats hiding in his rented bungalow. Regularly high on his own product, he is frequently flummoxed by the simplest interactions, and wants only for things to be “groovy,” a condition that has eluded him since the disappearance of his cat. But he also becomes the unifying force that brings our Titan, Weirdo, and Dreamer together in a genuinely hilarious low-rent heist. They’re a marvelously motley crew, and the success of this scene at the film’s climax is a tribute to the laid-back vibe Mondo Hollywoodland cultivates.
We never learn, precisely, what “mondo” is to this crowd, but if it means anything, it’s a special kind of magic that happens when aspirations manage to outdistance reality. Mondo Hollywoodland is self-evidently a Dreamer’s enterprise (having nabbed actor James Cromwell as an executive producer, the film’s publicity spares no effort to highlight the connection), but it is determined to face down the formidable opposition of a negative world and to be, in the end, groovy.
FEATURING: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides
PLOT: New Orleans paramedics discover that a series of bizarre deaths are linked to a new designer drug called “synchronic.”
COMMENTS: The designer drug “Synchronic” is not “red marijuana,” as some (including us) had speculated, but comes in pill form and is passingly described as “bath salts.” The “chronic” in the drug’s name doesn’t reference weed at all, but has a different derivation, and the movie doesn’t have any relation to the story shared in Moorhead and Benson’s Resolution and The Endless. Synchronic is, instead, a slightly bigger-budgeted turn towards the mainstream for the pair, with two moderate movie star leads in Anthony Mackie (Marvel universe’s “Falcon”) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Gray).
Unusually, I found Synchronic‘s dramatic setup more entertaining than its sci-fi twist. Steve (Mackie) drinks a lot and pops codeine pills. Is he turning into a “junkie paramedic cliche,” as his partner fears, or is there a deeper reason? While Steve is an aging bachelor still playing the field, Dennis (Dornan) long ago settled down with a wife and kid. Each partner envies the other’s lifestyle just a little. Dennis’ daughter, Tara, is a good kid but, like a lot of 18-year-olds, unsure what she wants to do with her life; right now, her passion is for staying out all night partying. Meanwhile, the two paramedics are called into scenes where they find zonked-out druggies with strange, sometimes inexplicable injuries—like the skull-faced voodoo practitioner who won’t stop laughing despite his compound fracture—all linked to a new designer drug that’s plaguing the city.
So the characters are likable, their situations dramatic and relatable, and they’re all set up for a speculative blast that will blow the hinges off. The problem is that when the sci-fi twist arrives, it’s basic and contrived, and not weird enough to compensate for its unbelievability. The drug’s mechanism is revealed in explicit detail less than halfway through the movie, taking away a potential source of mystery. If you accept the silly premise, what follows is logical—too logical. Even the characters’ emotional arcs are predictable. The trippy promise of the opener, with reality dissolving and reassembling as the synchronic kicks in on an elevator ride, never materializes. All in all, it’s like a run-of-the-mill episode of the “X-Files”; watchable, but nothing special. Synchronic would have been a promising debut film from a new director, but it’s a bit of a letdown from a duo who looked like they were pushing boundaries and getting weirder and weirder.
PLOT: Heroin addict Barry is possessed by a creature from outer space.
COMMENTS: Looking like a pre-mortem Crypt Keeper but with a glorious goatee, Gary Green’s gaunt visage may be Fried Barry‘s greatest asset. It’s not surprising that someone would want to build a film around that face, even if for most of the movie it does nothing but stare blankly. Balding, but with long stringy hair (and thin, but with a surprisingly cut physique), Green looks the part of a deteriorating addict under constant threat of eviction. I enjoyed looking at that face even when the attached film dragged it into shaggy, often improvised vignettes.
The movie begins with “adults only and no one else!” content disclaimer promising (er, I mean, warning of) “explicit language, nudity, and strong scenes of high impact sexual violence…” The explicit language box is simple enough to check off. There is nudity—and some awkward fully-clothed sex—because, apparently, bedraggled aliens with bug-eyed stares attract the ladies like flies. There is also plenty of violence, but not really any “high impact” sexual violence (it’s indirect, homophobic sexual violence). There is, on the other hand, a lot of senseless non-sexual violence—including an uncharacteristic detour into torture porn that ends in a chainsaw battle—if that counts for anything. What the presenter in the opening didn’t warn about was the public toilet sex, hospital corridor pooping, or adult breastfeeding. Or the hard drug porn: whether it be old-fashioned shooting up, complementary club ecstasy, or random junk smoked out of a light bulb, all of Barry’s friends (and about half of the random strangers he meets on the street) want to get him high for free. And what the presenter especially doesn’t warn you about is the insta-birth alien conception scene…
In other words, Fried Barry‘s exploitation credentials check out. There are also decent dollops of weirdness in its nearly structureless runtime. Ten minutes into the movie Barry shoots up, finds himself submerged underwater, has flashbacks, sees colored lights, and levitates into the heavens. Then, some weird stuff happens in what we assume is an alien spacecraft. After returning to Earth, he takes a few more psychedelic trips, becomes a dad, uses his eyelids as remote controls, has visions of an old guy singing in tongues while doing a soft-shoe routine, and makes a highly illogical escape from the loony bin. These snatches of madness break up his odd encounters with various prostitutes, lowlifes, and eerily cheerful cheese-sample pushers.
Fried Barry is part of a mini-tradition of movies about mute or verbally challenged outsiders/aliens wandering about urban areas, holding up mirror to society. There’s more than a little Bad Boy Bubby (1993) here: Barry speaks no dialogue save what he repeats, and his son is even named “Bubby,” in what surely must be a tribute. Barry also can heal like the Brother from Another Planet (1984); at least, he does so once. There’s a touch of Under the Skin (2013), too, and maybe even a drop of Liquid Sky (1982). For all the nods, Fried Barry brings nothing new to this particular table. What it especially doesn’t bring is any kind of visible ideas. Barry’s ordeal is most naturally viewed as one long, drug-induced psychosis. If you take the story at face value, it’s a sci-fi film about aliens who travel across the inky blackness of space to South Africa so they can possess heroin addicts and… who don’t have much of a plan beyond that. Fried Barry won’t give you any great sociological or existential insights, but if it’s a mindbending trip to the outer limits of consciousness you’re after, it’s a lot safer than sticking a needle in your arm—or being beamed up by saucers.
Giles Edwards adds: Fried Barry left me feeling that pleasantly odd, detached sensation I get when I watch a weird movie, and so I make this pitch on its behalf for Apocryphizing. The lead’s performance alone is a continuous oddity–almost 100 minutes of jittery reactions. Gary Green is always interesting to look at, and observing his “Barry” go through four drug overdoses (that I could count) was impressive. With virtually no dialogue for his character, it was like watching the half-awake facsimile of Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks: the Return stumble, dance, and twitch through two jam-packed days full of run-ins with thugs, unlikely escapes, and even the daring rescue of a dozen kidnapped children.
The lighting and score of Fried Barry supplement Green’s spastic tics, rendering his forty-eight-hour (?) journey somewhere between reality and unreality, further rendering the unreal somewhere between an exalted and sinister dream. In particular, Barry’s abduction comes across as an unsettling fusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a H.R. Geiger-saturated nightmare. The pulsing electro-score and violently-hued color schemes add a shining varnish to Barry’s jerking physical flow. When the ominous “Intermission” sequence spooled on-screen, I finally gave up on trying to guess where the heck this movie was going and let myself sit back to enjoy the wild fried.
PLOT: A corporate lawyer decides to cut loose one night, but regrets it when a strange drug dealer convinces him to try an exotic hallucinogen whose effects last several days and make him randomly skip forward in time.
COMMENTS: I was confused as to what genre to place The Wave. It’s not reality-based enough to be science fiction, and nor is it divorced enough from reality to be fantasy. It’s not magical realism, either. The issues it explores are more philosophical than dramatic. Psychological thriller kind of works, but the film is not nearly as dark as that term usually implies. The pacing (and the occasional light mugging from the leads) suggests that the movie wants to be taken as a comedy. Indeed, the setup, with straight-laced corporate lawyer Frank sneaking out for a night on the town with his more adventurous (and nigh-irresponisible) buddy suggest suits-cut-loose shenanigans a laSomething Wild are coming. But the movie also takes itself kind of seriously, and lacks moments that play for big laughs.
The mongrel term “dramedy” is a possibility, but in the end I think The Wave really belongs to that rare and disreputable subgenre, the “trip movie.” It’s not an exploitation piece—although there are drug porn moments, like when we see a heaping mound of hundreds of thousands of dollars of uppers, downers, pills and powders spread across a grinning dealer’s table. The Wave‘s money shots are its wavery lysergic visions—especially when one of the mystery drug’s waves kicks in at a corporate board meeting, turning the executives into a bunch of Mammon-channeling demons. (The visuals here are simple but effective—it looks like they digitally painted over every frame of film, an effect that looks like rotoscoping done in MS Paint). At its core, the script posits that psychedelic drugs have legitimate spiritual healing qualities—that all that most self-centered lawyer needs is a high enough dose to turn himself on, grok karma, and become a self-sacrificing hippie.
The script may be naive at heart, but it hides it well. After Frank takes the mystery drug, the plot barrels along, lurching forward in time. Frank might suddenly find himself in a deserted house, or in the middle of a car chase, without explanation. Blackouts may be a side effect of the drug, but there’s something mystical about the process, too. By the end, the plot points snap into place nicely. The leads are all pro. Donald Faison provides good buddy support, playing the bad angel or good angel as needed; Sheila Vand, the mystic pixie dream girl, is luminous in her dream sequences; and Ronnie Gene Blevins overacts quite appropriately as the hellbent drug dealer antagonist. Justin Long makes a great Frank. He has a pleasant John Krasinski-meets-Fred Armisen quality here; you can’t stay mad at him, even when blind ambition is leading him to screw the beneficiaries of a dead firefighter out of their rightful proceeds. The screenplay hates the game, not the player, and redemption is just a trip away. Everything doesn’t quite work as it should: some characters, like the shrewish wife and the ruthless CEO, are cardboard caricatures; the score adds little; and, since the mystery drug comes at you in waves, the movie probably should have been titled in the plural. But if a mysterious Scotsman in a fur coat offers you The Wave, consider taking it. Rough patches aside, the crisp acting, inventive visuals, and speedy pace make it a trip you probably won’t regret taking.
The Wave shows up in selected cinemas, and more widely on video-on-demand, this Friday, January 17.