Tag Archives: Dystopian

SLAMDANCE 2024: LOVE AND WORK (2024)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Peter Ohs

FEATURING: Stephanie Hunt, Will Madden, Frank Mosley

PLOT: Diane and Fox love to work, a banned practice which may land them in “Time Out,” but this does not thwart their pursuit of productivity.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Quirky black and white dystopian rom-com: sure, we can dig it. But Love and Work‘s particular breed of social commentary is unlike any other I’ve encountered.

COMMENTS: Diane and Fox extol the virtues of The Weekend, without fully grasping just what it is; but in their gut they know The Weekend is good, and that it is good only because of what comes before. Their former boss, still recovering from a stint in Time Out and a close run-in with the Reminders after trying to recreate the workplace, seeks answers from them as they stand on a street corner holding inspirational placards.

It’s better than a hobby. It’s better than a job. It’s The Weekend.

“What’s ‘The Weekend’?”

The answer to all your troubles.

Peter Ohs’ Love and Work is among the breeziest of bleak future visions put to screen. In this world, jobs are outlawed—a mandate enforced, free of charge, by busy-bodies whose only qualification is having memorized every governmental ordinance.

An underground network has grown among those who wish to work, employing coded language to dodge the Reminders who would put them in Time Out (a much-dreaded punishment, though not quite so bad as “The Relaxation Room”). In the foreground are Diane and Fox, two rebels who crave supervision, productivity, and shifts as long as possible.

Will Madden’s gangly Bob Fox attempts to woo Stephanie Hunt’s tight-lipped Diane. Love and Work efficiently pushes romantic comedy tropes to their extreme to bring this pair of ambitious workers together, instilling a level of awareness generally lacking in the hobby-filled, run-down town in which they’re stuck in. A previous boss winces as he shows them the ukulele he’s been doomed to play, and a former co-worker stealthily knits a sweater whilst lurking in a back alley after a crack-down on a job site.

It’s all rather silly, and delightfully so. But it serves a purpose. Loath though I am to phrase it this way, Love and Work is a manifesto, and Ohs and his team have an agenda. The scenario could have been a hyper-capitalist dream: “See? People want to work! They long for it!”; alternately, it could have been some wispy musing on the evils of forced productivity. To my surprise and palpable relief, it turned out to be neither. Love and Work is a fun, oddball little comedy, passing along to the viewer a message of hope: hope for a sensible world, where everyone can truly enjoy The Weekend.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even the character’s speech feels unnatural and broken, almost a cross between a Yorgos Lathimos screenplay and kids trying to sound like adults. The tone of the dialogue works perfectly in tandem with the setting to create the feeling of peeking in on a surreal, alternate universe.”–Elle Cowley, Slug Mag (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FLAMING EARS (1992)

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Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl, Dietmar Schipek

FEATURING: Susana Helmayr, Ursula Puerrer, A. Hans Scheirl

PLOT: Spy makes comics, but her printing press is torched by Volley, a night-club performance artist/pyromaniac who has a pet girlfriend alien named Nun; the year is 2700.

Still from Flaming Ears (1992)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: With a plot as disjointed and intriguing as its stop-motion special effects, Flaming Ears rounds out the low-budget, lo-fi, lo-and-behold dystopian eccentriptych that began with ‘s Jubilee (1978)  and continued with ‘s Liquid Sky (1982).

COMMENTS: The future belongs to the lesbians, and judging from what directors Puerrer, Scheirl, and Schipek have imagined in Flaming Ears, I wish them the best of luck. The year 2700—“the year of toads”—is dismal, dangerous, and wet. Cubo-futuristic flirtations gel with sado-punk aesthetics at the local club; flames and orgasmic grinding flicker together; and love, which does still linger in this society, gloms to the body like a horrible, cherished memory. With no money at their disposal, the directors are free to explore intimacy at odd angles, craft violence with ketchup and cardboard, and cruise through Salzburg’s ramshackle roads at night and in miniature.

The plot trail opens wide and ambiguous, as the lives of Spy, Volley, and Nun intersect in unlikely ways. When Spy’s nib explodes by her face, ink splatters and an old frenemy saunters in. Smooth, suited, and smoking, Magdalena informs Spy that the printers was burnt to the ground. By whom? Well, none other than Volley, who is introduced by a clip-clip crash into Hell, but not before she grinds one out on a handsome side-table coated in lighter fluid. Fluid falls from the ever-dark skies on to the ever-slimy streets, and also onto the ever-red-PVC-clad alien. She wanders the nights when it rains, and she wanders to an erotic art-house dance club. Out front she finds the ailing Spy, who was bounced away by the machine-gun toting bouncer. Then, things get a little less clear.

Flaming Ears is pure punk-house, so don’t worry about the plotline. While I presume that budgetary considerations forced the filmmakers into Super-8 film, its inherent graininess, baked-in contrast, and just-a-bit-off color distortion would make it my first choice for this film. Everything in 2700 sounds “more” (yet another appropriate side-effect: post-production sound), and most of that “more” sounds wet. Drips, drizzles, sprays, spurts, and squishes are all up in your ear. But this is not just an underground soaking sin-fest, it’s an educated one. Last Year at Marienbad and (I would just about swear…) Tetsuo: The Iron Man get a nod in nearly the same breath. And while the post-punk scene in early ’90s Austria may have involved a whole lot of cubo-futurism on its own, Puerrer, Scheirl, and Schipek were wise to harness its jagged incongruity.

This whole exercise is simultaneously a chin-scratcher and an eye-opener, alternating gleaming cheapness with sellotape wonderment—typically in the same scene, or even shot. It doesn’t hurt that all the leads (who make up most of the creative and production team, unsurprisingly) have decent acting chops. They’re probably helped by the fact they’re performing long-crafted personas, but I’d be unsurprised if you told me that A. Hans Scheirl was actually an alien, Ursula Puerrer was a sex-crazed pyro, and that Susana Helmayr was somehow trapped between life and death. So, scrap any expectations, embrace pretensions, and slide skate-feet-first into Flaming Ears Hell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A strange, surreal film that may as well have “destined for cult status” emblazoned across every frame, Flaming Ears is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.”–Lee Jutton, Film Inquiry (re-release screening)

CAPSULE: FP 4EVZ (2023)

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FP 4EVZ is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

Recommended*

*Frrlz

DIRECTED BY: Jason Trost

FEATURING: Jason Trost, Tallay Wickham, Ryan Gibson, Leigh Myles, Mike O’Gorman

PLOT: The wet shit threatens to 187 the FP, and so JTRO and CHAI-T must B.E.A.T. into the futuredoo with their daughter to save the nowsies.

COMMENTS: Let me be abundantly clear: there is no reason for this movie to be this good. No, we are not talking love-child of and Harron—that’d be a real masterpiece. FP 4EVZ, a passion-continuation of Jason Trost’s lifelong FP passion-project, is not high cinema, or even middle cinema. But it’s a refreshing blast to the face, made in the difficult style of haute stupidité. The premise is idiotic—as it has been, it seems, for over a decade now; for those of you not in the knowsies, Trost has been exploring the intersectionality of dystopian living and DDR (re-named in this universe “BEAT”, probably for legal reasons, but also because “Balance/Expeditiousness/Aggression/Tempo” is a delightfully silly sum-up of that whole arrow-stomp-dance nonsense) for his entire professional career.

I have not seen the first three parts of the FP franchise, but that’s okay: this chapter begins with a thorough recap of the machinations so far. Space Ducks once lorded over humanity, which was saved by a visitation from a cosmic entity who brought with it a comet-ful of booze. Civilizations have risen, and fallen. Humanity—or at least, sober humanity—is hanging on by its finger-nails. JTRO, the scion of a BEAT bloodline, is married to the warrior queen CHAI-T, and their daughter CHAI-LATTAY is the chosen one. Chosen to what? Dance. Dance at the direction of flying neon arrows.

There are many flying neon arrows. And countless examples of dum-dum “modern” speak rips and dialogues. No other framework could allow a destiny child be praised as having “the body of a mortal—but the blood and soul of a duck.” Or for a long-dormant thinking machine to not only insist on being referred to by name (“Monsieur Computer”), but sport a stupid beret on its Frenchie AI head graphic.

I eventually gave up on scribbling down the saga-style exposition, the pun-soaked quips, and the genuinely heartfelt speeches, all of which were crafted in an hilarious pastiche of idiotic slang from the past decade. It was all delivered ably—and delivered in all seriousness. And that is the main reason why FP 4EVZ works as well as it does: it never winks at the audience. All the DDR combat, the plot-twists, the CGI desolation: never once did I disbelieve. So take my recommendation with a few grains of salt, perhaps, but Trost’s latest outing is something to revel in—preferably, as they themselves advise before the feature, with at least a few drinks in you.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Z grade in the best of ways. Damn near every shot takes place in front of a green screen, with some cheap After Effects to populate the space. But it’s clear they’re going for a certain aesthetic. It’s all cheese, all the time. There are never any weird elements fading in and out; the effects are well-executed, just a little strange and cheap.”–Tyler Nichols, JoBlo (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Rick King

FEATURING: Corey Haim, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Collet, J. C. Quinn, Julius Harris, Devin Clark

PLOT: In a dystopian near-future where greed and widespread drug addiction have reduced the United States to third-world status, a cult of white-supremacist rollerbladers seeks to consolidate power; a lone skater, Griffin, infiltrates the gang to scuttle their operations and save his little brother.

Still from Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990)

COMMENTS: The brave new world of Prayer of the Rollerboys would seem to be a breeding ground for satire. The schools of the Ivy League have been carted off to Japan brick-by-brick. Mexican troops are repelling American immigrants at the border. Germany has conquered Poland once more, this time with its checkbook. Oh, and there’s rollerblading. Lots of rollerblading. But don’t laugh: screenwriter W. Peter Iliff (from whose pen Point Break and Varsity Blues will soon spring) wants you to be alarmed about even the most outlandish projections for America’s doomed future. There’s darkness coming, and only one thing can save us: Corey Haim.

Poor Corey. The prospective viewer of today might see the presence of the more tragic half of the Coreys in rollerblades as a guarantee of solid so-bad-it’s good entertainment. But it doesn’t turn out that way. It’s no secret masterpiece, but Prayer of the Rollerboys turns out to be a passable action flick, bringing low-budget grittiness and late-80s ethos to a familiar tale, with just a hint of eye-rolling over the near-future mise-en-scene.

After establishing his rollerblading bonafides in the opening credits, we properly meet Haim wearing a barbershop quartet’s striped jacket and boater and slinging an AK-47 for his job as a pizza delivery boy. (His boss: “If anybody messes with the van, [singing] kill ‘em.”) He’s trying to stay out of trouble and take care of his younger brother Miltie. Griffin’s just a good man in a bad world, you see; this world’s version of Marshal Will Kane.

There’s a lot out there to make him wary, like the vast amount of homelessness, the preponderance of populace-pleasing entertainments like nude women wrestling, and of course the narcotic du jour, an phosphorescent inhalant called “Mist.” But the biggest threat comes from the Rollerboys, an organized gang of skating thugs who deal Mist on the downlow while publicly sponsoring food drives and handing out their fascist literature to indoctrinate the masses. They occupy the Venn diagram intersection between Nazi Youth, the Proud Boys, New Kids on the Block, and the cast of Starlight Express. The film luxuriates in the sight of them cruising down the sidewalks of Venice Beach on their inlines, and the image of a dozen pretty rollerbladers decked out in flowing ecru trenchcoats and skating in a uniform flying-V is… well, not cool, exactly, but certainly memorable.

The film works best when it fully commits to the outlandishness of its premise. Griffin’s old grade school buddy Gary has grown up to lead the Rollerboys, and Christopher Collet gives it his all as a low-rent, roller-skating James Spader, a grinning crocodile who is fairly fit to burst into violence. (He even has a pet Komodo dragon to stroke malevolently.) No subtlety here; Gary’s plan to sterilize the population is literally called “the final solution.” His henchmen also bring the barely contained insanity, including Mark Pellegrino as a Jake Busey-wannabe strongman and the perpetually simmering Morgan Weisser, who even bites into an apple with repressed rage.

Against this, Haim does a creditable job, keeping an even keel as a guy who just wants to rollerblade in peace and now finds himself embroiled in chaos. He and Collet have genuine chemistry, engage in a rather effective fight scene, and bring authentic gravity to their final showdown. No, in our topsy-turvy world, the worst performance probably belongs to future Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette, zipping through the film in an admittedly weak role as an undercover cop in a series of joyfully ridiculous outfits (special consideration for her Dale Evans getup) and very little indication of the terrific acting career that lay ahead.

Once you get past the nightmare future of rampaging young white supremacists (all too believable) and full combat on skates (somewhat less so), there isn’t really anything wrong with Prayer of the Rollerboys. It’s derivative and a little silly, but the biggest problem is that the film is punching well above its weight. There are some intriguing ideas lurking in the movie: the allure of fascism, the impotence of our protectors, the weaponization of youth… but it’s all still riding on the shoulders of a Corey Haim rollerblading movie. It has to rehabilitate a teen heartthrob, create a credible future, call out the foibles of society, and do it all while embodying a youth culture that always seems to be just a step out of Hollywood’s reach. It would be a stretch for any movie to pull this all off. This is not the movie to do it.

Prayer of the Rollerboys isn’t bad enough to satisfy the snark-watchers, but not good enough to step out of the bin of forgotten B-movies. It does hint at an alternate universe where Corey Haim was able to realize his potential as an actor, and where we as a society anticipated the dangers of ceding power to pretty people who would co-opt it for nefarious purposes. Alas, in both cases, that stretches credulity just a shred too far.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The impact of screenwriter W Peter Iliff’s distinctly weird and intriguing premise is gradually eroded by the eventually unsurprising developments in its interestingly outlandish storyline and also by the over-familiarity of the usual, regulation futuristic setting of a chaotic, dystopian  tomorrow’s world.” – Derek Winnert, derekwinnert.com

(This movie was nominated for review by Lovecraft in Brooklyn, who says the film “features characters that somehow predict the modern alt-right.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

30*. THE CONGRESS (2013)

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DIRECTED BY: Ari Folman                  

FEATURING: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle, Paul Giamatti, voice of Jon Hamm

PLOT: Film actress Robin Wright agrees to sell the rights to her image to a studio which will use the captured data to showcase an eternally young avatar in their productions. After 20 years, the producers invite her to extend the contract, and she travels to the meeting of a futuristic congress where all the participants ingest a chemical that allows them to invent their own reality and become anyone. When the congress proposes sharing this drug with the masses, Wright rebels, but her resistance is put down, and another 20 years on, she surveys the world that has resulted.

Still from The Congress (2013)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The trip through the animated landscape of Abrahama City is rife with psychedelic visions and eye-catching creations. The scenes within the animated universe are densely populated with caricatures of the famous and celebrated, representing alternative identities whom a disaffected humanity have chosen to take on in place of their own. Naming them all would be impossible, but I’d like to offer a particular shout-out to the person who decided to become Magritte’s apple-faced businessman. But the image that stays with you is a lonely and scared Robin Wright standing alone in the middle of a large and inhuman motion-capture dome, presenting a prism of emotions as the computers capture her every nuance. It’s an ironic manifesto for the value of human acting, as Wright the actress manifests the uncontrolled feelings of Wright the character.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Entrance to Abrahama City, Robin grows wings

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Animation has always reveled in its power to bend reality, making it an ideal medium for fantastical visions and deep dives into the imagination. The high-wire act that The Congress has to walk is literalizing animation’s attempt to slip the surly bonds of the real world. It’s not enough for this fantasy landscape to be trippy; it has to be a logical extension of the very real world being abandoned. It’s only appropriate that a movie star, the very avatar of a flesh-and-blood figure creating something artificial for our amusement, would be our guide. The film deftly juxtaposes the two worlds, each commenting upon the other and dramatizing the wonders and perils of our ongoing quest for escapism.

Original trailer for The Congress

COMMENTS: The most recent episode of the excellent podcast Continue reading 30*. THE CONGRESS (2013)