Tag Archives: Musical

SLAMDANCE 2024: SLIDE (2024)

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DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

FEATURING: Voices of Maureen McElheron, Jim Lujan, Tom Racine, Ana Sophia Colón, Daniel Kaufman

PLOT: Emerging from a desert whirlpool, a mysterious slide guitarist defends the locals—and the local monster—from the corrupt machinations of the mayor of Sourdough Creek.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Plympton’s absorbingly grotesque animation style, paired perfectly with his oddball storytelling, make his films a shoo-in ’round these parts.

COMMENTS: A bearded hick, launched from his horse-driven observation perch above an incomplete dam, hurdles through the air as dozens of flying logs arc in his direction. He screams, and the camera appears to crash through his mouth, past his teeth, down his esophagus, through his guts, and out again through the… other end. This dramatic journey is animated in Bill Plympton’s signature, jaunty style, and is just one of the countless examples of him playing with lines in motion.

The man in question is Jeb Carver, the mayor of hickturesque Sourdough Creek, the rustic locale where Tinselwood Studios is hoping to film their latest blockbuster. Never one to abstain from milking a chance for all its worth, Carver takes this opportunity to convert his logging town into “Monte Carlo del Norte,” pushing his citizens to deadly lengths to whip up a dam, casino, and resort over the course of a week. The immigrant fishing village gets leveled, the “service girls” work extra shifts, and the band is banned from playing slow music. Enter a mysterious stranger, and his slide guitar.

The silly plot is pushed forward with silly machinations, silly dialogue, and a sinister (but still fairly silly) monster which is disturbed by the deforestation. This silliness serves mostly to allow Plympton to play around with his weird cartooning. Characters chase other characters up interminable stairs; dozens of unnaturally proportioned firearms pop up and fire from trees, fish, and hats; teardrops slide and slosh in extreme closeups; bosoms bounce up and down (and, for the kinky types, side to side) courtesy of the in-film technological marvel, The Sugar Shaker; and Yellow Submarine-esque fantasies play out like nauseous reimaginings of psychedelic whimsy.

Slide is not groundbreaking, it’s not “big” in any sense of the term, and as a pastiche, isn’t “new” per se. But, it is unfailingly interesting to watch (a necessity for a cartoon—something that other animation studios would do well to remember) and oh-so-reassuringly bizarre. Bill Plympton is a talented artist, particularly for having chosen the (difficult) route of animation in his unique style of comical grotesquerie writ (er, drawn) large. Kick back, keep your eyes peeled, and allow Plympton’s latest eccentricity to Slide deep down your pie-hole.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Named after its completely mute lead character and his ‘slide guitar,’ this surreal movie overflows with ideas and mesmerizing imagery…. If Slide sounds bonkers, it absolutely is.” — Josh Batchelder, Josh at the Movies (festival screening)

366 UNDERGROUND: DEEP ASTRONOMY AND THE ROMANTIC SCIENCES (2022)

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RecommendedWeirdest!

Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences can be watched for free courtesy of the Red Planet Planning Commission.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Rudy DeJesus, Michi Muzyka, the voice of Meredith Adelaide, Cory McAbee

PLOT: Rudy sits down with a quiet woman drinking, who shares with him the history of the bar they’re in, and its relation to the “romantic sciences.”

COMMENTS: “Techno-Mysticism”. No, it’s not a musical genre where Industrial meets New Age; nor is it a term used at any time during the Deep Astronomy experience. This is a designation of my own making, which I put forward because it is accurate, succinct, and there’s no one to stop me. In this film, Cory McAbee has assembled some few dozen snippets of his live performances of… well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Boy, Rudy, meets girl, Grace, at a trendy bar, flawlessly executing that immortal opening line, “Hey, my buddies and I have a bet. Are you a robot?” Turns out she is, and she claims to know everything about him. Rudy and Grace proceed to have a conversation about reality, particularly the intersection of physical reality and artificial reality. This primarily takes the form of her discussing Cory McAbee: his origins, his professional trajectory, and his Techno-Mystical viewpoints.

From all examples on display (and there are many, culled from various performances over the years), McAbee is an awkwardly charming fellow, with novel views on humanity and existence. Taking his talks at face value—the performances hover between symposia and stand-up—he believes, among other things, in trans-dimensional sliding, eternal existence, and that his observations on transformation are best conveyed through song.  Humans are composed of the light they absorb, and are doomed to pass through this existence to become light spreading eternally. We are, he opines, creatures living in an increasingly artificial social and mental construct—and the only way is forward. He is also the inventor of “the Norman”, a the-last-person-Polka-ing-wins kind of dance floor body fight. Techno-Mysticism is all these things: our machines and constructs, and our greater relationship with the cosmos. And a heapful of silliness making the whole exercise enjoyable.

Grounding the movie audience, and in delightful contrast to McAbee’s nerdful enthusiasm, is Rudy DeJesus’ performance as the man in the bar talking to the robot in the bar. Rudy’s charm is easy-going, and always feels genuine; Grace, the robot (?), has her own charm (“Thank you for sitting with me, I like you”), and provides a third, artificially artificial perspective on the proceedings (these proceedings being both her conversation with Rudy, but also, to the best of my understanding, the current social-technological proceedings of the species). Deep Astronomy is blunderbuss cinema, divotting the audience with many styles—mumblecore romantic comedy, T.E.D. talk, stand-up, and advertisements—but as if one had attached a laser sight to the projectilator in question. McAbee has themes he explores. Over and over. And Deep Astronomy and The Romantic Sciences is an entertaining and thought-provoking means for him to distill his manifold musings.

El Rob Hubbard and Gregory J. Smalley interview Cory McAbee about Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences (among other topics)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I have no idea what to make of this film… [MaAbee]’s been making weird and innovative films and music videos for years now, not to mention several albums of equally strange songs, and a busy schedule of live performances… But even those who’ve followed his sui generis career will not have expected anything this far removed from everything else he has ever done.” — Mark Cole, Rivets on the Poster (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006)

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DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Allyson Sereboff, Joshua Olatunde, Robin L. Watkins

PLOT: When a ravenously capitalist fast-food chain builds a franchise on an old Indian burial ground in the fair burg of Tromaville, the spirits of dead Native Americans and dead chickens conspire to turn the poultry-eating populace into fluid-spewing zombies.

Still from Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)

COMMENTS: What are you doing out there on the front porch? Get in here, darn ya! Sit, sit, we’re just about ready to serve. The stuffing is on the table, the onions on the green bean casserole are crisp, I’ve got a spoon for the cranberry sauce… oh, and here’s the bird. Would you like to carve? Just be careful with the knife, because once you cut into that crispy seasoned flesh, you’re liable to be sprayed with an unholy onslaught of blood, bile, vomit, feces, and any number of disgusting fluids. Go on, dig in!

Yes, it’s a Thanksgiving here at 366 Weird Movies headquarters, and even though it’s chicken and not turkey on the menu in Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, the film is suffused with the spirits of the two oppressed populations who have made our modern American Thanksgiving possible: Native Americans and domesticated fowl. If Troma Entertainment has taught us anything, it’s that failure to pay the proper respects will result in terror of the most disgusting and ridiculous nature imaginable, so choose your words carefully when you say grace.

What can one say when reviewing the most review-proof organization in show business? A rave would be an endorsement, while a pan is a badge of honor. I will suggest, then, that Poultrygeist is, in Troma terms, an almost perfect object. It’s got everything you expect, by the bucketload: deep stupidity, rampant nudity, crude insults that punch up and down in equal measure, and so much fluid being sprayed like a fire hose. Consider that a character named after a certain submarine sandwich pitchman/convicted sex criminal isn’t merely fat in defiance of his processed food diet; he’s morbidly obese, and we’re treated to an in-toilet POV shot of his unfortunate encounter with a haunted meal, a sight so appalling that even the Troma braintrust has seen fit to slap “CENSORED” bars across the screen. If you have even a passing familiarity with the Troma House of Moviemaking and that’s your bag, you will not be disappointed.

Liquids aside, Poultrygeist is a satire, but of the everyone’s-a-target variety. Voracious capitalism comes under fire, but so do self-righteous protesters and mawkish bleeding hearts. The cynical people who make fast food are hardly worse than the mindless hordes who eat it. Ridicule is ladled out in copious amounts at women, gay Continue reading IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (2006)

CAPSULE: DICKS: THE MUSICAL (2023)

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Dicks: The Musical can be rented or purchased on-demand.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson, , Megan Mullally, Bowen Yang, Megan Thee Stallion

PLOT: Craig and Trevor, two alpha male salesmen, discover they are identical twins separated at birth, and scheme to get their eccentric parents back together to form a family.

Still from Dicks: the Musical (2023)

COMMENTS: If you’re offended by a portrayal of God as a foul-mouthed gay Asian who’s cool with incest, you’re Dicks: The Musical‘s target audience. That is to say, director Larry Charles is targeting you, the way Ron DeSantis targets a Disney princess drag queen elementary school read-along. With consent jokes, vagina jokes, on-screen gay sex jokes, and (lots of) jokes mocking straight white men, Dicks finds ways to shock in this unshockable age.

Dicks‘ desire to transgress is its strength and its weakness. There’s a place in the cinema universe for mid-budget midnight movies in the “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this “mode, and they don’t come around that often. (Rocky Horror made a lot of grandmas blush in its day; the 1999 South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is probably the last major release with a similar traumatize-the-squares strategy.) On the other hand, it can be tiresome to watch a movie that’s this in-your-face all the time. At some point, my face got tired of having Dicks in it. I can’t say I laughed out loud too often, but I did gasp out loud at one grossout scene near the end (I suspect you’ll know which one I’m referring to when you see it). The funniest bit—perhaps tellingly—is a tongue-in-cheek post-credits sequence where Nathan Lane wonders how his showbiz career has come down to him spitting chewed-up lunch meat at puppets.

Despite not looking that much alike, stars Sharp and Johnson are indistinguishable, both to each other in-movie sense and in the function of their characters. They really are two men playing one character: well-endowed (or so they loudly sing) alpha male salesmen who score with the babes but are not-so-surprisingly repressed homosexuals. The real fun to be had here is in watching Mullaly and Lane as outrageously inappropriate parents who would (or at least, should) embarrass NYC’s most shameless narcissists.

Surprisingly, Mullaly is a great singer; equally surprisingly, given his long Broadway career, Lane is not (although he makes up for it with ace comedic timing). The songs are mostly amusing and perfectly serviceable, with Megan Thee Stallion’s “Out Alpha the Alpha” rap (which features her walking men on dog leashes) serving as the show-stopper. With its sneering Black-girl swagger, “Alpha” sounds just like a regular Megan Thee Stallion hit (I assume; can’t say I’ve ever heard a Megan Thee Stallion song).

The movie’s weird credentials come in the form of a pair of running-joke parental eccentricities: Lane’s pet “Sewer Boys,” two troll-like creatures he keeps in a cage and feeds masticated ham, and Mullaly’s detached vagina, which “fell off” one day (and walked away!) but which she now keeps in her handbag. We see it. It ain’t pretty. But Dicks ain’t about pretty, except for “that’s pretty gross.”

Dicks: the Musical is a strange project even for A24, which is now reportedly pivoting to more mainstream fare after the Oscar success of Everything Everywhere all at Once. This outrageous niche release buttresses their image as the studio willing to risk money on bizarre projects, but it’s ultimately a loss leader: the poorly attended theatrical release (a gross of a little over a million against its twelve-mil budget) will be followed by a much sooner than average appearance on VOD starting November 10.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a decidedly big swing and a genuinely weird take on the musical that has its moments, but also feels a bit stretched too thin given its concept. There are absolutely highs to this weird wonderland of genitals and Sewer Boys—especially with that third act—but for a comedy that needs to build and build to this idea justice, Dicks: The Musical too often relies on the same jokes told over and over again with a narrative that can’t continuously build the absurdity.”–Ross Bonaime, Collider (festival screening)

CAPSULE: OPEN (2023)

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Open can be rented or purchased on-demand.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Miles Doleac

FEATURING: Lindsay Anne Williams, Miles Doleac, Jeremy London, Elena Sanchez, Amber Reign Smith

PLOT: Kristina comes to regret pursuing her long-time fantasy of dating her teen idol when she and her husband explore sharing an open marriage.

Still from OPEN (2022)

COMMENTS: Be advised: if you have an aversion to New Wave music, you will want to avoid this movie. Over its run time, there are some dozen or so interludes featuring ’80s style studio music videos wherein Kristina Corbin’s subconscious processes her situational and emotional circumstances. Her youthful dream of fronting a glamorous synth-rock band is the pulsing heart of this quietly satisfying romantic comedy, and while the segues slip into the narrative like clockwork, they never feel unwelcome.

Ultimately unwelcome, however, is Erik LaRoux, an erstwhile teen idol whom Kristina adored growing up. When she and husband Robert’s marriage hits the rocks—triggered by a recent miscarriage—they are unsure how to proceed. They feel, they know—it must be!—that they’re good together, and that they shouldn’t split up the metaphorical band; but they’ll be damned if they can figure out what direction to go. And so, Kristina makes a suggestion: an open relationship. The first act of Play runs like a cute-‘n’-clever little relationship dramedy, with Kristina hooking up with a charismatic has-been, and Robert falling in bed with a long-time friend.

Open is very much an “all well and good” kind of experience. It shuffles along, capably attaining its realistic ambitions. The characters are all likable (even Erik, before his dark turn) and the songs hover around the better side of average. Sometimes the band is mediocre, other times they flirt with genius. (The tune “Aspic” merits bonus points for the choral couplet, “Damn it to Hell, get me out of this stinking putrid well/I need some elevation for my aspic to gel,” a line which prompts the husband-keyboardist character to exclaim, “‘Aspic’? Really?”) Even when it begins to flounder in the third act, Open is still charmingly executed.

In the end, I was kind of surprised—in a good way. When the closing number queued up, I was hit with the sentiment, “It’s over already?” So, be advised: anyone looking for a fun, mature, and tuneful romantic comedy would do well to take a look at and listen to Open. It’s got heart, brio, and plenty of good advice: “Grab love by the balls, but don’t twist ’em too hard when you feel small.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Doleac, whose previous features have been horrors of deliciously demented delicacies, tries his hand at a quirky musical thriller – and the result is completely darling and truly absorbing.”–Bill Arceneaux, Moviegoing with Bill (festival screening)