Tag Archives: Musical

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES (2019)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Makoto Nagahisa

FEATURING: Keita Ninomiya, Sena Nakajima, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura

PLOT: After meeting at a funeral parlor, four emotionless orphaned children run away and form a pop band.

Still from We Are Little Zombies (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Carnivalesque pop-psychedelics enliven Nagahisa’s genre-bending tale of four emotion-deprived orphans wending their way through modern Japan. The final act, which sees the quartet piloting a stolen garbage truck into a black and white ocean of giant amoebas and pulsating anenomes before emerging for a (posthumous?) coda, gives it a chance of crashing our supplemental list of weird cinema.

COMMENTS: We Are Little Zombies takes its aesthetic inspiration from Nintendo NES video game systems: a chiptune-based theme song, 8-bit credits and bumpers. It’s structured as a series of challenges, with four orphans collecting four quest items (in four flashbacks), and with grief as the final boss. It wrings a surprising amount of depth from its short attention span style, and a surprising amount of empathy from its tale of children whose defining characteristic is that they have no emotions.

Little Zombies bursts with energy and ideas that vibrantly contrast with the enervated performances of its living dead heroes. Surreal touches sprout through the early reels, including a giant goldfish swimming outside an apartment window, a hobo orchestra, and a talk show hosted by a lime green centaur and co-hosted by an enthusiastic eyeball. The film features multiple, mostly upbeat musical numbers: not just the “Little Zombies” performances, but also improvised drunken karaoke lyrics about the comparative intellectual capacities of an octopus and a three-year-old. The luminous images and digressive fantasies imply a sense of wonder about life—one that the children are incapable of seeing and appreciating, even as it envelops them.

There is an open question of whether the kids are really emotional zombies, or whether they’re just temporarily numbed as a way to cope with tragedy. Before being accidentally emancipated, main character Hikari was a hōchigo, literally “left-alone child,” the Japanese analog to America’s “latchkey kid.” From his perspective, at least, mom and dad were more concerned with their careers and affairs than with raising their offspring. Brash kleptomaniac Ikuko was physically abused by his father and brother. Overweight Takemura, whose parents owned a restaurant, comes from a relatively normal background. Ishi, the only female in the quartet, has the most complex backstory: her mother calls her a femme fatale, and she draws creepy attention from older men. She’s victimized more by her sex than anything. There doesn’t appear to be much of a common thread generating the zombies’ juvenile anomie; and yet, it feels like Nagahisa is onto a real social issue, something he can diagnose but not cure. The only prescription he can offer is this rebellious declaration: “despair is uncool.”

We Are Little Zombies will be coming to select theaters (and online theaters) July 10. More details (and a Little Zombies digital coloring book) can be found at American distributor Oscilloscope’s official site. Seek it out when you have the chance.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a bizarre quasi-existential adventure about loss and grieving… a visual funhouse, full of surrealistic images…”–Monica Castillo, RogerEbert.com (festival screening)

CAPSULE: VAMPIRE BURT’S SERENADE (2020)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Ken Roht

FEATURING: Kevin Richardson, Brandon Heitkamp, Sharon Ferguson, Dylan Kenin, Diva Zappa

PLOT: Burlesque stars and drag queens team up to defeat a vampire, singing forgettable songs along the way.

Still from Vampire Burt's Serenade (2020)

COMMENTS: A horror-comedy-musical seems like an easy bet for a moviemaking team on a low budget; the only problem is, great musicals require great music. That isn’t easy to come by. If it lost the lame tunes and focused more on its own craziness, Vampire Burt’s Serenade might have been a better film, although it would distinguish itself less from the crowded camp-horror field.

Who would have guessed that someday Kevin Richardson would be working with even weaker material than he did when he was in the Backstreet Boys? True, he sings well, but given the generic pop-rock beats and uninspired lyrics he has to work with, it’s for naught. Most of the rest of the cast doesn’t even have Richardson’s chops going for them: Diva Zappa singing “Sex Toy” is actually painful to listen to. The lip-syncing is clumsy, too; it’s obvious when the soundtrack switches from live to studio recording, making it difficult to suspend disbelief that the characters are actually spontaneously singing about their desire to stake a vampire through the heart. Only a couple of numbers are memorable: one where a group of drugged ballerinas stagger around singing a nursery-rhyme track (the ladies all affect little girl voices so singing ability isn’t an issue), and a “sultry” number sung by two lovers rendezvousing in a toilet stall (“Here in this scuzzy little toilet/Having such a nice time in this wicked little john… in this crazy insanity/with its lack of any sanity…”) that sticks out because of its obscene absurdity and nonsensical lyrics.

The worldbuilding, too, is half-assed. The action centers around a burlesque cabaret where vampire Burt is well-known to everyone, for reasons never explained; without any real motivation, he bites three main characters in one night, setting his own undoing in motion. In a movie populated entirely by vampires, victims, zombies, strippers, and a drug-dealing snuff performance artist, all of whom sing and dance, it seems odd to complain about a lack of believably. But this universe just doesn’t feel like a place you could live in, and nor does it feel like a delirious dream; instead, it’s just a collection of movie cliches and vampire tropes thrown together as needed to advance the script.

This Rocky Horror wannabe earned a few mildly positive recommendations from the “good try, old chap” school of pat-on-the-back film criticism. If you’re looking for pluses, Richardson is believably douchey, having a ball pwning the haters as the titular coke-snorting bloodsucker; the comedy is sometimes effective (e.g. a running joke about bisexual vampires that’s well-executed, if  obvious); the idea of a vampire who later becomes a zombie is cute; and the finale, with the entire cast coming together in a battle to the death, is bloody and chaotic. I didn’t like Vampire Burt’s Serenade, but I can see someone else liking it as a fast-paced time-waster. Still, it’s nothing to sing about.

It turns out that Vampire Burt’s Serenade is actually a slightly re-edited version of a 2014 movie called Bloody Indulgent. Indulgent runs two minutes longer than Serenade and can still be found on the Amazon channel “Fear Factory,” though the DVDs have been removed from circulation.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an unconventional and enjoyable little title.”–Bobby LePire, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TOKYO TRIBE (2014)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono

FEATURING: Kunihiko Kawakami, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Ryôhei Suzuki,

PLOT: When crazy Buppa releases the Waru gang onto the streets of Tokyo, the tribes unite and fight for survival to the sick beats of gangster rap.

Still from Tokyo Tribe (2014)

COMMENTS: If Tokyo Tribe came from any other director, I’d probably say he was trying too hard. However, having seen a few Sion Sono films now, I can see that this is just how the man operates: on a plane with far more mania and extravagance than we mere mortals. Minutes after opening on two urban youths playing with sparklers, dreaming about making a difference, we become fully tuned in to the manga world of Santa Inoue’s serialized epic. Live-action comics, rap battle exposition, and the silliest feud imaginable—Sion Sono delivers all this with his own amped up brand of gusto.

The mean streets of post-post-modern Tokyo are riddled with crime, prostitution, bootleg tapes, ineffectual cops, and close to two dozen gangs of themed thugs. The biggest and nastiest of all the gang lords is Buppa, a man of staggering vulgarity and true psychosis (performed by Riki Takeuchi as if he were a brain-damaged John Belushi). His prime henchman, Mera, holds a grudge against Kai, the leader of the “peaceful” gang, the Musashino Saru tribe. Kai offended Mera in a sauna some years back, and that’s all we’re told. The catalyst for action is the disappearance of the virginal daughter of the High Priest, who needs her for a sacrifice. The plot I’ve just provided is superfluous, and any more would force me to ramble on for some pages. Suffice it to say, you should just check your brain at the door and run with it.

Tokyo Tribe isn’t a weird movie—it is far too accessible for that (and yes, it is a bit weird how accessible this movie feels). But it does stand as one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen (which is something I say neither lightly nor disparagingly). The glorious excess of Sion Sono’s vision of an alternative Tokyo has more than its share of hard R-rated shenanigans, but is somehow approachable throughout (although by the end, we’ll have seen a beat-box tea maid, balloon sex corridors, a case of cigars and fingers, and a black ninja giant who says only, “Bring me! To a! Sauna!”) While Tokyo Tribe doesn’t break the weird ceiling, it does lustily gouge at the plaster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Words can never do justice to the awe-inspiring, brain-eating weirdness of Sion Sono’s Japanese dystopian hip-hop kung-fu musical Tokyo Tribe…  should all be either horrifying or hilarious — or, less generously, ridiculous and offensive — but somehow, it’s not. There’s a strange power to Sion’s filmmaking that goes beyond the midnight-movie oddness of the plot.”–Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE POINT (1971)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Fred Wolf

FEATURING: Voices of Ringo Starr, Mike Lookinland, Lennie Weinrib,

PLOT: The Pointed Village is going about its business, as it has for as long as anyone can remember, with pointed people making pointed buildings and pointed goods, until Oblio, a round-headed boy, is born.

Still from The Point (1971)

COMMENTS: I can tell you from experience that The Point is a good way to get on the path toward discovering, discussing, and dissecting weird movies. During my formative years, I watched it again and again (though at the time, I must admit that I was frightened by one of the sequences, therefore using the fast forward button regularly). As with so much of what 366 reviews, in my less aware moments I’d regard this Nilssonian flight of fancy as “normal,” but it is in actuality a strange combination of children’s cartoon and beatnik daydream.

In fine musical style, we are introduced to the “Land of Point”: more specifically, the Pointed Village, the town where everbody’s got ’em (and couldn’t do without ’em). Couched in the framing story of a father (voiced by Ringo Starr at his most paternal) reading to his son (Mike Lookinland), The Point concerns Oblio (also Lookinland), a boy born without a pointed head. Oblio makes the mistake of making a fool of the Count’s bully son in a game of Triangle Toss. When the defeated youth complains to his powerful father, a sham trial results in Oblio’s banishment to the “Pointless Forest.” Oblio’s adventures (with his trusty dog Arrow by his side) bring him in contact with a magical assortment of guides—beatnik Rock Man, capitalist-extraordinaire Leaf Man, the bouncing Jelly Women, among others—and he learns that nothing is without a point.

Nilsson’s concept album is primarily a vehicle for his catchy and charming songs concerning love, life, and death. Fred Wolf’s movie alternates between straight-up story (marked by Starr’s narration) and song animations. This coexistence is impressively seamless, as the tunes bring Oblio’s contemplations to life. Some of them are heady things for a small boy—one of the things that kept me coming to this, aside from my limited video menu at the time, was that it didn’t speak down to me—and in its post-psychedelic way, everything has a fresh, oddball feel to it. Watching it again for the first time in decades, I also noticed the many odd things the filmmakers got up to: drug culture (the Rock Man character, both as a whole, and particularly with the line, “us stone[d] folks are everywhere”), anti-capitalism (the ridiculousness of the “leaf manufacturing” Leaf Man), right down to the strangely vulvic foliage where the fat, naked, jolly Jelly Women cavort mischievously.

With its minimalist-but-quirky animation (and gloriously pointo-gothic-brutalist architecture), mental digressions (contemplating a tear’s life cycle through an ancient whale), and moments of Shakespearean grandeur (the villainous Count could be Iago’s closest friend), The Point hits a lot of great notes, particularly for a primetime-broadcast, made-for-TV cartoon. That such a quirky little movie like this slipped past the watchful eye of the normality police makes it all the more laudable.

Previously available on DVD, MVD Rewind released The Point on Blu-ray in 2020. Although full of extra features and billed as “The Ultimate Edition,” many hardcore fans were disappointed that it lacks the original Dustin Hoffman broadcast narration (Hoffman’s contract was for a one-time performance, and subsequent broadcasts and home video releases used different narrators).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Whether Wolf, best known for his work on The Flintstones, took inspiration from Dr. Seuss, I couldn’t say, but there’s a similar sensibility at work in terms of the quasi-surrealistic look of the thing… It’s that unique combination of the expectedly childlike, the surprisingly adult, and the just-plain weird that makes The Point! work as well for me now as it did in grade school when I’d play the album over and over again, flipping the pages of the illustrated booklet all the while.” -Kathy Fennessy, Seattle Film Blog

(This movie was nominated for review by Jeffery, who commented “My favorite scene in it is the one with the fat ladies.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Julien Temple

FEATURING: , Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayons, Jim Carrey, Charles Rocket

PLOT: Valerie discovers her fiancé is cheating on her, but finds her “Mister Right” when a trio of furry aliens crash land in her pool.

Still fromEarth Girls Are Easy ()

COMMENTS: Seeing as I’m on probation for recommending Apocrypha status for movie musicals, it was a dangerous decision to dive into Julien Temple’s cult classic, Earth Girls Are Easy. While I had my typical “so, this is weird…” reaction that I do with every musical I see, at least this time the environment wasn’t as off-kilter as a magnified downtown London; it was merely off kilter in a “Dear-God-1980s-Hollywood” kind of way. Temple’s film–which is really the brainchild of Julie Brown, the go-to Valley Girl  at that time–runs longer than it should with plenty of awkward moments of stupidity. That said, once it finds its footing it hovers within a stone’s throw of recommendable.

Earth Girls Are Easy does not begin with said Earth girls, but with the aliens who discover them. Mac (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey), and Zeebo (Damon Wayons) are a crew of brightly colored, fur-covered aliens on a mission of… well, it’s not clarified, and it doesn’t matter. While Mac is in stasis, Wiploc and Zeebo are puttering around the ship looking for a transmission signal, preferably one transmitting an image of hot women. When one of them prompts the navigation system to go haywire, they crash on a nearby planet, right into Valerie’s pool. Because she’s recovering from a spat with her now-ex-fiancé (lovely ’80s-slimy Charles Rocket), and because this is a musical, the plot becomes an engine for getting her together with one of the extraterrestrials. Dance numbers, big hair, and lite satire ensue.

A number of factors scream, “This movie merits no further thought.” It’s an ’80s movie about the ’80s, so its humor is obvious; it’s a musical, so its plot is of tertiary concern; and it’s directed by a guy with a music video career, so though the film’s look is lively, it breaks no new ground. However, the presence of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis lifts Earth Girls up from dreck to the lofty designation of “fun.” Goldblum, in particular, gives Mac a nuance, and at times a pathos, that the subject material doesn’t remotely deserve. During a night on the town, after the aliens have absorbed countless television soundbites, Mac inquires of Valerie, “Are we limp and hard to handle?”, giving this query from an advertisement a sensitivity that well explains why he’s one of his generation’s greatest actors.

Geena Davis, who co-starred opposite Goldblum in Cronenberg’s haunting version of The Fly, rekindles that tragic romance in a bubblegum setting. Golblum and Davis are cute together, and have a real connection; though this is really the only thing to recommend about Earth Girls, it gives it enough gravity to be worthwhile.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Great, wacky-sexy title. Attractive, amiable cast, with Davis, Goldblum and pop singer-satirist Julie Brown. Promising concept, with three space creatures—very humanoid, very male, very horny—crash-landing in the swimming pool of a gorgeous woman who has just thrown her philandering boyfriend out of the house. So why is this movie about as much fun as a bowl of cold Spaghetti-O’s?” –People (contemporaneous)

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

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: CATS (2019)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Tom Hooper

FEATURING: Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan… (Indeed, the cast list is so talent-heavy you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting someone with an entertainment award.)

PLOT: Meow.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Not only did “they” pull the trigger on this one, they emptied all six of the chambers. From the opening nonsense of cat-people-cats spouting the word “jellicle” like it was going out of style, up through to the finale where I swear they send off one of their own to her death, the cataclysm just wouldn’t stop.

COMMENTS: As might be expected of a man of my disposition, I am the owner of cats–two, to be precise. One of them featured in a review of mine some months ago. The other has joined me on a number of occasions while I watched other assignments. So perhaps it was this that led me to volunteer my time and sanity, and sit through a musical that I had mostly knew about from the context of a classic Upright Citizens Brigade sketch. But the transformation I underwent during the movie was comparable to that which bunches of A-list actors and celebrities went through to become Cats.

I could discuss the finer points of the plot here, but I’ll spare you my narrative discourse. If you know anything about Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s iconic work, you’ll know there isn’t really a story. It’s merely a showcase for descriptions of various “types” of cats found about London. (This geographic limitation may explain why the particular archetypes of my own cats weren’t explained to me in song form.) Moreso, you knew whether or not you were the kind of person who’d want to see Cats by the time the first hints of its production sprang up.

And why was this movie made? In a way, I think that it had to be. Some critics complain ad nauseum that everything these days is a remake, sequel, or adaptation, but this has been the norm since the earliest days of cinema. As to how the producers got all these big names on board, I do not know; but then, perhaps you have to agree to performing in Cats if you are asked. However, I can say that I didn’t leave the cinema thinking any less of any of the parties involved, and was actually quite pleased with Idris Elba’s performance as the only two+ dimensional character of the bunch.

I was in a something of a manic state during the drive home as I reflected what I had just gone through. About fifty-five minutes into the movie, I glanced at my watch for the first time and nearly recoiled in terror. After all the song and dance I had watched these “jellicles”1 go through, I was only half-way through. Around that time I noticed two things: first, there was an intermittent but persistent clicking coming from one of the right-hand speakers; second, the latter half went by far more quickly than the first. I don’t know if it’s a testament to the powers of Eliot + Webber + Hooper, or testament to brain damage I suffered five-and-a-half years ago, but I actually started to care about these things. The end of times, to be sure.

So to the other staff at 366, I apologize for putting us on the hook for this. To everyone else: Happy Christmas, Io Saturnalia, and Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cathulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In fairness to the general Cats reaction, the trailer—and indeed, I can say now, the whole movie—is bizarre-looking and freakish and garish and off-the-rails/all-over-the-place and bombastically beyond the scope of fanbrat respectability/acceptability. But here’s the thing: those are points of praise.” -Mike McPadden, Daily Grindhouse (contemporaneous)