Tag Archives: Musical

LIST CANDIDATE: THE WAYWARD CLOUD [TIAN BIAN YI DUO YUN] (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Ming-liang Tsai

FEATURING: Kang-sheng Lee, Shiang-chyi Chen, Sumomo Yozakura, Kuei-Mei Yang

PLOT: During a nationwide drought, a Taiwanese porn star courts a shy and lonely

Still from The Wayward Cloud (2005)

apartment dweller obsessed with watermelons; characters occasionally burst into fantasy song-and-dance numbers.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: As a romantic, pornographic, hallucinatory musical that makes sure you will never see watermelons or Taiwanese sex movies quite the same way ever again, The Wayward Cloud is audacious and, yes, weird.  The powerful downside is the fact that, outside of the musical sequences, Tsai’s minimalism—long takes, a motionless camera, and the absolute minimum amount plot and dialogue he can possibly get away with—is the most acquired of acquired tastes.

COMMENTS: There are seven memorable scenes in The Wayward Cloud—three bizarre sexual encounters (and a couple of ordinary ones) and four outlandish musical numbers.  Given all that’s going on, it’s amazing that writer/director Ming-liang Tsai still managed to keep the script so arid, and to convey an overall feeling of malaise rather than excitement.  Without these seven scenes, the movie would hardly exist; the wisp of a plot involves a boy-meets-girl-and-never-quite-loses-her story that’s told in nearly dialogue free episodes of long takes of actors reacting to nothing.  The meet-cute (or in this case, meet-mute) involves Shiang-chyi coming upon Hsiao-Kang while he’s napping, then sitting down across from him and taking a nap herself.  It’s five minutes of hot napping action before they exchange their first words.  (It’s helpful to know that these characters have met before, in Tsai’s What Time Is It There? [2001], and in a subsequent short film.)  Hsiao-Kang doesn’t divulge his job as a professional video gigolo to his new girlfriend, but there’s no cover story, no sense of urgency that she might discover his vocation, and there’s nothing divulged about her to suggest she would care either way.  There is a quiet, believable sort of intimacy in scenes where Hsiao-Kang smokes a cigarette held between Shiang-chyi’s toes; the lovers are so comfortable together they don’t have to say anything to each other.  But we, the viewers, still wish they would say something for our benefit.

Fortunately, there is the sex.  It’s graphic, but not explicit: there’s no visible genital- Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE WAYWARD CLOUD [TIAN BIAN YI DUO YUN] (2005)

CAPSULE: REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Darren Lynn Bousman

FEATURING: Anthony Head, Paul Sorvino, Alexa Vega, Sarah Brightman, , Paris Hilton

PLOT: A worldwide epidemic leaves humanity on the brink, but a biotechnology

Still from Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

company saves everyone…for a price.  Anyone unwilling or unable to pay becomes the prey of a killing machine known as the Repo Man, who repossesses organs after he kills deadbeats!

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Musicals, by their very nature, are weird, pseudo-realities that insist that in some situations, you just HAVE to sing.  And dance. And harmonize with other people who also sing.  And dance.  And while it is difficult to say how that is not weird, Repo! The Genetic Opera manages to be oh-so pedestrian.  Despite a plot that is a very distinct hybrid of Parts: The Clonus Horror, any random season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and Tommy, there is no real imagination here, no sense of true creative force or even the vaguest idea how to be artistically subversive.  It’s just throwaway horror movie culture pap that would have been forgotten already if it weren’t so damn awful.

COMMENTS:  Every now and then a movie comes along that is so strikingly different and weird, people just have to stand up and take notice.  Such a movie can become a cult film overnight, igniting passionate statements online like “[Repo!] is such an amazing and very cool artistically rich and collaboratively ingenious of characters with rich metal Gothic and opera soul.”  But then again, sometimes a movie can seem original at first glance yet really be quite plain when one takes a closer look.  Such is the case with Repo! The Genetic Opera.  It is a collection of ideas from the bowels of the Joss Whedon fan-club message boards that is not so much weird as it is totally silly.  To the casual observer, this might look like something that hasn’t been done before, but all it is at closer inspection is a series of things that have been done before, Continue reading CAPSULE: REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008)

CAPSULE: NINE (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Rob Marshall

FEATURING: Daniel Day-Lewis, Stacy Ferguson (“Fergie”), , , Judi Dench, Sophia Loren

PLOT: Celebrity director Guido Contini finds he can’t get started on his latest movie script because the women he’s romantically entangled with keep bursting into song whenever he’s around.

Still from Nine (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Musicals, by their very nature, are a little weird, because in everyday life people very rarely ask you for the time in the key of A-flat minor. The musical genre traditionally atones for the sin of departing from reality by doubling over backwards to be reassuringly conventional in narrative and thoughtlessly blithe in message. Nine is no exception to the general rule; we only cover it here because it was inspired loosely by the great weird film 8 1/2 and it’s fascinating director, .

COMMENTS: First things first: Nine, while inspired by Fellini’s 8 1/2, is obviously aimed at those who never saw the original film, or who saw it but didn’t like it much. Keeping that in mind off the bat makes the film feel much less like an insult to the maestro’s memory, and much more like what it is: a highly fictionalized puff piece that aims solely to entertain, while presenting the artist’s struggle to create as just another two-dimensional backdrop for the song-and-dance spectaculars. Except that these songs and dances are not really spectacular, so much as acceptable. The tableaux—which range from minimalist tinker-toy girders to a sequined Folies Bergère nightclub to a fashion runway strobe-lit by paparazzi flashes (the irony!)—are all flashy, pretty and eye-catching enough. The problem is that it would be, for the most part, an act of charity to describe the melodies as memorable, so that most of the numbers come across as all sparkle and no spark. The one exception is provided by Stacy Ferguson (better known as Fergie). Putting the only professional singer in the cast together with the movie’s only hummable melody (“Be Italian”) is an eggs-in-all-one-basket strategy that gives audiences something to remember, but also highlights the mediocrity of the rest of the musical performances.

As for the rest of the star-studded female cast, none can really sing or dance, and there is an unrelenting sameness to their lyrics (which are mostly about how each dame would rather be sleeping with Daniel Day-Lewis than doing whatever she’s doing now). At some point the musical numbers become numbing interruptions that make the melodrama interesting by comparison. Day-Lewis’ Italian accent is passable and he does invest his Guido with a charming childlike quality that almost makes his irresistibility to women believable; but, though he’s game enough, he just can’t carry a tune, and having him half-sing/half-talk through the climactic songs is no solution. Still, the razzle-dazzle of the production numbers, numerous cameos (i.e., Sophia Loren) and Fellini references, Fergie’s musical triumph, and a vampy song by Cruz—whose lingerie-clad tramp around a mirrored floor while wrapping pink ropes around her willowy frame is sultry enough to make her song and dance talents irrelevant—are enough to transform Nine into passable, if forgettable, entertainment. Plus, it features more corsets and fishnet stockings per minute than you’ll see outside of a fetish video, which can hardly be considered a bad thing.

Nine isn’t really inspired so much by 8 1/2 as it’s inspired by the most famous scene of 8 1/2, the harem/lion tamer sequence, where Guido famously envisions himself as being adored, then harried, by the various females in his life. The fact that the movie’s psychology ignores all other aspects of the director’s creativity and inner artistic torments in favor of the reductionist “it’s all because he’s conflicted about his unrealistic image of women” is disappointing, but hardly surprising considering this is squarely middlebrow Hollywood stuff. After all, what else would you expect from a movie whose title announces its intentions by rounding up an inconveniently weird partial number to a nice, easily digestible integer?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The challenge for Marshall, following his Oscar-winning Chicago, was to bring another hallucinatory musical to the screen without repeating himself or dimming the material’s blazing, untamed theatricality. By my score card, Marshall hits more than he misses.”–Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Victor Fleming (credited), King Vidor, Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited)

FEATURING: Judy Garland, , Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley

PLOT:  A cyclone carries a Kansas girl (and her little dog, too) to a magical land over the rainbow.

Still from The Wizard of Oz (1939)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In creating a list of the 366 best weird movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz presents a huge challenge.  After all, this Technicolor extravaganza contains such trippy imagery as a bizarre cyclone that hurls snatches of a young girl’s fears past her spinning window; a land of doll-like little people threatened by a witch; talking apple trees; a giant floating green head appearing and disappearing before a curtain of flame; knife-nosed, green-faced Cossack guards; and of course, flying monkeys—never underestimate the weirdness of flying monkeys.  These should be the building blocks of a stunningly psychedelic pic, but if this magical movie only seems fantastic, never weird, it’s because the entire adventure feels so safe.  The musical numbers, the comedy, and the deliciously stagey sets serve to remind all but the very youngest children that we’re in an artificial, sheltered environment, and that no harm can ever come to Dorothy.  We’re invited to sit back and soak in the spectacle, not to experience it directly.

COMMENTS: Most reviews of The Wizard of Oz could be distilled down to two words: “me too.”  Are you a viewer who loves the movie?  Me, too.  You admire the immaculate casting and performances?  The unforgettable music?  The clever nonsense wordplay of Continue reading CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

31. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT [NAISU NO MORI: THE FIRST CONTACT] (2005)

“Only appearing in your dream.  Distorting every sound to create a world like to other.  This is what they live for; jumping from one person’s dream to another.  Once you have been chosen, you will lose all control of your dreams.”–from the script of Funky Forest: the First Contact

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Isimin (AKA Aniki), Shunichiro Miki

FEATURING: Tadanobu Asa, , Susumu Terashima, and a large ensemble cast

PLOTFunky Forest is a series of absurdist skits—including both computer generated and hand drawn animation segments and musical interludes—sharing some common characters and situations, thrown together in a blender. The movie features the interwoven antics of two squabbling TV comedians, a trio of brothers who are unpopular with women, an English teacher in love with a recently graduated student who sees him as a friend only, and a school where strange bloodsucking creatures are growing, among many other threads. The comic nonsense sketches and dreams are loosely tied together by references to visitations from “alien Piko-Rico.”

Still from Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

BACKGROUND:

  • There is little hard information on this production that is available  in English. Of the three credited co-directors, Katsuhito Ishii, who directed the majority of the sequences, is usually given most of the credit for assembling the collaborative project.
  • Ishii composed the animated sequences for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) and had a minor arthouse hit with The Taste of Tea (2004).
  • Funky Forest is the first movie directing credit for Shunichiro Miki, whose only previous movie credit was a small acting role in The Taste of Tea.  Miki directs commercials in Japan.  He is responsible for the “monster” segments of the film.
  • Prior to Funky Forest, Hajime Isimin (who is also known as Aniki) had released one direct-to-video comedy in Japan and worked as the musical director on The Taste of Tea.  He is responsible for the “Notti & Takefumi” sequences that contain the film’s major musical and dance numbers.
  • Funky Forest won the “Most Innovative Film Feature” award at the 2006 Toronto After Dark film festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The still of the Japanese schoolgirl with a tube jammed into her navel hooked up to a strange machine encasing a large orifice while two strangely costumed men look on, from the segment titled “Wanna go for a drink?”, has already become an iconic image on the Internet. It’s the picture people post or email when they want to illustrate either 1. how weird the movie Funky Forest is, or 2. assuming the picture is from a mainstream Japanese soap opera, how weird they think the Japanese people in general are.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As the trailer indicates, Funky Forest‘s weird credentials are unimpeachable; if anything, this is a movie that’s almost too weird to be comprehensible, which is why it’s nice that it’s divided into small bites that can be digested independently. It works like a surrealist version of Altman’s Short Cuts.


Japanese language trailer for Funky Forest

COMMENTS: The opening paragraph of every review of Funky Forest is where critics get Continue reading 31. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT [NAISU NO MORI: THE FIRST CONTACT] (2005)

28. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

“You’ve seen all kinds of movies, but you’ve never seen anything like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is wonderfully weird. It’s fabulously freaky… The story is strange… the scenery is smashing… the cast is completely crazy!”–ad copy from the extended 3 minute trailer

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, ,

PLOT: In this musical, Brad and Janet, a very square, newly engaged couple, get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere in a rainstorm and seek shelter in a nearby castle. Inside, they find the building populated by a strange assortment of characters dominated by Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a “sweet transvestite from Transylvania.” Frank-N-Furter has created a blond bodybuilder named “Rocky Horror” for his own erotic enjoyment, and when the cast starts bedding each other jealousy rules the day—until a rival scientist in a wheelchair complicates matters even further when he arrives looking for his murdered son.

Still from Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was an adaptation of writer/actor Richard O’Brien’s hit stage show that began in London in 1973. The show also played Los Angeles with Tim Curry starring with a mostly American cast, including singer Meat Loaf as Eddie. The play opened on Broadway shortly before the film version debuted and was a flop, closing after a mere forty-five performances.
  • Fox Studios wanted to cast popular musicians of the day in the main roles (including Mick Jagger as Frank-N-Furter), but the producers accepted a lower budget in order to keep the cast from the stage production mostly intact. Meat Loaf had recorded a top 100 single years before, but would not become a major rock star until 1977 with the release of “A Bat Out of Hell”.
  • The film bombed on release, but gradually found cult audience through midnight screenings. As early as 1976 audiences had begun shouting their own dialogue back at the screen. This gradually developed into the unprecedented Rocky Horror audience participation ritual, where the audience is not only an active part of the movie experience, but the main attraction. Fans come to screenings dressed as their favorite characters, speak their own scripted counterpoint dialogue to the screen (being particularly rude to Barry Bostwick’s Brad) and bring along props (e.g., water pistols to simulate the rainstorm). In the more elaborate productions, amateur actors appear on a stage in front of the screen, dancing and pantomiming the lines during the musical numbers.
  • Rocky Horror has shown continuously in theaters since 1975, making it the longest running theatrical release of all time. The film has taken in almost $140 million in receipts, making it the 215th highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation).
  • MTV Networks has announced plans to remake the movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: No question; Tim Curry in full femme makeup and black leather and satin drag, dressed to make glam-era David Bowie look as macho as an NFL defensive lineman by comparison. The image will never leave your mind; for some, it will haunt your nightmares.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s a rock n’ roll musical inspired by old sci-fi and horror B-movies about an alien transvestite. From the moment Richard O’Brien conceived the idea, there was no doubt that it would be weird; the only question was whether he could mold it into something that was even mildly watchable.

Original trailer for The Rocky Horror Picture Show

COMMENTS:  Because we’re interested in weird movies here, not in weird sociological Continue reading 28. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)