Tag Archives: Nonlinear

LIST CANDIDATE: THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)

The Man Who Fell to Earth has been promoted to the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Read the official Certified Weird entry here. Comments are closed on this post.

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Roeg

FEATURING: , Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Rip Torn

PLOT: An extraterrestrial visits earth in search of water, but becomes distracted by alcohol, television, corporate politics, and a tempestuous relationship with a human woman.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Roeg’s usual penchants for nonlinear storytelling and rich, occasionally disturbing imagery are stretched to their breaking points here; the resulting film is not always coherent or consistent, but it is fascinating and intermittently very weird.

COMMENTS: Only Nicolas Roeg would have taken a story roughly in the vein of Starman or E.T. and turned it into this.  Instead of falling into a facile, friendly relationship with earth’s inhabitants, Roeg’s spaceman, Thomas Jerome Newton, is afflicted with a severe case of culture shock.  Struggling to simultaneously save his faraway family and understand human behavior, he ends up failing at both, and the film traces out his steep rise-and-fall arc with a plot so disorientingly scrambled that it sometimes threatens to become stream-of-consciousness.

Through this frenzied editing style, we’re witness to Newton’s past, present, and future, although it’s rarely clear which is which at any given moment.  This extreme nonlinearity conveys the sensation of being a stranger in a strange land, as flashbacks bleed readily into the film’s putative reality or its characters’ fantasies; however, this also tends to make plot developments foggy and render motivations obscure.  In this sense, it’s a very messy film, often more interested in delving into Newton’s frazzled interior logic than in aiding the viewer’s comprehension.  Stretched with epic sweep over 138 minutes, the film’s detours and repeated segments (like that of the spaceship crashing) can get frustrating, but The Man Who Fell to Earth is more about visceral sensory experiences and emotional intuition than narrative flow.

Under those terms, the film is a qualified success.  Newton’s skyrocketing financial fortunes, his dalliance with a sweet small-town girl named Mary Lou (Clark), his alcohol-driven decline, and his subsequent institutionalization are all tightly interwoven, delineating a tragic, decades-long trajectory.  The tragedy is further illustrated by the interspersed snippets of memory and fantasy, including a violent musical interlude set to the song “Hello Mary Lou” that recalls the “Memo to Turner” scene from Performance.  Also like Performance (and the rest of Roeg’s early films), The Man Who Fell to Earth abounds with graphic sexuality, which becomes one more avenue for Newton’s experimentation with life on earth.  Both formally and morally, this film is tailor-made to offend conservative sensibilities.

The film’s mounting transgressions are compounded by the way that Bowie’s cadaverous, androgynous body blurs the line between human and alien, especially during the lengthy sex scenes.  His star power and otherworldly aura make the film’s sci-fi conceits believable, since with his shock of unnaturally red hair, his eyes (which are different two colors), and even his British accent—which stands out against the voices of his American costars—Bowie is believably not of this world, and when he chooses to remove his human skin and eyes, the outcome is only marginally stranger than the his original appearance.  As he changes from freshly arrived naïf to contaminated wino, Bowie anchors the film, his intractable presence acting as a counterpoint to Roeg’s flighty direction.

Since Roeg speaks in such an indecipherable visual language, it’s hard to know what to make of The Man Who Fell to Earth.  It’s partly a spaced-out parable about capitalism and chemical dependence, and possibly a satire of the rags-to-riches American success story.  Although it drags on too long and is often unfulfilling, it’s still inexplicably captivating.  When it’s all over and the poor man is stuck here on earth, you’re left with a film that’s as enigmatic, tormented, and unexpectedly beautiful as the pale face of Bowie himself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The story is complicated. It is set up as a near-total mystery that unfolds bit by bit, leaving—it must be said—a few small unexplained gaps. The price paid for this method is a certain confusion; the gain is the spectator’s tingling desire to have the puzzle work out.”–Richard Eder, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

Enter the Void has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. This page is left up for archival purposes. Please view the full review for comments and expanded coverage!

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown

PLOT: A small-time drug dealer in Tokyo is shot, and spends the rest of the movie as a

Still from Enter the Void (2009)

hallucinating ghost, floating about the city watching over his drug buddies and his grieving stripper sister.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets automatic consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  The fact that the protagonist is dead throughout most of the movie doesn’t hurt its chances one bit.  But the clincher, the sure sign that your movie might be weird, is the fact that less than halfway through the screening the sexagenarian couple walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.  The Region 1 DVD drops January 25, 2011, at which time Enter the Void will become eligible for the List and get an immediate second look.

COMMENTS: Enter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, eye-candy masquerading as mind-candy; it has all the reckless visionary enthusiasm and delightful pretension of a Ken Russell picture.  With the opening credits—a series of garish, frequently unreadable stills sprayed at the screen like pop bullets from a machine gun projector, set to a pounding techno score—Gaspar Noé warns us to prepare ourselves to see something different, though we have no idea what.  (The original festival screenings did not include any credits, beginning immediately with the closeup of the neon sign reading “Enter”).  After quickly introducing the main characters, drug-dealing Oscar (from whose POV the entire film is shot) and his stripper sister Linda, the movie segues into a wordless five minute DMT trip, an abstract rainbow odyssey of swirling, melting mandalas and gently waving tentacles.  Oscar emerges from his drug reverie, still fuzzy-eyed, and the film ever so briefly enters the realm of straightforward narrative as he strolls with a buddy through the neon streets of  Tokyo towards a fatal rendezvous.  Shot to death in a men’s room, the vast bulk of the movie involves Oscar’s passive postmortem adventures, as he floats around the city observing his former friends in the expatriate community, and especially spying on his beloved sister—including, creepily, watching her real time sexual encounters in the back Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

BITCH SLAP (2009)

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

DIRECTED BY: Rick Jacobson

FEATURING: Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, America Olivo

PLOT: Three chesty babes fight punk interlopers, each other, and the screenwriters’ over-infatuation with flashbacks while searching for a treasure in the desert.

Still from Bitch Slap (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s postmodern pretensions and post-Memento plotting show an ambition for the offbeat, but the producers ultimately understand that it’s cleavage shots and catfights that pay the bills. An absurdly overdeveloped plot, exaggerated B-movie archetypes, and crazy flashback set pieces staged before unconvincing but imaginative green screen vistas turn Bitch Slap a slightly weirder, but not weird enough, version of a late night cable jiggle-fest.

COMMENTS: A Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! homage made with a sub-Tarantino snarkiness, Bitch Slap plays fine if you go in with the right (i.e., low) expectations. The three actresses do well and tackle their roles with relish—Olivo is particularly memorable as Camaro, the pill-popping psycho—but the metaphysically threatening sexuality of a Tura Satana is missing from this batch of castrating Amazons. Great satire it is not, and at times too much winking self-awareness threatens to sink it, but in the end the correct spirit of silliness almost always  prevails. It’s one thing when a sleaze rock anthem starts playing and the camera goes slo-mo and split-screen while zooming  leeringly on the ladies’ sweaty bosoms and provocatively cocked hips as they shovel in the desert dressed in tank-tops or tattered evening gowns. It’s another level of goofiness altogether when the gals temporarily forget about the crime kingpin who’s hunting them down so that they can cool off by throwing jugs of ice water onto one another.

Back stories are revealed in frequent flashbacks, but these serve little function other than allowing the filmmakers to set up crazed green screen set-pieces.  There’s a magical realist scene where a sparkling angel-winged dancer takes stage as the strip club DJ improbably spins “Ave Maria,” a nunsploitation interlude, and a ridiculous shootout on the Las Vegas Strip (which plays even funnier when you realize that the characters, posed in front of scattered neon landmarks, must be firing their automatic weapons at each other from miles away with no possible lines of sight). Add into the mix a chick-fighting Japanese schoolgirl named Kinki wielding a flesh-rending yo-yo, and there’s enough craziness to keep weirdsploitation fans entertained.

In keeping with the post-feminist theme (a character conspicuously carries around a tome bearing the title “Slutty Bitches in Post-feminist America”), there’s no actual nudity from the leads. The bitch-goddess archetypes here keep their goodies conspicuously displayed on the shelf, but don’t give away free previews; their mammary charms are just bait. Men are of little use to them; the three prefer to make love (and war) with each other. The male cast are annoyances to be disposed with as quickly as possible, after they’ve been actually or symbolically castrated. This is empowering female iconography, though only to gorgeous lesbians with gigantic breasts. A major downside to the film is the fact that it goes on about twenty minutes too long; the spell the flick casts seeps away the longer it plays. This is the rare sexploitation case where drastically trimming down the lesbian love scenes and catfights would actually have helped the movie.

Another downer is the recycling of a well-known plot twist from a popular 1990s thriller; it’s not only embarrassingly obvious, but pointless, since twist endings aren’t really a feature of the genre they’re spoofing anyway. Still, if you can overlook those flaws, and the fact that the movie projects the sense that it believes it’s smarter than its Russ Meyer source material (it isn’t), you may find that Bitch Slap isn’t a total bust.

The director and producer previously worked on the syndicated television series “Hercules: The Legendary Adventures” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless and Rene O’Connor all show up in bit roles. Stunt coordinator Zoe Bell worked on “Xena” and also as a stunt double in Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..despite these (and other) glitches, there’s a grungy vigor to Bitch Slap at its very best moments…there’s also just enough carnage, cans, and plain old weirdness to keep the wheels spinning throughout. (Every time I started to get bored with the flick, it threw something new and weirder into the mix. In B-grade jiggle-action homages, that kind of stuff can go a long way.)”–Scott Weinberg, FEAR.net

CAPSULE: TRIANGLE (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Smith

FEATURING: Melissa George

PLOT: The mother of an autistic son reluctantly goes on a pleasure cruise with five other

Still from Triangle (2009)

young adults; the yacht capsizes in a freak electrical storm and the party is “rescued” by an abandoned ocean liner.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Triangle is weird, and frankly entertaining, but like Stay, it kept reminding me of other, slightly better, movies I’d seen before.

COMMENTSTriangle depends so much on its plot twist—which you will be highly unlikely to see coming until about the midpoint of the movie—that it’s difficult to talk about the film without spoiling it, though I’ll do my best.  Melissa George does a creditable job and was a good casting choice for the lead: she’s easy on the eyes, tough yet vulnerable, anguished in her misplaced guilt over “abandoning” her autistic son to go on the ill-fated pleasure cruise, and generally likable, all of which makes the film’s ultimate revelation about her easier to take.  The rest of the cast does a decent job in supporting roles, but it’s entirely George’s picture.  The direction is good: dramatic, suspense and action scenes are handled well, although there’s no single scene that sticks out quite far enough for the movie to hang a hat on.  The abandoned steamer—it’s never clear whether it’s a commercial ship or a luxury liner, although it does have a theater and a banquet room—makes for an atmospheric location on a mid-sized budget.  As noted, the mystery of the opening builds until about the midpoint, where things begin to get clear; then, it’s mostly a question of details, of following the premise where it will inevitably lead.  Unfortunately, where it leads is to a coda that creates more questions than it resolves.  It’s safe to say that the movie is more satisfying on an emotional level, as a metaphor for the difficulty of escaping a pattern of self-destructive behavior, than it is on a plot level.  Eventually, the script becomes too clever for its own good, gliding casually past the difficult paradoxes it creates, hoping the audience either won’t notice or won’t care.  That’s not always a problem in a movie, and along with the fact that the movie never tries to explain where it’s supernatural rules originate, it certainly adds to the weird factor.  But Triangle gives off the vibe that it wants to provide a satisfying and complete resolution, something that closes the loop, but can’t quite manage it.  When you get to the end, you may wind up asking yourself, where does this story actually begin?  With it’s cyclical structure that appears to wrap the plot up in a self-contained ball but actually falls apart on closer inspection, Triangle reminded me of a poor man’s Donnie Darko.  Compared to that adolescent angst flick, it’s more coherent but less original, less aggressive in its outrageous plot devices, less emotionally affecting, and lacking in star turns and impeccably orchestrated individual scenes.

Triangle is worthy of a recommendation.  But the film compares unfavorably not only to Donnie Darko, but also to the little seen Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes] (2007).   (To make things as twisted as one of these psychothriller plots, the original Timecrimes is being remade in English and is scheduled for a 2011 release, meaning soon enough we will see people complaining that Timecrimes is nothing but a Triangle rip-off).  It shares its central plot idea with the low-budget Spanish picture, and maybe even a little more than that: Continue reading CAPSULE: TRIANGLE (2009)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: WINTER OF FROZEN DREAMS (2009)

DIRECTED BY:  Eric Mandelbaum

FEATURING: Thora Birch, , Brendan Sexton III, Leo Fitzpatrick, Dean Winters

PLOT: An unambitious young man balances uneasy alliances with the authorities and his psychopathic girlfriend when she involves him in a meretricious murder case.

Still from Winter of Frozen Dreams (2009)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Non linear story telling, oddball characters and incomprehensible motivations combine to weave a tapestry of weirdness in this contemporary film noir mystery.

COMMENTS:  Some movies don’t have to be garishly bizarre to be weird.  Winter of Frozen Dreams employs a soft, almost poetic production style to tell a tawdry tale of twisted topics set down as causally as if the story were an episode of the Donna Reed Show.  The nonlinear plot is partially presented through the flashbacks and subjective impressions of a cast of oddball, unsavory characters whose disorganized, irrational lives inexplicably intersect in a convoluted morass of lies, depravity, deceit and murder.

Set in 1977 Madison, Wisconsin, Winter of Frozen Dreams relates the events of the notorious Hoffman murder case.  On Christmas day, Gerald Davies walked into the police department and announced that he had helped his girlfriend dispose of a bloodied, battered corpse at the Blackhawk Ski jump park near Middleton.  Police accompanied him to retrieve the body of Harry Berge and a series of perplexing events began to unfold that led to the arrest of Barbara Hoffman.  The case drew a great deal of attention because it was the first televised murder trial in the state.

Of even greater interest to the public was the fact that the accused was a beautiful girl with an IQ over 140 who led a triple life.  In addition to being a straight ‘A’ biochemistry student at the University of Wisconsin, Barbara Hoffman was a psychopathic whore and Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: WINTER OF FROZEN DREAMS (2009)