Tag Archives: Numerology


DIRECTED BY: John August

FEATURING: , ,, Hope Davis, Elle Fanning

PLOT: Three separate plot strands—about a self-destructive actor under house arrest, a writer trying to get his series past the pilot stage while being filmed by a reality TV crew, and a video game designer whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere—intertwine in a mysterious way, with the same actors playing different characters in each mini-story.

Still from The Nines (2007)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Any doubts I might have had about considering this pretty good, pretty strange movie as a candidate for the List were allayed when I heard writer/director John August proclaim “we’re a weird movie, for a lot of reasons…” on the “making of” DVD featurette.  If the director deliberately set out to make a weird movie, who am I to refuse to consider it?  But, while August’s movie scores above average in terms of both quality and of weirdness, I’m not sure that it’s combined totals are high enough to inaugurate it as one of the greatest weird movies of all time, at least not on the first ballot.

COMMENTS: I have to be careful in discussing The Nines not to give away much more than you’d discover on your own by reading the blurb on the back of the DVD case.  When you pop the disc into your player, you can expect to see three different stories—“The Prisoner,” “Reality Television,” and “Knowing”—acted by the same core trio, each playing different roles in each tale.  Besides the actors, locales, song lyrics, a television series, and—especially—the number “9” recur in each of the divergent plot lines, drawing correspondences and reverberances between these various worlds.  There is a thread connecting each strand; and although the first two stories, at least, are engaging on their own terms, it’s figuring out that overarching plan that supplies most of the interest.  One thing that can be discussed (and praised) without spoiling anything is the acting.  Hope Davis plays, variously, a horny housewife, a conniving TV producer, and a hiker in the middle of nowhere; Melissa McCarthy tackles the triumvirate of a bubbly public relations expert, the mother of a mute girl, and herself, the “Gilmore Girls” actress.  But it’s previously unheralded Ryan Reynolds who’s the real revelation here.  As a dimwitted, Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE NINES (2007)

CAPSULE: 4 (2005)

This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010; the article was partially recovered from Google cache, and the rest of the text was recreated from memory.  Sorry, original comments were irretrievably lost in cyberspace.

DIRECTED BY: Ilya Khrjanovsky

FEATURING: Marina Vovchenko, Yuri Laguta, Sergey Shnurov

PLOT: Three Moscow strangers meet at a bar and tell tall-tales, and then we follow what

Still from 4 (2005)

happens to each of them after they leave.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s weird, indubitably. The problem with this cold, wandering drama is that very few viewers will have patience with its molasses pace and murky symbolism; it’s slow without being hypnotic, and mystifying without being mysterious.  It’s difficult to reject out-of-hand a film with high critical marks, excellent technique, and definite weirdness, but 4 seems too dry and directionless to resonate with many non-Russians.

COMMENTS: The shadow of Tarkovsky must still cast over the shoulder of every weird Russian filmmaker, just as the legacy of Lynch haunts their American counterparts.  The master’s influence can be seen throughout 4 in the lovely, leisurely treks through misty tundra; heard in the sound collages mixing mutated railroad clicks and hisses with synths and the baying of far off hounds; and felt in the appropriation of one of Tarkovsky’s favorite symbols, the dog.  The dogs who prowl the rubble of 4‘s Moscow streets and chew up villager’s livelihoods are not the loyal, mystical, otherworldly observers of Stalker and Nostalghia, however; they are remnants of social upheaval and agents of chaos.  With it’s Kafkaesque moments, portentous dialogues, mutant piglets and nightmare crones, incidents of Khrjanovsky’s feature debut conjure up a gloomy mystery that would have fit comfortably into a Tarkovsky film; but unlike its inspirations, it lacks much of a story, is missing an undercurrent of hope that cuts the despair, and has no emotional core.  The film likely reflects the mood of early capitalist Russia, circa 2005: ashamed of the past, already weary of the present, and fearful of the future.  Maybe the fact that the movie captures the latest iteration of Russian melancholy so perfectly is what makes it difficult to watch, and harder to love.  As the story begins we follow three contemporary Muscovites: a meat packer, a prostitute, and a Continue reading CAPSULE: 4 (2005)

36. PI (1998)

AKA π; π: Faith in Chaos

“Very much like the universe itself, the more technologically advanced we become and as out picture of π grows larger, the more its mysteries grow.”—From “Notes on π” on the Lions Gate Pi DVD


DIRECTED BY: Darren Aronofsky

FEATURING: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis

PLOT: Max, a reclusive mathematics genius, searches for a pattern that will help him predict the stock market with the assistance of a supercomputer he has built in his apartment.  He also suffers from terrible migraines which cause him to hallucinate, and believes (sometimes correctly) that people are stalking him.  As he gets closer to locating a certain 216 digit number that may have mystical predictive qualities, he finds himself caught between the machinations of a large corporation and a mystical sect, both of whom want the knowledge inside his head and will stop at nothing to get it.

Still from Pi (1998)


  • Pi was made for a mere $60,000, financed largely by $100 contributions from friends and family.  Each of the cast and crew worked for an identical salary and a share of the film.  Pi eventually grossed over $3 million domestically.
  • The movie was shot in high contrast black and white reversal film stock (usually used for still photography).  In his DVD commentary Sean Gullette says that Pi was the first feature length fiction film shot this way.
  • Pi won the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury prize (losing to the now largely forgotten Slam).  It won the main prize at several smaller film festivals.
  • Aronofsky also created a graphic novel called “The Book of Ants” that presents a slightly different take on the story of Pi.
  • This was the first soundtrack scored by former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint Mansell, who has now become an in-demand Hollywood composer.
  • Aronofsky went on to further critical success with the bleak addiction parable Requiem for a Dream (2000); the weirdish science fiction/romance The Fountain (2006); the straightforward drama The Wrestler (2008), which earned Oscar nominations for stars Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei; and five more Oscar nominations (with a statuette for Natalie Portman) for Black Swan.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A brain crawling with ants that shows up in the strangest places, including on a subway staircase and in a sink.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Math wiz Max’s frequent migraine induced hallucinations give Pi all the weird cachet it needs, but even without them, the hermetic world created by the mix of grainy high-contrast monochrome photography, rapid-fire montage editing, a pulsing electronic soundtrack, and ideas too grandiose and metaphysical to be completely described would have created a movie seething with weirdness. It also features a tough, streetwise gang of devout Hasidic Jews, which by itself gives it an extra weird point.

Original trailer for Pi

COMMENTS:  “When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun.  So Continue reading 36. PI (1998)