Tag Archives: Recommended

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TITANE (2021)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon

PLOT: After a car accident, a young girl has a titanium plate installed in her head; she grows up to be a sexy car-show dancer obsessed with automobiles, and then things get strange.

Still from titane (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The weirdness Julia Ducournau conceived in her cannibal debut Raw is delivered in the biomechanical horror Titane.

COMMENTS: We recommend avoiding spoilers in this case; fortunately, the trailer appears as baffled by Titane‘s action as most viewers were when the final credits rolled. Titane‘s grounded-yet-bizarre story goes in at least two directions you wouldn’t expect. It’s fair to say that it thoroughly addresses body horror—of multiple flavors—but there are also episodes of black comedy and dangerous eroticism, followed by a segue into grief drama and a delusional love story; all the while, in the background, the consequences of an inexplicable and strange assignation grow to an illogical conclusion. The synopsis suggested in the pressbook—“TITANE: A metal highly resistant to heat and corrosion, with high tensile strength alloys, often used in medical prostheses due to its pronounced biocompatibility”—may be as helpful as anything.

The two main performers rock. Agathe Rousselle comes out of nowhere, starting her feature film career with a bang. She starts as a seductive lingerie dancer with a violent side, then turns androgynous and mute. Vincent Lindon has one of those weathered faces that looks like it has absorbed a lifetime of beatings, physical and emotional. He’s as obsessed with his hyper-masculine physique as professional dancer Alexia is with her feminine curves; despite his impressive steroid-aided bulk, his inability to clear a high pull-up bar is the perfect illustration of the frustrated desire to conquer corporeality.

The cinematography and editing is top-notch. From the opening car-show debauchery to a homoerotic firefighter dance party, Ducournau shows an affinity for rave-type dance scenes, relishing the disorienting beauty of being lost in motion inside a beat. Arguably, the sound design is even better; there are moments where the sound of ripping flesh makes you cringe. The musical cues are well-chosen; this is perhaps the only film where you will see someone twerk to a cover of the bluegrass classic “Wayfaring Stranger.” All in all, Titane is a collection of incompatible parts that shouldn’t work, but somehow gear up to create a gruesome but movingly human head-scratcher nonpareil. After making two excellent movies, I’m convinced Ducournau has an unqualified masterpiece inside her somewhere, just about ready to tear itself out.

The fact that a horror movie as violent and transgressive as this one could win the Palme d’Or in 2021 suggests that Cannes has come a long way since it was scandalized and outraged by ‘s similarly-themed Crash (1996). What is it with the French and objectophilia at this moment in history? After this and Jumbo (2020), both of which incorporate motor oil as a bodily fluid, it’s like Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) had a French baby, and she’s all grown up now and ready to party.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Building a nightmarish dreamscape that Davids Lynch and Cronenberg would love, Ducournau puts Alexia on an increasingly weird journey… ‘Titane’ is so self-consciously transgressive and weird, that it’s difficult to discern who it’s for, besides fetishists, freak-flag fliers and fans of auteurism at its most hermetic and solipsistic.”–Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: PUFNSTUF (1970)

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DIRECTED BY: Hollingsworth Morse

FEATURING: Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, , ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot,

PLOT: Stranded with his magic flute on Living Island, young Jimmy must team up with the isle’s magical minions to defeat a witch who will do anything to get the instrument.

Still from Pufnstuf (1970)

COMMENTS: Beloved and recognized by millions, the characters of ‘s signature TV series H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-1970) get their proper due in this feature film. Not only do we have many of the same core cast members from the series, but the TV series director helms the film; it was even shot on some of the same sets from the series. So we would expect this film to just be an extended episode, and it sort of is. It’s more of an encapsulation of the series, complete with beginning backstory and with several songs crammed in. This film’s release date (June 1969) is only a few months older than your humble author (September). It is therefore fitting that a Generation X native is here to guide you through the wild wacky Krofft universe, filled with sapient sea monsters, flying saucers, talking hats, mad scientists, and families lost in the Jurassic Era. In Pufnstuf‘s case, we get a whole magical island called “Living Island” populated by the titular Mayor dragon (voiced by Roberto Gamonet, a departure from series regular Lennie Weinrib) and besieged by a wicked witch named Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes). The primary departure from the series the introduction of members of Witchiepoo’s, ah, coven, the “Witch’s Council,” with the flabbergasting casting combo of Cass Elliot and Martha Raye. Apparently witches have an authoritarian political structure, which might well have been a nod to Samantha Stephens’ supernatural lodge in the TV series Bewitched.

But leaving aside the matter of occult sorority organization, the plot is still formulaic, within its universe. Jimmy (the late Jack Wild) is kicked out of his school band in the first few minutes of the movie, which is the only interaction we see him have with the normal world. Next thing you know, his flute talks, a boat talks, and Jimmy sails to Living Island where everything else talks too. Suddenly Witchiepoo, cruising on a curiously steampunk broom that is prone to run out of gas and stall in the sky, appears, wanting Jimmy’s magic flute in the worst way. She attacks, Mayor Pufnstuf valiantly comes to the rescue despite never having seen this kid before in his life, and the whole plot becomes talking-flute MacGuffin. The Boss Witch calls on the “hot line,” a phone stored within a pot-belly stove so that it fries the hands of whoever answers it, to announce that the annual witches’ convention is to be hosted by our gal. So Witchiepoo is under pressure to do her union proud.

Show-stopper moments include: Team Living Island raiding Team Witchiepoo’s castle dressed as sham firefighters on pretense of extinguishing a fire (because that’s the first idea that popped into Continue reading CAPSULE: PUFNSTUF (1970)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: EVANGELION: 3.0 + 1.0 THRICE UPON A TIME (2021)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , Fumihiko Tachiki, , , Yuriko Yamaguchi; , John Swaney, , , Mary Faber (English dub)

PLOT: Angsty teenage Eva pilot Shinji must cope with his guilt over inadvertently causing the Third Impact, and regroup to face NERV and his own father in a final apocalyptic battle.

Stiill from Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The movie garners significant weird credentials by being only the second anime ever made about emo teenagers piloting giant robots to stave off a psychedelic apocalypse that ends by blasting its protagonist into a surreal purgatory where he wrestles with the nature of reality that’s actually a metaphor for mental illness. In this case, it’s more of a question of what might keep Thrice Upon a Time out of the Apocrypha. The answer there is more difficult, but this alternate take on a story already enshrined in the canon of weird movies does come equipped with one big negative: just to follow the basics—which is a far cry from “understanding” the film—requires you to watch (at a minimum) the three previous movies in the “rebuild series” on top of this 3.5 hour epic.

COMMENTS: Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time concludes a one-of-a-kind epic anime journey with one of the unwieldiest titles ever slapped upon a major release. The “thrice” probably refers to the series’ three different alternate endings—the TV finale, 1997’s End of Evangelion, and this one.

Is this the definitive conclusion to the story, or merely the final one? That will be a matter of taste, but 3.0 + 1.0 boasts some advantages over previous finales. For one thing, it gives more closure to the supporting characters. In previous versions, the story arcs of Eva pilot Asuka and, to some extent, antagonist Gendo were suddenly abandoned to focus on Shinji’s solipsistic hallucinations. Here, these characters play a larger role—Gendo’s motivations are explored in much greater detail—which is, in a conventional narrative sense, more satisfying. The mysterious clone Rei also follows a completely new plotline, resulting in a deeper catharsis than before, when she functioned mostly as a plot device.

Structurally, 3.0 + 1.0 is an odd duck, as Anno tries to keep his many balls juggling with one hand while tying up loose ends with the other. It starts with a four-minute rebuild recap, too brief to orient newcomers but effectively refreshing the memories of series’ followers who waited nine years between the release of 3.0 and 3.0 + 1.0. This is followed by an extended action scene where the renegades of the Wille organization, assisted by Eva pilot Mari, liberate Paris from NERV; it’s superfluous, but supplies an opportunity for an big action sequence up front, and helps to re-establish the good guys and the bad guys.

After this prologue, the movie unexpectedly turns into a post-apocalyptic drama as Shinji, Asuka and Rei shelter in a small village of survivors of the Third Impact. This hour-long, character-based story detour is unexpected, but not as disruptive as you might think. It’s a space for Anno to enact the major change to his story. Shinji still suffers from catatonic melancholia, as in previous iterations; but here, he works his way through his guilt and grief and recovers, resolving to fight against NERV by the conclusion of his stay. This revision allows him to be a vital and active participant heading into the final showdown, which in previous installments had been about the sullen teen working through the nadir of his depression. Since the protagonist’s self-loathing whininess had always been one of the major obstacles to enjoying Evangelion, this alteration will be viewed as an improvement for many. (The out-of-story explanation for this change is that Anno, who recovered from his own bout of depression decades ago, no longer identifies with the whiny, paralytic Shinji, and in fact now has more in common with Gendo, who is a far more sympathetic villain this time around.)

The last hour and a half of the movie gives fans what they came for: robot/spaceship battles, bizarre sciento-mystical musings, and eye-popping visual fireworks (and even a touch of fanservice). The Wille crew, with the three surviving Eva pilots, plunge into the bowels of NERV headquarters in a hellish descent into a bottomless red burrow, with Evas fighting off hordes of enemies as they fall. As always, Anno’s dialogue is thick with poetic-sounding nonsense. “Gendo Ikari–you used the Key of Nebuchadnezzar and willingly abandoned your humanity?,” Maya accuses. “I merely appended upon my body information that transcends the Logos of our realm,” answers the villain in a robotic deadpan. Half the dialogue here sounds like Philip K. Dick was hired to do a rewrite of the Revelation of St. John. The final action sequences are pure visual mayhem, decidedly NSFE (not safe for epileptics), with cascading pixels in a constant chaotic dance. Every space within the NERV netherworld is constantly exploding into some kind of cosmic kaleidoscope, mandala, or fractal geometry. The film does end up exploring the same surreal psychological spaces as End of Evangelion, but spends less time there, and more in a more conventional conflict between Shinjii and his father (who at one point face off in mirror-image Evas battling across imaginary landscapes).

Overall, I preferred the way End of Evangelion launched straight into the crazy from the get-go, and the peculiarity of its fascination with the unappealing Shinji. But I didn’t feel cheated by this version, and I can see how many fans might find this to be the more satisfying—and indeed ultimate—conclusion to the tale. Not for newcomers, since a four-movie commitment is almost a necessity, but for anyone who’s dipped their toes into Anno’s deranged opus before, this will rate as must see anime. It’s the true End of Evangelion, and the end of an era.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Anno opens the film with crowd-pleasing action, delves into the psychological stuff, shifts to a skirmish set beyond all planes of reality and finds yet another psychological plane beyond those planes, and it’s all bedecked by wondrously detailed and tirelessly creative psychedelic imagery. Theoretically, one could ignore the almost impenetrably dense plotting and objectively watch the film for its visuals alone, from the elegant, Ghibli-esque simplicity of its Tokyo-3 scenes to the second half’s parade of hallucinatory sequences, each one crazier than the previous.”–John Serba, Decider (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THX 1138 (1971)

“You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents, and be happy!” — automated life coach booth in THX 1138

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: George Lucas

FEATURING: , Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie,

PLOT: A citizen of a future dystopia rebels against his society and must flee the consequences, hobbled by the people he genuinely cares about.

Still from THX 1138 (1971)

COMMENTS: The first thing we must do is firmly separate the subject of THX 1138‘s creator from the discussion of THX 1138. That alone makes this a challenging movie to view objectively. We’re here today to decide whether THX 1138 is a weird movie. Would the discussion be the same if its famous director wasn’t also the guy who made Star Wars?

George Lucas sows creative seeds here which will later bear fruit in Star Wars. The legions of android cops who chase the title character and company around brings to mind future Stormtroopers; their shiny metallic faces would later update into the countenance of C-3PO. The society is that of a hivemind of stoic drones, like many worlds in the Star Wars universe. Lucas, the world’s champion in the Second-Guessing-Yourself Olympics, would re-release new cuts of THX 1138; new versions opened with a brief trailer for the classic serial Buck Rogers series, which Lucas indicated was a huge influence on Star Wars (as if we couldn’t guess).

When it comes to THX 1138, Buck Rogers is far from its main influence. THX 1138 is about a futuristic dystopian society where one citizen rebels and tries to either escape the system or bring it all crashing down. Other movies in this genre using this exact same story template include (*deep breath!*): Metropolis, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. TAlphaville, Fantastic Planet, Brazil, Akira, Zardoz, The Apple, Snowpiercer, High-Rise, The Platform, and Greatland, just to mention a few already reviewed here. Now consider the literature: “1984,” “Brave New World,” and the never-adapted, shamefully underrated Ira Levin novel This Perfect Day.” These literary works share a ton of DNA with THX 1138.

The dystopian genre produces both some of mainstream cinema’s most beloved masterpieces and some titles from the crème de la crème of the List. But it’s been done. Every kind of batty off-the-wall dystopia idea has been done ten times.

So THX 1138 fails at originality. However, it is strong in execution. Like all the great sci-fi classics from the mid-20th century, it has a distinct look and feel all its own. The movie’s entire society is housed underground, so it has a claustrophobic mentality from start to finish. Even though it’s a color film, the palette is, pathologically, a glaring white with gray and black accents. Everyone is shaved skinhead-bald, regardless of gender, which together with the pure white pajamas they wear makes them all appear like laboratory rats frantically Continue reading CAPSULE: THX 1138 (1971)

CHANNEL 366: BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Gandja Monteiro, Jake Schreier, Matt Sobel, Nick Antosca, Arkasha Stevenson

FEATURING: , , Eric Lange

PLOT: A filmmaker seeking revenge on a producer takes a surreal and supernatural trip down the rabbit hole after making a deal with a witch.

Still from Brand New Cherry Flavor (2021)

COMMENTS: Lisa Nova drives to Los Angeles to meet with producer Lou Burke about expanding her short film “Lucy’s Eye” into a feature. Lou loves the film, a check is written, and a contract is signed. But Lou revokes his promise to allow Lisa to direct after she refuses his sexual advances. Lisa vows revenge on the predatory producer. Lisa goes to see Boro, an odd woman she met at a party who told her she could hurt someone for her. Boro is a witch of sorts, and for a price she will put a curse on your enemy.

“Brand New Cherry Flavor” is a Netflix limited series consisting of eight fortyish minute episodes. Motivations are hammered out pretty quick in the first episode; going forward, it is all about the revenge. The plot is primarily supernatural horror. There is a significant amount of violence and gore ranging from eye trauma to decapitation. And there are definitely enough wacky, what-the-hell moments to qualify the series as weird.

The three central characters all give quality performances. Eric Lange is great as the arrogant and lascivious producer. It was very satisfying seeing him get his comeuppance, and by the end of the series I almost felt sorry for him—almost. Rosa Salazar plays Lisa Nova with a quiet confidence. I found myself liking her more with every episode. One of my favorite scenes has her tripping on some magic stew that actually made me feel like I was stoned myself. My favorite character was Boro, played by Catherine Keener. Her army of zombies, affinity for kittens, matter-of-fact commentary and facial expressions made me smile or laugh out loud several times. There are some genuinely creepy moments and a few shocks, but there is a good deal of humor in this horror series.

I am under the impression that when Netflix uses the term “limited series“ that they do not intend a second season. I really enjoyed “Brand New Cherry Flavor,” and there is definitely more story to tell here. I would welcome a season two. The full series is available to watch on Netflix right now.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Brand New Cherry Flavor may be the best showcase yet for Salazar and her ability to carry a project that, with a different lead, would have collapsed under the weight of its self-conscious weirdness… Not everything Lynchian aspires to be utterly oblique and not everything Cronenbergian aspires to a complete body horror miasma, but it’s striking how Brand New Cherry Flavor achieves beats that are ‘weird’ or ‘gross’ without ever being pervasively unsettling.”–Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: ANNETTE (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Leos Carax

FEATURING: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg

PLOT: After the birth of his daughter, Henry McHenry’s life slides irreversibly into the abyss.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: No, not because the daughter is a puppet. That’s just a convenient, albeit perfect, metaphor for Annette, the character.  Annette the film is an example of distillation in the extreme. It condenses opera’s operaticness to its essence, stand-up comedy to its essence, and so on. Musicals, as a genre, have a lot of leeway that often keep us from considering them as “weird.” However, here the director and screenwriters kick the substance of style as substance into overdrive, making something that is as emotionally affecting as its trappings are meaningfully superfluous.

COMMENTS: “So, may we start?” asks the director in front of a studio mixing board. Cue the screen-/score-writers, Ron and Russ Mael. As the proem is sung, the leads enter the scene. The cast and crew proceed into the streets singing, continuing the opening number before kneeling in front of the camera and then dispersing into the actual action of the story. It’s a spectacle of choreographed artifice, laying bare the central conceit of Annette: this is a performance. There are plenty of musicals about musicals. There are meta-movies. Leos Carax is capturing both in this glorious two-for-one deal, which first shows you all its components before proceeding to confound you anyway. And while this is certainly a Carax picture, he is like the celebrity chef working from the ingredients gathered by the Maels (who record as “Sparks”) over their decades-long career.

The story is so Hollywood that it almost hurts. Stand-up comic and big-time celebrity Henry McHenry falls in love with Ann Defrasnoux, a beloved opera singer; they marry, have a child (more on that later), and tragedy ensues. Why? Because this is opera; this is opera so deep down to its pathos-impacted core that its plot arc is as predictable as it is fundamental. The tragedy of Annette is deeper than it is “large”; no gods, no epic events, just emotional deterioration speeding into spiritual collapse. So it’s Hollywood, and it’s opera. And it’s always playing footsie with the absurd. Annette‘s hook, at least its main one, is that the titular character is a wooden puppet who sings by the light of the moon.

Under normal circumstances, this is where the “uncanny valley” remarks would go. But seeing as this story is neck-deep in the very essence (bordering on apotheosis) of every other element—songs, performance, melodrama, lighting—Annette being a marionette makes perfect sense. As a character, she is controlled not by herself, but by her parents. This ding an sich-ing (she is literally a puppet) is in keeping with what Carax and the Maels are up to. Is there a “true love” duet-montage? You bet there is. And virtually all the lyrics are the words, “We’re so in love”. When Annette becomes a star, there’s a requisite travel montage which echoes the lyrically scant duet from before, with the lines “We’re traveling ’round the world” sung while they… travel around the world. At times the filmmakers beg forgiveness for having to interrupt their emotional archetypes with plot—an important character apologizes a number of times during his expositionary monologue for breaking his speech to perform his job of conducting an orchestra.

This makes him a perfect stand-in for the creators. And his ultimate fate also suggests the perils of the creative process, as characters take on a life of their own and throw a spanner in the works. There have been, and will be, superior movie musicals, but few others revel so fundamentally in the core of performance as a genre. This is a story that hides neither its nature nor its ambitions. And the skill level of its authors—writers, directors, and players—leaves the audience completely in their control.

An Amazon Studios production, Annette debuted for free on Amazon Prime after its 2021 Cannes premiere and brief theatrical run.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a thoroughly banana cakes musical romance… If you sometimes go to the movies to feel unsettled, perplexed, and amused—not to mention get a peek at an often-shirtless and always-brooding Adam Driver—Annette might be the weird one you’ve been waiting for.”–Dana Stevens, Slate (contemporaneous)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: MAD GOD

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RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Phil Tippett

FEATURING: Niketa Roman,

PLOT: An explorer descends into the depths with the mission to destroy God.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Drawing inspiration from Ray Harryhausen and the Brothers Quay, as well as siphoning the theological-cinematic marrow of E. Elias Merhige, Phil Tippett has created a stop-motion nightmare of such scale and unrelenting viciousness that it turns the corner into the darkly poetic.

COMMENTS: Words nearly fail me. I could go on at length about Mad God‘s technical wizardry and the staggering horror of  its vision. The soundscape is calculated for maximum unpleasantness. The entities populating the Hellish layers are the nastiest collection of putrescent malevolence this side of the imagination. Whatever message there may be here is of the utmost nihilistic hideousness. Myriad paragraphs could be spun going over all the elements Phil Tippett has created for this trial of a film, but mere text cannot convey the goings-on in Mad God. I’ve seen torture porn; this movie is nothing short of torment porn.

Babel is destroyed, and what follows is a vision of mankind, had he defied the warnings of Leviticus 26: 27-33. Man survives, as he must and as he can. An explorer in a capsule descends past a skyscraper guarded by flak cannons. He is armored and equipped with a map and a briefcase. And he witnesses Hell on Earth as he travels, passing defecating guardian beasts. Wispy humanoids are stamped in a press and sent off to labor on a giant apparatus, burnt to crisps, crushed under steam-rollers, and splattered by the dark monoliths they have been tasked to create. Down and further down continues the explorer, map disintegrating, briefcase clutched in hand. Inside is a bomb, and with it the hope of destroying this God and what he has wrought. He reaches the bottom, on which rest innumerable heaps of other briefcases. And he sets the timer…

It may be best for me to describe the few moments of comparative ease on display. A doll-like human woman passes her time masturbating; a nurse has the luxury of a pillow to lay upon; and somewhere in God’s alchemical laboratory there exists a carefree group of DayGlo beings who sup daintily on maggots. And that is all I can think of. Of course, each instance has caveats: the doll-like woman is imprisoned; the nurse must facilitate a ghastly human-emptying surgery for each delivery of an ungainly foetus to be handed unto God; and the DayGlo cavorters are intermittently snatched up and eaten by beasts for the alchemist’s amusement.

There is a timelessness to Mad God, explained not just by its lack of dialogue and grandness of the vision. This project took Tippett thirty-three years to complete. Every crushed human, every organ tossed idly aside, and every burst of goo and shit—it all leads to a dispiriting rejoinder to 2001: A Space Odyssey. When God is fed the dust of the infant, he spews forth black monoliths into the cosmos, infecting neighboring worlds. The abominations on display here are beyond most people’s utterance, and you may be tempted to flee, but Mad God ends on an odd note that ever-so-slightly tempers the despair: another explorer, with another briefcase, is sent down for another attempt.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tippett’s odyssey, equally compelling and off-putting, enmeshes the viewer in a maximalist excess not too formally different from the likes of Flying Lotus’ trippily mutated Kuso, abetting its dream logic with lurid visions of the scatological and profane.”–Morris Yang, In Review Online (festival screening)