Tag Archives: Reincarnation

CAPSULE: YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951)

DIRECTED BY: Lou Breslow

FEATURING: , Joyce Holden, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake

PLOT: A dog is murdered for his vast fortune, then reincarnated as a human in order to solve the crime and protect his former caretaker.

Still from You Never Can Tell (1951)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Proving that high concept is not a recent phenomenon, You Never Can Tell is amiable and lighthearted, barely dipping its toe into the stranger implications of its premise. It’s perfectly pleasant.

COMMENTS: Deciding whether a movie is weird is complicated by the inescapable truth that weirdness is in the eye of the beholder. After you’ve watched enough movies with really strange storytelling and quizzical imagery, it can be easy to forget the simple charms of the unanticipated left turn. It occurred to me while watching You Never Can Tell that, while I was hardened to the oddball premise of a dog in human form, contemporary audiences must have been rendered speechless by the introduction of an animal purgatory lorded over by a lion and populated by a veritable peaceable kingdom. For most readers here, this is a minor obstacle to overcome, but even today, there are certainly audiences for whom it is a bridge too far.

The story of King the German shepherd cum Rex Shepard, Private Detective is built on a quirky idea, but once you get past the supernatural premise, you’re left with a pretty square whodunit. In fact, the villain is identified for us early on, putting a lot of pressure on our interest in King’s voyages through the human world to carry the film. That means you have to really have to be committed to the quest of Dick Powell to bring his own killer to justice, and between his laid-back performance and the script’s cavalier attitude toward its own plotting, he really doesn’t pull it off. In fact, You Never Can Tell is an interesting blip in Powell’s remarkably diverse filmography, running the gamut from the song-and-dance man of 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 to a hard-bitten private eye in Murder, My Sweet and Cornered. (To say nothing of his eventual gig directing the notorious cancer vector The Conqueror). Powell’s turn as private eye pup plays his tougher image for laughs, but other than a propensity for growling and a fondness for kibble, there’s not much to the performance. It’s light, wisely underplayed, but pretty straight and narrow.

If Powell doesn’t make the most of his role, co-star Joyce Holden absolutely does and then some. As Golden Harvest, a racehorse accompanying King as the detective’s confidential secretary, she gets to have all the fun he can’t. With her on-the-nose attire, inch-thick Kentucky accent, and propensity for horse metaphor and picking winners at the track, she is exactly the freewheeling comic relief the movie wants her to be. In fact, her antics hint at a completely different movie than the one that is developing as Rex tracks down his murderer. In that storyline, his pining for his old four-legged life (at one point, he literally steps over his own grave) is matched by the bittersweet longings of his former caretaker, Ellen. The mix of wacky hijinks and earnest grief is at least as weird as any of the rules of the animal kingdom’s afterlife.

Much of the stranger aspects of the premise are left unexplored, or even deliberately sidestepped, such as the deus ex animalis that justifies the climactic romantic pairing. Is it interspecies love if they’re the same species now? But what if the romantic interest started before that? Is this the story of the love of a beast for its keeper? How many of the humans we encounter on the street are merely animals returned to Earth in an inferior form? What are the implications of procreation in this universe, what is human anyway, and what will the sex be like? You Never Can Tell definitely has more potential for weirdness than it exploits, and possibly more than it knows.

You Never Can Tell is the kind of movie you could easily see being remade every dozen years or so, just to give new comedic talents a chance to unleash their inner hounds. It’s incredibly easy to picture this as a vehicle in the late 1990s. (Likely 2019 casting: Kevin Hart as Rex, Kate McKinnon as Goldie.) So it’s notable that the only (unacknowledged) remake of the film thus far, Oh, Heavenly Dog, flipped the script by reincarnating a human (Chevy Chase) as a dog (Benji). Maybe you need an actual animal to get more into character.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This weird premise makes for a funny, inventive comedy. The dog and horse may be human in form, but they’re still animals. Some hilarious scenes play off this, and I won’t give any away. It’s a one-joke movie, sure, but it’s a funny joke, and one that can last the full running time without wearing thin.” – Samuel Stoddard, At-A-Glance Film Reviews

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

219. THE PORNOGRAPHERS (1966)

“Erogotoshitachi” yori Jinruigaku nyūmon

“What kind of fish is that? What is it doing there?

“Very strange…”–dialogue spoken over the opening credits of The Pornographers

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Shôhei Imamura

FEATURING: Shôichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Keiko Sagawa, Masaomi Kondô

PLOT: Ogata makes illicit pornographic films to support his widowed landlady, who is also his lover, and her two teenage children. The widow believes her ex-husband was reincarnated as a carp she keeps in a fishbowl next to the bed and that he disapproves of the arrangement, but she cannot control herself. When she dies, she insists Ogata marry her daughter, but the pornographer has become impotent and obsessed with building a mechanical woman to be the perfect mate.

Still from The Pornographers (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Shôhei Imamura apprenticed as an assistant director under Yasujirô Ozu, and although he was considered a major figure in the Japanese New Wave, his movies are little known outside his native land. In the West, The Pornographers is his best-known work.
  • The scenario was based on a 1963 novel by Akiyuki Nosaka (who also wrote the story on which Grave of the Fireflies was based).
  • The Pornographers was made by Nikkatsu studios, who ironically turned from producing art films to making pornography (“pink films”) soon after the scandal over ‘s “incomprehensible” Branded to Kill in 1967.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Shôhei Imamura frames many of the shots in The Pornographers oddly, including a couple of bedroom scenes viewed through a fish tank; the idea is that we are watching the jealous carp as he spies on his human wife making love to Ogata. The weirdest of these shots, however, has to be a Haru’s deathbed scene, also shot through the carp cam—improbably, this time, from above, as if the fish is looking down from heaven on the spouse who is soon to join him.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Carp ex-hubby; slow schoolgirl porn star; Ogata floats away

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A cavalcade of perversions flecked with short dream sequences and unannounced flashbacks, almost every scene in The Pornographers is eccentric, if not flatly surreal. The main character delivers a philosophical monologue as he walks though an orgy, the matron freaks out to the surf-rock soundtrack in her head, and a new wife strips to garter and stockings as she walks down the corridor to meet her mother-in-law for the first time. Although the story is based in realism, the film’s tone is melodramatic and dreamily erotic—but, ironically, hardly pornographic at all.


Original trailer for The Pornographers

COMMENTS: The key to understanding The Pornographers may be Continue reading 219. THE PORNOGRAPHERS (1966)

100. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES [LOONG BOONMEE RALEUK CHAT] (2011)

AKA Uncle Boonmee

“Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and other beings rise up before  me.”—Title card at the beginning of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

FEATURING: Thanapat Saisaymar, , Sakda Kaewbuadee, Kanokporn Tongaram

PLOT: On his plantation in rural Thailand, the dying Boonmee is visited by living relatives and the ghosts of his past. As they ease him into death, the story is interrupted through vignettes that may represent his memories of past lives.

BACKGROUND:

  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul considerately refers to himself as “Joe” when speaking to Western audiences.
  • Uncle Boonmee is loosely based on a 1983 book by Phra Sripariyattiweti, a monk from Apichatpong’s hometown of Khon Kaen, Thailand.
  • The film is a feature-length component of Primitive, Apichatpong’s ongoing multimedia project, which also encompasses a number of video installations and the short films A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms of Nabua.
  • Received the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Jury president Tim Burton described it as “a beautiful, strange dream.”
  • Sakda, who plays Boonmee’s nephew Tong, and Kanokporn, who plays his nurse Roong, played characters of the same names in Apichatpong’s earlier films Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours, respectively. In both cases, it’s unclear if they’re meant to be the same characters.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Though it’s chock-full of beguiling, whimsical imagery, the single most memorable sight in Uncle Boonmee is that of a princess in a lagoon, undulating with pleasure as she receives oral sex from a catfish. (Unsurprisingly, the words “catfish sex” became synonymous with Uncle Boonmee‘s brand of weirdness immediately following its Cannes premiere.)

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Critics sometimes identify Apichatpong’s style as a mix of


Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

surrealism and neorealism, and this is a handy skeleton key for getting at Uncle Boonmee‘s weird nature. The film contains plenty of enigmatic images and seeming non sequiturs, but they’re framed as natural, even welcome steps in the cycle of life and death. The characters accept them nonchalantly, going along with the film’s dream logic and implicitly entreating viewers to do the same. No clear border separates the mystical from the mundane. And two hours in, when it feels like you should be totally inured to Uncle Boonmee‘s disorienting twists, along comes a denouement that renders everything else normal by comparison.

COMMENTS: An ox, having escaped its tether, strolls through the forest at twilight.  Eventually, Continue reading 100. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES [LOONG BOONMEE RALEUK CHAT] (2011)

CAPSULE: LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2010)

AKA The Four Times

DIRECTED BY: Michelangelo Frammartino

FEATURING: Giuseppe Fuda

PLOT: An old goatherd dies; a goat is born, grows up and dies; a tree is cut down and made

Still from Le Quattro Volte (2010)

into charcoal.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Le Quattro Volte is a strange document crafted to illustrate a strange thesis; its weirdness comes more in the conception than the execution, however.  Most of the time, Le Quattro Volte is like watching a National Geographic special with the narrator’s commentary track stripped away.  It can be mesmerizing if you’re in a contemplative mood, but it doesn’t put that “weird” feeling in your gut.

COMMENTS:  If someone accidentally wandered into a theater playing Le Quattro Volte and observed the sequence of events—there’s no plot, per se—without any preparation or background information, they’d be completely confounded by this mystical, dialogue-free film.  In the first forty minutes an old man herds goats, drinks ashes mixed with water, and dies.  In the next twenty minutes a goat is born, explores its world, gets separated from the herd, and dies (presumably ) under a tree.  In the second-to-last segment that tree is cut down by villagers, stripped of bark and branches and used as the centerpiece of a vaguely pagan tree-climbing ritual; for a finale, the trunk is chopped up and made into charcoal.  The end.  Puzzling, no?  Of course, having access to the pressbook we know [“spoiler” alert],  that the “quattro volte” (“four times”) of the title come from a quote by the ancient Greek mystic and mathematician Pythagoras, and refers to his theory that the human soul is composed of rational (represented by the shepherd), animal (goat), vegetable (tree) and mineral (charcoal) parts, and that the soul may be reincarnated at the moment of death into any of the four types of matter [end “spoiler”].  As the viewer journeys through Volte, he encounters a number of scenes which work as odd little self-contained film poems.  There’s the mysterious shot of a steaming mound that starts the film, a live goat birth, and a woman who measures out and wraps the dust she sweeps up from the church floor into a little bundle made from a magazine cover with the same precision a cocaine dealer uses when preparing an eight ball.  (There is a heavily ritualistic, almost sacred component to even the smallest actions in Le Quattro Volte).  Most impressive is an astounding eight-minute, one-take scene involving a passion play, centurions who unwisely park their pickup truck on a hill, and a vindictive sheepdog that should leave you wondering how in the world the choreography was accomplished.  The film is shot in sunny, tan Calabria, a picturesque region of rolling hills and rustic stone homes with tile roofs that seems unchanged by the centuries; many of the longshots look like landscape paintings from old Italian masters, but with figures slowly moving deep in the background.  People do speak in the film, but only off in the distance, so that speech is just sonic texture, like the barking of dogs, the bleating of goats and the rustling of leaves in the wind.  Language, and human activity in general, is abstracted in the film, marginalized, so that the fate of a man is no more important than the fate of a goat or a tree.

With landscapes, compositions and narrative pace that all resemble a picture postcard, Le Quattro Volte is art with a capital “A.”  As a film it can neither be generally recommended, or recommended against.  It’s intended for a specialized audience of aesthetes and film critics, and it’s a movie that’s unlikely to transcend that demographic.  If you’re at all intrigued by the description above, you’ll probably want to check it out.  But if you have your doubts about whether you can stand staring at the screen while an ant slowly crawls across a shepherd’s craggy face for minutes on end, then watching this movie will seem like taking medicine: you may sense it’s good for you, but you’re sure to grimace trying to get it down.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a devastating, profound and at times surreal work of art.”–Michael O’Sullivan, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

81. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

“Q: How would you define the film’s genre?
A: Psychedelic Melodrama.”–Gaspar Noé, Enter the Void Cannes pressbook

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta

PLOT: Oscar is a drug-dealer living in Tokyo with his stripper sister.  One day he is shot and killed during a deal inside a bar called “The Void.”  He spends the rest of the movie as a silent ghost, floating around Tokyo and observing his sister and friends, while simultaneously hallucinating and remembering the details of his life.

Still from Enter the Void

BACKGROUND:

  • Noé wrote preliminary scripts for Enter the Void as early as 1994; the screenplay was consider to expensive to produce until the director’s 2002 success with Irréversible made it appear commercially viable.
  • Star Nathaniel Brown, a non-actor, was chosen because of his physical resemblance to lead Paz de la Huerta and because he was interested in directing.  As someone with no acting ambitions, Noé presumed Brown would not be upset by the fact that his face is only seen once in the film, briefly in a mirror.
  • Visual perfectionist Marc Caro supervised the set designs.
  • The 100 page script indicated the action and described the visual effects, but very little dialogue was scripted; the actors improvised most of their lines.
  • The paintings Alex is shown working on in the film were actually painted by Luis Felipe Noé, the director’s father.
  • The original run time of the film at its Cannes debut was 163 minutes.  Post production and editing continued after this debut, and, as completed in 2010, the final run time of the film (which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2010) as screened in the U.S. is about 140 minutes.  There is a longer version of the film, however, including a 17 minute sequence where Oscar believes he has woken up in the morgue; this segment occupies reel 7 of 9 reels, and for American screenings the film was simply shown with reel 7 omitted.  The extended cut is available on French DVD releases.
  • Noe instructed theaters that the film should be run at 25 frames per second rather than the usual 24 frames (this fact accounts for some of the discrepancies in listed running times).
  • At the Cannes premier there were no opening or closing credits.  The film began on a closeup of the none sign reading “enter” and ended with the words “the void.”
  • Noé got the idea for the film form watching Robert Montgomery’s noir The Lady in the Lake while on a magic mushroom trip.  Like Enter the Void, Lady in the Lake is filmed entirely from a first-person point of view (actually, in Void the POV is usually from about a foot behind Oscar’s head, though at other times we see events through his eyes).
  • Tokyo was chosen as the location of the film partly because Japan’s strong ant-drug laws would make the actions of the police more believable, partly because Noé believed the city, with its abundance of neon, had a “druggy mood.”
  • Pioneering acid guru Timothy Leary used to read “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” to voyagers undergoing LSD trips in an attempt to steer the experience in a spiritual direction.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The opening DMT trip, with it’s multicolored mandalas, floating planetoids, and neon tentacles seems hard to top, but it merely sets the mood.  It’s the pornographic “Love Hotel” scene, with its parade of rutting couples with mystically glowing genitalia, that really impresses itself on the mind’s eye.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets an automatic pass onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. 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 the movie is weird, is the walkouts.  Less than halfway through the screening I saw, the sexagenarian couple who had stumbled into the film by accident (probably thanks to ad copy suggesting the movie was a sentimental ghost story about brotherly love that transcends death) walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.


Original trailer for Enter the Void

COMMENTSEnter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, Continue reading 81. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

GUEST REVIEW: UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010)

Guest review by Kevyn Knox of The Cinematheque.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, by the Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul (now there are a couple of mouthfuls-and-a-half) is certainly not a film (or filmmaker) for everyone, but if you happen to be one of the lucky ones who can appreciate this dissident director’s young, but deeply-seeded oeuvre, then you will most certainly like this latest film by the man affectionately called ‘Joe.’  Perhaps the director’s best, most fluid work yet, matching or perhaps even surpassing his esoteric treatise on love, Tropical Malady, and his most heralded work, the subtly sublime Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee (as we will shorten it from here on out) is a grand fable that not only incorporates the folktales we have come to expect from this director, but also the personal and political concerns that have also become a staple for good ole ‘Joe’.

Keeping with tradition (traditions of Thai folklore and of Apichatpong’s stream-of-consciousness works) we get the story of a dying man who is reunited with his family—both living, dead (and in-between)—and the rituals and rites that come with both living and dying (and in-between). We also get, again keeping with tradition, an otherworldly tale that involves mysterious, red-eyed Sasquatchian creatures roaming the jungles of Thailand.  The cinematic works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul can be alluded to (though by no means explained or defined) by the paraphrasing of a cherished Hollywood classic—talking monkeys and tigers and bears, oh my.  The filmmaker’s style of sociopolitical (and oft-times autobiographical) movie making, with his slow, wandering camera, lazily weaving between reality and fantasy as easily as between rural and urban or modern and classic or male and female, and his non-preachy philosophizing—a style that the auteur has captured and made his own—is in top form in Uncle Boonmee.

Still from Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)Basically (and the story is subversively basic, or primal, if you will) this is the story of the titular uncle, who finds himself dying and invites his sister-in-law and nephew to spend his final days together on his jungle farm. Shortly thereafter, the ghost of Boonmee’s dead wife shows up to help him get through his illness; shortly after that, Boonmee’s long-lost son returns, in the aforementioned Sasquatchian form (the director calls these creatures ‘Monkey Ghosts’). The film gets even weirder from here on in—wonderfully weirder, that is. It was the first appearance of these ominous monkey ghosts, shortly into the film, that sealed the proverbial deal for this critic. After all this, we join Boonmee in what may be his final moments (or may not) deep inside a cave that seems to be the darkened womb of Weerasethakul’s storytelling. A definite mythmaker, Apichatpong, with his unnatural naturalness wholly intact, has managed to deepen my already heartfelt love for his work.

In my initial look at the succulent Uncle Boonmee (written just after viewing the film at last year’s New York Film Festival), I said this of the film: “The proof in the pudding, so to speak, of the mystical quality of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinema, is when you can introduce a talking catfish into the middle of your story (in a seemingly unrelated episode to the rest of the film) and have him ‘pleasure’ a young melancholy princess beneath a beautiful waterfall, and never once does it seem out of place or extraordinary; merely a natural extension of the director’s mythmaking style of filmmaking. When von Trier had his ravenous fox growl out “chaos reigns” in Antichrist, it was meant to be as antagonistic as the filmmaker himself. In Uncle Boonmee, Apichatpong makes it seem like just a natural thing that happens all the time. A talking catfish that goes down on a princess? Sure, why the Hell not.” And I still agree all these months later—why the Hell not.

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)