Tag Archives: Science Fiction

CAPSULE: OVERDRAWN AT THE MEMORY BANK (1983)

DIRECTED BY: Douglas Williams

FEATURING: Raúl Juliá, Linda Griffiths, Donald Moore, Maury Chaykin

PLOT: Computer technician and cinephile Aram Fingal gets a forced vacation from his body as punishment for poor productivity; when the conglomerate loses his body, they transfer his mind to the mainframe, where Fingal wages war within the company in an effort to be restored.

Still from overdrawn at the memory bank (1983)

COMMENTS: The impulse to make Overdrawn at the Memory Bank was borne out of a good idea. At the dawn of the 80s, someone at PBS noticed the revolution in science fiction entertainment that had exploded upon the scene in the wake of Star Wars, and saw a lane for the public broadcaster in adapting some of the more literary works of the genre. The first attempt, a low-budget, high-concept take on Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven, was an unexpected success. Thus emboldened, producers turned their attention to a John Varley short story about an office drone who finds himself trapped inside the mainframe of a supercomputer. And that is where all the good vibes surrounding this project ran out.

The film that resulted, captured on video and exemplifying the 80s in all its chroma-key glory, was a notorious bomb, remembered today primarily because of its appearance in an episode of.” That’s unfortunate, because while the production is undeniably poor, the idea at its center is still intriguing.

The basic story feels like a more optimistic riff on a theme of , with his ongoing interest in unknowable reality and the helplessness of the individual against colossal and uncaring forces. In addition, the burgeoning revolution in personal computers (which had  been named by Time Magazine as “Machine of the Year” only months before) was making the yet-unlabeled landscape of cyberspace into a more accessible backdrop for storytelling. Like the previous year’s Tron (with which Overdrawn’s plot is surprisingly similar), this is an early attempt to see the inside of a computer as a stage for intense drama.

It is here that this film’s producers run up against the gulf between aspiration and resources, which is in this case immense. The most successful science fiction manages to make the unreal seem real. Overdrawn comes nowhere close to clearing that hurdle. We’re barely two minutes in before the video toaster credits and synth-heavy score kick in, bringing a vibe that is just so very, very 80s. What follows is a parade of scenes set amidst re-dressed modern architecture, pages and pages of technobabble-laced dialogue, and multiple examples of green-screen special effects that seem to have come directly from the Action News Weather Desk. The production is SO much more ambitious than the abilities of the filmmakers can support, and it ends up coming across like some sort of fan film from another place and time.

The movie does have an ace up its sleeve, though: star Raúl Juliá. A famously talented actor, he’s a game performer and pulls off a much better Humphrey Bogart impression than a Shakespearean actor from San Juan has any right to accomplish. But his presence ends up working against the project. Every opportunity to help him fit in better is bypassed. Did his name have to be the decidedly Eastern European “Aram Fingal”? Might the actress playing his mother not have looked quite so Scandinavian? Could he have been a passionate fan of Zorro or Rudolph Valentino, rather than try and make him fill the shoes of Rick Blaine? (The attempt to replicate the setting of Casablanca—one of the most beloved films in the history of cinema—only accentuates the production’s shortcomings.) On the other hand, it’s possible that Bogie himself could not have pulled off an internal monologue delivered over stock footage of a baboon. But Juliá was clearly not the guy to overcome that particular hurdle.

Most of what makes Overdrawn at the Memory Bank odd is the spectacle of seeing such lofty concepts presented in such a lo-fi manner. But while it’s an amusing sight, it renders any attempt to take in the story on its own terms utterly impossible. What was inspired seems silly and what already looked dated is now ridiculous. This account is closed for insufficient funds.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Those who complain about how bad the effects are, or how they have a hard time sorting out all the complexities of the plot, or how little sense this or that element makes, are missing the point here:  this film should not exist.  It’s strange, it has far too many ideas, it’s complicated, it actually adapts a story by a real science fiction writer, it’s way too ambitious for the money they had, and for goodness sake, it’s a science fiction film on PBS! No one would ever have made something like this. And yet they did…  Anything this strange deserves to be seen.” – Mark Cole, Rivets on the Poster

(This movie was nominated for review by “Michael,” who argued “The movie is terrible, but is also so weird and unique as to be entertaining.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)  

CAPSULE: TICKLES THE CLOWN (2021)

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

DIRECTED BY: BC Fourteen

FEATURING: Voices of , Jennifer Fourteen, Marco Guzman

PLOT: 2000 years in the future, the alien Illuminati have taken over Earth, and the key to defeating them lies in the DNA of an imprisoned sociopathic clown super-criminal.

Still from Tickles the Clown (2021)

COMMENTS: Tickles the Clown is notable simply because, by all rational criteria, it shouldn’t exist. A spoofy science fiction saga mocking conspiracy theories done in the style of an extremely cheap video game, it appears to come solely from the obsessive mind of one “B.C. Fourteen,” a prolific (111 writing credits) director/screenwriter who also produces work under the names “B.C. Furtney” and “Christopher Maitland.” It’s the latest installment in a four-movie-and-counting series that includes Bigfoot vs. the Illuminati, Trump vs the Illuminati, and Bigfoot vs Megalodon.

Besides the unaccountable fact that there were three previous movies in the series, two things stand out about Tickles. The first is the animation, which appears to use some video game engine modeling technology like Unreal Engine together with a stock library of motion captures. It’s clearly not hand animated; characters’ faces never change expression (for that reason, several of them are almost always depicted in helmeted spacesuits), and backgrounds are completely static. In place of expressive movements, characters sway slightly or gesticulate at random, like video game avatars awaiting entry into conversation with a player. The effect is slightly uncanny, but, at feature length, mostly tedious. One of the movie’s biggest shocks come in the credits, when you discover it took a team of eleven individuals to create this animation.

The second notable feature is the movie’s insane world-building (much of which we gather from the explanation on the back of the DVD, along with a lengthy exposition drop or two). The series is set two millennia in the future, and the Illuminati antagonists are stereotypical “grey” aliens led by a clone of , who is building some kind of Death Star and also has black magick rituals up his sleeve. Meanwhile, Big Foot—a jive-talkin’ Big Foot, no less—has joined the Rebel Alliance; a conversation with a werewolf who appears on his spaceship’s viewscreen divulges some backstory that is likely familiar to longtime viewers of the series (aw, who am I kidding?)

As for the movie… it’s mostly dull and talky, but every now and then it sparkles with some demented absurdity. The main plot has heroine Princess Kali repeatedly returning to criminal mastermind Tickles’ maximum security cell to try to convince or bribe him into giving up a blood sample (for ludicrously contrived reasons, they can’t get the genetic markers they need if the blood is taken involuntarily). Thus, most of the movie is just a drawn-out conversation between Kali and the recalcitrant-but-horny Tickles, who taunts her with his super-genius insights into her character and background (and tries to get her to show him her boobs). In other words, it’s a Silence of the Lambs rip-off plot in a Star Wars rip-off setting. But those odd touches! It starts off with a quote from Nietzsche, which is not a promising opening for an indie comedy. Every now and then, a bit of live-action stock footage—a mushroom cloud, a cup of tea, an elephant penis (!)—appears to punctuate the script’s point. There’s the relative star power of Bill Oberst, Jr., who injects a surprising malevolent life force into the perpetually grinning Tickles, laughing maniacally and generally playing the role like a potty-mouthed Saturday morning cartoon villain hopped up on too much sugary cereal. Big Foot is cringily voiced as an African American (he even says “word!” at one point). There are numerous plot holes, including the fact that Tickles’ big escape from a maximum security galactic jail is completely unexplained in-movie (the box cover clarifies the situation, albeit with a typo, although to be fair it also describes a completely different plot than the one in the movie).

Tickles the Clown is intended as a comedy, although it’s not very funny. It often plays as a comedy of errors, though one not funny enough for the so-bad-it’s-good crowd. By all accounts, it’s not any better or worse than the previous three entries in the series. Even as cheaply produced as these movies are, given the spotty distribution—Tickles is only available on DVD, one of the previous three movies is on Amazon Prime, but not the rest— it’s hard to believe they are making enough money to justify hiring Bill Oberst for voiceover.  Forget the question of whether the psychopathic clown and the alien Aleister Crowley clone will team up to defeat Big Foot and the generic space rebels, the big mystery posed by the Illuminati series is: how are these obscure movies continuing to get made, in the face of the world’s utter indifference?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The series is pretty wild for the most part but what could be something very fun and memorable has been a tough chore to finish…  It’s one of the most difficult films [in the series] to watch and I was not a fan. Skip it.”–“Blacktooth,” Horror Society (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)

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2021: TIN CAN (2020)

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

DIRECTED BY: Seth A. Smith

FEATURING: Anna Hopkins, Simon Mutabazi, Michael Ironside

PLOT: A parasitologist is abducted after discovering a treatment for a spore-fueled pandemic and awakens inside a life-support canister.

COMMENTS: It was disorienting for me to endure so many of my personal phobias on parade while still remaining committed to finding out how this shuddersome chain of events concluded. Tin Can has plenty of its titular containers: a third of the action takes place inside an icky-liquid-filled cylinder inhabited by Fret, the film’s slime-expert heroine. As she could barely move, practically fused with her surroundings, a sympathetic jab of claustrophobia struck me . And then there’s the disease-y plot device, which on more than one occasion had me glancing away.

There’s a lot of terrible going on in the world now, what with some fungus-based communicable horrificness passing from person to person with greater ease than I would have thought likely just a year ago. So Tin Can feels topical, while still maintaining a futuristic edge. A suffused lighting scheme heightens the clinical spaces, working equally well with the sinister basements of some unnamed facility. Smith opts for a narrow aspect ratio, heightening the sense of constriction, trapping the viewer in its column just as the visuals push you to the edges.

The sound design is also impressive, with plenty of muffled conversations between occupants of the “tin cans”, and all manner of sinister clanks and squoodges as unknown unpleasantness happens beyond the scope of their air vents. Only one character seems remotely pleased at every juncture, a wiry old man named Wayne (Michael Ironside) who seems to have embraced the prospect of being a harbinger some decades prior. The other characters, well, they love, they lie, they… They have a lot of flashback encounters beneath (what I swear) is the same underpass over and over. Come to think of it, Smith not only overcame my personal discomforts with the themes, he also overcame the fact that he only had one interesting character…

Marred though it is by disorienting plot jumps and flat performances (except, of course, Ironside’s giddy eccentric), Tin Can works when viewed as a philosophical essay. Its sounds and visuals—the gold-toned future drones, the dungeon cylinder repository, and the squiggling gyrations of a fungal chrysalis just before it’s crushed—are strong enough to carry us past the ho-hum human element. And Tin Can‘s themes of transformation, deception, and hope are tried and true. The Waynes of the world, with their manic optimism in the face of doom, are as necessary as the hard-nosed, hard-science heroine Fret. Without Fret, we cannot achieve, and without Wayne, we cannot believe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Smith goes big on the visuals, both inside and outside the can… there is work that evokes Andrey Tarkovsky and Marek Piestrak. It’s splendidly realised and atmospheric, which is important because in later, slower scenes, Smith relies on it to maintain a sense of awe when the actors are compromised in their ability to hold our attention.” -Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (festival screening)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: KING CAR (2021)

Carro Rei

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

DIRECTED BY: Renata Pinheiro

FEATURING: Luciano Pedro, Jr., Clara Pinheiro, Matheus Nachtergaele, Jules Elting

PLOT: Born inside a car, Uno grows up being able to talk with it; later in life he reconnects with this old friend after a second family mishap.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: A couple individual flourishes on their own just about lock it (crotch glow-strip Hebreic  “Dead” stamp-panties, car-comm-harmonica), but the thematic fusion of ecological preachifying; Futurism v. (utopian) Communism; and human-vehicular intimacy easily propel King Car into candidate class.

COMMENTS: King Car has a lot of surprises under the hood, particularly as a vehicle for some pertinent socio-philosophical musings: the relation between man and his machines, machines and the natural world, and the natural world and man. This triangle of ideas pivots around the heavy-handed precept that technology has become detrimental to mankind. If her film is an accurate representation of her philosophy, Renata Pinheiro probably thinks we should have slammed the brakes on our scientific advancement at the Amish age. She has no love for cars, something made abundantly clear; more intriguingly, she seems also to have sympathy for the doleful hunks of rust.

Uno is his parents’ first and only son. The mother owns a junkyard overseen by her brother Zé, one of those holy fools that crops up every now and again in family trees and moralistic stories. The father owns a fleet of taxis. Uno is born in the back-seat of a car driven by his father; the journey to a hospital interrupted by some rogue bovines. Uno can talk to this car, and takes it very personally when it seems the car allows his mother to die in a crash. Uno forswears automotive technology, takes up cycling, joins a coop, and aces his agroforestry exam. This displeases his father, who had hoped the boy would take over the family business. When a new regulation banning cars older than fifteen years takes effect, the father suffers a medical emergency, bringing Uno back to his home to face his fears—including the car that “killed” his mother. As it is turned back on, it begins talking with Uno once more.

Innumerable themes and allusions crash together in King Car. There are erotic human/car interactions (read: sex scenes), and anyone who’s seen anything in that sub-genre will immediately think of Crash. (This movie takes out the middle man, so to speak, having the action between just woman and sentient automobile.) Eco-socialist sloganeering competes with, and then morphs into, Futurist rants about the rise of the machine. Tetsuo gets a nod later in the film, when Uno is trapped inside his car’s trunk, which has become an electro-embryonic “This is Your Life” chamber. There are even hints of Colossus: the Forbin Project when Uncle Zé is fixing up “King Car”, following the vehicle’s directions on how to upgrade his frame and make him a vocal unit.

King Car often annoyed me—I know too much about the precedent of cooperative farm-induced famines to overlook idealistic ramblings about the practice—but these occurrences were quickly glossed over when it shifted gears, which was often. A car conspiracy develops, a romance one of the eco-hippies alternately blossoms and withers, and Uncle Zé is always a spectacle worth beholding (imagine a love-child of Dominique Pinon and Jack Nance). Like the titular character after his upgrade, it’s a smorgasbord of disparate parts. However, to resurrect a metaphor, it’s well worth a spin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The DNA of Christine and Holy Motors flows through the core of Renata Pinheiro’s dystopian carsploitation flick, King Car… a fascinating, eccentric, and bold piece of Brazilian cinema.” -Christopher Cross, Tilt

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES (2021)

Droste no hate de bokura

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

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Junta Yamaguchi

FEATURING: Aki Asakura, Kazunori Tosa

PLOT: Kato receives a warning from his future self over the closed circuit TV link between his café and his apartment and things cascade—from innocent hijinks to run-ins with dangerous thugs—much more quickly than he would prefer.

COMMENTSBeyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a meditation on pre-determinism and with it, the concept of history as an immutable foundation for future events and actions. It’s a tightly scripted exercise in reiterative story-telling, exploring (among other things) the Droste Effect as it pertains to temporal progression and regression. With this film’s ironclad approach to time travel, Junta Yamaguchi creates a cinematic sleight-of-hand on par with Primer. Except this time, the story is told for laughs: in addition to everything else, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a rollicking, fun-time comedy.

The shenanigans begin simply enough, with Kato closing up his café and shuffling upstairs to his apartment. Entering his room, he picks up his guitar and begins searching for something. Suddenly he sees himself appear on the computer monitor connected to the CCTV feed from his café below. His future self—two minutes ahead, it is explained—tells him that his guitar pick is underneath the carpet. He finds the missing plectrum and heads back downstairs to fulfill his present-future self’s duty to his past self, and so the cycle begins.

Beyond is a sci-fi temporal sitcom, with a romantic interest (the barber’s daughter we first see, briefly, in the opening shot; which I will remark on in a future paragraph). It’s peopled by a bunch of affable twenty-somethings who are first confounded by the anomaly, then scheme about its possibilities (horse-racing outcomes, anyone?), and then are forced to plot out Kato’s survival when a pair of gangsters crash the time party. The entire thing is shot in four rooms and a stairwell, using an iPhone, so everything hinges on the script. The two-minute gap is adhered to with commendable strictness, and the whole thing is littered with spoof-level platitudes found in countless time-travel movies gone by. (“The future keeps going!”, one exclaims; then, lamenting their earlier escapades, “There’s gotta be a better use.”)

The “opening shot” I mentioned a few minutes ago was a bit of a misnomer, because not being content with just the time-travel constraint, Beyond also gives the impression of being shot in one take. Characters cart the linked monitors up and down stairways, then linger outside the view of the “time tunnel” when they square the screens to face one another, but there is never an obvious cut to the action.

The whole shebang is one uninterrupted hour, which is impressive on account of both the running camera trick and the filmmaker’s restraint; it never overstays its welcome. Fantasia’s earlier stylistic reboot One Cut of the Dead gave the zombie genre a much-needed shot in the arm; Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has renewed my faith in erstwhile time-worn time-traveling.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a remarkable feat that in a film with this many brain-bending moments, the only part that really strains credulity is the length of the power cords of the two screens that drive the plot.” -Thomas O’Connor, Tilt (festival screening)