Tag Archives: Science Fiction

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE ADVENTURE OF DENCHU-KOZO (1987)

Denchû kozô no bôken; AKA The Great Analog World

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Shinya Tsukamoto

FEATURING: N. Senba, Nobu Kanaoka, , , Shinya Tsukamoto

PLOT: Young Hikari is bullied because of the electric pylon growing out of his back, but he’s got a time machine; after using it to impress a girl, he finds himself twenty-five years in the future in a land plagued by cybernetically enhanced vampires.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Seeing as how Tetsuo: the Iron Man is Certified and this film has all the same weird ingredients–and then some–it would be remiss if this did not elbow its way into the growing Apocrypha crowd.

COMMENTS: For those with a smattering of Japanese, the title explains the premise: this movie is about the adventure of “electric rod boy”. Within the movie, he is given the more formal (and heroic) title by a mysterious servant of the time-tunnel: The Electric Pylon Boy! (“The” added for saga-worthy emphasis.) When the most normal character in a time-travel-cyber-vampire story has a metal rod growing out of his back, you know you’re in “weird” territory.

Of course, we’d expect nothing less from Shinya Tsukamoto. Two years before he graced the world with his chef d’oeuvre, Tetsuo: the Iron Man, he put together this pint-sized sci-fi epic that, visually at least, laid quite a bit of groundwork for his more famous tale of technological transmogrification. Not content to merely be the writer, director, and nearly every other role behind the camera, Tsukamoto puts in a turn as one of the doomsday vampires with a performance that fully develops his “fetishist” character in Tetsuo.

Back to The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo. Our hero, Hikari, is the butt of jokes—not just because he’s a nerdy weakling, but also because of the strange, prominent (and totally, totally non-phallic, I swear) growth on his back. He’s beaten up, because “boys will be boys,” but said boys get thwacked themselves by the protective Momo, ever armed with her stick. Thanking his savior, Hikari says, “I’ve got a time machine”, and before you can say, “Are you sure this is a good idea…?,” he zaps himself into the future!

What ensues after that involves a lot of wires (growing and otherwise), some highly self-consciously silly montages, and vague allusions to the explosive substance “Adam Junior” (not to be confused with “Atom…”) whose explosions block out the sun sufficiently for the Shinsemgumi vampires to emerge from hiding and conquer humanity. There’s also the first glimpse of the notorious drill-bit penis that everyone knows and loves from Tsukamoto’s follow-up, as well as plenty of that stop-motion/high-speed character movement that I personally can’t get enough of. And just in case you didn’t think this movie was serious, it also takes La Jetée-esque logic into consideration.

But no, this movie is not remotely serious. Denchu-Kozo‘s respect for coherent time loops is fused with so much random crazy metal junk (figuratively and literally) that any pause for intellectual or emotional reflection is almost immediately derailed by synthesizer-backed action platitudes, pylon bonking humor, or Tsukamoto’s character hamming things up even beyond the main course of Ham with Ham. Incidentally released the same year as science fiction classics RoboCop and Bad TasteThe Adventure of Denchu-Kozo nicely bridges their respective tones of cyber-science-fiction and silly-savage-slapstick.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“….[an] insane forty-six minute short… For such a brash and often perverse effort, it is curious to note that it is sweetly naive: it’s really a child’s story, a superhero origin story, wrapped up in a post-Apocalyptic nightmare, only with violence, nudity, and a woman turning into a doomsday machine.” -Mark Cole, Rivets on the Poster (DVD)

CAPSULE: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Rüdiger Vogler, ,

PLOT: A disillusioned young woman follows a mysterious stranger across the globe, only to become transfixed by a device which allows the user to record and replay their own dreams.

COMMENTS: Usually the term “Director’s Cut” suggests that a film was extended by 10 minutes, or even an hour, from its initial form by restoring footage left on the cutting floor due to studio pressure. But in the case of Until the End of the World, it meant doubling the film’s original running time from two and a half hours to almost five. With this film, German auteur Wim Wenders intended to make “the ultimate road movie,” building on a career of road movies such as Kings of the Road and Paris, Texas. In other words, he set out to make his magnum opus. Now, thanks to the Criterion Collection, his vision can finally be seen as originally intended.

So how does it hold up? Well, it’s an improvement on the original truncated version, which felt rushed and confusing, but it might not be the masterpiece that Wenders intended. Where the original version was two incomplete films haphazardly cobbled together, the five-hour version is essentially two films in one. The film no longer feels incomplete, but it remains uneven. The first half is a breakneck journey through eight countries. This is the ostensible “road movie” portion of the film, although it feels a bit rushed even stretched out to two hours instead of one.

In this section, we follow a beautiful woman named Claire (Solveig Dommartin) who becomes obsessed with an elusive man (William Hurt) and chases him from one country to another. There are a lot of side characters, most notably Claire’s writer husband Eugene (Sam Neill) and Mr. Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), an inept but poetically inclined private detective who Claire meets in Berlin. In the five-hour version, we get to know the characters a lot better. Eugene’s pensive narration gives the viewer considerable insight into Claire’s psychological state, illuminating the reasons behind her tireless search for a man that she doesn’t know anything about.

But while the character development may be improved in the long version, Until the End of the World still doesn’t feel like much of a road movie. The characters seem to beam from one place to another. There are brief scenes on airplanes, trains and boats, but very little driving—the thing that defined Wenders’ classic road movies from earlier in his career. Very little seems to happen between destinations; almost all of the characters’ crucial conversations and revelations happen when their paths align for a brief moment in a fixed location.

However, the characters’ journeys do lead to a particular final destination which brings them all together: Central Australia. Just like Continue reading CAPSULE: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991)

CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jim Carroll

FEATURING: Morgan Roberts, Ilsa Levine, Geraldo Davila, Donny Boaz, Lamar Usher, Jason Castro

PLOT: Muslim extremists use a time machine to go back to 33 A.D. to try to assassinate Jesus; with the encouragement of his Christian girlfriend, an agnostic genius tries to fix the time stream.

Still from Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)

COMMENTS: I wouldn’t say its impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie; would have nailed it. But I am pretty sure it is impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie that involves terrorist strike teams with assault weapons going back to 1st century Judea to assassinate Jesus. Assassin 33 AD is Donnie Darko meets The Passion of the Christ done on the kind of budget usually reserved for an episode of “The 700 Club.”

Assassin33ad.com boasts that the script has “won more International Screenplay Awards than any know [sic] script in history.” Starting straight off with the line “I’m just struggling. I went from saving an embassy and killing terrorists to being head of security at a research lab,” delivered casually by a rugged man to his wife on a Sunday drive, you can see why. That’s the kind of expository introductory dialogue slick Hollywood movies are too afraid to put in for fear it might sound “clumsy.”

The wife who needs filling in on what her husband has been doing with his life is Heidi Montag, a former Playboy model and current aspiring Christian pop singer who, like much of the cast and crew, was drawn from a cable TV show called “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars.” In another fine bit of screenwriting, Montag’s husband chuckles fondly, “That British accent!” This is necessary foreshadowing, because the accent will turn up as an important plot point late on, and without that bit of dialogue we’d have no way of knowing  that she spoke with a British accent. Assassin33ad.com reveals that a producer warned the director when he was planning to cast Montag that “Reality stars can’t act.”

Maybe all the praise for the screenplay comes from its nimble handling of the multiple timelines that infest the second half of the movie. I can’t opine on that, because I quickly lost track of how many time-clones there were running around, and which one were alive and which ones were dead, after the second or third time the hero (Ram Goldstein!) and/or villains leapt  backwards or forwards in time like chronological yo-yos. Personally, it seemed to me that they made up the rules of time travel on the fly:  somehow, even though he just invented time travel accidentally twenty four hours ago, Ram knows that there’s a lag between changing the past and overwriting the present that could take “minutes, possibly hours, maybe longer,” Continue reading CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

CAPSULE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT MOVIES OF ALL TIME, PART 2: HORROR AND SCI-FI (2020)

DIRECTED BY: Danny Wolf

FEATURING: , , Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollack

PLOT: This is part 2 of a three part documentary about cult films, focusing on horror and sci-fi featuring clips and interviews with critics and those associated with the films. (Volume 1 is reviewed here.)

Malcolm McDowell in Time Warp the Greatest Cult Movies of All Time, Vol 2 - Horror and Sci-Fi

COMMENTS: Joe Dante, John Waters, Kevin Pollack and Illeana Douglas host the documentary. Dante introduces each title, while his co-hosts add commentary between clips and interviews. At a running time of 1:23:22, each film is afforded a decent amount of coverage. Director Danny Wolf and his crew pull out all the stops on assembling a parade of entertaining and relevant interviewees. There are a handful of critics included, but most of the interviews are with the cast and crew of the films.

The always entertaining shares some great Evil Dead stories. Ken Foree discusses working on both Dawn of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects. chats about Death Race 2000. If there was a competition for Queen of Cult I think Ms. Woronov, would have to be crowned. She also graces Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Eating Raoul, both of which will be covered in the documentary’s third part; and she appears in Night of the Comet, Terrorvision and Chopping Mall, any of which could easily make a list of cult horror films. Edwin Neal, who plays the hitchhiker in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, takes us on a tour of the old house, which is now the Grand Central Cafe. Director talks about Re-Animator (sadly, Gordon passed away in March of this year). Malcolm McDowell tells a funny story about meeting Gene Kelly. And there’s , , , archival interview footage of and ; the list goes on.

After watching this documentary I started a conversation on Twitter about cult film. I realized quickly that people had varying ideas on what exactly gives a film cult status. In my mind a cult film does not have mainstream appeal but, through word of mouth after a reasonable amount of time has passed, grows a small but ferociously dedicated audience. I don’t think that is the case any longer. Cult films have evolved simply due to the fact that everything is so easily accessible. The “reasonable amount of time” that must pass is no longer a factor. Home video wasn’t common until the early 1980s, so films remained in obscurity for years. Even with home video, there were films that were difficult or impossible to get. Social media has changed everything.

I don’t think any two people would create an identical list of their favorite cult films of all time; my own list would look quite different from this one. That said, there are two selections I must quibble over. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is without a doubt one of the greatest horror films ever made. It does buck all the rules of cultdom, though. It was successful on its release, was well-reviewed, and is probably one of the best known and most loved horror flicks of all time. Secondly, Human Centipede is the only film to make the cut that was not made in North America. Of all the amazing and unique horror films to come from other countries, they decided to include Human Centipede as one of the greatest cult horror films of all time! I actually liked the movie, but its inclusion here sincerely boggles my mind.

Still, overall this is a great list of films; I am particularly thrilled they included Liquid Sky. The absolute definition of a cult classic; a genuinely weird and one-of-a-kind flick. There is something to entertain everyone in this documentary, from the seasoned horror and sci-fi fan to the newcomer.

The complete list of titles featured:

Death Race 2000
Liquid Sky
Human Centipede
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
The Brother from Another Planet
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Re-Animator
Blade Runner
Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead
Evil Dead
The Devil’s Rejects
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wolf also makes time for independent fare, surveying the strangeness and scrappiness of ‘The Brother from Another Planet’ and ‘Liquid Sky,’ with the latter title especially gonzo in terms of new wave immersion, limiting outside appreciation. ‘Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time Volume 2: Horror & Sci-Fi’ sustains the sugar rush of the previous endeavor, with Wolf once again providing a fun reminder of quirky and gruesome cinema achievements and the artists who brought them to life.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE PLATFORM (2019)

Recommended

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El hoyo

DIRECTED BY: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

FEATURING: Ivan Massagué, Alexandra Masangkay, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale

PLOT: To qualify for an “accredited diploma,” Goreng volunteers to spend six months on “the platform”: a vertical prison with one feeding tray that allows the inmates, from floor one down to the bottom, a mere two minutes to eat their daily sustenance before it moves on, emptier and emptier as it descends.

Still from The Platform (2019)

COMMENTS: As a social experiment, watching The Platform with like-minded 366ers was a real treat. But the social experiment explored by film itself is nothing but harrowing. Though he takes some visual (and, doubtless, budgetary) inspiration from another near-future tract about human nature, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia is making his own movie, telling a story whose scale and brutality can make you lose your appetite.

Like the titular conveyance, The Platform begins piled on high—but with intrigue, instead of food. The (literal) platform’s food, we learn, diminishes during each section of its downward journey. Concurrently, our insight into the film’s premise increases. Goreng (Ivan Massagué, looking a bit scrawny even before his ordeal) is the lens through which we watch the system, administered, of course, by “The Administration.” He is an academic, established not only by his demeanor, but also by his sole possession: a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. His only companion is an older gentleman. He’s affable enough, to be sure, but also armed with a “SamuraiPlus”: a knife with the almost magical ability to self-sharpen with use (or so claims the advertisement). Goreng learns the hard way that an accredited diploma might not be worth this ordeal-by-privation.

Rarely have I ever seen “drab industrial” captured so well–and so simply. The Platform hinges wholly on the script and its characters, since we spend almost the entire film on a simple, concrete cell. Massagué and the rest are all top notch, imbuing a believability into what are effectively expositional conversations interspersed with some not-so-light-handed social commentary. Capitalism is skewered, then roasted to perfection by some of the top cooks in the business. Having such an obvious agenda often does a disservice to a film, but Gaztelu-Urrutia tempers the preachifying with humor, pathos, and some incredibly well maneuvered dei-ex-machina sleights-of-hand. The Platform is an impressive movie, though perhaps not best enjoyed with a good meal.

The special screening I had the good luck to attend in late March provided a much-needed change of pace. I typically approach each film in complete silence, frantically scribbling away in a notebook. I was reminded of the pleasure of viewing with friends, and the importance of cinema as a shared experience. It is only when there is a shared context that we can communicate effectively. And though The Platform couldn’t be described in any way as a “fun” movie, watching it with a gang was quite enjoyable. (Even if the food-based avatar icons most of us chose seemed a little hard-hearted by the end.)

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A gnarly mash-up of midnight movie and social commentary, the picture is overly overt but undeniably effective, delivering genre jolts and broad messaging in equal measure.”–Jason Bailey, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

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DIRECTED BY: Julien Temple

FEATURING: , Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayons, Jim Carrey, Charles Rocket

PLOT: Valerie discovers her fiancé is cheating on her, but finds her “Mister Right” when a trio of furry aliens crash land in her pool.

Still fromEarth Girls Are Easy ()

COMMENTS: Seeing as I’m on probation for recommending Apocrypha status for movie musicals, it was a dangerous decision to dive into Julien Temple’s cult classic, Earth Girls Are Easy. While I had my typical “so, this is weird…” reaction that I do with every musical I see, at least this time the environment wasn’t as off-kilter as a magnified downtown London; it was merely off kilter in a “Dear-God-1980s-Hollywood” kind of way. Temple’s film–which is really the brainchild of Julie Brown, the go-to Valley Girl  at that time–runs longer than it should with plenty of awkward moments of stupidity. That said, once it finds its footing it hovers within a stone’s throw of recommendable.

Earth Girls Are Easy does not begin with said Earth girls, but with the aliens who discover them. Mac (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey), and Zeebo (Damon Wayons) are a crew of brightly colored, fur-covered aliens on a mission of… well, it’s not clarified, and it doesn’t matter. While Mac is in stasis, Wiploc and Zeebo are puttering around the ship looking for a transmission signal, preferably one transmitting an image of hot women. When one of them prompts the navigation system to go haywire, they crash on a nearby planet, right into Valerie’s pool. Because she’s recovering from a spat with her now-ex-fiancé (lovely ’80s-slimy Charles Rocket), and because this is a musical, the plot becomes an engine for getting her together with one of the extraterrestrials. Dance numbers, big hair, and lite satire ensue.

A number of factors scream, “This movie merits no further thought.” It’s an ’80s movie about the ’80s, so its humor is obvious; it’s a musical, so its plot is of tertiary concern; and it’s directed by a guy with a music video career, so though the film’s look is lively, it breaks no new ground. However, the presence of Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis lifts Earth Girls up from dreck to the lofty designation of “fun.” Goldblum, in particular, gives Mac a nuance, and at times a pathos, that the subject material doesn’t remotely deserve. During a night on the town, after the aliens have absorbed countless television soundbites, Mac inquires of Valerie, “Are we limp and hard to handle?”, giving this query from an advertisement a sensitivity that well explains why he’s one of his generation’s greatest actors.

Geena Davis, who co-starred opposite Goldblum in Cronenberg’s haunting version of The Fly, rekindles that tragic romance in a bubblegum setting. Golblum and Davis are cute together, and have a real connection; though this is really the only thing to recommend about Earth Girls, it gives it enough gravity to be worthwhile.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Great, wacky-sexy title. Attractive, amiable cast, with Davis, Goldblum and pop singer-satirist Julie Brown. Promising concept, with three space creatures—very humanoid, very male, very horny—crash-landing in the swimming pool of a gorgeous woman who has just thrown her philandering boyfriend out of the house. So why is this movie about as much fun as a bowl of cold Spaghetti-O’s?” –People (contemporaneous)

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