Captain Millipede, voiced by Tom Waits, tells of his last excursion to harvest milk from the moon 3.7 billion years ago when it was close enough to be reached with a ladder.
DIRECTED BY: Francis Ford Coppola
PLOT: Horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is in decline, hacking out formulaic product and going on book tours to nowhere places, like the town of Swan Valley. The local sheriff (Bruce Dern) tells him about an unsolved massacre that took place in the town years ago, suggesting a collaboration on a book, which Hall doesn’t take seriously—until he starts dreaming of a young girl, V (Elle Fanning), who may be connected with the murders, and may be either a ghost or a vampire; and of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), who becomes a spiritual muse the deeper Hall delves into the mystery.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: What gives the film an aura of weirdness is its visual style, elements of which recall earlier Coppola films (mainly the more experimental ones like Rumble Fish and One from the Heart), along with the elements of autobiography that thread through the film. While it may be a bit too early to declare this as Essential Coppola, there are rewards to be found here for the adventurous moviegoer.
COMMENTS: Twixt has had a tortured time getting out to an audience; originally scheduled for release in late 2011 after several festival screenings and Comic Con hype, the movie has been released in France and England and only recently made its domestic premiere in San Francisco, with no concrete word (as of this writing) as to wider release in the U.S. Which is not that surprising, considering that most of the domestic reviews pretty much ripped the film to shreds. To a certain extent, they have a point—most of those reviews have commented on the murkiness of the narrative, which Coppola has stated had its origins in a dream. Most of those reviewers probably think that Coppola’s best creative days are behind him, or that he needs to return to more commercial fare to be ‘relevant’ again. It’s probably very telling that what North American distributors and critics have seen as a problem, Europe has eagerly embraced (especially France, where critics have acclaimed the film).
Twixt is a messy concoction, and for most audiences who are used to storylines where everything is clearly presented and all the twistedness will eventually be straightened out by the time the end credits roll, it won’t be a fun ride. Coppola describes it as “one part Gothic Romance, one part personal film and one part the kind of horror film I began my career with,” which is a pretty packed sandwich—not everything will fit neatly there. However, those concerned with neatness will conveniently overlook good performances by Kilmer, Dern and Chapin and some intriguing autobiographical references.
Twixt is available on R2 DVD and Blu-Ray. Again, no word as of yet when it will be available on R1 disc.
UPDATE 12/28/2015: In 2013, Twixt was released on R1 Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox with excellent picture quality and sound. It’s light on extras, but what’s included is very interesting – a documentary on the making of the film shot by Gia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, prior to her feature film debut with Palo Alto (2014).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The look of the film is very Eastern European – something like what Jan Svankmayer might make, or David Lynch if he made animation – very dark and surreal.”–Bill Plympton, Idiots and Angels Director’s Statement
DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton
PLOT: A loathsome man spends his days in a dingy, depressing bar where he lusts after the blonde barmaid, who is also the bartender/owner’s wife. One day he discovers he is growing wings on his back; initially, he’s thrilled to be able to fly, but comes to hate them when they develop a mind of their own and force him to do charitable acts. Other, equally venal, men plot to steal the wings to use them for their own selfish purposes.
- Bill Plympton has been nominated for Oscars twice for his animated short films.
- Plympton made Idiots and Angels independently with a small team of four assistant artists for an estimated $125,000.
- Per Plympton, the film consists of 30,000 drawings.
- Per Plympton, the film was rejected by thirty distributors. The animator is self-distributing the movie.
- Idiots and Angels won the Best Film award at the Fantasporto festival in 2009 (previous Fantasporto winners that were Certified Weird are Toto the Hero and Pan’s Labyrinth).
- Idiots and Angels is “presented by” Terry Gilliam.
- The amazing soundtrack, featuring Pink Martini, Nicole Renaud, Tom Waits and others is not available for purchase at this time—and due to licensing issues probably never will be.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The obvious choice would have something to do with wings: maybe a manacled butterfly, or a fat stripper showing off her wingspan to a crowd of leering males, or an angel mooning a passing airliner. More shocking and unforgettable, however, is the moment near the film’s climax when a full-grown man, wrapped in a placenta, emerges from another man’s navel.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Plympton sets his pitch-black parable about a wicked man who grows angel wings in a dialogue-free barroom Purgatory. Fantastic daydreams mix with increasingly surreal realities to paint a wordless portrait of the eternal, internal struggle between good and evil. A hip, hypnotic art-pop soundtrack helps sweep the viewer away into Idiots and Angels‘ weird world of bitter cocktails and unexplained appendages.
Scene from Idiots and Angels
COMMENTS: The unnamed antihero of Idiots and Angels (the official plot synopsis calls him Continue reading 98. IDIOTS AND ANGELS (2008)
DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam
PLOT: A 1000 year-old mystic enlists the help of a seedy amnesiac to save his daughter, whose life he exchanged for eternal youth, from the clutches of the Devil.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a return to extreme fantasy for Terry Gilliam, who hasn’t delved so deep into the realm of untethered imagination since The Adventures of Baron Muchausen. It is a madcap vaudevillian escapade that is anything but ordinary, a rekindling of the fires of whimsy in modern cinema that has not been lit in some time. Gilliam conjures a tale that comes from the divine and the pedestrian, fills it with colorful, albeit thin, characters, and lets the magic happen as the elements coalesce into a Victorian sideshow of epic proportions.
COMMENTS: Set over a thousand years of the titular character’s life (although it’s mostly set in modern day England), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantastical meditation on choices: good ones, bad ones, the weight-laden overabundance of decisions we all face at some point, and the demeaning lack of options we also experience. From literal metaphors involving people choosing their destinies in a realm of imagination to the figurative posturings of the opposition between that which is right and that which is merely easy, director Terry Gilliam muses in this film on the ages-old dilemma of free will and how these characters will go about using it.
But forget about that! What everyone wants to know is how well they shoe-horned in all of Heath Ledger’s stand-ins during post-production! As you’re well aware, I’m sure, this is the final performance of the late, great Heath Ledger. Mr. Ledger died during the production of this feature, leaving his role, that of the amnesiac Tony, woefully incomplete. Gilliam, being ever the professional, and no stranger to ill circumstances Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS (2009)
The music video is the one form where directors can be weird and experimental without fear of being shunned by the world at large. Made for the band N.A.S.A.’s album “The Spirit of Apollo,” where the concept was to pair unlikely musicians, “Spacious Thoughts” mixes the smooth rap of Kool Keith with the grumblings of ever-weird Tom Waits. Director Fluorescent Hill animates Keith as a black sphere wearing cowboy boots who breathes out Tom as an angry cloud.
AKA Bram Stoker’s Dracula
PLOT: Vlad Dracula, a defender of Christendom against invading Muslims, curses God and becomes undead when his beloved bride throws herself from the castle walls due to false reports of his death sent by Turkish spies; centuries later, he plots to seduce his love’s reincarnation in Victorian London.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Coppola’s take on the Dracula myth is dreamy, glossy, and visually experimental for a blockbuster, but too mainstream to be truly weird.
COMMENTS: Coppola had a chance to make one of the classic Dracula films; in the end, he made not a classic, but he did make the most visually advanced and beautiful vampire movie of our times. The early reels are taken up with crisp visual experiments, such as when the Transylvanian countryside outside Johnathan Harker’s carriage turns blood red while Dracula’s eyes appear superimposed in the sky. Another trick Coppola employs—making the Count’s shadow move independently of its host, displaying his hostile intent while its host blathers on about business matters—has become iconic. The best sequence the director invents is Harker’s encounter with Dracula’s three beautiful undead brides, a scene that moves effortlessly from dreamy eroticism to outright surreal horror when the temptresses reveal their true nature (one of the bloodsucking succubi was played by soon-to-be-famous, ethereal beauty Monica Belluci). The scene of an enticing vampiress scuttling on the masonry like a startled spider is pleasantly jolting, and the entire picture in fact swings back and forth between the sexual and the diabolical with a natural ease. Coppola displays great discipline in the film, making the film stylish, sexy and horrifying in audience-pleasing measures. The various camera tricks, the shadow plays, the grandiose sets and costumes, the boldly unreal colors, the switches between film stock, never draw too much attention to themselves, but always work in service of creating an operatic hyperreality, a world that’s strange and exaggerated, but cinematically familiar.
What prevents the movie from being a classic is the uneven ensemble acting. The good Continue reading CAPSULE: DRACULA (1992)
DIRECTED BY: Goran Dukic
FEATURING: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits
PLOT: In a special afterlife reserved for suicides, three lost souls hit the road: Zia is
searching for his earthly lover, Mikal is convinced she’s here by mistake and is looking for the People in Charge, and Eugene is along for the ride because he has nothing better to do.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite the sunglasses-snatching black hole that’s taken up permanent residence under the passenger seat in Eugene’s old beater, Wristcutters never really crosses the shaky border into the land of the weird. A few magical realist touches decorate this otherwise conventional, indie-flavored road movie/love triangle that’s best described as “quirky.” (If you know of a review that doesn’t use the word “quirky” to describe this movie, please contact the proper authorities; the writer needs to have his or her critical credentials yanked).
COMMENTS: Adapted from a story by Etgar Keret, Wristcutters is a romantic comedy disguised as a black comedy, a conventional movie disguised as a bizarre movie, and a shamelessly hopeful movie disguised as a bleak movie. None of those disguises are particularly hard to penetrate. “Who could think of a better punishment, really? Everything’s the same here, it’s just a little worse,” newly deceased wristcutter Zia realizes soon after he gets a pizza delivery job in the afterlife. In Wristcutters, new suicides wake to discover a Great Beyond that’s not so great: in fact, it’s set in the middle of the Mojave desert where everything is so run down and recycled, even the automobiles are held together mostly by duct tape. Furthermore, in the most dreadful dissimilarity to the living world, its denizens find themselves unable to smile, a restriction that makes the sympathetic performances of the young principals all the more impressive. Still, the movie always has a hopeful sense that the main characters can find a way out of their existential predicament, and it doesn’t disappoint those hoping for a happy ending (though some may consider it a cop-out). Although Wristcutters sometimes reeks of missed opportunities to explore deeper themes and blacker comedy in a more mystical landscape, it’s also apparent that director/scripter Dukic has hit exactly the lightly offbeat tone he was aiming for, and he has the good sense to wrap the story up quickly after his world runs out of new Purgatorial quirks to offer. A couple of tunes by Tom Waits (who also offers up a memorable turn as ramshackle but wizardly guiding spirit Kneller) and Gogol Bordello bump up the cool quotient considerably.
After this successful debut, Croatian director Dukic is poised between worlds: he could use this feature as springboard to do something even more conventional, or push his offbeat impulses to their logically weird conclusion. We’ll keep an eye on him.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Natalia.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)