Tag Archives: Vietnam War

CAPSULE: FLOODING WITH LOVE FOR THE KID (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Zachary Oberzan

FEATURING: Zachary Oberzan

PLOT:  Small town Kentucky Sheriff Teasle picks up a shaggy vagrant, but finds that the kid is not as harmless as he initially appears; violent events lead the cop to stalk the resourceful fugitive through the forests toward a deadly showdown.

Still from Flooding with Love for the Kid (2010)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTFlooding With Love for the Kid actually breaks the Weirdometer.  A one-man retelling of David Morell’s pulp novel “First Blood,” made for $96, with toy snakes, teddy bears, and pine branches for props, shot entirely inside one Manhattan apartment, Flooding exists in its own universe: beyond weird or normal.

COMMENTS: In the category of “best feature film shot for under $100,” the winner, by a wide margin, is Flooding With Love for the Kid.  The end credits explain that the film was “adapted, produced, directed, designed, filmed, performed, edited, special effects and makeup by Zachary Oberzan”: an entire career résumé in one movie.  Primarily, the film’s an advertisement for Oberzan’s acting abilities.  Playing all the characters, his ingenuity is tested to its limits.  He generates significant empathy in the primary role of Teasle, the cop who looks like a man completely in command of his tiny police fiefdom, but who’s hiding personal pain and insecurity underneath the assured facade.  The kid, Rambo, is a more mysterious figure—almost Christlike in his passive resistance to authority at the film’s beginning, though he turns into a survivalist psychopath cypher by the end of the first act.  This portrayal focuses on the character’s mystical, symbolic side rather than on Rambo as a killing machine; Oberzan’s no Sylvester Stallone, and that’s meant as a compliment.  When clean-shaven Teasle acts in split screen beside the bearded kid, you realize that these seamless-looking scenes where Oberzan reacts to himself had to be shot months apart.  The auteur also plays the dozens of supporting characters, including an entire police squad, greasy spoon waitresses, Viet Cong torturers and, in his oddest role, a team of bloodhounds on Rambo’s trail.  Playing all these parts tax Oberzan’s art to its limit, but he manages at the very least to distinguish each character so we can always tell them apart.  Humorously, one of the deputies has slightly gay mannerisms (though we’re told he’s married).  Other minor characters don’t fare as well: Colonel Troutman is little more than a pair of mirrored shades Continue reading CAPSULE: FLOODING WITH LOVE FOR THE KID (2010)

CAPSULE: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (2007)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood

PLOT: More than thirty Beatles songs illustrate a romance between a working-class Liverpudlian and a New England WASP during the tumultuous 1960s.

Still from Across the Universe (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Set in a sentimentalized Sixties, it’s inevitable that Across the Universe heaves to that decades psychedelic squalls. Spectacular director Julie Taymor relishes slathering lysergic pigment on her CGI canvas for five or six of the thirty plus songs, but the ultimately the story is more about how all you need is love than it is about girls with kaleidoscope eyes.

COMMENTS: In a career of a mere eight years, the Beatles probably cranked out more memorable melodies than Mozart. It was a minor stroke of genius to adapt that songbook into a musical.  he script of Across the Universe, which tells the story of a pair of young lovers and their friends with the Vietnam War protests and the Summer of Love as a backdrop, can be viewed in two ways. It could be seen a complete failure, built out of equal parts of romantic cliché and self-congratulatory Baby Boomer nostalgia. Or, it could be looked at as a masterpiece of craftsmanship, considering the fact that the scriptwriters had to weave a coherent epic tale from a relatively small catalog of three-minute song-stories containing no recurring characters.

Like most musicals, however, the story is almost beside the point; it only needs to be good enough to set up the next production number. Fortunately for weirdophiles, the numbers Universe‘s story sets up are frequently cosmic, though you will have to wade through an hour of character setup before it starts coming on. This being an archetypal 1960’s tale, there’s a nod to acid culture: more than a nod, it’s a magical mystery tour through an extended three song medley. It starts with the principals sipping LSD-spiked drinks at a party while a Ken Kesey type (played by Bono) lectures on mind expansion using “I Am the Walrus” as the holy text; whirling cameras and and tie-dye colored solarization gives their trip to the countryside via magic bus the requisite grooviness. This sequence segues into “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” where another acid-guru (Eddie Izzard) takes the crew inside his magic tent for a twisted computer-generated carnival complete with a roller skating pony, a dancing team of Blue Meanies, and contortionists in spooky wooden tribal masks. The scene’s an impressive visual spectacle whose impact fizzles thanks to Izzard massacring the lyrics through an off-the-beat, spoken-word delivery with some unfortunate improvisations. The dreamy comedown features the flower children staring up at the sky, imagining themselves tastefully nude and making love underwater.

Psychedelia intrudes into other numbers, as well: the carefully layered images of “Strawberry Fields Forever” feature bleeding strawberries that morph into fruit bombs splattering on the jungles of Vietnam. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” includes a cameo by Salma Hayek as five sexy dancing nurses, and a bliss-giving syringe filled with a nude dancing girl. The best and weirdest segment may be “I Want You/She’s So Heavy,” which addresses the draft board and stars a talking poster of Uncle Sam, dancing sergeants with square plastic chins, and a platoon of soldiers lugging the Statue of Liberty. Standout non-weird numbers include a gospel version of “Let It Be” set during the Detroit riots and a funky “Come Together” performed by Joe Cocker, who sings as three different characters, including a natty pimp backed by a chorus of hookers. Hardcore Beatles fans will rate Universe a must see (and they’ve probably already seen it); unless you’re some sicko who absolutely can’t stand Lennon-McCartney compositions, you’ll want to check it out just for the visuals. It can get pretty far out.

Despite its weird parts, Across the Universe was able to secure a mainstream release. Audiences were willing to accept the unreal scenes because they were presented in the lone format where the average person expects and accepts surrealism—the music video. Unfortunately, however, even the Beatles fan base couldn’t make Taymor’s experiment profitable at the box office.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A cameo by Bono as a sort of godfather among hippies (delivering a forceful cover of ‘I Am the Walrus’) shifts the movie into a hallucinatory realm, with a tie-dye color scheme that suggests scenes were shot during an acid trip with Baz Luhrmann. Viewers who like movies to reflect their out-of-body experiences will gladly inhale, but for others, the excess may seem off-putting.”–Justin Chang, Variety (contemporaneous)

11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

“Something weird is going on here.  What is it about us?  Even in ‘Nam it was always weird.  Are we all crazy or something?” –line in original screenplay to Jacob’s Ladder

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adrian Lyne

FEATURING: , Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello

PLOT:  Jacob Singer (nicknamed “Professor” by his army buddies due to his glasses and Ph.D.) is wounded in Vietnam after a harrowing, disorienting battle.  While he is on duty in Vietnam, his young son dies; years later, he works in New York City as a postman and has a sexy new girlfriend, Jezzie.  Jacob begins suffering flashbacks of the day he was wounded, along with hallucinations in which everyday people take on demonic forms—catching brief glimpses of tails, horns, and howling faces with blank features—and eventually discovers that the other members of his unit are experiencing similar symptoms.

jacobs_ladder

BACKGROUND:

  • The script for Jacob’s Ladder shuffled between Hollywood desks for years, impressing executives but not being viewed as a marketable project.  The script was cited by American Film Magazine as one of the best unproduced screenplays.
  • Before he asked to direct Jacob’s Ladder, British director Adrian Lyne was best known for sexy, edgy, and profitable projects such as Flashdance (1983), 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
  • Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who later wrote Ghost [1990] and other commercial properties) says that his script was partly influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Adrian Lyne states that some of the hellish visual cues in the film, including the whirring and vibrating head effect, were inspired by the woks of grotesque painter Francis Bacon.
  • Lyne deleted scenes and changed the ending after test audiences found the film to be too intense.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A blurred, whirring human head which shakes uncontrollably from side to side at tremendous speed, seen several times throughout the film.  The effect looks mechanical, as if the head were an unbalanced ball attached to an out-of-control hydraulic neck.  It was achieved by filming an actor casually shaking his head from side to side at four frames per second, which produced a terrifying effect when played back at the standard twenty-four frames per second.  The technique has been imitated in movies, video games, music videos, and even a porno flick since, but has never since been used to such fearsome effect.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Like many psychological thrillers, Jacob’s Ladder strives to keep the audience disoriented and off-balance, wondering what is real and what is false. The movie achieves this effect wonderfully, but what gives it it’s cachet as a weird movie are two intense hallucination sequences: one at an horrifically orgiastic party intermittently lit by a strobe light, and one where the protagonist lies helpless on a hospital gurney as he’s wheeled down an increasingly bizarre and alarming hospital corridor. Both scenes are difficult to forget, equal parts creepy surrealism and visceral body-horror.

Original Trailer for Jacob’s Ladder

COMMENTS: I can’t watch Jacob’s Ladder without comparing it to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart.   The similarities are obvious: both were psychological thrillers with supernatural Continue reading 11. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)