Strange Cinema: Enter the Void (2010)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Enter the Void (2010)
Director: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, & Cyril Roy

What’s it about?
Oscar and his younger sister Linda live in Tokyo and support themselves by dealing drugs. When Oscar is shot down by police, his spirit lives on in an out-of-body experience as he witnesses the aftermath of his death.

Is it any good?
There is one word to describe this film: pretentious. On the surface, it’s a fascinating concept–drug dealer dies and takes his own psychedelic journey through the afterlife. I just think it’s poorly executed. Drug trip films tend to be either visually stunning or just plain ridiculous, and they rarely have any substance. Though I personally enjoy quite a few trip movies (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in particular), I just couldn’t get into Enter the Void.

Before I get into the reasons why this film fell short for me, let me just acknowledge that it does have some incredible visuals. Gaspar Noé was heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that’s definitely apparent with all the panoramic shots. You really get a sense of how bright and complicated Tokyo is through Oscar’s point of view. And speaking of point of view, I really enjoyed how everything was shot through a first-person perspective. I kind of wish more films would do this because it’s a very engaging technique.

So now that I’ve given this film some credit, it’s time to tear it down. Most of the people I know who enjoyed this movie said I had to watch it stoned to really appreciate it. That’s always a bad sign. If you have to be under the influence of anything to truly enjoy a film, it means there’s little substance to it to begin with. The drug trips in Enter the Void are just a series of kaleidoscopic images and flashing lights. They were honestly just nauseating. Granted, I’ve never dropped acid, so I really have no idea what it’s like to trip, but are the seizure-inducing lights really necessary? I felt sick by the halfway point, which made the rest of it even more painful.

The story was difficult to follow, which is something I’m used to now that I’ve seen so many film on this list. But it’s still frustrating. What I gathered from the early dialogue and brief flashbacks was that Oscar and Linda’s parents died when they were very young. They both get into drugs and Linda becomes a stripper who occasionally has sex with clients. That’s honestly all I could decipher. The point of view and nauseating camera work really distracts from the plot.

I’m a bit torn on whether or not I liked the ending. The point of view shifts to an airplane flying over Tokyo. Inside the airplane is Oscar’s mother, who is breast-feeding a baby she calls Oscar. But wasn’t she dead when the film started? Is this a flashback? The view drops back to Tokyo where Oscar’s spirit (?) witnesses his sister having sex with someone, which is an awkward sequence to begin with. But it gets even more uncomfortable when Oscar enters the guy’s head and experiences sex with his own sister. And if that wasn’t already a gross visual, Oscar’s spirit then travels inside his sister’s vagina, witnesses some thrusting, and watches a sperm fertilize an egg inside his sister’s body. What the actual fuck?

So obviously I didn’t like that part of the ending, but the very last scene is a flashback to Oscar being born. This is an interesting ending because everything comes full circle. It’s a cycle of death and rebirth, which mirrors the sentiment in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, something Oscar is fascinated with. I just wish the rest of the film could have focused more on the idea of reincarnation rather than making everything one big drug trip.

Grade: C- (for a good concept ruined by some psychedelic bullshit)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to rival your worst acid trip)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

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Strange Cinema: Upstream Color (2013)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Upstream Color (2013)
Director: Shane Carruth
Starring: Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, & Thiago Martins

What’s it about?
Two people are drawn together after being infected by a complex, behavior-altering parasite with a three-stage life cycle.

Is it any good?
I wasn’t a fan of Shane Carruth’s first film, 2004’s Primer, so I was a bit wary about Upstream Color. But these are two separate films, and of the two of them, I definitely prefer Upstream Color. The story is just as confusing as Primer, but without all the dense technical language that made Carruth’s first film so difficult to get into. In other words, Upstream Color is a fantastic film.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) gets kidnapped at a club by a narcotics producer known only as the Thief. The Thief drugs her, leaving her in a highly susceptible mental state. While she’s hypnotized by the drug, the Thief convinces her to liquidate her estate and give all the money to him. Once he gets what he wants, he leaves Kris with the aftermath. She snaps out of her trance and discovers tiny roundworms crawling underneath her skin. After unsuccessfully trying to remove them with a kitchen knife, Kris is lured to a farm by a field recorder (known as the Sampler). The Sampler uses infrasonics to attract the worm in Kris’ body and once she arrives, he transfers the worm into a pig. Kris wakes up in an abandoned SUV on the freeway with no knowledge of what has happened to her.

The drug is essentially a worm-like parasite with a three-stage life cycle–it comes from a certain type of orchid, which is extracted and synthesized by the Thief, who then injects it into his victims, who find their way to the Sampler, who transfers the parasite into his pigs. When the pigs die, the parasites leave their bodies and become orchids again, and so the cycle continues. A bit far-fetched, but it works in the story.

Once Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), they experience a strange metaphysical connection, most likely caused by the parasite they were both infected with. Their separate parasites live on in the pigs on the Sampler’s farm, so Kris and Jeff essentially feel the same pain as their pig counterparts. For example, when Kris’ pig becomes pregnant, Kris believes she is also pregnant, but it turns out that she had endometrial cancer that was apparently cured and removed. The pig gives birth to piglets, which the Sampler immediately smothers and dumps them into a river, where they decompose and their parasites eventually bloom into orchids.

Several factors make this film worthwhile. First, the concept is highly creative and original. Shane is working with both scientific and emotional themes, two concepts that could not be further apart in film these days. Second, the score is incredible. I haven’t talked about score in any of my other reviews yet (minus the musicals), but Upstream Color plays with sound in a way that few films ever do. The Sampler makes recordings of everyday objects, and when all those sounds are combined, they create a truly elegant and hypnotic score. Combine that with the larger themes in the film and you’ve got one transcendental cinematic experience.

Grade: A- (for an innovative score and a frightening concept done in a elegant way)
Weirdness Score: 9/10 (or, weird enough to make you wary of orchids)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Holy Motors (2012)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Holy Motors (2012)
Director: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, & Kylie Minogue

What’s it about?
Mr. Oscar and his associate, Céline, drive around Paris as Mr. Oscar takes on several different roles and performs for apparently no cameras or audience.

Is it any good?
Good is an understatement for this one. Wow, what an incredible film. Definitely difficult to decipher, but rewarding nonetheless. If you go into this film knowing nothing about the plot (like I did), you’ll be confused almost immediately. Holy Motors doesn’t actually start with Mr. Oscar’s story. Instead, we cut a cold open featuring a character called “The Sleeper” as he opens a hidden door in his bedroom and steps into a packed movie theater. We never see this character again, but I think there’s a connection (but we’ll get to that later).

So Mr. Oscar travels around Paris in a white limo filled with costumes and makeup. He has different “appointments,” which consist of him dressing up as various characters and performing various roles for no one in particular. Oscar’s performances include an old woman beggar, an acrobat in a motion capture suit, and an eccentric and violent man named Monsieur Merde (literally “Mister Shit”) who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes). None of the characters are connected, so the entire film kind of plays out like a series of vignettes. The quick character changes with Oscar really keep you engaged, which is another plus for this film.

There are so many indelible images that I can’t really choose my favorite. One of the highlights is definitely the Monsieur Merde sequence. The details in Oscar’s costume are so meticulous. And his mannerisms are delightfully bizarre. He eats flowers, chain-smokes, and bites people’s fingers off. And when he kidnaps Eva Mendes’ character, he just kind of uses her as another prop (problematic in any other film, but this is an art film). Monsieur Merde actually uses pieces of Eva’s dress to cover every inch of skin on her body, much like a burqa.

Another personal highlight for me is the accordion scene. Oscar joins a large group of accordion players and plays a song while they all march through the streets. This was actually the first scene I saw from the film and it enticed me enough to watch the whole thing.

If you glanced at the cast up at the top, you were probably surprised to see Kylie Minogue. Her role is brief, but the scene she’s in is fantastic. It’s unclear whether this is out of character or just another appointment, but Oscar and Eva (Minogue) talk in an abandoned building, apparently catching up on over 20 years. It’s suggested that they have a child together, but grew apart. Oscar leaves and narrowly avoids Eva’s new beau. Oscar watches as both Eva and her partner jump to their deaths. Part of me believes this is not another appointment because Eva also rides in a white limo (suggesting that she is also an “actor” of sorts) and Oscar recognizes her. But I could be wrong.

As for the connection between the opening scene and the rest of the film, I think the movie theater The Sleeper walks into is the only place where people can view the performances of Oscar and his colleagues. They appear to be performing for no one, but perhaps there’s an alternate universe where people can actually see these as short films.

Grade: A (for an original concept and plenty of different scenarios)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you wonder which of your friends are actually just actors)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Tromeo and Juliet (1996)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Tromeo and Juliet (1996)
Director: Lloyd Kaufman
Starring: Jane Jensen, Will Keenan, Valentine Miele, Maximillian Shaun, & Steve Gibbons

What’s it about?
In this punk rock adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers enjoy some troubling backstories and enough sex and violence to make Shakespeare cringe.

Is it any good?
I was prepared to love this film. I really was. I love Shakespeare and (most) adaptations of Romeo and Juliet. So when I started watching Tromeo and Juliet and heard Lemmy narrating the tale, I immediately thought, “This is everything I could ever want.” The soundtrack was promising. The modern storyline was promising. So much promise.

But oh, I was so wrong. But I’m not sure what I was expecting from the same team that created such classics as The Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist. Things went downhill so quickly I barely had time to breathe. I’ve generally liked most of the films I’ve watched from the list so far, but this one is definitely an exception. I really wanted to like this, but it was just so needlessly gross (and not in the schlocky Evil Dead way that I actually enjoy).

This is one of those films that isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but I’m not judging it as a cinematic masterpiece. I like gratuitous violence as much as the next person, but even in a modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, it’s really out of place. In this version, Juliet’s dad beats and molests her, going as far as locking her in a plastic cage as punishment for her active libido. Oh, and did I mention that Juliet has a sexual relationship with her nurse? Yeah, that happens, too. Everything is about sex.

Tromeo and Juliet is more a gross-out fest than a romance. From Juliet’s nightmare about Tromeo’s monster dick to her transformation into a disgusting cow creature (with a three-foot penis, of course), all the visuals in this film are just too much to stomach. And to make it all worse, it turns out Tromeo and Juliet are actually siblings, and instead of ending their relationship, they marry each other and have deformed children. Romance.

Now, just because the gross-out tactics don’t work in this film doesn’t mean they don’t work in other genres. Gratuitous sex and violence make more sense in a tasteless horror movie (Poultrygeist) or a schlocky action movie (The Toxic Avenger). If you’re doing a modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play, there really isn’t room for buckets of guts and dick jokes. This may be the English major part of me talking, but Shakespeare is kind of sacred. Are there terrible Shakespeare adaptations without the gross details out there? Of course! But Tromeo and Juliet took things a bit too far, and that’s the bigger crime.

This would have been a better film if it had just been what it advertised: a punk rock adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Tromeo could have been a punk kid from the wrong side of the tracks and Juliet could have been a pristine girl who just wanted to rebel.

Oh wait, that’s been done before. It’s called Cry-Baby.

Grade: D+ (for tasteless dick jokes and way too much incest)
Weirdness Score: 8/10 (or, weird enough to rival two teenagers falling in love within two days)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies Review here.]

Strange Cinema: Dead Ringers (1988)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Dead Ringers (1988)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeremy Irons & Geneviève Bujold

What’s it about?
Twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle fall in love with the same woman, and both their relationship with each other and their separate personalities begin to deteriorate.

Is it any good?
David Cronenberg is right up there with David Lynch as one of the weirdest filmmakers ever. Some of his other films appear on the list (look out for reviews of Videodrome and Naked Lunch), but I think Dead Ringers is the least strange out of the three that made it on to the list. That doesn’t mean this film isn’t good–on the contrary, it’s one of the best.

A lot of Cronenberg films rely on body horror, but Dead Ringers is strictly psychological. Aside from some truly terrifying gynecological instruments, there aren’t a lot of frightening visuals. But the film is definitely unsettling, mostly due to Jeremy Irons’ incredible performance as both Beverly and Elliot Mantle. It’s probably one of my favorite performances in any film ever. Jeremy plays both twins, but I truly believed I was watching two different actors. Each twin has his own quirks, which gives each of them a kind of autonomy (at least in the beginning). Beverly is sweet and sensitive, and Elliot is arrogant and assertive. But they successfully trick one woman into believing they are one person.

That’s the most frightening part of this film–the twins essentially become one person, believing that they must be “separated” in order to live. When Beverly starts to develop a pill addiction, Elliot makes sure he gets rehabilitated. But once Beverly starts getting the help he needs, Elliot begins taking pills himself in order to “synchronize” himself. He feels so connected to his brother that he feels the need to share his pain.

Eventually, Beverly and Elliot decided they must be physically separated, so Beverly disembowels Elliot on an examination couch and dies in his arms, an incredibly chilling visual. The twins were so connected that one could not survive without the other.

Dead Ringers is one of Cronenberg’s best films because it successfully shows the fear of mental and physical deterioration without all the usual grisly details. You don’t need a disgusting monster or excessive blood and gore to show fear. Real fear is intangible, invisible. Real fear is something you can’t control. And not only is the story of Beverly and Elliot Mantle disturbing, but it’s also disheartening. I felt so sorry for them by the end of the film because through all the differences and deceit, their biological connection was broken through paranoia and addiction. And even though they died together, it was not a noble death. Thanks to Jeremy Irons’ performance, I sympathized with the twins, even with all their mistakes.

Is this film frightening? Yes. But you’ll also feel emotional investment, something few psychological thrillers achieve.

Grade: A- (for psychological terror done in a sad, subtle way)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you even more wary of identical twins)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Dogtooth (2009)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


Dogtooth (2009)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, & Christos Passalis

What’s it about?
A husband and wife keep their three young adult children ignorant of the outside world through isolation, scare tactics, and teaching them false meanings for new words.

Is it any good?
This film was a bit uncomfortable to watch, but I suppose that’s what makes it a good film. It has its share of shock factors (incest, cat slaughtering), but beneath all those images lies a much larger message that I can’t seem to put my finger on. So I’ll use this review to both grade the film and analyze it. (If being an English major taught me anything, it’s to read into everything. METAPHORS. SYMBOLS. CONTEXT.)

So I hate to compare this film to an M. Night Shyamalan disaster, but Dogtooth kind of reminds me of The Village. While this isn’t about an entire isolated society, it still features a group of people trapped in a microcosm based on a lie. The father and his wife have decided to keep their children ignorant of everything outside their own property. And this isn’t just forbidding them to step foot outside of the front gate–the kids are taught that house cats are vicious predators, zombies are yellow flowers, and their (imaginary) other brother lives exclusively on the other side of a fence.

The only person these kids see from the outside world is the female security guard from their dad’s company. The father brings her in only to have sex with his son, so she’s essentially just an escort. She gets bored with the son (probably because he only wants to have awkward intercourse with her exclusively in the missionary position), so she starts asking one of the daughters to perform cunnilingus on her in exchange for gifts from the outside world (including a couple videotapes of what I assumed to be Rocky and Jaws).

This woman threatens the carefully constructed lie the parents have weaved for their children, so naturally, she’s eventually banned from coming over again. But the little amount of information she has passed on to the children is enough to make them curious.

So what does this all mean? Is Dogtooth a graphic metaphor for the ineffectiveness of homeschooling? Is it a political statement about brainwashing by the media? There isn’t an easy answer for this. My general impression of the film is that it’s a fictional document of a social experiment. Children rely on their parents to teach them about the world, so if parents were somehow inclined to give their children false information, those children would believe them. Think back to when you were a kid and you asked your parents so many questions about everything. You asked them those questions because you believed they knew everything. You trust your parents. So what happens when parents exploit that trust? Dogtooth is what happens.

It’s a frightening film simply because the premise is probable. If you take the time and the effort, you can isolate your children and lead them to believe anything you want them to believe. That is a disturbing notion of power.

Grade: B (for a realistic premise done in a disturbingly dark way)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make your kid’s eccentric behaviors look normal)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: John Dies at the End (2012)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on 366weirdmovies.com‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.


John Dies at the End (2012)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, & Clancy Brown

What’s it about?
Slackers David and John stumble across a strange substance called soy sauce that allows them to see the horrors of another dimension bent on destroying the world as they know it.

Is it any good?
Since I decided to read the book before I watched this adaptation, this review is mostly going to consist of comparisons between the book and the film (and how disappointing the differences are). I will say this–if you’ve never read the David Wong book (and you definitely should because it’s SO much better), you’ll probably enjoy this film more than I did. That said, the parts of the film that stayed true to the book were actually great. The rest of it not so much.

John Dies at the End is a fairly complicated story on paper, so attempting to adapt it to film is quite the feat. The monsters are probably the most difficult aspects to capture, but the adaptation did a pretty good job for the most part. The meat monster in the beginning was spot-on, and even Korrok was pretty terrifying.

The film opens exactly the same way as the book, which built up some intense anticipation–I thought I was finally going to see this long, strange journey play out perfectly (or, more realistically, adequately) on screen. But the biggest disappointment for me was seeing just how much of the original story was cut out. And they cut out a shit ton.

I realize that certain scenes from the book need to be cut for time’s sake, but why cut over half the story? That’s what happened with John Dies at the End. The film hits most of the major conflicts, but completely skips over the scenes in between. While this move was probably meant to speed the story along in order to get to the big action scenes, it sacrifices one of the most important aspects of storytelling: characterization.

Since the story is rushed, we don’t spend enough time getting to know the characters, something the book does very well. Sure, we know some things about David’s personality since the story is from his point of view, but John comes across as more of a secondary character in the film. And Amy’s backstory is almost completely edited out. Everything goes so fast that there isn’t even time to comprehend what’s going on. Granted, the original story is so strange it’s difficult to follow sometimes, but David Wong lingers on certain scenes long enough to give some sort of quick explanation. The film just throws images at you and moves on.

I was so enthralled with the book that my expectations for the film were pretty high. It’s not the worst adaptation of a book I’ve ever seen, but it’s close. This film could have been phenomenal, but it was kind of a half-assed job. What a shame.

Grade: C- (for lackluster storytelling and too many cuts)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make an acid trip seem like a normal walk in the park)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]