Strange Cinema: Black Swan (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.


Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, & Winona Ryder

What’s it about?
Perfectionist ballerina Nina Sayers scores the dual role of the White Swan and the Black Swan in a production of Swan Lake, but the pressure begins to tear her apart, and soon she loses touch with reality.

Is it any good?
Let’s just get this out of the way: I have a huge girl crush on Natalie Portman. Her role in this film is possibly the best in her career at this point, and she definitely deserved that Oscar. So I’m a little biased, okay? But Black Swan is a great film for a lot of other reasons, too.

I’m a huge fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work. He’s one of those directors who knows how to make the mundane dark and mysterious, but not in a cliché way. Ballet in itself is not that terrifying, but if you add psychological terror (shifts in perspective, manipulation of shadows, time lapse), it can be very disconcerting. I wouldn’t call this a horror film, but it has the perfect amount of suspense and intensity.

The strongest aspects of this film were its contrasting themes of perfectionism and maturation. Nina takes ballet so seriously she has this machine-like precision that’s almost unhealthy. Everything she does is so structured, and her ultimate goal is to just let go. The sensuality and mystery of the Black Swan is meant to appear fluid, and though she does achieve this in the end, it ultimately destroys her.

The maturation theme isn’t as prominent as the perfectionism theme, but it’s still incredibly important in terms of character development. In the beginning, Nina perfectly embodies the innocent White Swan, both in the way she dresses and her personal life. I mean, the girl still lives with her mother and sleeps with stuffed animals. She’s childlike, and in order to become the Black Swan, she has to grow up. But she doesn’t just mature in her onstage performance–she also matures in her personal life. Nina dumps her collection of stuffed animals down the garbage chute and has a creepy one-night stand with Lily (Mila Kunis).

The dance scenes were incredible, especially the performance at the end of the film. And the symbolism was heavy (perhaps a bit too heavy?). When Nina falls while dancing the White Swan, that slip-up can be seen as her “fall from grace.” Her Black Swan ends up being perfect (and that shot of her with the wings is spectacular), but when she jumps from her perch as the White Swan at the end, that is her finally letting go.

Great film, great performances, and one weird twist. See it if you haven’t already!

Grade: A (for chilling performances and killer dance moves)
Weirdness Score: 8/10 (or, weird enough to make ballet frightening)

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

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Strange Cinema: The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

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.


The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Starring: Béatrice Bonifassi & Lina Boudreault

What’s it about?
Madame Souza trains her grandson, Champion, to be a professional cyclist and enters him in the Tour de France. But when Champion is kidnapped by the French mafia during the race, Souza must travel to Belleville to rescue him (with the help of three musical sisters and a loyal dog).

Is it any good?
When it comes to handing out awards for the best in cinema, the Oscars are fairly predictable. The Triplets of Belleville was nominated for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song (“Belleville Rendez-vous”), but lost both awards to much more obvious winners. In case you don’t follow the Oscars as closely as I do, this film lost to Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in those respective categories. Yeah, those films had much bigger budgets (and names) attached to them, but neither of them had the charm of this little French number.

The animation style of The Triplets of Belleville is definitely unique. It’s hand-drawn, but it’s not Disneyfied or even remotely reminiscent of Japanese anime. The characters and the setting have such fluidity and the colors are muted, so they’re not too distracting. I love animation like this. Call me old fashioned, but I very much prefer hand-drawn cartoons to computer-animated ones. They just feel more genuine.

The plot is simple enough, but the delivery is probably what landed the film on the weird movie list. There is almost no dialogue, so much of the story is told through pantomime. But that approach definitely works because it strips away all the unnecessary chatter. We get each character’s quirks through their movements (i.e. the dog’s internal schedule with the train). And the triplets are perfectly characterized without having to say a single word (their singing alone is enough of an introduction to their personalities).

Back to the animation (because it’s honestly incredible), I absolutely love the exaggeration in the background characters. Other than Souza, Champion, and the triplets, the characters have exaggerated features, and that’s what I like to see in a cartoon. Though it’s always impressive to see hand-drawn characters that look shockingly realistic, there’s something about cartoonish renderings that just looks so enchanting.

So did The Triplets of Belleville really deserve those Oscars? Well, that’s tough to say. If you always root for the underdog, you’ll probably answer “yes” to that question. But comparing this film to Finding Nemo is essentially comparing apples to oranges. Pixar/Disney films tend to win the Best Animated Film category, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other nominated films. Give the underdogs a chance. You won’t regret it.

Grade: A- (for exceptional animation and unique execution)
Weirdness Score: 8/10 (or, weird enough to be the first PG-13 rated film to be nominated for Best Animated Film)

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

Strange Cinema: Escape from Tomorrow (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.


Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
Director: Randy Moore
Starring: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, & Alison Lees-Taylor

What’s it about?
Jim gets fired from his job while on vacation at Walt Disney World with his family and begins to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations that may or may not be real.

Is it any good?
I had such high hopes for this film. Not only was it filmed illegally in Disney World, but it was also advertised as a biting satire of the entire Disney corporation. The buzz surrounding this film was so intense I just assumed it was going to blow my mind. I should really know better by now than to trust “buzz.”

Escape from Tomorrow is technically a horror film, but it’s really not that frightening. Sure, it has a couple minor scares (animatronic puppets on the “It’s a Small World” ride with demon faces is a little disconcerting), but there weren’t enough to make this film genuinely horrifying. I need more than just facial distortion and an ambiguous ending, Randy Moore.

I realize how risky it was to film this, but the editing is just terrible. The actors look Photoshopped on to stock footage at several points, and the explosion scene at Epcot is beyond ridiculous. And did I mention there’s a completely unneeded five-second intermission? This isn’t Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I doubt it was included for comedic effect.

The acting is just as bad. Roy Abramsohn was pretty good as Jim, but his wife was a bit of an over-actor. I didn’t really believe her anger because it just seemed out of place. And Alison Lees-Taylor as the unnamed other woman was just too much. Maybe that was intentional since she comes off as a cartoonish villain, but it was kind of a distraction.

I honestly couldn’t tell who was supposed to be the real villain in this film. There’s the other woman who kidnaps Jim’s daughter, but then there’s also the weird scientist inside Epcot who keeps Jim in a secret detention center. But the scientist isn’t torturing him–he’s just showing Jim his own imagination. What’s so evil about that?

The plot makes little to no sense, mostly because there’s just too much going on. Jim has hallucinations, becomes obsessed with following some French girls around the park, has a random affair with this other woman, gets kidnapped by an “evil” scientist, and eventually comes down with “cat flu.” What the hell was the cat flu supposed to signify?

I honestly believe Escape from Tomorrow would have worked better in the documentary style, much like The Blair Witch Project or Quarantine. It was already filmed guerrilla-style, so why not play that up more? If the scares were a bit more subtle, it could have been a lot more successful. As is, it’s just a film festival novelty by an ambitious filmmaker. And it’s amazing that Disney didn’t sue the shit out of Randy Moore.

Grade: D+ (for amateur filmmaking and a plot too convoluted to be frightening)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make a family theme park seem a bit more menacing)

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

Strange Cinema: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Director: Jim Sharman
Starring: Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, & Meat Loaf

What’s it about?
Brad and Janet get stuck with a flat tire and wind up at Dr. Frank N. Furter’s creepy castle, where they meet the doctor’s creation (Rocky) and experience a kind of sexual awakening.

Is it any good?
Widely considered to be the prolific midnight movie of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is synonymous with cult films. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve at least heard of it. And if you haven’t seen it, you’re definitely missing out.

The problem with reviewing this film is that I’m 100% biased in favor of it. I watched it religiously in middle school and even participated in a theater troupe’s performance of it in college (shout out to the Lost Flamingo Company!). I consider this to be a coming of age experience rather than just a spoof of old horror B movies.

So in order to give this movie a (mostly) objective review, I have to separate it from its cult following. But we’ll add that factor back in at the end to see if it really holds up.

Rocky Horror isn’t meant to be taken seriously. You’ll laugh at the awkward set pieces and the lackluster acting (even from a veteran like Susan Sarandon). This film satirizes B movies like The Bride of FrankensteinForbidden Planet, and Doctor X. The spirit of those early sci-fi films is perfectly captured, but Rocky Horror adds an extra element to the mix: unrestrained sexuality.

One of the most common messages of Rocky Horror is simply to “give yourself over to absolute pleasure.” Everyone has sex in this film–men and women, men and men, women and women, creation and creator, brother and sister (elbow sex counts!). And despite being a little over-the-top, this movie is surprisingly inclusive of all sexual expressions. It celebrates sexuality (something that was not unusual in a lot of other films in the ’70s), and doesn’t restrict it to heterosexuality. It’s not pornographic by any means, but you definitely get the hints.

The film itself is good for a few laughs and has an incredibly catchy soundtrack, but if you’re just watching it by yourself in your living room, it’s not the most entertaining movie.

BUT, if you add the enormous cult following and the audience participation, Rocky Horror is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. If you ever get the chance to see a live performance of this or you get a chance to participate in it yourself, do it. You’ll have a new appreciation for this film and you might even have your own sexual awakening. Admit it, Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter is oddly attractive. I can say from firsthand experience that performing with a bunch of other Rocky Horror fans in nothing but lingerie and high heels is something you’ll always remember and cherish.

Grade: B- (without audience participation), A (with audience participation)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you question your own sexuality) 

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

Strange Cinema: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, & Tom Wilkinson

What’s it about?
After finding out that his ex-girlfriend had her memory of him erased, Joel Barish elects to have the same procedure, but as each memory of Clementine is erased, he realizes that the entire process was a mistake.

Is it any good?
Words can’t express how much I love this film. I first saw it when I was 13, and although it took a couple of viewings to fully understand, I was amazed by it. Eternal Sunshine is also one of the few films I’ve seen that can reduce me to tears every time I see it, which is quite a feat.

Before seeing this film, I was only familiar with Jim Carrey’s comedy career. I grew up watching him in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet DetectiveDumb and Dumber, and Liar, Liar, so seeing him in a serious role was quite a shock (this was before I got around to watching The Truman Show). But he’s not completely serious, which makes this role all the more enchanting. His character still finds humor in his situation, especially when confronted with the fun memories he shares with Clementine. But of course he gets emotional at all the right moments, and it’s actually believable. When he realizes his mistake in getting Clementine erased and he pleads with the people who can’t hear him (“Please let me keep this memory”)–I’m actually tearing up just thinking about this, to be honest.

Kate Winslet is also perfect in this film. Clementine is a great character because although she represents the manic pixie dream girl trope, she acknowledges how pathetic that fantasy really is and even reveals her own major flaws. She proves that the perfectly eccentric girl on the outside is just as fucked up as anyone else.

In fact, Eternal Sunshine is one of the very few films that shows a believable relationship. As Joel gets the memory procedure done, we see his relationship with Clementine in reverse, so the only things we know about them in the beginning are the things that caused them to drift apart. We see all their faults (Clementine has an uncontrollable temper exacerbated by her constant drinking, and Joel is just a pushover), and hear these characters vocalize the other’s faults in their recorded testimony. But by the time Joel reaches the sweeter memories of life with Clementine, the audience is rooting for them.

I’ve heard people complain about how difficult this film is to understand, but it’s really not that confusing. We’re not talking about Donnie Darko here (can’t wait to get to that review!). Eternal Sunshine is an unconventional love story with a reverse timeline. Director Michel Gondry, much like Terry Gilliam, is obviously obsessed with dreams and how the mind works. I hope I’m not alone in believing that Eternal Sunshine is his best film, hands down. Is it weird? Yeah, a little. But that’s probably why it’s one of the only romance films I’ve ever truly loved.

Grade: A (for knockout performances and a believable love story)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you think twice about forgetting your ex)

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

Update and Massive List Project

Hello, dear readers!

I make it a point to post something every day on this blog, but alas, I’ve been lacking the past couple of days. My apologies! I figured I’d post a quick update on this blog for now, just to let you know what’s in store.

First, I’ll definitely be continuing with my Strange Cinema review series. Most of you started following this blog because of those reviews, so you’ll see more of them soon! I haven’t watched any other films from the list recently, so the next few reviews will be of films I’m more familiar with.

Second, I keep meaning to get some album reviews up so this blog won’t be just film reviews. Look out for some music-related reviews soon!

And third, I’m starting a massive project in the form of a list. I greatly enjoy making lists, and I know people like reading them. This one will be the 100 Greatest Songs of the 2000s. After seeing VH1’s list (and being incredibly disappointed by it), I’ve decided to put together my own list based on everyone else’s input.

So that means I need your input, readers! In the comments, please let me know which songs you think are the best of the 2000s. Keep in mind that each song’s release date must fall between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. And I’d like to focus on singles only (that means no deep cuts). All genres are welcome, but make sure the songs you choose are fairly big hits.

The Strange Cinema reviews will continue throughout the week, but I can’t promise there will be an update every day!

– Sam

Strange Cinema: Naked Lunch (1991)

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.


Naked Lunch (1991)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, & Roy Scheider

What’s it about?
This film has one of the most difficult plots to summarize, but it basically follows exterminator William Lee as he gets high on bug powder and hallucinates some of the most frightening typewriters ever portrayed on film.

Is it any good?
Not only is it difficult to explain this film, but it’s also difficult to determine whether or not it’s actually good. Based on William S. Burroughs’ novel of the same name, Naked Lunch is one confusing ride from beginning to end. According to Burroughs, the chapters in the novel are not meant to be read in any particular order, a sentiment David Cronenberg took to heart when he made this incredibly loose adaptation.

I’ve tried multiple times to read the book, but I’ve given up each time. Rather than finish the damn thing, I decided to watch the movie instead (a lazy choice, but perhaps a necessary one). Of course the film isn’t entirely based on Burroughs’ novel–it incorporates some of his other, more personal writings. This makes the character of William Lee much more comparable to Burroughs himself. Basically, Naked Lunch is Burroughs’ mind on drugs.

Drug movies are pretty hit or miss for me. Sometimes they’re brilliant (Trainspotting), but other times they try a little too hard to be “edgy” (Enter the Void). Oddly enough, Naked Lunch is the only drug movie I’ve seen that stands firmly in the middle. Cronenberg isn’t really trying to be edgy here–in fact, it feels like he doesn’t give a shit if he’s lost the audience or not. “Oh, are things starting to make some sense to you now? Fuck you, here’s a bunch of people sucking slime out of an alien bug’s phallic appendage.”

This is a pretty dark film despite the lack of a real plot. Peter Weller does a great job playing a stone-faced drug addict (he’s pretty much known for being expressionless, anyway), and he’s surprisingly calm when faced with all the fucked up creatures he encounters. I feel like I’d be much more upset if my typewriter turned into a giant talking insect.

Sure, Naked Lunch has an abundance of strange imagery, but does that make it good? Cronenberg did keep the Burroughs spirit, which is quite a feat. That alone should give the film some merit. And I did appreciate that the giant insects were puppets rather than CGI, which made them all the more frightening. So despite some low quality production and a completely nonsensical plot, I’d call this a good film. Granted, it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re expecting everything to be explained to you by the end. If you like William Burroughs and David Cronenberg, you’ll probably dig it.

Now maybe I can finally read the book.

Grade: B (for an ambitious take on a William Burroughs tale)
Weirdness Score: 9.5/10 (or, weird enough to make typewriters seem terrifying) 

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