Strange Cinema: The Holy Mountain (1973)

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

(Author’s note: Again, there’s a huge, year-long gap between entries because I’m a terrible person. But I have still been watching films from this extensive list, so that means you can expect plenty of reviews and witty banter. For real this time, guys. I swear.)

holy_mountainThe Holy Mountain (1973)
Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Zamira Saunders

What’s it about?
A Christ-like man known only as the Thief meets a powerful alchemist who leads him (and seven other materialistic figures) to the Holy Mountain to achieve enlightenment.

Is it any good?
Alright, kids. Strap yourselves in because we’re about to take the strangest trip of your meaningless lives. Let’s get enlightened.

Nothing could have really prepared me for this film and I’m pretty sure this review isn’t going to prepare you for it either. I remember stumbling across the trailer for The Holy Mountain in a listicle about strange videos from a wonderful site called Listverse (also where I found the terrifying Begotten, which I will also review when I stop having nightmares about it). The trailer advertises this as a “film completely outside the entire tradition of modern theater,” and that’s 100% accurate. This is surrealism in its finest, most daring form. The color palettes, the cinematography, the gratuitous use of nudity and bodily fluids–this is true art.

So now that I’ve attempted to articulate the artistic merit of this film, it’s time to talk about just how fucking weird this is.

The first 40 or so minutes of the runtime are almost completely dialogue-free. That’s right–almost half of this 2-hour film is a silent acid trip set in a nightmarish version of a Mexican city. But honestly, I didn’t even need dialogue. The imagery in those first 40 minutes is so intensely rich and bizarre that I found myself completely enthralled. Everything from the prologue with the alchemist (Jodorowsky) shaving women’s heads to reptiles dueling in a reenactment of the conquest of Mexico to the Thief eating the face off a wax figure made in his likeness is pure, nonsensical entertainment. Two of my favorite shots in the film are of the Thief screaming as he wakes up to find himself surrounded by Christ-like wax figures and the Thief exploring a rainbow hallway as he enters a conspicuous tower in the middle of the city. Explaining those to you doesn’t even do them justice. Explaining anything about this film doesn’t really do it justice, if I’m being honest.

But obviously all those great visuals have to be accompanied by an incredible story, right? Oh, reader, you are sadly mistaken. What great work of surrealist art comes with an easy explanation? Everything here is metaphorical, open to interpretation. And I’d argue that some of it is just for show (the rainbow room had to be an aesthetic choice).

The plot is flimsy and obviously irritatingly obscure, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis.

After the prologue, we find the Thief lying in a desert covered in flies. He befriends a footless, handless dwarf and the two venture into the city to make money entertaining tourists. Some locals notice the Thief’s striking resemblance to Jesus Christ and decide to get him drunk and cast an impression of his body in order to make life-sized wax crucifixes. The Thief destroys the replicas in a fit of rage and steals one, ultimately eating its face off and sending it floating to the heavens with some balloons. After that ordeal, he stumbles across a crowd surrounding a tower where a large hook hangs down. Attached to the hook is a bag of gold, which provokes the Thief’s curiosity (where did the gold come from?). He climbs on to the hook and rides it up to the entrance of the tower. Inside, he finds the alchemist, who shows him how to make gold. (Spoiler: gold is made from shit. Yes, you watch this character shit into a container. Fucking art.)

The Thief is then introduced to seven people who will accompany him on his journey to the Holy Mountain. Each one is a personification of the seven planets (yes, including Pluto). Venus is a cosmetics manufacturer, Mars is a weapons manufacturer, Saturn is a war toys manufacturer, Jupiter is an art dealer, Uranus is a political advisor, Neptune is a police chief, and Pluto is an architect. (Side note: this is probably my favorite part of the film because each one of these people is more bizarre than the last. Look out for Neptune and his collection of 1000 testicles.)

The rest of the film follows the group of nine (including the Thief and the alchemist) as they journey to the Holy Mountain and achieve enlightenment. When they reach the end of their journey, they are instructed to “displace the immortals” sitting at a table. The immortals turn out to be fake and they all have a good laugh. Then the alchemist break the fourth wall with the command, “Zoom back, camera!” We see the film crew and the alchemist ends the journey with a few final words: “Real life awaits us.”

Holy shit (pun intended). What a bizarre masterpiece. I knew this film had a cult following and now I understand why. I’m not sure if I loved it so much as I was fascinated by it. The Holy Mountain definitely isn’t for the casual movie fan (it’s probably not even for the casual weird movie fan), but if you’re willing to shut your brain off and let this surrealist trip wash over you, you might end up feeling a bit enlightened yourself. And remember, in the words of the alchemist, “You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.”

Grade: A- (for beautiful and often terrifying visuals)
Weirdness Score: 9.5/10 (officially the weirdest film I’ve seen so far!)

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


Strange Cinema: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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

(Author’s note: It’s been about two years since this review series has been updated and I am SO SORRY. Life kind of got in the way, but I am still determined to watch all these weird movies for you and relay my experiences. FOR CINEMA!)


2001-a-space-odyssey-movie-poster2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood

What’s it about?
Scientists discover a black monolith buried beneath the lunar surface, a team is sent to Jupiter with a self-aware supercomputer, and a lone astronaut stumbles through space and time in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece.

Is it any good?
I have quite the critical dilemma with this film. If I say 2001 is an intelligent sci-fi juggernaut that must be studied for years to come, I’m just some hipster-y film geek injecting too much meaning into an abstractly good film. If I say 2001 is an overrated mess of existentialist bullshit with some pretty cool cinematography, I’m just some hipster-y film geek trying to be too cool to like a critically-acclaimed film.

So I suppose I’ll just stand in the middle with this one.

Before you burn me at the stake for even suggesting that 2001 is anything close to a bad film, hear me out. I’m not saying this is completely overrated–it’s just a bit too full of itself. It’s so full of itself that the dialogue got cut in half so it could be more abstract.

Okay, okay. Back off with the tomatoes. 2001 definitely has its shining moments. HAL 9000 is one of the most convincing villains in any film and he’s just a computer. The camerawork (like every Kubrick production) is incredible. The whole film is just so aesthetically pleasing (minus that vortex scene that just made me sick).

But 2001 tries to tackle subject matter that is just too huge for the screen. This is a film that takes on existentialism, human evolution, AND scientifically accurate space travel. Okay, so it nailed the space travel part. But evolution? The meaning of life? Come on. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Space Odyssey series of books (and you skipped the lackluster sequel, 2010), then you’re probably not even sure what the black monolith in the film is even supposed to be. I was so confused by it (and literally everything else in this film) that I decided to look it up, and it turns out that the black monolith that keeps appearing is a machine built by an unknown extraterrestrial species. It’s supposed to encourage mankind to progress with technological development, suggesting that human evolution is actually triggered by an outside force. Whether that force is meant to be aliens or God is up to the audience.

Now, that sounds like 2001 really hit the mark on evolution and existentialism, right? Well, I’m not too sure. The pieces are there, but they’re delivered in such an abstract way that the train of thought gets lost in the special effects. But you could argue that ideas of this magnitude have to be abstract since there’s not a lot of concrete reasoning to hold on to. You could also argue that this film wasn’t meant to be “dumbed down” for the average audience. Those are honestly fair oppositions.

So is 2001 an important sci-fi film? Absolutely. Are the special effects groundbreaking? For sure. Is it the smartest movie ever made? I wouldn’t quite say that. It’s definitely a conversation-starter at your next existentialist tea party, but I’d skip it for family movie night.

Grade: B- (for incredible visuals with a bloated sense of intellectualism)
Weirdness Score: 9/10 (or, weird enough to make 
Star Trek seem plausible)

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

The Tale of the Top 10 Scariest ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Episodes

If you grew up in the ’90s and you watched Nickelodeon as religiously as I did, you probably remember trying to stay up late on Saturday nights enough to watch SNICK. For those who don’t remember, SNICK was the programming block geared towards teens (or, more realistically, younger kids who watched it without parental permission) and featured more of the live-action shows. Among those was the Canadian horror show Are You Afraid of the Dark? 

Canadian horror? Was that really a thing? Oh yes. And it was glorious. This show was honestly one of the highlights of my childhood (and probably yours, too). Yeah, the acting was kind of lame and the fashion was pretty horrifying by itself, but AYAOTD was a great series (much better than the cheese-tastic Goosebumps).

Even if you weren’t a huge fan of this show, plenty of you may remember a certain episode or two that scarred your fragile young mind (or maybe just creeped you out a little). When I watch the series as an adult (thanks, YouTube!), I find that quite a few episodes still have a certain scare-factor. So, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe to be the most frightening episodes of this Nick classic.

10. The Tale of the Midnight Madness

Are You Afraid of the Dark? regularly referenced several horror movie plots of plenty of Twilight Zone episodes, but in “The Tale of the Midnight Madness,” those quirky Canadians brought a real horror classic to life. A failing movie theater gets an impromptu revival when a mysterious stranger (the one and only Dr. Vink, with a va-va-VA) brings his copy of Nosferatu. After the first showing, people start flocking to the theater again, but after the greedy owner refuses to let Vink show his own films in addition to the vampire flick, Nosferatu himself escapes from the screen and begins to terrorize the employees.

Scariest Moment: When Nosferatu stares back at the theater after the end of the film and starts to creep towards the screen.

9. The Tale of the Night Shift

Another vampire-themed episode, but with a little more blood. A girl volunteers to work the nightshift at a hospital only to find someone (or something) is feeding on the patients and turning them into the blood-thirsty undead. In order to save the hospital, our heroine must find and kill the head vampire. Turns out it’s the far-too-cheerful new girl that nobody knows anything about (who would have guessed!).

Scariest Moment: When we finally see the head vampire in its true form, resulting in one of the best jump scares of the series.

8. The Tale of the Super Specs

AYAOTD had its share of classic monsters and ghost children, but not all the scares had a (slightly) reasonable explanation. In “The Tale of the Super Specs,” a prankster visits Sardo’s magic shop and acquires the mysterious super specs, which he gives to his girlfriend. After putting on the glasses, she beings to see strange shadow people from another dimension. So Sardo and the kids do what anyone would do in this situation: have a seance and provoke the shadow people.

Scariest Moment: Honestly any time we see the shadow people. I never knew black clothes could be so unsettling.

7. The Tale of Many Faces

This is one of the only good episodes from the revived series, mostly due to a few exceptionally creepy masks. In this tale, a struggling teenage model hooks up with a stage actress in the hopes of learning some pointers in the industry. Unbeknownst to our heroine, this actress possesses a magic book that allows her to steal the faces of the pretty young girls she mentors, keeping her beautiful forever.

Scariest Moment: The expressionless masks the girls wear are fairly disquieting, but it’s the faces beneath the masks that really horrify.

6. The Tale of the Dollmaker

This was one of my favorite episodes growing up, but now that I’m older, there’s something about it that really sets me on edge. A girl visits her aunt and uncle for the summer and looks forward to hanging out with her friend from the house next door. Once she arrives, she finds out that her friend has gone missing and her parents, in their grief, moved away. The girl goes exploring in the empty house and finds a mysterious dollhouse in the attic. Turns out the missing girl has been trapped inside the insidious dollhouse and is slowly turning into a doll herself.

Scariest Moment: Seeing the missing girl slowly transform into a porcelain doll is strangely upsetting, especially considering how aware she is of it all.

5. The Tale of the Guardian’s Curse

This is one of the first AYAOTD episodes I remember watching, and boy did it freak me out. When their dad cancels yet another family vacation because of work, siblings Josh and Cleo decide to investigate the exhibit their father is in charge of. The specimen is the mummified remains of an Egyptian queen buried with the means to awaken the dead. Shockingly, the mummy comes to life and terrorizes the kids.

Scariest Moment: Mummies tend not to be particularly terrifying monsters, but this one was so incredibly grotesque and ominous that I kind of forgot this was supposed to be a show aimed at pre-teens. The first time you see it standing upright will haunt you for weeks.

4. The Tale of Laughing in the Dark

Coulrophobics beware: this episode will fuel your clown-related nightmares. As one of the very first episodes of the series, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” sets the bar high for AYAOTD as a whole (it’s arguably the best episode period). When cocky kid Josh and his friends visit a carnival, they stumble upon a spooky funhouse called Laughing in the Dark. Legend has it that a corrupt clown named Zeebo stole money from the circus many years ago and burned alive in the same funhouse. Now his ghost is trapped inside. Wanting to prove that he isn’t afraid, Josh goes through Laughing in the Dark and steals the dummy Zeebo’s nose. But when he starts seeing some unexplainable phenomena, Josh begins to realize that Zeebo may just be real after all–and he wants his nose back.

Scariest Moment: Seeing Zeebo at the end of the funhouse for the first time always got me, but watching how he messes with Josh in his own home in probably more terrifying.

3. The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float

“Oh, this is just a kid’s show,” you say to yourself. “These monsters all look fake. They’re not even scary!” Okay, watch this episode and tell me you aren’t afraid of deformed ghosts in pools. In this tale, geeky kid Zeke wants to learn how to swim, so he makes a deal with a girl named Clarice–he’ll tutor her in chemistry if she’ll teach him how to swim. She agrees and they practice in the school pool, which is actually haunted by the ghost of a person actually buried underneath the pool. Turns out this spirit doesn’t like anyone encroaching on his territory.

Scariest Moment: THE POOL GHOST. Jesus Christ, that thing haunted me well into my teen years. And it’s probably one of the reason why I still haven’t learned how to swim.

2. The Tale of the Crimson Clown

While “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” was a pretty unnerving clown story, this one is beyond terrifying. Mike wants to buy a birthday present for his mom, but younger brother Sam steals his money to buy a gift for himself instead. Pointing out a particularly awful-looking clown doll, Mike warns his bratty brother that if he does terrible things, the Crimson Clown will come to get him. And the clown does just that–or is little Sam just imagining it all?

Scariest Moment: The inanimate clown is creepy in itself, but when it turns into a man-sized clown with an unmoving face? You’re gonna want to leave the lights on tonight.

1. The Tale of the Dark Music

I feel like I’m the only person who remembers this episode, but perhaps most of you repressed this memory. In “The Tale of the Dark Music,” Andy and his family move into his uncle’s old house and, of course strange things start to happen. While doing laundry in the basement, Andy notices that the heavy locked door inside the room begins to shudder and shake whenever someone plays music. Curious, Andy leaves the music on long enough for the creature in the cellar to emerge and ask to be fed.

Scariest Moment: The creators of AYAOTD could have put a generic monster in that basement. They could have made the creature a swamp thing or a vampire or something. But no–they chose to make this bloodthirsty demon-spawn a SIX-FOOT TALL FUCKING CHINA DOLL. And that is so much more horrifying than you would think it would be. SO MUCH MORE HORRIFYING.

Sam’s Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2014

I have finally crawled out of whatever black hole I fell into in order to give you a list of my favorite musical things from the past year! Apologies to loyal readers who waited patiently for another installment of ‘Strange Cinema’ (or any other sign of life, really). But I’m back and I promise to write more things in 2015!

It’s been a rough year for me, but I thought I’d end it by looking back on the music that got me through it (or at least distracted me from it). I haven’t written about much music on this blog, but I assure you, I’m an avid listener. Here are 10 albums that really impressed me this year (and will hopefully impress you):

10. Home, Like Noplace is There by The Hotelier 

I always tend to gravitate towards nostalgic things, which can be both comforting and kind of depressing. In the past, I’ve latched on to albums that hearken back to the sweet-sounding distortion of the ’90s alternative scene, but this year, I’ve been obsessed with looking back on my pop-punk/emo days. Emo revival outfit The Hotelier makes me feel right at home with an album dedicated to a favorite subject of most bands in the genre: leaving home and coming back to find that everything’s changed. Home, Like Noplace is There definitely paints a sad portrait, but it feels genuine. The standout track for me has to be “Your Deep Rest,” which includes some of the most emotionally-charged lyrics I’ve heard all year: “Called in sick from your funeral / The sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable.”

9. Seeds by TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio has a unique sound, mostly due to each band member’s diverse influences. When you listen to this band’s discography, you hear everything from Bad Brains to Brian Eno. With Seeds, TV on the Radio delves into garage-rock territory, but maintains that same kind of urgency that made the band’s previous albums so electric. Most fans see this record as a tribute to the band’s late bassist, Gerard Smith, who succumbed to lung cancer back in 2011. There’s definitely a sense of grief in each song, and I’m sure Smith would appreciate the sentiment, however small.

8. Glass Boys by Fucked Up

Taking a detour from depressing albums, let’s look at a band that successfully combines two drastically different elements to create the musical equivalent of a punch to the gut. Fucked Up is a hardcore punk band, which is evident by its tour-de-force of a singer. Damian Abraham is the epitome of a hardcore punk singer–big, burly, and bearded–and he definitely plays the part both on the band’s albums and on stage. His vocals are bombastic (and possibly off-putting to those who don’t enjoy constant antagonistic screaming), but they’re complemented perfectly by the melodic guitars and background vocals. This could be two different bands, but each element balances the other. Glass Boys is one part intense dive bar music and one part mind-blowing sunburst of guitar-driven rock.

7. You’re Gonna Miss It by Modern Baseball

Back to my pop-punk roots. So many friends talked about this band with such high regard, so with one month left in the year, I finally decided to give this album a shot. Now I feel terrible for waiting so long. Much like The Hotelier, Modern Baseball likes to reflect on a hometown and all the people in it, but You’re Gonna Miss It takes a slightly different, more sarcastic tone. The opening track, “Fine, Great,” really sets the mood: “I’m so tired / Or maybe just bored / I can’t really tell the difference whenever I’m talking to you.” You’re Gonna Miss It is kind of an ode to openly hating the people you went to high school with and slowly realizing you haven’t changed much, either (this is more my personal reading of the album rather than the intended meaning). Bitter and oh-so-relatable, Modern Baseball really captures what it’s like to feel stuck at an age where you should be moving forward. Oh, and this album also contains one of my favorite lines of any song: “Bullshit, you fucking miss me / There, I said it / I guess I’ll talk to you in a few months.”

6. Broke With Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks

Ever since I heard “212” back in 2012, I was convinced Azealia Banks was the next big thing. Not only is she a tremendously talented rapper, but she also has a gorgeous singing voice. Not many rappers can seamlessly shift between rapping a verse and singing the chorus, but Banks makes it sound far too easy. After disputes with everyone from her former label to Iggy Azalea, fans and critics alike began to wonder if Azealia’s debut LP would ever drop. But it was worth the wait. Broke With Expensive Taste flirts with some bizarre samples that only Miss Banks can pull off, and features some damn fine production. There’s definitely a ’90s flavor to the album, but it doesn’t sound dated. A lot of artists like to talk shit even if they tend to lack something in the talent department, but Azealia Banks has proved that she’s a lot more than the tabloid darling of Twitter feuds.

5. Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy

You may cringe at the band name, but…okay, you’ll probably cringe at the music, too. Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love is abrasive, to put it lightly. A friend complained that it was just “ugly noise” after I made her listen to it. But to me, it’s powerful. This noise punk band puts its heart and soul (and even blood in some vinyl pressings) into making this music, and if you can get past the insane amount of distortion and effects, it’s a rewarding listening experience. “But I can’t understand what she’s saying!” you complain. Well, let me just give you the lyrics to “Interference Fits” to make it easier: “In the same way that shame changes love as we know it / Like your body moves into mine and outgrows it / And splits me from mouth down to thigh like a gun / What am I doing with somebody’s son?” That’s poetry that doesn’t need a discernible melody to be felt. Say Yes to Love is chaotic, but so is the subject matter.

4. Mess by Liars

My introduction to Liars was the song “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” from the 2010 album Sisterworld. The friend who made me listen to it liked to play it when he deejayed at our college radio station in a gleeful attempt to ward off listeners. Strange, I know, but I’m drawn to odd things. And this band is odd. Liars’ discography is impressively eclectic and varied enough to attract anyone. Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Mess is far from chaotic–it’s perfectly packaged. Though a bit dark and slightly off-kilter in terms of theme and lyrical content, this album is incredible (and actually quite danceable). What really drew me in was the opening track’s (“Mask Maker”) hypnotic refrain of, “Take my pants off / Use my socks / Smell my socks / Eat my face off.” Like I said, I enjoy the strange and unusual.

3. Manipulator by Ty Segall

I’m convinced that Ty Segall never sleeps–he just creates music endlessly, wired on adrenaline and critical praise. He drops at least three albums a year, either under his own name or with one of his many side projects. And what’s bizarre is that they’re all really fucking good. His Ty Segall Band project released one of my favorite albums ever (Slaughterhouse) back in 2012, and the man’s won my heart again with Manipulator. It’s a glam rock throwback with a garage feel that would sound great in 2014 or 1974. Ty Segall’s been pretty dependent on classic three-chord progressions in the span of his career, but he’s really stepped outside the box on this one. And as much as I loved his voice on previous albums, he sounds cleaner on Manipulator. It’s honestly reminiscent of David Bowie.

2. El Pintor by Interpol

The only album review I’ve done on this blog was for this album, and if you read it, you already know my feelings on it. El Pintor is classic Interpol–melancholy, atmospheric, and oh-so-dreamy. After some lacklaster follow-ups to 2004’s Antics, the NYC post-punkers got back to their roots and churned out a truly fantastic record. When I heard Interpol’s original bassist, Carlos Dengler, split, I was wary of hearing an album without him. But the bass work on El Pintor is just as good as Carlos D’s. I’ve always loved Interpol, but this album made me love them even more.

1. St. Vincent by St. Vincent

I liked St. Vincent years prior to this album. The first song I heard was “Actor Out of Work” off the album of the same name and I absolutely adored Annie Clark’s voice. I didn’t listen to this particular album until the month of my college graduation and it quickly became the soundtrack to my summer as a post-grad. Musically, St. Vincent is solid gold–it’s a bold contrast between jazzy, prog rock harmonics and jarring rock guitar. Clark’s voice floats effortlessly above any and all effects, and her talent as a musician is apparent in her onstage antics (please please please watch her performance of “Birth in Reverse” from Saturday Night Live). On a personal note, this album has been difficult for me to listen to in the past few months, mostly because it reminds me of better times. I listened to it religiously for two months after graduation, then immediately stopped. Listening to it again now does make me a bit sad, but I can’t deny how amazing it really is (despite the memories attached to it).

Strange Cinema: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Director: Mel Stuart
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, & Peter Ostrum

What’s it about?
Eccentric candy factory owner Willy Wonka invites five lucky children to tour his factory, but instead of candy, they each get to learn a lesson about being a decent human being.

Is it any good?
Chances are, you’ve probably seen this version of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s fable, so you’ve already formed your own opinion about it. Some people love it unconditionally, while others think it’s the most disturbing thing ever created. When I saw that this version made it on to the weird movie list, I was honestly kind of shocked. But like most people who watched this film at a young age, I never really questioned the weird bits. Oh, some girl turns into a giant blueberry? Whatever. Wonka takes the children through a tunnel of nightmares while screaming about the “grisly reaper mowing?” Yeah, that makes sense.

When you really think about it, Willy Wonka is pretty fucked up. This reclusive candy tycoon leads a bunch of children into his secret factory and essentially punishes them in the most bizarre ways right in front of their parents. And while they’re being punished, these small orange creatures dance around and sing about how terrible they are. Now that I really think about it, this film is nightmare fuel for small children.

Okay, so now that we’ve established that this film is, in fact, worthy of the list, let’s see if it actually stands the test of time. I could preface this by saying this is merely by opinion, but I’m just going to come right out and say it: Mel Stuart’s version of this story is miles better than Tim Burton’s. While I do love Burton, just about all of his remakes are terrible. The 1971 version captured the whimsy of the book without making it too creepy, which was the major issue with Burton’s remake. Wonka remains a bit of a mystery in this one–he’s more of a legend than a man, and that’s how the children see him. Johnny Depp’s Wonka was a caricature (and he was honestly far too annoying for me).

If you get past the ’70s cheese, the atmosphere of the film is pure childlike wonder. The sets are real (no over-saturated CGI here), so even though the idea of having a candy garden inside a building is ridiculous, it still has a sense of realism to it. Watching it without the nostalgia goggles, the Oompa Loompa songs are kind of irritating, and some of the acting is a bit lackluster, but overall, it’s maintained its classic status.

Now that I’m thinking about it, there are probably a ton of films I used to watch as a kid that are just as bizarre as this one. Look out for some of the other children’s film on the list, and maybe a little commentary on just what kids find weird in movies.

Grade: B+ (for wonder, whimsy, and just a dash of terror)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you reconsider how great it would be to live in a candy factory)

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

Sam’s Top 25 Favorite Musical Moments in Film (Part 2)

The countdown continues! Be sure to check out part one of the list here.

12. “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon” by Shudder to Think (featured in Velvet Goldmine)

Velvet Goldmine is kind of a musical, but kind of not. So there are plenty of musical sequences, but they’re stitched together in a series of interconnected vignettes. Loosely based on David Bowie, this film is chock full of some great glam rock moments (including some great covers by Placebo and Teenage Fanclub). My personal favorite moment is Shudder to Think’s “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon,” which plays over Brian Slade’s music video. It’s bizarre, highly sexual, and glam to the max. 

11. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (featured in Across the Universe)

There was a time when I was completely obsessed with this film and I was ready to defend it from disgruntled Beatles fans who called it blasphemy. I’ll still defend it because a lot of the Beatles covers are fantastic (minus the ones with Bono because those just sound like U2). I was torn between this song and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but I just love the way “I Want You” is used. Max (Joe Anderson) gets drafted into the army and prepares to get shipped off to Vietnam (because you can’t have a film take place in the ’60s without having someone go to Vietnam). Best moment: Max and his fellow recruits carry the Statue of Liberty into the jungles of Vietnam while singing, “She’s so heavy!”

10. “A Swan is Born” (featured in Black Swan)

This sequence kind of straddles the line between musical moment and score, so I guess it makes the list on a technicality. I count it as a musical moment because it doesn’t make use of an original score (this is just a reworked version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”). But anyway, it’s such a powerful moment. Nina (Natalie Portman) dances as the Black Swan for the first time in front of the audience, completing her transformation into her alter ego. The most indelible image in the film is Nina spreading her arms into wings at the end of her solo.

9. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith (featured in The Royal Tenenbaums)

Only Wes Anderson can make a scene about suicide seem like a work of art. (Note: I do not actually find suicide “beautiful” or “romantic” in any way–I just appreciate the way this scene was shot.) Using an Elliott Smith song in the background was darkly appropriate choice considering the singer’s own history. The song works perfectly in the scene–it doesn’t take the attention away from the events unfolding. (NSFW for depiction of suicide)

8. “The Floor Show” (featured in The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Moving on to something a bit lighter, let’s look at some good ol’ fashioned sexuality. There were far too many moments I could have included from this film, and I almost went with “Hot Patootie” instead of this one. But I have to admit, nothing beats the orgy in the pool. The Floor Show is actually three songs in one: “Rose Tint My World,” “Don’t Dream It,” and “Wild and Untamed Thing.” It’s sloppy, ridiculous, and oh so sexy–everything Rocky Horror is supposed to be. (Note: Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of The Floor Show on YouTube, so you’ll just have to listen to it below.)

7. “El Tango de Roxanne” (featured in Moulin Rouge!)

The concept behind Moulin Rouge! is a bizarre one: take a bunch of actors and make them sing reworked versions of pop songs instead of original songs. But I love it, and oddly enough, so do other people. And even people who don’t really like this film will admit that the “Roxanne” scene is the best (I have dated many guys who have willingly admitted this). The song is The Police’s “Roxanne” reworked into a tango, and Christian (Ewan McGregor) sings it to Satine (Nicole Kidman) as she prepares to sleep with the Duke. I still get chills when I hear the strings at the end.

6. “Cell Block Tango” (featured in Chicago)

Hey, look! Another tango! I’ll just tell you now that Chicago is probably my favorite movie musical, and this song perfectly captures the sentiment behind the whole show. The women on Murderess’ Row relay their reasons for killing their husbands and boyfriends, and they all maintain that they “had it comin’.” Badass ladies singing about killing no-good men? Now that’s a great musical number.

5. “Squeezit the Moocher” (featured in Forbidden Zone)

Forbidden Zone is one of those films that you either love or hate. It’s amateurish, vulgar, and just plain weird, but those are three things toward which I gravitate. Based on the band Oingo Boingo’s stage shows, this film is basically an extension of the Elfman brothers’ twisted cabaret. At this point in the film, Squeezit decides to travel to the Forbidden Zone to rescue Frenchy, but gets captured by the Devil’s henchmen (and eventually gets beheaded). The best part of this sequence is seeing Danny Elfman ham it up as the Devil. (NSFW for nudity)

4. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan (featured in Watchmen)

This is perhaps my favorite opening sequence in any film. As the credits roll, we see a brief history of the original Minutemen and what became of all the superheroes after the public’s backlash. And what better song to play during a slow-motion history than “The Times They Are A-Changin'”? I know a lot of fans of the graphic novel hate the film, but I love it. Did it perfectly capture the essence of the novel? No, but it’s impossible to make a perfect adaptation of Watchmen.

3. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rodgers (featured in The Big Lebowski)

Out of all the nonsensical musical moments in otherwise comprehensible films, this one ranks among the best. It has absolutely nothing to do with the plot and is never mentioned again, but it’s honestly my favorite part of The Big Lebowski. After The Dude is drugged by Jackie Treehorn, he experiences psychedelic hallucinations involving bowling and Maude Lebowski in a Viking outfit. It’s perfectly ridiculous.

2. “Empty Spaces/What Shall We Do Now?” by Pink Floyd (featured in Pink Floyd’s The Wall)

I was quite tempted to just include The Wall in its entirety, but I didn’t think that was fair. So as painful as it was to choose just one moment from this film, I managed to pick “Empty Spaces.” This is an entirely animated sequence, and I know I’m breaking my own rule about no animation here, but since the rest of the film is mostly live-action, I’m going to include this. Gerald Scarfe’s animation is brilliant, and out of the three animated scenes in The Wall, “Empty Spaces” is the best. There are only two words I can say about this scene: flower sex. (NSFW for animated sex and nudity)

1. “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte (featured in Beetlejuice)

For those of you who know how much I love The Wall, it may shock you to realize that my favorite musical moment doesn’t come from it. What do I love more than animated flower sex? The best scene in Beetlejuice, of course! It’s fun, out of place, and perfectly choreographed. Beetlejuice is one of the best Tim Burton films (if not the best), and this sequence cements it as such.

Sam’s Top 25 Favorite Musical Moments in Film (Part 1)

If you couldn’t already tell, I love making lists. And from my experience on the interwebz, people generally enjoy reading lists. Granted, this one isn’t at all objective and won’t result in much argument for that reason (though someone will probably find something to complain about), but I’ve been wanting to write this for quite a while.

So let’s talk about music choices in film. The right song can evoke a myriad of emotions when played against a particular scene. The combination of images and music is vital for a good film to become a great film, and since I love both film and music, I had to share a few of my absolute favorite musical moments.

(Note: I’ve decided to include both movie musicals and non-musicals in this list. I did not include animated films because that list would be far too long. Also note that some videos may contain spoilers and/or NSFW content.)

25. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (featured in Shaun of the Dead)

Let’s start this list off on a lighter note (because it’s going to get dark very soon). If you’ve never seen Shaun of the Dead, stop reading this and go find it. It’s hilarious, gruesome, and generally heartwarming (for a zombie film). In this particular scene, Shaun and the gang fight off a horde of the undead inside their local pub with a soundtrack courtesy of the jukebox. Not only is the Queen song hilariously out of place in the scene, but the characters actually acknowledge the ridiculousness of it all during the battle. 

24. “By the Sea” (featured in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

Plenty of Broadway fans can find something wrong with this Tim Burton-helmed adaptation, but I genuinely loved it. Though “By the Sea” isn’t necessarily my favorite song from the musical, this sequence in the film was so well done. Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) imagines herself in a blissful relationship with Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), singing sweet nothings into his ear. What makes this scene great is Sweeney’s complete indifference to Mrs. Lovett–he essentially ignores everything she says to him, but Mrs. Lovett continues to tell him about how wonderful their wedding will be.

23. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed (featured in Trainspotting

I almost chose the opening sequence of this one over the “Perfect Day” scene, but after watching both of them, I realized this is definitely the better scene. Renton (Ewan McGregor) overdoses on heroin at his dealer’s flat and slips into unconsciousness while Lou Reed croons about his “perfect day” in the background. The deceptively sweet song perfectly exemplifies Renton’s intense high (and honestly, it’s a little frightening). [NSFW for graphic heroin use.]

22. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (featured in Do the Right Thing)

I honestly don’t think any other song would have been as perfect a fit for this film as “Fight the Power.” The entire film is incredible, but this scene is one of the defining moments. Proud Italian Sal refuses to put pictures of black celebrities on his Wall of Fame, which leads to three of the neighborhood guys bursting into his pizza shop and blasting some Public Enemy. Despite the boombox, the atmosphere is tense, and shit soon hits the fan. 

21. “Führe Mich” by Rammstein (featured in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1)

Have you ever seen an opening sequence so intense you sat back in your seat and thought, “Holy shit, this is gonna be great“? That’s how I felt when I sat down to watch Lars von Trier’s latest foray into cinematic controversy. There isn’t any sex in this scene–instead, the audience gets a cold open on an alley, snow drifting gracefully on to the asphalt. We catch glimpses of a body on the ground, and suddenly…fucking Rammstein. That song hits you like a brick wall. I had no idea what was going on in the first few minutes, but damn, that tune brings you right to attention. (Note: Skip to 1:44)

20. “Origin of Love” (featured in Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

I’m not a huge fan of love songs in musicals, but this one is an exception. Instead of singing about a certain person, Hedwig relays the Greek myth about soul mates to her audience, and the accompanying animation is simply beautiful. If you’re unfamiliar with the myth, here it is in a nutshell: Humans originally had four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces. They also had three genders (male, female, and “androgynous). When the gods feared that the humans would eventually overpower them, Zeus split them into two halves so they would be forced to roam the earth searching for their counterparts. 

19. “Hey Boy, Hey Boy” (featured in The American Astronaut)

Sometimes musical moments come out of nowhere and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. This is definitely one of those moments. The American Astronaut is technically a musical, but who the hell knows what any of the songs have to do with space pirates and women on Venus. This song happens early on, and the circumstances are kind of hilarious. Interplanetary trader Samuel Curtis stops by a bar (in space!) and gets followed into the bathroom by two sinister-looking strangers. While Samuel is sitting in his stall, the strangers put on a record and start singing and dancing inside the bathroom. That’s it, that’s the whole scene. 

18. “Please, Mr. Jailer” (featured in Cry-Baby)

This film is cheesy gold and Johnny Depp is at his absolute dreamiest in it. There are plenty of great songs, but “Please, Mr. Jailer” has always been my favorite. Cry-Baby gets thrown in jail and goody-two-shoes-turned-bad-girl Allison gets on the hood of a car and begs the jailer to “let [her] man go free.” Allison is a babe herself, and with the rest of the girls shaking their stuff for the inmates, this is one sexy number. 

17. “Man of Constant Sorrow” (featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

This is an amazing song by itself, but paired with George Clooney and the rest of the Soggy Bottom Boys crooning with that Southern drawl, it’s perfect. O Brother, Where Art Thou? has one of the best soundtracks, but “Man of Constant Sorrow” is definitely the highlight. And it’s even central to the plot! And this isn’t even a musical! Bonus points!

16. “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” by Frankie Valli (featured in 10 Things I Hate About You)

First of all, 10 Things I Hate About You is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time. There, I said it. What’s not to love? Heath Ledger as a bad boy gone soft? Check. Julia Stiles as a badass feminist outsider? Check. Based on a Shakespeare play? Check mate. The single most romantic moment in this film is when Patrick (Ledger) tries to win Kat (Stiles) over by serenading her with Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” (complete with a marching band!). I may scoff at most movie romances, but this scene made me swoon.

15. Accordion Intermission (featured in Holy Motors)

This is one of the few instrumental moments on the list, but I just had to include it. If you want a more in-depth explanation of the film, you can check out my review, but for now, I’ll just talk about one scene. Mr. Oscar becomes several different characters over the course of the film, but appears to take a “break” to play the accordion with an army of street musicians. The tune is surprisingly catchy, and even though it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot, this little intermission makes the rest of the movie that much sweeter.

14. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (featured in Wayne’s World)

This scene needs no introduction. This song will forever be associated with a car full of dudes head-banging to a sick guitar solo, and that’s perfect. I don’t even need to say anything else. Just bask in the awesomeness that is Wayne’s World. Party on.

13. “Still” by Geto Boys (featured in Office Space)

Yes, it’s the infamous fax machine destruction. The Office Space soundtrack is about 95% gangsta rap and I love it (the fact that a white guy named Michael Bolton listens to it just adds to the appeal). The office’s useless fax machine gets destroyed by three disgruntled employees with some baseball bats. It’s a gloriously satisfying scene, especially with the words, “Die, motherfucker, die” playing over the destruction.