Strange Cinema: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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.

(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.]

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

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.


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.]

Strange Cinema: Videodrome (1983)

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.


Videodrome (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, & Deborah Harry

What’s it about?
Max Renn, CEO of a small television station specializing in sensationalistic programming, discovers a broadcast signal featuring extreme images of violence and torture. While trying to uncover the signal’s source, he stumbles upon some deep deception and increasingly disturbing hallucinations.

Is it any good?
This was my first Cronenberg film, and wow, was I impressed. I had only known James Woods through his bizarre cameo on Family Guy (still one of the only Family Guy episodes that I find genuinely funny), so I always equated him with cheesy acting. But he’s anything but cheesy in Videodrome.

If you’re familiar with Cronenberg’s films, you know he specializes in body horror, a.k.a. “holy shit what is happening to that guy’s head OH MY GOD THERE’S A GUN IN HIS STOMACH” horror. (Spoiler: there is actually a gun in James Woods’ stomach.) This is classic Cronenberg because it’s essentially a film about horrific body images. When Max discovers Videodrome (the intensely graphic show with unknown origins), he shows it to sadomasochistic psychiatrist and talk show host, Nicki (played by the flawless Deborah Harry). Instead of being disgusted by it, she gets turned on and the two of them have sex while it’s playing in the background. So that’s when you know this film is going to be insane.

Unlike the last Cronenberg film I reviewed (1991’s Naked Lunch), the plot of this film isn’t quite as difficult to follow. It turns out Videodrome gives people brain tumors, but that side effect is no accident. The brain behind the show created it in order to purge North America of all the lowlifes who would actually enjoy it. Max is brainwashed to kill those opposed to Videodrome, but is ultimately reprogrammed and eventually commits suicide.

This film is visually stunning (and of course disturbing), but it doesn’t rely too heavily on shock-factor. Cronenberg had a reason for including all that violence and gore, and it may take a couple views to fully understand that. I think the cast really strengthens the message because there’s some great acting here. Like I mentioned earlier, James Woods is surprisingly fantastic. He has that smarmy attitude of a television CEO, but he’s also great at emoting true terror. And although Deborah Harry is primarily a musician, she’s got some impressive acting chops. Perhaps one of the most prolific images of the film is her face on Max’s television, coaxing him to “leave the old flesh.” And that final line Max utters before shooting himself is iconic: “Long live the new flesh.”

If you’re particularly squeamish, I would avoid this one. But if you can stomach some guy inserting a VHS tape into another guy’s abdomen, see this immediately.

Grade: A- (for audacious visual effects and a message that might hit a little too close to home)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you think twice about watching those torture porn movies)

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

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.]

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.]