Tag Archives: Outcasts and Misfits

Movie Review: Deathgasm (2015)

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Rating: D/ My dad chose this movie and Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead for our horror film night a couple of days before Halloween. It’s times like that when my mom and I think he should not be allowed to choose movies, ever. Deathgasm is pretty much what you’d expect if you crossed Evil Dead with Beavis & Butthead, and if that gets you jazzed up, great. It wasn’t for me. The first ten minutes or so got me anticipating a funnier movie than I actually ended up getting, and the premise of a group of teen death metal fans living in a oppressive, bible-belt town accidentally summoning a horde of demons by playing a possessed song sounded like it would be… well, not Oscar-worthy, but a lot of fun. Continue reading Movie Review: Deathgasm (2015)

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Movie Review: Stuart- A Life Backwards (2007)

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Rating: B+/ Based on homeless advocate Alexander Masters’ biography of his late friend, Stuart Shorter, this movie is an emotional roller coaster. Stuart (Tom Hardy) is the kind of guy people cross to the other side of the street to avoid. Drunk, drug-addicted, physically handicapped and mentally unsound, sporadically homeless junkie and Muscular Dystrophy patient Stuart is a man many would pity, but few would have the inclination to call ‘friend.’ Yet Alexander (Benedict Cumberbatch) reluctantly befriends him, after much initiating on Stuart’s part. The two men campaign together to release two homeless shelter aides wrongfully imprisoned by the courts, and along the way Alexander begins writing a book about Stuart’s troubled life story, which includes physical and sexual abuse, bullying, and early brushes with violent crime. Continue reading Movie Review: Stuart- A Life Backwards (2007)

Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

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Rating: B-/ While the title of this film is The Bad News Bears, it could also easily be called How Not to Coach a Little League Team: The Movie. Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthieu) is a alcoholic loser and professional swimming pool cleaner who’s made a total mess of his life. Hoping to make a little money on the side, he signs up to coach a team of foul-mouthed misfit kids, with no intention whatsoever of being a good role model. Continue reading Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (2014)

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I have somewhat mixed feelings about tabloids. While I like magazines such as the Weekly World News with such truths in their headlines as ‘Bigfoot stole my baby!’ and ‘Al Qaeda Vampires Run Amok in Iraq,’ I loathe these kinds of brainless entertainments’ shameless exploitation of tragedies such as Robin Williams’ suicide and the Sandy Hook Massacre. And I can fully see how such media can run rampant and derail someone’s life. I honestly believe the media is a sizable part of what drives many actors on downward spirals. And then there’s Christopher Jefferies. What didn’t break him made him stronger, and this film tells his infuriating and enlightening story.

Christopher (Jason Watkins) is a man of whom I’m convinced of two things, based on this movie #1) that he was gay, and #2) that he was somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, probably mild Asperger’s. Alternately blunt, socially inappropriate, and downright rude, Chris lived a somewhat hermetic existence and was the landlord of a couple of flats in the small English village of Failand. Watkins plays him in a thoroughly believable and compelling manner, every infinitesimal tic and twitch duly perfected. Christopher is a retired schoolteacher and anti-social lone wolf who finds himself in the middle of a police investigation when one of his tenants, Joanna Yeates (Carla Turner) is found murdered outside his place.

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Suddenly, everything about Christopher seems suspect- his ‘to catch a predator’ wardrobe, his odd inflection and apparent lack of empathy, even the fact that he is an older man living on his own, and such men must, by extension, be pervs. Of course, correcting the cops’ grammar during questioning doesn’t help Jefferies look like an innocent man, and with no further ado, the police make this assumption: odd old man + suspicious circumstances= killer. They hardly have anything on him that isn’t circumstantial, but suddenly the entire country is in an uproar over this man’s presumed guilt. The thing is, Jefferies didn’t do it, and his lawyer, Paul Okebu (Shaun Parkes) is determined to bring his innocence to light.

Honestly, this movie didn’t end nearly as tragically as I thought it would. I knew almost nothing going in, and I was tense throughout the film, expecting something terrible to happen not only to Yeates, but to Jefferies too (being unfamiliar with the case as I was.) However I was immediately sucked in by the lead character and performance. If the police understood Autism-like behavior more, they would see that this man was not a monster, just a harmless oddball. Watkins does an amazing job of playing someone who is ‘on the spectrum’ who just happens to be gay without reducing his character to a gay or aspie caricature. Some people might find this story slow, but if you like British dramas and the feeling of heightened realism they create, you’re sure to like this film.

Note- Frankly, I’m a little confused because this film is described on Imdb as a ‘mini-series,’ but the version I saw on Netflix Streaming was a movie just under two hours, and distributed by Universal. If I missed some footage of the original cut, I would definitely like to see the whole thing straight through. Any help on this would be much appreciated, and I hope you get a chance to see this film; it’s fascinating. For me, British cinema holds a kind of appeal that American movies just don’t, and I would love to discuss the themes of this obscure gem with anyone who wishes to partake.losthonourof

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

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   The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is a very strange movie that raises more questions than it answers, confounds even the most open-minded viewer, and is insistently vague throughout. That said,  it is worth watching for it’s unique portrayal of it’s titular hero and, by extension, the whole of the human race. It’s a secular fable for the cinematically adventurous, written and directed by the king of weird and polarizing art house films, Werner Herzog.

I have to admit, I’m not that familiar with Herzog’s directorial work. I’ve seen a couple of his films, but I mostly know him as the weird guy in Julien Donkey-Boy who chugs cough syrup while wearing a gas mask and sprays Ewen Bremner down with cold water while bafflingly screaming “Stop your moody brooding. Don’t shiver! A winner doesn’t shiver!” As you might have guessed, my experience with Herzog has been strange and surreal, and while Kaspar Hauser does not reach the heights of outlandishness of Julien Donkey-Boy, it’s got plenty of unnerving to go around. It’s allegedly inspired by a real case that took place in the 19th century, very closely based upon a series of letters written on the subject around that time.

Kaspar Hauser (Bruno Schleinstein) is a misfit. He’s spent his entire life in the basement of a man (Hans Musäus) who calls himself his ‘daddy,’ where he is only given a toy horse to play with and is beaten frequently. The only word he knows is ‘horsey.’ He eats nothing but bread and water and is virtually unable to walk or move in a typical human manner. I immediately drew parallels between Kaspar and Nicholas Hope’s character in Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby, but poor Kaspar has it even worse than the titular Bubby, having been shackled to a wall for seventeen years.

Even more disturbing is the fact that it is never explained why the man is keeping him there. Is he incarcerated for sexual purposes? Is his captor just batshit insane? Is the sick appeal of keeping a man chained to a wall his whole life a turn-on in of itself? We really don’t know. And that makes the final moments of the movie even more insanely cryptic. But for whatever reason, the man gets sick of having Kaspar around and dumps him in a small German town to fend for himself, standing stock still and without purpose with a letter in one hand and a holy book in the other.

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When Kaspar is ‘rescued’ only to be placed in a local jail for lack of anything better to do with him, they assume he is both utterly mentally deficient and incompetent. A kind man named Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast) gets custody of Kaspar for the time being and begins to teach him how to function in society. The irony in this is that Kaspar soon begins to seem wiser and more genuine than any of the hoity-toity high society dandies who superficially observe his story.

He’s prone to be a bit of a philosopher, despite his odd appearance and slow halting speech. Kaspar is a delightful character, because he makes all the religious and moral authorities angry by taking all the demands that he be a proper human and a God-fearing Christian at face value. He’s a wise fool, someone whose ignorance actually lends him a less biased, more realistic view of life. He displays a soul by weeping at music that strikes him as beautiful, yet his elders can’t put him in a tidy box or clearly define him.

I have several problems with this movie, including the lead actor being portrayed as a teenage boy. Seventeen years old? More like a middle-aged Hobbit lookalike! (in fact, Schleinstein, a bit of a social outcast himself, was forty-one at the time of filming.) Jests aside, though, Scheinstein gives a effective, if somewhat one-note, performance. I also have to say that I was simply baffled by the ending. It was quite sad and, furthermore, was totally out of the blue. I think I would have preferred an ending that wasn’t so infuriatingly cryptic.

This is my favorite Werner Herzog (having seen My Son My Son What Have Ye Done and Signs of Life, neither of which struck me as particularly outstanding or memorable.) I don’t love this movie, but for better or worse, I think I’ll remember it.

In creating a unique and memorable character in Kaspar Hauser, the movie allows us to see life through an unbiased, unprejudiced lens- a lens truly untainted by worldly experience. Kaspar is like a blank slate onto which other characters try to project their beliefs and opinions, but, as inert and seemingly mindless as he is, he refuses to be a sheep for other people to control. He’s strong in a way that seems unlikely for someone of his kind, someone without influence, experience, or familial love. And we love him for it. Unsentimental and brazen, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is, in essence, an enigma, and one that might warrent repeat viewings. It might not be a particularly palatable film for the mainstream, but it has it’s astonishing moments.

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Phenomena (1985)

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There is one great moment in Phenomena, Dario Argento’s frustratingly Schizophrenic fright flick. In this sequence, which stands head and shoulders above the rest in an otherwise incomprehensible movie, a pet chimpanzee named Inga rushes to warn her human daddy John (Donald Pleasence) that a killer has broke into his house. Alas, John is paraplegic, and as he slides down the stairs on his device built for wheelchairs to let the poor simian in, the killer, cloaked in shadow, pushes the button on the control panel to trap  him on the staircase.

It’s a tense moment, punctuated by the screams of the frightened ape. But the rest of the movie is a shoddy mess, with jarring metal music and terrible acting. This is my first Dario Argento horror film. Maybe I should have started with something else? There are times that Phenomena is so bizarrely put together, like a pastiche of hellish themes and images, that is almost becomes so bad it’s good. Almost. Argento had an amazing idea, but it’s ultimately all for naught. Could this be a classic horror movie actually in need for a remake? Purists would shudder to think of this film being refurbished, but I think it is actually a distinct possibility.

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Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly, in a very poor performance) is a teenaged schoolgirl neglected by her wealthy actor father. She is sent to boarding school at the beginning, and while she might seem like your everyday debutante with too much money on her hands and not enough to do with it, she is anything but ordinary. Firstly, she is much more down-to-earth than the other girls in the academy, but that is not what sets her apart. Jennifer can communicate telepathically with insects, and this might come in handy with a serial killer on the loose. With girls dropping like flies (no pun intended), Jennifer befriends John (Pleasence,) an entomologist studying the part bugs play in the decomposition of corpses. Not creepy at all, right? He also has a pet monkey, who’s kind of important, as she turns out to be much more deserving of the title ‘hero’ than Connelly is.

Phenomena has an abundance of imaginative images and ideas, but ultimately it comes off as an unintentional comedy. Part of this is the acting; while Pleasence is competent at his craft as always Connelly can barely deliver her lines in a convincing manner and the rest of the cast is  just terrible. Heavy metal songs by artists such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead cut into the action at the most unsuitable times, and the film has a definite MTV vibe to it. You practically expect Beavis and Butthead to be commentating in the background. Yeah, Jennifer Connelly is… hot. Motorhead is… cool. Uh-huh-huh. In fact, America’s two favorite idiots would be easier to take seriously than this movie. Forget how powerful Connelly was in Requiem for a Dream. Watching her here is positively painful. It’s like seeing the ass-to-ass scene from Requiem a billion times back-to back. You just want to cry for her. And not because of her aptitude for the craft, either.

The last twenty minutes are almost worth watching just for the crazy turns the plot takes, but they’re not enough to sit through a hole-filled, badly acted, and yes, boring story. Why is this school open when girls are constantly dropping dead? Why does John send Jennifer to find the killer all by herself? Why does the killer kill? No seriously, did someone just happen to overlook the villain’s motivation? Why can Jennifer talk to insects but not larvae? Why does the little boy look like that? The reason for all of these, of course, is because. Because that’s the loony-ass direction the plot takes. Terrible actors, dated music video-style sequences, characters we don’t give a damn about; Phenomena is a muddled mess. It’s high point is that it should provide some unintentional comedy for undiscerning viewers. No wonder the ape was the only one I liked.

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Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

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Was I the only one who hoped this movie’s sweetly awkward heroine would unceremoniously dump Jemaine Clement by the end credits? Jarrod, Clement’s character, was by far one of the most infuriating, self-absorbed, callous romantic leads I’ve had the (displeasure) of encountering. I know he was supposed to be socially retarded as all fuck or have severe Asperger’s or something (probably the latter) but seriously, he was a jerk.

The heroine in question is cute girl nerd Lily (Loren Horsley,) who fools around on her guitar crooning Kimya Dawson-esque melodies in the privacy of her room and is laid off from her menial job at the local burger joint shortly into the movie. She lives with her supportive movie fanatic brother Damien (Joel Tobeck) and seems to have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The object of Lily’s awkward affections is Jarrod (yes, the jerk,) who works at the video game store and remains bafflingly self-obsessed throughout the movie. Lily pursues him, and the pursuit continues for a while, until finally they get together at a ‘dress as your favorite animal party’ (Jarrod as the eagle, and Lily as the shark, hence the title,) have singularly unerotic sex and start tentatively dating.

The problem is, Lily has an all-consuming desire to hold on to Jarrod, a real catch (or so she thinks,) and Jarrod’s barely able to put in an effort. He continually treats Lily like crap and has the two excuses handy that either (a he’s frustratingly complex or (b he’s got clinical depression and therefore it’s his right to be dick. This would be unconscionable if it weren’t abundantly clear that Jarrod was even more severely impaired at dealing with the real world than Lily.

Lily goes on a roadtrip with Jarrod to his hometown where he hopes to get revenge on a guy that bullied him in high school. They stop by Jarrod’s home and Lily meets his bizarre family, including Jarrod’s loser sister (Rachel House)  and brother-in-law (Craig Hall) who shamelessly peddle shit merchandise to anyone and everyone they encounter and his wheelchair-bound father Jarrod (Brian Sargent,) who idolizes Jarrod’s dead older brother but won’t give Jarrod the time of day.

“Eagle vs. Shark” is actor-director Taika Waititi (“Boy,” “What We Do In the Shadows”)’s weakest film, but that doesn’t mean it’s a completely tepid affair. The stop-motion animated sequences are whimsical and charming. And Loren Horsley is sweet as pie as Lily in a performance that makes you want hug her and knit her a warm sweater. Jemaine Clement is markedly less appealing as an offbeat weirdo who does nothing but take, take, take from Lily’s fragile confidence and self esteem but still manages to win her over for good in a finale that’s probably more depressing than it ought to be.

It’s not laugh-til-you-cry funny, but it’s chuckle-worthy and cute, though it seems an odd directorial choice to make the majority of the characters not only almost Autistic in their social ineptitude, but also act quite literally like they’re on the spectrum. It’s a movie where quirky people do quirky things at the exact right moment, but it’s hard to believe such a plethora of oddballs could even exist in the same story.

In other words, “Eagle Vs. Shark” is okay and worth watching once for its myriad moments of mild humor, but it doesn’t measure up to Waititi’s other features (“Boy,” which was quite charming and dramatically effective if formulaic, and “What We Do in the Shadows,” which was outstanding and one of the funniest horror-comedies of the 21st Century.)

To say it is better than the thematically similar “Napoleon Dynamite” is not saying much, but this sometimes overly quirky dramedy has it’s undeniably sweet moments.

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