Tag Archives: Surrealism

Movie Review: Bronson (2008)

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Rating: B/ Charlie Bronson (Tom Hardy) is a guy who loves to kick the shit out of people. It’s as simple as that, this film carefully avoids wrapping Charlie’s derangement into a neat package or coming up with pat psychiatric explanation for his crazy out of control behavior. As far as we know, Bronson was never molested, beaten with a belt, or locked in a cupboard. Born Michael Peterson to average comfortably middle-class parents (Amanda Burton and Andrew Forbes), Charlie (who picked the moniker from the name of the Death Wish star with the help of his uncle (Hugh Ross,) the proprietor of a sleazy nightclub) just really loves to fight. In fact, he’s famous for it, dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner’ for his unhinged savagery. Continue reading Movie Review: Bronson (2008)

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Paperhouse (1988)

When I was a little girl, my younger brother and I were convinced if we strapped enough household wires to each other and fell asleep in the same bed, we could meet each other in our dreams. Of course, my mom told us it was impossible, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Children with my wild imagination and faith in the impossible would love the concept of “Paperhouse.”

Of course, “Paperhouse” has a very adult angle that makes it, ultimately, best for grown-ups. 11-year-old Anna (Charlotte Burke,) who is at that age where kids mouth off to their elders and will pick a fight over absolutely anything, faints in school on her birthday and is discovered to have a raging fever.

Bizarrely, when Anna faints, she discovers that when she’s unconscious or asleep, she enters a world entirely unlike her own- to be precise, to a remote house she has drawn before her dizzy spells began. In the house she meets a boy, physically handicapped Marc (Elliot Speirs, who died at a tragically young age,) who bears startling similarities to a boy with muscular dystrophy who Anna’s doctor (Gemma Jones) is seeing, and who Anna has never met outside to dream world.

Anna’s unspoken issues with her well-meaning but hard-drinking father (Ben Cross) show up too when a fictional recreation of dad shows up at Anna and Marc’s secret hideaway, raging, evil, and wielding a hammer. Caught between wakefulness and forever sleep by her life-threatening fever, Anna must fight for her sanity and her life, as well as the life of her newfound friend.

Contrary to certain opinions, I found the acting in this to be quite effective, from most of the child players as well as the adults. The kids aren’t always the best, but what do you expect with newbies to the craft? Despite her brattiness, I didn’t find Anna to be an unlikable character- actually, I saw her as a bright and willful child struggling to cope with a childhood harder than most.

The psychological angle here is really fascinating- Anna’s mostly loving if distant father becomes a malformed monster in her dreams, while her mother (Glenne Headly) fails or refuses to see her husband’s alcoholism and the rift between him and their daughter. It resounded with me for entirely personal reasons, and I loved the entertaining yet insightful script.

The set pieces here are also magnificent, and this movie has one of the scariest and most memorable dream sequences I’ve ever seen, the kind of thing that haunts the nightmares of any children unfortunate enough to watch it. The score, however, is mediocre- mostly typical 80’s movie music.

“Paperhouse” is an entertaining and  underrated gem of the 80’s, and although it’s not full blood horror, it has enough unnerving moments to make it ‘light horror’ for people who don’t like really intense scary movies. Although it’s not available as yet on Netflix, it’s totally worth getting online if you have a DVD player that will play it. This is a great film about childhood dreams or fears around the lines of “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Coraline,” and definitely worth checking out. 

Antichrist (2009)

I was apprehensive about seeing “Antichrist,, but not primarily for the reason that you might expect. Yes, the film’s allegations of rampant misogyny (not a new accusation for controversial filmmaker Lars Von Trier) and graphic violence were daunting, but I also heard that the Von Trier’s new work was linked thematically to “Melancholia,” a film I found almost unbearably aloof and pretentious.

I am, however, a fan of the director’s earlier works “Dancer in the Dark,” and especially, “Breaking the Waves” (the film that made me fall irrevocably in love with Emily Watson), so I decided to  give this one a go. This movie didn’t make me fall in love with anybody, least of all the characters (though the acting is very good.) It made me want to hit something. Or crawl into a fetal position and cry.

Not that “Antichrist” is a bad movie. It’s certainly a well-made one. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg act their hearts out as the otherwise unnamed He and She. It’s just… let me put it this way. Von Trier was in a period of deep depression during the conception of this film. The production was a disaster. Lars Von Trier’s hands shook as he held the camera. To see this movie is to take a close look into its creator’s tormented soul.

Don’t watch this movie if you have a weak stomach. On second thought, don’t watch this movie if you have anxiety, panic attacks, a love of children (the cute, cherubic youngster kicks it pretty early on in this dark story), or if you want to have a normal, functional life and healthy relationships. This coming from the girl who laughed at “The Human Centipede II” and was barely fazed by Haneke’s “Funny Games.”

I know. By building it up, I’m just making you want to watch it more, so I stop here. It’s like the Mormons who tell you “Don’t watch that, it’s filth!” So you go see it, naturally. The thing is, I’m not telling you not to see it. I’m just saying, tread carefully. What might be harmless for one person could be the last straw on the road to a mental breakdown.

In a visually rapturous black-and-white opening, He and She (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) have passionate sex while their infant son, Nic, escapes from his crib and falls out the window (the similarities between Nic’s fate and the death of Eric Clapton’s son need not be mentioned.)

She collapses at the funeral and is taken to hospital. In He’s infinite wisdom, he pulls She out of the care of the government and decides to take her to the place that she fears the most (“Trust me- I’m a therapist”) — the woods. To be specific, one place in the woods: “Eden,”  a place She went with her son to write a thesis.

Almost immediately, She’s verbal taunts begin: He wasn’t there, He is indifferent to his son’s death, He’s cold and distant. Meanwhile, nightmares start to penetrate Eden’s placid exterior. And they’re not the only things doing so — He and She engage in weird, compulsive sex acts and mind games.

I didn’t love “Antichrist”- I’m not even sure I liked it, but it taps into a sense of primal fear like few films I’ve ever watched. However, the meaning is as obscure as the film is unnerving. One thing I notice is the unsexiness of intercourse and the frequent use of sex as a temporary distraction and means to an end. Does this mean the film’s theme revolves around sexual politics? I don’t know? The meaning is akin to an unsolvable problem.

“Antichrist” is not fun, entertaining, or easy, but it gets under your skin and creates a creeping sense of dread, so a certain respect for it must be retained. Because Lars Von Trier isn’t fun, entertaining, or easy, but he pours out the dark contents of his heart for the world to see and finds strength in the darkness.

Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

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Egads. I had high hopes for this despite the fact that the critical reception was lukewarm at best. An horror film shot illegally at the happiest place on earth? I’m in! As someone who had a less-than-magical experience at Disneyworld a couple of years ago (it was hot, I was tired, and my meds needed adjusting,) I was excited to see what director Randy Moore would cook up.

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But ultimately, despite a great premise and a promising preview, “Escape From Tomorrow” goes straight in the toilet. There’s something to be said for weird for weird’s sake, but “Escape From Tomorrow” has no plot arc, no direction, and no point except maybe to shock you into thinking it’s something more than a badly done piece of ca-ca. “Bowels of entertainment” indeed.

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The plot- a middle-aged schlub named Jim (Roy Abramsohn) finds out over the phone that he is fired on a family trip to Disneyworld. He doesn’t tell his nagging wife or his small children, but promptly afterward he starts drinking heavily and seeing things. If the director had stayed on one track (a drunken midlife-crisis-induced trip into psychedelia) this could have been great. Instead, with pointless scenes of projectile shitting and overt visual references to masturbation, I don’t even know what he’s getting at.

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First of all, the characters of the French girls Jim was ogling and Jim’s wife, Emily (Elena Schuber) were unbelievably annoying. The girl’s giggling and flouncing around made my head hurt. But it was Emily who surely should be put on the list of ‘most annoying movie characters of 2013.’ She was so grating with her ‘Jim, you bought me the wrong figurine’ and ‘Jim, you’re drunk’ and ‘Jim, you’re ogling those French tarts aren’t you?’ (true, but still annoying.) As the place takes a hold over Jim much like the Overlook took over Jack Torrence, Jim’s wife increases in pitch and urgency until you wish Jim would take the kids and leave her at the hotdog stand.

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Jim was annoying too, and I didn’t really care what happened to the characters as long as the movie just ended soon. I mean, who stalks and stares at a couple of teenage girls right in front of his young son? I know men have urges and get sexually frustrated, we all get sexually frustrated, but Jim’s unchained libido was accompanied by a steady dose of stupid.

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Furthermore, the script seemed like something a 13-year-old with a dirty and distractable mind could have written. Is it science fiction? If so, it’s not very good. Is is scary? No. Is it funny? I laughed a couple of times, once when the Asian businessmen were feeling up the princesses. Above all, it doesn’t go ANYWHERE. It simply hangs over the audience like a putrid cloud of decay.

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I like weird films, edgy films, whatever. And like the adventurous tourist at the Japanese seafood buffet, I’m willing to try anything. But what the hell is this. It’s weird all right. It’s not as edgy as it thinks it is. It’s fucking STUPID. If you want to make a list of movies NOT to watch this year, start with this one. You’ll thank me later.

King of Thebes (2012)

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While King of Thebes serves as an atmospheric, eerie art house oddity, there is nothing about it that would urge me to recommend it to you. It is seven minutes  long, so I’ll keep my analysis of it brief. A man (Laurence R. Harvey) enters a room and meticulously starts setting up his things for a carefully planned rendezvous. When the object of his affection is presented, things get increasingly icky/strange and it all wraps up to a weird and inexplicable finale.

When I say that Laurence R. Harvey is a terrific actor, I am not simply saying it because we have been online friends for more than a year. He blew us away in a better performance than the film deserved in The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), and he does creepy and disturbed, albeit in this case harmless, again in King Of Thebes. However, after watching ‘Martin’ (Harvey’s wordless villain) rape the back end of a stapled-together line of people in THC2, nothing in this movie presents shocks me that much.

Anyway, Laurence R. Harvey does desperation well, and this short gives him the opportunity to do a kind-off sex scene, make a singularly unappealing ‘Oh’ face, and act generally sketchy. I would love to see him play against type, maybe the huggable teddy bear Uncle, or the love interest. Is that too much to ask? King of Thebes was an okay short and might be enjoyed by people who like weird for weird’s sake.

Imagination (2007)

I’ll admit it, I didn’t come to this film with high hopes. I had seen Netflix reviewers trash it again and again, but I hoped that it would at least be original. By the middle, when the talking fruits showed up, I was waiting for the one hour ten minutes to end.

By the credits, I was wondering how such a horrific train wreck ever came into existence. There’s a vague possibility that this could have been a good, albeit strange, film. What went wrong? As it turns out, almost everything.

The plot (if you can call it that) follows two prepubescent girls named Anna and Sarah through their joined imaginary realities. Their parents are struggling — Sarah is nearly blind, and Anna has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. As their psychiatrist attempts to understand their increasingly bizarre fantasies, we watch dream-like sequences done through stop-motion animation and special effects. When tragedy strikes, the girls retreat further into their imaginations, causing the psychiatrist to wonder what the visions mean.

That’s pretty much the sum of the story, avoiding spoilers. It actually was an interesting idea, visualizing two introverted girls’ secret world. The result, however, is horrendous. First of all the acting is pathetic — it’s hard to watch. As you watch the actors’ pitiable attempts to be “emotional,” you wonder how they could have possibly set themselves up for this kind of humiliation.

It feels like the director went out to a local park, watched people for a while, and chose a few, asking them to be in a movie. They agreed, despite their complete lack of dramatic skills. The two girl’s performances are understandable — they’re still young, after all. However, watching the adults, especially the psychiatrist, desperately trying to play their roles leaves you shaking your head in horror.

The other problem with Imagination is that Anna’s “Asperger’s Syndrome” and Sarah’s blindness are pointless, more or less just there to rationalize bizarre dream sequences. What may have helped this film is to explain why the girls “live in a world all their own.” Anna, we are told again and again, “can’t socialize,” but we rarely see her interact with anyone in the film.

It would have been interesting — more interesting, perhaps, than the weird trip scenes — to try to explain Sarah and Anna’s need to go into their own realities. Ben X did this efficiently. We understood why the main character, Ben, became obsessed with the virtual world and tuned out of real life. Imagination, however, is obviously a miserable attempt to play with hallucinogenic effects and claymation, without a glimmer of character development or logic to make sense of it.

There is one good quality, however. Even though the filmmakers got so many other things wrong, their skills at claymation are apparent. One scene, in particular, is darkly creative and weird, in a good way. In this case, the bizarre imagery actually attracted my attention. It makes you kind of wish they had kicked out the actors and let the clay figures take center stage.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this movie to practically anyone, unless they are especially fond of weird for weird’s sake. Do not watch this looking for a realistic or informative view of Asperger’s — you won’t find it here. If you want something unusual, watch The Fall — in fact, watch practically anything else. Just stay far away from this bizarre, pointless mess of a movie.

Forbidden Zone (1982)

“The Forbidden Zone” takes place in a world entirely unlike our own. From the bizarre recreation of California to the freaky-deaky “Forbidden Zone” of the title, nothing looks the way it should look and none of the characters act the way a normal person would act under any given circumstances.

This is absolutely one of the weirdest movies I have seen in my life. If this intrigues you, this may be the movie for you. If not, maybe not. This bizarre surrealist musical follows Susan B. “Frenchy” Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman), a Californian with a pretentious French accent, who passes through a door in her parents’ basement to the “Sixth Dimension” a bizarre world ruled by a jealous queen (Susan Tyrrell) and amorous dwarf king (Hervé Villechaize,)

Frenchy quite willingly becomes the dwarf’s sex slave, but the queen, Doris, becomes determined to destroy her. Meanwhile, Frenchy’s dunderhead brother Flash and Grandpa enter the Sixth Dimension, hoping to rescue her.

The acting ranges from okay (Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell) to poor (Matthew Bright, as twin brothers Rene & Squeezit). The music, however, was quite good. I especially liked the voices of Marie-Pascale Elfman and Susan Tyrrell, whose throaty tune “Witch’s Egg” was strangely captivating.

This movie is not for the easily offended. There are racist stereotypes (thought by many to be a satiric portrayal of bias in Hollywood) and out-there sexual content. As a comedy, it’s a little weak (certainly not a laugh-out-loud movie). As a musical, it’s quite strong (with songs composed by the director’s brother, Danny Elfman, who later became a composing regular in Tim Burton films.)

“Zone” will divide audiences. For die hard fans of surrealism and cult weirdness, the film will offer subversive pleasures; for the average person, it won’t offer much. For people to whom “Inception” is hard-core weirdness, it will shock and repel. Regardless, it is a polarizing experience and a original picture, if not a particularly coherent one. I leave this one up to you.

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6.0/10