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Meet the Hollowheads (1989)
What A World!
This wildly imaginative, endlessly clever, candy colored, twisted, hilarious, gross-out, underground (maybe literally) sci-fi comedy is a one-of-a-kind wonder. Essentially the idea is a Jetsons-ish live action family TV sitcom satire set in an intangible time and place of some far off, distant dimension or universe where every daily necessity or modern convenience is pumped through a complex system of tubes. Oh, and everyone is careful not to fall off "The Edge." The basic plot setup is an intentional cookie cutter television sitcom template involving the father, Henry Hollowhead (John Glover) who works for "United Umbilical", bringing home his new slimy boss (Richard Portnow) for an impromptu dinner, leaving the homemaker mother, Miriam Hollowhead (Nancy Mette), reeling with the frantic task of managing her three stock character type children while trying to cook up an impressive feast.
The inspired fun and lunacy comes from how this simple premise is warped around, and manifested within the novelty of the created universe: The mother wrangles tentacles and squirts out doughy goo in the kitchen; the eldest son practices his bagpipe/keyboard/trombone/live-chicken-creature instrument for his big gig; the youngest son picks fat insects off the family "dog" ("he's infested") to use in his new "Splat Spray Game" with his troublemaking buddy Joey (pre-teen cynic, 80's cult regular Joshua John Miller); and their middle child daughter, a pre-fame Juliette Lewis, sprays her face with cosmetic machines in the bathroom, getting ready for a party. A whole system of amusing fictional terminology and lingo is even created (the daughter wants to use the mother's "Softening Jelly" and they threaten to discipline their children by sending them to the "Penetration Box") leaving the deduction of which up to the viewer's imagination.
Another delicious, bizarre and wonderful conceptual element is what lay beyond the walls of the house and what the outside world is like. The only scene that takes place outside the fantastical home is when the youngest son and his friend venture out through an abstract dark void to make their way to the main pipe station, to fill a list of ingredients for Mrs. Hollowhead. Along the way, they encounter a void bum, a team of "Reamers," that are dressed up in grey, brush outlined pipe cleaner tutus, and Stationmaster Babbleaxe (Anne Ramsey), who speaks with subtitles that even translate her grunts into insults (This idea might have been used due to the fact that because Ramsey suffered from throat cancer she had to have parts of her jaw and tongue removed, and as a result it affected her speech. She died shortly after this production and the film is "Lovingly Dedicated" to her.).
This was Thomas R. Burman's, a long time special make-up effects artist who has worked on everything from The Thing With Two Heads (1972) to My Bloody Valentine (1981) (he even worked with Anne Ramsey before on Throw Momma From The Train (1987)), first and only, so far, directed feature, but let's hope it is not the last. Lisa Morton co-concocted and wrote the great script in collaboration with Burman as a project for Burman to direct. Morton kept a journal during production which can be found online at Morton's site (www.lisamorton.com).
A good printed VHS and Laserdisc version was released by Image in November of 1989 but since then the film seems to have become public domain, because several super cheap video labels have released their own VHS and DVD versions with badly blown up pictures of Juliette Lewis on the cover, to cash in on her fame, and wrong credit listings. The film's original title was "Life On The Edge," but it was changed, and the film was cut and re-scored by the producers (they even added a horribly silly/stupid hip-hop/rap song to the credits). But even with those forced butcheries, the film remains astonishing. We would all lead happier, more exciting lives if more films like this got funded. Absolutely not to be missed! Highly Recommended!
A monotoned melancholy portrait; an idyllic suburbanite panoramic; the opening titles ripped in half and then thrown aside by the cold, nefarious looking grill on the shiny family vehicle. So begins the surrealistic misadventures in happy home horror. Young Michael suspects the left-overs. The social worker suspects trouble. And the charismatic girl from the moon suspects the carefree days of youth will one day come to an end; replaced by the responsibilities of adulthood. New nightmares of another kind, but for Michael the old fashioned ones are what worry him. A hand in the garbage disposal thrashing about to the sound of bone caught in the spinning blade, blood dripping from the freezer like melted ice pops, a limb hanging from a meat hook in the basement. What is real and what is dreams? But then again, that's life.
A Distant Dream
Solarbabies is a film that still remains in my head as a film, and not a production; which is very rare and hard for a person like me; one who constantly maps out the boundaries of the world of movies and their magic and experience, by devouring and disenchanting that world through personal obsession for all knowledge and nuances on a reviving daily reoccurrance.
Despite the film's easily written-off ineptitudes, cheesy sentiment, borderline incoherent silliness and visual limitations, it still manages to possess a strange magic; .a sense of wonder, imagination, adventure and a youthful excitement towards limitless possibilities of a close but distant horizon of an unknown world, destination and future. Those wondrous currents that have surged through us all about what lay out there and ahead in our immediate and distant futures are here channeled in a sci-fi context, specifically a "what-if world"; a gift blissfully inherent to the post-apocalyptic genre but rarely fully capitalized on. And even if by the end of the film, what has actually passed before you has not fully realized your imaginative and spirited involvement, you still feel that an unspoken realm of something has traversed a larger sense of place and time and adventure. The fictional world (summoned up vicariously through small phrases and lines and referrals and emotions) feels bigger than what has actually been fleshed out in the end-product on screen.
I still feel that funny feeling of wanting to go beyond when the end credits begin to roll, and behind them the final images of the group running across a beach (did releasing the water also create an instant beach? just another example of the film's either inept illogistics or ungraspable sense of self and place? Either way, the experience is there.) up to the water/ocean's edge and begin to splash about in the fulfillment(?) of their destination. It still feels like only the beginning of a story that I want to see.
Perhaps if a commentary track by anyone involved in the making of the film, had been put together and included on the recently released MGM DVD, which I so desperately wished it had been, maybe part of this distant wonder I carry for the film would have been slowly metamorphosized into an understanding of its all-to-real and finite existence/production within the realty of the real world (as it has happened many times before with other films). But as it stands, even with its easily recognizable faces and markings, Solarbabies still remains to me a large, distant occurrence collectively dreamt into existence by an unknown number of unknown people at an unknown place in the world (ok, Spain) at some nostalgic point in history, that was just slightly too far back for me to have been aware of its specific creation at a disenchanted adult hour of my life.
Phantasmagorical + English Subtitled DVD
In the hands of experimental Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, the tale of seven "unmarried" young high-school girls who, during a school break, travel to a spooky, remote hilltop house to visit the reclusive, mysterious Aunt of one of their fold only to be consumed one at a time by the Ghost-House/Aunt in increasingly novel ways, is escalated into a spastic, phantasmagorical confetti burst of avant-garde techniques and tonalities. Not a minute goes by without some kind of imaginative and spirited experimental visual manipulation or interjection; from kaleidoscopic color schemes, to frame and time altering collage montage, to wild, high-concept mixed media integration (animation, mattes, props, sets, etc), to mini-movie injections (lovingly parodying/mimicking everything from silent film stylistics, to romantic fantasies to obligatory action scenes). Any and all workings of the film form are here incorporatedly warped; from imagery and editing to music and sound to content and presentation. Even the sketches of characters and their respective performances by the actors are hemmed in time with the overall off-the-wall configuration. (Example: Each girl is intentionally drawn with their stock personalities (the musician, the over-weight eater, the athlete, etc) novelly paraded in gleeful iconic irreverence.) The moods and tones of the film are equally melodic in their own discordant tangential way; seamlessly walking the line between comedy, horror and the deadpan aloof. It all adds up to a whole lot of fun. Where else could you see a girl eaten by a piano, an upright Bear helping cook dinner at a roadside noodle-stand or a man turned into a pile of bananas because he doesn't like melons!? With all its packed in candy-colored confections and novel door prizes, "Hausu" is a cinematic surprise party all in one...just add you.
Get an English Subtitled DVD at: allcluesnosolutions.com
Wilder Napalm (1993)
A Cinematic Carnival!
I used to watch this on either HBO or Showtime or Cinemax during the one summer in the mid 90's that my parents subscribed to those channels. I came across it several times in various parts and always found it dark, bizarre and fascinating. I was young then, in my early teens; and now years later after having discovered the great Arliss Howard and being blown away by "Big Bad Love" I bought the DVD of "Wilder Napalm" and re-watched it with my girlfriend for the first time in many years. I absolutely loved it! I was really impressed and affected by it. There are so many dynamic fluid complexities and cleverness within the camera movements and cinematography; all of which perfectly gel with the intelligent, intense and immediate chemistry between the three leads, their story, the music and all the other actors as well. It's truly "Cinematic". I love Arliss Howard's subtle intensity, ambivalent strength and hidden intelligence, I'm a big fan of anything he does; and his interplay with Debra Winger's manic glee (they are of course married) has that magic charming reality to it that goes past the camera. (I wonder if they watch this on wedding anniversaries?......."Big Bad Love" should be the next stop for anyone who has not seen it; it's brilliant.) And, Dennis Quaid in full clown make-up, sneakily introduced, angled, hidden and displayed by the shot selection and full bloomed delivery is of the kind of pure dark movie magic you don't see very often. Quaid has always had a sinister quality to him for me anyways, with that huge slit mouth span, hiding behind his flicker eyes lying in wait to unleash itself as either mischievous charm or diabolical weirdness (here as both). Both Howard and Quaid have the insane fire behind the eyes to pull off their wonderful intense internal gunslinger square-offs in darkly cool fashion. In fact the whole film has a darkly cool energy and hip intensity. It's really a fantastic film, put together by intelligence, imagination, agility and chemistry by all parties involved. I really cannot imagine how this got funded, and it looks pretty expensive to me, by such a conventional, imagination-less system, but I thank God films like this slip through the system every once in awhile. In a great way, with all of its day-glo bright carnival colors, hip intelligence, darkly warped truthful humor and enthralling chemistry it reminds me of one of my favorite films of all time: "Grosse Pointe Blank".......now that's a compliment in my book!
The Greenstone (1980)
Kenny Rogers Roosters
Orson Welles, Kenny Rogers, and a feathered-hair boy in an ugly football shirt save the forest, and possibly the world(?), from evil hands in this bargain backyard mini-feature (50mins.). The boy does it with his zombie-like droll charm, Welles (!?) with oddly out of place "poetic" narration and Kenny Rogers (here played by Jack Mauck as "Mike, The Overseer") with his animal talk, feathered hat, sleepy disposition and deadly accurate bow. The ugly-shirted boy disobeys his grandmother's head and goes into his backyard forest chasing after the Lady In White, only to find a stone that is anything but "green" and some cranky dwarfs resting in a WWI-like trench. The evil forest princess is a Halloween costumed goth girl riding bareback who awkwardly falls off her horse after shouting a bold, scene-exiting statement like "You won't get me this time brother!" I guess the filmmakers decided to keep the footage in, however unintentional, because it looked dangerous and exciting. How I do love bizarre little meta-moments like this in my movies. In times past this could have been up there on a deceptive kiddie matinée double bill with a "Jimmy, the Boy Wonder" or "The Magic Christmas Tree" or "Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny".
De fem benspænd (2003)
Lars; Forever The Enigma
Lars Von Trier instigated this endlessly fascinating cinema experiment with fellow Danish filmmaker, and mentor/hero; Jorgen Leth. Trier challenged Leth to remake his 1967 short film "The Perfect Human" five different times, each time with a different set of obstructions or conditions. The obstructions range from technical to philosophical, and are sometimes plucked out at random by Trier in direct response to Leth's actions or words, during their many whimsical, very funny, nebulous exchanges. The most diabolical condition Trier concocts is of coarse that Leth has no conditions, which places all the potential blame, guilt, pressure, and creative insecurity totally back on Leth himself. Nothing though seems to get the better of Leth, and Trier appears to be frustrated and bemused every time Leth brings back a good film, of which we get to see the process and clips of the end creation. Trier states he wants to "banalize," Leth and each time hopes Leth will fail and return with a bad film, but Leth never does. Each reworking of The Perfect Human (1967) is an interesting and often poetic creation (at least the snippets that we get to see). One version is even animated by Bob Sabiston; the guy responsible for the great rotoscopish, brightly colored animation process and design in Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2005). It's hard to decipher Trier's true nature; at times he seems playful and at others, deadly serious. His intentions are (deliberately?) obscure. Is it all just a friendly game of chess or full on metaphysical warfare? This uncertainty and the sheer novelty of seeing Lars Von Trier and Jorgen Leth toy with each other on screen makes for a great shifty-eyed, quasi-exploratory, neo-deadpan, pseudo-straight-laced, doc-o-comedy, mock-drama.
The Shout (1978)
An utterly bewitching and fantastical film from the great Polish-born filmmaker Jerzy Skolimoski. An "abnormal" mental patient, Crossley (Alan Bates), tells a story of himself, which may or may not be true, to a young, confused looking Tim Curry during a mental institution run cricket match. He tells of how he self-imposed his way into the home of an experimental musique concrète composer, Anthony (John Hurt), who records all sorts of fascinating sounds and noises and then manipulates them with his mini-studio of electronic equipment, and his wife Rachel (Susannah York). Inside the flashback/flash forward/flash sideways, he tells them of a unique ability he has perfected, which he learned from an aboriginal medicine man while living in the Australian outback. It seems he can perform a shout that will kill anyone within a surrounding radius. He demonstrates "The Shout" to Anthony and unknowingly kills a local farmer. His presence in Anthony's home quickly becomes awkward and unwanted but he continues to force his stay with intimidation. He uses his mysterious mystical abilities to entrance Rachel into becoming almost rabid for him, and taunts Anthony with his conquest and powers. Anthony, humiliated and overpowered in his own home and life, searches desperately for a way to defeat Crossley; searches for the source of his "soul".
Skolimowski uses the music and sounds that are recorded by John Hurt's character on screen (in real life made by Rupert Hine) as the metaphysical soul to this cinematic nightmare; similar in the ways David Lynch uses sound design as both an audio and visually integral mood stabilizing component in his nightmare-dream poems, or how Nicolas Roeg uses fractured time and images to a disorientating, hypnotic effect. In fact, it feels very analogous to a Roeg film. Highly recommended.
Life In A Fist Of Film
A film beyond film; the rarest transfusion of worlds a step thru the rift of definition, into the realms of the sublime. Poetry of the unknown chasms of existence perfect reflections of the ghost and its flight. A journey, a search, beyond incidents, externalizations, time and space; emotions striving to hold on, to decode something of the abstraction of consciousness; of reality; of life (both on the basic primordial level and on the modern plateau). Aoyama has achieved a transcendtion of form, function, media, matter and expression; as if all the years of brooding had channeled into these three hours and forty minutes.
A deal no doubt must have been struck with time and space themselves; to allow themselves to be exposed and laid bare before the camera to be carved out of each other and shaped and molded by human hands; sculptures made of moments and distance. Claustrophobia with the known universe. Movement coerced into a go-between, relaying messages from the outer rims.
Intensity is felt with every frame; the intensity of ambiguousness the intensity of simply living thru time, at existing at the hands of the confusion of existence. Characters sift thru a war of existence. The individual; the self contained star drifting thru space, and the rootless feeling permeating the universe are here held open and dissected as if the individual's confinement were a show of fireworks. Isolation comes as natural drift, as if expected as wind thru the leaves of a tree, never forced or romanticized. Communication is reborn, and language held at bay; its deceiving tendrils plucked from their hold within the brain. The irrational is once again confronted face to face instead of by way of masked handshake in the dark. Open spaces and landscapes externalize the internal scope; playing out a disenchanted dream of reality. Roads, buildings, yards, construction sites, parking lots, fields, sky; all seem to drip with answers beyond their forms. They remain still, but hold the longing out with both hands; one step away from the void.
The world has been caught, stripped to the bone; rendered poignant in sepiatone colored fever-(day)dreams (surely here, and to a fishier degree in von Trier's The Element Of Crime (1984), now proved to be the color of at least some part of heaven). Modernity has been deflated, time and space orchestrated, society has been shown limbless, history has retreated to the wastelands, and man is man as he has always been. Aoyama has pierced the skin; broken thru to the inner chambers. The surface has been dissolved and only the hopeful depths remain.
Wals voor de storm (2002)
Woodcut Wonder World
This amazing, 14 minute animated film made in the Netherlands uses overlapping layers of black and white woodcut-styled detailed renderings, rotoscope-like movement and a grainy, missing frame, silent film like presentation. It floats between a ghostly grave digging-cart pushing figure, a tavern owner and a prostitute, all floundering in a empty city on a desolate island that seems "abandoned by God" and "entangled in the devil's nets." A slow, acoustic, folksy waltz-like story song is sung intermittently throughout the course of the film and provides a sort of macabre poetic narration. The mesmerizing animation is spooky, lush, breathtaking and probably exactly-unlike anything you've seen before. Sometimes shows on the Sundance Channel.