Hello readers and welcome back once more to another edition of the Seattle Cinema Survey, where local movie nerds/critics blabber on about stuff I ask them. It’s a good kind of blabber though. So far we’ve asked some fairly narrows questions, but this week, things get a little wider and weirder.
This week, I inquired of our crew; What’s your favorite film with a plot so odd it’s too hard to recommend? That leaves a lot of titles and options.
A bunch of things sprung immediately to mind for me, including Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and basically the career of David Lynch. However, sometimes peculiar movies are easy to pitch if the narratives can be succinctly described. Under the Skin, for example, is the tale of an alien taking the form of a human woman and learning of all its advantages and disadvantages. Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives is about…an uncle…who can recall…his past lives. These are odd plots for sure. I can actually talk about them though.
So, my selection is a movie I adore whose story is basically paper-thin and whose premise is rather convoluted; Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. In briefest of summaries, Holy Motors is about an actor who is taken around town and pretends to be different things to different people. That sounds slightly like Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps, but in that film the actors were there to help the bereaved. This film, our actor, the amazing Denis Lavant, plays a pervert here, a murderer there and master accordionist over yonder. We learn little of the man’s true nature or home-life, yet through it all Carax weaves this intriguing, peculiar yarn that hints at the nature of cinema and self in the 21st Century. That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue in the elevator pitch. “It’s a great movie where a French guy you’ve never heard of pretends to be a bunch of randos, but is really delving into modern themes.”
And now to the rest of the locals…
Tim Hall of Seattle PI/People’s Critic @peoplescritic
Audition. It’s about a widow who hooks up with these girls at an audition. He falls for one girl, but she ends up being crazy.
This isn’t a slasher film or some Saw movie, Audition is a very slow burn until the very end. Leading up the big finale, there’s a scene with someone inside a giant sack that’s very unsettling. The movie is so disturbing. I couldn’t look at the screen during the last scene.
Also, I absolutely love this film.
Brent McKnight of The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
I’m going to cheat and name drop two movies with bizarre-ass plots: Rubin and Ed and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. It’s not that it’s hard to recommend them, because I do, often. It’s just that they’re both totally bananas and can be a hard sell to the closed-minded. But I’m nothing if not persistent and have forced most of my friends to watch both of these wingnut masterpieces.
Starring Crispin Glover and Howard Hessman, Trent Harris’ gonzo 1991 road-buddy -comedy, Rubin and Ed, is ostensibly about two republicans wandering the desert looking for a place to bury a dead cat. And it’s so much stranger than that. Glover plays Rubin Farr, a neurotic, reclusive mama’s boy, and when his mother demands he make a friend, he ropes in Hessman’s Ed Tuttle, a sad sack, middle-aged, divorced loser currently tangled up in a get-rich-quick scheme. What follows is the most peculiar, hallucinatory “Heart of Darkness”-style journey you’ve ever encountered. And it’s imminently quotable to boot—you’ll be saying things like, “Hey, weirdo, who let you out?” “I am the king of the Echo People,” and, “My cat can eat a whole watermelon,” for years to come. It’s just fucking weird, and absolutely delightful. Long championed by both Scarecrow Video and Grand Illusion Cinema, it has a strong connection here in Seattle as well.
You can already tell from the name that The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is going to be nuts, and it doesn’t let you down. Starring Peter Weller, this 1984 joint is just the tale of your run-of-the-mill neurosurgeon/rock star/physicist/comic book hero as he tries to drive through solid matter, battle aliens with awesome names like John Bigboote and John Smallberries, and sooth a few broken hearts at the same time. Along with his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, who also happen to be scientists from various disciplines and his fellow adventurers, Buckaroo tussles with Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow at his most manic) and just generally saves the day. Also, if you ever watch Buckaroo Banzai in a theater and some random dude in the crowd shouts, “Jeff Goldblum, sexiest man on video,” know that I used to live with him.
Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @filmjabber
This may be breaking the rules because the plot itself isn’t that strange, but Dogville is a movie that I find absolutely fantastic but would never recommend to any “regular moviegoer.” Not only is it three hours long, but its lack of set (the movie takes place in a small town, but there are no walls for the imaginary buildings and the whole thing takes place on a stage) would be just a major turnoff for most.
Benjamin Nason of The MacGuffin @Benjamin_Nason
Sure, you could recount the literal details of Santa Sangre to someone but you’re probably going to end up sounding deranged for the recommendation. Alejandro Jodorowski’s 1989 film is one of the most insanely, weirdly plotted films I’ve ever seen. The combination of surrealism, grotesque violence and mysticism gels together in a way when watching that makes a certain amount of sense within the film’s internal logic. But try telling someone else what the movie’s about and you run the risk of either spoiling its bizarre plot or losing them to the appalling weirdness of it all. However, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone stop watching it once it started, so usually the best bet is just saying “Here. Let’s watch this. Trust me.”
Drew Powell of Drews Movie Blog @Drewpowell123
For this question, any movies by David Lynch or David Cronenberg would fit the bill easily, but I’m going to go with something a little more unexpected: Luis Bunuel’s 1962 satiric masterwork The Exterminating Angel. The movie revolves around a group of Mexican bourgeois dinner guests at a mansion. At the end of the night, when the guests attempt to go home they find that they’re unable to leave the living room of the house.
Why? Well…that’s a little difficult to explain.
Expertly crafted, darkly funny and disturbing in equal measure (even turning apocalyptic at the end), Bunuel’s film is one of the strangest most mesmerizing films I’ve ever seen. But alas, that nutty premise makes it difficult to recommend. Even Bunuel himself, in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, couldn’t fully comprehend the premise when Owen Wilson traveled back in time and told it to him.
Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdotcom
The first thing that comes to mind for me is Pedro Almodovar The Skin I Live In. Naturally a foreign film is a great choice for a category of this nature since getting any American to watch anything in another language isn’t too distance an ask from, say, murdering their first born. Almodovar 2011 erotic thriller is a nasty fable, high strung and lascivious and largely disturbing. A jaw-dropping twist is tightly fasten by genuine emotionality rare to this bizarre a conceit and superb character work emanating from the performers, who themselves are working from a killer script. The plot, also conceived by Almodovar, is a demented Ouroboros, best left unfettered from spoiling for the uninitiated. To suggest it to anyone is to entrust your reputation with Almodovar twisted vision, because, presumably, they will find his electrifying vision of death, transformation and rebirth the stuff of nightmares. Or, at the very least, very fucking strange.