4 (or Perhaps 54) Odd Movies I Saw Recently

For reasons too complex to go into[1], I usually watch a movie or two late night thru the early morning hours. Recently I saw four films that rank among the oddest I’ve seen. Charlie Victor Romeo is a series of six staged vignettes, using the same group of actors and the same minimalist airplane cockpit set, that recreate the final moments of six doomed flights via dramatizations of the black box transcripts.

This is definitely one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen; not strangest, not weirdest, not most outrageous, just…odd.

There’s virtually nothing to be gleaned from this other than a voyeuristic look into how the last few moments of six seemingly random flights went down.

Literally.

Some of the air crews appear to be more professional and less hysterical than others, but there is virtually no characterization (other than one pilot who goes back to chat up with the stewardesses). There are schematic drawings of the aircraft, but nothing else: No documentary footage, no computer simulations, nothing except the exact same dinky little set.

CVR1w_BobBerger-520x428The same high production values found in Plan Nine From Outer Space...

From a forensic POV, I suppose it has its merits: Flight crews can analyze what others did wrong.[2]  I can see how this might have some dramatic punch in a small intimate theater, but as a movie? Odd.

Not bad, just…odd.

Holy Motors is the first feature by director Leos Carax in over a dozen years, a film seemingly evocative of Louis Malle’s Black Moon, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and Paul Bartel’s The Secret Cinema, yet at the same time not strictly derivative of any of them.

The film is a series of vignettes in which an actor (played by Denis Lavant) is driven in a long white stretch limo to various locales where, after changing costume and make-up in the limo-cum-dressing room, he acts out a variety of disturbing / violent / insane improvised scenes, occasionally in public but often in deserted buildings or tunnels. In the course of these scenes, it is learned he is an actor performing a wide variety of roles for an organization that uses tiny hidden cameras to record his performances -- but then that scene is revealed to be another role he is playing!

Holy-Motors-612x300Say what you will, Denis Lavant knows how to make an entrance...

It’s a well mounted film, and while some of the vignettes are violent and bloody with copious male nudity, others are funny.[3]

In the end the stretch limo has a conversation with other stretch limos who carry other actors performing other scenes; the cars realize their own days are coming to an end and soon the digital world will remove the need for them to actually carry actors about.

Thought provoking and never boring. There are far worse ways to spend two hours.

The ABCs Of Death & The ABCs Of Death 2 are two anthology films in which 26 teams of film makers[4] produce short films / vignettes that each illustrate some point or aspect of death based on a particular word.

NOT a double bill for everyone.[5] Unrated -- and for damn good reasons -- the vignettes run from sophomoric excursions into gore and torture to genuinely insightful and chilling meditations on death and fate to outrageously funny odd ball examinations of the macabre (animator Bill Plympton, the only recognizable name in the two films, contributes a funny example of extreme kissing).

ABCs 8053_5Simultaneously the safest, cutest, and most disturbing image from the two films.

The good segments are very good, the gross segments are very gross, the Japanese segments are so fncking Japanese you won’t believe it, but the worst & weakest are still solid C+ material and the best are A+.

The shortness of the mini-films forces a stripped down narrative and character construction; you get straight to the point ASAP and then move on to the next story. As I find myself becoming more and more easily bored by long form stories (including feature films, mini-series, and even hour long episodics), The ABCs Of Death were welcome excursions in efficient streamlined story telling and for that I give them all high marks.

Would that somebody use the same format for other types of stories: Comedies, love, etc.

As the film makers were working independently of one another there is a certain overlap of ideas and themes, but nothing that detracts from the final films. In the first film I was particularly impressed with “Dogfight”, “Hydro-Electric Diffusion” (see above), “Klutz”, and “Pressure” (arguably the most disturbing of all the short films even without explicit gore and violence); while in the second my favorites were “Capital Punishment”, “Questionnaire”, “Roulette”, “Split”, “Vacation”, and “Wish”.

But remember, if I think a movie is pushing the boundaries, it’s really pushing the boundaries!

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[1] Okay, here’s the deal: We inherited Jeffrey Cat from my late aunt. He is set in his ways, and those ways require somebody to be in the living room with him late at night or else he starts meowing and raising a ruckus. No, he cannot come into my office and lay quietly while I work; no, he cannot let Soon-ok sleep and simply join her at the foot of the bed; he has to have somebody downstairs with him or else he makes enough racket to awaken Soon-ok and then I catch hell. From the moment Soon-ok turns in to the wee hours of the morning, I have to go downstairs and cat sit. Jeffrey Cat, we luvz ya and we’ll take good care of you for the rest of your days, but we will shed few tears when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil…

[2]  Or what they did  right; the last vignette recounts the truly heroic efforts of United Flight 232 to bring their craft down as safely as possible, thus managing to save the lives of over half the people on board.

[3] Whether in spite of or because of their outrageousness is a question best answered by each individual viewer.

[4] The movies promote the directors primarily, but these films required writers and actors and tech crews and animators and special effects teams to make their impact, so let’s hear it for the teams!

[5] In January of this year, Ohio substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was convicted of four felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles after she showed the first ABCs Of Death to five different Spanish language classes (the film has Spanish language segments). She had been charged with five counts, but the jury was inclined to think she didn’t know what was in the movie when she showed it to the first class, but that she should have then realized it was inappropriate and not shown it to the remaining classes. Personally, I think the average high school student would probably enjoy both films, though I am sure plenty of teens would rather avoid it as is their right. It was a bonehead move on Ms Kearns part, and while her punishment is excessive, she had to expect some sort of blow back.

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