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Top 5 Weird Movies of Fantastic Fest

Note: This article was original posted on 366 Weird Movies.

Dedicated to films from all over the world of the horror, thriller, sci-fi, action, experimental, and/or mash-up persuasions, Fantastic Fest is the perfect place to discover all-new weird movies of various origins. I tried to take in a little bit of everything, and I’ve come out with a list of the Top 5 Weird Movies of Fantastic Fest for 2015. Note: Due to scheduling conflicts I missed Yakuza Apocalypse, which I suspect would have made this list. I also missed Anomalisa. Oh well.

belladonna of sadness

5) Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Japan)
This was the most significant repertory screening for weird-movie lovers: a long-lost anime acid trip directed by Eiichi Yamamoto that never received a proper release in the US, but has been restored and re-released by Cinelicious Pics for 2015. Known to some for its use as a backdrop for musicians, the film’s visuals are without par, composed primarily of sprawling watercolor paintings that the camera pans across like an unraveling scroll. The art style is complex and elegant, with detailed linework and selective color, a kind of animated Art Nouveau, and the soundtrack is a thumping psychedelic score that pairs perfectly with the hallucinogenic imagery onscreen. As a purely sensory experience, the film is remarkable. The script and themes are less so. Hailed by some as a feminist statement, the story (inspired by Jules Michelet’s 19th-century nonfiction book Satanism and Witchcraft) follows Jeanne, a peasant woman in feudal France who is publicly raped on her wedding night by a skeletal baron and his courtiers. Physically and emotionally shattered, she turns to a demon spirit who offers her revenge in exchange for sexual devotion, and eventually she becomes a powerful sorceress who controls her whole town. On paper it sounds empowering, but in action it tends to stray far more into pornographic objectification of Jeanne, and the script is so bare-bones it would be about half the length without all the sex scenes. Narrative issues aside, this is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in experimental animation or weird stuff from Japan.

men & chicken

4) Men & Chicken (2015, Denmark/Germany)
My first foray into the wacky world of Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, Men & Chicken is a sick, strange, and funny family drama about 5 brothers and their enigmatic scientist father. Mads Mikkelsen plays Elias, a chronic masturbator who, upon his father’s death, discovers that he and his brother were both adopted, and that they come from different mothers. The two go on a quest to find their biological dad and end up gaining three more brothers they never knew existed, all with odd habits and a decidedly anti-social bent. The five men try to make it as a family, to mixed success and much hilarity, while digging into the mystery of their brilliant-but-abusive father’s experiments. The narrative is meandering to say the least, but so incredibly enjoyable it doesn’t matter, with a perfect comedic cast, ridiculous dialogue, downright silly situational humor, and a unique story tinged with darkness. The result is an unexpected mix of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and The Island of Dr Moreau, and if that doesn’t appeal to you then you might be beyond saving.


3) High-Rise (2015, UK)
Ben Wheatley engages a little with his inner Cronenberg in this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, crafting an unsettling class satire set almost entirely within an ultra-lux high-rise apartment building. Thanks to a built-in grocery store, pool, gardens, and school, the tenants are provided with everything they might need, but after a prolonged power failure the lower (and, naturally, lower-class) floors grow restless and rebellious. The situation quickly escalates into an all-out war between floors, with frequent breaks for parties, drugs, orgies, and redecorating. Through the eyes of popular new resident Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), we see the penthouse-dwelling Architect (Jeremy Irons) delving into the depths of vulgarity while an irascible documentarian (Luke Evans) tries to make his way to the top to expose the wealthy businessmen living there. Alliances are forged and broken, and money becomes meaningless. One of the more polarizing films at the fest, High-Rise is jarring in its strange pacing decisions, uneven tone, and extreme visuals, but Wheatley’s unexpected choices make for the most brilliant moments. An incisive and grim social commentary, it is also bitingly funny and irreverent in that droll, British kind of way. The 1970s setting allows for fun retro-futuristic visuals and copious sideburns, but its themes of societal collapse and barbaric classism are timeless.

The Lobster

2) The Lobster (2015, Ireland/UK/Greece)
Dogtooth-helmer Giorgos Lanthimos’s first English-language feature, The Lobster is set in a magical realist dystopia in which everyone must be in a government-mandated two-person romantic relationship. Singletons are sent to a special hotel where they must find a mate within 45 days or else they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. The plot follows a dumpy divorcé (Colin Farrell) as he settles into the hotel, taking part in bizarre rituals and social events designed to teach guests the importance of codependency, and going on regular stints into the wilderness where he and his cohorts are tasked with shooting down escaped rebels who believe in independent lifestyles. The premise is fascinating, set in a world of extremes, of shallow ideals and confused emotion, with offbeat characters and deadpan narration that propel the story through quite a few twists and turns. It is marked by a warped sense of humor, with comedic moments found in nosebleeds, attempted suicide, and heartless violence, but there is also a surprisingly poignant thread running throughout in its understanding of loneliness. Elements of Logan’s Run and The Apple inform its science-fiction setting, while the romantic satire and flippant nihilism give the story a compelling angle, blending together into a totally strange and wonderful film with a knock-out ambiguous ending.


1) Love & Peace (2015, Japan)
The weirdness inherent in Shion Sono‘s newest bit of madness is encapsulated within its plot summary: a sniveling wannabe songwriter dreams of leaving his miserable office job and becoming a star. After his best friend/pet turtle Pikadon is flushed down the toilet, his luck suddenly changes when he writes a hit song and finds himself signed to a major label with a punk backing band. Pikadon ends up with a herd of toys and small animals who had all been thrown away and given magical speech candies by a kindly old man who lives with them all in the sewer. The old man accidentally gives Pikadon a wish candy, which allows the turtle to wish for his owner’s success. But things go awry due to magical mishaps and big egos, and eventually the city has a Gamera situation on its hands. Though the Ratatouille-meets-“Island-of-Misfit-Toys” story sounds convoluted, Love & Peace works thanks to Sono’s masterful juggling of various interconnected ideas. It is equal parts adorable and hilarious, with the familiar rags-to-riches structure completely upended by the bizarre circumstances surrounding it. With its sweetness, this film wraps its audience in a big, crazy hug and charms us into hugging right back, while always maintaining its essential Weirdness. Bonus: The title song is catchy as hell, and you will definitely have it caught in your head for a very long time. I am currently singing it as I write this, and probably still as you read it.

Honorable Mentions
Liza the Fox-Fairy (2015, Hungary): For those who liked Amelie but wish it had more deaths, this Hungarian fantasy about a lonely woman who believes she is cursed due to her suitors consistently dying around her is an absolute delight. Its saturated palette, Soviet settings, endearing performances, and biting humor won me over completely, and the Japanese classic rock soundtrack made me want to dance the night away. The only thing keeping it out of this top 5 is that it’s more quirky than weird, but it was probably my overall favorite film of the fest.

Der Bunker (2015, Germany): This off-kilter domestic comedy about a family who willingly shut themselves up in a secluded bunker features a 31-year-old actor playing an 8-year-old boy and a strange disembodied presence that instructs the mother in all things. I knew this movie would be weird, but it got weird in a way I didn’t expect and I really respect that.

Evolution (2015, France/Spain): Lucile Hadžihalilović’s quiet, subtle sci-fi mystery about an island of pale-faced women who have found a way to propagate without men definitely isn’t for everyone. However, its meditative air and rich visuals have stuck with me days after viewing, and its approach to gender is thought-provoking and different, especially for the genre.

Stand By for Tape Back-up (2015, UK): The most emotionally affecting film I saw at the fest, I consider this weird not for its content but for its style, which amounts to a kind of analog performance art as filmmaker Ross Sutherland narrates a spoken-word autobiographical poem over tv clips recorded onto a worn VHS tape during his childhood. It’s an experimental form of memoir that effectively blends pop culture nostalgia, freestyle rap, and forthright honesty, and I’ve never seen anything like it before. And it made me cry. Like, a lot.

The 2013 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Is it that time of year again? WHY YES IT IS! Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the 24-Hour Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, which in recent years has also expanded into a festival for new sci-fi films, and the marathon itself now includes a few of the festival picks. So it’s basically a lot of nerds young and old gathered together in a gorgeous and spacious theater, armed with pillows, blankets, laser blasters, and caffeine, yelling geeky jokes at the screen. This year (my fifth in a row!) I’m proud to report that I stayed up actually the entire time- usually I nod off during one or more movies, but I was honestly 100% awake for the whole event, which means I won. The line-up was pretty damn solid this year, which I think helped, though there were one or two uncertain choices in the mix (more on that later). And we had this weird problem where people kept coming in at random times and sitting right in front of us? Like where did they come from? You should stake your claim on a few seats and set up camp, guys! There’s plenty of room! Anyway, the way these posts work is I will break down the 24 hours into three segments, and my memory might get a little loopier as it goes on due to the sleep deprivation. So here we go, erm, BLAST OFF!

1 John Carter (2012)
I missed this when it was in theaters so I was excited to see it here, and it made for a fun opener to the Thon. The somewhat convoluted story focuses on the titular gold-digging Civil War soldier who is accidentally transported to Mars, where he discovers warring aliens and an uncanny ability to leap tall buildings due to the lesser gravity. Overall it’s kind of silly but I found it generally entertaining- great effects and action sequences, imagination, a kickass warrior scientist lady, and a lot of shirtless Taylor Kitsch. Like, A LOT. I think the biggest problem is that it’s way too long. I felt like Andrew Stanton just got really wrapped up in this fantasy world and wanted to hang around in it for a while and really situate his audience within it, which I can understand. It is very beautiful.

I also want a quick shout-out for the well-done “In Memorium” segment that was shown after this, for those connected to sci-fi media who’d passed away last year.

2 Reptilicus (1961)
This was the “so-bad-it’s-good” pick for the night, which allows everyone to get out their wannabe MST3K snark. A Danish production but scripted in English, the film is a goofy monster movie with old European charm and an actually kind of cool dragon-like creature design. The effects are outdated and the acting is laughable, plus there’s a musical number for no reason, but it fits decently inside the mold of so many of those mid-century monster flicks. And it’s got a guy who kinda looks like David Bowie, and he was definitely trying to date the main military dude, so I may have had a little fanfiction going on in my head the whole time, no big deal. It’s enjoyable for how ridiculous it is and I was definitely entertained, but I wouldn’t put it high on a list of my favorite b-movies or anything.
As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5

3 The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
This one has really stuck with me, and I think I’m liking it more upon reflection even if I was torn as I watched it. I mean the premise alone suits almost all of my tastes- a black and white rock musical about alien punks who are exiled to earth and the main guy has an electric suit that he uses to save an aging rock star and they’re all dressed like they’re in Grease. The tagline is “They Sing! They Dance! They’re Juvenile Delinquents from Outer Space!”, I mean this movie was clearly made for me. Also the lead guy (Will Keenan) is fucking adorable, even if he’s a dick to his girlfriend at the beginning and I was a little uncomfortable. Mostly I dug the wacky visuals, the 50s atmosphere and characterization, and the splashy musical numbers though the songs weren’t the most memorable. (Still good tunes, though! I just kinda wish the amazing Paul Williams had expanded his cameo appearance and maybe contributed to the score? We could’ve had a Phantom of the Paradise-vibe!) The story’s all over the place but I guess that doesn’t actually matter, since for the most part it was funny and weird enough to keep me watching. It’s like if somebody mashed up Cry-Baby and Matinee and Alien Trespass and maybe Richard Elfman directed it? Kinda? Check out this video about it, that might give you a better idea. Also definitely wins best title of anything at the Thon, easily.

4 War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012)
Ok ok here’s where we cheated a little. After about 15 minutes of this animated steampunky alien invasion movie, we decided to head across the street for some dinner, since it just wasn’t especially appealing. I’m sorry guys, I felt bad leaving a new animated sci-fi movie since usually I’m all into that, it just looked sort of derivative and I didn’t love the visual style. We caught the very end though and uh it looks like the good guys won! Yay humans! And Nikola Tesla was there to help out, thank goodness. I’ve never seen/read War of the Worlds so I’m not sure how it all connected, I believe it’s meant to be a speculative sequel. Luckily we returned in time to catch “Asternauts“, a charming short about farmers who manage to contact alien life, from Marta Alicia Masferrer, who directed the excellent “Conlang”, a short from a previous Thon.

Alright so now that we’re back from Chinese food and really settled in, it’ll be time for Part II! Check back next time for more sci-fi fun, eager young space cadets!

Movie Review: Frygtelig Lykkelig (Terribly Happy) (2008)

Squeezing our way through an alarmingly dense crowd of moviegoers attracted by Polanski’s newest, we somehow made it to the unsurprisingly under-attended Danish darkly comic murder tale, Terribly Happy. After a mysterious nervous breakdown, city cop Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is re-assigned to a claustrophobically small, rural town as its only marshall. He quickly becomes aware of the town’s frightful dynamic, with its inhabitants all aware of resident asshole Jørgen’s (Kim Bodnia) adulterous and abusive antics, but no one taking a stand against him.

The old marshall spent most of his time drinking and allowed a lot of “accidents” and petty crimes to go by undocumented. After Jørgen’s desperate wife Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christiansen) comes to Robert with evidence of her husband’s physical abuse, he is determined to convict him. But the more he pushes for change, the more the town’s internal politics and penchant for keeping secrets rise up against him. He also finds his own good intentions battling with a darker personality within himself.

As my comrade commented, this movie feels like it’s made by someone whose main cinematic influences are Blood Simple and Fargo, and this isn’t a bad thing. Most of Terribly Happy does indeed feel like the Coen Brothers appropriated the premise of Hot Fuzz with Danish actors and more dramatic intent. A lot of the story could play as a very black comedy, but as the film progresses, the development and uncovering of Robert’s character becomes more focused, and it twists itself into a somewhat bleak but gripping drama.

The performances are excellent throughout, with a lot of the supporting cast turning in slightly creepy appearances. Jakob Cedergren really carries the film quite well, with an understated performance as Robert, a seemingly low-key, stand-up guy whose darker side is tested as he meets with constant disappointments and obstacles. I liked Lene Maria Christiansen as the frightened and sexually frustrated Ingerlise and Lars Brygmann as the mysterious local doctor as well.

Terribly Happy is filled with a number of comedic moments placed up against truly unsettling ones. The director utilizes the expansive boggy fields surrounding the town to create a slightly desolate atmosphere, and there are some really visually interesting scenes. The script, while well-written, is a little uneven and doesn’t do anything especially new, but the strengths of the cast and twisted tone make this film a cool experience.