Monday, October 17, 2005

Top Ten 'WTF?' Movies

You know 'em. You're watching a movie with a crowd of people and cannot for the life of you figure out what the hell is going on. You want to ask someone, but wisely choose against it in fear of them pointing out your ignorance. There are some movies so rediculously hard to follow that you eventually just stop trying ('The Big Sleep'), others that are clearly not supposed to make sense ('Beyond the Valley of the Dolls') and some that are just so damn weird and inconsequential you don't even know where to start ('Orlando'). Here's ten of my favorite 'WTF?' movies, but only one of them is actually a bad movie (you'll see).

10. Miller's Crossing
This is perhaps the only movie I've seen where I loved every minute of it, yet I only understood about three of said minutes. Miller's Crossing drops you right in the middle of a complex mob prohibition plot. It feels like you wandered into a party where you only know one person, and they're discussing thermo dynamics in Mandarin Chinese. None of the characters are really introduced and while you're trying to dicypher just who the hell everybody is and what their relationships are, people are getting double-crossed and killed. But boy is this one hell of a movie. The Cohen Brothers put together a visual fiest soaked in Irish whisky (which is either being poured or drunk in every shot). At the end I was smiling but had so many questions: What exactly was Gabriel Byrne's job? Was it supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? If not then how could Albert Finney blow up a car 100 yards away from him with a Tommy gun?

9. Blow Up
Gorgeous depiction of the mod scene in 1966 London, Blow Up is full of camera tricks and lots of did-you-really-see-that? questions. When he's not photographing models and rolling around on the floor with naked teeny boppers, Thomas takes pictures of random people and generally acts like a rich, British jackass. No matter, one day he takes pictures of a couple dancing at the park, or were they? Upon closer inspection, there was a dead body in the background. Or was it? He gets a visit from the woman in the picture (or was she?) who wants the pictures back, or does she? It goes round and round as Ratt once sang until finally Thomas goes back to the park, watches some mimes play tennis and then literally disappears (WTF??!!) It does contain one of my favorite scenes, when Thomas goes into a club where the Yardbirds (complete with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) are playing a reworked version of 'Train Kept a Rollin' while an audience full of young hipsters are observing without emotion or any movement.

8. Dark City
One of my favorite movies, but Dark City makes the list because, like 'Miller's Crossing,' it does its best to confuse its audience in the early going. The brilliant ploy is to make the viewer just as confused as the main character, who knows nothing about the environment he was just born into. We learn about what's happening at the same rate as John Murdoch does. It's easy to get frustrated with this movie, it's also possible to see different aspects of it even after 20+ viewings, like me. But there can still be parts of it that are confusing even after so many viewings: How did Walenski 'wake up,' and why did his character not change every night? Why exactly did Murdoch get the ability to tune?

7. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Go into your kitchen, fill a bowl with peanut butter, vodka, cloves and cumin, beat on high for two minutes, dump it on a lawnmower then unload a few hundred rounds from a Browning Machine Gun on it. This is the closest physical representation you can get of how random, weird and maddening Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is. One of the first regular budget films Russ Meyers made, 'BVD' concerns a group of models who compose the band The Carrie Nations and their subsequent trip to Hollywood in search of riches. While there they find themselves corrupted by the weird hipsters they party with and end up in a mess of heads rolling on the floor, a murderous tranny who wishes to be called 'Supergirl' and a narrator who seems very out of place. Even stranger than the story is the style of Meyers, who seems to cut each shot about two frames before he should, which ends up looking more bouncy than some of the movie's characters.

6. Blade Runner (Director's Cut)
Not to brag, but I am one of the seemingly few who 'got' the new ending of Blade Runner. No, the oragami was not in the shape of a unicorn by accident. Yes, this new ending does kick ass. For those of you who already knew this, congrats, but I have watched this movie with enough people who had no freaking clue what the oragami meant to warrant its inclusion in this list. For directors wishing to have a 'gotcha' ending without ramming it down the audience's throat (I'm looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan), take note.

5. Orlando
This is a movie that either makes you seriously question your intelligence or simply question your imagination of how incoherent a seemingly good movie could be. Here's a cliffnotes version of Orlando: Girly-looking boy Orlando is told by Queen Elizabeth I to stay forever young and he takes those words a little close to heart. Somehow this young man does not age, but one day something even weirder happens: he wakes up and discovers that he has become a woman. She, still named Orlando mind you, goes through time experiencing all the trials of a woman (such as hearing 18th century aristocrats talk about how women aren't that smart) until finally she gives birth to a daughter in the 20th century then looks up in the sky and sees an angel that looks like herself. Credits roll. Yup, that's it. Somehow I managed not to throw my shoe at the screen.

4. Blue Velvet
Luckily, I limited this list to just one movie each from weird-masters David Lynch and David Cronenberg, otherwise this list would be entitled 'Top Ten Lynch and Cronenberg Movies,' they only make 'WTF?' movies with very little exception. Blue Velvet is my choice for Lynch. Sure, Eraserhead would have been a good pick too, but I like 'Blue Velvet' as Lynch's top 'WTF?' movie because it lures you into thinking it is actually a semi-normal movie. It starts out with a young Kyle McLachlan trying to find the owner of an ear he found in a field (we've all been there), before the plot quickly devolves into a nice blend of sadomasochism, kidnapping, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Candy Coated Clown and some affection for blue velvet. You don't think it could get any weirder after seeing Dean Stockwell do karaoke for a tearful Dennis Hopper, then you Dennis Hopper after a few hits of gas, then gain a new understanding for what a 'love letter' is before finally wondering what happened to that nice story about a boy searching for the owner of an ear.

3. Naked Lunch
There's a great 'Simpsons' gag where Bart and his friends gain fake IDs and promptly go to see Naked Lunch thinking it's a T&A flick, when they leave, Nelson remarks 'I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.' For anyone who has seen 'Naked Lunch,' this is probably the funniest line ever uttered. 'Naked Lunch' is the simple story of Bill Lee (Peter Weller) who is an average exterminator, except his wife is addicted to sniffing his roach powder, giant bugs start talking to him, he kills his wife in an attempted William Tell game, heads to Inter Zone, types reports on a typewriter that is also a large bug that talks to him, dabbles in the centipede drug trade, watches his bug typewriter eat a rival bug typewriter, chases a dominatrix maid to South America only to discover that she is really his doctor who is running an alien goo drug racket before finding his wife alive and then promptly killing her again. I mean, 'Naked Lunch' is just chock full of Hollywood cliches you see in almost every movie. 'Naked Lunch' is probably a pretty fine movie if you know anything about William Burroughs (which I do not) or if you like bugs alot (which I do not).

2. 12 Monkeys
I know, you completely understand 12 Monkeys, I thought I did too, until I tried to read this analysis of the temporal anomalies contained in the movie. Just try comprehending the seven different timelines outlined in that article before feeling dumber than your average Blockbuster employee.

1. The Big Sleep
There are many movies stranger and weirder than The Big Sleep, but there may be no movie with a less confusing and complicated plot. Although it is a truly great movie, you will dump your tub of popcorn on a loved one trying to figure out just who Sean Regan is, why (or if) he was killed, why the chauffer was killed, why the villains seem to keep switching sides and what for the love of god is Lauren Bacall's character really up to? It is nearly impossible to keep up on first viewing because the main character (Regan) is never seen and many of the biggest moments in the plot also happen off-screen. Nevertheless, there is an easy to follow love story between Bogart and Bacall that keeps this train rollin, along with some of the best Bogart dialogue you'll ever hear ('She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up'). If you haven't seen it, just accept the fact that the plot has befuddled millions and you'll be the next.


Anonymous said...

Do you think Naked Lunch would've been more or less weird if Peter Weller had been wearing his RoboCop getup?

Of these movies, I've only seen Dark City and 12 Monkeys, and I will readily attest to the fact that I did not even begin to understand 12 Monkeys.

To be fair, this might have more to do with the fact that I watched it on a 12" screen, sitting beneath intense fluorescent lights, while eating cereal bathed in expired Acidophilus-plus-Bifidus-treated milk in my friend's basement at about 11:00 AM on a Saturday when I was no more than 15 years old.

I really should see that movie again.

Adam Ross said...

I think the Robocop guise would have added something to Naked Lunch, because his gun would probably turn into a bug.

I could have sworn you had 12 Monkeys on your VHS shelf, hmm.

PIPER said...

Blue Velvet is a walk in the park compared to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or even Mulholland Drive. I had a guy explain Mulholland to me and it took about 2 hours.

If you haven't, see Primer and try to get your head around that one. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Anonymous said...

what about northfork?

Anonymous said...

"The Usual Suspects"

MIke Dolsky said...

"Interior Design" by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) is definitely one of those kinds of movies, in a good way. It's part of a larger triptych called "Tokyo!," a collaboration between Gondry, Bong Joon Ho, and Leos Carax.

Each piece is fantastically strange, with Gondry's segment dealing with a woman who spontaneously metamorphizes into a chair. In Bong Joon Ho's short, a pizza delivery girl has tattooed buttons that function like real buttons a robot (i.e. coma button, various emotion related buttons). I found out about it off of Amazon (; good stuff.

Archie Pavia said...

Certainly a fantastic piece of work... It looks like has potential for a great workout! I will for sure drop by it more often! -- carry on luggage size