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CAPSULE: EDMOND (2005) April 7, 2009

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DIRECTED BY: Stuart Gordon

FEATURING: William H. Macy

PLOT:  A latently racist and mentally addled accountant leaves his wife, spends

edmond (2005)

an impossibly long night touring the NYC commercial sex trade and meeting lost souls, and finally ends up in prison.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTEdmond isn’t so much weird as terminally confused.  It’s true Tarot cards keep popping up in impossible places as shorthand foreshadowing, that Macy’s wild night out seems unnaturally long solely to enable it to fit in all the necessary episodes, and that it’s extremely odd that the prison wardens would march new meat in the buff past inmates’ cells.  Still, even with these departures from reality, the movie still doesn’t seem in-your-bones weird so much as it feels like the author (playwright David Mamet) is trying to force events into a meaningful symbolic line, but failing to communicate his meaning to his audience. 

COMMENTSEdmond is only for William H. Macy fans and for those who think vagueness is the equivalent of profundity.  Macy manages to create some interest, though no sympathy, through his performance as a sad sack salaryman who thinks he’s found a temporary fix for existential bafflement by tapping into his tribal bloodlust.  After whoremongering, assaulting women and minorities, and threatening old churchgoing ladies, he finds himself under arrest.  In prison he’s forcibly stripped of his macho facade, and spends his time in stammering attempts to articulate some profound philosophy of life (“every fear hides a wish”).   Unfortunately, Macy wanders through a script that doesn’t know what to make of Edmond any more than Edmond himself does.  Those recurring Tarot cards and the closing monologue suggest that it was all just fate anyway, and Edmond’s search for meaning and the choices he made never made a difference.  In the end, all that happens is we passively witness some inexplicable tragedy happen to an unlikeable man.

Although Edmond‘s angry white male sociopath seems like a faded nth-generation variation of Joel Schumacker’s silly Falling Down (1993), the original play was actually written during the first term of the Reagan administration.  The concept of the angry white male (who Democrats theorized jumped the fence to get Reagan elected) would have had more resonance in that era.  That theory may also explain why Edmond is named after Edmund  Burke, the Irish philosopher/statesman who is looked upon as the father of modern conservatism.  Maybe that explains why both the character Edmond and the movie Edmond seem strange and unmotivated to us today, viewing the film in a different political context.  It also demonstrates why writers should not write to their times (or, at least, should not resurrect old pieces without revising them).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a surreal spiritual fable that riffs on a notion voiced by Edmond that every fear hides a wish. Mr. Mamet shows no interest in offering a tidy psychological explanation for Edmond’s behavior. Hurled at you like a knife, the movie is as reasonable as a panic attack.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

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CAPSULE: TWILIGHT OF THE ICE NYMPHS (1997) February 10, 2009

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DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEAUTURING: Shelly Duvall, Frank Gorshin

PLOT: A prisoner returns to his childhood home on an ostrich farm in a

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mythical northern land during the constant daylight of the summer season, where he becomes involved with two mysterious women.

WHY IT’S NOT WEIRD ENOUGH:  Actually, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is plenty weird enough, although it’s such slow going that many folks will probably tune out before discovering it’s weirder points.  Truth is, Twilight just isn’t good enough to make the list.  With some of director Guy Maddin’s more effective films already slated for inclusion, it makes little sense to allow a lesser effort to take space away from a more deserving contender, weird though it may well be.

COMMENTSTwilight of the Ice Nymphs is set in a suitably colorful and mythic locale, an imaginary land with Nordic overtones and ostriches, but it’s dragged down by an uninspiring hero in an uninvolving storyline, ponderous dialogue, and uneven acting.  The protagonist, Peter, is subject to bouts of sleep-hunting, and also it seems to episodes of sleep-acting.  For most of the movie his emotional range is so low-key that it barely registers: he covers a scale from glum to mildly perturbed.  It probably doesn’t help that his dialogue was delivered by a different actor in post-production after what Maddin hints was a very nasty incident between the director and actor.  Peter strikes up no real chemistry with either of his potential lovers, Juliana (whose personal history is obscure) and Zephyr (a wandering woman three months pregnant with her lost husband’s child), so there is little for the audience to root for in this three-way romance.  Besides Peter, Pascale Bussières as Juliana is cute but forgettable, Alice Krige’s performance as Zephyr seems on loan from a BBC teleplay, and R.H. Thompson’s evil Dr. Solti is little more than a distracting, hammy faux-Russian accent.  Veteran movie actors Shelly Duvall and former Riddler Frank Gorshin put the others to shame, but unfortunately they are pushed into a background subplot.

That said, the film’s visual sensibilities are truly wondrous.  Maddin built his magical fairy-forest inside a Winnipeg warehouse, maintaining meticulous control over every aspect of his mise-en-scene.  Particularly noteworthy are his brash color schemes: he uses “jewel tones” throughout, and seems particularly fond of placing surrounding emerald hues with bright pinks, magentas, and tangerines, as in a sunset setting over a forest canopy.  This makes the movie somewhat effective as a slide-show of gorgeous stills; Twilight would probably work well on a big screen TV with the sound turned off as visual wallpaper for a hoity-toity wine-and-cheese party.    

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs is available on the DVD, “The Guy Maddin Collection”, along with the feature film Archangel and the award-winning short The Heart of the World.

 WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Maddin’s fictional world is… so infused with such a delightful weirdness, such a disorienting, overwrought absurdity, that its artificiality and peculiarity give it a marvelous flavor that is a real pleasure to savor.” -Keith Allen, movierapture.com

CAPSULE: GRAVEYARD ALIVE: A ZOMBIE NURSE IN LOVE (2003) October 13, 2008

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PLOT: A dowdy nurse contracts an odd strain of the zombie virus which changes her into a flesh-eating sex maniac.

WHY IT’S NOT WEIRD ENOUGH:  There are plenty of weird elements in this low-budget B&W horror comedy, from slightly out-of-sync dubbing to deliberate overacting to Eraserhead-inspired dream sequences, but the weird elements seem forced and shallow, like an attempt by the filmmakers to distance themselves from the thin material they have to work with.

COMMENTS:  One of the hardest things to do in the movie universe is to make deliberate camp.  Yet, it’s a pitfall that beginning directors seem to fall into over and over.  They want the audience to realize that they are too talented to be making a silly zombie nurse movie, when what the audience really wants is to not notice the direction and enjoy a silly zombie nurse movie.  There is some talent on display here, especially in the black and white photography, but overall the humor is alternately too subtle and too broad to work.  It’s obvious that the filmmakers and the crew and actors (who worked for free) enjoyed themselves tremendously, and that do-it-yourself enthusiasm comes across on screen and makes the movie seem less of a failure than it might otherwise have been.

Parts of the movie are obviously inspired by the look and feel of the films of fellow Canadian Guy Maddin.  In fact, the movie was originally intended to be silent (which may help explain some of the mugging for the camera from the guy who played “handsome” doctor).  The dubbing was added later by different voice actors, after the director and producers decided Graveyard Alive didn’t work as a modern silent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: “You have to be able to master the genre you plan to mock, or your movie will die of shame… Merely parading bad actors spouting cretinous dialogue does not make a movie funny or effective. Striking a pose and chewing the scenery does not create a character on screen. Deliberately applying cheeseball makeup does not turn an actor into a campy horror zombie.” -Bruce Kirkland, Jam! Magazine

CAPSULE: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003) September 18, 2008

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PLOT: Four college age kids are abducted by a backwoods maniac family.

WHY IT’S NOT WEIRD ENOUGH:  Because the Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff plot was too tissue-thin to support a movie, heavy metal musician turned debutante director Rob Zombie’s fleshed the film out with stylistic excess.  Home movies from inside the serial killers’ psyches, purposeless solarizations, classic drive-in intertitles, and clips of vintage B&W cheesecake constantly interrupt what action there is.  The effect is not to make the film weird, but to draw attention to the director-“I’m Rob Zombie, trash horror aficionado, and I’m making a movie!”-and make him seem weird.   It ends on a surrealistic note, but this is actually the weakest part of the movie.

COMMENTS:  Make no bones about it: House of 1000 Corpses is bad.  This movie is what happens when you take The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, drain out all the scary, and replace it with annoying.  Still, if Zombie had to fail, at least he failed bombastically rather than meekly.  If you took away the directorial flourishes from the movie and left only the plot, played straight, then this movie really would have been a nightmare (see the weirdly praised sequel The Devil’s Rejects).

The presence of trash film icons Sid Haig (Spider Baby) as the memorable sideshow Captain Spaulding (pictured) and Karen Black as the redneck matriarch adds some interest. 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: “As Rob Zombie’s name twitched over the seizure-inducing opening credits sequence of “House of 1000 Corpses”, one highly eager dude in the 1/4 filled theatre gamely raised his fists and shouted, “Rob Zombie Rules!” As the closing credits rolled an unbearably slow 88 minutes later, I’ll bet that same guy contemplated raising his fists again and announcing, “I apologize for rushing to judgment.” -Todd Levin, Film Threat