Welcome to week two of my weird and wonderful end of the year round up. Because there were just so many strange, unique, weird, and twisted movies released this year I couldn’t find it in my heart to pick just six. In writing this two volume Six Pack, I was amazed at, not only how many movies I’d seen this year, but how many of them were unusual and sometime disturbing in some manner. While the films listed are certainly varied, I somehow feel there’s a general trend that connects them that is incredibly informative regarding my preferences and tastes. Good luck unraveling that mystery. So here we are, the next six of my favorite weird 2014 movies. Happy New Year and here’s to an even stranger year for film.
Interior. Leather Bar
I saw this one early in the year at a local LGBT film festival. The James Franco/Travis Matthews directorial debut is, predictably, a very strange mix of things. Part documentary, part scripted, part improvised journey of discovery regarding the baffling normalcy of male love and sexuality, this art house passion project follows the cast and crew reactions to the attempt to reimagine the 40 minutes of film removed from William Friedkin’s 1980 movie Cruising. In the process of filming, lead actor Val Lauren moves from discomfort and ignorance to understanding and acceptance regarding gay sex and sexuality. The film also pushes and explores the accepted boundaries of un-simulated sex in legitimate filmmaking and the definitions of pornography.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything
Simon Pegg stars in this imaginative film about a children’s book writer who slowly descends into anxiety and paranoia as he writes his new book about serial killers. The real cause of this debilitating anxiety, of course, is the writer’s self-doubt. The movie follows his journey down the rabbit hole and into his mind as he confronts his fears and takes back his life. True, his fears mostly revolve around the beloved hedgehog he created in his children’s books and of taking his clothes to the launderette, but the point is that they keep him isolated and indoors. You can currently find this movie on Netflix streaming, so check it out.
Venus in Fur
This is everything you might hope for in a movie directed by Roman Polanski about an actress and an overbearing director acting out the stage version of the novel that inspired the term “masochism”. Aside from the constant and breathtaking flow of delayed gratification, the film boasts a young lead with a striking resemblance to Polanski who trades kinky barbs and battles for power with Polanski’s real life wife Emmanuelle Seigner. Do with that information what you will. While the movie is twisted, it is also funny and sexy and quite enjoyable. The constant battle of power between the two leads is endlessly dynamic, and the director’s slow surrender of will to the domineering actress is a journey to behold.
I used not to be a fan of Jude Law in his younger days, but as he moves up in years (along with his hairline) he has taken to some quite interesting projects and put in some unique performances. Dom Hemingway is the kind of thing that I hope Law goes for more in the future, where he doesn’t rely on his good looks and smarmy charm, but really acts the hell out of a flawed and dynamic character. The story follows an aging criminal, recently out of prison and due for a reward for doing his time without ratting out his boss. One thing leads to another as Hemingway’s arrogance – which thinly masks a desperation to stay relevant in a world that left him behind – lands him in one tough spot after another. In the end, all he wants is the forgiveness and love of his family, the possibility of which becomes increasingly distant as the missteps pile up.
The Zero Theorem
As with almost any Terry Gilliam film, The Zero Theorem is relentlessly strange. One thing I really love about Gilliam is that he drops you in the middle of an unfamiliar and almost totally foreign culture without explaining much of anything. You learn about that culture as you would any foreign culture – through experience and observation. The same is true for this film, in which a neurotic Christoph Waltz petitions to work from home because he is anxious about missing a life-defining, world-clarifying phone call. His bosses grant his request, only to assign him an impossible task that totally consumes him. His down time is spent between connecting virtually with a call girl and logging sessions with his virtual therapist (Tilda Swinton). The film is surreal, and abstract, and existential, and bizarre – and completely wonderful.
This is the second feature length film directed by John McDonagh (brother of playwright and director Martin McDonagh). Like his brother McDonagh often focuses on uniquely Irish subjects and issues. His first film (The Guard, 2011) featured Brendan Gleeson an unconventional Irish policeman who teams up with Don Cheadle to stop a drug ring. In Calvary, Gleeson stars once again, but this time as a kindly but pragmatic priest whose life is threatened. He must come to terms with his impending death and make peace with his life while contending with the usual problems of the residents of a small Irish town. There is something extremely sinister about the town’s residents, like a subtle threat of violence always hanging in the air or boiling just below the surface, pervading the atmosphere. It’s partly because we know that someone is a threat to the priest’s life, and that it could be anyone, but it’s also just how the town is. Gleeson shines as the dry, jaded, but ultimately compassionate town priest. It’s no wonder he’s a rare regular within the McDonagh brothers’ various works.