Geek Appeal! Movies reviewed: It Came from Kuchar; Splice; Micmacs.
Dir: Jennifer Kroot
George and Mike Kuchar are a pair of twins from New York City, who have been making strange, low-budget kitsch-y exploitation movies since they were 12 years old. Together — and separately — they have directed hundreds and hundreds of these things. They’re interviewed in this documentary, along with some of their actors, and many of their famous admirers.
The Kuchar brothers started making 8 mm shorts as kids in their parents’ basement in the Bronx. They got their neighbours and family members to play the parts. They combined melodramatic, campy stories and extremely broad amateur acting, within the world of B movies: the land of serious exploitation genre movies – horror, monster, thriller, murder, sex… and all the rest. Their filmography reads like a haiku written in Mad Magazine:
Hold me when I’m naked
Color me shameless, Thundercrack
The Kuchars make-up and costume their actors in unusual ways — painting enormous, dramatic black eyebrows on all their female characters. (Maybe they were influenced by the old silent movies – Valentino, Theda Bara with their heavy make up and melodrama – keep in mind, in the early 1960’s those old silent movies were not ancient and forgotten at all – they were as omnipresent and as recent as 80’s movies are to filmmakers today.)
The Kuchar brothers were also known for integrating all the “organic” aspects of life that were not previously shown in movies – such as toilet functions, throwing up, blood and guts — that were intentionally left out of mainstream films… because they’re gross, and also because they were banned by the Hays Code – you couldn’t show it. “Low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil” topics were “subject to the dictates of good taste”. But the Kuchars made underground movies. They existed outside the Code (though still subject to the law) as a crucial part of the underground film movement that really took off in the sixties. Later the Kuchars moved to San Francisco where they also participated in the 1970’s underground comics movement based there.
In this fun documentary (which was screened at the Inside-Out festival in Toronto), you see the big names of today – John Waters, Guy Madden, Atom Egoyan – talking about how the Kuchar films influenced them. It shows some of their signature techniques, and captures them shooting their latest production, It’s a hilarious documentary, because you get to see little clips of some of their films – things like cheesy UFO’s, a guy with three foot dangling testicles, a haunting, melodramatic scene of a woman taking out the trash, lots of god-awful rubber puppet monsters – without needing to sit through a whole Kuchar movie.
Dir: Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali, is not all that famous, but I think he’s one of the most successful Canadian directors there is. He directed the science fiction movie Cube – about a bunch of people stuck inside an elevator-like cube who want to get out – which was extremely popular in many countries, while largely overlooked in Canada. (Cool story, so-so acting.) His latest movie, “Splice” – starring Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody – is his first big name, bigger budget movie.
Elsa and Clive are scientists who work in a research lab for the N.E.R.D. (as in nerd) corporation. They’re trying novel ways to combine the DNA — the genetic information — of various animals. But their big breakthrough – a new life form, a sort of walking lump of flesh, that can mate and reproduce – has a rather dramatic failure. So it’s back to the old drawing board.
But Elsa wants to take it even further.
Their next project has human DNA spliced, on the sly, into the mix to create a new sort of animal. Sort of like the Island of Dr Moreau.
It’s totally illegal, but Elsa wants to hang on to her new, rapidly growing flesh lump. She becomes its protector. She even names her: “Dren” — that’s nerd spelled backwards. But as she grows up, Dren’s human and animal parts begin to appear. First scary, then cute (with a rabbit-y cleft pallet), and later, as something else again.
Elsa and Clive are forced to smuggle her out of the lab and up to their cottage – for some home schooling. And there, out in the woods, the rapidly growing and maturing Dren, adds a third wheel to the young scientific couple’s relationship.
Splice is a good (if sometimes unintentionally funny) horror movie. There are some groaners, but the story itself is interesting and creepy and scary enough (with good special effects) to keep you watching. It’s an unapologetically B movie with the feel of early Cronenberg — like Scanners and the Brood – and with Guillermo del Toro adding his blessing as an executive producer. What more could you ask for?
Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring Dany Boon (who made the phenomenally successful “Welcome to the Sticks” / “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”) “Micmacs” is the most captivating movie by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in a long time. He’s best known for Amelie, but I liked Delicatessen, and City of the Lost Children better.
In Micmacs, Bazil, (Dany Boon) is a video store clerk who wants nothing more than to lipsynch all the lines from “Casablanca” while squeezing the goop out of La Vache Qui Rit foil triangles. But when he’s hit in the head with a stray bullet, his life collapses. He becomes a homeless busker on the streets of Paris. He’s rescued and adopted by a family of circus-like oddballs who live in a hidden lair inside an old junkyard. Each of them has a special ability – an inventor, a contortionist, someone who can calculate and estimate – who, cobbled together, form a sort of a salvaged material X-men team.
One day Bazil discovers that the headquarters of the company that made the bullet lodged in his brain is across the street from the company that made the land mine that blew up his father when he was a boy. So he vows revenge on both their houses, and his new family agrees to help him out. Rejecting high-tech surveillance, to find out their secrets, he bugs the offices of the two industrialists by dangling telephone receivers down their chimneys. With the new info, his plan goes into high gear.
This beautiful, retro-looking movie is made up of lots and lots of short funny vignettes strung together. Puns, pantomime, gags, gibberish talking, contraptions, fake sign language, fake accents and dialects, combined with multi-part stings, rube-goldberg-style contraptions and steampunk machinery pulled together from savaged materials. It’s like old Jaqques Tati movies, but rebooted to run at the speed of a TV cartoon. I definitely missed some of the jokes, and didn’t get all the French political references to Sarkozy and company. But that didn’t matter. You can appreciate this movie without a word of French, without even reading the subtitles.
It’s a very funny, cute, enjoyable, fast moving slapstick comedy, intricately made, starring lots of the same faces from previous Jeunet movies, along with some new ones. It’s a great geek flic with something for everyone: good romantic comedy, with chase scenes and explosions, too.