2016 has been a bit of a stinker hasn’t it? Few would argue that the combination of losing several creative legends coupled with bewildering political activity has resulted in a pretty depressing time. So how do you combat the harshness of reality? Well for this ape, spending some time in a wackier world than ours filled with even wackier characters is a good start. With that in mind I’ve decided to present a list of 8 quirky films that have helped me escape this year – a mixture of 2016 releases and films that have found their home remastered on blu ray.
The cold barren landscape of Iceland is our setting for Rams, and it couldn’t be more refreshing. The plot revolves around two Shepherd brothers living and working on adjacent farms. Their time is spent tending to their prized ancestral sheep and maintaining a decades-old grudge with each other. Life as they know it is threatened by a potentially lethal ovine disease that appears in their valley, making them take stock of their lives and everything they hold dear.
Isolation is the theme here, with the mood of the brothers mirrored by their bleak landscape. Who can you turn to in times of need when you’ve pushed everyone away?
Rams is full of charm. Equally touching and funny, it shines a spotlight on family, relationships and the passion we feel for the little things in life. It also dresses its characters in some of the finest Knitwear you’ll see this winter.
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION
Wrongfully categorised as a horror due to director William Peter Blatty’s previous work (The Exorcist), The Ninth Configuration is a study of the human mind. The film follows Army Psychiatrist Kane sent to a remote gothic castle now acting as a military asylum. He’s tasked with observing and documenting the inmates’ behaviour and activity, all the while battling a few demons of his own.
If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it bares a striking resemblance to Shutter Island. It was clearly a massive source of inspiration for Scorcese, but where his Island fills itself with deadly serious characters, Blatty gives us plenty of humour to puncture the darkness. The patients on show here range between hilarious oddballs, and disturbing threats. When you encounter a guy trying his best to recreate the works of Shakespeare using only dogs as his cast, then you know you’re in for an interesting ride.
The Ninth Configuration has a lot to offer. It questions the effects of war on the minds of men in one of the most unique and entertaining ways.
The Signal is one of those films that’s best experienced knowing very little going in. What I can say is that it’s one of the more interesting indie sci-fi films I’ve watched in recent years. The film follows three students whose road trip is interrupted by a hacker taunting them with strange, disturbing emails. They manage to track the location of the activity to a remote abandoned building in the Nevada Desert. What follows is something the three youths, and us as an audience, could never quite expect.
The Signal is a cerebral experience, offering us a stripped down science fiction that prefers to focus on its humans rather than its explosions.
Kumiko the treasure hunter
Kumiko is a loner living in Tokyo. She spends her days feeding noodles to her pet rabbit and ignoring anyone that might want to interact with her. She happens across an old VHS copy of Fargo and takes its opening line of ‘based on a true story’ a bit too literally.
Watching Steve Buscemi bury a case of money is enough to convince her she can change her life, so she sets off for the frozen roads of Minnesota in search of a fortune.
It’s a clever idea, we’re in on a joke that she’s oblivious to. It’s the naivety of Kumiko that’s utterly endearing, and you’re completely by her side on this treacherous journey. Much like watching a child travelling to school alone for the first time, we can do nothing but hope they find their way.
Stalker is the first Tarkovsky film I’ve been exposed to, but it’s got me wanting for more. Originally released in 1979, it shows us a future world ravaged by war and poverty. There is but one hope in this world, a forbidden area known as The Zone. This place is rumoured to offer anyone who enters their innermost desires, but is it just a myth?
Two men looking for some answers employ the titular Stalker to guide them to the Zone. Knowing that the path is dangerous and confounding, the Stalker leaves his family behind for one last job.
Tarkovsky is a true artist of the screen, he begins his film with no colour and an imposing grain texture covering everything. As we travel towards the centre of The Zone, the visuals start to clean up and subtle colours are introduced… we get to breathe the same fresh air as our characters.
A study on human aspiration, Stalker is a must-see for anyone interested in a film that packs as much substance into its style as possible.
the neon demon
The Neon Demon is the latest effort from visionary director Nicolas Winding Refn. Always a statement to be made, he takes a satirical dig at the absurdness of the modelling industry and the lengths people will go to achieve beauty and perfection.
Many level claims that Refn is more concerned with style than substance, but I think those comments are reserved for those unwilling to peel back the intricate layers of his films. Like his other work, every shot here is confident and deliberate, you can feel his design in every frame. And that’s exactly what it is, design. His creative vision has perhaps never been more at home than it is with the Neon Demon. His love for neon lights and synth soundtracks offer a perfect surrounding for the plastic ‘beauty’ of the model world.
Flashes of gore and violence add some horror tones. Wooden performances offer not so subtle symbolism. It’s a world we recognise, just a more bleak, disfigured version of it. What better way to escape?
In this 90s gem from Kateshi Kitano we follow Masao, a quiet young lad who wants for nothing more than to be reunited with his long lost mother. He finds an unlikely companion in the lowlife yakuza bum Kikujiro, who takes it upon himself to act as escort for the journey.
As they hitchhike across Japan, they encounter a wacky range of characters and situations unlike anything they’ve seen before. Close scrapes and bizarre strangers are scattered throughout and when all is said and done, your feet feel as sore as the protagonists.
Kitano has a brilliant knack of taking a simple scenario and turning it into something much more compelling and charming. I suppose that’s why it’s so sad to leave these new friends behind as the credits start to roll.
Ben Wheatley is quickly becoming one of the most experimental and accomplished directors working today. Here he turns the 70s into the future as he adapts JG Ballard’s cult novel in which inhabitants live lives of varying quality in stages of a high-rise tower block.
The class comparison isn’t subtle here. The peasants live at the bottom, fighting and scrounging their way through life, while the privileged hang around up top, eating and drinking like gods.
The book was often described as unfilmable, which is the perfect source material for Wheatley. He’s at his best when he’s dealing with chaos, when he can blur the lines of normality. High-Rise certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front as we get to enjoy the increasingly bizarre activities of the tower, leading up to the collective nervous breakdown of all the residents.
Bleak, beautiful and bizarre, it’s a world slightly more messed up than our own and there’s great pleasure to be taken in observing that.
And that’s it, 8 examples of a good time to be had away from the real world. Where do you like to escape to when times get tough? Let us know in the comments!