Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Inadvertent William Friedkin PTSD Trilogy: "Rules of Engagement," "The Hunted," and "Bug."

William Friedkin is most famous for his early work, mainly The Exorcist and The French Connection (he also made the excellent Sorcerer around this time), yet I don’t own any of those films. Friedkin is largely forgotten today, even though he’s made some interesting and entertaining films in the last two decades. In fact, the only Friedkin movies I own are films he made after 2000.

I’m not sure if this is intentional, but Friedkin made three movies in a row between 2000 and 2006 that dealt with PTSD with increasing intensity: Rules of Engagement, The Hunted, and Bug. They are three very different films, and none of them were considered all that great upon their release. Bug is the closest, with a 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Rules (29%) and Hunted (31%) aren’t even close to being considered critically successful. I happen to love (or at least like) all three. Initially, I was only going to write about The Hunted because it showed up in the same YouTube video that led me to rewatch Constantine. But when I looked at my collection, I saw that I had all three of these movies and the PTSD connection occurred to me. I doubt that Friedkin chose these projects just because of that, but it’s still an interesting way to revisit these three films. First up: Rules of Engagement. (As always, there will be SPOILERS, but I’ll try to keep them minor since these films are lesser known and certainly less popular than Friedkin’s other work.)

Rules of Engagement:

Rules of Engagement is about the court martial of Col. Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) who ordered his men to open fire on a crowd of protesters during a peace-keeping mission in Yemen. Childers relies on his lifelong friend, Col. Hayes Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones), to defend him.

It’s a very complex film that deals with loyalty within the military, politics in war, Vietnam, PTSD, and Middle East relations. It’s a film without easy answers. It’s unclear for the first half of the film whether or not Childers was justified, and that ambiguity makes the film work quite well, as we’re left to rely on his own stressful memories of the event and the testimony of others who either couldn’t see the crowd or might be covering up to avoid to a larger military conflict.

Unfortunately, it is revealed via a security tape (major SPOILER) that the crowd did have weapons. But the tape is destroyed by a corrupt National Security Adviser. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but according to the IMDb trivia section (so take this with a grain of salt), Friedkin initially wanted to leave the content of the tape out of the film. Leaving that open would make this movie so much more intriguing and powerful. It’s still a very thought-provoking movie, but I think it would have been received more favorably if things were left up to the audience to decide.

The PTSD elements make make a more lasting impression, especially since they are never directly addressed (at the time of the film, PTSD was not the common topic it is today). So viewing it through today’s world makes it an even deeper film regarding military service and what is justified in combat situations. And it seems like Friedkin recognized this after the fact. He doesn’t mention anything in the DVD interviews (which are mainly promotional fluff), though he may have mentioned something in the commentary (I didn’t listen to it because Friedkin seems like the type to explain what you’re watching rather than elaborate on it). Either way, PTSD isn’t the showcase here, but it is immediately prominent in his next film, The Hunted. I don’t think it’s a stretch that he may have looked back on Rules of Engagement and decided to focus more on this aspect of the film for his next movie.

Even with the misstep with the ambiguity, Rules of Engagement is a movie that stuck with me. I’ve watched it at least five times at this point, and will most likely watch it again. There are complex issues brought up in this film, and it handles them in a smart, convincing manner. That, coupled with strong performances from an amazing cast, make this a movie I am proud to own. Rules of Engagement is a movie that is unfairly lumped in with other military thrillers (as evidenced by my own placement of it within my own collection next to other military thrillers). If you haven’t seen it, or you dismissed it the first time around, give it another chance.

I’ll finish with my random thoughts for this film before moving on to The Hunted.

Random Thoughts

Jones has issues with not being able to live up to his father’s legacy, and he has survivor’s guilt from Vietnam, but the PTSD is there, as well. When he visits Yemen, he has a moment on the rooftop where he reacts as if he’s under fire. On his way home, he has memories of Vietnam in connection to the dead and injured victims in Yemen, and it causes him to drink.

The old man fight, which has shades of They Live, is a bit odd tonally, since it plays for laughs at times, but I liked it.

Jackson’s PTSD is evident when he has a flashback while watching the flag being lowered.

It’s clear that Jackson’s experience in Vietnam shaped the kind of leader he became, for better or worse. Jones’s experience sticks with him, as well. Jackson’s hardened his resolve, while Jones’s softened his. All over a coin flip. Both develop drinking issues, and Jackson has a short temper. And a lot of the film is about whether or not you should severely punish someone who has devoted their life to their country. How do we deal with soldiers when aspects of PTSD lead them to make mistakes on the battlefield?

“Murder, sir?” I don’t know why, but this quote stuck with me. I still either say it or think it when I hear the word “murder.” It’s partly due to Jackson’s delivery, but it’s also because they advertised the hell out of this movie, and that line was in every preview.

“Are these the muthafuckas?” Guy Pearce’s delivery is amusing, but it’s made that much better when Jackson answers with an angry, “Yes!”

Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson are perfectly cast, even if it is a bit strange that they play themselves in the present and in Vietnam.

The embassy sequence is extremely tense. Friedkin does a great job of placing you there in this chaotic situation, adding to the complexity of the film. In hindsight, the wrong call was made, but when you see it in the moment, you can understand how Jackson could make such a decision.

Strange to see Philip Baker Hall playing Jones’s father, since he’s only fifteen years older. Not impossible, of course, but seems unlikely. Jones just seems perpetually seventy years old, so it’s weird to see him with a living father.  

This is one of those odd movies that is completely fictional, yet contains text at the end letting the audience know what happened to certain characters later. This actually made me think it was based on a true story the first time I watched. Watching it now, it seems like test audiences felt that certain things were left too open, and there wasn’t money or something for re-shoots.

The Hunted:

This simple, straightforward film is a mix of Rambo (a veteran on the run that cannot function in the normal world) and The Fugitive (Tommy Lee Jones hunts him down).

The Hunted is almost too straightforward and simple. Benicio del Toro plays the troubled veteran, who was basically a hit man for the military. He goes AWOL and kills two hunters (who are most likely there to hunt him), starting a manhunt. Jones was his trainer, which is why he is asked to help catch him. It’s fine and simple enough, but there are so many intriguing elements to the story that get left out.

For one thing, Del Toro is described as having “battle stress,” which is obviously another term for PTSD, but this isn’t explored nearly enough. Instead of elaborating on that with flashbacks or dialogue, it’s left vague, and he’s pretty much treated as a dangerous monster, rather than a sympathetic victim of his history in the military. To be fair, there are a couple moments that humanize him, but overall he’s just a man on the run who needs to be caught.

Jones is similarly affected by his past, even though he didn’t serve in the military. He just trained people how to kill effectively. This is another interesting aspect that only gets touched on. Here’s a man suffering because he knows his training led to a lot of death and violence.

But Friedkin, as he admits in an interview on the DVD, is not interested in exploring any of this. He thinks action thrillers have become too complex and bogged down in plot. He wanted to give the audience a bare bones, violent chase film. In that regard, he succeeds.

The Hunted has lengthy moments without dialogue. And one chase sequence takes place for nearly a half hour (the movie is only an hour and a half long) through multiple locations. If the film is only judged on its effectiveness along those lines, then it should be considered a success. But if we only judge films based on them accomplishing what the filmmakers set out to do, then how can we criticize anything. Also, it’s not like everyone knows Friedkin’s goals when they watched the movie. So when I look at this film through the PTSD angle, it’s a failure. I still enjoy this film for action thriller aspect, but I can’t ignore the missed opportunities. Also, a foot chase is only interesting for so long…

The film does focus more on PTSD, though. It’s mentioned directly, and every scene with del Toro makes it very clear that this man is struggling with his past. It’s just unfortunate that none of the characters even consider helping him. Instead, it’s just used as a plot device to explain why this trained killer needs to be caught. This also confirms that Friedkin is not actually interested in PTSD, at least not as a major focus. He refers to del Toro as “losing it,” which is not how you would refer to a character you are sympathetic to. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a movie about PTSD. The director’s intention doesn’t matter when someone can watch the finished product and focus on the PTSD.

Random Thoughts

I kind of hated this movie the first time I watched it, but the spoken word performance by Johnny Cash that bookends the film (and the use of “The Man Comes Around”) for the credits, made me give it another chance. I was going through a major Cash phase at the time. The use of Cash has less of an effect on me now, but I still like the use of it.

According to IMDb trivia (remember, take some salt) Jones made 20 million for these. If that’s true, it’s insane.

Good knife fights. In fact, there’s a moment I love. You know how literally every knife fight in a movie has that moment when one person tries to stab and the other person grabs their hand and they struggle until one overpowers the other? Well, in this film, del Toro simply drops his knife when this happens, catches it with his other hand, and slashes Jones. Awesome.

There’s a father killing a son thing a la Abraham and the Johnny Cash lines, but there’s nothing to it onscreen. The flashbacks are nothing but knife training. Was that supposed to establish a father-son bond? If so, do all of the trainees think of Jones as their dad?

An odd Del Toro performance: he speaks clearly throughout. It’s off-putting.

Strange scene when he visits Irene. They say each other’s name in every sentence. Try doing that in your next conversation. It’s an unnerving way to talk.

After writing all these complaints, I watched the special features and Friedkin explains most of them. I thought it was too short; Friedkin says thrillers are too long and too drawn out and should be simpler. I wanted more father-son stuff established; Friedkin says the letter scene at the end showed that Jones had received the letters but had no answer. Basically he had failed as a father to Del Toro, which is why he had to kill him. I can see all this, but I think it could have been made a bit more clear in the film. You wouldn’t need to add that much more to the run time for it to work.


Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a waitress down on her luck living in a seedy motel. She is introduced to Peter, a drifter that she has an immediate connection to. After moving in with her, they become convinced that the motel room is infested with bugs.

This is definitely the strangest film of the trilogy, and damn near the strangest of Friedkin’s career (I think Killer Joe is weirder, though both films are based on Tracy Letts plays). I’m not sure that there were going for a dark comedy vibe, but I find this movie funny at times, mainly because of how quickly the psychosis both characters share ramps up.

From the PTSD angle, this movie opened my eyes a bit. I was only focusing on military-related PTSD, but PTSD can affect anyone. Peter does claim to have military service, and he also claims they did experiments on him. So it’s easy to say that’s PTSD from military experience. But the problem is that he is shown to be very unreliable. It’s possible he’s suffering from a mental illness and was never even in the military. This made me question including this movie, until I considered Agnes. She lost a child (who was kidnapped while she was distracted at a grocery store), and her life has been terrible ever since. She also has an abusive ex (Harry Connick, Jr.). So it’s fair to say she’s suffering from PTSD, and this is what makes her so susceptible to Peter’s delusions.

Once again, this is not directly stated, and the focus of the film is on the delusions of the main characters. Perhaps this can be the theme that ties all of these films together: PTSD exists and leads to troubling behavior, but there’s not much that can be done about it; you either deal with it, or it consumes you. That’s a depressing way to look at it, but since these films came out before PTSD was focused on, it’s a legitimate statement about the disorder. Back to Bug, specifically.

I love this movie for the performances. Ashley Judd is great in a refreshingly complex role. But Michael Shannon steals the show. I had known a little of his work before, but this made him stand out to me. He always looks a little unhinged in general, but he’s set loose in this film. His reveal after the room has been covered in foil and it lit by bug zappers, is equal parts horrifying and hilarious. Once again, maybe I’m the one who’s messed up, but I always laugh at that moment.

From a directing standpoint, Friedkin does a great job at creating paranoia. The stuff inside the motel is already there from the source material. But Friedkin is able to use exterior shots that seem to be closing in on the motel room, as if there really is some conspiracy happening. It adds another layer of “what’s real?” to the film. And as far as that goes, it’s left up to the audience what’s real and what’s not, for the most part. That ambiguity allows the film to transcend the other movies in this trilogy, making it the most interesting of the three.

Sure, Bug is another Friedkin film that focuses on the effect of PTSD rather than the cause or treatment, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling or powerful. And the style of the film shows that Friedkin, even late in his career, is capable of growing as a filmmaker.

Random Thought

Ashley Judd working through the conspiracy with Shannon is a standout scene. The “I am the super mother bug!” line is a bit much, but her crazed thought process coupled with Shannon’s manic coaching, is great.

Last Thought on the Trilogy*

*For some reason this last paragraph will only post in bold. I'm not skilled enough in HTML to fix it, so just assume that this last paragraph is more important than the rest...

There seems to be a pattern to the handling of PTSD in these films. In Rules, there are plenty of scenes establishing what has happened to the characters, but the PTSD is minor. In The Hunted, there is only the opening scene to establish what happened, but the PTSD is major. In Bug, we get almost know info (that we can trust, anyway), and the PTSD has turned Shannon and Judd completely insane. Even though Friedkin probably did not choose these films based on the PTSD elements, he still created a connected trilogy that is possible to analyze on a PTSD level while also working as standalone films about completely different issues. They alsy work as a good reason to own films, even if they're not my favorites. I was able to revisit these films and look at them in a completely different way than before. I would not have done that if I had to pay to stream one of them (not to mention that I used the DVD extras for the article). Instead, I was going to look at just one film and realized I could look at two others that I own. My collection mainly collects dust, but situations like this make it worth it to keep it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Constantine" - "It's not always like it is in the books."

I’m pretty loose with my reasons for picking which movies from my collection to write about, but an upcoming concert and a YouTube video I recently watched will have my next few entries a bit more focused. Let me explain. First off, I’m going to see Bush this week (thirteen-year-old me is pumped...hell, thirty-three-year-old me is pretty pumped too...nostalgia!). In case you didn’t know, Gavin Rossdale is the lead singer of Bush, but he also dabbles in acting, and Constantine is his highest profile role. I just felt like watching this again before seeing them live, so I can feel like I’m seeing a band and  Hollywood star at the same time, even if the acting didn’t exactly work out for him.

Second, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole a few days ago and ended up on a video (by one of those movie channels like watchmojo, looper, cinefix, etc.) about critical disappointments that are actually good. As you can guess, Constantine was on there, which surprised me a bit, since I (for no reason in particular) assumed this movie was generally hated/ignored. I saw it as a sign that I must re-watch it and write about it. I also got fuel for a number of future articles, because it turned out I owned most of the movies discussed in the video. So in the next few weeks, expect articles about William Friedkin’s later work (Bug, The Hunted, Rules of Engagement), The Book of Eli, and Knowing. But for now: Constantine...starring Hollywood superstar Gavin Rossdale!

Constantine was a bit of a rarity for me when it came out. It was based on a comic book, but I knew next to nothing about the source material. I’m not much of a comic book guy (I like them, but movies have taken up most of my dork budget), but I’m pretty knowledgeable. Somehow, Hellblazer flew under my radar. So I went into Constantine to see a Matrix-style action movie about angels and demons. I wasn’t disappointed. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but I remember thinking it was overall a cool movie.

Cut to 2018. When I looked for this movie in my collection, I was worried that I had actually sold it years ago because it wasn’t in my comic book movie section. I know I didn’t know the source material, but I even keep Road to Perdition, Ghost World, and A History of Violence next to Thor and The Dark Knight and whatnot. I was relieved (?) when I found it in my sci-fi section. That just shows how little I considered this a comic book movie, which might be why I liked it then, and still like it now. But knowing it’s a comic book movie allowed me to appreciate a few things about it.

For one thing, Constantine is a rated R comic book movie. That was lost on me the first time. Granted, it’s a tame R that by 2018 standards could possibly pass as PG-13, but still. I do wish they had leaned in on the R a bit more and made a truly disturbing film.

The R rating was there to set the tone. This movie is not shy about its influences. The basic equation of it is The Exorcist + The Matrix + Chinatown = Constantine. The first two make sense. Constantine is an exorcist, and Reeves was just coming off The Matrix sequels. But Chinatown? Constantine is mainly a detective film, actually, so Chinatown is a pretty good reference point. The marketing department obviously thought this as one of the posters is very similar to Chinatown’s. It’s an odd combination, but it makes for a pretty interesting film, tonally.

I’m all about tone and world-building (which is why Blade Runner 2049 was my favorite film last year), and Constantine works for me on that level. This movie went so far in creating its underworld that it hardly bothers with the real world. I found that refreshing. Instead of getting twenty to thirty minutes of Rachel Weisz’s character being convinced what was really going on, we get one scene and the movie never looks back. Normally a film of this kind leans on the two world concept for laughs or to show just how different the two worlds are, but Constantine is confident enough in its other world to stay there throughout.

If the visuals and action were a bit more interesting, I would consider this an unappreciated gem. But, especially by 2018 standards, the CG is plain and relied on too heavily. The scenes in Hell are simply uninteresting. The demon design is kind of freaky, but overall those sequences lack imagination. It’s easy to see how director Francis Lawrence ended up making I Am Legend, another promising film with disappointing CG. As for the action...well, there isn’t much, despite the film trying to look like The Matrix. And that’s fine, since the action is a bit too slo-mo heavy anyway. The tone is enough for this movie, if only they did something truly interesting with the visuals. I would have loved to see what they would have done if they needed to use a practical set for Hell.

The surprisingly strong cast makes up for the uninspired visuals and action. Reeves may not look like his comic book counterpart, but he’s comfortable playing a sarcastic prick. Weisz is good, as usual. Shia LaBeouf is only mildly annoying in a sidekick role that is identical to his role in I, Robot, but it makes no sense for him to be in this movie when the source character is an adult who is more equal than sidekick. They should have left the character out entirely, and for a large chunk of the movie, they do just that. Djimon Hounsou is perfectly cast as Midnite, but like Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, and yes, Gavin Rossdale, he isn’t given enough to do.

That’s my biggest problem with this movie this time around. It seemed like all of these characters had much more to do but got cut down to keep it at two hours. Rossdale, in particular, seems like an afterthought. He turns out to be responsible for the deaths of two of Constantine’s allies, but he has all of two minutes of screen time. I wonder if he was just that bad at acting or if it was to save time. His performance didn’t seem bad. He tends to menacingly whisper more than speak, but he definitely conveyed a demonic smarminess, which, I believe, was the goal.

The supporting roles ended up feeling more like cameos, but I wanted to spend much more time with all of those characters. I didn’t bother watching the deleted scenes on my “deluxe edition” DVD because I can only justify devoting so much time to this movie, but I can only assume these characters had at least one more scene each. If not, they should have.

Speaking of devoting too much time, I’ll wrap this up. Don’t worry, I’ll still do my signature rambling random thoughts for this movie, but I’m going to go back to making that a section I add at the end. I like Constantine, but I don’t know why I bought this. I literally only watched it again because of that YouTube video and because of an impending Bush concert, and I will likely never watch it again. I would sell it, but who would buy it, especially since I lost the mini-Hellblazer comic book that came with it? Oh well, at least I know now that it belongs in my comic book section, not the sci-fi section.

Random Thoughts

“It’s not always like it is in the books.” Keanu says this about halfway through, and I think it is only there for fans in anticipation of the bitching about how he doesn’t look like the comic book character.

There’s a great bit of product placement when Constantine looks at a Chevy billboard soon after getting a cancer diagnosis. The ad reads: “Time is running buy a new Chevy.” First, I wonder if Chevy knew this was going to be the placement and were on board with it. Second, I appreciate product placement that doesn’t hide. Ads exist in the real world; what’s wrong with a character looking at one? That seems more natural than Constantine clearly getting into a Chevy multiple times.

Definitely only own this because it was during my “must buy one DVD a week” phase.

DVD extras really hammer on why Keanu doesn’t look like Constantine. “It just didn’t look right…” What they mean is, “he wouldn’t look enough like Neo.”

Yes, I watched some DVD extras, but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the promised 18 minutes of deleted scenes.

Producer Laura Schuler Donner claims this was in the pipeline even before the first X-Men (even though this came out five years later) as evidence that they were committed to the story. But I think this movie only exists because of The Matrix.

Richard Corliss compares this to Blade Runner in a blurb on the box! What?!

Had no idea this was Francis Lawrence’s first film. Honestly, it’s quite impressive, both that he was given such a big first film and the overall style of a first-time filmmaker. And I actually think the CG is better in this film than in I Am Legend.

Peter Stormare might be the most interesting version of the devil I’ve ever seen.

Gavin Rossdale’s half-melted face legitimately disgusted me.

I kind of crapped on the film’s CG and whatnot, but there are a couple cool moments. I liked when Constantine chased Rachel Weisz through the building. And bits here and there (grabbing the hospital bracelet as dozens of demons grab him, shining a light to drive off a horde of demons, kicking a crab directly into the camera [seriously, I like that for some reason]) were decent.

Kicking a crab is a good place to stop. Next week: The William Friedkin PTSD Trilogy - Rules of Engagement, The Hunted, and Bug.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why I Like "Weird" Movies

In my last article about NewsRadio and TV series in general, I pointed out that I liked that show so much because it was a relaxing watch. I could watch episodes out of sequence or even not pay attention to them at all and still enjoy it. I wouldn’t call the show junk food, but it’s not something I feel the need to focus 100% on. There are plenty of films I feel the same way about (and will certainly write about plenty of them on this site in the future), but for the most part, my favorite films are the ones that require focused viewing. Often, a film that needs you to pay attention to it is called “weird.” The movies I’m going to discuss aren’t exactly weird in the traditional sense (but weird is subjective, so technically, everything can be weird), but have been labeled as such because they aren’t easily digestible.

It feels a little hypocritical to write about NewsRadio and praise it because I don’t have to pay attention to it, and then turn around and write about how my favorite movies are the ones you have to focus on. It all comes down to the location of your viewing, though. TV is...TV. You usually watch it in a distracting setting: your home. When I watch TV, it’s rarely the only thing going on. I’m hanging out with my wife, watching my daughter, doing dishes, cooking, doing laundry, checking e-mail, etc. In other words, all kinds of things are going on that keep me from focusing on the show I’m watching. Hence, my favorite show is one that allows for distractions. With movies, the intended viewing location is a dark theater that prohibits (or at least attempts to) talking and cell phones. In other words, films are made to be seen on a giant screen with no distractions.

Of course, I watch movies much more often at home than in the theater, so I love plenty of junk food movies. But my favorites are the ones I saw in the theater that rewarded my attention. The best compliment I can pay a film is that it held my complete attention even though I watched it at home.

I believe this love of complex films that require focused watching leads people to think film critics/buffs are snobs who don’t like “normal” movies. But when you watch movies every day, either for fun or work or both, you tend to appreciate the more nuanced offerings. To continue the food analogy of junk food, think about eating in general. If you eat the same thing every day, you’ll be fine with it, but never impressed. But if you get a new meal, even if it’s worse than what you usually get, you’ll appreciate it just for being different. That doesn’t mean a movie is automatically good because it’s odd; it just means it’s more interesting. And when you watch movies every day, interesting is pretty damn important.

Maybe movies aren’t your thing (just like some people don’t care that much about food), and watching any movie is entertaining because it’s a rare activity. That’s fine, but just realize that critics and dorks like me are going to roll our eyes if you think the latest Transformers was awesome and you don’t even know who Paul Thomas Anderson is. Now that I look at that sentence, I realize that it is a bit snobby, but so be it. The “weird” films are simply better because they move the medium beyond entertainment into the art realm.

Before I get into a few examples, I want to focus a bit more on what weird means to me. Weird is anything that is not predictable. It’s anything that aims to be different. The movies I love that I call weird are not really all that weird. These movies are all popular among most movie buffs and critics. They are also films that are fairly easily explained if you pay close attention. I am aware that there are truly weird films out there that are meant to be more poetry than film. I don’t like movies like that. I need my weird to be entertaining, and, more importantly, I need my weird to be able to be deciphered in a slightly definitive way. That said, here are the “weird” movies and filmmakers that immediately come to mind.

Darren Aronofsky is the first filmmaker to come to mind for a couple of reasons. First, in a recent interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Aronofsky flat out said he makes “weird” movies. Second, mother! is a recent film that many have deemed too weird because it received an infamous F Cinemascore from audiences. I loved it, of course, because it’s the perfect type of weird for me. On its surface, it is weird. It’s a film that was marketed as romantic thriller (I guess?) but ended up being a completely allegorical film about the environment, artists, humanity in general, etc. Anything that is completely allegorical is going to be a bit weird, since allegory typically requires exaggeration to fit whatever actual point the filmmaker is trying to make. What makes mother! stand out to me along with a few other films (such as Drive, Bug, The Cabin in the Woods, or Spring Breakers) is that people wouldn’t be disappointed with these films if they hadn’t been lied to by the trailers. Of course mother! is weird if you go in thinking it’s just another Jennifer Lawrence movie when, in fact, you’re about to see a Darren Aronofsky film.

I watched mother! completely expecting it to get increasingly insane because I knew Aronofsky wrote and directed it. It’s not that he doesn’t make “normal” movies (The Wrestler is a very straightforward film); it’s that his films are so varied that you know he’s not going to repeat himself. In other words, he’s going to make something interesting. I sat in that theater expecting a puzzle, so I focused on every detail possible. This might seem like homework to some, but this is how I wish I could watch every movie. This is why the theater is such an important part of the process. I’ve watched mother! at home and still enjoyed it, but nothing compares to that viewing in the theater. Before I move on, I just wanted to point out that my favorite Aronofsky film (and his weirdest, in my opinion) is The Fountain.

Next up is Yorgos Lanthimos, writer and director of two of my favorite films in recent years: The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (I also loved Dogtooth). Lanthimos makes different movies, but his style makes them weird. His characters deliver some of the most absurd and childishly direct dialogue in such a deadpan manner I can’t help but laugh. And I think that is his intended effect. I consider his films to be comedies despite their disturbing nature. Comedy and oddness go hand in hand since they are both so subjective.

Comedy brings me to another favorite filmmaker of mine: Paul Thomas Anderson. An argument can be made that most, if not all, of Anderson’s films are comedies, despite the super serious appearance of most of them. It’s no stretch to consider Boogie Nights or Punch Drunk Love comedies, but you wouldn’t initially think There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread, or The Master are comedies. But I think they are. They are weird comedies, sure, but they are comedies. Watch the jail scene in The Master and tell me that’s not meant to be funny. Every scene that takes place in Eli Sunday’s church in There Will Be Blood is absolutely meant to be funny. And I consider Phantom Thread to a warped romantic comedy, which is to say it’s my all-time favorite romantic comedy.

Before I move on to my last filmmaker, I have to bring up David Lynch. While I love Blue Velvet and like Lost Highway, for the most part I am not a big fan of Lynch. But you can’t bring up weird filmmakers without discussing him. I suppose I’m not as big of a fan because some of his work is so impenetrable, or at least, I just don’t get it (Inland Empire was just a waste of my time). But he has his fans. I’m just not one of them.

The all-time weird filmmaker for me is Stanley Kubrick. As I’ve been writing the entire article, his films aren’t really that weird. Kubrick just has a style and a way of telling a story that usually requires close attention. Also, his films are largely open to interpretation. Eyes Wide Shut is among my favorites for this very reason. I have different thoughts about that movie every time I watch it (and I watch it at least once a who’s the real weirdo, right?). Maybe that’s because I’m a slightly different person each time, but I like to think that it’s more about what a talented and interesting filmmaker Kubrick was that he was able to create a film that could seemingly evolve with each viewing.

I’ll finish with what has become a bit of a trademark for these articles: a rambling paragraph followed by a short summation. This rambling paragraph will cover other filmmakers or films that I love and are considered weird, but for whatever reason, didn’t come to mind at first when I planned this article. All of these could have easily been included in the article in much more detail. Nicolas Winding Refn. Martin Scorsese, especially his recent Silence. Werner Herzog, especially his work with Kinski (which I eventually plan on devoting an entire article to), but also my favorites: Bad Lieutenant and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. Denis Villeneuve, even though his films have become increasingly popular, I think he’s retained his weirdness. Walker with Ed Harris. Terrence Malick, though I do not care for his post-Tree of Life work. Titus. Southland Tales. The Box. A Scanner Darkly. Synecdoche, New York. A Serious Man. The Coens in general. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ravenous. I’ll stop now, but just know that there are countless examples, and I’ll never be able to think of them all, and I most certainly left off something or someone so obvious that I will be tempted to return to this article and add it (I’ll let you know if I did that here - I added Fear and Loathing and Ravenous after scanning my collection one last time).

As I stated above, none of these films or filmmakers are actually all that weird. They just demand attention, and they reward that attention. Unfortunately, that means they are “weird.” But I’ve always liked weird. And with so many ways to get a film made today, the weirdness will never stop, and I’ll never stop seeking this weird shit out.