The greatest head-melting movies on DVD…
1. No collection is complete without this
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) * * * * *
Cinema doesn’t come more head-scratchingly weird than legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi “visual poem”, a mind-boggling space saga with minimum dialogue and maximum classical music. “Explanations are for wimps” seems to have been Kubrick’s mantra, as an enigmatic black monolith inspires primitive man to start bashing people around the head with bones, before later luring humanity on a space-bound quest to Jupiter with tragic consequences. That’s nothing, however, compared to the final third of the movie, a brain-melting journey into another universe that ends with a time-accelerating hotel room, and a leap in mankind’s evolution. “If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered” said co-writer and sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke at the time, and it looks like this particular space oddity will be stretching minds and confounding people for decades to come.
EXTRAS: Splash out extra dosh, and you can get the “deluxe edition” with a collectable booklet, film cel and the original soundtrack- otherwise, all you get in the standard version is a paltry theatrical trailer.
BEST BIT: In the middle of having his mind demolished by an annoyed astronaut, murderous supercomputer HAL 9000 regresses back to its ‘childhood’ and starts singing “Daisy, Daisy…” :
2. Essential Selections: The foundations of your collection
Brazil (1985) * * * * *
Ex-Python animator Terry Gilliam is your guide for this nightmare tour through the darker side of the modern world. In an endless city choked by paperwork and terrorist attacks, looking for your dream girl can be a dangerous thing– as meek bureaucrat Jonathan Pryce finds out to his cost. From SAS-style heating engineers to the terrifying corridors of the Ministry of Information Retrieval, Gilliam’s finest work redefines the onscreen ‘future city’, and plays like George Orwell’s 1984 on some seriously bad Acid.
EXTRAS: The R2 disc features a trailer and an illuminating half-hour making-of documentary, but seek out the 3-disc Criterion Collection edition for a whole lot more, including the “Love Conquers All” edit of the film that tacks on a happy ending.
BEST BIT: A gang of terrifying masked stormtroopers erupt into the flat of shoe repair man Harry Buttle with devastating force, all so that he can “help the Ministry with its enquiries.”
Fight Club (1999) * * * *
Pummelling you into submission and twisting your brain into knots for an encore, David Fincher’s psycho-mania marvel is one of the most demented Hollywood movies ever made. Edward Norton is the unnamed Narrator who befriends Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden, a freewheeling anarchist with plans for spiritual harmony that involve men beating each other up for the sheer hell of it. Only when Project Mayhem rears its head does Tyler’s true identity comes to light, and the result is a blisteringly strange masterpiece that leaves you bruised, battered, and desperate for another viewing.
EXTRAS: One of the funkiest original two-disc editions, Fight Club still stands up thanks to a huge selection of featurettes, and a truly unmissable commentary from Fincher, Pitt, Norton and co-star Helena Bonham Carter.
BEST BIT: Smashing down the “fourth wall”, the Narrator gives us a tour of Tyler Durden’s life as he sabotages restaurant meals and splices frames of pornography into family cartoons.
3. REALITY BITES
When the everyday world stops making sense…
It’s official: watching TV is bad for your health. Just ask Max Renn (James Woods), a television executive who views a violent pirate broadcast named “Videodrome”, and is soon neck-deep in a hallucinogenic conspiracy and inserting videotapes into a worrying vaginal slit in his chest. David Cronenberg’s fractured tale of horror throws the reality rulebook out of the window, and leaves us trapped in a world where even our own bodies can’t be trusted.
Obsessed by patterns in nature, paranoid number-cruncher Max (Sean Gullette) is investigating the New York stock market when he discovers a new 216-digit number that causes his computer to melt, and soon has him hallucinating about abandoned brains on the subway. Has he found the secret 216-letter name of God, or is he simply going insane? Either way, Darren Aronofsky’s hyper-intense, black-and-white drama is hypnotic, dazzling stuff that refuses to give any easy answers.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Teenage life in Eighties America holds plenty of problems for the emotionally troubled Donnie (Jake Gylenhaal), and that’s before an imaginary six foot bunny rabbit starts telling him that the world is due to end in 28 days. A mind-bending tale of time travel, social satire and Tears for Fears songs, this cult classic has already had multiple DVD incarnations¬, including the Director’s Cut which adds new songs, new scenes and new questions into the mix.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
You’re a Vietnam veteran. You’re suffering from major flashbacks to the war. And then, horrific demons start looming out of nowhere to scare the living crap out of you. Fatal Attraction director Adrian Lynne’s tale of damnation and salvation keeps the audience guessing as to what’s really going on, leaping adeptly between realities and indulging in some truly horrifying visions. Tim Robbins also excels as the confused, shell-shocked Jacob, tortured by glimpses of Hell on earth.
4. END OF THE BEGINNING
Stories that don’t just go from A to B…
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Jim Carrey decides to hit the “delete” button and get his memories of kooky ex-girlfriend Kate Winslet erased– but halfway through the procedure, he changes his mind and tries to fight back. With half of the movie taking place inside Carrey’s head as he re-experiences the affair in reverse, the film uses plenty of surreal effects and visual tricks, but it’s the relationship between Carrey and Winslet that’s the heart of this beautiful, backwards love story.
Mulholland Drive (2002)
For 90 minutes, David Lynch’s thriller is a bizarrely compulsive tale of the dark side of Hollywood. Then, wannabe actress Naomi Watts and beautiful amnesiac Laura Elena Harring visit the reality-warping Club Silencio, and the whole movie turns inside out. Characters swap identities, time rolls back, and the audience gapes in complete confusion. Adding otherworldly tramps and minature OAPs is just the icing on the cake for one of the Sultan of Strange’s weirdest and most memorable movies.
Following Guy Pearce as he tries to hunt his wife’s killer and cope with a bizarre form of memory loss, this brilliant thriller tells its story in reverse, starting with a brutal murder and then working backwards to explore why it happened. The devious structure keeps us as disorientated as the hero, and the DVD itself features plenty of extras to help unlock the story- including the chance to watch the whole thing in chronological order.
21 Grams (2003)
In the hands of anyone else, this tale of three people (Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts) united via a tragic car crash would be your average, run-of-the-mill drama. Instead, Amorres Perros director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu mixes up the order of events, delivering the story in a blizzard of initially confusing fragments. It’s a daring choice that forces you to pay attention¬¬, as well as perfectly mirroring the shattered lives and emotions of the main characters.
5. FUNNY WEIRD, OR FUNNY HA-HA?
The lighter side of Strange.
Oceans Eleven director Steven Soderbergh writes, directs and stars in this whacked-out comedy that sends the weird-ometer spinning off the chart. The tale of corporate drone Fletcher Munsen who swaps places with his identical duplicate– a dentist who also happens to be having an affair with Munsen’s wife–, Schizopolis is part sketch-show, part satire, part rumination on the nature of reality, and has “Kooky” written through it like a stick of rock.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
It doesn’t get much stranger than Spike Jonze’s directorial debut, as tangle-haired puppeteer John Cusack discovers a magical portal leading into the head of John Malkovich, and quickly starts charging entry, as well as using the unwitting Malkovich to spice up his sex life. Mixing up ideas of fame, identity and reality, the film achieves the seemingly impossible by making Cameron Diaz convincingly dowdy, and climaxes with an unforgettable chase through the landscape of Malkovich’s mind.
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Philosophy meets slapstick in Three Kings director David O. Russell’s hilariously bonkers comedy, which turns modern day Los Angeles into a surreal playground for all manner of intellectual tomfoolery. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are the existential detectives hired by Jason Schwartzman to investigate a set of coincidences, and Jude Law is a smug corporate oik with a neurotic supermodel girlfriend (Naomi Watts)– but it’s Mark Wahlberg as a petroleum-hating fireman who steals the show.
So… how many do you have?
0-4 Slightly strange. You sometimes wear dark glasses when it isn’t sunny.
5-10 Medium strange. Weird is your middle name (but you don’t like to talk about it…)
11-14 Ultra Strange. Life is a psychedelic carnival, and you’ve got a front row seat.