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Making it Weird 

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story and Flux Gourmet

click to enlarge How I eat while watching shows about Michelin-starred restaurants.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

How I eat while watching shows about Michelin-starred restaurants.

WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY. For many of us, there has always been Weird Al. Before we could formulate anything like a valid critical opinion, much less decide what, by our flaccid cultural barometer, could be called "good," we could still appreciate (or at least enjoy) the overlaying of silly lyrics upon songs we could recognize. That has been and will be the domain of the undisputed champ, whose reign of polka-based PG-comedy songcraft continues to this day, almost four decades on.

Weird Al planted a flag for nerdery long before any incisive conversation about the label had even begun, when it was still overwhelmingly used pejoratively and the threat of swirlies seemed very real indeed. Hard as it might be for a Zoomer to believe, nerds weren't cool — not even to hipsters. And so Weird Al's cannonball into the mainstream, his seemingly fearless embrace of his personhood writ large as pop persona, was and is a more significant, resounding moment than even his sales numbers indicate.

That isn't what Weird is about, though; not really. To its credit, this version of the Al Yankovic story — co-written by the legend himself with director Eric Appel — bops along with the same infectious energy and relentless, clever inanity as his music. A hugely fictionalized, liberty-taking riff on the traditional biopic, Weird does to Yankovic's life story what Weird Al does to popular song: Over a plausible, ostensibly true framework, it layers a hilarious, unabashedly dorky, embellished tapestry of jokes, asides and "real-life" incidents that absolutely did not happen.

Some of the movie's riffs and tropes — accordion as a subcultural scourge of the straight world, with teens holed up at feverish polka parties — might feel occasionally familiar but, again, this places them perfectly in keeping with the man's body of work. While Weird Al has always been defiantly nerdy, his brand has never been particularly combative or even confrontational. It could be the most subversive element of his celebrity that he has become part of the mainstream by parodying it so faithfully (and for so long).

Much like his music, the only real knock on this "biopic" is likely to come from the high-minded, would-be outsiders, the gatekeepers of their own true nerd fief who would say that Weird's accessibility, like Al's, makes it uncool, not edgy enough. Of course it does! That's the whole point. There has never been anything cool about Weird Al and that makes him cooler than you.

Weird begins with conflict at home, where young Alfred (Richard Aaron Anderson and then David Bloom), excoriated by his factory-worker father (Toby Huss who, with this and Blonde, is having a much better year as a character actor than he is likely to be recognized for) for his whimsical dreams, secretly labors in the closet at the accordion bought for him by his stalwart, supportive mother (Julianne Nicholson). Eventually, the work pays off: Inspiration for a stupid parody song strikes, Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson) opens the door to the cultural elite and in no time Al (Daniel Radcliffe) is a problem drinker, alienating his band and forced by circumstance to shoot his way out of Pablo Escobar's (Arturo Castro) jungle stronghold after rescuing his girlfriend, Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood).

This represents Appel's jump from comedy shorts and episodic television to features, and he handles it with aplomb, dialing down the stylization and allowing the script (and the unbelievable supporting cast of comedy luminaries) to do the heavy lifting. Weird feels like a statement, albeit a relatively quiet one, a treatise on classical cinema comedy and more specifically parody movies (themselves an extra-medial corollary to Yankovic's work): They can't die if we don't let the bland-ification of culture kill them. TV14. 108M. ROKU STREAMING.

FLUX GOURMET. I've recently become quietly obsessed with the work of writer/director Peter Strickland, of which this is the latest. A student of mid-century horror with an ear to sound design and a delightfully sick sense of humor, Strickland has been building a catalog of gorgeous, oddball genre-clashes since his self-financed 2009 debut Katalin Varga. (Incidentally, if anybody has a line on a Region 1 DVD or a streaming link for such, please contact the editor.)

Flux may be the hardest of Strickland's movies to pin to its influences — Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and In Fabric (2018) wearing their respective Italianate and Brion horror colors quite proudly — but it is also, for its acute weirdness and nigh-impenetrable plot synopsis, maybe the most accessible.

An unnamed band, comprised of Elle di Elle (Strickland muse Fatma Mohamed), Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed) and Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield) have been awarded a residency in the manor house of patroness Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie) to refine and perform what is referred to as Sonic Catering (think performance art set against food-based noise loops). Their process and dynamic are to be documented by the long-suffering, dyspeptic Stones (Makis Papdimitriou), even as infighting threatens their fragile bond.

It gets weirder than the description but is also mightily funny if one allows it to be. NR. 111M. STREAMING.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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