Stingray Sam (2009)

There are some films you know you have to see long before they ever reach the theaters.

For me, anything made by Cory McAbee and The Billy Nayer Show is quite high on that list.  His first film, The American Astronaut remains one of those inexplicable pleasures of life – an often surreal lo-fi Western/Sci Fi/Musical/Comedy/Performance Art hybrid which is stranger than any mere listing of traits can possibly convey.

After nearly a decade (and a sadly failed attempt to make a werewolf movie), he followed up with an even better film, Stingray Sam.

At first glance, Stingray Sam might sound like a mere retread of his first film.  It too involves a Western hero astronaut on a mission across the stars and is shot (mostly) in atmospheric black and white.  Once again we have members of Cory’s band, The Billy Nayer Show, in major parts, a very similar lo-fi grunge Sci Fi aesthetic, and a selection of often comic songs.

But here he concocted a six-part serial (originally released as a series of individual podcasts), in which Stingray, a cheerful bumbling nice guy with his own lounge singing act on Mars (now a failed, Vegas-like tourist trap) is convinced to help his old friend the Quasar Kid pull off one more job that’ll gain them a pardon for their crimes – only neither of them happens to know what it is…

Of course the plot is decidedly convoluted, even if it is largely there to give Cory and his crew an opportunity to cram one great song into each chapter.  But this time, besides Stingray’s wonderfully ironic signature lounge tune, “Welcome to Mars” and the expected insanity of “The Fredward Song”, he also offers a sweet and emotional “Lullaby” and a bouncy duet with his own daughter.

Along the way he offers a wild and warped (and let’s face it, very pointed) economic and political history of Stingray’s future, throws in some marvelous, Gilliam-esque cut-out animations, goofy telepresence robots (with a display of the user’s face using the same pixelated animation technique Cory used in one of his early short films, The Man on the Moon) and a surprisingly emotional ending with a slap-in-the-face sudden final “twist”.

Okay, what more can you say about something so strange, so genuinely unique and yet so heartfelt?  Just this:

Watch it already!

(complete film available here.)

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