Tag Archives: Drama

BORDERLINE WEIRD: FROWNLAND (2007)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ronald Bronstein

FEATURING: Dore Mann, David Sandholm, Paul Grimstad

PLOT: A pathetic loser named Keith lives a putrid existence in his sigh-

Still from Frownland (2007)

inducing apartment. He is horribly flawed in every way: vacuous, temperamental, and repulsively stupid. He lives with a roommate he wants to rid himself of, he tries to romance women to no avail, and his attempts to better himself in any way only exacerbate his terminal lameness.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  The titanic sadness at the center of Frownland is certainly profound enough to be considered weird.  It calls to a part of us that we all carry within: that anti-social, misfit side who feels that, truly, in our heart of hearts, we are ugly and alone.  Only, in Keith, we find that part magnified, personified to a hideous degree.  There is something quietly disturbing about a man struggling with so many problems adapting to society, trying to overcome the shame he feels in himself and his deplorable condition.  But to say that it is weird based on that facet alone is to ignore the unflinching blandness surrounding Keith and the lack of any character whatsoever in the world Frownland creates.

COMMENTS: Cited by many media outlets as a comedy, Frownland is a crushing personal statement of loneliness and isolation in a city of millions.  If this is a comedy, then it is a comedy of the absurdity to which modern life is betrothed.

From the very first moment, Ronald Bronstein fashions an air of shame and anxiety around the central character, Keith, that is hard to shake.  Keith is a dreg of humanity, a product of a lack of any esteem or dignity, and while it doesn’t excuse his behavior at times, it is worth noting that he isn’t exactly like the hideous beast he watches on a televised horror movie in an early scene.  But everything about him is unappealing, from his appearance to his treatment of his semi-friends to the way he lies just to try to relate to other human beings.  He is not even an anti-hero: he’s an anti-anything, a character that admittedly took a lot of guts to commit to film, and one that will live in infamy in the indie circuit for years to come.

Bronstein has a very dark, organic vision that threatens to swallow the viewer in a miasma of dilapidated retro culture.  It has the heart of an angst-ridden 70s independent feature, the set pieces of an 80s European film, the youth-centric mindset of a low-budget 90s film, but for all we know it is set in 2007.  Nothing is given as far as details, and we can only guess while the unsettling score drifts in and out of the background.  It is an effort that many will compare to John Cassavetes, with its heavy mood and deeply troubled characters, but in the rhythms and pacing of the hypnotic dialog Bronstein traces out, I think there is a real visionary here who stands out from his peers.

Frownland is a work of art that tests us on a very cerebral level, and I for one am glad to have seen it.  I think it’s fair to keep this on the borderline for now, but with enough support behind it, it may very well earn its own spot on the List.  For a comedy in which I never laughed once, this might just be the best comedy I’ve seen all year.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…either a primal scream issued from a potentially dangerous mind, a wildly original work of outsider art, a doctoral thesis on how not to make friends and influence people, or all (or none) of the above. Only this much is certain: It’s been a while since something this gonzo turned up at a theater near you.”–Scott Foundas, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

This movie was suggested for review by reader “Rob”. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.

CAPSULE: LOREN CASS (2006)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Chris Fuller

FEATURING: Kayla Tabish, Travis Maynard, Chris Fuller (as Lewis Brogan), Jacob Reynolds

PLOT:  Bad poetry interrupts episodes in the lives of three teens or twenty-somethings at about the time of the 1997 St. Petersburg, Florida race riots.

Still from Loren Cass (2006)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s only fitfully weird, but consistently dull and pretentious. Life on this planet is full of hardships and disappointments; no one should voluntarily compound their woes by watching Loren Cass.

COMMENTS:  A voice says “after the 1997…”   A solo trumpet launches a doomed search for a melody.  A boy wakes up on the floor of a mechanic’s garage.  Another boy, with a shaved head, piercings and tattoos, presumably a skinhead, wakes up on a couch and goes outside to lie in the middle of the street.  A cute blonde girl wakes up next to a black male.  The boy from the garage picks up the skinhead.  The girl takes her own car.  The three drive to school.  The parking lot is full but the hallways inside are empty.  We get a nice look at the urinals.  Someone loads a gun.  We see the urinals from a different angle.  An older man takes a shot of whiskey.  The two boys are next to last to leave the parking lot.  At a stoplight a black guy jumps out of a van and punches the punk kid with through an open window.  They have a fight.  The screen goes blank and a street poet tells us St. Petersburg is “a dirty dirty town by a dirty dirty sea.”  What’s going on here?  The cute blonde works at a diner where no one ever orders anything.  She has car trouble and takes it to the young mechanic.  He fixes it and they go to dinner together.  She shovels gray cubes of meat into her mouth.  He doesn’t eat.  They barely talk but look at each other a lot.  They are in love.  What’s going on here?  Other things happen.  They aren’t interesting, either.  Some kids drink beer and say the F-word a lot until the Man comes and hassles them.  The skinhead’s hobby is to ride the bus at night.  We look at his face.  He looks alienated. Snippets of bad beatnik poetry and drunken ramblings play on the soundtrack.  There is a punk concert.  The skinhead falls asleep on the bus and dreams he’s a victim of spontaneous human combustion.  Years ago an embattled politician committed suicide at a press conference.  The footage is in the public domain so anyone can insert it into their movie at random.  The mechanic and the cute girl have sex.  The skinhead scratches “Loren Cass” onto his arm with a hypodermic needle he finds in a dumpster.  He swallows a handful of pills in a desperate attempt to get out of the movie.  He vomits them up.  The movie won’t let him out that easily.  He wakes up the next morning and looks into the camera.  He looks disaffected.  The trumpet player still hasn’t found a melody.  The credits roll.  What just went on here?  The Variety critic stayed awake and alert long enough to write that he had just seen “a starkly radical film debut of uncommon power and artistic principle.”  Seriously, what is going on here?

The events are set around the times of the St. Petersburg race riots, which we know because we see newsreel footage of the aftermath and hear audio clips of a rabble-rousing black preacher.  The movie supplies no context to suggest whether these incidents take place before, after, or during the riots.  But the subtext makes the film political and important.  Use of the tragically real footage of Pennsylvania Treasurer Budd Dwyer blowing his brains out on camera either says something insightful about fiscal corruption in the Keystone state in the 1980s, or is completely indefensible.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…ingeniously experimental in form… The tone — spaced-out, adrift, grubby yet ecstatic — is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s experimental youth movies and Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo,’ while the formal precision brings to mind Robert Bresson’s clipped, oblique allegories.”–Nathan Lee, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE WHITE RIBBON [DAS WEISSE BAND: EINE DEUTSCHE KINDERGESCHICHTE] (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Michael Haneke

FEATURING: Christian Friedel, Burghart Klaußner, Leonie Benesch, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf

PLOT: A doctor’s horse is tripped by a wire strung between two trees, and soon

Still from The White Ribbon (Das weiss band) (2009)

other unexplained “accidents” start happening around a German village on the eve of WWI.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I wouldn’t have even considered covering this fairly conventional film in this sacred space devoted to weirdness, except that as I was leaving the theater, I heard an old man ask the old woman beside him, “Wasn’t that the strangest movie you ever saw?”  The old woman agreed. My initial reaction was sadness at the thought that they both had reached an advanced state of decrepitude without having ever witnessed the miracle of a truly strange film.  My second thought was, I have to get out there and nip this rumor in the bud.

COMMENTS: As a historical drama, a novelistic examination of small town immorality, The White Ribbon is superb.  It immerses us in the life of a quiet, one-bicycle German hamlet on the eve of World War I, where order is harshly enforced in public but cruelty and hypocrisy are the rule behind closed doors.  The story begins by evoking a mystery—who strung the invisible steel wire that tripped the doctor’s horse?—then moves on to explore various village subplots involving characters from every strata of society.  Among others, there’s the humane schoolteacher who romances a shy nanny; the Baron, who employs half the village and acts as if feudalism is still in fashion; a Farmer and the rebellious son who blames the Baron for his mother’s death; the Doctor, an eminent man hiding shameful secrets; the Midwife, who lives with the Doctor since his wife dies and cares for her mentally retarded son; and most significantly the Pastor, who is obsessed with enforcing purity among his children, binding his son’s arms at night to help him resist the temptation to touch himself and tying white ribbons on the elder children to remind them of innocence.  And there are the children themselves, whose eerily blank faces and frustratingly proper responses to interrogations mask unknown motives.  Led by creepy and unflappable Maria-Victoria Dragus, a gang of tykes seem to be present at the periphery of all the tragic accidents that start popping up around the village.  The question of whether the kids are just curious spectators drawn to the hubub in a quiet town, or if they have some deeper involvement in the plague of catastrophes, is the mystery that Haneke leaves unsolved.  But the real unsolved mystery may be why the director chose to structure his story as an unsolved mystery.  When the tale focuses on exploring of moral hypocrisy, exposing the domestic cruelty of upstanding pillars of the community, the film is first-rate drama; there are excellent, tense scenes where a man callously dumps his mistress and parents inflict sadistic punishments on their children for minor infractions.  Haneke apparently did not feel that this searing drama was enough to grant his film Palme d’Or-type gravitas, and so we have the ambiguous mystery arbitrarily piled on top.  Not only is the plot obscure, but the purpose of employing an obscure plot is obscure.

Perhaps it’s because Haneke’s thesis isn’t as meaty as it seems.  The reminders that these wan, detached and abused children will be the generation that grows up to embrace Nazism are not subtle.  But if Haneke’s trying to say that a morally rigid, patriarchal society set the ground for the rise of Nazism… well, that’s a small part of the puzzle.  But the same types of societies existed all over the Western world.  Change a few details—replace the feudal Baron with a capitalist robber baron—and the story could just as easily be set in small town America in the 1910s.  What’s specifically German about this story that supposedly helps to explain the rise of Nazism (as the film’s narrator suggests in his opening lines)?  If, on the other hand, Haneke isn’t blaming a particular social order for nurturing fascism, but trying to say something universal about human societies and their capacity for institutional evil, the point gets a bit lost by locating the story in such an incredibly specific historical time and place.  The movie ends up perched uncomfortably between ambiguity and a definite argument, between a universal message and a historical one.  Maybe these unresolved tensions help explain why The White Ribbon, with its impeccable acting and classic production, feels thematically awkward.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Our narrator, well into old age, tells us that he is revisiting the strange events in the village to ‘clarify things that happened in our country’ afterward.  But ‘The White Ribbon’ does the opposite, mystifying the historical phenomenon it purports to investigate… ‘The White Ribbon’ is a whodunit that offers a philosophically and aesthetically unsatisfying answer..”–A.O. Scott, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

GUEST REVIEW: THE SWIMMER (1968)

The Swimmer has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Comments on this post have been closed. Please read the official Certified Weird entry for The Swimmer and post any future comments about the film there.

When Burt Lancaster began his career as an actor, it appeared this was going to be a career in the mold of Errol Flynn or Randolph Scott. In films like The Flame and the ArrowJim Thorpe-All American, The Crimson Pirate, Vera Cruz, Ten Tall Men, From Here to Eternity, The Kentuckian, Trapeze, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and Run Silent, Run Deep, Lancaster seemed to personify and embody the American ideal hero.

However, behind those swell guy teeth and that brandished chest was a shrewd actor, who, as he seasoned, made increasingly interesting choices.  In the second half of his career, Lancaster often played off that earlier, heroic persona with admirable risk taking.  If  Elmer Gantry and Seven Days in May might be aptly described as loudly presenting the dirty underbelly of Americana, then The Swimmer intimately one-ups them.

In 1968 director Frank Perry with writer/wife Eleanor Perry adapted John Cheever’s acclaimed allegorical New Yorker short story, The Swimmer, and brilliantly cast the iconic Burt Lancaster as the pathetic hero.  The Perrys had previously teamed for the equally disturbing David and Lisa (1962) and made quite a splash on the art film circuit.  Surprisingly, that film even garnered a couple of Academy Award nominations, which enabled the team to make The Swimmer.

Still from The Swimmer (1968)The Swimmer begins on an absurdly bright, sunny day.  Ned (Lancaster), the epitome of a tanned, virile, soulless suburbia, decides he is going to enthusiastically embark on a strange, epic, connect-the-dot journey by “swimming” home through the neighborhood swimming pools. He takes along a nubile girl (Janet Langard), but at each pool he encounters facets of his failed life and the crack in his facade slowly begins to expand until the inevitable, tragic conclusion.  The physical reality of The Swimmer (a day in Ned’s life) is mere allegory and the allegorical symbolism of Ned’s entire life which is, in fact, the physical realm into which we are drawn.

Lancaster, the sex symbol, is perfection as he superficially pats his neighbors on the back, encounters a discarded mistress, is confronted by his numerous lies, his betrayals, his failure as a husband, father, friend and neighbor.  By the time he reaches his own home, his paradigm has altered from cartoon sunshine and forced, surface smiles to despairing rain.  When he reaches his porch, he is vulnerable to all the elements which mercilessly come down upon him in all forms, including nature itself.  Ned has ultimately realized his hollow state.

Impressively, The Swimmer has a dreamlike, short story, episodic pacing, not at all what is expected in the medium of film, and this adds to its uniqueness.  The Swimmer, fragile indeed in its quite odd structure, is a case where casting really counted.  It would not have worked without its star.  Unfortunately, The Swimmer is out of print and even when it was briefly available, Columbia disrespectfully released it an a cheapo presentation.  (NOTE 2/12/10: Astute reader MCD tipped us off to the fact that The Swimmer is available for download from Amazon for $9.99). Still, it’s a rarity in being a film that actually lives up to and surpasses its reputation.

The Perrys went onto make Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife before divorcing.  Separately, the two never equaled the artistic level they achieved together.  Lancaster continued to carefully cultivate his screen persona in films like 1900, Moses the Lawgiver, Atlantic City, Local Hero, Rocket Gibraltar and Field of Dreams.

CAPSULE: THE LOVELY BONES (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Jackson

FEATURING: Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, , Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon

PLOT: A murdered 14-year old girl watches her family search for her killer from the afterlife.

Still from The Lovely Bones (2009)

 

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  There are a few weird visual elements in Susie’s pleasant and candy-colored Purgatory, but The Lovely Bones tells a conventional, if unusual, story at heart.

COMMENTS:  With its mix of fantasy, drama, teen girls and murder, Peter Jackson’s latest superficially hearkens back to his wonderful Heavenly Creatures (1994); but the originality and intensity of that early vision is gone now, replaced by Hollywood sentimentality.  The Lovely Bones is ambitious in its attempt to juggle many mixed tones, but it can’t quite navigate the tricky terrain from tragedy to mystery to reconciliation while shoehorning in comedy (a nicely campy but unnecessary turn by Susan Sarandon as a hard-drinking granny) and Hollywood spectacle.  There some memorable fantasy images, such as a fleet of bottled ships crashing onto rocks, but for the most part the heavenly landscapes Jackson imagines are appealing and picture-postcard pretty, but uninvolving; Susie’s heaven seems like it’s been designed by Terry Gilliam reincarnated as a tween girl.  As a thriller, the movie fails.  We know from the beginning who the killer is, so our only interest is in seeing how he will slip up and be discovered.  No clues are provided that would allow the Susie’s surviving family to out him, however; the revelation comes through supernatural nudging from beyond the grave that feels a lot like cheating.  At a key moment, the movie abruptly stops being a thriller—just as excitement should be peaking—to return to exploring family dynamics.  It’s a misstep that’s revealing of the difficulty the movie has shifting gears.  The ending is cloying; the murder victims gather on the Elysian fields to sing a contemporary pop-music version of “Kumbaya,” followed by Susie’s unlikely return to earth to take care of unfinished business solely of interest to teen girls.  The ending is also a cheat, preaching reconciliation and forgiveness while giving the audience a vicarious form of justice that falls flat.  The Lovely Bones is not all bad: the performances are excellent, particularly Tucci’s subtle turn as the monster next door who appears to be just slightly odd, and young Saoirse Ronan, who generates tremendous empathy as the victim.  There are some heart-tugging scenes, some suspenseful scenes, and some heavenesque eye candy to stare at.  Jackson shows tact in not dwelling on the crude facts of the rape-murder, revealing the horror instead with an impressionistic and disquieting, unreal sequence set in a bare bathroom (a minimalist scene that’s a lot more effective than the garish paradises on which he lavishes his CGI budget).  But, overall the movie reinforces Jackson’s inconsistency rather than his genius—he has yet to sniff a return to the grandiose triumph of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, while simultaneously he’s lost the punkish grit of his pre-fame films like Dead-Alive.

The Lovely Bones was based on a much-beloved novel by Alice Sebold, and, as is usually the case, fans of the book (including most critics who also read the original) aren’t thrilled with the film adaptation, saying that a subtle reflection on grief and living has been reduced to little more than a supernatural potboiler.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Other elements, including ‘The Lovely Bones’ imaginative notion of what Susie’s afterlife looks like, are strong, but everything that’s good is undermined by an overemphasis on one part of the story that is essential but has been allowed to overflow its boundaries.  That would be the film’s decision to foreground its weirdest, creepiest, most shocking elements, starting with the decision to give a much more prominent role to murderer George Harvey.”–Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

CAPSULE: BUG (2006)

DIRECTED BY: William Friedkin

FEATURING: Ashley Judd, , Harry Connick Jr.

PLOT: A lonely and none-too-bright waitress with a tragic past and an abusive ex-con ex-husband takes up with a mysterious man who is convinced that their ramshackle motel room is infested by bugs.

Still from Bug (2006)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Bug is a well-acted, claustrophobic and dramatic exploration of paranoia that’s worth catching, but the mildly insane third act isn’t quite mad enough to get the movie involuntarily committed as one of the weirdest of all time.

COMMENTS: If you’re into paranoid delusion as entertainment, Bug is a must-see; if you’re not, it’s still worth a watch for its oft-clever script, excellent performances (especially Ashley Judd’s tragic white-trash turn), and uneven but whacked-out finale. Bug‘s origins as a stage play are always apparent—it plays out almost completely inside a dingy weekly-rate motel room that represents the protagonists sealed-off psyches—so don’t expect to get much fresh air or wide-open vistas. It’s slow-building, but always intense and claustrophobic, and the unrelieved tension may weary you after a while.

One things for sure: it’s an actor’s movie. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon get the lion’s share of the lines, while the supporting characters—led by a buff, slick and abusive Harry Connick, Jr. as an abusive ex—present a layer of seediness in the external world that suggest fantastical escapism, however skewed, might be preferable to harsh reality. Shannon, who enters the scene as a mysterious stranger, conveys the fact that something is “off” about his character from the get-go merely through his disconcerting calmness and odd cadences (which lead to increasingly odd monologues). Shannon’s Peter is too alien for us to identify with, though, so all our empathy naturally flows to Judd’s Agnes, who may not be the brightest bulb in the marquee but who surely doesn’t deserve the misfortunes that fate has visited on her. Judd does a bang-up job, redeeming herself after a number of forgettable performances; she succeeds by projecting a hollow loneliness that sells her character’s improbable descent into madness as the only sane option open to her. Her line “I’d rather talk to you about bugs than nobody about nothin'” tells you all you most of what you need to know about her character; her often repeated “I don’t understand” tells you the rest.

Judd and Shannon begin an unlikely and desperate romance that’s hampered by an apparent infestation of tiny bugs in their mattress.  Bug strips and microscopes start to multiply in the tiny hovel as Peter’s obsession grows, but things don’t get truly weird until the odd couple line the walls with tinfoil to garble the CIA’s incoming (or outgoing) radio transmissions. By the time an unnaturally smug psychiatrist suddenly arrives looking for Peter, pausing in his attempt to convince Agnes to turn over the escapee to take a bong hit, we’re can no longer be certain whether we’re seeing events through a camera’s objective lens, or whether we’re watching Agnes’ version of reality, which as is distorted as the light cast by the blue-bug zappers bouncing off the foil-crinkled walls of the motel room. The finale is intense, verging on overwrought, and inevitably a downer. Tonally out-of-place blood and scenes of gruesome home dentistry seem inserted to fulfill a contractual gore quota set by distributor Lionsgate so they could market Bug as a horror film. It’s not, unless you’re horrified by the mind’s ability to skew reality to salvage some kind of emotional sense out of an impossibly cruel world.

Tracy Letts adapted the screenplay from his own off-Broadway play. Shannon originated the role of Peter onstage.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The shift in tone — reflected in the ever more panicky language, the anti-insect redecoration of the room and the gruesomeness of the violence — takes us from what begins as a grim, familiar drama into something much weirder. By the end, you wonder if you’re not hallucinating too… the creepiness of it gets under your skin. But ‘Bug’s’ relentless unpleasantness, which Friedkin bogs us down in instead of crystallizing it into what might have been a stylish head trip, can get to be a chore.”–Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)

Antichrist has been promoted to the List of the 366 weirdest movies of all time. This page is left here for archival reasons. Pelase go to 72. Antichrist for more in-depth coverage of the film and to make comments.

DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier

FEATURING: William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

PLOT: After the death of their only child, a therapist takes his grieving and anxiety-ridden wife to a retreat in the woods to face her irrational fears; when they arrive, nature itself seems determined to drive them both mad.

Still from Antichrist (2009)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  Actually, von Trier’s troubled and troubling Antichrist is almost a shoo-in to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  Though the graphic torture-porn (and plain old-fashioned porn) elements have stolen the headlines and alienated viewers, at bottom this is von Trier’s spookiest and most mysterious film, a trip deep into the heart of darkness, and one the viewer may have as difficult a time returning home from intact as the characters do.  The irrational horror of von Trier’s vision is only magnified by the sense that you aren’t so much watching a filmic depiction of madness as watching a director going insane in real time, before your very eyes: he seems to lose control of his story as it progresses, turning the climax over to his internal demons for script-doctoring, before reasserting some measure of control of his material in a surreal epilogue.  While worthy of consideration, Antichrist finds itself in the same situation as the Coen brothers A Serious Man; we’re not going to officially certify it for the List until it receives its home video debut and we have a chance to scrutinize it more closely than is possible in a cinema.

COMMENTS: Lars von Trier desreves to be roundly criticized for burdening Antichrist with approximately four transgressive, shocking scenes: not because such sights should never be shown, but because these tasteless displays dominate our experience and force every viewer (and reviewer) to deal with them first and foremost.  Their sole artistic function are to serve as obstacles to appreciating the grim beauty of the remaining film.  Whether their inclusion is a calculated act by a prankster director, or a lapse in judgment resulting from psychological impairment (von Trier claims to have written the script as self-therapy to help him deal with a crippling bout of depression much like the one suffered by Charlotte Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ANTICHRIST (2009)

45. WAKING LIFE (2001)

“Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.”–George Santayana, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion

DIRECTED BY: Richard Linklater

FEATURING: Wiley Wiggins, , Julie Delphy

PLOT:  An unnamed young man appears to be drifting from dream to dream, each animated in a different style. His dreams involve him talking to various college professors who explain their theories on existentialism, artificial intelligence and free will, as well as more typical dreamlike experiences such as floating away and taking a ride in a boat-car. About halfway through the film it slowly dawns on the dreamer that he is dreaming, and he begins to ask the characters he meets for help waking up.

Still from Waking Life (2001)
BACKGROUND:

  • The film was shot on mini-DV video over a period of six weeks. Each frame was then painstakingly hand-drawn by a team of animators using computer software specifically adapted for this film (a 21st century update of the process known as Rotoscoping).
  • Each minute of film took an average of 250 hours to create.
  • Featured actor Wiley Wiggins also worked as one of the animators.
  • The monologues on existentialism and free will were delivered by Robert C. Solomon and David Sosa, respectively, two philosophy professors from the University of Texas.
  • Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy play the same characters in their short scene as they did in Linklater’s earlier film, Before Sunrise.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film where thirty different animators each put their own distinctive stamp on the characters, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if thirty different people came up with thirty different answers to the question, “what was your favorite image in Waking Life?” We’ll suggest that final shot of the dreamer floating into the heavens is the obvious take-home image to bring to mind when you remember the movie, however.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though Waking Life is a string of vignettes of varying levels of oddness, it’s the animation—which shifts from style to style, with the only constant being the fact that the backgrounds continually shift and waver in a state of eternal flux—that keeps it weird. The concept—that the entire film is a dream from which the unnamed protagonist can’t seem to awake—promises an exemplary level of surreality. In fact, many of the segments are, on their face, completely ordinary: cogent explanations of sometimes difficult, sometimes speculative philosophical concepts. The fact that these heady but decidedly rational ideas are explored in the context of the supposedly irrational world of dreams, might, in itself, be considered just a little bit weird.

Original trailer for Waking Life

COMMENTS: There are at least two ways to conclude Waking Life is an unconditional Continue reading 45. WAKING LIFE (2001)

CAPSULE: THE PERFECT SLEEP (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Alter

FEATURING: Anton Pardoe, Roselyn Sanchez, Patrick Bauchau

PLOT: A man returns to dark, nameless city to save the life of “the one who got away,” putting his life at risk and his very soul at hazard while navigating the streets and his own past for clues as to her whereabouts.

Still from The Perfect Sleep (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While the features of a shadowy noir city full of hyper-naturally Hammett-esque characters smack of something rather strange, The Perfect Sleep really isn’t all that odd, nor is it really that good. It’s more of a hyperbolic homage, a sort of tip-of-the-hat to the noir films of the 40s and 50s that’s so hard and abrupt that it tips the person under the hat. There’s tribute, there’s parody, and then there’s The Perfect Sleep, both somewhere in-between as well as something else entirely.

COMMENTS: There’s something to be said for the positively assaulting aesthetics that pervade this film. This town The Perfect Sleep exists in, extreme (and extremely hilarious) anachronisms aside, fully commits to the idea of the dark and atmospheric urban sprawl that populated so many crime dramas after World War II. Every alleyway seems dangerous, and nobody is who you think they are once you pass them in the night that seems to last forever. But once one soaks in the impressive scenery, The Perfect Sleep quickly becomes a bland song-and-dance routine that feels like an amalgam of Last Man Standing, Dark City, and Double Indemnity, aped poorly and without the safety net of an exorbitant budget. I feel, personally, that this movie’s prime directive should have been to let me in on the story at hand, what will be happening soon. Instead, we are allowed to get lost while the hero, Anton Pardoe, reads exposition distantly from a poor script. It’s like the story, and what our nameless hero is doing, is none of our business, and we’re supposed to just continue blithely along, hoping it will all get sorted out in the end.

The Perfect Sleep makes for a very passive movie watching experience that could have taken an example from The Big Sleep, a noir that had a rather weak story but a dynamic style that kept everyone engaged, thus making the mile-long plot holes seem to vanish into thin air. Instead of taking a page from that movie, though, we find ourselves locked into a story that the characters take incredibly seriously, but whose meaning is lost on the audience. As a weird movie, I would not even suggest it for its unusual moments. Some scenes, like when a freaky doctor punctures the lungs of a couple of strangers with a scalpel, work as unorthodox thriller moments or unnerving horror. But these bits are insignificant compared to the massive time spent amidst the clichés of a period crime drama/dark gangster flick. The critics were, for the most part, unanimous about The Perfect Sleep‘s banality, and I’m afraid I have to throw my hat into the ring with them, this time. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing very weird about that.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Unfortunately, Alter’s often inventive work is kneecapped by a deliriously nonsensical script, which misses the mark as both over-the-top parody and straight-faced homage, and could have been intended as either.”-Andrew Barker, Variety

DREYER’S CINEMATIC PASSION (OF JOAN OF ARC)

Every time a prestigious film institute puts together an official, stamped with authority list of “The Greatest Films of All Time” their number one pick is going to be Citizen Kane. No surprises there. Such lists might as well be packaged and sold as a 1.2.3 paint-by-numbers set. Ironically, it was the granddaddy of all film institutes that treated Kane’s creator as a heretic, refused to give him due recognition, banished him to Europe and excommunicated him for life.

Taking absolutely nothing from that film, nor Orson Welles, Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made.  That honor probably goes to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 Passion of Joan of Arc.

Rarely do classic films live up to the hype. Throughout the 1970s numerous books whispered about this lost film. It was very common to read its being compared to a fugue. Several veteran critics lamented its loss, something akin to losing a sacred relic. Only the loss of Von Stroheim’s uncut Greed inspired as much passion.

Then, in the early 1980’s a near mint condition print was found in the closet of an Italian mental institute.  When it was finally made available, many, myself included, bristled with excitement, wondering if this film was everything it was said to be.

Regardless of how much you’ve read about The Passion of Joan of Arc, nothing prepares you for it.  By the time the credits roll, the viewer feels emptied, literally drained. It is that devastating, as an emotional, spiritual, ecstatic, and aesthetic experience.

Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is an essential, time-defying, inimitable cinematic experience of (German) Expressionism and (French) avant-garde.  The producers had wanted something else altogether, but Dreyer’s film was taken directly from Joan’s trial transcripts.  This is not Joan the warrior, but a young, frightened uneducated girl, absorbed in an ecstatic religious experience and a terrifying, inevitable martyrdom.

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)The performance of this Joan of Arc, as portrayed by Maria Falconetti, is the single greatest acting that has ever been imprinted, seared, burned, into celluloid.  But, this could hardly be called acting in any traditional sense.  Rumor has it that, in certain scenes, Dreyer made Falconetti kneel on hot coals to obtain the right expression of suffering, and Falconetti certainly was in abject misery for the hair cutting sequence (Dreyer’s reputation as a tyrannical dictator, ironically a bit like Joan’s judges, was well earned, but he made the Continue reading DREYER’S CINEMATIC PASSION (OF JOAN OF ARC)