346. LIQUID SKY (1982)

” I’ll tell you something, too, that’s starting to annoy me about UFOs: the fact that they cross galaxies or universes to visit us, and always end up in places like … Alabama. Maybe these aren’t super-intelligent beings, you know what I mean? ‘Don’t you wanna go to New York or LA?’ ‘Nah, we just had a long trip, we’re gonna kick back and whittle some.'”–Bill Hicks

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Otto von Wernherr, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Bob Brady

PLOT: A tiny alien flying saucer lands on top of the Empire State Building, directly across from the penthouse where drug-scarfing New Wave fashion model Margaret spends her nights bedding partners of both sexes. A German UFO scientist who has tracked this manifestation takes up residence in an apartment across from Margaret, spying on her through a telescope. Margaret’s sex partners begin to die off as the aliens harvest the endorphins released during their orgasms.

Still from Liquid Sky (1982)

BACKGROUND:

  • Slava Tsukerman was a Russian Jew who trained as an engineer before switching to filmmaking. He made a mostly documentaries in the Soviet Union and Israel before emigrating to the U.S. to make features. He began developing Liquid Sky after funding for a sci-fi film that would have starred and fell through.
  • Co-writer Anne Carlisle, who starts as a fashion model in the film, was a fashion model in real life. Most of the actors were art-scene punks drawn from bohemian casting director Bob Brady’s acting classes, and most played some version of themselves.
  • Many repeat the claim that Liquid Sky was chosen as the title of the film because it was slang for heroin, but according to Tsukerman he encountered the term as a metaphor for euphoria in his research, and junkies only began to refer to the drug as “liquid sky” after the movie became a cult hit.
  • Made with an estimated budget of half a million dollars, Liquid Sky grossed more than $1.7 million in 1983.
  • In a 2014 interview Tsukerman announced his intentions to make Liquid Sky 2, but no news has emerged on that front since.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: New Wave fashion shows? Neon sculptures? Flying saucers hovering in front of the Empire State Building? Margaret’s fluorescent face paint under a blacklight? All excellent choices. But we had to go with alien-eye-vision, rendered through technology that looks like a cross between malfunctioning army ranger night-vision goggles and News at 11’s stormtracker radarscope, but with a Day-Glo color scheme, and often looking like it’s peering through a microscope aimed at a dividing zygote.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: UFO/heroin connection; spontaneous hateful beat eulogy; prayer to the Empire State Building

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Liquid Sky is like an alien’s attempt at making a film set in the No-Wave Greenwich Village art scene in 1982, if their only previous exposure to movies was the works of , , and Rinse Dream. Neon, nasty, and occasionally tedious, but there’s nothing else quite like it.


Original trailer for Liquid Sky

COMMENTS: Liquid Sky is about aliens, and it might as well have Continue reading

LIST CANDIDATE: RONDO (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Drew Barnhardt

FEATURING: Luke Sorge, Brenna Otts, Reggie De Morton,Gena Shaw, Steve Van Beckum

PLOT: Paul has been dishonorably discharged from the military and relies on his sister’s hospitality for a couch to crash on; when she recommends a therapist to help him with PTSD and alcohol addiction, he encounters a sordid world where revenge and unhealthy fantasy experiences can be bought for the right price.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTRondo un-apologetically wrings the viewer through a stylized world of manneristic camera, Edward Hopper-esque lighting, gratuitous violence, and a purposely intrusive soundtrack. It plays like a bare bones revenge murder fest spiked with dubstep Greenaway.

COMMENTS: Even before its international premiere, Rondo was creating mumblings among reviewers who had seen it in the screening room. At the debut, the normally raucous Friday night crowd was uncharacteristically quiet in the theater. Then Rondo unleashed its singular form of magic. Having decided on a whim to catch this, I was very impressed at not only its vitality, violence, and humor, but also its incredible audacity. The director, Drew Barnhardt, started this project with the intention of making, without compromise, the movie he wanted to make. He succeeded spectacularly.

Rondo begins as the story of Paul (Luke Sorge), a young man dishonorably discharged from the army and shattered by PTSD. His daily life consists of drinking whiskey and lying on his sister’s couch. Troubled by her brother’s depression, his sister Jill (Brenna Otts) recommends a therapist who herself recommends that Paul should explore Denver’s fetish scene. Provided with an address and a password, Paul visits an opulent apartment building in which he encounters two others who have been solicited for having intercourse with a doped-up businessman’s wife . But don’t worry, the role-playing and strange demands are all “part of the fun”, insists Lurdell (Reggie De Morton), in a speech teaming with ominous guide-lines (“keep it on the plastic.”) Paul has a cigarette out on the balcony while waiting his turn, looking inside at where the action is taking place. His bad habit ends up saving his life.

Rondo relies heavily on two nondiegetic sound techniques to keep the viewer detached from the goings-on. The first is an advertently intrusive hardcore electro-trance soundtrack that acts as a dissonant counterpoint to much of the on-screen action. Brooding scenes are imbued with a strange, unsettling energy with each musical cue; I could easily imagine Rondo slipping into melodrama otherwise. Narration also spikes the proceedings. With an officiousness of tone to compete with Colin Cantlie in The Falls, Steve Van Beckum simultaneously clarifies and undercuts the narrative flow, adding another barrier between the audience and the action. Whenever his radio-style voice courses from the speakers, it purposely reminds us that Rondo is a movie, while at the same time anchoring us to the movie’s world.

And that’s just the sound. Stylistically, much of Rondo works like Peter Greenaway at his most ZOO-ily formalistic. Scenes are designed more like paintings than real life. That’s not to say that the action is missing, but more that Barnhardt knows what he wants us to look at, and goes to great lengths to make us do so. I mentioned Hopper earlier, and the candy-noir of his paintings springs up again and again. Then there’s the story itself. Narrative twists are a convention for many of the movies we review; Rondo‘s take is more of a narrative convulsion. Ultimately, the finale is the one that we necessarily had to reach, but the path there is like having our arm twisted behind our back (but, paradoxically, pleasantly so). In Rondo, baroque verbiage and baroque violence come together in a celebration of blood-sodden deadpan.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“How much can one ninety-minute film reasonably do within its timeframe? Can a film successfully go from awkward laughs to gore, from femmes fatales to OTT-ultraviolence, and from slacker humour to shock? Rondo (2018) believes it’s not only possible, it’s all part and parcel of its overall appeal.”–Keri O’Shea, Warped-Perspective.com

LIST CANDIDATE: RELAXER (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , David Dastmalchian, Andre Hyland, Arin Bechdel,

PLOT: Abbie is a perennial failure at life, but he makes one final attempt to turn things around by accepting his brother’s challenge to beat the unbeatable Pac-Man score, all while never moving from his seat on the couch.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Starting with a “gallon challenge” and ending not-quite-apocalyptically, the ordeals of a seated young man unspool without him ever leaving the couch, nor us ever leaving the room. All the thirst, sweat, and odors pile on as our entrapment goes on. And on. And on. Until something cosmically mystical occurs.

COMMENTS: It seems almost a rule that the most mild-mannered directors are the ones that come up with the most eccentric movies. has his very British affability; has been a Midwestern swell-guy since childhood; and now there’s rising star Joel Potrykus with his laid-back hipster self, who is somehow responsible for the giddily grinding post-slacker comedy, Relaxer. “Gross-out comedy,” now that’s a genre I’m familiar with. But a “charming gross-out transcendental comedy”? I can only presume that Relaxer is the first of that ground-breaking genre.

Oh my dear Abbie (Joshua Burge). We only ever see him covered with sweat (and more) cowering on a couch. From the start, he’s enduring a sickening challenge, one of many put to him by his brother, that soon becomes literally sickening. The boy fails to keep the gallon of milk he’s consumed inside after a… well, best not say what he added to the mix in a bit of bathroom desperation. His brother Cam (a wonderfully nasty David Dastmalchian) leaves in disgust, but not before giving Abbie one last ultimate challenge: the Pac-Man thing. The impossible Pac-Man thing. Abbie cannot—and does not—leave his greasy spot on the leather couch during a six month ordeal in which things grow as strange as they grow unhygienic.

Among the venerable sources Potrykus hijacks ideas from are Buñuel, Kubrick, and, I swear, even the New Testament. The first is obvious, and the director even admitted to ripping off a lot of The Exterminating Angel in his remarks to the audience after the screening. Unlike our heroes therein, however, Abbie makes the wrong choice of what pipe to burst open for water—wonderfully fusing gross-out with the surrealism. 2001: A Space Odyssey necessarily comes to mind toward the end, as Abbie breaks the sequence and rises to a higher plane as the masses outside seemingly cheer him on. As for the third reference, I’m possibly stretching things, but over his ordeal Abbie grows to look like a shaggy Jesus, and Simon of Cyrene makes a cameo in the form of Arin (Adina Howard), a friend who helps Abbie on his path toward the divine. What locked it for me was the final scene when Abbie-Jesus seemingly rises from the dead to be greeted by his long-sought Father.

Potrykus stated without shame that he made Relaxer for himself, but its elements suggest that this bizarre slice of late ’90s throw-back might reach more than expected. There’s comedy, there’s cinematic dexterity (the camera stretches to most every available piece of the room without looking like it’s trying too hard), and even an epic feel to Abbie’s journey from Novice couch potato to Master couch potato. Skipping surreptitiously from Clerks-style comedy to an outer-zone of awareness, Relaxer reaches for the impossible—typically with the aid of a grabber-arm.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film takes on an element of magical realism as the days and months pass, framing Abbie as a martyr with superhuman endurance … That Relaxer is structured as a countdown to Y2K suggests that Potrykus is offering a period-specific diagnosis of technologically dependent delusion, of the hallucinations of omnipotence that spring in the minds of marathon gamers. Fuzzy as this hodgepodge of signifiers may seem, there’s a pronounced critique at the heart of Relaxer clearly aimed at young people who are perilously glued to their screens, though it’s one that feels somewhat passé alongside the meaty class commentary of Buzzard.–Carson Lund, Slant Magazine (festival screening)

CAPSULE: INHERITANCE (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Tyler Savage

FEATURING: Chase Joliet, Sara Montez

PLOT: A carpenter inherits a northern California villa from the biological father he never knew; the place is haunted by family secrets.

Still from Inheritance (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This indie psychological horror has only a few bare scraps of weirdness scattered throughout infrequent dream sequences.

COMMENTS: When carpenter Ryan is told his biological father has died, his expression is detached and brooding. It won’t change much throughout the rest of the movie. That’s not to say Chase Joliet’s performance is bad; it’s just one-note, by design. Inheritance starts in a  solemn mood and keeps it consistently gloomy from beginning to end. The movie barely cracks a smile, and never tells a joke. The emotions simmer, never quite boiling over into catharsis. Even the sex is serious. The tone is meant to convey a mix of subtle melancholy and lurking menace, but it often skirts too close to the borders of ennui.

The titular inheritance is a 2.5 million dollar villa on the northern California coast. The property is a windfall whose sale would supply a great nest egg for him and his fiancée Isi (Sara Montez) to start their life together; but the husband-to-be feels the need to linger in the home while silently working out his feelings about his biological heritage through a series of obliquely symbolic dreams of about his ill-fated parents and other ancestors. Ryan’s psychology revolves around fear that he will turn out like his biological father—although we get few meaningful hints what dad was like—but he also his has issues with jealousy, and hints of ambivalence about fatherhood. He struggles as much with accepting his upcoming responsibilities as a family man as he obsesses over his biological heritage; Isi suspects the latter is distraction from the former. With our main character so closed off, it falls on Montez to provide some the movie with some life. This she does, literally and figuratively. Hers is the more appealing, and stronger, character.

The cinematography, courtesy of Drew Daniels (It Comes at Night), is the film’s best asset, alternating bright beach scenes with well-lit nighttime dreamscapes. (In contrast to Ryan’s clouded psyche, his home is about the sunniest haunted house you’ll ever see.) Isolated shots are poetic; whiskey cascades over ice in slow motion, scored to the sound of ocean surf. Inheritance is well-crafted, but it’s too slow and monotone for most audiences, with too little dramatic payoff. About one hour into the movie, when a ghostly figure tells Ryan “I trust you know what to do now,” I caught dim echoes of The Shining. Then, I realized that by this point in ‘s ghost story, we’d already seen the blood in the elevator, the spooky twins, a foreboding Room 237, and starting to lose both his temper and his mind. Inheritance had yet to really get into gear, and although it tries to cram a lot of action into an effective final fifteen minutes, it isn’t quite worth the leisurely trip it takes to get there. The movie has a sophisticated psychology and there’s a lot of talent involved on both sides of the camera, but it doesn’t quite achieve its ambitions.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the movie’s last 20 minutes are a deftly woven, completely beguiling amalgamation of surrealist nightmare and pure state-of-nature human dread.”–Shawn Macomber, Rue Morgue (festival screening)

CAPSULE: I AM HERE…. NOW (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Neil Breen

FEATURING: Neil Breen, Joy Senn, Elizabeth Sekora

PLOT: Jesus visits Earth to fix our energy dilemmas while performing random miracles along the way. It’s that simple, we’re done.

Still from I Am Here.... Now (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Did this movie actually get recommended for the whole seven plastic doll heads out on the ground in the desert? Or, wait, was it for the knife soaked in strawberry jam to represent street violence? The Halloween mask that flickers into view a few times? The only way anyone could claim this movie is the weirdest thing they’d seen is if they were literally a fetus watching it from inside a womb somehow.

COMMENTS: Holy ! This movie was not only written, directed, and produced by Neil Breen, but he plays the lead role in it too, which is apparently his usual mode. And Jesus Christ! No really, Jesus Christ is in this movie, played by Neil. Who is here. Now. So this is a whole vanity project where the creator wants to play Jesus—just try to tell me that we’re not in for a grand old time! Jesus has computer parts glued to him, though, and he lands in the Nevada desert from an incoming comet, so he’s Space Jesus. He angrily shakes a skull (there’s always one laying about when he needs one) while demanding of it why humans have failed him. Yorick doesn’t answer. Space Jesus is really bummed about how humans have turned out. Because we humans sit around drinking beer, getting stoned, and shooting guns, even if Space Jesus happens to be standing in the way. But if you try to shoot Space Jesus, he will take your clothes and truck and drive into Las Vegas, so he can find more things to scowl at. Hope you’re stocked up on your Depends, because the pants-pissing hilarity is just beginning.

While Space Jesus approves of our finally getting the hang of solar power, he’s unhappy about our greedy money-grubbing capitalism slowing progress down and vows to make it go away. So we hear speeches about clean energy vs. greedy business, and then we know what message Space Jesus wants to pound into our stubborn, concrete skulls for the remaining hour. As Big Business shuts down Solar Power, a laid-off employee laments the state of affairs while pushing a baby in a stroller; hopefully this long-winded dialog is not taking too much time out of the baby’s schedule. We follow her predicament for awhile, as her twin sister steers her into being a stripper to support her baby. She sinks into a world of urban depravity right away. In fact, “sinks into depravity right away” is pretty much Team Human’s job in the whole film, because only Team Space Jesus can rescue them with the power of his deadpan pout and Photoshoped glowing hand.

As hilariously somber as Space Jesus is when he’s onscreen, it gets even funnier when extras have to memorize and recite his Wikipedia paragraphs of dialog at each other without a whiff of actual acting, because they are just finger puppets to Neil Breen. Finger puppets who are never allowed to wear bras or button their blouses up, and who lash out in violence at the drop of a jump cut. Really, the supporting cast is the biggest puzzle: none of them, not even the ones who are supposed to be thugs, look like they’ve lived through hard enough times to be willing to be in this embarrassing movie for nothing. They must have been paid in grown-up money, yet not a single one of them puts out a spark of effort. They even scream in lower-case: “don’t cut off my hand. aaaaaaaaaaah.” In every shot with Neil and a supporting cast member, watch their faces as they try not to crack up. Out of all the things Breen’s bad at, scriptwriting is his weakest suit.

The cinematography is competent, letting the desert look beautiful, and this movie at least succeeds at clearly and boldly telling the story it wants to tell (yes, Breakfast of Champions scarred me deep). Any idiot could follow this: it is about Space Jesus the entire time, and at that, it’s a more likable Jesus story than could produce. Granted, this movie was produced on an architect’s budget (no really, that’s his day job), and Neil Breen is obviously nuttier than squirrel poop. But at least he has a point, one which resonates with every Millennial who joined #OccupyWallStreet. It’s not even that bad; I Am Here…. Now has a tranquil pace and long, quiet stretches, so at least the movie shuts up and lets you reflect on how thankful you are to have moved the hell out of Las Vegas before he started filming random people on the street. Even the soundtrack is relaxing, and doubtlessly royalty-free (stockmusic.net appears in the credits). In sum, Neil Breen is clearly suffering from nearly the same set of mental symptoms that plagued , just without being an innovative jazz musician. Well excuuuuuse him.

Neil Breen does not allow retailers to sell his films. All DVDs must be bought directly from him at either http://fatefulfindings.biz/ or http://www.pass-thru-film.com/. For older movies like I Am Here…. Now, write a note in the comments box when ordering.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

I Am Here….Now is a messy but absolutely hysterical film.  Breen’s complete inept ability to create a film made me bust out laughing a lot but it also had me saying the phrase “What the f#@k?” at least every two minutes or so.”–Rev, Ron, Rev on Movies

Also see the snarky video review at Cinema Snob.