Reduction is an intriguing, visual theory of what happens when one limits what thoughts they allow to enter their consciousness. The world around them becomes “reduced.”
DIRECTED BY: Michael Lander
PLOT: After a train accident destroys his privacy, a mentally ill bank employee leads
a double life, playing himself and his own wife, as he navigates his relationship with a poor single mother and his own worsening psychological state.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although Peacock‘s gender-bending premise suggests all kinds of weird possibilities, the film’s execution doesn’t capitalize on any of them, and the final product is a muddled, small-town drama with only the occasional hint of slight weirdness.
COMMENTS: Set in the fictional Nebraska town that gives it its name, Peacock begins with an average day in the life of its disturbed protagonist, John Skillpa (Murphy), as he eats the breakfast prepared for him by his wife Emma. The twist, however, is that John is Emma, and that he’s built an illusion of idyllic family life within the house he inherited from his abusive mother. The first few wordless minutes set this up promisingly, as Murphy capably portrays both halves of this quiet household going about their daily business.
Then a train caboose flies off its tracks, knocking Emma unconscious while she’s hanging laundry; instantly, the Skillpas become the talk of the town, and a rallying point for local politicians. This could be the start of a tense psychodrama… but instead, it soon fizzles out and degenerates into half-baked histrionics. Although Murphy is commendable in his dual roles, switching back and forth between the ultra-jittery John and demure Emma with a convincing change of personality, his performance can’t overcome the often shaky writing. This worsens considerably toward the end, as a series of out-of-left-field twists and turns torpedo the film’s already questionable logic.
The other actors also fare poorly. Most unfortunate of all is Ellen Page, brutally miscast as a hash-slinger and sometime prostitute who also happens to be raising John’s child. Although Page has found phenomenal success playing precocious teenagers in movies like Hard Candy and Juno, she sounds hopelessly out of place as the put-upon, provincial Maggie. Susan Sarandon, as the mayor of Peacock’s feminist wife, brings some well-needed warmth and humor to the film, but she too is wasted as the film quickly stops using her interactions with Emma to explore gender roles, and becomes a dour, poorly paced thriller instead—one without any real suspense or fear of discovery.
Outside of Murphy’s oddball, over-the-top performance, Peacock is disappointingly conventional and just as mixed-up as its protagonist. Sometimes it acts like a satire of wholesome small-town values, as its supporting cast members all speak in the same exaggeratedly folksy dialect and share the same dull conversation topics. But by the end, it’s clear that Peacock is just an anemic rehash of Psycho‘s less plausible parts, with plot holes deep enough to bury a body. First-time director Lander, who also co-wrote, drops every potentially interesting angle by the wayside, and in so doing squanders a plum cast. If you want to see Cillian Murphy in drag, you should probably just watch Neil Jordan‘s Breakfast on Pluto instead.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Lander’s thriller wannabe is a confusing jumble of badly developed ideas which happen to be acted out by a talented group of actors who are squandered away in a film that is so concerned with creating a mystery that it overlooks the fact that it also needs to be a good movie. A sad waste of a great cast.”–Marina Antunes, Quiet Earth
DIRECTED BY: George Hickenlooper
FEATURING: Billy Bob Thornton, J.T. Walsh, Molly Ringwald, Jefferson Mays, Suzanne Cryer
PLOT: A peek inside an asylum for the criminally insane as a mentally retarded double
murderer chats with a diabolical fellow inmate before being interviewed by a newspaper reporter on the day of his release.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade is a short film with unusual subject matter. The viewer is treated to a vignette portrait of a murderer in an insane asylum. There is a glimpse of his twisted companion, and a look at the sorts of confused, eccentric bureaucrats who run the place. All of this is presented against the backdrop of the controversy of social attitudes about the patients. The piece is strangely cemented together with the premise of a newspaper reporter trying to get an interview with the murderer on the day his sentence expires. Odd as the setting and premise are, Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade is really just a demo-clip. The idea was to get the concept of Billy Bob Thornton’s ability to portray Karl Childers out into the greater film community in order to locate backers and pitch a full-length movie. It worked, and the mainstream picture Sling Blade was the result. Most of Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade is filler, the premise with the reporter being used to make the film longer than a screen test. As such, the film lacks the substance and quality to be a truly weird movie.
COMMENTS: In this short film predecessor to Sling Blade we observe a day in the life of a criminal mental patient who is on the verge of social repatriation. Karl Childers (Thornton) chats with a fellow inmate in an institutional day-room. Meanwhile, reporter Teresa Tatum (Ringwold) is waiting to interview Childers.
Tatum, who is working on a feature exploring the controversies of releasing criminal patients back into society, pontificates frivolously at long length with a companion (Cryer), then spars with a hesitant and quirky chief hospital administrator (Mays). Eventually, we are allowed to see Thornton’s skillful performance as Childers when he explains to the reporter the circumstances of his crime. The interim would be dreadfully uninteresting time filler were it not interspersed with several astounding segments in which J.T. Walsh plays the part of a funny, congenial, but very scary psychotic killer.
The annoying Molly Ringwold, an actress of very modest proportions, puts us to sleep with a Continue reading SHORT: SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE (1994)
DIRECTED BY: Pat Tremblay
FEATURING: Neil Napier, and amateurs who answered a newspaper ad
PLOT: Pharmaceutical molecules visualized as alien beings travel inside the mind of a
man afflicted with dissociative identity disorder and collect various “personalities,” who are examined as they perform monologues in front of surreal computer generated backgrounds.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not released. But even if it were released, it’s too uneven to qualify for a list of the 366 Best Weird Movies, although it would definitely have a shot at a list of the weirdest movies ever made regardless of quality.
COMMENTS: Before beginning the description of Heads of Control, I must explain why it earns a “beware” rating. Normally, I reserve the “beware” badge for movies that are badly done, or even, in some cases, movies that are morally bad. Heads of Control, however, meets neither of those criteria; although it’s cheap and uneven, it is quite competently mounted and the experimental impulse behind it is admirable. Here, the rating is given due to the simple fact that this movie is so far out, so much like a performance art piece, that will only appeal to a very small slice of the most dedicated avant-gardists, or to those looking for the ultimate micro-budget drug trip film. This experiment requires work on the viewers part to watch, and anyone looking for something remotely resembling a normal narrative movie is going to be hugely disappointed.
With that intriguing warning out of the way, just what is Heads of Control? It begins with the protagonist, Max, being attacked by river zombies; it quickly appears that this is a hallucination, as we see Max in a mental institution being shot up with drugs. Soon, we are inside Max’s diseased brain, watching a pair of hooded creatures. The subordinate journeys into the patient’s psychedelically appointed neurons to fetch various two-dimensional rectangles from his tangled neural networks, which the superior creature places into a floating computer monitor. The pair then watch the results, which consist