Tag Archives: Neo Noir

CAPSULE: YESTERDAY WAS A LIE (2008)

DIRECTED BY: James Kerwin

FEATURING: Kipleigh Brown, Chase Masterson, John Newton

PLOT: A female private investigator tracks a physics professor and a sultry torch singer while looking for a notebook with clues as to why she’s trapped in a dreamlike film noir world.

Still from Yesterday Was a Lie (2008)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: “A lot of people think of it like putting puzzle pieces together,” the mystical “Singer” tells our dame Hoyle, “but I’d like to think of it as more like shutting off your left brain… realizing it’s all disconnected, or connected in a different way.” That’s advice for watching this film, and it also expresses our preferred mode of criticism here at 366 Weird Movies. That sense of camaraderie makes it more painful that we can’t recommend Yesterday Was a Lie for the List of the Best Weird Movies of all time. It’s an overambitious film that has a good heart, and mind; but the slight air of amateurism works against its weirdness. (Ironically, in stupider, sloppier movies, more profound amateurism often enhances the weirdness—it’s a fine line indeed).

COMMENTS: Yesterday Was a Lie is full of half-sketched abstract ideas about Jungian psychology, Surrealist aesthetic theory, quotes from T.S. Eliot, and fringe quantum physics, which makes it seem like it was written during a semester where the writer has yet to decide on a major. Unfortunately, he did not pay enough attention to the characterization lecture in his creative writing course. The story slides by on film references and deconstructionism, but doesn’t make us want to invest our time or emotion in the self-reflective investigations of its cipher detective chasing down arbitrary clues. The flurry of character development and plot connections that occurs in the last half hour will arrive too late for most viewers. Also (and beware that I am getting close to spoiler territory here) the final act slings the movie off in a relationship drama direction that, while organic, is nonetheless disappointing, given the cosmic buildup.

The fact that timelines twist and curl back upon each other—Hoyle keeps waking up in the hospital from the same gunshot in the shoulder, and she keeps seeing ‘s “Persistence of Memory” popping up all over—-adds to the confusion, but embarking on this much weirdness is a weighty task if you’re name is not or and you don’t have much money to work with to compose eye-catching set pieces. Conceptually and budgetarily, stretches of Yesterday remind me of a better-scripted and photographed, but worse-acted, version of the notorious PBS sci-fi production Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Kipleigh Brown and Chase Masterson are statuesque blondes who look great in silhouette, but they lack the resources to tackle these difficult roles. Since we’re dealing with iconic film archetypes, it’s a true challenge to simultaneously evoke Bogey and/or Bacall while placing your own stamp on the characters. Switching the gumshoe gender from male to female scores a few novelty points, but Brown, though game, always looks like a cheerleader with a cute fedora and a prop highball glass as accessories. She never generates a sense of danger. By contrast, the lighting and cinematography are excellent (a gritty 1940s film grain is missed, obviously, but better to go with a crystal clear digital presentation than add an obviously fake effect). A few nicely-lit shots do not a movie make, unfortunately, and I’d be lying if I said Yesterday earned more than a “nice try” rating.

Writer/director Kerwin released an informal “web series” revolving around a minor character on the Internet; it deals with the same subject matter, though not in the same noirish style as the movie. The seven mini-episodes are now available on the production company’s website.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

a clunky David Lynchian cosmic mystery… James Kerwin’s conceptually ambitious low-budget debut offers stunning black-and-white HD cinematography, a sultry jazz score and a refreshingly high-minded script, but feels hopelessly amateurish in the acting department.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “BogartsHat,” who said it was “[n]ot only weird, but also a very good movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

206. INHERENT VICE (2014)

Recommended

“Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength.”–attributed to Thomas Pynchon in Jules Siegel’s Mar. 1977 Playboy profile

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Joanna Newsom, , Katherine Waterston, , Martin Short

PLOT: It’s 1970, and P.I. “Doc” Sportello has his evening interrupted by his ex-girlfriend, concerned about a plot on the part of her new lover’s wife (and the wife’s lover) to institutionalize him. Doc’s investigation has barely begun before he stumbles across, and is stumbled upon, by a coterie of oddballs, all with their own problems. Skinhead bikers, the LAPD, a dentist tax-avoidance syndicate, and an ominous smuggling ring known as the Golden Fang all get linked together as Doc hazily maneuvers through some very far-out pathways indeed.

Still from Inherent Vice (2014)
BACKGROUND:

  • The notoriously reclusive author Thomas Pynchon published “Inherent Vice,” his seventh novel, in 2009. Although they sell well and have cult followings, no Pynchon novel had previously been adapted for the screen, mainly because the author’s plots are too complex and confusing to fit the film format. Anderson had considered adapting “V” or “Mason & Dixon,” but found both impossible to translate into a coherent screenplay.
  • According to Josh Brolin, Pynchon appeared somewhere in the film in a cameo, although this is difficult to confirm as the last known photograph of the author was clandestinely snapped in the early 1990s.
  • Though filled with A-list actors and nominated for two Academy Awards, Inherent Vice only recouped $11 million worldwide of its $20 million budget.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: While being given a ride from LAPD headquarters, Doc Sportello notices the… mmm, thoroughness with which Lt. Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen attends to his frozen banana. The scene goes on for a while — and is odd in and of itself — but also gives a suggestion of the peculiar psychological relationship between the two.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Telephone paranoia; playboy dentist; moto panikako!

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Its overexposed colors and garish hippie costumes immediately summon the film’s era, creating an image somehow both sharp and blurred. Similarly, the movie travels along a bumpy, diversion-filled path toward an unexpectedly tidy conclusion. The combination of comedy and paranoia works well — this movie will leave you chuckling and, afterwards, slightly worried the next time your phone rings.


Official trailer for Inherent Vice

COMMENTS: Confusion descends upon the viewer early on in Continue reading 206. INHERENT VICE (2014)

LIST CANDIDATE: INHERENT VICE (2014)

Inherent Vice has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Read the Certified Weird entry here.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Joanna Newsom, , Katherine Waterston, , Martin Short

PLOT: In 1970 Los Angeles, private investigator and marijuana enthusiast “Doc” Sportello investigates several converging cases while dodging a hippie-hating police detective out to get him.

Still from Inherent Vice (2014)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Paul Thomas Anderson’s work has flitted around the edges of the bizarre, beginning with the baffling ending to Magnolia, through the reader-recommended oddity Punch-Drunk Love and the existential meanderings of The Master. With this stoned adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s studiously esoteric novel, Anderson may finally have passed over to the weird side for good.

COMMENTS: I don’t think it’s a mistake that’s it’s easy to misread the title Inherent Vice as Incoherent Voice. This smoky noir in which everything connects, but nothing does, is like a comic version of William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” (the novel, not the movie); but instead of an expatriate junkie’s 1950s nightmare, it’s an American pothead’s 1960s reality of a world of alarming signifiers (Vietnam, the Manson family, Nixon rallies) that float past, occasionally colliding and combining like the hot wax spheres in a lava lamp. The plot is doled out in fits and starts, as if Doc is suffering from blackouts. He probably as; at one point he writes “not hallucinating” in his detective’s notebook as an act of self-reassurance. Characters like Reese Witherspoon’s hot-to-trot assistant D.A. or ‘s maritime lawyer plop in to drop bits of exposition without much explanation of who they are, where they came from or why they care. Like a slightly more coherent Branded to Kill, deconstructing  American detectives instead of Japanese yakuza, Inherent Vice assembles its pseudo-story out of warped genre tropes: hard-bitten detectives who inhale bong hits instead of slamming shots of bourbon; femme fatales who manipulate saps into giving them a good spanking.

Better to think of Inherent Vice not as a plotted movie, but as a movie composed of free-associated plot elements. There’s a decadent real-estate magnate with a private sex cult, Aryan biker gangs, hippie-hating flattoped cops, a disappearing surf-sax player, an insane asylum that doubles as a private prison, and a vertically integrated Taiwanese heroin consortium. For added oddness, there’s conspicuous product placement for nonexistent brands, ridiculous fang-shaped skyscrapers that pop up in formerly empty lots, and a manic Martin Short as a drug-snorting, cradle-robbing dentist. There is even resolution, of a sort: Doc discovers all of the missing persons before the end credits roll. But you may be mystified as to how he did it.

Inherent Vice is the new masterpiece of hippie noir. It rides that fine line between rationality and irrationality, heading towards a hazy neverland where universal paranoia holds sway. Not only does it ride that line, it eventually snorts it up.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an aggressively weird movie, which you should take not as a warning but as a compliment and an invitation to see it, to let its stoner vibes wash all over you.”–Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: DARK CITY (1998)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alex Proyas

FEATURING: Rufus Sewell, , , , Ian Richardson, , Bruce Spence

PLOT: J. Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in a dingy hotel bathroom. In the adjoining bedroom lies a dead prostitute, and Murdoch is soon suspected of murdering five women, although he has no memory of these events. Inspector Frank Bumstead (Hurt) interrogates Murdoch’s wife, Emma (Connelly), who hasn’t seen her husband in days.

Still from Dark City (1998)

WHY IT SHOULDN’T MAKE THE LIST: What seems like a typically Hitchcockian “wrong man” scenario gradually turns into something far more complicated and weirder… but not weird enough (in my mind) to be considered one of the 366 weirdest films of all time. I suspect Dark City seems “weird” mainly to people who consider all science fiction weird (and revealing that the film is science fiction may already be giving too much away). Still, it is a truly fascinating and visually stunning production that continually asks the question, “what is reality?,” and does so in a far more sophisticated manner than the similar and much more popular The Matrix.

COMMENTS: At first Dark City seems to be film noir, and the look of the movie is vaguely 1940’s, with almost every scene taking place at night; all of this is somewhat similar to director Alex Proyas’ previous The Crow. The film’s highly impressive art direction (by Battlefield Earth’s Patrick Tatapolous) is reminiscent of Metropolis, Blade Runner and Brazil, although on his director’s commentary, Proyas denies any such influence. Kiefer Sutherland plays creepy Dr. Schreber, Murdoch’s therapist, in a manner that subtly recalls 1940’s character actor Peter Lorre. But the 1990’s-style special effects, produced some 15 years ago, are still flawless. The sight of skyscrapers sprouting out of the ground predates Inception by more than a decade. And the musical score by Trevor Jones (The Dark Crystal), part of which was used to advertise the first X-Men film, is electrifying. Dark City is a true gem, and, unlike The Matrix and its sequels, it raises the questioning of reality, and then actually grapples with the idea, instead of forgetting all about it and simply indulging in showy displays of special effects. Dark City presents plenty of visual spectacle, but that spectacle is actually germane to the storyline. It’s well worth seeing.

This Director’s Cut DVD is about 11 minutes longer than the theatrical version. The changes seem relatively minor, although Sutherland’s opening narration, which gave away too much of the plot, has been removed for this new cut. Also, Connelly plays a nightclub singer, but her singing isn’t very good in this extended version; in the theatrical cut, a woman with a better voice dubbed her. Somehow, the fact that her singing is now rather flat and… sleepy… only adds to the film’s dreamlike, creepy atmosphere. The DVD extras are quite extensive. There are three audio commentaries, one from Proyas, a rather dull one from screenwriters Lem Dobbs and David (The Dark Knight) Goyer, and another from Roger Ebert, who admires this film a great deal. He has only done two other audio commentaries: for Citizen Kane and Casablanca! There is also an on-screen introduction from Proyas, who explains why he assembled this new cut in the first place, the theatrical trailer, a couple of “Making Of” documentaries, and a Production Gallery of photographs taken by Sewell, who was apparently a real shutterbug on the set.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…relentlessly trippy in a fun-house sort of way… Proyas… is a walking encyclopedia of weird science-fiction and horror imagery.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TRANCE (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Danny Boyle

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: After torture fails, gangsters hire a hypnotherapist to help their amnesiac comrade remember where he hid a stolen painting, but can they trust her not to play with the subject’s mind?

Still from Trance (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s watchable and a little weird (once the hallucinations finally start), but not as entrancing as it would need to be to make the List.

COMMENTS: Trance features a lot of twists and turns as it explores the corridors of memory, but ultimately this trippy guided imagery only leads to off-topic revelations, an action movie finale that could have fit in a Vin Diesel vehicle, and a smugly ambiguous postscript. If you’re highly suggestible, though, you may be able to relax and enjoy the trip through Simon’s tortured mind as he struggles to recall where he hid the stolen painting before petty gangster Franck loses patience and lets his thugs take a turn at more than his fingernails. The rough patches Trance encounters come solely from the script, not from the game cast, who do their best to sell the peculiar material. As another of Danny Boyle’s beleaguered, boyish (Boyle-ish?), in-over-his-head heroes, James McAvoy serves as an effective anchor. (Fifteen years ago this role would have gone to fellow baby-faced Scot ). Vincent Cassel, as always, embodies suave Continental decadence. But it’s Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth Lamb, the bored but sexy hypnotherapist, who steals the show, gradually overshadowing Simon to emerge as the movie’s central character. Brought in by Franck in a desperate attempt to recover Simon’s strangely repressed memory, she quickly, if subtly, asserts psychological control over the criminals. Tired of dealing with over-eaters and premature ejaculators, the doctor relishes her dangerous new assignment, and it’s not quite clear whether she’s in it more for the money or the thrills. Seizing control of the mission, she leads Simon (and occasionally the others) on a series of increasingly complicated guided hypnotherapy sessions; her subject always balks just before remembering the fatal hiding place, subconsciously terrified that if he gives up the information, he’ll be killed. As he is led deeper and deeper into the labyrinths of his mind, it becomes unclear where his trance state ends and reality resumes. Are sparks really flying between him and Dr. Lamb, or is it just transference? If he appears to get the upper hand on his captors, is it just a mental trick to get him to reveal the location? It’s a good, if somewhat hard to swallow, start for a psychothriller, and the film does keep you guessing through the early reels. But the plot ultimately doesn’t make much sense; it’s too contrived, and not just in the obvious sense that hypnotherapy has nowhere near this kind of mystical power. The story is also too concerned with misdirection, forgetting to find an emotional center; we have no real rooting interest among the characters. The trance sequences, which are for the most part meant to be indistinguishable from real life, seldom deliver the surreal payoffs that weirdophiles crave (although there is one excellent, startling image involving Vincent Cassel’s head that I unfortunately can’t describe it without ruining the surprise). Once the missing painting is finally found, there’s an empty feeling. Emerging from Trance, you feel like you’ve been to see a middle-of-the-road Vegas magician; you were entertained while the show was on, sure, but you’re already forgetting the tricks on the ride home.

If anything about the movie is hypnotic, it’s Dawson’s full-lipped sexuality. Fans of the actress’ vulva will definitely want to check Trance out; her pubic hair is a minor plot point.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Anything goes, which may make all this great fun for the hallucinogenically inclined, but since nothing in these sequences has any lasting consequences, suspense is difficult to amplify… the film is under the mistaken impression that its unmoored trance sequences are compelling enough to justify their implausibility.”–Zachary Wigon, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

Recommended

“In my mind, it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious — something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoonfed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema, and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working.”–David Lynch

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Robert Loggia

PLOT: Fred is a free jazz saxophonist who finds that mysterious videotapes are being dropped off on his doorstep. After an encounter with a mysterious pale man at a party, he blacks out finds himself accused of the murder of his wife. In prison Fred begins having headaches, and then one day he disappears and a completely different man—a young mechanic—is discovered in his death row cell.

Still from Lost Highway (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • The screenplay to Lost Highway was co-written by Barry Gifford, who also wrote the novel “Wild at Heart” that Lynch adapted into a film in 1990.
  • Lost Highway received two “thumbs down” ratings from Siskel & Ebert’s “At the Movies” syndicated movie review program. Lynch insisted the movie poster be rewritten to highlight the critics’ dual pans, describing the bad ratings as “two good reasons to go and see Lost Highway.”
  • The film cost about 15 million dollars to make but grossed less than 4 million at the U.S. box office.
  • Lost Highway boasts a number of cameo roles, including rockers Henry Rollins as a guard and Marilyn Manson as a porn actor,  mainstay  in a voiceover, and Richard Prior as one of Pete’s co-workers.
  • This film marks the last onscreen appearance of , who appeared in all of Lynch’s films until his death in 1996.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Robert Blake’s “Mystery Man,” an eyebrow-free, perpetually grinning pasty-faced ghoul who likes to crash L.A. cocktail parties and whose idea of small talk is to call himself on his cell phone to deliver obscure metaphysical portents of doom.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine you’re on a desert highway. It’s long past midnight and you can ‘t see anything but the onrushing yellow traffic lines a few feet in front of the car’s headlights.  is crooning “funny how secrets travel” from the stereo. David Lynch is at the wheel, he’s jittery from drinking too much coffee, and neither you nor he has no idea where you’re going. Strap yourself in. It’s going to be a wild ride.


Original trailer for Lost Highway

COMMENTS: Made five years after the divisive mixed blessing that was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway marks the beginning of the Continue reading 133. LOST HIGHWAY (1997)

97. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

“Do not demystify.  When you know too much, you can never see the film the same way again. It’s ruined for you for good. All the magic leaks out, and it’s putrefied.”–David Lynch, explaining to Terrence Rafferty why he will not record director’s commentaries

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Lynch

FEATURING: , Laura Harring,

PLOT: A woman (Harring) is involved in a nighttime accident on Mulholland Drive and flees into the city of Los Angeles with amnesia; she sneaks into an apartment soon to be occupied by naive young Betty (Watts), who has come to Hollywood hoping to find stardom.  Meanwhile, a film director (Theroux) finds himself pressured by mysterious mobsters to cast an unknown actress in his upcoming project.  Betty helps the amnesiac woman try to recover her identity, but the clues only lead to a strange avant-garde nightclub, a key, a box, and a sudden reality shift that throws everything that came before into confusion.

Still from Mulholland Drive (2001)


BACKGROUND:

  • Lynch originally intended Mulholland Drive as a TV series in the mold of “Twin Peaks.”  When the networks passed on the pilot, the French producer Studio Canal stepped in with additional financing to turn the pilot into a feature film.  In between ABC’s proactive cancellation of the series and the creation of the film version, all of the sets and props were dismantled, forcing Lynch to come up with a different way to complete the story.
  • Monty Montgomery, whose appearance as “The Cowboy” is an uncanny show-stopper, is a Hollywood movie producer (who produced Wild at Heart for Lynch).  Mulholland Drive is his only acting credit (he’s listed as “Lafayette Montgomery” in the credits).
  • Lynch insisted no chapter stops be included on the DVD.
  • The original DVD release included an insert from Lynch containing “10 Keys to Unlocking This Thriller.”
  • Mulholland Drive received significant critical acclaim, nabbing Lynch a Best Director award at Cannes (shared with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn’t There) and a Best Director Oscar nomination.  It was voted best picture of the Year by the Boston Film Critics Society, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the new York Film Critics Circle, and the Online Film Critics Society (where it tied with Memento in the voting).  It was also voted best foreign picture by the Academy Award equivalents of Brazil, France, Spain, and Australia.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Silencio nightclub, decorated in Lynch’s trademark red velvet drapes and staffed by his trademark subconscious monsters.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If the massive reality shifts and actresses unexpectedly playing


Original trailer for Mulholland Drive

multiple roles is not enough for you, then the monster behind the Winkie’s, a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” delivered by a woman who collapses onstage, and a mafia-style media syndicate run by a deformed dwarf who uses an eyebrowless cowboy as his right-hand man will convince you that we are deep in that subconscious pit of eroticism, kitsch and weirdness that can only go by the name Lynchland.

COMMENTS:  Oddly enough, what may be the most important scene in Mulholland Drive Continue reading 97. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

CAPSULE: THE BIG BANG (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Sienna Guillory, Sam Elliot, Robert Maillet, Autumn Reeser, William Fichtner, Jimmi Simpson, Snoop Dogg

PLOT: An L.A. private eye goes looking for a missing stripper and uncovers a twisted plot

Still from The Big Bang (2011)

involving the Russian mob, stolen diamonds, and the search for the God particle.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  The fact that it’s only a bit offbeat means that we won’t have to dig too deeply into its filmic deficiencies; basically, it’s not weird enough.

COMMENTS: Most critics consider The Big Bang a cosmic failure, but, although the movie’s a mess, there may be just enough quirky particles floating around it to keep fans of the offbeat engaged.  Any movie that includes an invulnerable seven-foot Russian boxer, three different hair colors on Sam Elliot’s head, a horny waitress with quantum physics tattoos, a search for the origins of the universe, and a Snoop Dogg cameo is, in my book, worth at least a look.  The film also features entertaining (if often superfluous) visuals: crazy color schemes (you’ve never seen so much lavender outside of an aromatherapist’s waiting room), a dreamy overnight cruise in a convertible through a surreal CG desert, and some arresting tricks with spotlights whose beams stop short or bend around characters caught in its glare.  For the most part, the missing girl/stolen diamonds plot hangs together both as a mystery and a noir tribute, drawing you through to the end (even though that end doesn’t make a lot of sense).  The movie’s stylistically scattershot, with every color in the spectrum taking a turn dominating the palette (and the aforementioned lavender taking more than its fair share of turns) and magical realist digressions (like the catapulted flaming dwarf) popping up at unexpected times.  The eclecticism keeps it from being boring, but also prevents it from attaining the consistency it needs to be really effective.  The direction often seems improvised; the script, too, is a mixed bag.  The storyline is satisfactory, but the updated faux-Raymond Chandler patter lacks panache (“we’ve all got kinks… contrary to what science tells us, all DNA does not twist the same.”)  Despite an attempted application of quirkiness, the characterizations end up familiar and shallow: hard-boiled P.I., brutish boxer, stripper with a heart of gold, and so forth.  Elliot (as a hippie industrialist who builds supercolliding superconductors as a hobby), Reeser (as a quirky and perky waitress) and Simpson (as a synesthesiac scientist) add nuance to their portrayals, but the rest of the cast play their archetypes broadly.  Particularly disappointing is Banderas, who, squint and growl as he might, doesn’t bring anything new to the hard-bitten private dick role except his accent.  Maybe it’s not his fault, as the script doesn’t seem written with Antonio in mind: he’s given a Hispanic name (Cruz), but other than that there’s no acknowledgment of his foreign origin—which might have been the one thing the script could seize on to distinguish him from Phillip Marlow, Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, and their numerous clones.  The story stresses the detective’s philosophical acumen—his search for the missing girl becomes a metaphor for man’s search for meaning—but existentialism has always been the subtext of film noir, and The Big Bang just makes over-obvious what was implicit in the 40s.  The movie also wants to make sure you catch its many, many nods to subatomic physics, so it writes its references in letters three feet high (a warehouse named after Schrödinger, a cafe named after Planck).  Maybe The Big Bang‘s biggest problem is that it’s overanxious to impress us with its cleverness and style; it comes across like a desperate first date.  But that desperation also makes the movie crazy, and if you catch it with the right expectations you just may enjoy it.  It’s a movie that seems made to play on late night pay cable: if you caught it by accident at 2 AM on a sleepless night, you’d be incredulous, and wonder if you were actually dreaming.

Director has been a very successful producer, guiding several critically acclaimed TV shows (including cult favorites “Sports Night” and “24”).  He was also on the production team for David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive.  He knows how to put together a professional-looking movie, but his directorial efforts (which also include the mildly surreal horror Sublime), though filled with interesting bits and pieces, have never really come together.   He’s got obvious visual talents and the right (i.e. weird) sensibilities, though, so he’s still someone to keep an eye on.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the film’s bleary, neon glamour and penchant for the bizarre suggests an attempted—and wayward—homage to David Lynch.”–Michelle Orange, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis

FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Michele Valley, Panos Thanassoulis

PLOT: An alcoholic detective searches for a lost love, presumably dead, and ends up a

Still from Singapore Sling (1990)

captive of two psychotic women. The women (a mother and daughter) ceaselessly torture the helpless and incapacitated victim. He remains mute as they participate in bizarre sexual practices and flaunt their derangement, sometimes literally in his face.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Singapore Sling is one of the rare films where practically every frame is teeming with weirdness.  The imagery, behavior, and even the strange nuances in the women’s dialogue are often over-the-top and perverse, yet even while the viewer is made to feel uncomfortable, there is an overwhelming desire to see what comes next.   Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any weirder it somehow manages to top itself.

COMMENTSSingapore Sling is one messed up film.  It is a twisted take on the film noirs that filled cinemas in the early part of the 20th century.  Specifically, it pays homage to Otto Preminger’s stylish classic Laura (1944).  I use the word homage very loosely here, however.  The original film’s music theme is used sporadically throughout, the detective’s lost lover is named Laura, and the nutcase daughter has a painted portrait of herself like Gene Tierney’s Laura character.  The similarities pretty much end there.  Deviance always played a central part in noirs, but not anywhere close to the degree that is on display here.  I have to smile thinking about a dolled up 1940’s socialite having a night out at the theater, dressed to the nines in her pearl necklace and pillbox hat, witnessing this vulgarity.  “What is she going to do with that kiwi fruit”?  Gasp!

Film noir translates to “black film” and Singapore Sling is the purest black possible.  Actually, the black and white cinematography is surprisingly lush and almost seems too perfect for a film with this subject matter.  The beautiful crispness works to its advantage and the film would not have the same impact if shot in color.  The contrast of the blacks and whites are stark and sets the mood perfectly.  If I have any quarrel with the movie it is with the decision to Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

CAPSULE: TERRIBLY HAPPY [FRYGTELIG LYKKELIG] (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Henrik Rubin Genz

FEATURING: Jakob Cedergren, Kim Bodnia, Lene Maria Christiansen

PLOT: After a mysterious nervous breakdown, city cop Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) is

Still from Terribly Happy (2009)

re-assigned to a claustrophobically small, rural town as its only marshal. He quickly discovers the town’s frightful dynamic: its inhabitants all aware of resident bully Jørgen’s (Kim Bodnia) adulterous and abusive antics, but no one takes a stand against him.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though riddled with strange characters and unexpected darkness, for the most part Terribly Happy is played as a straight thriller with Coen brothers-style humor.  There are a few weird and creepy moments to create tension, but nothing truly unreal.

COMMENTS: Poor Robert.  As played in an understated performance by Jakob Cedergren, he’s a stand-up guy whose darker side is persistently tested as he meets with more and more obstacles.  The more he pushes for change, the more the town’s internal politics and penchant for keeping secrets rise up against him.  The old marshal spent most of his time drinking and allowed a lot of “accidents” and petty crimes to go by undocumented.  After Jørgen’s desperate wife Ingerlise (Lene Maria Christiansen) comes to Robert with evidence of her husband’s physical abuse, he is determined to convict him, but is frequently hindered by both the town’s strict social structure and his own conflicting passions.

This movie feels as if it’s made by someone whose biggest cinematic influences are Blood Simple and Fargo, and that isn’t a bad thing.  Most of Terribly Happy does seem like the Coen Brothers appropriated the premise of Hot Fuzz with Danish actors and more dramatic intent.  A lot of the story plays as an extremely black comedy, but as the film progresses, the development and uncovering of Robert’s character become more focused, and it twists itself into a somewhat bleak but gripping drama.

The narrative is filled with a number of comedic moments placed up against truly unsettling ones, with certain simple visual cues to either send a shiver down the spine or elicit a knowing smile.  Director Henrik Ruben Genz utilizes the expansive boggy fields surrounding the town to create a slightly desolate atmosphere, which results in some visually interesting scenes.  The script, while well-written, is a little uneven and doesn’t do anything especially new, but the strengths of the cast and twisted tone make this film a cool experience.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It may not sound funny, but there’s a bleakly comic air about the story, and a bit of surrealism, suggesting the most caustic side of the Coen brothers.”–Walter Addiego, San Francisco Chronicle (contemporaneous)

NOTE: This review is also published in a slightly different form at Film Forager.