Tag Archives: Psychological

LIST CANDIDATE: KEANE (2004)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  Damian Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Amy Ryan

PLOT:  The lives of three desperate people intersect when a schizophrenic man clings to sanity long enough to help a distressed woman and her young daughter in the underbelly of Manhattan.

Still from Keane (2004)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Keane provides a schizophrenics’ eye view of the world. Presented from the protagonist’s unique perspective, we experience his confusion, distress and earnest need to be understood in closeup.  The effect is claustrophobic, frantic at times, and uniquely unsettling.  This makes for a viewing experience that is as unusual as Keane’s compelling odyssey.

COMMENTS:  Intense, suspenseful, unpredictable, Keane is an unsettling story that disorients the viewer by stripping him of any sense of control or foresight. In this harrowing, unusual drama, a mentally ill man struggles to pull himself together when his tenuous personal odyssey is interrupted by a dislocated woman with her eight-year-old daughter in tow.  Keane (Lewis) is frantically searching for his abducted daughter whom he lost in New York’s Port Authority bus terminal months before.  Battling the adversity of delusions and an already unbalanced brain chemistry exacerbated by substance abuse, he aimlessly drifts through seedy Manhattan locales with a feverish purpose.

Querying passersby with a newspaper photo of his child, retracing his steps leading to his daughter’s disappearance, Keane has at best a shaky grasp on reality.  As he teeters on the edge of sanity, he has numerous close scrapes, and we are left to wonder if his daughter and her supposed abduction are real or merely a delusional schizophrenic construct.  Is Keane driven mad because of his sense of guilt over the disappearance of his little girl, or is the entire episode imagined because he is mad?

Keane’s life is complicated, yet conversely given direction when he forms an uneasy alliance with a questionable woman (Breslin) and her bewildered daughter (Ryan) who are mired  in a similarly helpless situation of their own.  Can Keane keep hold of himself long enough to help, and if so, will his efforts bear fruit—or is he being conned?  And what about his missing child?  Is she real?  Can Keane separate fantasy from reality, or will he confuse his situation with that of his new wards?

While Keane shares some fleeting similarities to moments such as the all-night diner scene in Midnight Cowboy, the overall mood of harsh, unbuffered reality, unabashed locations, and the characters’ personal eccentricities compares most closely with Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 film, The Rain People.

Like The Rain People, Keane offers a stark, almost excruciatingly real and raw, documentary-like dose of gritty people and their situations, unsoftened by mood-setting background music, or storybook establishing shots.  The gloomy, seamy visual footprint is claustrophobic, the settings non-idealized and the treatment of the subject matter unapologetic.

Keane is an unsettling, voyeuristic stare at it’s subject.  Filmed from Keane’s vantage point, the viewer is made to feel like he is that shell of the once sane anti-hero, trapped inside Keane himself, but unable to intervene as a more powerful, perverse alter-ego takes control and carries him along for the ride.  Infused with a mix of empathy and revulsion, we do our best to hold on and roll with the punches as Keane inexorably falters down an uncertain path, doing his best, sometimes falling short, leaving us to hold our breath and persistently wonder, “what next?”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Somewhere between a thriller and a clinical study in schizophrenia, ‘Keane’ is a movie that puts you so far into someone else’s head you may have forgotten your own name by the time it’s over.”–Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

Keane trailer

LIST CANDIDATE: HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)

How to Get Ahead in Advertising has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry. Comments are closed on this post.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson

PLOT: A young hotshot ad exec begins to crack from stress when he has difficulty coming up with a campaign for pimple cream; compounding his problems, he grows a boil on his neck that gradually develops a face, and a nasty personality.

Still from How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  The talking boil, the cracked Bagley tossing thawed chickens into the toilet wearing only an apron, and a few other weird surprises.  What works against Advertising‘s weirdness is that the film’s bizarro bits are all part of a perfectly clear and rational satirical plan.

COMMENTS:  Ad exec Dennis Bagley develops the mother of all zits in this blackheaded black comedy: does he need a dermatologist, or a psychologist?  He’s up against a deadline to design an ad campaign for a pimple cream account, and he’s obstructed.  “I can’t get a handle on boils,” he explains.  “Compared to this, piles were a birthday present… so was dandruff!”  Brilliantly portrayed by an acerbic and unhinged Richard E. Grant, Bagley is a man on the edge from the moment we meet him. He delivers an authoritative, amoral address to junior execs delighting in the dieting-reward-guilt dynamic that keeps women buying unwholesome food and stressing the importance of marketing to “she who fills her basket;” but in private, his advertiser’s block is driving him to knock back highballs in his office and nearly break down into quivering mass at lunch with his beautiful wife Julia (Ward).  On a fateful train ride home for a weekend of fretting over the acne campaign, frazzled Bagley has an epiphany about the pervasiveness of the advertising/propaganda mentality while listening to strangers discuss a sensational newspaper account of a drug orgy, and launches into the first of many entertainingly deranged rants.  By the next morning Bagley has gone completely off his rocker: he’s running around the house nude except for an apron, thawing frozen chickens in the bathtub and trying to rid the homestead of everything connected to advertising.  But, to his distress, he’s also developed a rather nasty and surprisingly painful pimple on his neck, one Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)

76. KONTROLL (2003)

“I had something in mind for most of the scenes and images in the film and almost without fail, people have interpreted those moments differently… What I’ve really learned in this process is that it doesn’t really matter what I think I’m doing, that’s the beauty of it really, that once it’s out and there are all these hundreds of other eyes trained on it, it becomes a conversation.”–Director Nimród Antal on symbolism in Kontroll

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Eszter Balla, Bence Mátyássy, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, György Cserhalmi

PLOT: Bulcsú, a Budapest metro transit cop, copes with eccentric passengers and incompetent coworkers as he pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.  As the killings continue unabated, suspicion eventually turns toward Bulcsú himself.

Still from Kontroll (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Nimród Antal was born in Los Angeles (of Hungarian ancestry) and moved to Hungary to study filmmaking at the Hungarian Academy of Drama and Film. He made his first feature film, Kontroll, then returned to the U.S. to direct conventional Hollywood products, most recently Predators (2010).
  • The city of Budapest allowed Antal access to the subway system to shoot the film during the five hours per night the trains did not run.  A man claiming to be the Director of the Budapest Metro appears in a prologue to the film to stress that Kontroll is a work of fiction and that real Metro employees do not behave in the ways depicted.
  • Kontroll won the Prix de la Jeunesse (Prize of the Young) at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Hungarian film to screen at Cannes in twenty years.
  • Antal cited Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, and Beat Takeshi as influences on Kontroll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The most enduring image is a metaphor for the troubled Bulcsúis’s transcendence.  The kontroller hides in the underground sanctuary from the real world above. But the outside is only a symbol.  Bulcsúis is really seeking refuge from himself and his feelings.  Uncertain about his own emotions, and lacking in confidence, avoiding the world above is his way of postponing self-confrontation.  What then, can be more symbolic of his waiting deliverance than the symmetrical image of the great, silvery, central escalator leading to the bright lights and certain reality of the surface?  Bulcsú knows he must eventually ascend it but he has not yet the courage to face that eventuality.  Will his love for the mysterious, bear-costumed Szofi become the key to unlocking his emotions and freeing himself?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity. The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway. Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely set of plot elements. He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story. The resulting integration creates a unique, alternative viewing experience.


Original English language trailer for Kontroll

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, Continue reading 76. KONTROLL (2003)

CAPSULE: MARTYRS (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Pascal Laugier

FEATURING:  Morjana Alaoui, Mylène  Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne

PLOT: A girl ventures into unknown territory when she helps her lover, a former torture victim,

Still

seek revenge on her one-time captors, in this unusual, bloody tale of madness and sadism.

WHY IT  WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  You may have heard incomplete descriptions of Martyrs in the media or by word of mouth.  Hushed references and whispered gossip might make it sound like a snuff movie, a sado-masochistic tableau, or a scandalous exploration of taboos.  It is none of these things. While Martyrs is a heavy, very violent film with a grim story, it is not a snuff movie or a sensational expose of torture.  It is an offbeat, horrifying thriller, and nothing more.

COMMENTS: When Anna (Alaoui) and her lover Lucie (Jampanoï) embark on a mission of revenge against Lucie’s childhood torturers, the situation quickly spirals out of control.  The couple locates Lucie’s alleged abductors, but did they find the right people?  Lucie is stalked and victimized by the spectre of the mutilated sister she had to leave behind, and Anna is not so sure where the truth lies.  In the process of exacting retribution the landscape changes dramatically and Anna is swept into an incomprehensible morass of hell on earth.

I’m so underwhelmed!  I was expecting a real stick of dynamite, but instead, I got one of those Fourth of July smoldering snake novelties.  Movie site rumors and an ongoing debate over whether or not Martyrs amounts to little more than “torture porn” made me expect a wild ride.  I had hoped to see the ultimate horror movie, or at least something mindlessly vulgar and sensational, but no dice.

What I got was an extremely well-shot, conventionally produced, offbeat story.  Unfortunately, it consists of two loosely linked plot sequences which, once combined, don’t amount to a sum greater than their parts.  Nor do they deliver any sort of soul stirring revelation.  Ho hum.

I found Martyrs to be intriguing, but, well, kinda boring.  Maybe even a little tedious in places.  Continue reading CAPSULE: MARTYRS (2008)

CAPSULE: HOUR OF THE WOLF [VARGTIMMEN] (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Ingmar Bergman

FEATURING: Max von Sydow,

PLOT: An artist is haunted by memories of his past. While isolated on an island with his pregnant wife, his demons catch up to him. Madness and delusion creep deeper into his mind as a gang of mysterious island dwellers intervene in the couple’s life. A secret, scandalous affair surfaces, and when supernatural forces intervene, the couple’s relationship and sanity is strained.

Still from Hour of the Wolf [Vargtimmen] (1968)
WHY IT SHOULD’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a tough film to decipher. The ending is certainly weird, but the lead-up to that point is too ponderous and ambiguous. Bergman is a master and his lone foray into the horror genre is an excellent piece of film-making; his artistry in delving into the lower depths of the human psyche is better established in his other well-known masterpieces, however.

COMMENTS: The older I get, the more I appreciate Ingmar Bergman films. There is something about Swedish movies that encapsulates human existence like no other country. Scenes are left dangling on a thread waiting to snap. The slow, or still, images can verge on monotony, but are usually necessary to convey the pathos of the souls here. Sometimes watching scenes slowly transpire is the best way to fully grasp how life can unravel around us. A scene in this film actually plays out for an entire minute with the main character staring at his watch to express how even sixty seconds can feel like an eternity. Time can sometimes lay heavy on a burdened mind. What I’m trying to suggest here is that Bergman is amazing at capturing exactly what it means to be human. We sin and regret, yet we still long for penance and understanding. Even when our existence feels loathsome, it sure is nice to have someone else around to share in our misery. Modern Swedish director Roy Andersson (You, The Living) knows this as well and, like Bergman, his films are wrought with longing stares of sadness.  Both Swedes capture these depressing moments and bring them alive with precise balance and well thought out execution.  Even dialogue is matter-of-fact.  Nothing said in their films seems to be unimportant or drivel; it’s Continue reading CAPSULE: HOUR OF THE WOLF [VARGTIMMEN] (1968)

CAPSULE: SPIRAL (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Adam Green and Joel Moore

FEATURING: Joel Moore, Amber Tamblyn, and Zachary Levi

PLOT: A gregarious young professional befriends a complex loner at work and unleashes

madness when she tries to unravel his convoluted personal secrets.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Spiral tells an offbeat story, it contains no outstanding weirdness, aside from the very odd personality of the lead character and the bizarre nature of his relationships.  In fact, it is the straightforward way in which the story is told that is responsible for its hypnotic feel and impact.

COMMENTS:  Overcast Portland, Oregon locations grace this gloomy and grim, offbeat psychological suspense story about a deeply troubled artist.  Spiral spins the whorled, offbeat portrait of a lead character with an odd personality and  bizarre personal relationships.

Mason (Moore) is a painter working as an insurance telemarketer.  He excels at his job, maintains a nice bachelor pad, and despite his gross social awkwardness and timid appearance he has tremendous luck with the ladies.  In fact, he has had a succession of girlfriends who all pose for his oil and canvas portraits.

Despite all that he has going for him, Mason is tortured and confused.  A shy loner at work, he feels trapped in his overly bright, sterile, corporate cubicle.  The nervous Mason is coiled so tightly that he’s about to spring out of his skin.  To make matters worse, he is prone to asthma flare-ups triggered by extreme night terrors and panic attacks.

Mason harbors more than a few skeletons in his inner footlocker and they are especially grim.  Like malevolent phantasms, dreadful images of his past girlfriends twirl our of his dreams and splash across his conscience like spatter from a centrifuge.  Striking terror, these hit and run specters jar Mason out of deep slumbers, and slap him out of daydreams.  The experiences leave him in a cold, sweaty daze, scrambling for his asthma inhaler with a racing heart.

Mason’s only safety net is his cocky, but empathetic boss, Berkeley (Levi)—who is also his only friend and advocate.  Willing to act as Mason’s ad-hoc therapist, Berkeley is the closest thing Mason has to some much needed Xanax.  Suppressing Mason’s panic with a combination of good-natured ridicule and reassurance, he talks his frightened employee down like Rasputin hypnotically calming Czar Nicholas II’s hemophiliac son.  The effect is temporary, however, as Mason seems to be plagued not only by the serpentine hallucinations, but by a wide range of deeply seated personal issues, all indicating a winding, ganglionic tangle of dark, hidden secrets.

Berkely begins to find his role as counselor diminished when a bubbly new employee named Amber (Tamblyn) jumps on board and takes a shine to Mason.  Inexplicably attracted to the shy salesman, she is like a schoolgirl rescuing a baby bunny.  Intrigued by the dark enigma of Mason’s persona, Amber radiantly circles Mason, determined to unravel his helical psyche by patiently prying away at the repressed layers of his complicated personality.

Mason gradually warms to her efforts and finally admits her to his inner world.   Once inside, Amber wreaks havoc like a Trojan horse when she realizes too late that she has opened a Pandora’s box. But how genuine is Amber?  Is she really who she appears to be?  What does Berkeley know about Mason’s past girlfriends that he isn’t telling Mason?  And why the haunting visions?  As tensions reach the meniscus, unanswered questions brew a churning swirl of fantasy, reality and bedlam as Mason, Amber and Berkeley cross paths in a twisting maelstrom of truth and lies.

Crisp audio processing of the soundtrack compliments the high definition DVD release of this Santa Barbara Film Festival entry. Spiral is the directorial collaboration of Joel David Moore and Adam Green, who worked as actor and director respectively on the 2006 slasher film, Hatchet.   Spiral was co-written by Moore with Jeremy Danial Boreing.  Amber Tamblyn may be known to some viewers from her roles in The Grudge II (2006) and The Ring (2001).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Like an urban cousin of Jon Keder’s ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ as filtered through Edgar Allen Poe, the disturbed and delusional aspiring artist at the center of ‘Spiral’ promises much terror and delivers far less… Given the sheer weirdness of his character’s neuroses, Moore the actor tries to tamp down the urge for an over-the-top perf…”–Robert Koehler, Variety (contemporaneous)

Spiral trailer

BORDERLINE WEIRD: SPIDER (2002)

DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: , Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

PLOT: A disturbed man is released from a mental institution and sent to live in a halfway

Still from Spider (2002)

house.  While there, he traces back to his childhood to remember a troubled past and the tragic events that shaped his current mental instability.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: To compile a list of the weirdest movies ever made, one would be hard-pressed not to include Cronenberg’s entire oeuvre.  Here, the director eschews the “body horror” that encompassed much of his earlier films and focuses solely on the deterioration of the mind.  While this can be just as grotesque as horrors of the flesh, the journey can get so convoluted at times that the weirdness teeters on a fulcrum.  Eventually, the confusion weighs too heavy and topples the weirdness into mere befuddlement.

COMMENTS: A cinematic pet peeve of mine was surely tested with this movie.  Being American, I shouldn’t have to struggle listening to an English film (i.e., UK-Great Britain).  We speak the same tongue, albeit with some slight variances in words and phrases.  The cockney accents in this film can get so thick at times I considered reaching for the subtitle button on the remote.  To make matters worse, the film focuses on the character of Spider (Fiennes) who mumbles and spews gibberish as a means of communication.  Actually, most of his conversations are only with himself.  I loathe having to toggle the volume levels up and down.  I had to do this for the duration of the film.  Aside from this aggravation, Spider is not a bad film; nor is it a great one.

I loved the approach taken in the opening credits.  Various textiles and walls are displayed artistically with corrosion and chipped paint, each frame containing a pattern or form that is open to interpretation.  It is set up to resemble Rorschach inkblot tests used in the psychiatric field (I must be going mad myself because all I see in them are cool looking demons).  These opening credits are effective because they prepare the viewer for a movie that deals with an imbalanced mind.  What we perceive to be truth is certainly going to be skewed from the perspective of a protagonist with warped sensibilities.

Spider enters the picture slowly, exiting a train and returning onto the streets of  London.  Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: SPIDER (2002)