Tag Archives: Twins

225. ADAPTATION. (2002)

CHARLIE KAUFMAN: I’ve written myself into my screenplay.

DONALD KAUFMAN: That’s kind of weird, huh?

Adaptation.

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Chris Cooper, Brian Cox

PLOT: Screenwriter , fresh off the hit Being John Malkovich, is contractually and mentally trapped as he is forced to plow his way through an impossible project: “writing a movie about flowers.” Things go from bleak to bizarre as he finds himself competing with his endearingly oblivious twin brother, Donald, who also aspires to be a screenwriter. Charlie slips further and further past the deadline, until things come to a head in the film’s swampy denouement where he comes face-to-face with both the writer of and titular character from “The Orchid Thief,” the book he is adapting for the screen.

Still from Adaptation. (2002)

BACKGROUND:

  • The screenplay for Adaptation. was on Charlie Kaufman’s to-do list since the late ’90s. Tasked with adapting Susan Orlean’s novel-length essay “The Orchid Thief” and suffering the same problems as his doppelganger, he kept his progress secret from everyone other than Spike Jonze until 2000, when the movie was green-lit for production.
  • Screenwriting guru Robert McKee and his seminars are real. He personally suggested Brian Cox play him in the movie.
  • Adaptation. handily recouped the producers’ investment, with a return of $32.8 million worldwide on a $19 million outlay.
  • Nominated for four Oscars: best actor for Cage, supporting actor for Cooper, supporting actress for Streep, and adapted screenplay for Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Cooper was the only winner.
  • Though “Donald” Kaufman’s serial killer script The 3 was never shot, the idea may have inspired two subsequent movies, 2003’s Identity and 2006’s Thr3e.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Returning from a misfired date, Charlie finds his twin brother already back home from a writer’s seminar, brimming over with newly adopted wisdom. As Charlie stands in front of his hallway mirror, Donald’s face is captured in the reflection as he expounds upon his own screenplay’s “image system” involving broken mirrors. Charlie’s expression goes from dour to disbelieving at this inanity, and the viewer sees the movie mock both itself and screenplay tricks. A further twist is added by the fact that the blurry reflection in the mirror is the face of the actual Charlie Kaufman talking to Nicolas Cage.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Film-within-a-film-within-a-screenplay-within-a-screenplay ; Ouroboros; orchid-snorting

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: For all its unconventionality, Adaptation is amazingly self-deprecating. Spoilers unravel in opening scenes and are tossed aside, coastal city elites are presented as real people with the petty little problems real people have, and Nicolas Cage gains a bit of weight and loses a bit of hair to provide the compelling double performance as the Kaufman brothers. Events seem scattershot, only to have their purposes later clarified as the tightly structured flow keeps the viewer jumping from moment to moment, always questioning which parts of this convoluted tale are actually true.

COMMENTS: Between its thorough description of the protagonist Continue reading 225. ADAPTATION. (2002)

LIST CANDIDATE: A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (1985)

AKA ZOO

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Brian Deacon, Eric Deacon, Andrá Ferréol, , Frances Barber

PLOT: After the deaths of their wives in a freak car crash, the brothers Oswald and Oliver, both zoologists, pursue different paths of obsession in an attempt to cope with their losses.

Still from A Zed & Two Nougts (1985)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As an art-house film, A Zed & Two Noughts succeeds with its precise interiors, high-minded dialogue, and a cavalcade of mise en scène goodies. Smashed into its philosophizing and clever conversation are decomposing animals, two differently unhinged brothers, a surgeon with an unhealthy obsession with Vermeer, and a borderline-spastic score from long-time Greenaway collaborator, Michael Nyman.

COMMENTS: Taking the idea of in medias res to its logical conclusion, A Zed & Two Noughts (hereafter to be referred to as ZOO) starts with a flash of photography and a smash of a white swan onto a white car. Inside, two women perish—and a third survives, only to have had her leg crushed beyond repair. So far, so good—but not so “art house”, I hear you think. Yet this unlikely (and grisly) beginning somehow morphs into one of the most precisely arranged specimens of film I’ve had the pleasure to watch. After climaxing in the first few minutes, the remainder acts as something of an extended dénouement, culminating in a comparably macabre, though more peaceful, conclusion.

Stylistically, ZOO is like nothing more than a painting. Every shot is impeccably staged, suggesting that director Peter Greenaway could give even a lesson or two on orderliness in the frame. Scene after scene exhibits meticulous use of vertical and horizontal framing: doorways, windows, mirrors. Those who know a thing or two about Greenaway will be unsurprised: he trained as a painter before beginning his career as a film-maker. The precision of the film’s look is mirrored within it by the surgeon Van Meegeren, who obsesses over the Dutch painter Vermeer, going so far as to try and recreate the latter’s masterpieces Lady Seated at Virginal and The Music Lesson, using the fiery-haired Alba Bewick (the survivor of the opening car crash) as a template. During her first surgery we see him lightly caress her exposed body; after convincing her that her second leg needs removal, we see the surgeon’s assistant provide Alba with a new hair-do and earrings to make her look more like the young women in the Vermeer paintings.

Somehow I have as yet to mention the centerpiece of this refined ostentation, the Deuce brothers. Oliver and Oswald Deuce are, combined, the main character of ZOO. At the film’s beginning, they are obviously identifiable as separate people. Oswald is, so to speak, the left brain: he starts by trying to work out the facts, the tiniest specifics, leading up the deadly car crash that took his wife’s life. Oliver, on the other hand, is right-brained. He contemplates the greater role that the cosmos played in the tragedy as part of his mourning process, watching David Attenborough’s “Life on Earth” program. He feels he needs to start from scratch–the TV series spans some millions of years of natural history—in order to work his way to how events conspired to take his wife from him.

Events proceed in a sinister direction. The brothers’ work starts as time-lapse photographs of rotting fruit, then small fish, and finally works up to their penultimate project: the recording of a zebra’s decomposition. Thrown into this mess of decay, philosophy, paintings, and obtrusive music is an aspiring bestiality writer, a zoo warden who moonlights procuring exotic meats, and sundry “unexplained” escapes of animals. ZOO poses some tough questions, perhaps the most important of which is educed by the zoo’s chief administrator: “What valuable conclusion can be gained from all this rotting meat?”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Greenaway’s eccentric exploration of where all life’s absurd varieties must begin and end is, like a road accident, always fascinating, if not exactly pleasurable, to watch.”–Anton Bitel, Movie Gazette

124. DEAD RINGERS (1988)

“When was the last time a gynecologist was in a movie, even as a figure of fun? There’s something taboo there; something strange and difficult.”–David Cronenberg

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: , Genevieve Bujold

PLOT: Elliot and Beverly Mantle are brilliant twin gynecologists, specializing in fertility, with a client base of rich women. Elliot, the more outgoing of the pair, will seduce a client, and then Beverly will also romance her, pretending to be his brother. The twins delicately balanced psychological co-dependency is disturbed when Beverly falls in love with one of their conquests, a pill-popping actress with a deformed uterus.

Still from Dead Ringers

BACKGROUND:

  • Dead Ringers is loosely based on a a real-life case involving twin gynecologists. Their story was fictionalized and turned into a best-selling novel (“Twins“) by Bari Wood and Jackie Geasland, which became the basis for the screenplay by Cronenberg and Norman Snider.
  • William Hurt and Robert De Niro each passed on the roles of the Mantle twins.
  • Irons’ performance as twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle nabbed him Best Actor awards from the New York and Chicago film critics associations and a runner-up prize from the LA film critics; but the project was too strange to be endorsed by the Academy Awards, which procrastinated until the following year to recognize the actor for his role as accused murderer Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune (Irons credits Dead Ringers for an “assist” in nabbing him that statuette).
  • Worried that it might not be weird enough, we initially declined to place Dead Ringers on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies—but the public decided this omission was one of our biggest oversights, as the movie won its section in our third readers choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The blood-red scrubs narrowly beat out the bizarrely barbed “instruments for working on mutant women” as the movie’s most disturbing medical prop—largely because the twins were presumably sane and sober when they chose this surgical garb. Both props appear together onscreen in a scene where Beverly, high on downers, makes a shambles of the operating room, even snatching off the patient’s gas mask to take a whiff of anesthetic himself.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: When the plot synopsis contains the words “twin gynecologists,” you know you’ll be traveling into territory off the beaten path. When it’s David Cronenberg directing a story about twin gynecologists, you can expect something even further out there. While Dead Ringers is a drama, it’s a drama for horror movie fans, one that’s ultimately creepy and unnerving enough to rise to the level of “weird.”


Original trailer for Dead Ringers

COMMENTS: However unlikely Cronenberg’s tale of obsession, drug abuse, and gynecology

Continue reading 124. DEAD RINGERS (1988)

LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD RINGERS (1988)

NOTE: By popular demand, Dead Ringers has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made! Please read the official Certified Weird entry. Comments are closed on this post; this initial review is left here for archival purposes.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold

PLOT: A woman disturbs the delicate psychic balance between twin gynecologists.

Still from Dead Ringers (1988)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: When the plot synopsis contains the words “twin gynecologists,” you know you’ll be traveling into territory off the beaten path.  When it’s David Cronenberg directing a story about twin gynecologists, you can expect something even further out there.  While Dead Ringers is a drama, it’s a drama for horror movie fans, and it’s offbeat and unnerving enough that it might in indeed rise to the level of “weird.”

COMMENTS:  Twins can be mildly eerie.  Male gynecologists are slightly creepy.  Put twins and gynecologists together, though, and the ick factor increases exponentially; especially when the twin gynecologists’ dating practices are, to say the least, highly unethical.  As shy Beverly and suave Elliot, the Mantle twins, Jeremy Irons gives a fascinating and multifaceted performance.  By utilizing differing mannerisms and energy levels (Bev is jittery where Elliot is detached), Irons makes it so the viewer can immediately differentiate which twin is which about 80% of the time.  That 20% uncertainty about who you are looking at on the screen adds an extra uneasy edge to a picture that’s already morally queasy.  Bev and Elliot, you see, share their women—who are also their patients—and the ladies may be bedding Bev while believing they’re receiving Elliot.  When Beverly, the more sensitive of the pair, becomes enamored with a French-Canadian actress/patient, he decides he wants to keep her for himself and pursue a normal male/female relationship.  But these psychic Siamese twins have become accustomed to share every experience, professional and erotic, since childhood, and asserting his independence proves traumatic for Beverly.  He slides into drug abuse and professional disgrace, and drags codependent Elliot down into the sewer with him.  Cronenberg keeps the explicitly weird elements to a minimum.  There’s a dream sequence, but perhaps the film’s oddest feature is the fact that, rather than using the traditional reassuring white scrubs, the twins perversely outfit their surgical staff in uniforms of blood red—the color of alarm.  Though it’s played straight (for a Cronenberg film), there’s a murky psychological undertone to the incidents that makes Ringers unsettling even beyond its unsavory subject matter.  Cronenberg directs crisply, with sharp cinematography on elegant sets that ironically underscore the seediness of the proceedings.  Stiff Brit Irons lends a touch of class and even manages to make the unsavory twins sympathetic as they spiral to a professional and personal nadir of barbiturate withdrawal psychosis.  Irons performance nabbed Best Actor awards from the New York and Chicago film critics associations and a runner-up prize from the LA film critics, but the project was too strange to be endorsed by the Academy Awards, which procrastinated until the following year to recognize the actor for his role as accused murderer Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune (Irons credits Dead Ringers for an “assist” in nabbing him that statuette).  Despite the paucity of plaudits, this may be the greatest portrayal of twins by a single actor in movie history, making this unusual and extremely dark film worth a look even for conventional cinephiles.

As strange and implausible as Dead Ringers scenario might seem, it’s actually loosely based on a real-life case.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Who, then, will be drawn to this spectacle? Anyone with a taste for the macabre wit, the weird poignancy and the shifting notions of identity that lend ‘Dead Ringers’ such fascination.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mighty Utar.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE OTHER (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Mulligan

FEATURING: Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, Uta Haen, John Ritter

PLOT: Adapted from his novel by Tom Tryon, two enigmatic twins seem to be connected to a community’s run of misfortune.  Could it have anything to do with a cursed family crest and a dead man’s severed finger?

Still from The Other (1972) with Uta Hagen

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: An unusual story, The Other is unsettling and bizarre, yet it is conventionally produced and is shot by Mulligan (Summer of  ’42) like a mainstream family film. The frank, matter of fact presentation of disturbing imagery is as creepy as a hostess placing a decaying skull in the punchbowl at a débutante’s ball.

COMMENTS: Some horror cinema doesn’t have to rely on the supernatural to be horrifying. The Other is technically a psychological crime thriller, but it projects the distinct feel of a horror movie with occult elements. Set in the 1930’s, The Other is a grim shocker about two cute, apparently wholesome twin boys who would seem to lead an idyllic existence on a picturesque family farm. There’s just one problem—everyone around them begins to have gruesome accidents.

The boys are drawn into a convoluted good-versus-evil struggle that churns within themselves, and they struggle with each other to both exercise and exorcise it. As this conflict manifests itself, the bizarre circumstances surrounding the misfortunes of family and neighbors begin to weave an increasingly twisted and captivating mystery.

The story includes many odd and unsettling elements, such as the fact that the twins’ mother is inexplicably a terrified psychological invalid. Their Russian nanny seems to be able to teach the boys how to fly via astral projection. There is a very odd, cursed family crest ring complete with the severed finger of the corpse from which it was stolen. People and things connected to the twins seem to end up broken, on fire, paralyzed or dead.

The boys covet and revere the ring and finger. They carry it with them constantly in their treasure box, and this morbid memento is somehow the key to all of the strange tragedy that unfolds.  The uncertainty of who is who and what is what creates a surreal tone. The Other is a thoughtfully presented nightmare of indulgence, madness and grotesque murder. The production is enhanced by Robert Surtees’ striking and graceful cinematography which produces memorable visual impressions. Jerry Goldsmith’s low-key, creepy score compliments the film well.

Horror and occult fans should take particular delight in viewing The Other for the following reasons: it has an original story that has not been perpetually copied since it was filmed. This work was shot in 1972 when there were fewer creative constraints on writer-director collaboration. The Other is well constructed, but neither formulaic, nor forced to be “accessible” to the public. There are none of the standard cliches. It withstands the test of time and is not dated. Set during the Great Depression, it looks like it could have been produced yesterday. The subject matter, however, is refreshingly unconventional. Those looking for something fresh and unlike anything they have seen before should be especially pleased—that is, if they can locate a copy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…The Other is a dark, eerie minor masterpiece that is filled with lasting images: a finger wrapped up in a handkerchief, a boy leaping into a pile of hay with a pitchfork in it, the corpse of a baby drowned in a wine barrel… Some horror films leave such a chilling impression that they become impossible to forget.”  -Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide