Tag Archives: Dreams

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE LAST WAVE (1977)

aka Black Rain

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Note: As this review discusses a film featuring Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal actors, we wish to inform any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers that this article contains the names and images of individuals who have died. No disrespect is intended. (Guidance taken from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Weir

FEATURING: Richard Chamberlain, David Gulpilil, Nandjiwarra Amagula, Olivia Hamnett

PLOT: An Australian tax attorney takes defends a group of Aborigines accused of murder, and begins to recognize his dreams as apocalyptic visions; his clients confront him with his role in the coming cataclysm. 

Still from The Last Wave (1977)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The Last Wave takes the already-mysterious and disorienting world of dreams and infuses them with Aboriginal mysticism, virtually guaranteeing dissociation and confusion in an audience which the filmmakers know will be predominantly made up of Western-thinking white people. If you find yourself struggling to understand what one man’s cryptic nightmares have to do with the historically unbalanced relationship between Australia’s native population and the Europeans who colonized the continent, then everything is going precisely according to plan.

COMMENTS: Peter Weir tells the story of a screening of his 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, at which one prospective distributor reportedly threw his coffee cup at the screen in fury at having wasted two hours of his life on “a mystery without a goddamn solution!” The moment clearly stuck with Weir, and I suspect it was bouncing around in his mind as he began to conceive The Last Wave. It didn’t exactly persuade him to be more explicit about his intentions, but the film feels like it’s actually delving into the passions that fuel the rage over What Art Means.

Richard Chamberlain’s comfortable solicitor, David Burton, could very well be standing in for that cup-slinging critic. A white man in Australia, and a lawyer to boot, he is the very picture of upright, unquestioning conformity. With his wife, two kids, and backyard tennis court, he would seemingly have everything he could want in life. The last thing he needs are questions without answers. So all the strange dreams he’s been having about water, a mysterious Aboriginal man, and the end of the world are most unwelcome.

What follows is a chronicle of one man’s effort to provide an explanation for what seems inexplicable. He interprets the request to serve as counsel for a group of Aborigine defendants as a quest for a deeper truth. As David learns more about the cultural standards of the community that underlie the killing, he becomes increasingly determined to present the mystical elements as a solid defense. He instinctively knows he is expected to let these things go, but his desperate need for order and explanation override his sense of his place Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE LAST WAVE (1977)

CAPSULE: DREAM SCENARIO (2023)

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Dream Scenario is available for pre-order to own digitally.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Kristoffer Borgli

FEATURING: , , Dylan Gelula, , Tim Meadows

PLOT: A mild-mannered evolutionary biology professor becomes a celebrity after appearing in the dreams of random strangers across the world.

Still from dream scenario (2023)

COMMENTS: Dream Scenario begins mid dream, as balding professor Paul Matthews, raking poolside, calmly watches his younger daughter float into the sky. This scenario is quickly revealed to be a dream: this is not a movie that plays with ambiguity between dreams and waking. Rather, it’s a magical realist fame fable about what it would be like to be a nice-enough 21st century nobody who mysteriously begins appearing in people’s dreams.

While I personally could watch 90 minutes of Nic Cage making cameo appearances in other people’s nocturnal hallucinations, Dream Scenario only enacts a smattering of the dreams themselves. One dreamer perches on a desk while a pair of crocodiles menace her and Cage watches dispassionately; another wanders through a forest with strange mushrooms growing from the trees, wearing a tux and pursued by a nightmare figure, while a distracted Paul munches on a shroom.Paul is distressed that he never takes an active part in anyone’s dream, but seems to enjoy the media attention—at first.

It’s all light comedy up until a midpoint pivot. Paul finds someone in whose dream he takes a more active part. And soon after, his mood sours, for reasons both related and unrelated to his newfound celebrity. Soon, dream-Paul starts misbehaving in dreams, in ways that turn him into a public pariah. Even if they know intellectually that Paul isn’t responsible for how he behaves inside their subconsciouses, people can’t help but be angry: his students stop attending his lectures, he’s asked to leave restaurants because he makes people uncomfortable. Of course, Paul has done nothing wrong, but every real-life mistake he makes now gets magnified and taken out of context, until he’s completely pilloried in the public mind and essentially exiled from society.

Paul’s severe change of fortune necessitates a corresponding change of tone, one that’s not quite for the better. Dream Scenario‘s second half amps up the “cancel culture” satire and critique of mob-think. It’s an obvious target that Borgli’s script handles competently, and with a few chuckles. But while it’s always fun to watch a villain, or even a charming antihero, get their comeuppance, it’s a harder ask to make us enjoy a Job scenario where we watch an innocent, generally likable character get raked over the coals repeatedly.

Dream Scenario explores the gulf between reality and public perception, a problem exponentially magnified in the TikTok era. It also posits fame as something inherently undesirable, or at least inherently dangerous, through a recurring analogy about zebra stripes: being the one who sticks out from the herd makes you into a target for predators. These are not (or at least, should not be) profound insights, which is perhaps why, by the end, the movie takes on the tone of a sad parable rather than a stern lecture. Fortunately, Cage’s balanced and committed performance buoys everything. He’s amusing in the first act, cringe-worthy in the second, and an unwilling (and unrecognized) martyr in the third. A few of the wackier dreams give him a brief chance to show off his crazy side. He’s perfect for the role. Nicolas Cage is a man who has achieved the same kind of meme-heavy, eccentric celebrity as Paul Matthews; someone who is widely known, and has been both worshiped and ridiculed, for his persona rather than his actual personality. Cage puts his soul into this one, making for a pleasant Dream.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The world has finally gotten weird enough that Nicolas Cage now makes total sense… It’s as if his movies are saying, ‘Yes, it’s bad. It’s as bad as you think. But there’s an aspect to this that’s actually funny.’ That notion that everything is both horrible and amusing all but sums up the story of ‘Dream Scenario.'”–Mick LaSalle, The San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: LITAN (1982)

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Pierre Mocky

FEATURING: Marie-José Nat, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Nino Ferrer, Marysa Mocky, Roger Lumont

PLOT: While staying in the small town of Litan, where the annual festival of the dead is underway, Nora has prophetic dreams about her boyfriend Jock’s death.

Still from Litan (1982)

COMMENTS: Nora’s dreams are bad. Coffins float down streams. Bodies fall from great heights. And worst of all, she sees her beloved Jock covered in blood, seemingly murdered. It doesn’t make for a restful night. Well, it’s not going to get any better. Upon waking, we see that Nora’s barely dreaming at all. An annual festival has taken over the town of Litan, with strange people in strange costumes behaving in strange ways. If you believe that the things that happen to you during your day will affect your dreams at night, it’s clear that she’s one of the most literal sleepers around.

For you see, Litan is one of those towns where everyone is weird. You know the kind, like The Wicker Man or Midsommar or The Third Day. Residents saunter about with featureless masks, or with uncovered faces that are equally blank. Doctors perform inexplicable experiments that involve flashing lights and beeping machines. Men in pig masks loot and murder without fear, bodies dissolve and turn into glowing blue worms, and a marching band made up to look like mannequins in red tailcoats conducts impromptu concerts. You know, one of those towns. It’s painfully obvious that There’s Something Funny Going On, and that Nora and Jock need to Get Out Of There. 

It’s to Litan’s credit as a weird movie and to its debit as a watchable movie that this tension, this sense that trouble is only steps away, is present from the very start and never lets up. It doesn’t get more tense, mind you. It just maintains that worrisome threat from start to finish. That gets the heart rate elevated, but the relentlessness of it gets dull after a while. 

Where director/star Jean-Pierre Mocky succeeds is creating an ominous atmosphere through startling imagery. Every exterior is next to a rushing river or amongst sharp, craggly mountains (the film was shot in the commune of Annonay in southeastern France), while every interior seems to be set in a room carved out of a cave. Bold blasts of color break the monotony of the gray settings, particularly the bright crimson blood and the electric blue spermatozoa that seem to be the result of falling into the water. Strongest of all is the very creepy vibe he gets from his zombified actors, whose stillness is so effective that they immediately grab your attention when they snap out of it. A scene where a returning patient terrifies his family is an effective set-piece.

But while Litan is unquestionably weird, it’s also a mess. There are barely any characters to speak of; Nora does little but scream and fret, while Jock is a little too ignorant at first and a little too studly as the story progresses. Everyone else seems designed to be inexplicable, such as Jock’s colleague Bohr, who goes from assaulting Nora to worrying about his own son to becoming a victim in the space of 15 minutes. Meanwhile, there’s a possible candidate for a villain whose connection to the plot is vague until the closing minutes, culminating in a comically anemic fight scene. And there’s a very off-putting musical score (from star Nino Ferrer) that shifts wildly from atmospheric synthesizer noodlings to action tracks that sound like a strange melange of Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only score and the Swingle Singers, with some Shostakovich woven in for seasoning.

There’s no doubt that Litan is odd, but it isn’t actually compelling. With anxiety but no suspense, with momentum but no destination, Litan is just a series of surprising things that happen. Dreams are weird, but not every dream is worth sharing. 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One-of-a-kind bizarre French sci-fi. It’s like some scenes from a variety of thriller, crime and sci-fi movies were stripped of their back-stories and plots, jumbled together, and then transported to this weird town of Litan that looks like something out of The Prisoner.” – Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

(This movie was nominated for review by shawn. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MOON GARDEN (2022)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ryan Stevens Harris

FEATURING: Haven Lee Harris, Augie Duke, Brionne Davis

PLOT: Trapped in a coma, 5-year-old Emma must find her way to her parents while avoiding the insatiable maw of a hollow fiend.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Colors have rarely looked so beautifully “off” as they do in the Moon Garden, and that’s just the start. Making respectful nods to the likes of Svankmajer, Gilliam, and other luminaries, it would be remiss to bury this as a capsule. It is a dark, vibrant movie for children—and a perfect gateway into weird cinema.

COMMENTSMoon Garden

No… no. Please give me a moment, as I need to collect myself. This film may just as well have been made with me in mind. It is dark, but accented with beautifully saturated colors; the frame is almost constantly littered with broken oddities; the pacing is brisk but never rushed; and it features one of my favorite storytelling archetypes: the fearless little girl. With the help of several ideal influences, Ryan Harris has crafted a contained little marvel of a movie, showcasing considerable creativity and an impressive performance from a wide-eyed newcomer, his own daughter Haven.

Family strife hits quickly, as young Emma is woken before dawn one morning by her mother, Sara, so the two can “chase the sunrise.” Bundled into the car, their would-be escape is thwarted by the girl’s father, Alex. Emma plays on the stairway while her parents argue, ultimately escalating to a blow-out fight. Emma interrupts them with her own fury, and storms out of the room, right down the stairs, crashing to the bottom, and falling into a coma. This is where the real story begins.

Moon Garden was filmed with vintage camera lenses, on expired 35mm film stock. Through these damaged goods, Ryan Harris encases the narrative in a fuzzy/glossy bell jar through which we observe the subconscious action. Flashbacks to happier times interrupt Emma’s journey through her mind; but as the memories grow more recent, domestic strife grows more prominent. She is also interrupted by glimpses of the world outside her mind. Mostly, though, she is interrupted by an entity I’ve dubbed “the Mouth Man.” This voidful creature inflates from a nothingness after Emma’s tear travels down a creaking network of pipes to a sub-subconscious netherworld, her mind’s dark and creepy basement.

Anyone familiar with Gilliam’s Tideland or Svankmajer’s Alice will immediately appreciate the parallels with Harris’ film. Emma’s dream quest is hindered by the Mouth Man, but aided by a kindly musician, who gifts her the portable transistor radio she uses to pursue her parents’ voices. And her fight against darkness is mirrored by clues about her mother’s battle with depression, and her father’s battle facing the melancholy—and apparent irrationality—of someone whom he dearly loves. Moon Garden is a serious film filled with equal parts wonder and fear. It also ends at the perfect moment, on an eye-opening shot. In some ways, admittedly, the story mimics the most pedestrian of Hallmark Channel tearjerkers. That Ryan Harris (alongside his daughter Haven) render this experience a beautifully scary journey, is commendable. But it is the curious clatter of mystical symbols and set-pieces that make Moon Garden an alluringly strange delight.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…while it seems churlish to be so harsh on what is obviously a labor of love, one can’t help but wish Harris was more influenced by the actual weirdness of a Jodorowsky or the Czech New Wave instead of a pale imitator like Terry Gilliam. On the other hand, there’s a lot of undeniable talent on display here.”–Daniel Gorman, In Review Online (contemporaneous)

CHANNEL 366: WONDER EGG PRIORITY (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Shin Wakabayashi, Yūta Yamazaki, Yūki Yonemori, Yūichirō Komuro, Shinichirō Ushijima, Yūsuke Yamamoto, Maiko Kobayashi, Eita Higashikubo, Mitsuru Hagi

FEATURING: Voices of Kanata Aikawa, Tomori Kusunoki,  Shuka Saitō, Hinaki Yano, Yūya Uchida,  Hiroki Takahashi; Mikaela Krantz,  Dawn M. Bennett, Anairis Quiñones, Michelle Rojas, Brendan Blaber, Ian Sinclair (English dub)

PLOT: Four teenage girls buy eggs from mannequins in hopes of bringing suicides back to life.

Still from Wonder egg priority (2021)

COMMENTS: Episode 1 (“The Domain of Children”) is a promising start. We meet Ai Ohto, a hikikomori heroine with heterochromia, already inside of a dream. Following a brief orientation in Ai’s waking reality (a hermit existence with only her mother and a visiting teacher to relieve the self-imposed loneliness), we go into the following night’s dream, which brings schoolgirls with blurred faces, a talking toilet paper roll, grinning eyeless balls called “see-no-evils” (who will be recurring adversaries), a flashback inside the dream, a crying statue, and a resurrected firefly who offers Ai an egg that contains, he claims, the thing she really wants—a friend. It ends with the firefly revealed to be, in reality, a crash-test-dummy mannequin in a tuxedo who hangs out, along with a more casual mannequin wearing his baseball cap backwards, in a garden where the two sell teenage girls Wonder Eggs out of a vending machine. Each egg leads into a dream where the buyer must save a former female suicide from a metaphorical monster; succeed in enough of these missions, it’s hinted, and Ai will get her dead friend back.

Thrown into this scenario, the introduction is charmingly disorienting, although enough clues are supplied that, by episode 2, the outlines of the plot are comprehensible (aside from the overriding issue of how and why this oddly conceived suicide egg economy exists in the first place.) The series then falls into a “monster of the week” groove; in the second episode, Ai fights a demonic coach to save a gymnast worked into suicide, and in each of the next four installments a new Wonder Egg devotee comes on board, until we have a girl gang of four dream warriors. Each of the characters has a distinctive design and a nice character hook: Neiru is an pretty but emotionally-stunted girl genius, Rika is a peppy and mischievous former junior idol, and Momoe is an androgynous outcast. The missions the girls go on allow the creators to address an array of topics of interest to the target audience: bullying, unrealistic expectations, self-acceptance, molestation, gender identification, obsessive fandom, and, most prominently, suicide. In between battles, the girls bond, and a couple of subplots—Ai’s teacher and his relationships to much of the female cast, hints of Neiru’s backstory—start developing. A few new elements are also added, Continue reading CHANNEL 366: WONDER EGG PRIORITY (2021)