Tag Archives: Dreams

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)

CHANNEL 366: THE SANDMAN (2022)

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Recommended*

DIRECTED BY: Mike Barker, Jamie Childs, Mairzee Almas, Andrés Baiz, Coralie Fargeat, Louise Hooper,

FEATURING: Tom Sturridge, Boyd Holbrook, Vivienne Acheampong, Vanesu Samunyai, , voice of

PLOT: Captured by a human magician, the entity Dream escapes after a century and sets about reclaiming his tools to rebuild his realm.

Still from The Sandman (2022)
The Sandman. Tom Sturridge as Dream in The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

COMMENTS: This Sandman is no “candy-colored clown.” Dream is more of a contemplative type, deathly pale, darkly haired, and pursed-lipped. But then, when we meet him, he has considerable reason to be. Roderick Burgess, dark sorcerer extraordinaire, has captured the ruler of the dream lands, and, with his son taking over the guardianship upon the wizard’s passing, kept him incarcerated for a century. So begins Netflix’s chronicle of “The Sandman,” an effects-filled, symbol-heavy, and, yes, dreamy vision of ‘s much beloved comic book series.

Dream is one of seven godlike entities collectively known as “the Endless,” and his realm (“the Dreaming”) is laid out in full splendor as we travel through it while he softly narrates the introduction. Tom Sturridge’s performance as Dream is well up to the task (even accounting for his excessive habit of pursing his lips). The first episode chronicles his capture, hinting at the world’s characters as we observe the Dream trapped in a glass-and-steel orb nestled within a summoning circle. There is a sad twist from the get-go, for we learn that it was not this particular Endless that Burgess was after—he intended to capture Death, to bargain with her to return his dead son.

Kirby Howell-Baptiste, as the friendliest Death this side of the divide, and Gwendoline Christie, as a prim-and-proper-and-not-ever-to-be-crossed Lucifer, shine in their roles. Dream’s early encounter with Lucifer in Hell hints of some nastiness to come (in season two, presumably). You see, having escaped his cage, Dream is weakened not only by the long-separation from his realm, but also from the loss of his regalia: a bag of sand which allows him to travel the dream world (as well as summon it); a helm, which allows him to travel freely through the waking world; and most importantly, a ruby amulet which allows him to craft dreams—and destroy them.

The fifth episode is the best. I give nothing away by telling you that Dream does collect his accessories, and it is in the pursuit of the final element—the ruby—that “The Sandman” experiences its strangest turn. Set almost entirely within a diner, the episode explores one man’s dream of a better world: a world in which lies cannot exist. The antagonist, and the man with this dream, is one John Dee (David Thewliss, providing the best performance of the series), the civilly unhinged son of the woman who stole Dream’s gear from Burgess all Continue reading CHANNEL 366: THE SANDMAN (2022)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE SHOW (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Mitch Jenkins

FEATURING: Tom Burke, , Ellie Bamber, Christopher Fairbank, Alan Moore

PLOT: Fletcher Dennis is a hitman an “exit technician” posing as a private detective posing as an antiques dealer in search of a stolen Rosicrucian necklace.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Sometimes “weird” leaves you overthinking; in this case, I suffered the reverse. While watching The Show, it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t weird, because it’s exactly the kind of movie Alan Moore would make. Having pondered a few minutes following the spectacle’s completion, it became apparent that this was indeed something weird. Jenkins’ and Moore’s movie blends reality and dreams, and life and death, in a manner that would make 366’s poster-boy Dave Lynch smirk in satisfaction.

COMMENTS: Please forgive this reviewer’s gushing, but in the hopes of getting it out of my system let me begin with, “This… this is the Alan Moore film I’ve been waiting for!” Mr. Moore, as some of you may know, has had a long history of disappointment with studio executives when it comes to his innumerable works and their adaptations. Some of this is warranted (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), some of it not (Watchmen). Regardless, The Show pulls off a very-Moore experience—more so than any other adaptation of his oeuvre.

Because it immediately pulls the viewer into a cryptic facsimile of Northampton UK, it’s helpful that the film pulls its protagonists from the “straight man” bucket. Steven Lipman (later, and earlier, Fletcher Dennis, ever-clad in black and red striped shirt, presumably with sling-shot) has been hired by Patsy Bleaker to retrieve a family heirloom that went missing after his daughter (not quite) was murdered (definitely). Faith Harrington, a briefly comatose journalist, arrives at the local hospital the same night the murderer is carted in following a tragic accident involving a pineapple and a nightclub stairwell. Faith begins suffering from carnivalesque nightmares featuring Matchbright & Metterton, a comedy duo who perished in a 1970s fire. While the plot thickens reality-side (Bleaker’s daughter was not his daughter), it positively coagulates in the subconscious world, as both Dennis and Harrington confront an agenda hatched within dreams and beyond the grave.

Those familiar with Alan Moore’s world(s) know that no detail is to be ignored, whether from the perspective of plot or to appreciate an erudite slight-of-hand. When subcontracting his search to the “Michelson & Morley Detective Agency”, Dennis finds himself in front of a backyard clubhouse whose entrance opens up into an improbably large office, where he converses with two Tims around the age of ten. (“We don’t handle messy divorces, and we have to be in bed at 9:30.”) They speak in a ’40s film noir narration style, and take payment in either cash or energy drinks.

The paragraphs I could burn with such regalement could take up an entire movie, surprise surprise, so consider that just a taste of the fun-time genre stroking herein. Stylistically, it is apparent that The Show was created by a comics man. Every shot and sequence will be familiar to readers of that medium, and it stands as a stark reminder that for whatever reason, virtually no filmmaker seems to fully embrace the aesthetic: an aesthetic you’d think would make the cinematographer’s job that much simpler. Just. Follow. The. Storyboards.

But I’m in fan-boy mode again; I didn’t think I’d be able to shake it. This acts as a companion piece to Under the Silver Lake, another film that got me gushing. Alan Moore’s hometown of Northampton is deeply unreal and fully realized; his characters are unreasonably eccentric individuals who interlock seamlessly with their peers and milieu; and his film has enough smoke and mirrors for a late night cocaine and dance party at the Black Lodge.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Jenkins’ surreal city symphony transforms Little England into an overlooked site of invention, resistance and revenge, while the erudite poetic wit of Moore’s script is a dizzying blend of high and low, the profane and the occult, funny-haha and funny-weird.”–Anton Bitel, VODzilla (VOD)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: STRAWBERRY MANSION (2021)

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Rent Strawberry Mansion on-demand

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DIRECTED BY: , Albert Birney

FEATURING: Kentucker Audley, Penny Fuller, Grace Glowicki, Reed Birney, Linas Phillips

PLOT: In the future, dreams are taxed, and when a dream auditor goes to check in on an elderly woman who’s off the grid, he finds himself drawn to dreams that are more free than his own.

Still from Strawberry Mansion (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: With themes reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and a handmade aesthetic straight from The Science of Sleep, Strawberry Mansion is the 2020s American indie version of a turn-of-the-millennium Michel Gondry movie. It may be a tribute, but it’s a worthy trip of its own.

COMMENTS: Dream movies are tricky, and making a dream movie on a low budget is even trickier. Strawberry Mansion addresses these limitations up front. The introductory dream is minimalist: an everyday kitchen, but painted entirely pink, into which comes a friendly visitor bearing a bucket of fried chicken. Throughout the movie, dreams will be conveyed using these types of simple props and sets thrown together in incongruous ways: actors dressed as Halloween-costume frogs (playing saxophones) or mice (in sailor suits); walking shrubs; demons with turquoise light-bulb eyes. Add in the occasional stop-motion animated skeleton or caterpillar to go along with some simple green screen, and you’ve proven that you can convey an otherwordly feel without millions of dollars of CGI.

The second scene addresses the non-budgetary conundrum dream movies face: the cliché of slippage between the waking world and the dream world, and the idea that the audience must be on guard to discriminate between the two. Our hero (a bureaucrat with the Brazil-ish name “Preble”) awakes to find himself craving chicken, and goes to Cap’n Kelly’s drive-thru, where the A.I. clerk tries to sell him a brand new “Chicken Shake.” Chowing down in the parking lot, he has a brief flash-forward hallucination—and that’s it, as far as the old “blurring the lines between dream and reality” bit goes. There is no “real’ world in Strawberry Mansion to confuse with the dream world. The premise of this near-future vision isn’t dystopian science fiction, but light absurdist satire. The very idea of taxes on dreams—dream of a buffalo, and you’re assessed a twenty-five cent bill; dandelions are three cents apiece—is something that would only occur to you in a dream. There’s no narrative confusion about whether we’re in the characters’ dreams or the movie’s reality, and there’s also never any sense that we’re meant to take this cinematic world as more than a dream itself. This dream-inside-a-dream structure frees us up to experience the movie on its own terms, instead of falling into the psychological thriller trap of trying to distinguish what is a dream from what is “really happening.”

As Preble, Audley is rather bland as a slouchy, glum bureaucrat, but that’s by design; his character contrasts with the grandiose poetry of dreams, which go beyond workaday realities. Penny Fuller‘s eccentric Arabella—when he asks her what she does during the intake interview, she describes herself as an “atmosphere creator,” so he jots down “artist” on his form’s “occupation” line—is the sweet but slightly ridiculous woman who will seduce him into a more fulfilling mode of being human. Strawberry Mansion is a manifesto for resisting the numbing effects of modern technology—represented explicitly by advertising—in favor of the playful freedom of imagination. This message is wrapped in a sugary confection about a man and a woman who have a deep but chaste romance based on shared dreams rather than the passions of the physical world. It’s funny, gentle, and filled with funny, gentle dreams to tickle your imagination. It may be the best dream you’ll have this year, and it’s well worth the bill.

Kentucker Audley is best known as an actor in indie circles, but he also founded the website NoBudge, which curates low-budget (and often weird) short films from up-and-coming directors. Audley and co-writer/co-director Albert Birney previously collaborated on the absurdist comedy Silvio (2017), about a gorilla news anchor going through an existential crisis. Strawberry Mansion is inexplicably named after a Philadelphia neighborhood. It debuted at Sundance and already has a distributor (Music Box), so expect to see it available to the general public later this year, by early 2022 by the very latest.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Many will surely find the metaphysical derring-do and aggressive weirdness of Strawberry Mansion too much of an ask, but for those prepared to dive down its nutso rabbit-hole, it offers a divertingly free-wheeling vision.”–Shaun Munro, Flickering Myth (festival screening)

CAPSULE: SUPER ME (2019)

Qi Huan Zhi Lv

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DIRECTED BY: Zhang Chong

FEATURING: Talu Wang, Bingkun Cao, Jia Song, Shih-Chieh King

PLOT: Sang Yu, a screenwriter at the end of his tether, finds he can swipe high-value artifacts from his nightmares to sell in the real world.

COMMENTS: Oh, unreliable narrator, how you revel in tales of dreams and dreams within them. Oh, Chinese cinema, how quickly you catch up to the West. Oh, Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” And, oh, there are yet more questions to pose concerning Super Me, but for the time being, I will table the niggling unanswerables. The most surprising thing about Zhang Chong’s dream-thriller (rated TV-14 for, among other reasons, “fear”) is that its double twist undercut my predictions. The least surprising thing about it was that once our hero shaved his dorky facial hair, he became rather handsome and self-assured.

Sang hasn’t slept in half a year, or so he tells us. This obviously cannot be true. But as we suspended our disbelief for Fight Club, so let us extend that courtesy to Super Me. Sang is harried by San, to whom he owes a screenplay. This movie is about a screenwriter, one who pines for humble café owner (and possibly ex-nightclub singer; the flashback is thorough but not entirely clear), Hua’er. Sang runs out of cash, has his laptop stolen, is kicked out of his apartment, and is about to jump from a roof when he’s talked down by the kindly pancake vendor on the sidewalk below. This mystical philosopher advises the worn-out young man that in life, people always talk about death—to remind themselves they are still alive. During his nightly nightmares (in which he’s being murdered by some otherworldly blue goon), Sang should just declare, “I’m dreaming” to break the spell. Taking this sage advice, the next thing we know, he awakes with the goon’s impossibly valuable sword in hand. Pawn shop, money bags, big living, and lucid dreaming ensue.

Chong’s film is peopled with run-of-the-mill characters and the third act’s tone shift doesn’t quite gel—its sudden menace kneecaps the arc of wish fulfillment/cutesy romance an hour into the proceedings. I liked the menace; it was well executed, with unlikely but believable gangsters. Having derailed the fun and breezy tone that had dominated (post-suicide attempt, of course), Chong undercut what could have made his story even rarer: the feel-good thriller. But the lead is so goofily charismatic that I couldn’t help but root for him as he traveled along his path to wisdom at a pleasant clip.

I approach modern Chinese cinema with something of a jaundiced eye, always wondering where the propaganda will seep into the picture. But Super Me was no more laden with moralizing than standard Hollywood fare. This was aided by its narrative structure. While not on the same satirical-poetical level as Buñuel, Chong nicely bleeds reality and dream together. (His hand is heavier than the late Spanish master, but so is everyone else’s.) And moreso than Chris “I’mma Dreamer” Nolan, Chong has a playfulness and lack of pretention that makes Super Me a pleasant diversion from waking life.

Super Me is streaming exclusively on Netflix for the time being.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…startling visuals, an immersive video game atmosphere, and a steady wash-rinse-repeat plot that’s equal parts simplicity and obscurity make this a potential cult film…  Just when you think you understand the rules of this bizarre world, a plot twist contradicts the conclusion.”–Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR (1989)

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DIRECTED BY: Jay Woelfel

FEATURING: Nick Baldasare, Rick Kesler, Susan Pinsky

PLOT: A young man finds himself trapped in a nightmare, and when he describes it to others, they are dragged into the dream, too.

Still from Beyond Dream's Door (1989)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It’s a long shot, but if you catch this modestly-budgeted but ambitiously-scripted little surreal collegiate horror in the right mood—in a darkened room around midnight, with a joint burning absent-mindedly in the ashtray, maybe even playing on an old VCR with minor tracking issues—you might just find that it gets enough of its hooks in you to drag you into its dream world.

COMMENTS: Why does Julie dream about a red balloon? What is the relationship between the armless janitor, the serial killer, and the red rubber monster? And why trap unassuming student Ben Dobbs in a never-ending nightmare in the first place? Those are just a small sample of the questions Beyond Dream’s Door won’t be answering.

It begins with an obvious dream sequence: laughing voices on a telephone, a topless girl, blue zombie hands waving in the air like the crowd at Coachella had been dosed with Thorazine. And here comes a spoiler, that isn’t really that much of a spoiler—when Ben seems to wake up from that dream, having apparently dozed off while studying calculus, it turns out that he’s actually inside another dream. The reason that this isn’t much of a spoiler is that this turns out to be the structure of the entire movie: it’s basically one long montage of dream sequences, with perhaps a quarter of the action occurring in the waking world.

Made in the late 80s by recent graduates of the now-defunct Ohio State University film department, Beyond Death’s Door is an authentic student film. A lot of the crew worked for class credit instead of cash money. That fact is reflected in the uninspiring acting—much of it from theater majors rather than seasoned film actors—and the sometimes woeful props. Dream’s Door overcomes those deficiencies with well-paced action that efficiently carries the viewer from one inventive dream to another. The slight plot has Ben, and the professor and teaching assistants who are dragged into his nightmare after unwisely agreeing to read his dream transcripts, trying to defeat a monstrous force, whose ultimate identity and motivation is left up to the audience’s imagination. Experimental film techniques—slo-mo shots of bursting light bulbs with sizzling filaments, faces in funhouse mirrors twisted into Lovecraftian monsters—effectively deliver bizarre shocks while coming in under budget. Recurring dream characters include Ben’s non-existent brother and a topless temptress (added at the distributor’s insistence to inject some cheesecake), along with the monster and the various alter-egos of whatever entity is orchestrating this nightmare. Even some cheesy faux-Poe doggerel, read solemnly over a dream montage, only adds to the odd flavor. While psychological horror fans won’t mistake Beyond Dream’s Door for a masterpiece, it’s a charming underdog of a chiller that well rewards viewers willing to risk becoming trapped inside its 1980s VHS reality.

Beyond Dream’s Door is available as part of Vinegar Syndrome’s “Home Grown Horrors” box set (available here), where it joins the stop-motion monster flick Winterbeast (1992) and the slasher Fatal Exam (1988) in a triple-feature of some of the better cheapo horror movies of the video store boom. The special edition DVD was loaded with extras (including two commentary tracks and the original short film from which Dream’s Door was adapted); Vinegar Syndrome ports all of those over, adding several more featurettes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Wolefel’s] fascinating first feature film, Beyond Dream’s Door, avoids clichés and formulas to bring the stunningly surreal world of nightmares into painful perspective. As a result, instead of the same old craven crap, we are privileged to see one of the late ’80s best independent fright films.”–Bill Gibron, DVD Talk (2006 DVD)