Archive for the Mind Experiments! Category

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bizarro Movies, Enigmatic Films, Experimental Films, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Mind Experiments!, Something Different, Weird Movies with tags , , , , on April 16, 2013 by knifefighter

UPSTREAM COLOR
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

upstream_color_xlgBack in 2004, director Shane Carruth made his debut feature, PRIMER. It was a little indie film about four guys trying to start their own computer company in a garage, and mysterious storage lockers, and time travel. The movie is told in such a way that you only figure it out a little at a time, but it was a terrific first film, and it made Carruth a director to look for. Unfortunately, it took him until 2013 to release his second film, UPSTREAM COLOR, and it is in very limited release in just a few cities. I hope it’s not as long a wait for his next one.

For some reason, I just like the title itself. UPSTREAM COLOR. Just a really cool name for a movie. So what is it actually about? Well, that’s a little tougher to explain. But I’ll try.

Carruth has a talent for enigmatic films that you need to really think about. In this vein, he’s a lot like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, although Carruth’s films are nothing like theirs. How much you’ll enjoy UPSTREAM COLOR depends on how strongly you feel you have to have all the answers, and how open you are to new experiences.

UPSTREAM COLOR begins with some kids drinking some weird concoction made from little grubs harvested from plants by a mysterious guy. Is he some kind of mad scientist, or something else entirely? When the kids drink the liquid, they are able to read each other’s minds – or it looks that way. When one kid tries to hit another, the other one is able to know exactly how to deflect the blow. Two other kids close their eyes and do the exact same hand movements in synch. What exactly are these grubs?

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The guy then kidnaps a woman at a bar named Kris (Amy Seimetz, who is actually quite striking in some scenes), using a Taser. He makes her ingest one of the grub/worms and then brings her back to a house where he proceeds to brainwash her. He convinces her that ice water is most wonderful reward she can get, simply by telling her it is so. He tells her she cannot look into his face, because it is made of the same material that makes up the sun, and it is too bright to look at. He makes her copy out long passages from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”  and fold the papers into links to a giant paper chain. He also gets her to take out a loan on her house and withdraw all of her money from the bank and give it to him.

At one point, when she’s in bed, she sees worms running under her skin, and tries to remove them with a kitchen knife.

We are then introduced to another odd gentleman, called simply The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) in the credits. He performs an odd operation on Kris involving her and a small pig, the grafting of some of the pig’s flesh onto Kris’s body, and what looks like a blood transfusion between them. The Sampler also runs a pig farm, presumably stocked with pigs that have been used in similar operations. The Sampler gets his name because when he isn’t tending to his pig farm, he is wandering around the woods with a microphone and a synthesizer, recording all kinds of strange noises and sampling them to play back later.

After her bank account is drained, Kris gets away and tries to adjust to normal life again, but it’s hard to go back. She loses her job, and her personality becomes almost robotic. It is then that she meets Jeff (director Carruth) on a commuter train and they begin having conversations that eventually lead to a romantic relationship. And then she begins to realize that maybe Jeff has experienced a similar abduction in his past, because he has the same kind of knife marks on his leg that she does…

So what do Thoreau, pigs and the ingesting of strange worms have to do with each other? You’ll have to see UPSTREAM COLOR for yourself, and it may take some work to figure it out. UPSTREAM COLOR is the kind of movie that does not provide ready answers, but that’s okay. There are so many movies that try to explain every little detail of what’s going on, that it’s a relief sometimes to find a movie like this, that refuses to make it easy. I’m still not one hundred percent sure about every aspect of the movie, but I do know that I found the film to be very compelling, and I’m sure I’ll see it again at some point.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) undergoes a strange abduction in Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) experiences a strange abduction in Shane Carruth’s UPSTREAM COLOR.

The direction by Carruth (who also wrote the script) is quite good, as is the cinematography (which, it turns out, is also by Carruth). It’s a visually interesting film, with minimal dialogue in its first half, and yet it might just captivate you from the moment it begins. Just go in expecting something completely different, and you won’t be disappointed. This is not like the typical Hollywood film. It’s another animal entirely.

And for that reason, because it plays by its own rules, I give UPSTREAM COLOR three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives UPSTREAM COLOR ~three and a half knives.

TRANCE (2013)

Posted in 2013, Crime Films, Criminal Masterminds, Danny Boyle Movies, Enigmatic Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, LL Soares Reviews, Mind Experiments!, Psychological Thrillers, Rosario Dawson with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANCE (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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Danny Boyle has become a director who a lot of people equate with quality product. My favorite movie of his remains TRAINSPOTTING, which was a breath of fresh air when it came out in 1996, but  before and after that he made such memorable films as SHALLOW GRAVE (1994), 28 DAYS LATER (2002), SUNSHINE (2007), SLUMDOG MILLIONARE (2008), and 127 HOURS (2010), the latter of which had James Franco memorably cutting off his own hand after a rock climbing accident. So a new Boyle movie is usually something to look forward to. But then again, this is the same guy who also made the completely awful A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997), so you can’t expect a home run every time.

I had mixed feelings about TRANCE when I saw it, and continue to feel ambivalent about it in retrospect. Boyle’s new movie seems brilliant at times, and ridiculous at other times, but fairly entertaining throughout. It’s one of those movies that feels the need to be overly complicated, trying to keep the audience constantly guessing what is really happening, and these kinds of movies tend to be more tedious than riveting.

When TRANCE opens, we meet Simon (James McAvoy, who most people will remember as the young Professor Xavier in 2011’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), who works at an auction house in London that deals in expensive paintings. We get an interesting crash course in what employees are supposed to do in the event that there’s a robbery; how to keep priceless masterpieces out of the hands of criminals. So of course, there is a robbery for real, led by criminal mastermind, Franck (the always terrific Vincent Cassel), and Simon, who was always told not to try to be a hero in such situations, decides to be a hero, and gets cracked in the head for his troubles.

He wakes up in a hospital bed, with a case of amnesia, and an angry Franck, who wants to get his hands on Goya’s “Witches in the Air” (a wonderful painting, by the way) which has gone missing. Simon knows used to know where it was, but can’t remember anymore. So Franck takes him to a hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, who has been in everything from KIDS, 1995, to JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, 2001, to  SIN CITY, 2005, and Tarantino’s half of GRINDHOUSE – “Death Proof,” 2007 ).

So far, so good. This one’s got a solid cast and a compelling premise.

The bad guys wire Simon up with a microphone, so they can hear his sessions and get the painting that much quicker once they learn where it is. But something goes wrong. Elizabeth gets wise to what’s going on and wants a cut of the money the painting would bring. She also plays mind games with the bad guys, demanding that they let her hypnotize them as well, to make Simon feel “less vulnerable.” And it turns out, not everyone has all their cards on the table – various characters have hidden motivations that we are not privy to at first, and things get complicated.

By the time we get to the big reveal in the last half hour, I wasn’t sure if I liked this movie or not. It went through some highs and lows getting to the big explanation, but once we get there, I was pretty satisfied with how things ultimately unravel.

McAvoy is a decent lead character, both sympathetic and unlikable in equal turns, and Cassel (who was so terrific in movies like Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE, 2002, and Darren Aronofksy’s THE BLACK SWAN, 2010) plays bad guys like this well. But the movie is easily stolen by Rosario Dawson in every scene she is in. Sexy, smart and electric on the screen, it is Dawson who ultimately won me over for this movie, and it is her character who I wanted to reach the end with all the marbles.

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I still think that TRANCE is a little too complicated for its own good, and for a while there, you’re not sure if certain crosses or double-crosses are real or in the minds of characters that have been hypnotized. But for the most part, I liked this movie. I just don’t think it’s in the same league of Boyle’s best films.

If you’re a Boyle fan, or enjoy a good thriller, you should check TRANCE out. But be prepared for a bumpy ride getting to the answers.

I give it three knives out of five.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives TRANCE ~three knives.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bizarro Movies, Cult Movies, Experimental Films, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Mind Experiments!, Paranormal, Psychedelic Films, Telekinesis, Visions of Hell, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by knifefighter

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

After watching Ridley Scott’s new blockbuster, PROMETHEUS, I took a train to the other side of town to see a movie that was, in many ways, its complete opposite. Low-budget, often badly acted, and just plain bizarre, Panos Cosmatos’ new film, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a viewing experience of a completely different sort. But I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like it. There were some parts of it that I liked very much.

Supposedly made in 2010, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW has recently been doing the midnight movie circuit in some cities. I originally saw it listed as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival a month or so ago. I’d wanted to see it, but couldn’t. And now it’s back for a few weekend showings at a local art theater. So, for many people, it’s a new release. I know, for me it was. I also know that, based on the title alone, and a brief synopsis that highlighted a psychedelic storyline, I really had to see this one for myself.

The movie begins with an instructional video from Dr. Mercurio Arboria, for the Arboria Institute, which promotes emotional happiness and peace of mind. Supposedly, a visit to the foundation will include pharmacology, meditation and other fun stuff, in a regimen designed to help people find true inner happiness. Sounds pleasant enough. This video looked a bit dated and reminded me of the instructional videos that were made by the Dharma Initiative on the TV series LOST. Kind of an interesting way to start things off.

The movie’s credits begin, showing a giant, pulsating eyeball, with the actors and crews’ names coming forth from the eye’s pupil. It’s actually a cool opening credit sequence, and a cool image overall. I thought it was a good sign this was going to be a lot of fun.

Then the movie starts. It’s 1983. The foundation is being run by Dr. Arboria’s associate, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). But strangely, despite that cool promotional video, there’s only one patient in the whole building—or, if there are more patients, we never see them. The patient’s name is Elena (Eva Allan), and she’s a young girl around 19 or 20, who is dressed in a hospital gown and has long, brunette hair (she almost looks like those long-haired ghosts from movies like THE RING and THE GRUDGE). Elena does not speak, and appears to be in some kind of depressed/almost comatose state. Each day she is brought into a room to sit on a plastic seat, while in another, facing room, separated by a sheet of Plexiglas, Dr. Nyle talks to her. He talks and talks, but she never responds. He must have a lot of time to spend trying to help her, since there don’t seem to be any other patients for him to attend to.

For the first half of the film, this takes up most of the time. Elena is repeatedly brought into the room, Dr. Nyle repeatedly talks to her and gets no response. There are point-of-view shots of us going down an orange, antiseptic hallway. Its repetition seems almost aggravating at times. The dialogue is actually kind of silly, and the acting isn’t very good. There were more than a few times when I laughed out loud. Everyone else in the audience was quiet. I don’t think they appreciated the movie’s goofiness.

A few times, Dr. Nyle goes home to his wife Rosemary (Marilyn Norry), whom he either lectures or ignores. When she speaks, he makes goofy faces. There doesn’t seem much of a point to what’s going on.

Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) controls everything in the Arboria Institute.            Or does he? (from BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW)

There is a female nurse who clearly dislikes Elena. And we eventually learn that Elena has CARRIE-like telekinetic powers. There are also strange robots, that look like men in space suits with television screens in their bellies, called Sentionauts (it says so on the computer screen that activates them). They patrol the foundation’s halls after hours, especially if Elena leaves her room.

Then, about half-way through, something happens. We go back to 1966. Dr. Arboria, along with a female assistant, are shown in reverse negative (everything is strikingly white, and we can barely see people’s features). Dr. Nyle is prepped to enter another dimension, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. All white, he submerges himself in a giant puddle of inky blackness, and goes out the other side, where he turns different colors and his skin melts!! When he comes back, he is transformed. Slimy and black with ooze, he infects the female assistant, and she gives birth to a baby, before she suddenly dies. Could this baby be Elena? (!).

Back in 1983, Dr. Arboria, the head of the foundation, has become an drooling invalid/drug addict, who isn’t capable of doing much for himself. Dr. Nyle has to look after him, and even administer his heroin (morphine?) injections. Dr. Nyle has the true power at the institute and he clearly likes to manipulate those around him.

At one point, Dr. Nyle has kind of a breakdown and removes his wig (revealing a shiny bald head) and puts on a strange leather suit. While he is gone, Elena attempts to escape the facility.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a mixed bag, but I could definitely see it becoming a cult movie over time. Parts of it are so bad, it made me think of movies like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and I think RAINBOW could benefit from an audience that interacts with it. It might make for a much more enjoyable experience. There are other times when the imagery is actually pretty interesting. But never once did I feel that the movie lived up to the promise of that great title—except maybe for the very strange events that occur in 1966.

The music, by Jeremy Schmidt, is mostly a droning synthesizer score, and it does get repetitive at times, but overall, it works. There are even parts where it gets more animated. The music was one of my favorite parts of the film, and definitely complemented the psychedelic feel of the proceedings.

The over-use of different kinds of filters in the film, and negative effects, seem like an amateur’s attempts at creating otherworldly visuals—or someone trying to transcend a miniscule budget—and there are moments when it feels like a student fim. There are also lots of close-ups on inanimate objects that go on a little too long. Despite the fact that it really is not a very good movie, there were parts of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW that I enjoyed despite myself, and, as I said, there are several times when I found myself laughing—even though that probably was not what the director intended.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, for the most part, might be one of those “so bad they’re good” movies for a new generation. It plays things completely straight (to its benefit), but is probably campy enough to attract a rabid audience.  I haven’t seen anything this odd (and yet enjoyable) in a long time, and it reminded me how movies like this were much easier to find in the 1970s and 80s. It made me miss those times.

A movie like this is hard to rate, because it’s clearly not meant to be a normal, mainstream narrative film. And, even as I write this, I find myself enjoying the movie now more, in retrospect, than when I was sitting in the theater. Despite its very obvious flaws, I give BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, two and a half knives. And I’m sure its imagery will grow on me over time and this rating will improve…..

This might just be the kind of film that deserves to be revisited on Blu-ray.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW~ two and a half knives! But it’s such an odd movie, that rating may change over time.