Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Julien Donkey-Boy (1999)

“Julien Donkey-Boy” is an occasionally emotional, mainly tedious foray into the art of Dogme 95, laden with grainy visuals and non-existent plotting. It recalls the much better film “Buddy Boy,” which came out the same year. “Buddy Boy” director Mark Hanlon knew how to engage your interest and make you care about his main character, despite his shortcomings.

Julien is a 20-something paranoid schizophrenic played by Ewen Bremner, one of the most underutilized character actors of today. Julien lives with his equally disturbed father, younger brother, and sister, who he has impregnated before the film’s beginning.

Uncomfortable yet? The whole movie works to make the viewer feel discomfort while also invoking sadness and emotion. At this it is only moderately successful. The dialogue is often random and directionless. The experience of the film is akin to having hundreds of puzzle pieces of differing shapes and sizes, none of them fitting together in the least.


While watching, you come to a crossroads- should you spend a indefinite amount of time trying to put together the pieces, or should you leave the goddamned thing for somebody else to solve? The visuals of “Julien Donkey-Boy” are willfully awful, presumably shot on a home video camera bought from the bargain bin of Best Buy for a total of five dollars.

Ewen Bremner does an excellent job as Julien, but although Julien isn’t innately evil or unlikable, it’s hard to emotionally invest in his plight. In fact, the movie has its meaningful moments, but most of what is has to say isn’t particularly innovative or profound, and it’s hard to feel many emotions other than bewilderment and disgust.

Meanwhile, “Julien Donkey-Boy” functions more as a curiosity item than a movie, with famous filmmaker Werner Herzog playing Julien’s gas-mask wearing, cough syrup- guzzling father, who offers to pay Julien’s younger brother (Evan Neumann) ten dollars to dance with him in his dead mother’s dress. Meanwhile, Julien’s sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) prepares to have her brother’s baby.

The film is dedicated to director Harmony Korine’s schizophrenic Uncle Eddy, and although I hate to criticize a personal film-making project (unlike the soulless Hollywood money grabbers I love to have a go at), I must. “Julien Donkey-Boy” is hard to sit through and willfully incoherent, like a cross between a David Lynch throwaway project and a bad acid trip. It is one of the few movies I can honestly say had very little point, and isn’t that a shame? Not for the majority of sober filmgoers.

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Unsettling and provocative, “The Piano Teacher” is at once a study of the lives of deeply unhappy people and a commentary on the dangers of repression. It’s not pretty or pleasant, but one can expect nothing less from controversial Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. He shines an unyielding light on his character’s perversions, prejudices, and desires.

The piano teacher of the title, Erika (impressively portrayed by Isabelle Huppert) is an aging spinster living with her crazy-domineering mother (Annie Girardot,) who still treats her like she is a girl on the cusp of puberty, who needs to be nettled and looked after constantly. They fight viciously, share the same bed, and there’s an incestuous subtext going on. Even when that subtext is confirmed, we still can scarcely believe it.

Erika is a very lonely and repressed soul, but she’s not a particularly sympathetic character. She is cruel, petty, sexually aggressive, and at one point inexplicably maims a promising student’s hand with shards of glass. However, it is impossible not to feel sorry for her at some point. She is an extremely hard character to read, and her seeming lack of emotion puzzles us deeply.

We are given virtually no backstory on Erika at all- her father is locked up in an asylum somewhere, and she and her mother have long be entangled in a sick, co-dependent relationship. That is all. When Erika meets Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel,) he pursues her, but neither of them know what they’re in for. They promptly head down the path of Sadomasochism and mind games.

I was surprised that this was categorized on my favorite site as ‘erotica.’ Frankly put, this is not in the least bit erotic and has some of the most unsexy sex scenes for a film containing so many. “The Piano Teacher” is not unlike “Shame” by Steve McQueen in that respect. There is no joy or virility in the ‘love’ scenes, even the consensual sex has a not only clinical but aggressive feel to it as well.

Isabelle Huppert is fabulous here, and Susanne Lothar (late, great actress and one of the only good things about Haneke’s pretentious bore-fest “Funny Games”) has a small part as the mother of one of Erika’s students whose distinct lack of warmth mirrors Erika’s mother’s own.

I wish Walter’s character had been developed a little more. He exists simply to pursue Erika’s character for one half of the movie and brutalize her emotionally and physically for the other. If his motivations had been considered more thoroughly, and his attraction to Erika better explained, the movie would have been better.

There’s a lot of ambiguity and subtext in Haneke’s films, and “The Piano Teacher” is no exception. This ambiguity is both a gift and a curse, as it is endlessly frustrating but also intriguing and may command multiple viewings. There were some thoroughly ‘What the Fuck’ moments as well, for example when Erika urinates on the ground of the drive-in theater.

“The Piano Teacher” contains some distinctly ‘Haneke’-esque annoyances like superfluous long takes but the film is startlingly adept in its power and never betrays itself with Hollywood B.S. or an inappropriately upbeat ending. Ultimately it is as as it’s as enigmatic as it’s heroine but less weirdly naive- it knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Worth watching.

Tony (2009)

“Tony” is the rare exception where the term ‘indie horror’ means smarter rather than just cheaper. On one level, it’s a pretty simple premise (man commits crimes, man goes unnoticed until…), but on another, it a phenomenal character study of a man to whom desperation is a constant companion, to whose hobbies others would find sickness and perversion. All that and a highly effective performance by unnoticed actor Peter Ferdinando, as the titular killer.

Tony is a lonely fellow who idles away his days watching low-grade 80’s action films. We see him desperately trying to make a connection with the uncaring world around him, but socialization is hard, especially if your second hobby is, well… killing people.

The murders are sporadic and not overly graphic. Tony just gets fed up with humanity. Don’t we all? Tony is unwashed, dirty, and unemployed. He lives off the U.K. welfare system without having done a real day’s work in his life. He’s haunted by memories of his abusive father. It’s hard not to feel bad for him as he navigates an apathetic London, and hard not to be repulsed as he cohabitants in his filthy apartment with the corpses of his victims.

First you might consider the place of Tony’s action films. Are the driving him to kill? Probably not, the movie suggests. People drive people to kill, the media is scapegoated. I am reminded of an eight-year-old boy who took a break from “Grand Theft Auto” long enough to shoot his elderly caretaker in the head.

All the things you can find obviously wrong with that family (guns unlocked, eight-year-old’s playing restricted games,) and the video game becomes the scapegoat. It’s easy. It’s too easy. Sorry for that tangent. Anyway, “Tony” is grim, and sometimes very gross, but don’t expect a “Human Centipede”-style torturefest.

An interesting fact Tom Six made “The Human Centipede II”‘s lead Laurence R. Harvey watch this movie for inspiration on his character, ‘Martin.’ A great performance inspiring another. “Tony” reminds me of what THC2 could have been if Six had concentrated on character development rather than cutting ligaments and pulling out teeth with pliers.

At the center of “Tony” is Peter Ferdinando’s fearless performance, playing a sick, sick character with a glimmer of empathy. The other actors back him up nicely, although in the end it’s solitary Tony, friendless, unchanging, and scrutinizing a world he can’t quite understand. And indulging in his second favorite hobby, of course.
Rating-
8.5/10

A Room For Romeo Brass (1999)

Shane Meadows knows how to do a slow-burner. One of Britain’s most powerful filmmakers, Meadows is a master of racketing up the tension in a seemingly ordinary situation. Never stupid, never sensational, he casts his unblinking eye on modern life in the UK and the fragilities of human relationships. If I had to choose between Meadows and Mike Leigh, I would pick Meadows, every time.

“A Room For Romeo Brass” is about how an ordinary friendship can undergo extraordinary duress when a dangerous third party is added to the mix. Two preteen friends, white Gavin and mixed-race Romeo share a brotherly bond that is equal parts camaraderie and constant teasing. Gavin (Ben Marshall,) called ‘Knocks,’ has a bad back and a limp, and is in transition to another surgery.

He’s always up to a bit of mischief, and Romeo (Andrew Shim) is his softer-hearted other half. When a man named Morell (a very young Paddy Considine) rescues Gavin and Romeo from some bigger boys, he seems like a harmless, if eccentric, addition to the group. With his ‘Simple Jack’ haircut and halting speech, he doesn’t readiate ‘cool,’but he is friendly and can tell a sensational story like anyone.

The thing about these kinds of stories is, if they sound too good to be true they probably are, but this matters nada to the boys and one of them, Romeo, is sucked in by his dynamic personality. Gavin thinks that Morell is a sucker and good for a mean practical joke. He’s deadly wrong. As Morell reveals a dark, violent side, Romeo and Gavin’s friendship is tested to it’s outer limits.

Shane Meadows found two good little actors in Shim and Marshall, but Considine is the main draw here. Considine, who would later astonish audiences, including myself, in Shane Meadows’ grungy revenge indie “Dead Man’s Shoes”, puts a unique spin on a character who is probably suffering from an undiagnosed mental disorder.

Like “Sling Blade”‘s Karl or “Buddy Boy”s Francis, Morell’s uniqueness is electrifying to watch. At times I was wowed by this apparently simple man’s ability to coerce and manipulate, and wondered if his limitations were a ruse and he was, in fact, a very clever psychopath. The truth is much more complicated.

Wait for the precise moment when the up-til-then likably dotty Morrel becomes suddenly sinister. It’s mind-blowing. “A Room for Romeo Brass” glues your eyes to the screen, and tells a intense story about friendship and betrayal, about a wolf in sheep’s clothing who fleetingly wins- if not earns- our sympathy nonetheless. With it’s three-dimensional characters and incisive writing, it’s nothing less than riviting. Bravo, Shane Meadows. Keep them coming.

Angst (1983)

So, apparently this movie is super rare and eventually I got my hands on a bootlegged copy (don’t judge me, I’m not proud of it!) The DVD I now own is the short version (at 75 minutes) and has somewhat grainy picture quality. The plot follows the homicidal maniac credited simply as ‘the psychopath’ (eerily played by Erwin Leder,) who is released from prison where he served time for the murder of an elderly lady only to set his sights on a family living in an isolated house.

The main character never kills to steal or pillage. He has no use for cash or fineries, and never knew his victims prior to the homicides. He kills simply because he gets off on it. He has never known a life without cruelty or abuse, and this is neither a rationalization or an excuse. Now I’m going to format this review a little differently than the others. Here are some thoughts:

. “Angst” approaches the serial killer genre a little differently than other films of it’s kind. First of all, the movie makes no effort to sympathize or rationalize the killer’s actions. Unlike, for instance, Gerard Johnson’s “Tony” (a very good movie in it’s own right) where you grow to feel for the psychopath, Leder’s killer is unrelentingly (and perhaps appropriately) loathsome.

. I may be mistaken, but I believe the killer never speaks to any of his victims. We hear his voice through a voice-over narration. This is an interesting filmmaking method, as is the bizarre and jarring cinematography and soundtrack.

. I hate the fact that this guy even got out of prison because he made up some bullshit story about being well. Twice! (the first was for the murder of his mother.) People like this should be kept behind bars for as long as humanly possible, as with all mass murderers and sexual deviants. It’s not worth it, people! (Okay, that’s my inner Conservative talking, but it’s a pretty f’ing valid point.)

. It made me mad when I saw that the wheelchair-bound man-boy (Rudolf Götz) at the home the killer broke into was left alone in the house. I’m sorry, but a man with the IQ of an infant shouldn’t be left to fend for himself while his mom and sister are out shopping! He could fall out of his wheelchair… or, shit his pants… or have his home broken into by a necrophiliac serial killer! See, the unthinkable does happen!

. The stand-out actor was definitely Erwin Leder. Rudolf Götz was good too as the mentally challenged man. Silvia Rabenreither and Edith Rosset were a little weak as the daughter and the mother, respectively.

. I was puzzled and relieved that he *MILD SPOILER* let the dog live. My only guess (besides that he was just such a nice guy, har-har) is that he wanted a relic from the killings. Whatever the reason, I was happy that the cute little daschund did not meet a gruesome (and untimely) end. *END OF SPOILER*

Overall I found this movie interesting because it offers a glimpse into a serial killer’s mind. I didn’t really find it all that disturbing, but others might be horrified by the violence displayed here, so for that reason I would not recommend it to sensitive viewers. The camerawork and soundtrack are another asset- haunting and strange, it adds to the sense of disorientation and horror the movie is trying to achieve. Watch it, if you can find it.

The Living & the Dead (2006)

Not your first pick for Mother’s Day, The Living and the Dead is morbid and horrifying, and I mean that, strangely, as a compliment. It is a family drama, a psychological thriller, a tragedy, an art film, all these things at once, and and despite it’s flaws, it doesn’t overextend.

The film opens with Lord Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a worn-down, silent shell of an old man, pushing an empty wheelchair through a quiet room. The image delivers the same feeling as a dark grey painting, lonely and despondent. He watches, lip quivering, as an ambulance pulls into his massive estate. Cut back an undetermined amount of time. Donald stands straighter. He maintains a kind of pride that must come with being one of the British elite, but he is grieving. He has a lot to grieve about.

His wife, Lady Nancy Brocklebank, is terribly sick and probably won’t be with him much longer. The bills are piling up, and they will soon lose their mansion. His son James (Leo Bill, in an over-the-top performance that works), dashes around the house with little clear purpose.

James is in his mid-to-late twenties. He is stuck in a kind of permanent childhood, the kind of childhood that is made up of nightmares, not whimsy. Although Simon Rumley, the director, describes him as “mentally challenged,” I suspect paranoid schizophrenia.

James is by far my favorite character in the film. He is a complicated movie creation, and his emotional limitations do not hold back his complexity or ambiguity as a person. Donald treats James with the casual cruelty that is most likely inflicted on the mentally ill more often than we think, condescending to him, forbidding him to use the phone or answer the door. James is desperate to prove to his father that he is an independent adult and plans to do so by taking care of his mother.

His father understandably rejects the idea. In an matter of days, James will have locked the door, shut out the nurse, skipped his pills, and may have destroyed the lives of those closest to him. Soon, as his lucidity deteriorates, the viewer begins to wonder if the past events were only in James’ head. This is a film for a patient audience — it’s a while before anything happens and the reality of the events is questionable.

The atmosphere is palpable, and the characters are well developed. There are many plot holes and unanswered questions throughout the film, as the story itself seems on the edge of reality, with its Gothic features and abstract images.

People have had different opinions on whether James is “good” or “bad.” He is a disturbing character, to be sure. He is not a sex maniac, mad slasher, or stony-faced killer, but an exceptionally childlike and deeply disturbed man. This movie might make you feel differently about a crime, in the paper, in which mental illness was a factor. Despite naysayers, The Living and the Dead is an emotional bombshell and thought-provoking film.

Tideland (2005)

“Tideland,” Terry Gilliam’s fantastical horror brain child, is an undeniably original, unmistakably repulsive journey into the life and mind of one troubled little girl (Jodelle Ferland.) To say it outstays it’s welcome it an understatement, the film clocks at over two hours and leaves an undeniably bad taste in one’s throat. The characters are hard to comprehend, much less like or understand.

All this would be bad enough without the bizarre intro by Terry Gilliam, who vaguely informs us that children ‘bounce back’ from situations such as these and tells us ‘don’t forget to laugh.’ But what is there to laugh at in a disgusting horror show such as this?  it’s as if Dave Peltzer of ‘A Child Called It’ fame had promised us a knee-slapping good time.

Between the role of Jeff Bridges as the girl’s junkie father, who sits down in a chair to shoot up, dies, and spends the majority of the movie in various states of decomposition, our prepubescent heroine trading ‘silly kisses’ and sexual curiousness with a mentally retarded man (Brendon Fletcher,) and Daddy (prior to his death) instructing his daughter to prepare heroin for him, I found very little to laugh at in this revolting freak show.

The fact that Gilliam expects us to laugh and see this whole travesty through the eyes of a child speaks volumes on the man’s mental stability. What does he think we are? Animals. Sub-human cretins who are all-too-eager and willing to laugh at the mental and psychological destruction of a child? Apparently, if Gilliam should have his way, we will be laughing at child endangerment through the eyes of that child, oblivious to the adult consequences of such atrocities. Mmm-kay.

After her harpy mother (Jennifer Tilly) O.D.’s Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), ten or eleven or so, is swept away from the squalid tenement she calls home by her druggie father (Bridges,) and tries her best to adjust to her new home in her father’s childhood house on the massive prairie, far away from anything. When Dad dies, Jeliza-Rose acts much as if he was alive, talking to his corpse and exploring the prairie, where she meets local freak Dell (Janet McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother, Dickens (Fletcher.)

Dell, who as it happens, bangs the stuttering grocery delivery boy (Dylan Taylor) in exchange for food, takes a liking to Jeliza-Rose and invites her and her doll heads (Jeliza-Rose frequently talks through her collection of severed doll’s heads, did I mention that?) to live in her and Dickens’ family home.

“Tideland” often references Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ as Jeliza-Rose ‘falls down the rabbit hole’ from one bizarre situation to another. Although technically well-made in many respects, “Tideland” is yucky, overlong, and had me begging for it to end by the halfway point.

Jodelle Ferland turns in pretty good performance as Jeliza-Rose (although I found her Southern accent exaggerated) and Brendan Fletcher gives a decent supporting performance as Dickens (who, through no fault of his own, reminded me a bit of Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’) but overall the film is a fail. I would recommend you watch “Alice” by Jan Svankmajer as a dark take on “Alice in Wonderland” rather than this. It is less sickening and doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching for hours on end, but hey, that’s just me.