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Twisted Pair (2018)

Neil Breen is the closest thing we have today to a living Ed Wood, a filmmaker so determined to ell his stories without a clue how to accomplish this feat, routinely finding new and astounding ways to transform the medium of film into an incomprehensible experience that can only be best appreciated through the howls of incredulous laughter. In 2013, Neil Breen came to attention among a certain select audience seeking the pleasures of a so-bad-it’s-good movie, and I count myself chief among this nation. I was fascinated by Fateful Findings and have since sought out Breen’s other films, using them as the main attraction for a gathering of like-minded friends and adult beverages. He may not be the next Tommy Wiseau or produce an accidental masterpiece like The Room (I don’t think an Oscar-nominee will be playing Breen in any biopic, though I pick Eric Roberts). Breen is taking advantage of the pocketbooks of eager midnight movie enthusiasts but he refuses to see his movies in that derisive light. To him, and God bless him, they are legitimate pieces of art and he personally disallows any marketing of them as “midnight” or “cult” movies (I saw portions of his actual contract he sent to our local art house theater playing his newest picture). His latest is Twisted Pair, a “psychological thriller” with double the onscreen Breen. It may not rise to the craptacular heights of Fateful Findings, but Twisted Pair is a worthy and hilarious entry in the ever-expanding yet mordantly redundant Neil Breen cinematic universe.

To explain the premise or story is almost superfluous, like trying to find a logical interpretation in a David Lynch movie or a Jackson Pollack splotchy painting. I’ll try. Cade and Cale Altaire (Breen) are twins who were… abducted by aliens… and given supernatural powers thanks to… A.I. technology? Back on Earth, Cade (or Cale?) has a wife (Sara Meritt) and plant bombs in the buildings of evil corporations, I think. Cale (or Cade?) is addicted to drugs (maybe?), has an addict girlfriend, and abducts corrupt CEOs, politicians, and authority figures and chains them in a murder dungeon where he lectures them and occasionally shoots them casually in the kneecap or shoulder. There’s also a conspiracy about trying to… do nefarious things with a cutting-edge A.I. virtual reality program… that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands? Cade (or Cale?) must stop these evil forces from doing… evil things… by blowing them up? Also, his wife may be a spy.

If the above sounds like pure insanity straight from the cuckoo source, then you have read it clearly. Twisted Pair doesn’t abide by any traditional standards of film or storytelling.There isn’t so much a plot with a beginning, middle, and end as there are a jumble of scenes that could have been placed in any order whatsoever and lost nothing. With Neil Breen as writer and director, we typically get a lot of visual repetition; whatever info can be imparted in one moment Breen decides to impart in five. On the other side, storylines and characters will be summarily dropped or introduced with little context. Take for instance the villain who, as best I can tell, speaks with a voice modulated tone in real life. It’s not like he’s holding some mask to his mouth or anything that would alter his voice to that super deep register. Apparently he just speaks this way normally, and it’s hard to understand half of what he says, and it’s hilarious. Does this character matter in the scheme of things? Not really. He’s there to be another face to a vaguely defined conspiracy of forces that Breen is determined to thwart. The villainous character just happens to fondle dollar-store costume jewelry as a side bonus.

As another sign of repetition, Neil Breen obviously bought a package of special effects, and he is determined to get all his money’s worth. Thanks to the alien A.I. (I think), Cade and Cale are gifted with super powers but these only seem to involve jumping. Cade will form a Super Mario Bros.-esque jumping pose, or spread out onto the ground like Spider-Man, and then magically leap fifty feet in the air. It’s a cheesy effect that looked more realistic on the Six-Million Dollar Man in the 1970s, but Breen is going to make sure you become familiar with it again and again. Sometimes the jumping seems more trouble than it’s worth, as Breen’s character could have more easily take a flight of stairs. A similar effects package must have been explosions, so you’ll see the same fiery effect over and over across a variety of surfaces, though never impacting those surfaces or leaving anything resembling debris. You may become ore familiar with this oft-repeated explosion than the faces of your own relatives. There’s also a strange addition where whenever Cade touches a presumably locked door a little light goes on, as if to communicate he is unlocking it. This happens a lot. The last scene of the movie, Cade addresses the camera directly, touches his heart with two fingers that glow, and says without a hint or irony, “I’ll be right here.” He has to know he’s ripping off E.T., right? By the rules clearly established, does this mean he’s unlocking his own heart?

The side storyline with the twin could have been cut entirely (not that there’s much that genuinely serves a larger story). I was expecting more interaction between the two Breens and for each to reflect some sort of dichotomy between good and evil. Nope. The second Breen, Cale, is a vengeful vigilante in a hooded sweatshirt and a gloriously fake beard. He shouts questions like, “Who am I? What am I?” but doesn’t seem that torn up. He kidnaps some corrupt officials and promises to hold them an undetermined period of time, occasionally shooting or beating them. Then the screen starts to have other images of other chained officials superimpose while an eerie soundtrack kicks in, seemingly implying the sheer numbers of Cale’s victims. At no point are we meant to see Cale as a wayward figure succumbed to his darker impulses. In fact, Cale and Cade aren’t that different at all; both of them destroy the apparatus of corruption and take human life. The prisoners have a hilarious moment that feels like an improv run amok as they try and top one another with all the bad things they have been committing. They almost run over each other in their carefree confessions of moral decay. Yet these missing people, presumably important enough to attract the attention of the police and investigators, never impact the larger plot. You would think only naturally that an identical twin kidnapping people would have some direct mistaken identity complications. Either the bad guys come after Cade or the authorities do, thinking he’s the other brother. Nope. Strangely, the brothers only interact in dreams and brief flashbacks.

There’s a distinct reason that Neil Breen’s onscreen characters are always lionized as heroes. It’s filmmaking as therapy session, and as I wrote for my Fateful Findings review: “Assessing the film, it sure comes across like Breen’s attempt to bolster his sense of self. In every scenario, people treat him as a treasured human being, he’s at the center of a diabolical conspiracy, he’s gifted with magic powers that separate him from normal men, all women want to seduce him, and then in the end he’s the one who makes the world a better place by exposing corruption. It sounds like a hero complex to me. Even acts that deserve harsh scrutiny, like his enabling of his wife’s addiction or his blasé attitude about carrying on an affair, are ignored. In this universe, [Breen] is always right, always desired, always respected, and always special.” This may be why even his “twisted pair” is spared any sort of scrutiny for their own bad behavior.

There are numerous sequences that just make you shake your head. My favorites include an interlude with a slow-motion hawk that Breen nuzzles up next to. Seriously, there is a lot of green screen work throughout the film including a Wiseau-style fixation on things that shouldn’t need green screen. Why green screen the exterior of a building? Could Neil Breen not find one building exterior in all of his home state of Nevada? There’s a sequence where a woman materializes and literally turns on another Neil Breen movie, firmly establishing the connected universe theory. This same woman leads a man inside a literally red-lit abode (more on lighting below) and you suspect someone will be killed, either the woman or the mysterious john you never see above the neck. Nothing comes of it. Occasionally we’ll get a wide shot and watch Cade or Cale walking… for thirty seconds, and sometimes a tree will obstruct our view and we’ll wait for him to appear on the other side of the tree…. but instead he’ll be in the tree! Aha, you weren’t suspecting that, were you, complacent audience member? I would estimate a solid 80 percent of the movie’s dialogue is Breen’s voice over stating the obvious or the preposterous. In consecutive lines of voice over he says, “I miss my brother,” and, “I miss what I never knew.” But you knew your brother; we’ve seen footage of you two together.

The relationship with Cade’s wife is baffling. It begins with Cade running into a woman and profusely apologizing and declaring he will make it up with dinner. She is not interested in the slightest but he doesn’t acknowledge her discomfort at all and persists. He then FOLLOWS her home. He then BREAKS INTO her home. He then ATTACKS her and ostensibly tries to rape her while calling her a “bitch.” This awkward moment then transitions into the eventual revelation that it was all one big role-play. What? Neil Breen purposely staged his character attempting rape and made it into a sex game for he and his ever-accommodating wife? That’s so weird and off-putting. I don’t think Neil Breen is the kind of artist to attempt something approaching Elle.

The technical specs are spotty, especially the lighting. There seems to be two prevalent styles of lighting a scene: 1) overblown to hell, casting harsh shadows, and 2) with a small diagonal sliver. This sliver approach happens in numerous scenes and always seems to find the faces of the actors in the scene, or Breen or whoever will use it as a mark, walking into that small sliver of light and exposing their face. It happened so often that my rowdy theatrical audience turned it into a game, loudly cheering whenever a character “met their mark” and was highlighted by that available strand of light. I think this is what Breen thinks makes a professional looking movie or a film noir.

The acting hasn’t gotten any better over time. As I wrote about Breen’s performance in Fateful Findings: “Let’s start with Breen himself, who is fairly listless and deadpan throughout. He raises his voice but rarely does he change how he’s responding. He’s aloof and strikingly self-serious at the same time.” Since there are two Breens, consider this observation even more fitting. The rest of the actors don’t have much to work with. There isn’t a natural performance in the film. Often the delivery is stilted or overemphasized, pausing at weird points or simply raising the volume for effect. At least with previous Breen outings there was another actor or two to single out, usually not in a positive way mind you. With Twisted Pair, it’s all Breen, all the time, for better or worse.

So ultimately where does Twisted Pair fall on the curve of so-bad-it’s-good cinema? It is a hoot, a misguided and poorly executed sci-fi thriller with baffling and repetitious plot turns, characterization, and puzzling decisions at nearly every level of filmmaking. Having digested five Breen movies (and lived to tell the tale) I can attest that there are patterns that emerge in each one of his films. He’s always going to be portrayed as a crusading hero against the corrupt forces out there bewildering the little guy, he’ll have a dash of supernatural elements that will never be adequately explained, his idea of romance is comically chaste and usually involves women face down and topless, and he’ll gift the audience with head-smacking redundancy of scenes, motifs, messages. If you have to skip out to the bathroom at any point, whatever you miss will be covered again. Twisted Pair is mid-range Breen, not quite as high as his crowning achievement, Fateful Findings. It runs out of steam in the final fifteen minutes and even my rowdy midnight-movie crowd sensed the drop-off. The movie is playing one-night-only screenings across the country. If you get a chance, and love the weird world of sincerely made bad movies, then I highly recommend gathering a group of friends and checking out Twisted Pair and doing your best to make sense of it during and after the film.

Nate’s Grade: F

Entertainment Value: A-

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Jack and Jill (2011)

I was anticipating bad, I was anticipating outlandishly bad, but nothing can prepare you for how stunning and jaw-droppingly awful Adam Sandler’s reported comedy Jack and Jill truly is. The movie swept the Razzie Awards in all categories this year, a historic feat. Sandler plays a rich ad exec and his braying, boorish twin sister, who Al Pacino, in a strangely committed performance as himself, falls in love with for no discernible reason. I’ve seen my fair share of craptacular cinema, and yet this movie is bad on a rarely seen level of human tragedy; it feels like the movie came from a different dimension, where they had no concepts of human relations, reactions, expectations, or senses of humor. It feels like you’re watching a cultural artifact of a civilization in decline. I haven’t been a fan of Sandler’s brand of naughty-yet-safe humor for a while, but this movie is weirdly cruel to all sorts of people, like Mexicans, atheists, adopted kids, Jews, and human beings with working senses of humor. The quality of comedy includes gems like, “Play twister with your sister,” and, “These chimichangas are making a run for the border.” The rampant and nakedly transparent product placement for Carnival Cruise and Dunkin’ Donuts is obscene. This is a charmless, witless film, and when it tries to wring actual emotion out of its daft scenario, the whole enterprise just implodes. Jack and Jill is so odious, torturous, reprehensibly bad that it feels like one of the joke movies that Sandler made in 2009’s Funny People. You feel like the entire movie is one long joke put on by a contemptuous Sandler. I think my good pal Eric Muller had it right; we’re on the tail end of Sandler’s deal with the devil. Jack and Jill is why the terrorists hate us.

Nate’s Grade: F

I Know Who Killed Me (2007)

We interrupt the nonstop barrage of Lindsay Lohan media coverage and speculation to bring you her movie, or, more accurately, further proof that Lohan is in desperate need of a career makeover. The tabloid target has a pretty shoddy track record of late when it comes to picking acting projects, so it’s no wonder that her splashy private life has overshadowed her cinematic duds. Thanks to a second summer DUI Lohan was unable to promote her new movie, I Know Who Killed Me. This may be a blessing in disguise because if I were her I would want to draw the least amount of attention possible to what is destined to contend for the worst film of 2007.

We open to Aubrey (Lohan) reading her story in her high school class. The story revolves around a stripper named Dakota and the amorous attention she earns from creepy older gentlemen. One night Aubrey goes missing and the police believe she may be the next victim of the local blue-gloved serial killer that hacks off the limbs of his victims. The last girl, currently residing in the morgue, is missing her right forearm and her right leg. Her parents (Neal McDonough, Julia Ormond) fear the worst. Then a motorist finds Aubrey’s mutilated body on the side of the road. She wakes up in the hospital and will survive, except the problem is that she has no idea who any Aubrey is; her name is Dakota and she worked as a stripper. She vows to find the “real” Aubrey.

This films is sleazy and tries to energize a lame straight-to-video thriller with some tawdry turns. The movie exists to pacify the cult of Lohan; there’s flesh to tantalize those attracted to the freckles wild child, and there’s distasteful torture for the detractors. Without Lohan’s name, I Know Who Killed Me would never have gotten a theatrical release. The torture sequences are drawn out to the soundtrack of Lohan’s muffled screams. The violence fails to excite or horrify, but instead it just seems like a sorry attempt to ape the success of recent torture-heavy horror flicks.

The sex is even less believable. Aubrey/Dakota, fresh from the hospital, beds the quarterback in one of the least convincing, most unintentionally hilarious sex scenes of recent memory. She throws the jock onto her bed and pins him down for a good pumping. In the ensuing two minutes, the pair engage in exaggerated and noisy PG-13 sex where the woman stays on top and keeps her bra on the whole time (does any woman do that?). The whole time the movie cuts back and forth to Aubrey/Dakota’s mother listening and furiously cleaning the kitchen sink. I think the juxtaposition is intended to be funny, and it is, just not in the manner the filmmakers were probably hoping for.

The movie would be more revolting if it weren’t so incomprehensible. I Know Who Killed Me begins to disassemble at a fantastic rate of idiocy once it attempts to explain its central Aubrey/Dakota conflict. But the movie only presents two options: 1) Aubrey and Dakota are the same person and she just created a fictional persona as a means of post-traumatic stress (yawn), or 2) somehow there are TWO Lohans on this planet (what?). The first scenario is pretty dull and obvious and way too feeble for such a dank exploitation thriller. The second scenario requires a scheme so convoluted and ridiculous that it cannot be taken seriously. In the end, the movie becomes Saw meets The Parent Trap, and it’s every bit as terrible as you would concur from such a description.

For the sake of the morbidly curious, I will be discussing some heavy-duty spoilers to fully shine the spotlight on how ludicrous the movie gets. Don’t say you were not warned. Aubrey/Dakota keeps swearing she is indeed her own woman, but no one seems to believe her. She researches the unexplainable via the Internet and it is here that she gathers the theory of stigmatic twins. The idea is that whatever happens to one twin will magically happen to the other, no matter the distance and no matter the situation. In the online example, a man with gambling debts is shot in the throat, and thousands of miles away his twin brother bleeds to death thanks to a perfectly placed and ill-timed hole in his own throat. I Know Who Killed Me tries to wrap up its questions with answers that would seem preposterous even in a soap opera. Not only does the film give us the old long-lost twin chestnut but it also goes the extra inane inning to say that one twin endures whatever happens to the other. So when Aubrey is losing limbs during her capture, Dakota is mysteriously waking up some considerable weight loss. If my limbs were disappearing I might consult a doctor. Essentially, if there’s any merit to this theory, the best way to get revenge on your twin (long-lost or not) is through extreme masochism.

I Know Who Killed Me is littered with stupid behavior and stupid plot points that stick in your brain. A doctor fixes Aubrey/Dakota with a pair of prosthetics – a fake leg and a robot arm. He slides the robot hand onto her stump and it reacts to her nerve impulses. As soon as I saw this scene I blurted out, “Oh my God, Lindsay Lohan becomes the Terminator!” Where the scene earns its stupid wings is that the doctor says she’ll have to charge her prosthetic when not in use or else the battery will go dead. Naturally, I’m thinking he’s referring to the robot arm of doom, but no, he’s talking about her freaking leg. Aubrey/Dakota’s leg amputation is below her knee; therefore this fake leg is little more than a pole. There’s nothing mechanical to it. Why does it need to be plugged in? Will it hop away? It doesn’t matter because the leg and arm never pose any trouble or danger for Aubrey/Dakota. It’s a strange setup without any payoff.

The bloody ending to I Know Who Killed Me is such a mess that it takes special attention just to pick apart its awfulness for further clarity. Aubrey/Dakota figures out the whole complicated rigmarole and declares in titular fashion, “I know who killed me.” Given the silly stigmatic twin theory, even this statement is incorrect from a tense standpoint (if it was true she wouldn’t be able to utter the words). Aubrey/Dakota and her dad head off to the dismembering serial killer’s home without bothering to contact the authorities. She says they don’t have time because, apparently, cell phones do not exist in this universe. I don’t know how it’s possible for Aubrey/Dakota to dig up a grave with one arm. When she goes running into the woods she’s looking for an owl from a vision. That’s good. It’s not like the woods are big or have more than one owl. For that matter, how did Aubrey even get kidnapped in the first place when she was among a large crowd on a busy sidewalk? Would no on have noticed and done something? Even the identity of the serial killer cannot give the movie a sense of finality that it wants. This is your standard serial killer movie where the killer has no working motivation and their identity is relatively meaningless. The limb-slicing maniac might as well have been the janitor seen in the background of one scene for a fleeting moment.

Lohan gives a performance that suits the material – dreadful. Her idea of a bad girl seems more like a perturbed and insolent child. Lohan gets to hurl her share of F-bombs but never seems adult in whatever she’s doing onscreen. Her husky voice sounds like she has a continuous head cold. She never decides to alter her walk or physical movement. Lohan seems painfully lost during her stripper escapades. Lohan struts and makes goo-goo faces that she thinks are sultry. After a while you start to realize that Lohan is just preening for imaginary red carpet photographers and has no clue. I Know Who Killed Me is a depressing low point for such a once-promising young actress who had the world on a string.

Director Chris Sivertson seems to know he’s the captain of a doomed vessel. He overwhelms the movie with irritating lighting excesses. Sivertson takes a cue from Shyamalan and ramps up the color symbolism; there’s blue roses, blue gloves, blue killer tools, blue stained glass of blue roses. You may start to wonder if the Blue Man Group suddenly became a symphonic serial killing side project.

I Know Who Killed Me is a disaster in every sense of the word. The ineptness on display is staggering. The movie is trash from start to finish but it’s not even redeemable trash. The movie tries to cover its numerous plot holes with images of Lohan canoodling with a stripper pole, but the trouble is that Lohan is abysmal as a figure of lust. She’s supposed to be provocative in her first real adult role but really seems more like an inebriated pre-teen playing sexy dress-up. I Know Who Killed Me is a ludicrous, incomprehensible, and rather sundry thriller that won’t help Lohan’s troubled life. I have a lot of good will for Lohan after her performances in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, and yes, at one time, I found her attractive. I want her to succeed, but truthfully, if she needs to know who’s killing her career, the answer is in a mirror.

Nate’s Grade: D

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