THE CURE

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Insane asylums can be played for comedy or horror, a fact that Hollywood has explored and exploited since the silent era.

The best of these films remind us that when our backs are against the wall and we have something to prove, the line between crazy and normal can be exceedingly thin.    

Nellie Bly was a pioneering journalist who reported on the conditions inside a sanitarium in the 19th century—in 1887 she was tasked by Joseph Pulitzer with writing a story about the mentally ill housed at an institution in NYC. She did so by impersonating a mad person and came back from Blackwell’s Island 10 days later with stories of cruel beatings, ice baths and forced meals that included rancid butter.  

Mental institutions have improved since then (hopefully) but with the release of Gore Verbinski’s The Cure for Wellness we are taking a trip down the road to “Wellness.”

cureTHE CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017)

Verbinski’s film follows a Wall Street stockbroker (Dane DeHaan) who travels to an isolated wellness center in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO. He soon starts to suspect that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His own sanity is tested when he unravels the spa’s terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.

The film’s been criticized for its lack of a coherent narrative — but even if it is flawed, it guarantees spectacular cinematography and production design along with a few new horrific visions to add to our nightmare catalogues.

 Google Play

12 12 MONKEYS (1995)

Terry Gilliam’s film gives us time-travel, lucid dreams, apocalyptic viruses and philosophical speculations on the state of madness.

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is imprisoned in 2030 but is recruited for a mission that will send him back to the 1990s. Once there, he’s to gather information about an emerging plague that’s about to exterminate the vast majority of the world’s population.  Placed in a sanitarium, he befriends the manic Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), but gets little in the way of cooperation from medical gatekeeper Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe).

We see James Cole in a variety of settings along with multiple sides of his personality. Whether he’s a free man, a prisoner, or a patient at the mental hospital, we are never quite sure which Cole to trust or which one is real.

Willis plays his multifaceted character to perfection, embodying a schizophrenic nature and expanding the definition of “insane.”

 Amazon    Google Play   Vudu

shutter SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

Martin Scorsese directs this noir psychological thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal who leads an investigation into the disappearance of Rachel Solando at the Shutter Island psychiatric facility.

Daniels is determined to find answers and anyone who blocks his way becomes suspect themselves—the white-haired German doctors are Nazis, gaunt inmates have secrets and, to Daniels, anyone other than his investigative partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) is inevitably in on the secret of Solando’s disappearance.

Without ruining a truly mind-bending twist, be aware that the final frames leave audiences with a numbing suspicion that resonates long after the credits roll.

iTunes   YouTube    Vudu

cuckoo ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST (1975)

Milos Forman defined the “Loony Bin” genre with his adaptation of Ken Kesey’s classic anti-establishment novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Along with his work in Chinatown, Batman, and The Shining, R.P. McMurphy will likely be remembered as one of Jack Nicholson’s most career-defining and iconic characters.

The contrast of seeing a fully sane person in a nuthouse means this movie walks a tight rope between an exposé of the institution itself and a social allegory about the power its caretakers wield — here, the despicable Nurse Ratched, expertly captured by Louise Fletcher (although she doesn’t remotely resemble the character in the book).

The movie won the top five Academy Awards in 1976. With one of the greatest villains in film history and a supporting cast that included Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a truly landmark film. Add Nurse Ratched to your nightmare catalogue.

iTunes    Vudu   YouTube    Amazon

bronsonBRONSON (2008) 

Nicolas Winding Refn directs this biopic about British prison inmate Charles Bronson (aka Michael Gordon Peterson – played by Tom Hardy) who has lived in solitary confinement for much of his life. In Bronson, Hardy dramatizes that fact to frightening and extreme lengths, delivering a daring schizophrenic performance with a dark comic edge.

Whether locked up alone or serving tea to the staff at the psychiatric hospital where he eventually spends time, Bronson finds a way to entertain himself in every situation. His madness is self-perpetuating, and therefore, limitless. The audience knows that Bronson absolutely deserves his confinement, but despite all his machinations we are still strangely charmed and rooting for him.

iTunes    Amazon    Vudu

francesFRANCES (1982)

Hollywood actress Frances Farmer is the semi-famous subject of Graeme Clifford’s 1982 biopic. From the outset, Frances (Jessica Lange) exhibited true eccentricity, refusing to wear make-up on camera or do anything she felt was a Hollywood stunt.

This sort of saltiness garnered her significant opportunities both on stage and screen, but after an affair, a falling out with her demanding mother and a growing dependence on amphetamines, Farmer found herself institutionalized at multiple sanitariums, the last of which “treated” her with electroshock therapy and a subsequent lobotomy.

The film has a clear point of view on whether her eccentricities and substance abuse were deserving of the “cutting edge” treatments she received.

Following her release, Farmer hosted a local Indianapolis TV show until her death in 1970.

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DARK STAR — JAKE GYLLENHAAL

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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We put off watching designer-turned-director Tom Ford’s sophomore endeavor Nocturnal Animals because we thought it was going to be more work than it was worth.

Wrong.  It’s scary and complex and really stuck with us. 

Amy Adams is the star.  But somehow the image that lodged in our heads is a profile shot of Jake Gyllenhaal through a car window.  As Gyllenhaal has aged, his cheekbones have gotten dangerously high.  Here they’re set off by a luxuriant beard and an expression that’s much too wounded for a man that handsome.

Gyllenhaal was nominated for the BAFTA Best Actor (Affleck won), but didn’t make it to the list of Oscar nominees.

Despite starring in some big mainstream films he’s repeatedly to taken on roles that are alternative, risky, and/or purposely askew.  

 Nocturnal Creatures     

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

The story structure sounds complicated on paper, but works onscreen.   Amy Adams is an haute-art gallery owner in LA, locked in a glass and chrome cage of her own making.  Her high-flying dealmaker husband is in a slump and they’re feeling the pinch.  Meanwhile, he’s cheating on her, a fact that her effete friends see as par for the course.

She gets a package.  In it is a novel, written by her first husband, estranged for 20 years.  It’s dedicated to her.  Alone at night in her hilltop aerie, she starts reading.

As she reads, we dive into the world of the novel, and it’s a dark one.  A bunch of lowlifes isolate a traveling family late at night on a desolate West Texas road, brutalize the husband and kidnap the wife and teenage daughter.   Things get just about as ugly as you can imagine.

As things play out, we come back to the present, then flash back to the first marriage.  Gyllenhaal plays both Adams’ first husband and the husband in the book.  We see how she betrayed him, dooming herself to a life of emptiness, and leaving him him longing for revenge, whiich is the final theme of his novel.

Trailer:  YouTube

And the whole movie has just been released for online purchase:

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Nightcrawler
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

In this indie film which he also produced, Gyllenhaal’s performance is simultaneously ingenuous and creepy.    Perfectly sociopathic. Gyllenhaal turns the earnest eagerness that drove his more mainstream performances into a mask on a soul without morals or compunction.

His character is a “nightcrawler” – a freelance videographer who trolls the freeways and police band radio waves looking for the freshest, bloodiest, most gruesome footage he can find, then sells it to local network news.

It’s a skeevy profession to start, and Gyllenhaal’s character takes it the capitalistic next step.

Although we didn’t realize it at the time, this was the first time we saw another rising star – British rapper/actor Riz Ahmed, who since has appeared in HBO miniseries The Night Of, Star Wars Rogue One, and popped up this weekend as Hannah’s new surfer dude love interest last
Sunday in Girls.  Oh yeah, and also last Sunday being awkwardly mistaken for BAFTA winner Dev Patel in an “embarrassing Twitter blunder” by Burberry.

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October Sky
OCTOBER SKY (1999)

Jake and sister Maggie (featured in last week’s post) are the children of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner – they’d been acting since they were young.  Both of them were in their dad’s 1995 movie A Dangerous Woman and Jake played Billy Crystal’s kid in City Slickers.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfL3lWNOOoQ

Gyllenhaal’s first lead role was Homer Hickam in October Sky.  It’s the true story story of a coal miner’s son who is inspired by the 1958 launch of Sputnik, starts building his own rockets, and eventually ends up at NASA.

Janet Maslin didn’t love the movie but attributes Gyllenhaal with “beguiling eagerness”.  Beleaguered Chris Cooper is his foil in a classic father/son story that manages to avoid the obvious traps to be both inspiring and genuinely moving.

Gyllenhaal was 17 and still in high school when he shot the movie – the same age as his character.

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Donny Darko
DONNY DARKO (2001)

Gyllenhaal’s second feature lead was the title character in Richard Kelly’s cult hit Donny Darko.  It was at this point that it first became obvious that he wasn’t always going to make the safe choice. Darko became a cult hit and the signature film for the early part of his career.

It’s hard to imagine anybody else embodying Donny the way Gyllenhaal did, fluidly oscillating from utter normalcy to complete insanity, sometimes within a single scene.

High school student Donny is visited by a demonic six foot rabbit named Frank, who predicts the world’s end.  Donny is either schizophrenic, can penetrate extranormal dimensions – or probably both.  We’re never quite sure if he’s crazy or not — but at the end of the film it seems like the rabbit was telling him the truth.

It’s a story of teen angst married to sci-fi and abnormal psychology.  The solid supporting cast includes sister Maggie and Drew Barrymore (whose company bankrolled the production).

It had a lukewarm premiere at Sundance 2001, then was saved from straight to DVD oblivion by young Christopher Nolan who midwifed its release.  It came out  just after 9/11 and floundered in theaters but refused to die, eventually settling into cult status though a nearly endless round of late night and revival screenings.

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Zodiak
ZODIAK (2007)

After a fabulous run in the early 2000’s (Se7en, Fight ClubPanic Room) David Fincher took a few years off, then returned with this finely wrought mystery thriller.

In it, Gyllenhaal once again plays a character who sees things that nobody else does.  He’s the unlikely and late-breaking hero of the piece, Robert Graysmith — a geeky outsider editorial cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle — who eventually wrote the book the movie is based on.

Gyllenhaal’s character has no professional reason to be obsessed with the titular serial killer.  But he becomes obsessed anyway.  He likes puzzles, and sees patterns in the Zodiac killer’s work where nobody else sees patterns.  And once he starts seeing those patterns, he’s hooked.  As the other main characters come and go over 20 years, so does the Zodiac himself; but Graysmith continues obsessively following the trail.

It’s a great cast – in addition to Gyllenhaal, there’s Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox.  And it’s a bravura piece of filmmaking.  With a remarkable clarity of vision and obsession with detail, Fincher makes a film that is more his own than anything that came before holds your attention through two and a half hours.  It only did moderately well (in Fincher terms), but was a critical favorite and made most of that year’s Top Ten lists.

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The Good Girl
THE GOOD GIRL (2002)

This was a particularly hard list to pare down – there’s the iconic Brokeback Mountain, the Denis Villenueve films Enemy and Prisoners, and the beefier but still uniquely Gyllenhaal roles of Jarhead and Southpaw.

But we’re going back to the beginning again for Gyllenhaal’s early pairing with a severely underappreciated Jennifer Anniston in a capitalist critique masquerading as a dark comedy.

Once again, the female character is trapped in a dead-end live — but at the opposite end of the economic scale.  Jennifer Aniston plays  a clerk in a southern big box store, married to amiable stoner house painter John C. Reilly. Enter young new cashier Holden Worther, a quiet kid who is obsessed with Catcher in the Rye.  Slowly an irresistible attraction develops, until Aniston finally gives in and an affair begins.

Yes, it’s really hard to believe that even an older women would not desert John C. Reilly for a dewy Jake.  But this is not a cookie-cutter movie – Miquel Arteta’s previous film was Chuck and Buck, and the satiric script is by Mike White, who also appears as the store’s nasty Jesus freak security guard.  There are twists and turns, and even though the ending looks happy-ish, it leaves you with a sinking feeling.

In a strange way, you can see the seeds of Jack Twist in Gyllenhaal’s performance here, even though it’s amazing to think that Brokeback was just three years away.

And watching this movie makes you feel a little sorry for Jennifer Aniston – this was a really audacious choice for her.  If she hadn’t had another couple of years of Friends ahead, her career might have taken and entirely different turn.

Weirdly, this movie isn’t currently available online (except for maybe unofficial version on YouTube).

The DVD is cheap on Amazon. Amazon