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We're Trapped in Neil Breen's Web

"Somewhere between good and evil is a bright garden. I'll meet you there someday."

What's the most excited theater you can remember? Barbie had an eager crowd. I saw The Phantom Menace in 1999, and the seats were packed with nerds who'd waited their whole life for a new Star Wars movie. And then there was the midnight premiere of Return of the King, a day-long marathon where we watched all three movies on the big screen, back to back.

But none of those crowds were as excited as the people who just filled every seat of Alamo Drafthouse's biggest room to watch Neil Breen's latest mess, Cade: The Tortured Crossing.

Who's Neil Breen? To put it simply, he's an independent filmmaker. But his name evokes so much more. Breen's work truly must be see to be believed. Here. See if you can get through the trailer.

Yes, that's the official trailer, exactly the trailer Neil Breen wants you to see.

You might be thinking this movie will make more sense if you see the whole thing, but you'd be wrong. Breen's movies are impossible to follow. Every shot is framed awkwardly. The sound cuts in and out. Scenes repeat themselves four or five times. Conversations only have one side, as if footage is missing. Characters are seen in the background after they die. The plot changes several times, as if Neil forgets the story and invents a new one on the spot.

Neil Himself stars in his movies, playing super-powered good guys who make life-changing speeches after karate chopping the bad guys in a flawless victory. He's always an invincible kung-fu wizard who ends up with the girl.

And the acting? You've never seen anything so bad. Everyone on screen is underwhelming, and none are so inept as Breen.

And, yet, there I was, standing in line to watch his latest flick, the first person in the theater to see Cade: The tortured crossing, his first sequel. (Of course, nothing tells you it's a sequel, you just have to know.)

A very serious line. We filled up the biggest theater at the local Alamo Drafthouse, which sometimes doesn't happen for major blockbusters

Breen is hard-headed about his work with no apparent clue that every moment is an incomprehensible mess. He's made screenings happen in L.A. and even gotten his movies into festivals. Once enough people had seen his work, word began to spread that he was making the greatest train wrecks in history.

Cade: The tortured crossing (that's not a typo; only some words are capitalized) is exactly what a Breen viewer would expect. As the saying goes, if you've seen one of his films, you've seen 'em all. But this one raises the crazy a little.

In one scene, a woman is suddenly wearing cheap wings on her back. She resolutely states, "I am the winged warrior." There is zero context, and we never see the winged warrior again.

The truly notable feature of this movie is the nonstop use (or abuse) of green screens. People walk across photographs, trying to pretend it's real, even though the grass doesn't move under their feet while they stand at impossible angles. Sometimes the actors look like munchkins because they've been placed in a photograph at the wrong scale. Any time Breen makes a speech, the movie cuts to an applauding crowd in a completely different room. (He's just cramming stock footage in without bothering to see if the two scenes match.) At one point, a man is pretending to drive a car, spinning the wheel back and forth and looking ahead, all while the green screen scenery behind him doesn't move.

The most painful moments are when actors reach out (at a snail's pace, like a director is painstakingly adjusting their movements) so they can rest their hands on walls or bannisters that only exist in the green screen. It never works. They actors' hands disappear or rest above the bannister every time.

Meanwhile, Neil Breen plays the title character, Cade, a wealthy man who has the ability to split himself into several people and battle entire gangs alone. When he notices mental patients being mistreated, Breen demands justice and gets the law involved... and then serves as the judge for their trial. He even mandates a new federal law from the bench. Also, he wrestles a tiger with his bare hands and repairs a totaled SUV just by looking at it. (I'm not making this up.)

The script blatantly steals lines from other movies. It's not subtle, and it's never a witty reference. Just simple stealing. It's surely a copyright issue, but no one will care.

This guy seems like a joke, but he's earned a lot of respect. Breen is, according to some, the very soul of the independent artist. He makes what he wants and distributes it himself, along his own specific terms. (If you buy one of his DVDs, he rips a copy off of his computer and sends it to you in an envelope.) There's no producers watering down his vision or holding him back. Some say he's the America Dream, working hard to live out his passion.

But his online reputation is strange. Check out this IMDb review, which (like all the others) awards his latest movie a score of 10 out of 10:

The internet is filled with reviews like this, all from trolls pretending Breen is a genius. Why? Because they think it's fun to hype him up so he'll make more movies.

The question people are always asking is whether or not Breen understands the joke. Does he realize his fans are toying with him? Given his movies, which he takes very seriously, it's hard to imagine he understands his reputation. But can anyone be that obtuse?

Then again, maybe it's all an act. Maybe Breen is a performance artist, deliberately making terrible movies to see how many people will stop their lives to watch the spectacle.

There's no way to come up with a rating for a movie like this. I can confidently say it's a better movie than Babylon. It's not as boring as Dune. But it lacks a single coherent scene, and every cinematic decision is bafflingly wrong. Having said that... I'm sure I'll watch his next movie. I'm caught in the web.

Adam D. Jones is an author, historian, and undefeated cat wrestler who thinks nothing is finer than the hush of a movie theater.

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