In 10 Words or Less
Big names, weird folks and some artsy stuff too
Loves: Wholphin, Good shorts, animation
Likes: DVD magazines, documentaries, out-there movies
Dislikes: meandering films
Hates: Getting depressed by documentaries
The Story So Far...
Wholphin, part of the McSweeney's empire, releases a quarterly DVD magazine, which collects, as the subhead says, rare and unseen short films. The material ranges from old to recent and well-known to incredibly obscure, and as a result, the issues are an amazing gift for anyone open to unique entertainment. Nine issues have been released previously, and DVDTalk has reviews of all issues.
Ptychogastria, Spatulate: Apprehensions Eight and a Half Empire State Buildings Down (A.K.A. A Deep Metaphor for Something I'd Rather Not Talk About) (6:10/Menu Film)
When you think about how deep the robot sub in this film traveled, it's simply mindblowing. In all likelihood, no human being will ever see these sites unassisted by machine, making a film like this not only a unique view of another world that's a part of ours, but also a testimonial to the ingenuity of man. Incredibly, this chronicling of staid deep-sea research actually has quite a bit of drama to it, as the collection of a specimen doesn't go entirely smoothly. Watching the beautiful, colorful footage, it's easy to think it's not real, as it looks incredible.
Automatic: Kite Drawings (2:34/Menu Film)
An art experiment captured on film, this short shows the artistic talent of the element of wind, as a kite moves a pen over a piece of paper. Viewing the act from afar and up-close, the movie shows it's fun to see a work of art created by a truly unseen hand.
Alive Right Now, Somewhere (More Mbari Encounters Eight and a Half Empire State Buildings Down) (4:20/Menu Film)
Another look at the life deep, deep under the waves, this is a bit more focused on the creatures you could find far beneath the surface. It's unlikely you recognize any of these animals, unless you make movies like these, and one actually looked like a piece of animation it was so crisp and unusual. Seeing what's down in the dark doesn't quite make me want to take up scuba though.
Hunt and Gather (13:25/Menu Film)
Like Automatic, this is an artsy, experimental film, which makes sense, since the same man, Michael Lamson, is behind both of them. This time, he takes a starring role, riding a specially-equipped bicycle around town, climbing the attached ladder and shooting down sneakers strung up on telephone wires with a bow and arrow. Can't say for sure what it means, or if it means anything at all, but it's oddly calming as he travels around town in split-screen action, tracking down his prey. It probably could have been more effective as a shorter film, but the length makes it somewhat feel like there was a purpose to him doing this all day.
Audience of One (36:53)
This compressed version of the feature-length documentary is almost 40 minutes of stranger-than-fiction film, focusing on a San Francisco church that throws all of its resources behind a vision from God delivered to its pastor. That vision instructs him they are to make a science-fiction film based on the biblical story of Joseph. The result is like American Movie, if Mark Borchardt had a church and its resources. Because of how bad it goes, the story should be sadly hilarious, on a level with This is Spinal Tap, but as the devotion and blind faith of the church-goers is revealed, it simply becomes sad, though never anything less than fascinating.
I Love Sarah Jane (14:23)
There's a difference between a zombie movie and a movie that has some zombies in it. This is the latter. Thanks to a zombie infestation, there are only some kids left in this town, including a young boys smitten with one of the remaining girls. There are some flesh-chompers left to deal with, but the real challenge is overcoming the shyness his crush delivers upon him, a situation rife with complications of its own. This confidently-constructed Aussie short, by director Spencer Susser, portends great things for his upcoming feature debut, Hesher, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman.
He Was Once (16:05)
There's a whole genre of experimental film that rose out of the '80s that makes my brain hurt, a fact I blame on cocaine and the '70s (for breaking all the rules and forcing these "pioneers" further out on the fringe.) This is one of the more organized representatives from that time, whose big claim to fame is the producing presence of indie icons Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon, with Haynes even performing in the movie. A live-action spoof of the classic Lutheran claymation cartoon Davy and Goliath, it's undoubtedly aiming for "out there" and hits the bullseye, with odd touches like the actors' jerky movements and plastic hair (reminiscent of DogBoy, for anyone who remembers that.) Most unusual and unsettling is the casting of kids as the adults and vice versa, which makes all the surreal action all the more bizarre. This is the work of some very creative minds, but it runs a touch longer than the patience of most viewers for such an experiment.
Teleglobal Dreamin' (17:28)
It's films like this that keep me tethered to this comfortable country we call the U.S. of A. Dale Parson, a small-time actor, is in the Philippines, working as a motivator for a telesales company, Somehow, he is mistaken for Brendan Fraser, which leads to major troubles for him and Rosa, his somewhat boring Filipino escort. As Rosa, Latasha Calvin is adorable, offering just the right mix of naivety and self-interest, while Quincy Dunn-Baker plays his character's annoyance with his third-world environs quite well. This version offers an alternative ending that seems to work well, if a bit out of the blue, but we don't get the original ending for comparison's sake.
The Astronomer's Dream (9:05)
This animated offering looks like a blend of Everett Peck, Klasky-Csupko and early Mexican art, and features a wordless story about consumption, growth and the circle of intergalactic life, as a little creature explores the universe for a snack, despite their negative affects on him. It's beautifully animated, and is unusual enough to make up for a plot that's pretty obvious early in the going. The music helps sell the dreamy feel of the short.
Hate to say it, because it is well-made, but if Natalie Portman wasn't the writer and director of this dark look at the effects of aging on a woman and her worth (both self-defined and external), I don't know if it would be here. Starring Lauren Bacall as Eve, grandmother to a visiting young lady, the movie seems to be about the generation gap between the two women, as well as society's refusal to accept the reality of aging, but it's somewhat subtle about it, using make-up as a key symbol. Played out during one of Eve's dates with a gentleman caller, It feels like this might be part of something bigger, though it does feel like a complete, though story-light movie in the end. Sort of like a clip from a Whit Stillman film.
Joe and Linda Flooded Out of Holy Cross (22:11)
I've seen plenty of profiles of people affected by Hurricane Katrina, but I don't think any of them reached me the way this Jonathan Demme-helmed interview did. Joe and Linda are a couple of lower-middle-class New Orleans residents rebuilding their home following Katrina. As Linda shows you around the mess, including a surprising number of destroyed TVs, Joe sits outside ranting (justifiably) about the situation and the government. Though it'd be esy to dismiss them as trash, Demme's interview shows them to be decent people in a terrible place, and makes the New Orleans disaster far more human.
Like last time, we received a very early screener copy, but one can once again assume that Wholphin No. 10 will be packaged in the same cleanly-designed digipak as the other issues, with a tray on the left side and a 40-page booklet glued into the right inside panel, while a content breakdown is on the back cover. The disc features animated menus (anamorphic widescreen) with a list of content, but it's not your usual menu animation. What's in the background is the beginning of one of four menu shorts, which will play if you don't choose a film to watch. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The films presented here all look good for what they are, delivered in a mix of anamorphic widescreen, letterboxed and pillarboxed transfers, though it's not uniform, as recent films like I love Sarah Jane and The Astronomer's Dream are beautiful, while He Was Once looks its age, Teleglobal Dreamin' is a bit dull and Joe and Linda Flooded Out of Holy Cross features harsh, noisy video. There are no obvious issues with dirt or damage, nor are digital artifacts an issue. It would be nice though if all the widescreen films were presented anamorphically.
Once again, the audio is delivered in Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks across the board, which sound fine, but as usual, you can't help but think that some of these flicks could have benefited from a surround mix. Not all of them, but at least a few.
The standard Wholphin extra is back once again, as the excellent booklet brings an essay from editor Brent Hoff (who also provided music for one of the films this time) and interviews for each film in the issue, including a statement from Portman and an interview with Demme.
The Bottom Line
I'm a fan of a lot of TV shows and creative types, but nothing, honestly nothing, gets me more excited to warm up the DVD player than when a Wholphin DVD arrives at my door. I know, without a doubt, I'm getting something good, something odd and something I've never heard of before that will blow me away. This collection is a touch below the more amazing issues I've reviewed, but even so, it was a joy to experience, and the quality was of the level I've come to expect.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.