Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, August 31, 2007


       Documentaries that rely on “found” footage are amongst the most difficult type of films to pull off successfully. Not that it’s easy to make any kind of movie, that’s for certain -- but at least when you’re making a narrative feature, for example, you have your script, and a shot list to guide you. Even on most documentaries, one at least has a subject to film, and a plan -- you’re following this or that person around, or investigating this sort of phenomena or that particular incident -- then, you just go out and shoot it, and with a little luck and a lot of perseverance, you have your film.
       Not so when the subject matter of your film is an event that happened nearly 40 years ago; an event which, of necessity, went largely un-filmed and un-photographed; an occurrence whose specifics -- exact locations and time periods -- can only be guessed at or surmised. Such a subject matter forces the filmmaker to become as much geologist as anything else; sifting through a fossil record of photos and snippets of film in order to arrive at a reasonable estimation of the nature of the incident, rather than an inarguable photographic record. Given that all these hurdles stood in its’ way, it is amazing that Deep Water is as outstanding a film as it is.

       The film concerns a challenge put forth by the London Times in early 1968: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat, without putting into port or receiving aid of any kind; at that time, a never-before achieved accomplishment. A number of experienced sailors rose to the challenge -- and one relative amateur -- Donald Crowhurst; a 36-year-old family man and designer of electronic navigational aids. While lacking the experience of the other sailors in the race, Crowhurst feels that his navigational equipment -- and a relatively new and untested trimaran sailboat design -- will give him the edge he needs to make the round-the-globe journey in record time. Increasingly uncertain of his own ability to withstand the isolation and strain the nearly year-long journey will put upon him, Crowhurst is nonetheless pressured into both setting sail and shouldering large debts related to his entry into the race -- all this, despite inadequate preparations for the trip on an unproven vessel...

       There is relatively little footage documenting the actual race: the occasional on-the-fly interview with the race’s participants; some preparation of the boats and their launch as shot by the BBC; some footage and audio tape excerpts recorded by Crowhurst and a couple of the other sailors during their respective voyages -- other than that, there are no actual recordings of the event. Instead of falling to the ground at this point though, this is where the movie really shines -- through a skillful blend of current-day interviews with the race’s participants and their loved ones, some new B-roll shot in and around the course of the race, and some well-done computer graphics, the story is as compellingly told as if every sailor had a full camera crew aboard for the duration of their trips. A necessary human element is brought to the fore of the film by having some off-camera readings of the sailors’ logs during key scenes. In a way, the story is better served by the very restrictions that would seemingly hinder its telling; by having so little footage of the actual sailors themselves, the camera is forced to linger on the relentless and seemingly endless sea itself. There couldn’t be any more effective way to drive home the exhausting demands and absolute isolation of the voyage than this -- all of the participants in the race were changed by it; and not always for the better...

       Deep Water is already open in theaters in L.A. and N.Y.C.; it will gradually move to venues in other markets in the upcoming weeks, and probably make it to DVD by the end of the year. Since it’s being distributed by IFC Films here in the U.S., it’ll most likely show up on that network soon. Worth watching in any format, that much I can say for certain.

Some links:

The Deep Water official website.

IFC Films (the U.S. distributer of the film) website.

Next post -- 09/07/07

Friday, August 24, 2007


       The sitcom is as old and as venerable an institution as the medium that spawned it. So it’s no surprise that it’s one of the first forms to be reinvented for web-based video entertainment. There are a number of websites out there that offer this type of content -- Channel 101 probably being the most entertaining of the lot -- but a recent addition to the roster is Clark and Michael: a 10 web-isode sitcom that is distributed on the internet, and stars Clark Duke and Michael Cera (of Arrested Development fame) as two wanna-be Hollywood moguls, trying to get their careers -- and pretty much every other aspect of their lives -- off the ground.

       The conceit of the show is that the two “stars” have hired a camera crew to document their attempt to pitch various TV show and movie scripts to the numerous Studio Heads who guest star each week (played by a variety of performers including Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt and Andy Richter). Predictably, but usually entertainingly, their efforts don’t often work out -- but laffs and hi-jinks ensue in the course of their misadventures -- and that’s the reason to watch. The show is very L.A.-centric (much like IFC’s The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, starring the very funny Laura Kightlinger), and episodes tend to revolve around typical Southern California concerns -- cars and driving in and through Los Angeles, the annoyances of apartment living and which of the ten bistros which line the block offers the best cup of coffee -- but the main attraction of the show is the interaction between the show’s leads.

       Clark and Michael are apparently best friends in real life (they both appear in SuperBad as well), and that shows in their exchanges; they’re comfortable with each other and you like them, even if they are both completely dweeb-y. There’s also the usual cast of characters that you’d find in any sitcom -- a goofy neighbor (the creepy-but-always-funny Eric Wareheim, of Tom Goes to the Mayor fame), a couple of pals who seem to be just as ungainly and inexperienced as Clark and Michael -- but somehow more successful, nonetheless, -- and an assortment of ingenues that Clark and MIchael attempt to date; all to no avail, of course. Each web-isode runs about 9 to 12 minutes, and the relatively short running time of the individual segments is to the show’s benefit -- what would be tiresome at a full half-hour is just fine at 8 minutes 47 seconds.

       You can’t buy Clark and Michael -- and you can’t rent them -- well, maybe you can, but you’ll have to work that out with them personally -- you can, however, watch all of their web-isodes for free, on their website, provided you have a relatively fast internet connection, that is. The show doesn’t redefine cinema or have any ambitions of doing so, for that matter; but it is more fun than that 9 to 12 minutes of work that you were planning to do instead.

Next post -- 08/31/07

Friday, August 17, 2007


       No one seems to question the practice of “sampling” in the music industry -- oh, a lot of people don’t like it, and there’s still the occasional lawsuit popping up against the use of this or that song; but on the whole, it’s an accepted, if sometimes frowned upon practice -- in the music industry. Do that sort of thing in the making of a feature film, though, and there’s a whole ‘nother level of upset and litigation involved. Which makes Damon Packard’s filmmaking career all the more astonishing -- since the majority of his films have “borrowed” music, themes, even entire scenes -- from other films; primarily 70’s and early 80’s sci-fi and horror flicks. That probably explains his choice of subject matter for his latest opus, SpaceDisco-One; a sort-of sequel to Logan’s Run and Bladerunner -- with a dash of Mad Max style post-apocalyptica thrown in -- all clashing head-on with George Orwell’s 1984, ...uhh, just to keep the audience on its toes, I suppose.

       I should mention that SpaceDisco-One is both the story as previously outlined and the story of its making -- simultaneously. Dispensing with the conventional wisdom that the “making-of” featurette be included as some sort of “extra” on the DVD, that whole aspect of the production has been directly incorporated into the storyline -- if you can call what transpires in SpaceDisco-One a “story”. In brief, descendants of characters seen in Logan’s Run, Battlestar Galactica and Krull are tracking down some rogue “replicants” on the orbital platform “SpaceDisco-One” -- an interstellar craft whose interior is largely represented by a skating rink and some “borrowed” footage from the film Roller Boogie. Meanwhile, 1984’s Winston Smith has crashed through some kind of inter-dimensional gateway and somehow ended up in the middle of this mess. If this all sounds crazy unto the point of schizophrenia, well, let me assure you -- it is... But there’s a method to Packard’s madness -- he contrasts the silly excesses of these 70’s genre flicks with the current excesses of the Bush administration and the concomitant media hype surrounding “The War on Terror” -- to frightening, if paranoid effect. This is Packard’s greatest strength as a filmmaker -- he’s obsessed with some pretty silly aspects of pop culture (all deeply rooted in the 70’s), but these same obsessions also make him utterly appalled at the current state of our civilization -- and he’s a talented enough filmmaker to effectively communicate this dismay to an audience.

       Packard’s first feature-length effort, Reflections of Evil is a semi-autobiographical account of his early days in Los Angeles as a street vendor of watches and T-shirts -- a picaresque tale which includes appearances by an ersatz Stephen Spielberg, numerous actual mentally-ill L.A. street people and the all-too real Joey Heatherton. This project (in many ways his most ambitious) was bankrolled by a trust fund inheritance he received as a result of being heir to the Packard Motor Car fortune. He’s also made many shorts -- Bugnuts concerns David Hyde Peirce’s (again, ersatz) hunt for his lost cat -- a search that takes him around the world, and eventually as far as the moon. His Star Wars Mockumentary is as clever a send-up of that oft-parodied trilogy as I’ve seen, and his earliest film, Dawn of an Evil Millennium is a sort of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired cop-buddy movie -- now there’s a genre that hasn’t been exploited to its fullest yet, that’s for sure. A project Packard has been forced to put on the back-burner (due to issues of scale and cost) is Apple -- an epic lesbian fantasy, in the vein of Lord of the Rings -- except, ya’ know... -- with more lesbianism!

       Both SpaceDisco-One and Reflections of Evil are available for purchase here and for rent... -- who-knows-where? If you happen to live in the L.A. area, you can frequently find copies of Reflections of Evil in the “used” and “cut-out” bins of your local DVD store. You can also order these films from Packard’s website, listed below. Please help a struggling -- and quite possibly mentally deranged -- artist out, by at least taking a look.

Some links:

Damon Packard wiki.

Packard’s very slow-loading Myspace page.

The Reflections of Evil website and source for all of Mr. Packard’s films.

An interview with Packard regarding his first feature, Reflections of Evil.

Next post -- 08/24/07

Friday, August 10, 2007

I N L A N D   E M P I R E

       So much has already been written about David Lynch’s latest feature, that I can hardly imagine what -- of substance -- I could add to the collected encomia. I’ll say -- or reiterate, as the case may be -- this much. It’s quite good; Lynch’s best film in years, in fact. It features an Oscar-worthy performance from Laura Dern, the most inventive use yet of the mini-DV format towards the making of a feature film that I’ve seen, and...        Oh, yes! -- it also doesn’t make a lick of sense.
I mean that in the good old-fashioned, surrealist sense of making no sense. Like a lot of Lynch’s earlier work, INLAND EMPIRE doesn’t just defy rational interpretation; it kind of openly double-dares the viewer to apply such a standard. Any notions you may have about linear narrative just won’t help you here, folks, so the sooner you abandon those, the sooner we can get on with the show...

       The difficulty -- some would say well nigh impossibility -- of trying to summarize the plot aside, the movie concerns one Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), an actress past her prime who has a shot at a comeback playing a character called Susan Blue in the film “On High in Blue Tomorrows”. A screenplay, the director informs Nikki, that is in fact a remake of a much earlier Polish film called “4/7” -- or perhaps “47” -- that had to discontinue production because the lead actors were killed during the shoot. Murdered, -- according to the director character played by Jeremy Irons -- by “something they discovered... inside the story." Despite receiving a warning against taking the role from a neighborly Eastern European gypsy (portrayed by Lynch regular, Grace Zabriskie), Nikki decides to go ahead and join the cast anyway. She commences an affair with the male lead, and in an attempt to hide her on-stage rendezvous with him from the rest of the crew, Nikki secrets herself away in one of the sets; and promptly gets lost...        somewhere. And there isn’t too much point in trying to explain things from there on out.

       The above synopsis just barely grazes the surface of the events, characters, and storylines present in INLAND EMPIRE -- or the fact that both Nikki and “Susan Blue” may just be figments in the imagination of another character in the film. There’s also a separate plotline involving some prostitutes and a young boy in danger, another involving a shadowy Russian figure known only as “The Phantom” -- and what to make of the rabbit-headed figures who populate a sit-com that, at one time or another, seemingly every character in the film sits down to watch? There are an awful lot of theories floating around on the internet as to the exact significance of this or that character or event in the film -- but I won’t try to push you towards one interpretation or another, dear reader (and revealing any more of the goings-on would spoil half the fun of seeing it anyway). Suffice to say, the film concerns a variety of themes that orbit around issues of fame, identity and ultimately, mortality. My suspicion is, the exact significance of their presentation here is intentionally meant to vary from person to person, maybe even from one viewing to the next; and I’m not sure it all “adds up” -- or even that there is any way of adding it up -- but it’s a film with undeniable moments of power, and even beauty.

       Most interested filmgoers didn’t even get a chance to see INLAND EMPIRE at their local multiplex because... well, it didn’t play there; in order to have complete creative control over this latest project, Lynch had to wrangle a rather dodgy combination Theatrical/DVD rights deal with Rhino -- a fine distributor of digital media, but one whose theatrical distribution resources simply don’t measure up to those of Paramount, or even the various indie releasing companies that have previously handled his films here in the U.S. Which is a shame, because even though it was shot on video (and not even hi-def; Lynch used Sony's PD-150 to capture his latest vision -- a camcorder you and I could have picked up at Best Buy until a couple of years ago; it’s since been replaced by even better models), it still looks great when viewed on the big screen -- murky, even just a touch blurry as a result of the blow-up to theatrical image size -- but perfect for Lynch’s purposes here. When questioned about “what it all means..?”, Lynch is typically reticent about explaining or even discussing the film; usually just remarking that it’s "about a woman in trouble, and it's a mystery, and that's all I want to say about it."; when pressed, he’s offered this quote from the Upanishads as a clue: "We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe." And that’s probably the most insightful statement I’ve heard as of yet regarding this puzzling film.

       You can visit INLAND EMPIRE this Tuesday, August 14th, when it becomes available for rent or purchase on DVD. It’s a 2-disc special edition with loads of extras -- but of course, no audio commentary on the feature itself -- Lynch feels that a film should speak for itself or not at all. At 172 minutes in length, It’s a long haul, and a strange one too -- but worth the trip.

Some links:

David Lynch's website.


An interview with Lynch about INLAND EMPIRE and digital filmmaking in general.

Next post -- 08/17/07

Friday, August 3, 2007


       Used to be, the romance, or romantic comedy, was sumthin’ my mother would call “a wimmens' pixcha'” -- a narrative taken from and detailing the feminine perspective on courtship and ardor -- and I think that until the last couple of decades, that was very much the case. More recently, -- starting, perhaps, with Woody Allen’s Annie Hall -- we’ve begun to see a surfeit of movies that approach romance from the male point-of-view; if you doubt this claim, try to think of any movies from the thirties, forties or fifties that are anything like Rushmore or even The Forty-Year-Old Virgin; two contemporary -- and very male centered -- romantic comedies. Not too many come to mind (at least, not to mine). On the other hand, there are all too many examples of films from that period that resemble such current “womens' pictures” as No Reservations or Down With Love -- although thankfully, most of the former were much better crafted than the latter. At any rate, chalk another one up on this year’s list of male-centric romances (a list that already includes Knocked Up and Everything’s Gone Green); Cashback, an engaging addition to the 2007 inventory.

       The movie opens with art-student Ben’s break-up with his first serious girlfriend, Suzy. Shaken by the experience (and very much desirous of getting back together with her), Ben finds himself unable -- “immune”, in fact, to sleep -- and spends the ensuing days in a kind of somnambulistic daze. Deciding that as long as he’s going to be awake 24/7, he might as well make some money off of it, Ben takes to working the night shift at a local supermarket. This allows him to give his employer his spare -- and unwanted -- extra eight hours of wakefulness, for which he will receive “cashback”. Ben notices that his fellow employees all have unique ways of making the time pass during their long and tedious shifts -- some strenuously avoid looking at clocks; others race scooters down the lonely aisles -- but Ben’s method for enduring his “trade of time” is unique; he makes the time pass more quickly by stopping it; freezing time -- and all those around him -- in a single moment that he can examine at his leisure; doing still-lifes' of shoppers who catch his fancy, and sometimes even the occasional sketch of check-out girl Sharon, who just might be a kindred spirit...

       Cashback is the first feature by writer/director Sean Ellis, who based it on his 2004 short of the same name -- and it’s as accomplished a cinematic debut as I’ve seen of late. While there might be a couple of added scenes that merely “pad out” the film, most of the expansion of the movie’s story-line comes from the well thought-out development of characters and plotlines only hinted at in the earlier, much abbreviated version. If I didn’t know Cashback was based on a short film, I never would’ve guessed it -- that’s a compliment, by the way. Alot of the humor in the film comes from Ben’s interactions with his co-workers at the supermarket -- in many ways they’re the typical bunch of zanies you’d find in any twenty-something comedy. But what makes Cashback different -- and worthwhile -- is the character of Ben himself: he’s quiet and reserved, and displays a keen sense of humor in his observations of those around him. Being essentially an introvert, Ben’s thoughts and musings are largely shared with just us, the audience. It’s difficult to make a film about a character who lives largely in his own head -- film’s a visual medium, and characters who are more “in your face” tend to come across more readily -- but to Ellis’s credit, Ben is very much the amiable center of the movie.

       Cashback is receiving a limited theatrical release as of this writing -- it may have already come and gone in your area. But fortunately, it’s also available for rent or purchase on DVD, in a disc that includes both the feature-length and short version of the film. Most definitely worth stopping a moment, to take a look at.

Some links:

Cashback official website

Magnolia Pictures (the U.S. distributer of the film) website.

Roger Ebert’s take on Cashback

Next post -- 08/10/07