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, November 30, 2007


       With the W.G.A. strike well underway (... 30 days now and counting), and with most network TV shows barely five or six weeks into their production schedule, many have speculated that this sudden standstill in the year’s TV viewing foretells the demise of broadcast television in general. While that prediction seems a bit premature, one thing does seem certain: “TV” is undergoing a sea-change; if not in its’ content, then at the very least in its' format and distribution. In fact, the core issue of this strike -- writers’ seeking a share in revenues garnered from DVD sales and internet distribution of television programming -- illustrates the nature of this change; we’re not just watching “TV” on our TV’s anymore. No, these days you’re as likely as not to download shows and watch 'em on your computer or iPod; or view them off of a “season-set” of DVD’s (rather than broadcast); or just directly streamed from the internet -- which brings us to Channel 101.

       Channel 101 bills itself as “... the unavoidable future of entertainment” -- and that may well be -- but what it is right now, is a website that features short-format comedy bits (never more than five minutes in length); mostly absurdist sort-of-parodies of existing TV programs and genres. The sketch featured above, “The Forgotten Classics” is supposedly an exposé of a forgotten George Romero zombie movie, “Night of Racial Tension” -- it basically riffs on Romero’s tendency to hammer home the subtext of his films; in this case, racial and cultural intolerance. It’s not the best sketch they’ve ever done, but it’s a fair example of what you can expect to find on the site. Other stand-out “shows” include Laser Fart about -- you guessed it -- a superhero who can fart lasers (it’s a funnier and more spot-on parody of the superhero genre than it’s premise would suggest); Yacht Rock, their take on Mtv’s “Behind the Music” series; and M.E.S.I. (Most Extraordinary Space Investigations), which seems to be an attempt to make a TV show in about 9 & 1/2 minutes with nothing more than a camera and a superabundance of chutzpah.

       Website creators Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab concocted Channel 101 as a venue for exhibiting their own comedy shorts, and then eventually, those of interested audience members as well. They have a backlog of several hundred “episodes” at this point and how they sift through submissions to continue as ongoing “series” is an interesting -- if not innovative -- process. New shorts are screened monthly at an L.A. venue, and then -- in a micro-reenactment of the Neilsen ratings families -- the audience ranks the night’s viewings from most to least favorite; and the five most popular shorts get a shot to continue the following month with another episode. As might be expected, Harmon and Schrab are regular contributors -- and winners -- of this mini-ratings sweeps period; but with good reason. They’re “pro”s at this point (having co-written Monster House and Exec-Produced The Sarah Silverman Program), and know how to “deliver the funny”.

       All of the shorts discussed -- and many, many more -- can be found on the Channel 101 website, under the “SHOWS” tab. For interested parties in the L.A. area, the next screening is Dec. 9th at Cinespace; doors open at 7:30 pm: whereupon they’ll present this year’s Channy® awards, their own -- and sure to be hilarious -- version of the Emmys. I’ll see you there -- assuming I get the Tux back from the dry-cleaners ...

Next post -- 12/07/07

Friday, November 23, 2007

Desert Island Movies

       We’re in the midst of the long Thanksgiving weekend, and there’s any of a number of blog-worthy films opening right now (I’m Not There in theaters; Paprika and Winter Kills on DVD); but since this thing is most likely read by you, dear reader, during down time at work -- and not when you’re stuffing yourself into insensibility with leftover turkey sandwiches -- it seems like just the right moment to toss off an essay, rather than a full-fledged write-up; the blogging equivalent of a TV clip show. So, what I have for you here is a list of ten, count ‘em 10 Desert Island Movies. Not necessarily my ten favorite films (because favorites are sometimes so special, that they have to be held back and savored at just the right moment); nor what I would consider the ten best (because then you have to take into account a whole host of factors -- historical context, technical proficiency, quality of performance -- all important factors in the making of a film; but not necessarily what makes them watch-able). No, all I’m taking into account here is a certain constancy of enjoyment as engendered by the movies under consideration. When you’re washed up on that proverbial desert island, with only a comfy chair, a DVD player, and a 50” widescreen plasma TV -- and hopefully enough beer and snacks to keep body and soul together till the rescue ship arrives -- which ten movies would keep you the most consistently entertained -- and diverted?

       Here’s my own list (in alphabetical order) of ten movies that I’d be willing to watch over and over again till I’m delivered from my own "uncharted desert isle":

1.) AMELIE - Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s light-hearted romantic comedy never fails to delight. Unlike most ‘chick-flix’, this one has a striking visual style, a snappy editing schema, and some sophisticated -- but seamlessly integrated -- special effects. I can’t help but note that ABC’s new series, Pushing Daisies owes an awful lot to this movie -- from it’s use of V.O. and production design, to going so far as including a track from the Amelie soundtrack (”Guilty”) in the pilot episode.

2.) BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS - Those who know me well will not be surprised to find a film by Russ Meyer on this list -- hey, at least I picked the one with the rockin’est soundtrack! Scripted by Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert), BVD just seems to get funnier with age -- if you’re not quite sure of how to properly apply the word “camp” (as in, ‘a type of humor’), take a look at this movie -- it’ll straighten you out as regards that, pronto!

3.) BOOGIE NIGHTS - This film is the great post-modern rags-to-riches story -- A Star Is Born reimagined as a series of money-shots. It’s funny -- it’s tragic -- it’s got singing, dancing, and porn stars; c’mon people, what more could you ask for?

4.) CAREFUL - Guy Maddin’s 1992 feature is his signature -- and IMHO, his best -- film. It’s a little swirling snow-globe of a movie about incest, repression (sexual and otherwise), and patricide -- did I happen to mention it’s also a comedy? I love the opening 5 minutes of Careful as much as I do any 5 minute section of any other film -- E V E R !

5.) ERASERHEAD - David Lynch’s first feature-length effort is genuinely surreal and dream-like. It’s also very, very funny, -- but I think you have to watch it at about a dozen times before that really comes through -- the first ten viewings or so, you’re just scratching your head, trying to sort it all out. After that though... -- well, I won’t say it makes sense, but certain threads come through strong, and it feels comprehensible, at some level.

6.) EVIL DEAD II - Sam Raimi’s sequel to his first feature (edited by the Bros. Coen!) is a great, big, dopey JayCee’s Haunted House of a movie, and has got to be the most successful marriage of slapstick comedy antics and no-holds-barred Horror/Gore yet committed to celluloid. Also features the most entertaining use (as of yet) of the word “Groovy” in a motion picture.

7.) THE INCREDIBLES - Brad Bird’s first pairing with Pixar is also -- as a matter of almost general agreement amongst both critics and the public alike -- the best film either has produced. If you have a child under the age of ten you’ve undoubtedly seen this, and if you haven’t... well, you should. A pitch-perfect "Hollywood” movie and every second is a joy to watch -- who cares if it’s animated? It’s as entertaining as moviemaking gets...

8.) MILLER’S CROSSING - Any Coen Bros. movie is a treat (with the unfortunate exception of this one), but Miller’s Crossing holds up particularly well to repeated viewings. It's a gangster movie; and a sort-of remake of 1942's The Glass Key -- which in itself was an adaptation of the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Every one of the Coen Bros. films has so many rich details to admire -- but this one, more than most, I think.

9.) MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (series as a whole) - Yeah, I know -- adding a TV show that has about 175 separate episodes is decidedly cheating -- but it’s my blog, and I guess I can break the rules without getting arrested, so... Why is it on this list? Well, how can you not love a show that manages to reference Mannix, William S. Burroughs, and Cheez-Whiz, all within the same two-minute period -- and if you don’t -- well then, you are dead to me, sir and/or madam.

10.) EL TOPO - Alejandro Jodorowsky’s bizarre, allegorical, and down-right trippy “Western” is definitely dated -- but it’s also unique in world cinema - and strangely fascinating, even moving, at times. Good to watch when you want that vague “am I high?” feeling -- without the week-long depression that usually follows an actual drug experience.

       Feel free to list your own Desert Island Movies in the comments section below; whether it be ten -- or even just one.

Next post -- 11/30/07

Friday, November 16, 2007


       An individual’s sense of humor, ya’ know, is a very personal thing. What might make one person laugh uncontrollably, might just as soon cause the next fella’ to simply stare blankly -- and the one after that to become furiously offended. I don’t think there’s any more particular, idiosyncratic component of a person’s personality than what might prompt he or she to laugh. So, it’s with considerable trepidation that I recommend the soon-to-premiere second season of Tim and Eric - Awesome Show, Great Job! -- partly because, as of yet, I’ve only seen the first season’s episodes -- but my hesitation is more likely due to the fact that, while I've found the show to be uproariously funny and entertaining, I’m quite certain I couldn’t explain why. Certainly not to you, dear reader... -- nor, I suspect, even to myself.

       Tim and Eric - Awesome Show, Great Job! is a short-format (each episode runs about 11 & 1/2 minutes) sketch comedy TV show; as such, it has no defined plot per se -- but it does have some regular characters and themes about which it revolves. Chief amongst said dramatis personae (almost all of whom are performed by Eric and Tim; sometimes interacting onscreen with themselves) are: Jan & Wayne Skylar, -- L.A.’s Only Married News Team; Steve and Mike Mahanahan -- brothers, and owner/operators of a Child Clown Outlet and a Child Clown Shoe Outlet ... respectively; and of course, Tim and Eric themselves -- who usually present themselves as dim-witted, short-sighted, corporate hucksters -- within the context of the show at least; I can’t speak for how they are in real life. The sketches themselves frequently take the form of faux “Industrials” (Corporate Instructional videos), P.S.A.s, or even Cable-Access style TV programming; ersatz commercials included. There’s usually a musical number or two in each episode, and the occasional Candid Camera style prank -- with a twist, of course; said twist usually being that the prank is as much on Tim and/or Eric as it is on the unsuspecting -- and generally very confused -- victim.

       Series creators, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, developed their comedy chops on their imaginatively entitled website; after a few failed attempts to sell a TV pilot, they caught the eye of Comedy-God, Bob Odenkirk, who exec-produced their first TV Show, the hilarious and frequently deeply unsettling Tom Goes to the Mayor. Odenkirk continues to act as a creative consultant on Awesome Show, and does voice work and the occasional bit-part as well -- speaking of which, the program has attracted its’ share of interesting and funny guest stars, including Michael Cera, David Cross, and John C. Reilly. It’s more than a little difficult to pin down the show’s appeal -- the program’s free-form structure and the deliberately half-finished (one might even say half-assed) look and feel, certainly has something to do with it. But I can’t say that it works at the level of irony; there’s really nothing ironic about it, quite frankly -- it’s more pathetic than ironic; and that, I think, is the key. The world Tim and Eric present on Awesome Show is simply more dismal and disappointing than you’d think life possibly could be -- more than you could imagine it could be, in fact. And when they present that in the right way (or maybe the wrong way, given the premise of the show), I just can’t help but laugh.

       Tim and Eric - Awesome Show, Great Job! airs as part of Cartoon Network’s [adult swim] line-up; the second season premiere is this Sunday, Nov. 18th, at 12:15 AM, EST (9:15 PM, PST) -- but it’s available for viewing online starting today, at 6:00 PM, here. Now, here’s where I’d ordinarily write a sort of funny, punny, closing line. But not this week.


Some links:

The Tim and Eric - Awesome Show, Great Job! tease web-page.

A clip from season 1: Sports!.

A clip from season 1: Pizza Guy.

A clip from season 1: Lazy Horse Mattress & Bedding.

Next post -- 11/23/07

Friday, November 9, 2007


       Cinema, as a medium of artistic endeavor, is only possible as the result of technology made available within the last century or so. Other arts, such as painting or sculpture, certainly have their own tools and technologies; but they’re readily available in the immediate environment -- at least in their most primitive forms. To make a movie, though, you need some some fairly sophisticated hardware to pull it off -- even at the most unsophisticated level; and the apparatus needed to do this is necessary through every stage of the filmmaking process. Most obviously, in the initial ‘shooting’ of the film, but also in the assembly of said footage -- in the editing. The most significant recent development in editing technology is the advent of so-called non-linear editing systems -- computer-based hardware/software ‘solutions’ that allow the assembly and processing of film and/or video footage -- like AVID’s Media Composer or Apple’s Final Cut Pro. In terms of using the capabilities of this technology to its’ utmost, I have to say that I have yet to see a more trailblazing example than Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments.

       Based on the novel of the same name by Maureen Medved, The Tracey Fragments tells the story of 15 year old Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page). She’s going through that angst-y adolescent period -- a bit of a pariah at her high school, at odds with her dysfunctional family, and totally ‘crushing’ on the dreamy new boy at her school, a teen-aged Bob Dylan clone she refers to as ‘Billy Zero’. One day, her much younger brother Sonny goes missing; frustrated by her parents increasingly hostile treatment towards her -- and their near-complete emotional breakdown over their vanished son -- Tracey sets herself an impossible task: to seek out Sonny on her own, despite an approaching, and life-threateningly frigid blizzard. As straightforward as this synopsis sounds, the story unfolds in a stream-of-consciousness, fragmented style (hence the title, I suppose) that makes all this a little less clear-cut than I’m presenting it here. Tracey’s search is all mixed up with her own perspectives -- her very personal dreams, desires, and fantasies -- and the plot, such as it is, kind of leaks out through the edges of all that. While I think all the flash and cinematic wizardry used to tell this tale overwhelms it a bit (perhaps intentionally so, though), it was inevitable that someone would try to tell a story this way -- now that it’s possible to do so.

       As a person who makes his living as an editor myself, what struck me about The Tracey Fragments is how difficult -- probably impossible -- it would be to make this film before the advent of NLE’s (non-linear editing systems). The movies extensive use of optical effects -- P-I-P (multiple frames within the screen), images that move in relation to one another while on screen, shifting borders around and between objects -- all of this has been possible since the early days of film. But the ability to see that possibility while in the midst of the editing process -- to actually know how it’ll look to have six or seven images on-screen at the same time, all moving in relation to one another -- that’s something that’s only been possible within the last dozen years or so; since AVID released its’ first products.
       Working directly with film, on a flatbed editor like a Steenbeck, all of the information related to those kinds of effects are just marked on the workprint with a grease-pencil -- if you want to actually see what that dissolve or wipe will look like, you have to go through the time-consuming -- and expensive -- task of getting the lab to ‘print’ that sequence; and all the while they're handling your one and only, all-too-fragile negative, to make these tests. With an NLE, all the film footage is transferred to video, converted to a kind of moving-image computer file, and from there you can play with it to your heart’s content -- and see it all there, in real-time...        well, truth be told, most likely after a lengthy render -- but the point is you can actually see what you’re doing while you’re doing it -- and that opens up a whole new world of possibilities in cinematic storytelling.

       The Tracey Fragments is in limited release right now in Canada (its country of origin), and is playing the festival circuit here in the States -- most likely, it’ll find a U.S. distributor soon and get a wider release sometime later this year or early next. What you can see of the The Tracey Fragments right now is on its’ website, which also makes an intriguing offer. Under the RE-FRAGMENTED Tab, is a link which will start a download of all the footage utilized in the film to the users' computer. The site encourages interested parties to do this, and re-edit the film as they see fit, -- and then submit the re-mix to the films producers’ to evaluate. One winning entry will receive a copy of Final Cut Studio 2 -- and have their cut included on the forthcoming DVD of the film. Unfortunately, this contest is only open to Canadian citizens -- so they won’t be seeing a re-cut from me anytime soon...

Next post -- 11/16/07