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.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


       One of cinema’s most appealing qualities is -- assuming the story is really exposited visually -- that it can be appreciated by all, no matter what country or culture they hail from. It’s the truly universal art-form: free of the restrictions imposed by language, age or education-level. That being said, every culture has its own unique stories and story-telling tropes -- comprehensible to natives of said society, but sometimes cryptic-seeming to outsiders. It’s easy enough to understand how someone from the plateaus of Tibet, or the icy vistas of Siberia could appreciate an iconic American action film like Stagecoach or a slapstick comedy like The Gold Rush -- but what would they make of Eraserhead? Or Being John Malkovich? Or, heck, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for that matter? Once you move beyond the most basic, iconic genres and story-lines, the transparency of the cinematic form begins to obscure -- and of course, this cuts both ways. Films from foreign lands almost always seem a bit different, possessing a kind of “other-ness”, to us Americans. This is all the more true of cultures outside of the Western, European tradition -- even more so when the film in question is at the periphery of that alien society’s mainstream. And that lengthy preamble goes a long way towards categorizing -- if not actually explaining -- a film like Funky Forest: The First Contact.

       I think it’s easier to unpack what this film is, by making clear what it is not -- It is not a “three-act playlet with a dramatic resolution” -- it’s more like a series of inter-connected short films that all revolve the same central characters: three young women who all share the same flat, and their prospective beaus, three young men known as “The Guitar Bros.” -- this is their title, despite the fact that two are Japanese and the third clearly a gaijin. In addition, all these characters interact with a host of bizarre alien creatures who claim to be from the Planet Piko-riko; although it’s a little unclear if these events are “actually” taking place, -- or just part of some sort of collective day-dream. It’s also not a musical -- although the film has a dozen or more musical “numbers”; but to call it a “musical”, the “numbers” would have to advance the plot in some way or another -- and since Funky Forest doesn’t have anything that could conventionally be called a “storyline”, pigeon-holing it in that way just doesn’t quite hold up. It’s more like a playful set of humorous sketches, complete with music video interludes and a really bizarre sci-fi sub-plot. None of these descriptions quite do the film justice; the more I think about it, the more I have to just regard it as one of the flat-out weirdest cinematic experiences I’ve ever had -- but not an unentertaining one, I might add.

       Funky Forest is the collective effort of three Japanese directors, the best known of whom, Katsuhito Ishii, also directed the sublime The Taste of Tea -- a far more conventional film (overall...); but a film similarly concerned with the quiet moments that occur between the high points of “drama” -- introspective moments, that when put together, are as valid a way of telling a story as any, I think. The overall tone of Funky Forest is light and silly; but the zaniness frequently occurs between characters and creatures that are as bizarre and unsettling as anything you’ll see in David Cronenbergs’ adaptation of Naked Lunch. Most likely the movies episodes will make you smile, at least some -- but you might feel a little queasy as well. Funky Forest apparently has quite the “cult status” in its native Japan, causing some to refer to it as the Nipponese “Rocky Horror” -- but the camp pleasures of Rocky Horror seem tame in comparison. A film like Forbidden Zone or the more recent The American Astronaut makes for a more apt comparison.

       Funky Forest: The First Contact gets a region 1 DVD release Tuesday, March 18th. This edition isn’t dubbed -- but includes sub-titles and a “making-of” featurette -- which will go a ways towards making it “understandable”; but still, I suspect, far from comprehensible.

Next post -- 04/04/08

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Slammin' the lid on the coffin . . .

       On more than one occasion, I’ve jokingly referred to this blog as being, not so much a source of film criticism, but rather more of a P.S.A. -- of information that nobody is really looking for in the first place, most likely. This week, however, that statement is almost not a joke: undoubtedly many of you have noticed the astoundingly low prices advertised on HD-DVD players and discs of late. There’s a reason for this sudden plunge in prices; and a reason why you should not -- under any circumstances -- buy one. The reason is this: the HD-format war is over, and Blu-ray has won -- but that won’t stop manufacturers from trying to unload their backlog of players and discs on you, the unwitting consumer.

       For those not in the know, a brief re-cap. Approximately 3 years ago, Sony and Toshiba both introduced their competing and not-compatible-with-one-another high-definition video formats: Blu-ray and HD-DVD, respectively. Manufacturers knew from the git-go that conventional DVD’s storage capacity was inadequate for encoding high-definition video -- so, the need for a replacement format was imminent. Toshiba’s attempt, HD-DVD, had the benefits of being cheap to produce and backwards compatible with existing DVD technology. Sony’s more advanced blu-ray format has a greater storage capacity and a more robust dynamic rewriting schema, making it a better choice for computer and gaming applications -- but won't play conventional DVDs. At first, The major studios were evenly divided in their support of the formats -- but late last year, Warner Bros. decided to support Blu-ray exclusively; slowly but surely, all the other studios followed suit -- until, on February 19th of this year, Toshiba announced that they would no longer manufacture HD-DVD discs or players -- effectively rendering the format obsolete, even though there are still a few other manufacturers out there who have yet to give up the ghost. But with the creator of the format abandoning it, we can safely say that HD-DVD has gone the way of 8-track tapes, floppy discs and Betamax -- to an early grave.

       Of course, we’re all -- including gadget-loving, early-adopter me -- still watching most of our video-tainment via conventional DVD; and will for many years to come, as the advantages of any Hi-Def format are only noticeable on large (I would say at least 42”), widescreen, High-Definition monitors (at least 720p, but ideally 1080p resolution); and how many of us own those? Well, I do, but I’m “in the biz” as they say, so it’s justified. Even so, even my very nice plasma display (purchased about 4 years ago) is already obsolete. It isn’t capable of displaying the highest high definition signals, and is not compliant with the D.R.M. instituted on all high-def formats (known as HDCP); this is not a problem with displays made within the last two years or so; such are the risks of the early-adopter. At any rate, those of you who staunchly refuse to move forward into this brave, new high-resolution world need not fear. Conventional DVD’s are too easy and cheap to manufacture -- and ergo too attractive to both consumer and manufacturer alike -- to allow for their demise any time soon. And by the time DVD’s do become obsolete, you’ll be able to “rip” them -- as we all do with CD’s nowadays -- and store them on what will undoubtedly be a multi-Terabyte hard-drive.

       So what does this all mean for you, dear reader? First off, don’t buy that $99.00 HD-DVD player from Best Buy -- unless you feel like watching the same thirty movies over and over again. Two, feel free to continue to buy DVDs, if you’re so inclined; the format still has a decade or two worth of life to it, if only because consumers will not warm up to the merits -- or cost -- of Blu-ray all that quickly. Three, if you don’t like the idea of a new video format at all, take heart. Many analysts seem to feel the real future of video-tainment is in downloading, as many of us already do with music and audiobook purchases. Having watched a few downloads from Apple’s video store, I can say that the quality is pretty darned good -- especially on their HD offerings -- and as the cost of multi-giga and tera-byte hard-drives comes down, that option is looking more attractive than buying another set of bookshelves that I don’t have room for in my apartment.

Next post -- 03/14/08