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, May 27, 2008


       This blog-post is a two-fer. First up is some porn -- Oh, I know what you’re thinking; it was only a matter of time before this thing turned XXX (although those who’ve been reading as far back as this entry know that I’m not going into uncharted territory here). But being as this particular skin flick stars Isabella Rossellini (an actress whose degree of comfort with on-screen nudity is only exceeded by my desire to see it) and details the sex-lives of insects, it seems like something worth writing a few words about. Green Porno is a web-series found on The Sundance Channel site; each brief segment (just a minute or two in length) spotlights a different insect (or some such small slimy creature -- both earthworms and snails have been featured) usually portrayed by Ms. Rossellini herself; dressed in a charmingly theatrical insect-costume -- like something you’ d see in a grade-school play. She delivers a brief monologue on the copulatory habits of said creature -- acting it out with the aid of props and sometimes other actors as well. Peculiarly, Ms. Rossellini almost always opts to be the male participant in this bug hardcore. An amusing quirk on her part...? -- perhaps...

       Isabella is the daughter of actress Ingrid Bergman and neo-realist Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. Towards the end of his career, the cinema-vérité style fell from favor, and he turned his camera towards the documentation of animals and sea-life -- essentially for purposes of scientific research. This perhaps explains her choice of subject matter; but not her offbeat, downright eccentric presentation of the sex-lives of these creatures -- straightforward scientific facts are freely mixed with anthropomorphic musings as to how the insects must think and feel about their frankly bizarre intercourse practices. And she seems to delight in emphasizing the supposedly “kinky” aspects of the bugs’ matings; It’s too lascivious to be a fourth-grade biology filmstrip, but also contains too much genuine scientific lore to qualify as a true blue-film either. All the same, these shorts are good, kooky fun -- and brief enough to appreciate as just that, especially if you find the host charming -- which I must admit, I do (personally, I could watch Isabella Rossellini recite the New York phone book and be entertained at some level). Besides, where else are you going to see a film revolving around the fact that the male bee has a detachable penis?

       Let’s get something out of the way, right off the bat -- Postal is not a good film -- by any stretch of the imagination -- but still bears examining... however briefly. Directed by Uwe Boll; a personage better known for his willingness to spar with his critics than for the quality of his own films. A filmmaker so widely regarded as terrible that petitions -- signed by thousands -- have been drafted to demand his retirement from filmmaking. So when a self-admitted hack of this caliber decides to make what he describes as “the first post-9/11 comedy”, it seems prudent to at least survey the damage done. Like all of Boll’s other films, Postal is a video-game adaptation -- this time, a game that centers around the killing spree of a man so fed up with the frustrations of the modern-day world that he decides to go “postal” -- and the slaughter ensues. Inserted into this premise are sub-plots about a terrorist attack engineered by Osama Bin-Laden and George Bush; a ridiculous dooms-day religious cult; and an assassination attempt on Boll himself -- and of course, our “hero’s” (Zack Ward) murderous rampage is an attempt to stop all these elements from coming to a head.

       Postal may be the first of Boll’s films to garner any amount of positive critical acclaim (not much, but some); it seems to be an attempt at a Dr. Strangelove-style black comedy, but falls short of that mark by a long shot -- it’s not even up to the level of Team America: World Police on that front. That being said, the film has its occasional funny moments -- not clever-funny; Boll pretty consistently fails at that over the course of the movie -- but slap-stick-y funny, at least in fits and starts -- if only because of the presence of talented comic actors like Dave Foley and J.K. Simmons. Boll is self-distributing the film in a "limited release" (mostly midnight shows and “special” screenings) as I write this; supposedly because it’s “too controversial” for the major distributors to touch; and while he does push some political hot buttons here and there, had he done so more consistently -- and with some genuine wit -- I think one of the major labels would have picked it up. It’s a mildly diverting oddity -- as if John Waters, on an off day, had decided to make a political satire -- but nothing to rush out to see in a theater; it can wait for that inevitable, late-night, insomnia-induced cable viewing, I think -- which is more than one could say about any of Boll’s other films, I might add.

Next post -- 06/02/08

Friday, May 2, 2008


       The staunch cinema enthusiast, upon walking into a movie theater (or sliding that DVD into a set-top player), is usually looking for a new experience, presented within a familiar context -- which is to say, a display of novelty, imaginativeness, and invention; but played out within the familiar framework of an established genre. Most films hailed by critics as “totally original” or “strikingly different” fall into this category -- they add a few atypical elements to some well-worn story-line, and voilá! The entire film feels fresh and new and different. Blue Velvet comes to mind here; upon first viewing, a friend of mine found it so weird that he “couldn’t follow it” -- but when you look at the film, plot-point by plot-point, it’s a pretty straightforward mystery (albeit with some peculiar and unsavory elements). So, when a movie comes along that is really different -- not just “quirky” (as, let’s say, Napoleon Dynamite is), nor simply with an “unexpected”, but more often predictable, plot-twist (The Sixth Sense anyone?) -- it often goes unnoticed; simply because critics and audiences don’t have a previously-established context into which to place it. Such I think is the case with Todd Rohal’s The Guatemalan Handshake -- it’s easily one of the best and most creative films I’ve seen this year; yet for the most part, its just slipped past everyone’s notice.

       The Guatemalan Handshake is an episodic film that doesn’t easily lend itself to a brief synopsis -- but all the same, here’s a stab at it. After a major electrical blackout accidentally instigated by power plant employee and ne’er-do-well, Stool (Rich Schreiber), the lives of the residents of a small Pennsylvania town are all thrown into various degrees of disarray. Mr. Turnupseed’s beloved car goes missing; Ethel Firecracker’s dog run runs away from home; and most mysterious of all, Donald Turnupseed (Will Oldham), part-time demolition derby driver and full-time misanthrope, vanishes without a trace, leaving his pregnant girlfriend Sadie without a father for her unborn child -- and prompting his best friend, 10 year-old Turkeylegs, to start her own search for his whereabouts. The film meanders through the lives of these characters as they attempt to deal with these problems -- and culminates at the yearly demolition derby, where things don’t exactly come to a head; but nonetheless some of the characters -- and myself, I have to admit -- do arrive at some sort of epiphany.

       It’s tempting to call The Guatemalan Handshake a “literary” sort of a film -- its low-key, understated narrative reminds me of some of the stories of Haruki Murakami or David Foster Wallace (a writer who I must admit I don’t much care for; he’s clearly a talented wordsmith, but his stories always seems to revolve around nothing in particular). The movie uses a variety of styles over its course; documentary-style interviews (with individuals who I strongly suspect are not actors, but just plain ol’ citizens of Dillsburg, PA -- where the film was shot); music-video style interludes; black-and-white, fable-like stories within the context of the larger story. Unlike many films taken from literary sources, The Guatemalan Handshake, doesn’t rely too heavily upon its dialogue; it’s more about what you’re seeing in front of you, and the order in which said events are presented, I think. I suppose, like some literary works, the film ultimately seems driven by neither plot nor character, but by some sort of internal scheme or view of the universe; and appreciating the film seems as much a matter of getting in tune with that agenda, as anything else.

       The Guatemalan Handshake has just become available on DVD, in a 2-disc set that includes some amusing short films and featurettes from the cast and crew. The film never received a wide theatrical release, but still makes the occasional festival appearance or special engagement. You can buy or rent the DVD through the usual sources. I recommend it as highly as any film I’ve seen this year so far -- which’ll probably cause as many of you to steer clear of it as take a look... -- oh well, your loss.

Some links:

Another trailer for The Guatemalan Handshake.

A scene from the movie -- please note that The Guatemalan Handshake was completed before the film Juno even started production.

A short film by Todd Rohal, Sweaty Salesman.

Next post -- 05/16/08