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Insight on international films from the perspective of an American author of books about genies.  Reviews will be based in reality. 

A Whale of a Concept in Wholphin: Issue 1


Wholphin: Issue 1 was my introduction to this innovative approach to film.  The Wholphin film series is touted as “a quarterly DVD magazine, published by McSweeney’s, lovingly encoded with unique and ponderable films designed to make you feel the way we felt when we learned that dolphins and whales sometimes, you know, do it.”  That last part is fodder for a film I’d need to see before I believe it.  But the sentiment evoked by viewing Wholphin might best be described in the same language as would the act of witnessing a cross-species coupling:  quirky, unexpected, at times monotonous, but always intriguing.


Considering this artistically executed series of shorts as a magazine instead of a feature film allowed me the luxury of “flipping past” those episodes that held no interest for me, without losing the narrative thread as I would if flipping through a full-length film.  No popcorn batch and feet propped up.   I grabbed segments as I could.


There are ten segments of varying length.  The first, entitled Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?, was only several minutes long, but fulfilled Wolphin’s promise of “ponderable” films.  John C. Reilly stands on a suburban sidewalk inquiring the title question of passersby.  With his milkshake voice and  furrowed brow, he seemed earnest and interested when asking the question.  The plot is in the answers.  The first responder, played by Miranda July, is certain that she is most definitely the favorite person of somebody.  But when Reilly requests the degree of her certainty, she wavers.  As might any of us.  That’s where the ponder comes in.  A comic moment - and I do mean moment - is with the response of a young guy played by Mike White.  He immediately answers Reilly’s question with an emphatic “No.”  That furrowed brow furrows further.  And when a sympathetic Reilly offers the guy some oranges, he takes some extra for “my girlfriend.”  Hmmmm.


The Big Empty could be considered the feature article of this magazine.  It was longer than the others with better developed characters, but no less quirky.  Selma Blair plays a young woman plagued by an “ache” inside.  We meet her in the gynecologist chair, feet in stirrups, seemingly nonplussed by the array of practitioners who peer inside proclaiming varying diagnoses.  Not until she encounters “the specialist,” played by a wry Elias Koteas, is she given the definitive explanation for her condition when Koteas is inexplicably pressure-pulled inside Blair, via vagina transit, into a great void.  Apparently, there’s a great expanse of empty and unexplored tundra inside Blair.  Koteas proclaims that “Soon everyone will know our names.”  Blair is brilliant as an ambivalent patient, puzzled by her condition but not motivated to take control of her own destiny.   She just wants someone else to explain the pain, or at least acknowledge it.  Not until a talk-show guest, billed as “The Thoughtful Man” and played by Gabriel Mann, asks her if it hurts does she begin to detach from her reverie.


As a viewer, it’s not difficult to determine the intent of director and writer J. Lisa Change and Newton Thomas Segal through the abstract images and names given to characters, like The Thoughtful Man. It’s a well-crafted sequence of the human condition.  We ache; we yearn; we look to others for answers; and remain unfulfilled until we recognize our fertile selves.  Or something like that.


Tatli Hayat, or Sweet Life as explained by the subtitle, was an uproarious Turkish send-up of the1970s  American sitcom, The Jeffersons.  There were seven variations of this one segment.  It was amusing enough to watch the original cultural reinterpration of a distinctly American situation comedy.  But the quirkiness came in with replays of the same show synchronized to new, outlandish subtitles. Reimagining the story this way was entertaining and fresh, literally and figuratively.


The equivalent of magazine articles I skim over, but enjoy nonetheless, were two short documentaries. One captured former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, entitled Al Gore Doc, and the other was an account of an encounter between U.S. soldiers in Iraq with hundreds of millions of abandoned dollars, entitled Soldier’s Pay.   Both employed the hand-held camera approach, though Gore’s depiction was shakier, akin to his run for president.  But the subject was engaging and captured Gore’s thoughtful  insights and humanitarian ideals.  This particular segment was probably more appealing because it was bundled with other entertaining vehicles within Wholphin. 


Soldier’s Pay was a succinct and startling account directed by David O. Russell that started slow.  If the description of “The Money Find,” as shared by columnist David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, wasn’t so astonishing, the chronicle would not have been interesting enough to keep me from turning the proverbial page.  


The Delicious provided a glimpse of a monochromatic life as shared by a working white-collar stiff and his equally upwardly mobile, suit-wearing wife.  There were echoes of Metropolitan and Being John Malkovich in the nearly humorous angst of the exaggerated chit-chat among colleagues.  However, the story fell flat for me even before he donned his wife’s mother’s chili pepper red pantsuit and made strange alien squawks.  When asked what he is doing, he blithely responds, “It’s called the delicious. And it’s just something I have to do.” That was my cue to do something I just had to do.  Skip ahead.


The Writer, by Carson Mell, was a short, really short, bit of graphic animation narrated by one of those cardboard drawings with an actual moving mouth, popularized by American comedian and talk-show host Conan O’Brien.  One of its few lines, “There’s a little bit of me in every monster” might best be written as “There’s a lot of me in this monster of a script.”


There was another segment called The House in the Middle that displayed classic nuclear preparation footage from the 1950s.  The announcer looked just like Walter Cronkite, which did not contribute to his gravitas.  Footage aligned with the voiceover created a mildly appealing piece that hearkens to an era of paranoia. 


Two final segments were narrated drawings.  The Death of the Hen told the story of a choking hen and had all the familiar allegories of crisis, suspense, frustration, determination, hopelessness, cooperation, teamwork, desperation and self-sacrifice as the hen’s friend rushes for help to save his friend.  Alas, if you read your Aesop’s, you would be prepared for the final line “So then they were all dead.”  Malek Khorshid was less climactic and, actually, not climactic at all.  Here was another artist’s rendering of a sultan and his suspicious vizier (I just watched Aladin with my 5-year-old so some of the themes were quickly recognizable).  The only response this story evoked was a distant memory of early, anonymous animation.  The music, while mystical, was tinny. I’ve had nightmares similar to Malek Khorshid:  Strange two-dimensional renderings of innocuous worlds that have a cloying temperament.  Skipping.


Overall, I was intrigued and fascinated by the images and diaglogue of Wholphin: No. 1.  The delivery of film via a magazine format was empowering.  Flip through as you choose.  You can even subscribe to this evolution in cinematic viewing.  There are many more Wholphins available.  And I’ll probably pick one up next time I’m in the mood for interspersed, “ponderable” entertainment.

Comments (1)

Your Excellent Commentary

BigMikeCraft Says that I wish I had your way with words. I graduated High School and yes I got into a few schools like Ithica, Oneonta, etc and wound up in Cobleskill in 1966. It was like I was destined to be a gangster/thug. I came froma good family, (even though my father was Meyer Lansky's fixer in the N.Y.S. Court system), My mother was a head nurse and a good christian girl from the sticks of Canada. I was church raised but trained with guns by my Dad. In college I wound up a best friend of the son of a made guy in N.Y.C. and my girkfriend got pregnant and we left school. I worked for small time hoods until 1968 and was made a full associate member of the national and the lansky group. I got my stripes 5 years later in 73 and wound up Lansky's enforcer at the age of 25. You can google me. I won't bore you. What I am trying to say is that you write well and I wish I had the talent. I did so much in my life and I have to fight the FBI all the time. I have appeared on the front cover of The Toronto Star, only to be called names because the RCMP did not want people knowing about a made guy who came to Canada to kill their Pierre Trudeau inorder to get Fidel Castro out of Cuba, and kill him! I wish I could use the metaphors you use and had my wits about me all the time. The Bureau even kept me out of the Enquirer. A man who has admitted to the hit contracts on 3 heads of state can not get in the most disgusting rag in the nation. You take care. I like your work. Sincerely

About KFZuzulo

Zuzulo Kellyann
KF Zuzulo is the author of award-winning supernatural thriller, A Genie in the House of Saud: Zubis Rises.  A former journalist and editor, Kellyann watches film for entertainment and enlightenment and sometimes discussion, which is what this blog is about.


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