Tag Archives: Artist


Sheila Franklin’s 2004 documentary, The King of Pluto (2004) focuses on the art of Michigan politico Mike Wrathell. From the outset, it is immediately apparent that Wrathell is a genuine oddball.  I say the film is about Wrathell’s art because it is not really about his life at all.  He and Franklin do not delve into the why of his art, what drives him, or where he came from and that’s just fine because this approach renders the film as quirky, vague, and enigmatic as Wrathell’s art.

Poster for The King of PlutoWrathell considers himself a Warhol-inspired dadaist who is obsessed with the planet Pluto.  He recollects that when he met president George W. Bush, he asked Bush to support a mission to Pluto.  Bush replied  “I’m going to send you to Pluto!”  Wrathell (in 2004) predicts the mission to Pluto will be a reality by 2006.

Wrathell’s art can be seen on film can be purchased there as well.  Wrathell’s silk-screen art, not surprisingly, often deals with Pluto, but he also covers celebrities, such as Maurren O’ Sullivan, John Travolta’s “Pluto Night Fever,” Ted Koppell as an Orwellian Micky Mouse, and Gilligan (as a Plutonian).  Wrathell also covers events and topics such as 911, images of Saturn, Venus, Neptunians, Blue Dracula, and why he prefers Martha Stewart to Barbara Walters.

Wrathell is a Republican and has run for various offices, unsuccessfully.  He tells us about buying a CIA baseball cap while he was in New York City near ground zero.  He buys it so potential terrorists will think he is CIA.  Or, they will think he is not CIA since an agent would not wear a cap reading “CIA”; or, a CIA man might buy a cap reading CIA to make us think he is not with the CIA, when in actuality he is.  Who knows?  But, on reflection Wrathell admits the cap was worth five bucks.

Still from King of Pluto (2004)He takes us to Burger King where he describes the perfect Whopper as having two tomatoes, or three, if you order extra tomato, which is what he orders.  Wrathell sits down with his Whopper and explains that it should have three tomatoes.  When he unwraps his sandwich, he discovers it to be a Chicken Whopper.  He returns the sandwich and hums, masking his displeasure, as they make him a new Whopper.  They do it right this time and the world is good again.

Back to the art.  Wrathell shows us watercolors on postcards and on lined notebook paper.  He has started a movement, he says.  It is the Ultra-Renaissance art movement, of which he is the sole member.

In the end, I am not sure who Mike Wrathell really is, but then I don’t know much about Pluto either, other than that the idea of it seems pretty cool, and that is good enough.  In the end, I would say Wrathell flies the freak flag high.  He is the kind of artist to sit down and have a couple of beers with, let him talk as you drink, and the more you drink, the better and better his talk sounds.  That is a recommendation.


DIRECTED BY: Adam Green and Joel Moore

FEATURING: Joel Moore, Amber Tamblyn, and Zachary Levi

PLOT: A gregarious young professional befriends a complex loner at work and unleashes

madness when she tries to unravel his convoluted personal secrets.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Spiral tells an offbeat story, it contains no outstanding weirdness, aside from the very odd personality of the lead character and the bizarre nature of his relationships.  In fact, it is the straightforward way in which the story is told that is responsible for its hypnotic feel and impact.

COMMENTS:  Overcast Portland, Oregon locations grace this gloomy and grim, offbeat psychological suspense story about a deeply troubled artist.  Spiral spins the whorled, offbeat portrait of a lead character with an odd personality and  bizarre personal relationships.

Mason (Moore) is a painter working as an insurance telemarketer.  He excels at his job, maintains a nice bachelor pad, and despite his gross social awkwardness and timid appearance he has tremendous luck with the ladies.  In fact, he has had a succession of girlfriends who all pose for his oil and canvas portraits.

Despite all that he has going for him, Mason is tortured and confused.  A shy loner at work, he feels trapped in his overly bright, sterile, corporate cubicle.  The nervous Mason is coiled so tightly that he’s about to spring out of his skin.  To make matters worse, he is prone to asthma flare-ups triggered by extreme night terrors and panic attacks.

Mason harbors more than a few skeletons in his inner footlocker and they are especially grim.  Like malevolent phantasms, dreadful images of his past girlfriends twirl our of his dreams and splash across his conscience like spatter from a centrifuge.  Striking terror, these hit and run specters jar Mason out of deep slumbers, and slap him out of daydreams.  The experiences leave him in a cold, sweaty daze, scrambling for his asthma inhaler with a racing heart.

Mason’s only safety net is his cocky, but empathetic boss, Berkeley (Levi)—who is also his only friend and advocate.  Willing to act as Mason’s ad-hoc therapist, Berkeley is the closest thing Mason has to some much needed Xanax.  Suppressing Mason’s panic with a combination of good-natured ridicule and reassurance, he talks his frightened employee down like Rasputin hypnotically calming Czar Nicholas II’s hemophiliac son.  The effect is temporary, however, as Mason seems to be plagued not only by the serpentine hallucinations, but by a wide range of deeply seated personal issues, all indicating a winding, ganglionic tangle of dark, hidden secrets.

Berkely begins to find his role as counselor diminished when a bubbly new employee named Amber (Tamblyn) jumps on board and takes a shine to Mason.  Inexplicably attracted to the shy salesman, she is like a schoolgirl rescuing a baby bunny.  Intrigued by the dark enigma of Mason’s persona, Amber radiantly circles Mason, determined to unravel his helical psyche by patiently prying away at the repressed layers of his complicated personality.

Mason gradually warms to her efforts and finally admits her to his inner world.   Once inside, Amber wreaks havoc like a Trojan horse when she realizes too late that she has opened a Pandora’s box. But how genuine is Amber?  Is she really who she appears to be?  What does Berkeley know about Mason’s past girlfriends that he isn’t telling Mason?  And why the haunting visions?  As tensions reach the meniscus, unanswered questions brew a churning swirl of fantasy, reality and bedlam as Mason, Amber and Berkeley cross paths in a twisting maelstrom of truth and lies.

Crisp audio processing of the soundtrack compliments the high definition DVD release of this Santa Barbara Film Festival entry. Spiral is the directorial collaboration of Joel David Moore and Adam Green, who worked as actor and director respectively on the 2006 slasher film, Hatchet.   Spiral was co-written by Moore with Jeremy Danial Boreing.  Amber Tamblyn may be known to some viewers from her roles in The Grudge II (2006) and The Ring (2001).


“Like an urban cousin of Jon Keder’s ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ as filtered through Edgar Allen Poe, the disturbed and delusional aspiring artist at the center of ‘Spiral’ promises much terror and delivers far less… Given the sheer weirdness of his character’s neuroses, Moore the actor tries to tamp down the urge for an over-the-top perf…”–Robert Koehler, Variety (contemporaneous)

Spiral trailer