Monday, April 30, 2012

Cronenberg's earlier "eXistenZ" makes real and game life interchangeable


Canadian director David Cronenberg has an earlier thriller, “eXistenZ”, 1999, from (TWC) Dimension Films and Alliance Atlantis, that provides another exercise in migration among different states of being and that questions our normal sense of identity and reality.

At some point in the future, people have ports for “bio-implants” into their lower spines, physically rather like USB ports on computers (which did not exist yet in 1999). Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has designed a game, “eXistenZ”, and at a market test session (conducted with security, rather like the opening of “Sound of My Voice”, below) she is shot by a gamer with a bizarre “organic weapon”.

She goes on the lam with a company trainee Ted Pikul (Jude Law), who says he is sensitive about his both and being “penetrated”.  (He remains well zipped up during the film.)  But he accepts the bio-game-port connection, and soon the pair are on an adventure where they cannot tell what is inside and outside the game.  The plot device reminds one of “going inside the website” in a 2002 movie “Fear Dot Com”. 

There’s no thimble here, like in “Inception”, to tell you if you’re back to “reality”.

The game components involve various pulpous masses (as game ports) that look like living things and give Cronenberg a chance to wield his talent for showing the demons from our dreams.  In a scene in a Chinese restaurant, Ted reconstructs the “organic weapon” from the food. 

The script has some great lines, like:

“I like your script. I want to be in it.”

“Nobody physically skis anymore.  You know that.”

“I feel very worried about my body. I’m vulnerable, disembodied”.  (There was a horror film about voodoo called “The Disembodied” in 1957, from Allied Artists, that used to play on a Saturday night “Chiller” program.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Michael" gives a low-key presentation of very taboo behavior

The opening of the new Austrian film (in German) "Michael" from Markus Schleinzer, shows a non-descript, balding and fortyish man, Michael (played by Michael Fuith) alone in an ample house, and soon we see him opening a locked garage-apartment where ten-year-old Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) lives.  We, of course, know something is terribly wrong.  Michael does everything throughout the movie to hide his secret life from others (even from Wolfgang, by cutting power when sensitive matters come on the news), and never allows guests in the house

What the movie shows physically, though, is something that could almost be a singe dad with a son.  Everything else is circumstantial.  When Michael is hit by a car and spends time in the hospital, the boy stays locked up (although with some amenities, like TV).  Same thing when his boss gives him a ski trip.

Of course, this will head toward a catastrophe, and it does, but it’s not what you expect.  What will happen is horrible for Michael’s “family” (mother).  There is a void at the end of the film.

I watched a review copy that I just received from Strand, which will release the DVD May 15.  The film has shown in NY and LA (and at Cannes).

In the notes, Markus does discuss the way society regards someone like Michael – as a monster. He admits that it was difficult to cast the boy, and admits that the boy could facing teasing in school for his part in the film.

Curiously, on the ski trip, there is a scene that shows that Michael is actually heterosexual.   His horrible secret seems to be more related to a need for power than anything else.  There is almost nothing erotic to see in this film.  It’s almost in PG-13 territory, except for the “concept”.

But the broadcast news intrusions make the point well, that the disappearance of a child can be more trying for parents than a confirmed loss.

The official site is here


Picture: I had to use it somewhere. This comes from an estate album, around 1943, and may be my own birth in Washington DC. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Monsieur Lazhar": French Canadian drama about the "challenges" for teachers


This weekend, my own past connection to teaching, and to schools decades before as a kid, is coming back to mind.  Today, I saw “Monsieur Lazhar”, directed by Philippe Falardeau, at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax, to an almost sold out Saturday afternoon crowd, appreciating the digital presentation.  (There was a glitch: the theater’s projection computer started “Hunger Games” by mistake at first.)

In a Montreal middle school,  Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) takes over as a long term sub after a female teacher has hung herself in the classroom.  In the ensuing 90 minutes, Bachir must unravel the tragedy for his kids, as well as his own familial and circumstances that drove him from Algeria to Quebec.

He’s pretty effective in the classroom, although I wondered why French-speaking kids take dictations in French.  The controversy of some of the literature, as by Balzac (a poem about self-expression and attention seeking) and Moliere (“The Imaginary Invalid”) maps to some of the conflicts in the stories.  (The Balzac rang a bell.  I’m pretty sure we read that in 12th Grade French class, and had to write a quiz essay on it.)  In time, he coaxes a male student to admit that he (the student) made up some of the accusation of the inappropriate behavior that lead to the teacher’s death.

In the meantime, he’s explaining to Canadian immigration authorities his need for asylum.  In the 1990s, his wife (a teacher there) had written a politically controversial book, resulting in threats to his family. 

The school principal has to deal with all this, and at a point there is a critical meeting between her and Bachir that reminds me of a particular meeting I had in 2005 after an “incident” regarding my own web content at a high school where I subbed (July 27, 2007 on my main blog). 

The official site is here.The film was produced by Microscope and distributed by Music Box Films. The film was nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars for 2011. 


"Sound of My Voice": Brit Marling poses another puzzle, this time with the time paradox rather than another earth


Friday night, April 27, the AMC Loews Georgetown in Washington offered a director’s Q&A after a special premier of the sci-fi film “Sound of My Voice”, from Sundance and FilmfestDC. The director is Zat Batmanglij, and the 85 minute film was written by him and Brit Marling, who wrote the spiritually similar “Another Earth” (July 31, 2011 here).  As with the other film, Fox Searchlight is the distributor, and the film opened last night in New York, LA, and Washington DC.  The film was shown in NYC last week, but I don’t see it on Tribeca’s list.

The film operates in several areas.   At first glance, it’s about a journalist Peter (Christopher Denham) and his girl friend Lorna (Nicole Vicius) going undercover to make a documentary about a supposed cult. At another level, it explores the potential controversies and risks of working as a substitute teacher, a topic with which I have considerable personal experience (my “BillBoushka” blog, July 27, 2007).

The “procedures” that the cult members undergo are harrowing. As the film opens, we see a hirsute Peter (and Lorna) “prepping” for the initiation meeting by scrubbing their bodies (rather like in “Gattica”), then being cuffed and blindfolded.  Later, Peter learns a Rosicrucian handshake with the cult guard Klaus (Richard Wharton, who reminds me of guide “Wizard” at Twin Oaks, Issues Blog, April 7).   They find leader Maggie (Brit Marling) seductive and manipulative, as she claims to have come from the future, year 2054.  (Is she one of “The 4400”?  Or is it that “there’s going to be another blackout?”)  The sessions get quite harrowing.  For example, after Peter has swallowed a hidden microphone, Maggie gives the cultists an emetic apple, and there follows a scene of group emesis, except, at first, for Peter, who says he simply never vomits.  Well, that may not work here.  We’re not completely clear as to how he gets out of it.

His other challenge comes about from his work as a “long term sub”.  He takes over what looks like a fifth grade class from another teacher having a baby, and seems to bond pretty well with kids.  But then somehow Maggie finds out the identity of one of the kids (he doesn’t know how; he says he didn’t put anything about the class on social media), and he wants her to “kidnap” her so she can meet her.
I found it hard to believe that Peter would take any risks in this area – he could go to jail himself, of course, over endangering a minor – but he seems determined to finish his passion as an amateur journalist. I could hardly have gone there as a sub; I got into enough trouble over my online postings. 
There then comes the surprise endings, with the whole question about the “Time Arrow of Physics”.  I’m not sure I buy it.

The audience applauded this film and fielded a lot of questions for the QA. 

Can one function as an "independent" journalist (especially on the open Web) and a public school teacher at the same time? When I started subbing, I actually thought I was onto something -- but it fell apart on me.  I think it's hard.  A teacher has to "take sides" for his kids and his profession. 

I’ll throw out as an aside, I do think some of the incidents involving minors that Chris Hansen uncovered on NBC Datelines would make for the subject of a good independent  documentary film of investigative journalism, particularly the disturbing case of Rabbi David Kaye, as well as meteorologist Bill Kamal.

Fox has an official site with a video of the “handshake”, link here.    The director says it took a whole day to learn the handshakes.


Pictures: Sorry, the director looks like a "ghost", camera didn't pick him up well.  Nearby, the C&O Canal in Georgetown, one block from (and behind) the theater complex.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Lady": the sad history of Burma through the eyes of an opposition family


The Lady”, the biography from director Luc Besson (and the (new?) distributor Cohen Media Group (site), and giant production company Europa), sounds like it would be a companion to TWC’s “The Iron Lady” (here, Jan. 16), and certainly the famous opposition politician Aung San Suu Kwi (Michelle Yeoh), who lived her life for democratic reform in Burma (Myanmar),  was made of iron.

Aung was the secretary for the National League for Democracy (NLD) and despite the party’s winning a majority in 1990, after her return in 1988, she remained under house arrest until 2010. 

Her father had been assassinated in 1947 (in the opening sequence of the film, quite brutal).  In 1988, when her mother had a stroke, she returned to Burma from London to help care for her. Her husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis), a literature professor  and two wonderful sons accompany her but are forced to go back.  In the ensuing periods, she and her husband are able to garner popular support to pressure the almost comically brutal regime into some restraint.  (The general seems like an impersonation of Sacha Baron Cohen).

But the real story of the movie is about her family.  The movie opens in the present, as Aris gets a terminal diagnosis of prostate cancer,  and then lectures his own literature students about family values and respect for elders.  The narrative then returns to 1988 to tell the heart of the story. The intimacy in the family, and its urge to stay together when it could not, is striking to me, imparting emotion that I don’t experience myself.

The look of the film, shot in Thailand, is epic.  The appearance of the temples contrasts with the squalor in the streets and prisons. 

I saw this at the latest show Thursday night at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax, VA.  Prices have gone up, but the theater has put in enhanced digital projection, and the experience in this old theater was far better than it had been before.  I was alone in the auditorium.  It seemed as though this was a showing just for me!


A related film is John Boorman's "Beyond Rangoon" for Columbia (1995), with Patricia Arquette and U Aung Ho. 



Thursday, April 26, 2012

"High Tech, Low Life" documents the difficulties for political bloggers in China, still a long way off from real capitalism


On Wednesday, April 25, I attended a nearly sold-out performance of “High Tech, Low Life”, by Stephen Maing, at the Tribeca Film Festival at a vertical Loews complex in the East Village in NYC (on 3rd, Avenue, across 10th street from a cafĂ©-bar called “The Pourhouse” – lunch but no coffee!).  At this venue, the Tribeca section was segregated from the general population with a separate entrance.

The 87-minute documentary traces the activities of two bloggers who, while operating technically within the law in China, face harassment and disruption from the Chinese government and sometimes from family.  Both bloggers want to document careless behavior by the state and companies in this new “People’s Republic of Capitalism”.  The Chinese government fears both of them as it prepares for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The younger man, Zola, apparently around 20 or so in 2008, has grown up in rural China and decides to go on a motorcycle tour on his own and blog.  His family objects, his grandmother at one point saying he doesn’t consider the effect of his attention-getting behavior on his own family (my mother has said that to me).  He follows his own heart though, and eventually attracts attention from authorities.  When he tries to go to Germany for a blogger’s conference, he is kept from leaving the country, even though he hasn’t broken the law.  But later China relents a little, and he does go to Romania for another conference, and hosts one in southern China.

The other "featured" blogger is “Tiger Temple”, a retired 60-year-old on a bicycle tour. He names his blog after his personable and “human” tabby cat, who becomes a bit of a character in the film (just as in “Cirkus Columbia”).   The government forces him to leave Beijing for the countryside during the Olympics, but does not harm his site or infrastructure.

The film also focuses on a dispute in Chongxing about a homeowner who resisted eminent domain when corporate interests tried to build apartment complexes around him. 

Zola has a lot of charisma, and is quite able to get other people to cooperate with him and help him.  He seems quite able to survive with very little as he travels, staying in warehouses.  At one point, he says “I am a blogger, not a journalist”; but we all know that there is a cultural battle over the notion that “bloggers are journalists” as Electronic Frontier Foundation writes.

Toward the end of the film, Zola returns home, not exactly “the prodigal son”, and has another fight with his family, having attracted particular attention with a comical shot of him doing jumping jacks near the Great Wall. His grandmother says they will be gone soon.  His older brother has a wife and house.  Zola asks, “What does that have to do with me?”   When is he going to find a wife and continue his leg of the family lineage?

I could not find a full entry for this film in imdb yet.   Tribeca's formal site is here.  Visually, it is quite striking, giving the impression that visiting China would be like going to another planet.

Zola, and Stephen Maing were present for the Q&A.  Zola says he now lives in Taiwan and has recently just married.  His remarks gave a strong push for libertarianism, along the lines of what you would see at the Cato Institute in the US.

I asked if a controversial blogger in the US or the West (me!) would face risk if he or she traveled in China.  Could I be arrested there if my blogs were publicly available.  (Right now, Facebook is still banned in China, and I think Blogger is, too; but it’s pretty easy for programmers to work around the “Great Firewall of China”).  Zola said there would not be a problem unless I represented or was part of a “political organization”.


I'm going to check soon to see which films from the Festival are also available for paid (usually $4) rental on YouTube.  A lot more of them look interesting, particularly "Knuckleball", "The Girl", "The Giant Mechanical Man", "The Fourth Dimension", "Journey to Planet X".

I should also mention that Tribeca is doing a screening of the 1983 hit "War Games" (MGM, dir. John Badham), with Matthew Broderick, a film prescient about today's issues with hacking and cybersecurity.  I saw the film in Dallas at Northpark when it originally appeared. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tribeca's "Fallout" shorts program examines challenging political and personal situations


Tribeca Film Festival hosts a number of shorts programs, and the sequence called “Fallout” comprised seven short films, about equal in length, that deal mostly with serious political issues, some of an existential nature.
 
The presentation saved the best for last. “All that Way for Love” presents a young Brit  Simon (Andrew Simpson) hitching a ride in Kenya with a troubled older couple (Derek de Lint and Belinda Stewart-Wilson).  He gives in to procreative instinct when tempted.  The resulting fallout from “The War of the Roses” is a lesson on why HIV infection is a largely heterosexual disease in Africa and why it became deadly so quickly.  You still wish Simon well.  He has absolutely eye-popping looks (and the world’s hairiest chest).  The young British director, Henry Mason, said in the forum afterward that the concept came from writer Thomas Martin. Of course, we know that in nearby Uganda the Kony 2012 matter persists, as does some virulently anti-gay legislation in Parliament.   The film has a particularly cheery look at the beginning.
  
Transmission”, directed by Zak Hildicth, sounds like a postscript to the WB apocalyptic film “Carriers”.  Here, a father an young daughter drive east from Perth into the Australian outback, among the few survivors left from a worldwide pandemic. The scenery is interesting in its monotony; Australia does not have a towering West like the US.  The pair are almost waylaid by a drifter who feigns needing help, and the little girl learns to drive a car herself and could wind up the world’s last survivor.  I wanted to see what the intentional community they were trying to reach would look like. 
 
Easter Eggs” (Slobodan Karajlovic) presents a mother in 1970s Yugoslavia hiding a Christian Easter celebration from her communist (Tito-ist) husband, who uses communism to back a patriarchal attitude.  The short could serve as a companion piece to Strand Releasing’s “Cirkus Columbia” about pre-war Bosnia. 
 
Chupachups” (Ji-suk Kyung) has a female soldier helping guard the border with North Korea returning for a visit with her friend (in a South Korea small town).
 
Adirake” (Tati Barrantes, Andinh Ha) shows a Thai girl orphaned by the 2004 tsunami looking for a white elephant.  The Thailand Monarchy is credited with helping orphans, but the Thailand Monarchy is also "protected" under Thai law by the "lese majeste" doctrine which severely punishes insulting the monarchy online. 
 
Foxes” (Lorcan Finnegan) shows a married couple in a real-estate-bubble complex in Ireland, with a wife sinking into schizophrenia and a husband worried about bankruptcy.  As foxes visit, the mood becomes horrific.  Is the wife turning into a fox?  The movie trends to horror and an other-wordly effect at the end.  This concept was original with the director.
 
Trotteur” (Arnaud Brisebois, Francis Leclerc, Quebec) has a young man outrunning a steam engine locomotive in a wintry landscape suggesting allegory with the Holocaust. 
 
The presentation, at the Clearview in Chelsea, was cropped to show anamorphic widescreen; all but the first two (Asian) films were shot 2.35:1.

Here's another 10-minute short, 3 years old, "Our Hands Are Not Tied", about HIV in Africa, from CabriniCom.


Local merchants are collecting donations for AIDSWalk NYC in early May.


"Yossi" shows the gay Israeli soldier at a clumsy midlife crisis in his new life as a lonely doctor (Eytan Fox)


Eytan Fox has followed up his 2003 film about gay soldiers in the Israeli military, “Yossi and Jagger” with a “sequel” called simply “Yossi”, now at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Now, a decade later, Yossi, played by Ohad Knoller, at 34, is a heart surgery resident in Tel Aviv, just now starting to re-open his social life, even at the urging of his kindly boss.  The early scenes in the movie show the continuous residency shifts and wake-ups, and some of the technical details of echocardiology (which was used, in my mother’s case, to determine if she was qualified for hospice care, according to certain measurements used in heart failure).  It even handles the possibility of medical mistakes, being forgivable.
 
Yossi looks a bit shapeless, which is a bit of a problem for the film, keeping the viewer’s eyses peeled.  He meets a lean, smooth-chested bodybuilder in a gay chat room; when he goes there, the guy chastises him for using a three year-old photo.  He’s really gone downhill that much in just 36 months (it shows on the legs as well as the love handles).  
 
He goes to visit the mother of the past comrade from the first film, inveigling his way into her care.
When, as an indirect result, he goes on a weekend mini-vacation at Eilat, he meets some soldiers, and in time one of the guys, Tom (Oz Zehavi) opens up to him.  The film teases us with a lot of false starts about their starting a relationship. The “climactic scene”, where Tom unbuttons him and demand to keep lights on to “see what he’s getting”, is somewhat undermined by Yossi’s sloppy appearance.  There really isn’t enough tension.
 
The movie really does offer a lot of great scenery of modern Israel.  It seems more at peace than it really is. 


Last night (April 25), I dreamed an extra "deleted scene" that my subconscious proposed for the end, where Tom, after opening up Yossi and keeping the lights on ("how better to see you with" as in the childhood fairy tale), preps the slightly oafish young doctor for surgery.



I’ll review some of Tribeca’s short films in another post, but one of their commercials, “Build”, for their shopping bags, does a nice take on “Quasimodo” and the “black swan”, menacing a hapless male dancer’s open chest with cream. There's also a segment with the subtitle "The Mechanic" where a nice young man teases a girl friend at a reception about whether her sweater is scratchy and talks about being flown to London to meet with BBC because "I am an author."  Bizarre!

Update: January 26, 2013

Strand Releasing will offer this film in theatrical release to Landmark Theaters very soon. Posters are out now. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tilda Swinton's virtuoso role in "Julia" almost pulls the film off; seems less compelling than its predecessors


I confess that I rented the 2008 film “Julia”, by director Erick Zonka (for Studio Canal and Magnolia, a “French film” in English shot in the US border area and in LA) out of curiosity, wondering if it had anything to do with the 1977 hit (below) of the same name.

A “maxim” of screenwriting is to create crises and see if your characters can solve their way out of them, but the characters have to inspire a rooting interesting, even if perverse.  That’s hard to see here.  Tilda Swinton may be masterful as the manipulating boozer who learns some humanity and mothering skills on her journey, but it all seems somewhat of an exercise.

An early scene where Julia (Swinton) gets fired from her real estate sales job for her alcohol-driven behavior, is commanding and well done.  Pretty soon, in AA, she, now broke, gets back to her scheming, when fellow “traveler” Elena (Kate del Castillo) wants Julia to help her kidnap her son Tom (Aidan Gould) from his grandfather.  That scene pretty well conveys the deception or double-talk people employ when desperate.   

When Julia can’t get her “friends” to help, she goes it alone, kidnapping Tom (with a mask) near the border in a startlingly brutal scene.  She then tries to blackmail the grandfather to get the money herself.  In the chases and scramble that follows, leading to a shoot-out at the end, she does become a quasi-mother herself.

The official site is here.
  
The film is said to be inspired by John Cassavetes’s film "Gloria" in 1980, which I haven’t seen.
Tilda Swinton gives an interview here, and says she actually can’t drink!  “You have to prove that your film will make a lot of money before anybody will give you any money, and you have to have directed three commercials”.  She talks about “cultural film”.


Now, for some reminiscence. 

The 1977 (20th Century Fox) film "Julia", by Fred Zinnemann in which Jane Fonda plays playwright Lillian Hellman, who is eventually enlisted by her childhood friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) to help with an anti-Nazi smuggling effort.  I remember a powerful scene in which they meet late in the film. I saw the movie on the Upper East Side in NYC in 1977 and the audience applauded the film. 

The second film does have a common plot concept, of one person enlisting a friend to do a "dangerous mission".  But the first film gets much more interest from the audience in the integrity of the characters.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Enter the Void": French-Japanese film combines "Inception" with "2001" with afterlife journey


My own perception of physics, particularly relevant as I grow more elderly, is that my own consciousness can’t simply disappear when I pass.  Something has to happen with it.  In my own “Do Ask Do Tell” screenplay, I posit the idea that some of us get to meet angels (in a special outpost elsewhere in the Solar System) and a change to become part of their community and sometimes experience temporary reincarnations in their bodies, or perhaps become para-messengers ourselves; otherwise “join the Group Mind” forever.  To me it makes sense that it could work that way.

I hoped I would find some theology in the French-Japanese film by Gaspar Noe, “Enter the Void” (IFC, released at the end of 2010), a very lengthy trip (two hours and forty minutes), that ultimately mixes the Star-Child imagery from “2001” with the womb.  The story, however, gives us little rooting interest, or leaves us wanting to find more in the “hero”, Oscar (Richmond VA-born Nathaniel Brown  -- maybe a future with Virginian Richard Kelly?).  Oscar is pretty to “look at”, and one of the annoying mannerisms of his visions is that we always see him just from the backside.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Living in neon-colorful Tokyo with his sister Linda (Paz de la Heurta), he pretty much mirrors Fassbinder’s character in “Shame”, perhaps, although just  a kid.  He picks the “wrong” career, dealing, which may be as legitimate as flipping real estate.  His friend Alex (Cyril Roy) tries to get him to take “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” seriously.  He needs to, after going to a lap-dance and flagpole bar called “The Void” (it’s mostly straight, but maybe not completely, and seems to run continuous circuit parties).  He winds up in a toilet (about a half hour into the long film), really grungy (like in the UK downer “Trainspotting”, which I did not enjoy), and police come to apprehend him. When he refuses to come out, they shoot him.

The remaining journeys are in two parts.  He starts his out-of-body experience by reliving his life, mostly in chronological sequence.  That’s one way to embed a character’s back story, with a lot of interesting early life scenes.  Again, we just see his back.  He is led back to the toilet and his impending death, so he needs to try something in the spirit world. The film, about an hour gone, enters “Part 2” (or maybe 3).   An intricate story about Linda and Alex follows, and it doesn’t really inspire the viewer’s rooting interest. Oscar enters Linda’s “identity” (sort of like my idea, above), but short circuits as he winds up in the morgue.  The movie starts becoming like “Inception”, as Alex has to convince Oscar he is living in a dream.  In a movie like this, the other "supervising" characters need, with their own story, to establish an "objective" to tell the protagonist (and the viewer) where we're all going; and it doesn't seem like they pull it off.  (Compare this to "Astral City", Nov. 7, 2011, this blog.)

Oscar eventually winds up on a penultimate trip, in an airplane experiencing breastfeeding (and then seeing the people turn bloody, as if the plane crashed), and then in a hospital, after going through curved corridors (like in my screenplay), intermittently flying about Tokyo, which starts to look like a Lego toy city. Finally, he travels the process (of intercourse) into Linda’s womb, and sees conception.  He then (however incestuous this all sounds) thinks he is experiencing his own birth, or perhaps rebirth.  It’s not clear what future he has in all this confusion, except maybe his soul will relive an endless loop through his life and back.

The film is definitely “for adults” but certainly has a point for its explicitness.  It was played at Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance.  The official site is here. Curiously, the opening credits are run very quickly, and there are no closing credits.  The film is shot 2.35:1, but the intention blurring of some images (for plot reasons) lessons the potential visual impact of the film, when compared to more famous films in the sci-fi genre.


The film has no relation to the 2003 film "Touching the Void", by Kevin Macdonald (IFC), about  a mountain climb in the Andes in Peru, which I saw at a suburban multiplex in VA in 2004.

Update: Aug. 31, 2015

Here's a link where Morgan Freeman explains the "quantum tubule" idea of consciousness behind this film. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Chimpanzee" (Disney Nature) tells a story about tribalism and "social capital"


Disney Nature, with British nature filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, have put together a touching nature drama in “Chimpanzee”.  During the end credits, the relatively brief (78 min) film shows us how they filmed, with gear strung from jungle trees.  The credits tell us that the film was shot in the Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Gabon; so it’s not clear that all the footage, from which the storyline grows, is with the same tribes of chimps.  But the movie certain documents the eusociality of humans’ closest genetic relative.
The “plot” concerns two competing tribes of chimps, one run by alpha male Freddie, another by Scarface.  The latter tribe is more aggressive and wants the food sources (a nut grove) in Freddie’s territory.  But, in turnabout, sometimes Freddie’s tribe raids the fig and “cherry” trees near the edge of Scarface’s territory.
In the meantime, a mother, Iglesia, is raising her young Oscar.  Apparently in chimp society males don’t stay “married” in family units.  She is killed accidentally in one of Scarface’s raids.  Oscar, an orphan, looks desperately for her and is having trouble surviving. He cannot do the things a chimp does to make food edible in the wild.  He visits all the other moms in the tribe (of 35), and none of them will “adopt” him. They have their own kids to raise.

The movie tells us a lot about the way chimps use tools, and recognize that harder objects, like rocks, are better at smashing nuts than softer wood stumps.  They also make teriyaki sticks with ants.  The film shows them as having considerable problem solving skills (somewhat contradicting the opening of yesterday’s film “Surviving Progress”).  Why don’t they advance technology from one generation to the next? Is the social structure a factor?

It seems that alpha male Freddie, who may have fathered a lot of the kids, doesn’t have much domestic responsibility.  But when Oscar approaches Freddie, he accepts the interpersonal challenge.  Life between parent and child (even father) in chimp society is very intimate. 

Then the question is, how does this affect Freddie’s ability to lead his clan in “military” defense of the tribe from Scarface’s minions?

No doubt, the movie sheds a lot of light on human “social capital”.  The individual chimps seem like people, not animals.  But other sources report that chimpanzees actually hunt for and eat monkeys.  We would regard that as cannibalism. 

The link for the film is here.

The film is shot in standard 1.85:1 aspect.  Wider may have been difficult to film under the circumstances.


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of chimps in the wild 


Friday, April 20, 2012

"Surviving Progress": a compendium of moral lessons about sustainability and inconvenient truths


Surviving Progress”, a new Canadian (read Quebec) film by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, may view (over 82 minutes) like a compendium of moral lectures, link-edited over several other similar films.  (It’s based on the book “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright, published by Da Capo, 2005, easy to find on Amazon.)  It starts kindly, with a chimpanzee (joined by baby) coming into a cell to play with blocks.  Later, it will make the point that a human child will quickly ask “why” (in terms of basic Newtonian physics) a particular block keeps tumbling when stood up, but a chimp won’t.  That extra genetically-determined brain ability went on to lead us eventually to build civilization.  The film makes that point quickly with impressive shots of astronauts doing spacewalks, and later provides animation showing how apes evolve through humans into space robots able to leave the planet.

But the “software” of our civilization runs on 50,000-year-old hardware in the wiring of our brains. 
    
Really, this is a lesson about sustainability, although not always with the same conclusions as other moralist.  Rather than rant about demographic winter (like the Right), to says our planet can support less than half its current population. And people are overly attached to “things” at the expense of relationships with “people as people” (to quote my own father).

But the biggest problem is debt.  Until about the time of the Roman Empire, ancient civilizations tended to repudiate debts, in order to restore peace and relieve business depression. That was easy when governments owned most of the wealth. Once there was a capitalist financial oligarchy, it wouldn’t let go.  It would go to war to keep its wealth from being confiscated, possibly by revolution.  So the viewpoint in this documentary is definitely on the far Left, which can indeed become “so moralistic”.  I recall sitting in on a meeting of the People’s Party of New Jersey in a drafty Newark rowhouse in December 1972 and listening them demand “a maximum income of $50000 a year and an end to inherited wealth”.  The film actually warns people with inheritances of spending their "principal" was well as living on the interest; sounds like Suze Orman. 

Visually, this film is striking, focusing mainly on China and Brazil. There is a “self-indulgent” escorted driving tour of the mountainous country in south China by wealthier people enjoying their cars, while rural poverty is shown.  Later, the incredible crowding of the high-rises in Sao Paolo is depicted.  The role of the "one percent" in depleting the Amazon rain forest is shown (without the paranormal effects of "The River"). 

But one of the most interest references is to “Friends of the Congo”, with a brief account of the “hole mines” for cassiterite, with the warlord-run “tax” system indenturing and enslaving workers, as just covered in Wednesday’s FilmfestDC movie “Blood in the Mobile”.  Here, the writers don’t get into the cell phone dependency problem specifically, but do so generally later when they talk about dependence on gadgets.
Stephen Hawking talks at one point, warning us that we need to make it through the next two centuries in order to figure out how to move to other planets.  And such an endeavor may take social capital tha we don’t have anymore.

The official site is here. The main production company is Cinemaginare, and Alliance Atlantis.  First Run Features is the theatrical distributor. Martin Scorsese ("Hugo", "Shutter Island") was an executive producer. 



Pictures: Other movie posters near Landmark on the street. 

The show, in a small Landmark E Street auditorium (not part of FilmfestDC) was nearly sold out. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"The Grand Energy Transition": Natural Gas, and the career of Robert A. Hefner III and GHK


At Filmfest DC at Landmark E Street Cinema, a guest table was giving away complimentary DVD’s of “The Grand Energy Transition: Natural Gas – The Bridge Fuel to Our Sustainable Future”, directed by Greg Mellott (bio) from Meridian Films, an advocacy documentary based on the career of Robert A. Hefner III, owner of GHK, an oil in gas firm in Oklahoma, and pioneer of deep well drilling for natural gas, and it follows the book of the same name by Hefner (Wiley, 2009).

The film reinforces the plan proposed by T. Bone Pickens, to retool American energy towards emphasis on natural gas. In 1977, during the Carter years,  Congress passed a Fuel Use Act based on a supposed shortage of natural gas, before shale gas and other reserves were discovered and developed with deep well horizontal technology. That law was repealed in 1987.

The movie advocates hybrid natural gas and gasoline cars, with the opportunity for overnight fill-ups at home from natural gas lines, in residential areas with that service.  But many areas don’t have it.

The film gives a graphic rundown on the problems with many other energy sources.  It briefly shows the destruction of mountaintop removal with coal.  It spends some time on disasters with nuclear power, starting with Three Mile Island, but particularly with Chernobyl, which took hundreds of lives just to clean up (there is a lot of footage of the sarcophagus and the wasteland left around it in Ukraine). It also covers the Fukushima catastrophe after the tsunami in Japan. Nuclear power is a risk when something goes wrong, the film says.  It also covers biofuels, and says that committing all the arable land in the IS to them could only full 10% of needs.  (But Brazil moved over to sawgrass, as in the CNN 2007 film “We Were Warned”).

The film covers the fracking controversy lightly.

The film also has an interesting long perspective on the history of fuel, progressing through phases, from solid, to liquid, to gas.

The film is narrated by Commander John Herrington, and features interviews with T. Boone Pickens (the "Plan"), James Schlesinger, Ted Turner, John Deutsch, and Graham Allison.

Here is a PR Newswire link for the film.

Belfer Center has a YouTube video of Hefner’s speaking:


First picture: Quartz Mountains in OK, my personal trip in 2005, close to the GHK country in the film.

Related: promotional film from Royal Dutch Shell, "Eureka", reviewed July 10, 2007; CNN "We Were Warned: Out of Gas", reviewed June 2, 2007 on "Films on Major Threats to Freedom" blog.  


"Blood in the Mobile" examines mobile phone industry and "conflict minerals" from the Congo



Last night, I saw "Blood in the Mobile" at Filmfest DC, at Landmark E Street Cinema.  Do you worry that your technology (particularly mobile phones and associated Internet mobility) depend on the slavery and lives of others in poor parts of the world?  Does this constitute bad personal karma? That’s the premise of the probing by Danish documentary filmmaker and director Frank Piasecki Poulsen in his examination of Finnish company Nokia and the apparent dependence on its phones on “conflict minerals” (like cassiterite, tin oxide) from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nokia makes one third of all mobile phone sin the world. 

Poulsen starts his journey in Copenhagen (just as the “Island President” film), at a technology conference, where he gets the shove from executives and exhibitors who pass the buck on talking about this problem.  He flies himself to the Congo and hitches, with some politicizing with the UN, chopper and prop plane rides to settlements in northeast Congo, looking for the individual mines that appear in jungle and savannah.  He finally gets to the real site, and meets the mother of a 16-year-old boy who goes down into the mines (300 feet down) a week or two at a time to work. It seems as though poor people come to the area desperate for work, and are trapped in shanty towns, having to pay transit “taxes” to warlords again to leave.  Some get trapped in the tubular mines themselves, almost forced to live like “extremophiles”. 


Poulsen examines the possible solutions to the problem.  There is laser technology (being developed in Germany) to identify mineral sources.  One suggestion is for manufacturers to publish the complete sourcelists of their raw materials, but this could lead to legal conflicts with trade secrets laws.  He also goes to the US and talks to a Senator working on legislation forcing technology companies to account for their raw materials.  From a moral viewpoint, Apple has been involved in a similar concern involving cheap labor in China.

Poulsen eventually goes to Finland and meets with a “social policy” officer from the company. 

After the film, a man named “Maurice” spoke to the audience about the history of the Congo, starting with its exploitation by Belgium for the rubber business.  Eventually, it had puppet governments propped up by the US CIA, according to the speaker.  He believes that the solutions to the problem are “political”. The guest was apparently speaking for the organization "Friends of the Congo", link here

The official site is here

The production companies are Koncern and Chili.

FilmfestDC presents this film as part of its "Justice Matters" series. 


One of the best known big Hollywood movies about conflict minerals was “Blood Diamond” from Warner Brothers and director Edward Zwick in 2006, with Leonardo Di Caprio as “stand alone” renaissance man Danny Archer.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Nokia headquarters in Espoo, Finland.



Update: Aug 16, 2012

Here's a story on CNN by John D. Sutter, "Tech companies make progress on 'blood phones' and 'conflict minerals'", link here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"The Phoenix Lights": a lot of credible viewers think they are UFO's; Tribeca shorts preview


Steve Lantz produced and Lynn D. Kitei, MD  directed and wrote  “The Phoenix Lights Documentary” in 2005, updated in 2008 with a release by Vanguard Films.  The documentary presents brief interview sound-bites from many witnesses who saw UFO-like displays over Phoenix from 1995 until the present, with the greatest event in early 1997 when people were looking for the Hale-Bopp comet.

The documentary presents plenty of testimony that the lights (in formation, often) could not be flares; they were too stable. 

The lights seem to stream down consistently from Flagstaff off the Mogollon Rim, to Phoenix. 

Of course, in 1975, media reported that a logger named Travis Walton was abducted by a UFO in the forest near Heber, Arizona, an event dramatized in Paramount’s 1993 film “Fire in the Sky”, directed by Robert Lieberman, with D. B. Sweeney as Travis and a lot of imagination as to the pod-like innards of the UFO.

I repeatedly visited a group called Understanding, founded by Dr. Dan Fry, at Tonopah, AZ, about 40 miles west of Phoenix on I-10.  Fry claims to have hosted an alien named “A-lan” in his book “To Men of Earth”.  The group had a settlement of saucer houses in the desert, no longer there now; in 2000, when I last visited the area, a cotton plantation had replaced it. 

The website for Kitei’s documentary is here. The film was presented at a number of west coast festivals, such as LA Independent and Westwood.


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Phoenix.


For today’s short film, try “The Making of Doggy Bags”, about the short by Ed Burns that will premier at the Tribeca Film Festival, sponsored by American Express (card members acted in the film), link here

Monday, April 16, 2012

"The Island President" at Filmfest DC: the story of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed and his leadership on climate change


Tonight, Filmfest DC sponsored a showing at Landmark E-Street (sold out) and panel discussion of Jon Shenk’s film “The Island President”.  The country is Maldives, the lowest lying nation on Earth, south of India, comprising about 2000 islands.  The people resemble those of India in appearance.

Mohamed Nasheed was elected in 2008, at the age of 41, but after the film was made, resigned in early 2012 because of unrest of Islam.  The film documents Nasheed’s drive to protect his nation from climate change, particularly at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (site) in Copenhagen, and all the other steps that led to it.  (There is a scene showing Nasheed smoking a cigarette. How depressing!  But the movie also shows him conferring mate in a chess game when playing a computer.)

The film covers the geopolitics of the conference, with China’s reluctance, and the moral struggle between consumption habits in the developed world, in developing nations (like China and India), and smaller countries.  There was an agreement, but it was essentially non-binding.

The film shows Maldives as an attractive country, and the capital Male covers its island with modern bit low-rising buildings, including a mosque.  The nation experienced severe damage from the 2004 tsunami.

The Q&A mentioned the critical carbon dioxide levels:  around 292 before the Industrial Revolution, 350  (link) (the highest acceptable stability point) and 392, after which Maldives could not exist.  Much of the developing world (Bangladesh) is near the sea in flood plains.  

There was discussion of the individual “moral” problems.  The time line seems so long that many older people may believe they will not be affected, so this becomes a generational thing. But the effects of climate change are already being felt, as with violent weather now.

The audience had some people that were arrested at the anti-pipeline demonstration last August (see March 18 review of “Dirty Oil”).

The film, produced by IVTS and Actual Fil,s, will be distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.  The HDCAM photography was sumptuous, but the stereo did not seem to be on.  The official site is here

The film is part of FilmFestDC's "Justice Matters" series. 


Wikipedia attribution link for photo of Male. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Cabin in the Woods": Lionsgate sums up all possible earlier horror genres


The idea of some friends going off to a remote place and getting into trouble is hardly new. Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods”, filmed in British Columbia, certainly adds to Lionsgate’s repertoire of genre horror, although this film takes the concept to new “heights” (or lows, as you interpret it).

Five friends do go off for a weekend to get “unplugged” and will soon regret it, even getting your typical warning from an old codger at a gas station (with manual pumps).  Well, except that they aren’t unplugged the way they thought. The story builds a bridge to “Hunger Games” and “Truman Show”, as the cabin is rigged for reality TV with some super sleuth corporation in Vancouver, where old men gather for a weekend to slobber in their own creep.  But these aging geek types have reason to think it’s up to them to save the world.

You know something’s up as the kids drive through a canyon tunnel and suddenly the film shows a plasma wall.  (Is this a reference to the late 90s thriller “The 13th Floor”?)  Later you’ll wonder if the monsters are real or just holograms.  Nevertheless, some of the friends “get it”. 

There’s some pagan mythology here, especially when the “director” Sigourney Weaver appears near the end to “explain” all of it to the surviving “fool” Marty (Fran Kranz) and “virgin” (Anna Huthcinson).  This may be “the end of the world”, except for the fact that the movie needs a sequel.  So  you don’t get the satisfaction here you might expect (as from “Knowing” or “Melancholia”).

A couple of the other friends are Holden (Jesse Williams) and the “athlete”  Curt (Chris Hemsworth), who is stereotypically smooth, like a swimmer.   Now Marty adds some other humor with his bong, which folds up into a thermos bottle, as a way to make fun of Michael Phelps.  (The film, appropriate, has another character named Truman.)

Lionsgate had a similarly named film of this genre, “Cabin Fever”, back in 2003, with Eli Roth (showing how Ebola could surface in the woods).  Other films in this mode include “Vacancy” (Screen Gems, 2007), and “Timber Falls” (Slowhand, 2007).  There is also an “In the Woods” with Terence Howard in Production, and a 1999 indie film by that name (playable on YouTube) by Lynn Drzick, available on YouTube (I haven’t seen it yet). 

Lionsgate’s site for this new film is here. According to imdb, this “B movie” cost $30 million to make. I saw it at the AMC Courthouse  (Arlington VA) on Sunday afternoon, before a small but energetic crowd.   Some of the “machinery” at the cabin resembles the gear of Lionsgate’s own trademark intro.


Picture: A "cabin in the woods" at Blackwater Falls State Park, W Va, my picture, 2010. 


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Weinstein Company releases "Bully" to all theaters in a PG-13 version; attendance (when I went) disappointing


The Weinstein Company first released “Bully”, by Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen, only in New York and Los Angeles on March 30. The MPAA Ratings Board insisted on the “R” rating for  a few bad words.  

After a fight, where the MPAA guarded its political stance, TWC took out the few passages and the film was released widely April 13.

I bought a ticket online for the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA, early Saturday PM, expecting a big crowd, but (in a large auditorium) the turnout was sparse and disappointing. This surprised me, given the build-up for this film in the media, covered on my TV blog (March 27, April 2, April 7). Just two weeks before, someone at the theater had said that he didn't think this film was coming there. 

The film covers the experiences of several teenagers in Mississippi, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Iowa, in their experience with being the target of the taunts of others. One of them took his own life at 17.  Another girl brought a weapon onto a bus. Nothing happened, but she faced multiple charges, which were dropped after psychiatric intervention. Another female, in Oklahoma, was actually able to get her father to accept her as a lesbian, and her father says that there is nothing like being forced to experience something you only have heard about.  But Alex Libby, in seventh grade in Sioux City, Iowa, is somewhat the star of the film.  At 14, and now in high school, he has been on some television shows, especially Arnold, and is obviously more mature and self-confident now in public than he could have been in the film.

There is a scene at home where Alex’s father asks him why he takes the taunts, and says that as a result his younger sister will face the same harassment because he didn’t stand up to it.  Alex says that his father’s “reasoning” doesn’t make any sense to him.  Why is he responsible for protecting other people (siblings) when he can’t protect himself, and others won’t protect him?  Later, he tells his mother he doesn’t feel anything.  The parents have a meeting with an assistant principal, who says she can’t make the problem, of the taunting on the school bus, stop, but she can try putting him on another bus.  This scene follows an earlier one where another administrator tries to get a victim to shake hands and accept the apology of the perpetrator. 

Why does this go on?  Why can’t schools stop it?  I can answer this somewhat from my own perspective.  I grew up in the 1950s in the Arlington VA school system and was physically “behind” and subject to teasing in grade school and “junior high” (grades 7-9 then).  It was not as “bad” as some of what happens in this film.  I had the impression that I was viewed as a drain on others, in a war-weary world where there was a sense that people had to work together in a social structure and men had to protect women and children.  So kids would try to improve their sense of “social power” in the eyes of peers.  I remember making a scene over being expected to “hit back”, but in seventh grade, I could “fight with my fingernails”, and in one case, do some damage.  In ninth grade, I became the perpetrator once, joining in the verbal abuse of one boy who had a seizure in class.  I cannot believe that I would have done this.  (The school nurse actually called me in and reprimanded me.)  Psychologists talk a lot about the immaturity of the teenage brain, to understand indirect consequences of actions and moral layers.  “Disability” in those days was seen more in “moral” terms; there was less done about it than today.  In senior high school, however, there was no bullying at all.  The administration didn’t tolerate it and had a good handle on the problem.  I walked to school and did not ride school buses. 

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I ran into issues in a few instances, and they were serious enough to contribute to my stopping. It was a potentially a very difficult thing to anticipate when you didn’t know the kids, particularly in middle school.  In one case, a student wrote an anti-Semitic slur on a sticky pad and put it on a girl, when there was no chance that I could see it happen.

I can recall a few years ago that the Fairfax County Public Schools advertised heavily to hire school bus drivers on DC area television. But how many bus drivers really know how to handle discipline problems on buses?

There is little attention to the online issue here with social networking sites in this film. 

The official site for the film is here and is called "The Bully Project".   The production company is “Where We Live Films”.

The film should not be confused with similarly titled films from the Southern Poverty Law Center (2010), and Lionsgate (2001), both reviewed here Nov. 15, 2010 and Oct. 15, 2010. 



Friday, April 13, 2012

Morgan Spurlock appears for showing at his own "Comic-Con" in Washington DC


Tonight, I attended a special presentation at the West End Cinema in Washington DC of “Comic-Con Part IV: A Fan’s Hope”, by director and producer Morgan Spurlock, who was present for Q&A. There was also an audience costume contest, and the “black cat” won.

The documentary (Warrior Poets with Wreken Hill and E-1 as distributors) traces the participation of a number of people to the huge annual comic book convention in San Diego. A bartender, Skip, faces “rejection” of his work at most tables but gradually wiggles his way into that world. An airman from Minot ND attends. An older couple that runs “Mile High Comics” in Colorado tries to succeed financially.  A young man, not too imposing physically, proposes marriage in public forum in front of  MC Kevin Smith.

Costumes vary all over the possibilities, but one of the best is Jabba the Hutt.

Eli Roth (quite handsome) and Seth Rogen appear.

Spurlock says that the business model for printed comic books may be weakening, even as there is an explosion of creative art online.  But many comics may be sold as collector’s items.

At my question, Spurlock discussed his experience learning of the death of Osama bin Laden, given his film “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden” (2008), as well as his experiment with his own body for “Super Size Me” (2004, about the fast food business), as well as “Freakanomics” (2010).

Spurlock did an interview outside the theater for a George Washington University film project just before the film showed. 

The website for the film is here

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Complacent" is an intense ensemble multi-family drama


The film “Complacent”, by Stephen R. Monroe, and a prize-winner in 2010 at California’s Independent Film Festival, is an ensemble drama (“The Ice Storm” comes to mind for comparison) of middle class families in LA exurbs.  The basic problem is that the characters seem so much alike that, with the film’s often murky lighting, it’s hard to keep them apart.

Myah (Cerina Vincent) and older sister Beth (Kerri Green) both have questionable marriages.  At first, it seems that Beth has the most problems, as Robert (Joey Kern) is so possessive that he’ll cut off her credit cards if she “wastes time” on an art course.  But then Myah finds out that Thomas, who is struggling to find another job, can lose his cool over her uttering another man’s name while dreaming. Oh, the forced intimacy of straight married life!

Tempers start to flare as domestic violence approaches, and then tragedy potentially stalks both families.  The kids are involved and vulnerable, as are even the babysitters.

The production company is Dust Bowl Pictures and the distributor was Go Digital.  The film is shot 2.35:1. The music score is serious and a bit monotonous.  The budget, according to imdb was just $70000, and this film offers a lot of intense drama for that amount of investment.  With a little more careful editing, this film might have been a widespread hit in the arthouse market nationwide.  It’s available from Netflix.

There’s a clever line somewhere, that as you get older, you’re better at things but you have less opportunity. I could say, you get wiser.  But there's less ahead of you.  
The official site is here


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Focus-ReFocus" is a curious gay parody of "other" genres


It’s fun for some filmmakers to mix genres, such as gay “hardcore” with the mannerisms of the great British master, and throw in some concerns about “online reputation”.

Breaking Glass Pictures, Raging Stallion Studios, and director Tony Di Marco do this with the 75-minute free-for-all “Focus/ReFocus: When Porn Kills” (2009).  Perhaps this is Castro’s answer to the film “Look”, reviewed recently, about the dangers of being on camera all the time.

The film is “framed” when suspect Joe Wilder (Cole Streets) is being interviewed by “the cigarette smoking man”, a detective played by Ed Wicht. Joe is 25, lean, and already showing age with thinning hair.  (Yes, this sets up the “film noir” atmosphere of “Double Indemnity”.  But there’s no woman and no money.)

Joe  enjoys filming his encounters with people, often without their consent.  This doesn’t happen just in discos or circuit parties; he follows people in parking garages.  His illustrated boyfriend Eddie objects.  But one day he receives an emailed video (he’s not afraid to open attachments) with a particularly graphic scene, and soon all the people in the video are turning up, well, as in a Clue game. Joe may well be next. 

Videotaping of people has recently become a bigger issue because of photo-tagging online. Some circuit parties now don't allow cell phones. 

Most of the people in this movie are heavily tattooed and too “over the top” to be interesting to me, but the video store owner Martin has a softer touch and seems to be the most levelheaded.  But even he doesn’t make it.  Everything heads toward a violent showdown, erotic for the participants but probably not for the movieviewer.  At one point, there is an amusing replay (with a variation) of the shower scene from "Psycho".  One of the lead potential "villain" characters is named Stefano, maybe making fun of "Days of our Lives". 

My own experience is that "less is more".  Films that show some tenderness and build-up with much more "clean cut" characters (like "Judas Kiss") intrigue me a lot more than the totally uninhibited behavior in this film. 


It may also be fair to compare this film to the 1997 classic “Lost Highway” by David Lynch. In that film, the arrival of unsolicited videos at a home documenting an affair and then a murder, for which the protagonist is eventually charged, is an important plot device.  (That movie then gets into body exchanging, something that is too much for a “smaller” film like Focus.)

The purchase link for the DiMarco film is here.