June 26, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

So now, in my on-going series of films you are never likely to see, allow me to present, “Tickled.” This documentary, made by two guys from New Zealand, explores the underground world of “competitive tickling” videos. Yes, it is what it sounds like. Well, sort of. These are videos of young, mostly college-age jocks (all men) who hold each other down and gang-tickle one of them, while he squirms and giggles and begs them to stop. But, contrary to what you might think, these guys are all fully clothed and nothing remotely sexual happens (other than young guys tickling each other…). Journalist David Farrier came across one of these sites online, became fascinated by this strange world and reached out to the company for an interview. That is when things got very strange, indeed. Farrier and fellow filmmaker, Dylan Reeve, take us with them through the looking glass into a world that just keeps getting more and more bizarre. It is all so odd and light-hearted and funny at first but then becomes something far more troubling. Farrier and Reeve do a good job of building suspense as they keep digging, hitting roadblocks and facing threats at every turn. This film did not go anywhere that I thought it would, both for good and for bad. I had entered the theater expecting something funny and light. I left 90 minutes later disturbed and enlightened. But I think there is something genuinely important happening here. Probably very few people are interested in this particular type of fetish video. But I wonder how many have watched webcam porn without stopping to think if those folks are consenting to having their images shared with the world. While I don’t know that you need to rush to the theater to see this documentary, it is definitely worth checking out when it pops up on Netflix. It was a wild ride, full of fascinating twists and turns.  And, as with any good detective story, some of them will genuinely surprise you. What may be most surprising, though, is the way it might make folks reconsider the implications of their own actions. That would not be such a bad thing.



Golden Kingdom

June 26, 2016 at 10:37 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Some of my readers may have preferred that I had reviewed the high-minded “Free State of Jones,” but I think I’ve had enough of the-white-man-saves-the-black-man stories. Or, perhaps, they would have preferred the decidedly low-minded “Independence Day: Resurgence,” though I think I have also had enough annihilation porn with “X-Men: Apocalypse.” So, instead, I saw this tiny little Burmese film in a theater crowded with just two other people. Apparently, the director himself had been at the earlier showing. So, I’m not sure it is fair for me to tell you to run out and see this gem. But, really, run out and see this gem. This visually gorgeous film reminded me of another favorite of mine, the 2003 Korean film, “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.” Taking place in a tiny monastery in rural Myanmar, the story follows four young Buddhist Ko Yin (acolyte monks), who must cope with being alone after their master is forced to leave on a long journey. Held together by the eldest of the four young boys, the Ko Yin must deal with a mysterious forest, tumultuous political landscape and their own imaginations as they await his return. Like “Spring, Summer…”, this film moves at a serene Buddhist pace. With almost no soundtrack beyond the noises of the jungle and the boys’ chanting, whole scenes go by in complete silence, allowing the audience to simply sink into the stunning images. Rich in primary colors (but particularly in the deep crimson of the monks’ robes), every single scene was stunning to look at. The contrasts of color were particularly arresting to me, as crimson was often set off against the stark white of the temple steps or the deepest black of night. The story is such a simple one and moves so slowly that it invites the audience to slow down and just rest in each moment as it unfolds. Several scenes just focused on the boys in prayer as the camera slowly drifted over their robes, folded hands and serene faces. This is a film about the beauty of simplicity, about how moving light, dark, silence and prayer can be. As I said, this is a small film, with a full cast of just 10 people. In fact, three of the four boys were real Ko Yin. But, in that smallness, also rests the movie’s grandness.


Finding Dory

June 19, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

I don’t know that much needs to be said about this film. If you have seen “Finding Nemo,” you have basically seen a version of this one. The story arc is roughly the same and the film has the same combination of humor, mild danger and pathos. Along the way, we learn something about relationships and not giving up, despite overwhelming obstacles and self-doubt. The animation is of the exact same quality as all Pixar films for the past 15 years (in fact, is looks indistinguishable from “Nemo”); Pixar have done little to improve the medium that they revolutionized 2 decades ago. Having said all of this, they remain the undisputed masters on the genre. Even their bad films are good and this is one of their better ones. The characters have depth and are genuinely touching and funny. Hank the octopus, voiced by Ed O’Neill (“Modern Family,” “Married with Children”), is a welcome addition who adds genuine humor. Most of the original voices have returned. Even the boy who voiced the original Nemo (Alexander Gould, now fully grown) has a cameo in the film. This is safe, comfortable stuff. If you liked the original, you will like this one. In fact, it seems almost impossible not to like, though I will say that it had a couple of caricatures of “crazy” that seemed to play with mental health for laughs. That quibble aside, the film has everything you will be looking for if you are looking for a film like this. Nothing will surprise you much, for good or for bad. It’s a fun, silly, sweet journey and one well worth the taking.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

June 12, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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Early in his SNL career, Andy Samberg may not have seemed like a star player but with 2009’s “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box,” he showed a remarkable ability to riff on popular culture using his own variations on pop music. Under his goofy exterior, Samberg has a keen eye for social commentary and that’s what elevates this film beyond bland parody. Samberg, who also co-wrote the script and songs, stars as Conner4Real, an international pop star, who seems to be very loosely based on some combination of the two Justins (Timberlake & Bieber). The film is at its best in its first half, as it is establishing the various characters. It’s during that part of the story, that we get the most biting and clever commentary about modern society. Samberg and co-writers, Akiva Shaffer and Jorma Taccone, brilliantly skewer everything from self-involved pop divas (yes, that was Mariah Carey making fun of herself) to artistic pretension (in a brilliant take on Mackelmore’s “One Love”). Stage moms, groupies, twerking, naked Justin Bieber & social media’s obsession with his penis size, Daft Punk, a brilliant send up of TMZ, and so many other things get sliced and diced along the way. And, as always seems to be the case with films that make fun of the industry, artists by the drove appear in this one, if for no other reason that to prove that they are in on the joke (check out the tags at the top of this post if you want a sense of the sheer volume of stars who made appearances, however brief, though part of the fun was in being surprised by a cameo). Much of the film was a cascade of one sly pop culture reference after another from across the generations: you may not catch the parody of Drake’s catch phrases but you’ll probably get the brilliant skewering of U2’s Apple album giveaway debacle; if the A$AP Rocky reference slips by, you’ll catch the Muppets joke, for sure. This relentless barrage is part of the film’s charm. The unfortunate thing is that it isn’t sustainable. At some point, the story had to have an arc and, inevitably, it slipped from biting to sentimental. The latter part of the film felt more like Samberg’s “Brooklyn 99” than an SNL skit. That is to say it was goofy sweet fun, with the emphasis on sweet. It still had its laughs but they were softer as the film led toward its feel-good ending. Samberg, Shaffer and Taccone are childhood friends, who were all born and raised in Berkeley, CA. Their characters in the film are also childhood friends who have a falling out after one of them (Samberg) becomes far more famous than the other two. Perhaps, there was some autobiography getting worked out just under the surface. If so, fair enough. But, whatever the cause, the bite was mostly gone by the time the credits rolled. This is, perhaps, where this movie does not reach the level of a “Spinal Tap,” to which it has been compared. Both are insightful parodies of the music industry in their generations but the humor in “Popstar” is wrapped in a candy-coating. It may be a little easier to swallow but I suspect it won’t linger as long.


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