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this episode slows some of the visual madness down... and it's the best yet, 27 March 2017

There's a few reasons - actually more - to sink deep into this episode of Legion. Everything that's going on is taking place in a mental ward that doesn't exist; everything at this moment in time is frozen (think in a sense, oddly enough, like one of those scenes where Quicksilver sees everything moving so slowly in time he's able to stop things from going on in micro-milli-seconds as if it's regular speed), and it's at a point where a character may be shot from bullets by a machine gun. But this mental ward is all in the realm of 'Lenny', the terrifying, physically-slinky and mad-eyed Aubrey Plaza (easily her most intense performance by far and one I always can't get enough of), and at times she acts as the 'therapist' for our mutant heroes who are trapped in her/the "Parasites" realm.

While some characters try to figure out just what the hell is going on - there may be a door that leads somewhere, there's the 'other' plane where Jemaine Clement still is in the block of ice, etc - others, namely David, seem... oddly okay with the situation at present!

The direction and writing unfolds with the precise logic of a dream and a thriller, which means there's little logic to go by at times... which is just the way that I like to see things go down. But what's great is that it's both a slight return to the setting of the first episode, where David and Syd first met, while also having that "deva-ju but not" feeling as Syd also says; everything feels *off* and that's the feeling the filmmakers give to the episode. That is, of course, until things start to crack all around them and the episode's suspense intensifies further: at what point will Lenny finally drop all pretenses and do what she/It feels compelled to do on to David? While every scene with her is shockingly good, so are ones where another 'orderly' in this ward makes people take their pills and, at one point to David, practically vomits up... nothing at all.

Again, the filmmaking here is unsettling most of all because it's not as reliant as the trippy, stream of consciousness editing style. I loved that approach too, but here it makes more sense that everything seems normal in the cutting and shooting - too normal, as it turns out to be the case, with Syd only getting flashes of the past and her experiences with David as a fever dream-nightmare scape. This might be my favorite episode so far for how there's this restraint, relatively speaking, while at the same time keeping up that hyper-surreal tone, whether it's in the reactions David has to Syd when she tries to tell him he's schizophrenic and he has no memory of this, or when Cary and Kerry get into their own mis-adventures (to put it lightly).

I think the success of this show in general is in comparison to so many other works of television that may be good to great, but don't transcend material with the artistry available. This could be playing on an IMAX screen just as easily, if not more-so, than on a 32-inch HD TV: like practically all of this show, which dazzles more than nearly all recent comic book movies (including the other trippy ones Marvel puts out like Doctor Strange), it uses color, sound, montage, dialog and performance to innovate the medium and find a new way to tell a story, not just for the sake of making it 'trippy' for the hell of it.

"He rapes.... but he SAVES!", 27 March 2017

Here's something I love about Dave Chappelle, which he's done in his stand-up since Killing em Softly and probably before: that moment, which he does more than once so it's either a playful thing he can't control or a timed movement, where after making a particularly outrageous or spot-on joke or puch-to-the-gut-line, he tapes a step or two back, falls halfway over, and laughs a little. The thing to remember though is that by the time we're seeing The Age of Spin, he's given this same piece of material to people in nightclubs over and over, as is the way that stand-ups do it through trial and error (if there is someone that can come fully formed to the stage for a live *taped* one-hour special he or she would be as special as... well, one of the superheroes that Chappelle 'pitches' to the gay and white-hatred-filled executives, perhaps). But it's always an infectious beat, whether he's doing it as part of his performance or if it's a natural reaction - it lets us know, 'g-ddamn, did I say that... yeah, I did, hahah!'

Speaking of that super-heroes bit, let's look at that briefly (how can one not, it's one of the highlights). This is one of those pieces that can (and probably already has) set off some "HEY!" remarks from both LGBTQ people (he actually addresses that too by the way, those in that acronym), and... actually I'm not sure if I've heard much from the white-trash contingent of the internet yet. Yet framing is always paramount, and here Chappelle starts off this piece about how he is put upon at some post-Oscars party or other about any movie ideas - he tells us, the audience, that he had none, but he can't say that to executives, so he comes up with the most (no pun intended) half- baked ideas based on the stereotypes that come with either being gay or a white, Texan scumbag: the former involves elements (I won't mention here, won't spoil the joke) that might appeal to the gay person, and the latter involves things that are more leaning on what might be the *male* hatred of women (if you want save the world, you got to touch a vagina, and since women find that gross, well... how about some rape to save the world?!)

It's easy to see why Chappelle's words would be offensive to people, I get it. If you are, then I'm sorry that he f***ed you over in a comedy routine. But, again, the framing of it counts: in Age of Spin he's not going after gays or women/feminists or transgendered or even Bill Cosby... okay, he does go after him, but it's about so much else *around* these issues, perceptions and types and things that make individuals become these types and are seen as less than. As a black man he knows the less-than part clearly, and immediately does something clever: the early bits here are about being black but also what fame does when that's thrown in (i.e. when he's with his friend and his friend is put in the back of the cop car but he isn't, or that piece about not going to Flynt). At worst he may seem to be out of touch as a celebrity more than he was back in 2000 or even 2004. But then what's to be made later on when he brings up his son's overwhelming adoration (and Dave's own jealousy/envy) of Kevin Hart and his live show?

I found this special brilliant and, more importantly, awesomely funny all around for how Chappelle constructs his jokes and gets in the absurdity and humor in just the right spots, hits things as if a boxer does when knowing to stand back a little and (in a beat) be serious, and then throw in a joke as if it's nothing, and then to go for the bigger hits. He even has an overriding arc involving four stories of meeting OJ Simpson - someone who, before Cosby, was likely the most notorious case of a black American hero to many people who fell down hard - and each one takes us through different periods in Dave's as well as OJ's rise and falls in the past 25 years. If anything that adds another layer to the context of the other bits, which involve largely celebrity and how we look at "others" and people's reactions who are on the outside to how the other is too (the highlight of that is Dave reenacting a contentious night doing stand-up where a woman confronted him during his act about how much women have suffered, and he's with her struggle... up to a point).

So in some ways he's deepened a little with his bits. In other ways... he's the same old Dave. What a welcome return this was!

So... this is a thing... that exists... and happened... What the hell did I just watch?, 24 March 2017

Mommie Dearest is a gaudy spectacle, though this isn't to say some of it its 2 hour or so run-time isn't entertaining. This isn't to confuse it with good, oh heavens no. This is bad. Let's make that clear up front: Frank Perry's adaptation of Christina Crawford's scathing tell-all about her life with her mother (and who knows how true it is, maybe some, whatever, that was what it was) is a mess. As a story being told from start to finish, it has no coherent structure, no real arcs are given to any of the characters - including Joan or Christina - and things simply... HAPPEN! (yes, all in caps)

It's episodic, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it lacks any direction that isn't either wildly, flamingly hysterical or, really, too quiet and (like the actress Diana Scarwid who plays adult Christina) is possibly inert. There is no middle ground here. Experiencing Mommie Dearest is like taking cocaine: the whole first hour is a WTF rush that is howlingly funny... but then there's the come down in the second half, and it only recovers in fits and starts.

In other words, one may be curious about Mommie Dearest because of its notorious set pieces, more-so than any curiosity to see anything remotely close to how this was in "reality". It's a disastrously manic comic book version of Crawford, and Faye Dunaway, to her credit, gives it her all. What lets her down though is the direction from Frank Perry, who has made movies I've liked before (seriously, check out The Swimmer and see what he can really do), and especially the script. I'm not kidding when I say the movie feels so scattered: tonally, you get whiplash from, for example, Crawford winning her Oscar for Mildred Pierce one moment, and then the next is that 'Wire-Hanger' scene (which I'll get back to in a moment).

Something that's hard to not notice is how cringe-worthy the dialog is; I don't mean in the sense that it's intentional. I mean that some - most - of the dialog is written not how people...actually...TALK (the highlight for me is when Joan tells the Pepsi husband that he is the soda-king or something like that - as if we didn't KNOW!) In that first hour we see those years in childhood for Christina (how the girl doesn't seem to age or change is one of the great mysteries of life I guess, not unlike Joan up until near the very end of the film). It's a fun ride in the campiest way, at least for the most part - here we still see some scenes that don't work, but the pacing keeps things up as far as the conflict of 'Joan's going cuckoo, maybe bi-polar, and the daughter's along for the wild ride'.

All of this seems to lead up to that wire-hanger scene, which I had seen part of before (it's hard to avoid), but in the context makes even less sense; again, this follows immediately after the Oscar-win scene (which has its own passive-aggressive bit where Crawford says nothing to her daughter). And then Dunaway really does go to town and it's easily the most absurd and uproarious moment of the film (and there are a few). But here's a question I wonder anyone thought of: why were there any wire hangers even there, it's *her* mansion, and why would the little girl put one or more there if she knew it would p*** her off? Okay, maybe getting too logical about one of the key camp scenes, not to mention (in a non-sexual way) a domination-submissive thing... or maybe that's reading too much.

A larger/largest problem is that Perry can't keep the momentum up, whether from the issues with the script or something else. That wire hanger scene, I thought, was supposed to be the climax of the film - I mean, where do you go from THERE? - and is halfway through the run-time. From here Christina goes to boarding school, and it's here that it isn't as good-bad, more boring-bad, if that makes sense. Oh, there's a couple of highlights in this section, including the terrifying scene where Joan actually chokes her daughter out (it feels like the kind of moment that... uh... is no one going to call the police?) Yet once that conflict fizzles as Christina gets older(ish), or when Perry and the writers suddenly make the mother-daughter not, it's not as fun to watch. That may sound like not a good criticism, but watch it: if it's not grabbing at you with its sheer insanity, then it's kind of boring.

Had this been 90 minutes, or even 100, it could be a good sharp over-the-top tonic. At its length as it stands, and how its so structure-less and without any 'spine' to the proceedings, not to mention how it doesn't know *what* tone to take as far as what the abuse to Christina does to the mother-daughter bond (sometimes they do fight, but then that goes away for... reasons off screen), and it lurches until its closing, which seems even for this movie completely tacky.

All this said... you'll never see a woman awkwardly cut down a tiny tree in the middle of the night the same way again.

Life (2017)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
a film with good craftsmanship and acting all around. that said..., 24 March 2017

Life works like an efficient and competent B movie with some A-movie window dressing and talent up until it's final minute. And while I'm sure people will immediately jump to the Alien comparisons due to the trailer, I thought of a lot of different sci-fi movies that I'm sure the writers behind Zombieland (a much better take-off, and funnier, than this film by a mile), so in its first moments it calls to mind 2001, and some of the camaraderie of the people on the ship and their functions as various scientists and engineers and, well, Ryan Reynolds, was like Event Horizon at its most entertaining, and I'm sure some Gravity worked its way into the script as well (the outside space scenes, and how the ship looks and moves, feels very much in tune with filmmakers who saw that movie and, naturally, it takes some time to translate that phenomenon to a 'take' on that).

Now, this is for those who have seen the film (though I'll keep it spoiler free): I didn't like the ending, or I should say the final minute and what may be a denouement (the climax itself is thrilling and for a moment I thought Sony might make up for the wasted potential of their last sci-fi release, Passengers). It's not the spirit of it in and of itself, it's the execution of certain details of where actors are at a particular moment. It felt like it was a Shyamalanian-ish "ooh, twist, gotcha", only it leaves things as... I dunno. Empty, actually, and that the studio asked for two endings and tested both, and this one somehow wound up not testing *as* bad, so they went with this. It just left me feeling 'ugh' - though having "Spirit in the Sky" over the end credits feels like an extra cheeky kick in the groin.

The rest of the movie's alright as a straight-forward, very science-filled piece of science/action fiction (until it isn't, which is... half an hour in) with a capable and spot-on cast. Actually, because of the cast alone (especially Gyllenhaal,n Bakare as Hugh the scientist that sets off nearly all of what's to come in the film, and Rebecca Ferguson who gets more emotionally intense in the last reel) and that the movie *is* well-paced, I'll bump up its rating a tad. But it could have been more than it was.

a fine, often well-acted May-December romance drama, no more no less, 23 March 2017

Girl with Green Eyes seems typical of the period of British "Kitchen-Sink" drama films (I saw it as the 2nd part of a double bill with The Leather Boys and the theme being Rita Tushingham performances, though this is dialed down a little from that turn), and that's what's good but not terribly memorable about it all. It's realistic in some of the basic character interactions, though it has a bouncier/more emotionally-cued up score than the material should have, if that makes sense. It seems like a minor point but Desmond Davis clearly wanted to get a lot of emotional/romantic/tragic pull out of the music by John Addison, and it may have been too much for this lot of realism (how typical this is by the way, it's produced by Tony Richardson).

The story is actually an Irish-Kitchen-Sink movie, though with a couple of British touches: a young girl in Dublin, who originally was from a fairly lower-class farm that was highly religious but working *very* Irish class all the same, is working at a bookstore and finds that there's an author that she would like to meet along with her friend/roommate Baba. Peter Finch is this man, and soon Kate, the girl of the title, takes a real liking to him, and after not too long he to her. So they "hook up", so to speak, and this brings on problems, both external in force (he's technically married with a kid in another country, she's got pressure from her family not to have anything to do with this "Godless heathen), and more about the fact that it's a man who could be old enough, if only barely, to be her father.

This is a story explored in many kind of films, whether it's throw-a-dart-and-hit a Philip Roth story, or of course Manhattan. There's enough chemistry and charm between the two leading people as Tishingham, even dialed down, is delightful, and Finch does a lot playing usually-crusty and mostly sardonic/sarcastic speaking (if there had been a remake some years back I could've seen Alan Rickman in his role), plus Lynn Redgrave being wonderful and funny in her supporting place. But there's not much here that elevates it past its time and place; it's a perfectly fine drama, and it doesn't distinguish itself past some insights, which are only insightful up to a point, that you may need to grow as a person (or can never meet the other on the flipside due to losing "youthful vigor" as an aging man) to have a relationship work sometimes.

There's a nice, tender feeling to the film, Finch and Tushingham make a good pair on screen (precisely because we kind of know, deep down, it's not only not going to work but it can't not ever work, if that makes sense, so let's see them in the little moments) and that should work for anyone looking for that. Although some things that contribute to the 'hasnt-aged-terribly-well' is, say, when the film is edited so early on in their courtship Eugene and Kate talk and one part of a sentence begins in a new location and then another and another, and it feels distracting.

Can you see the real me, can you?, 23 March 2017

I think The Leather Boys can be engaging and awfully dramatic for audiences on the merits of simply its acting and direction, which is handled with a great deal of sensitivity, but a way into this film that makes it even more of a satisfying and heartbreaking experience is looking beyond the lines (and in-between as well of the text). This is the story that on the surface is fairly basic - a young biker named Reggie (Colin Campbell) gets married to a woman about his age and from the same town and school and all that (Rita Rushingham), simply because it's... what people did back then when they wanted to get out of their respective environments (or with a 'Shotgun' marriage approach, which this isn't, at least not exactly). But he's not attracted to her really, though she's endearing, and instead he focuses on his bike and his mate Pete (Dudley Sutton). And... there may be feelings there, just under the surface.

When I say 'beyond' the lines, think about how England was at the time, as much of America was and other places in the Western world: if you were gay, for the most part, if it wasn't a crime outright (in England it wasn't until 1967 by the way, which some may not know to today, so the context helps with a quick Google search of the info), then it was certainly looked at as abhorrent and ridiculous. The word 'Queer' is only used perhaps once in this film - from Tushingham's Dot to the two guys Reggie and Pete at a moment when she's just about had it - but it hangs over so much even before this, that those repressed feelings are there, as if it could be heard in a whisper, but if it ever goes above that it can be really dangerous (with the exception of one place near the end).

This is Sidney Furie dealing with this tale of closeted, gay love with tenderness but also a sense of full realism that is made interesting because of how he works with the actors - especially, throughout, Tushingham, who practically steals away much of the performance of Campbell, who is more subdued when he's not yelling at her in a "row", but he's good too, and eventually Sutton reveals a lot without even having to look at his actor (there's one really heartbreaking scene where it's clear Reggie has to move on from his time away from Dot at his grandmother's place, where Pete's been lodging, and how they talk to one another without looking is note perfect). But it's also Furie, from a book/script by Gillian Freeman, taking a look at how class has to do with it too; this was a hallmark of these "Kitchen Sink" dramas - and indeed there are at least a couple of scenes where Tushingham is acting in hysterics right next to a sink - and that all of the realism heightens the stakes for these characters.

There's work concerns that the characters deal with - Dot just stays in all day after they make their vows, and this also builds resentment from Reggie - but it's also the institution of marriage itself, what expectations come from that. This is a world that certainly would judge someone to hell if it came out that person was gay (who knows if women also were then, that subject's never broached here), but there's the part of it that... men got married to women because that's what they were told they HAD to do. A holdover from decades, centuries really, of men getting married and women getting married because it was what was required. The difference here is Reggie and Dot are working class, so the resentment increases aside from the attraction and lack of chemistry factor - she wants it, she can't read the signals, and, as we see in one key moment as Reggie watches her dancing with others as he sits and stews, he knows he doesn't but goes through the motions. At absolute best he can get a chuckle out of being tickled, or once in a while a moment sticks out as them being friendly.

Near the end it becomes clearer how conflicted Reggie is, that he has such a good, tight friendship with Pete, and probably (definitely?) knows there's more there. A key scene happens at what is clearly a gay bar - who knew they were there back in England, shows my ignorance I guess - and it makes him increasingly uncomfortable. A big decision about where the men will go is hanging in the air, but this scene is interesting in that a) I actually didn't understand all of the slang or accents, but it didn't matter, the body language and attitudes of the actors communicated all, and b) the moment right after this bar scene makes the tragedy complete while keeping open more ambiguity. I dare not reveal what it is, but it's shot by Furie and his cameraman, as with much of the film, with a directness that favors a wide view and yet so much emotion conveyed in the frame.

The Leather Boys is a look at a period of time that is probably gone now, and good riddance, but that doesn't mean people aren't still made to feel, whether from external or internal forces, like they can't come out and be who they are and love who they want to love, and that societies institutions contribute a lot to feeling alienated. There's a lot of alienation to this film, not to mention, lastly, some fun/exciting biker-riding footage. It's a really good film.

kinetic, cynical, brilliantly shot, near-masterpiece debut from Gosha, 20 March 2017

Three Outlaw Samurai is massively successful at being a tough, no-punches-pulled story of a corrupt Magistrate (as well as samurai, whether former or not who can say, he barely acts like one) who reveals his true colors when a few peasants kidnap his daughter and hold her for ransom. At first, when we're introduced to these peasants (who barely have enough food for porridge) by way of the wandering, rogue samurai Sakon Shiba (sort of a 2nd tier Toshiro Mifune as by Tetsurô Tamba, but this is still to say he's superior likely to about a dozen other leading men from the time), it seems like the peasants may be the "bad" guys, though Shiba actually sides with them and doesn't mind - on the contrary encourages, almost out of a curious sense of 'lets see where this goes' lackadaisical attitude - for the peasants to continue. There are also two other samurai at different positions in this village, Sakura and Kikyo, who have varying personalities and attitudes to the magistrate (the latter is even more cynical than Shiba, Sakura a little more of a 'I might try to do good... maybe, at least I have more of a heart or conscience' type), and the first act deals with this hostage stand-off.

I was entertained by this first part, and felt like I was settling in reasonably well into the world of this village where it seemed like a stand-off thriller involving samurai and peasants would take place.... and then the turning point happens where the Magistrate tries to give one of the peasants a taste of his own medicine (his daughter now under capture, plus a rape is more than implied), and this sort of trade-off of the two sides goes very poorly. But when Shiba tries to do the honorable thing - roving and Yojimbo-ish as he may be, he's still got a samurai's code of right and wrong - and take the brunt of the punishment, this also goes quite badly as the Magistrate turns out to be the villain of the story.

While Three Outlaw Samurai may draw in viewers based on the promise of a lot of action and thrills and blood (albeit in black and white, which has its own electrical charge as far as seeing what effect happens, and always these fights are scored without music to heighten the tension and realism), it's actually a story of politics, both in how the Magistrate has no compunction about being corrupt but, hey, let's make sure everything's set and proper for the (superior to him) Lord's arrival in a few days, while not giving a damn about anyone or anything, least of all his samurai code. It's here that Gosha is able, on his first outing as director (man what a debut!), to get a lot of substance out of what is a slim volume of a movie at 93 minutes. This is a samurai movie made by people who love samurai movies for samurai movie fans, if that makes sense; it's hard and cold and grisly for a lot of the time, and yet the hopelessness, the feeling that any one of our main samurai could die if they're not on the total alert (the Magistrate has his hired killers like out of, to be sure, an old western with the desperadoes coming after the good gunslingers), adds another level to things.

There may be a couple of nitpicks to have with a couple of the supporting players - the women in the film, more-so Oine than Aya but kind of both - are developed only up to a point, and Aya's character arc, while there, is kind of just in the backdrop (maybe a longer running time could've given her more to do, I don't know, she's an okay actress). Some of this may be a flaw with the writing too, or like that moment near the climax when (speaking of Star Wars again) the Han Solo-ish 'I'm leaving, no, wait, I'm going back to my friends' moment happens, which isn't unexpected, but Oine's reaction is really over the top. It wouldn't be so noticeable if everything else wasn't pitched at such a degree of realistic drama; it is theatrical, practically all of the performances, but I was struck by how Gosha made the suspense so moment-to-moment and beat-to-beat so that you never question the logic of how a characters gets out of something: it's all about who can possibly get the sword out faster and do the better/smarter move.

I loved the action in this film, from how it's shot to how the actors play off of one another, and there is character to it - how Shiba fights is different than Sakura, so while they have strong technique they are distinct too in how the characters approach fighting off the other swinging-swordsmen - and I loved these actors in these main roles. At times the tone of Three Outlaw Samurai is bleak and unsettling, but that is what makes it... sorry for the lack of a better phrase, but it's bad-ass. It's simply that: it all builds up to a ferocious climax where it's unpredictable how it'll turn out - I wasn't sure who might get away from the couple of dozen swordsmen out on the three's asses - and yet the substance of the story drew me in too, how these peasants react (or don't) to Shiba and his (anti)heroic movements. There's revenge, there's loyalty, there's death-defying strokes of heroism (maybe against better judgment) and all shot in shockingly good black and white photography that always has a purpose in every movement and cut.

PS: Some of the sword-fighting is, according to director Rian Johnson, a big inspiration for the upcoming Star Wars film The Last Jedi. Whether it's the Hidden Fortress or this, it's great to see Japanese cinema in the blood of sci-fi fantasy.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
a necessary coda with some uncomfortable moments right at home with Tickled, 18 March 2017

In this follow-up, which is a brief but all the same absorbing 20 minutes, to the 2016 doc Tickled, we see what happened to the directors when on the festival circuit and how, now finished, the proverbial s*** finally hit the fan to the extent that it could possibly hit: Farrier and Reese see some of the shady subjects from the first film at the Sundance screenings (ironically, perhaps, using a similar recording method that Farrier used); private investigators have to be escorted from another screening as the same shady 'Jane O'Brien' company; the filmmakers get hit with a lawsuit - the first legitimate done - and try to see what can be done with the district attorney in the county D'Amato lives in; D'Amato shows up at the Los Angeles premiere and turns it into a circus with his double-talk. It all builds up to being about as strange as the most unsettling moments in the feature itself, There's only so much insight that can be shown, but there's enough weirdness and oddness that makes it necessary to watch after seeing Tickled (luckily both are available on HBO on demand). I don't think it does much good for me to say too much more about what happens in this except to say 1) you should watch it only after seeing Tickled, and 2) the most fascinating part is when D'Amato shows himself and engages with the co-director Reese. To see this man on screen, as well as his gray-haired associate, is so cringe-worthy in his self-awareness and simultaneously lack of it that you may not know how to handle it.

Tickled (2016)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
not the greatest filmmaking, but the subject matter and the journey trumps all, 18 March 2017

As with The Jinx, a simple take-away is this: you get someone who has a *lot* of personal identity issues and a *lot* of New York family money, and it makes for a ridiculously dangerous combination - emphasis on both ridiculous and dangerous.

This was riveting material as a mystery-unfolds story, though the filmmaking is fairly standard as an expose (you can't help but feel suspense for the directors as they have to do literal stake-outs outside of places like the 'Tickle' video building, where as if out of the Joker's hide-out you can hear the barbaric sounds of laughter wafting out of the windows, or when they wait for days to find the one car that belongs to the now-late David D'Amato). It gets stronger and more disturbing as it goes along as the directors discover more and more in places they weren't necessarily looking; at first they were simply looking into another tickling-fetish video company out of Orlando not related to the group that was trying to "sue" the filmmakers (in quotes as it turned out to be a bust). Then this leads from one person to another, and it turns out to be aliases and undercover identities, stolen social security numbers from dead people, and a figure who was once an assistant principal at a school.

I thought at first this was going to all be some sort of goof, even into the first minute or so of the interview with the first "tickled" subject who agreed to talk on camera (face and all, not in the shadows or only just a voice or so on). What this so-called 'company' did is mortifying, and all for what is on one hand a seemingly innocent and on the other hand is disquieting; think about the times that you have, as a child, been tickled by your parents or tickle siblings or friends, and all in a having-fun sort of way. The manner in which some of these tickling videos were presented, one expects the Gimp from Pulp Fiction might appear to either tickle or be tickled.

And yet people going into this doc should know it's not an exploration of ticklers like, say, Hot Girls Wanted where it's about the subjects in the videos. It touches somewhat on the fetish, but this, aside from some curious homosexual aspects (and I mean that not in any gross way, simply that it's interesting that it's all men and that David D'Amato is one of those highly ashamed gay men of wealth and prestige and projects that on to others), is more about the depths of WTF that go into this "Tiffany Tickle" or whatever her name was and how she is really this one man D'Amato.

It's about power and control, and how it corrupts and makes humans into monsters, which slightly, thematically, connects back to how tickling in these videos is about submission and domination and being emasculated under intense pressure (again they're *all* young, well-built men in the videos, never women, never men older than, say, 24). In that way, Tickled can't help but hold out attention - not to mention a final, devastating phone conversation with D'Amato's step-mother.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
well made and efficient while also being not all that fun, 18 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

According to the IMDb trivia (which who can ever know if it's true, but let's pretend it is), James Gunn originally was going to direct his own script of The Belko Experiment, but decided (aside from some other personal issues) to step aside due to not wanting to spend all the time that it would take to helm a movie full of brutal, nihilistic and hard-R-can-it-get-to-unrated levels of violence. I have to wonder if there was another reason, that he knew this wasn't up to the standards of his best work - this includes the equally grim but much funnier Super and Slither, and what could be seen as the polar opposite of this tone-wise with his work in Marvel's Guardians series - and that the tone was too much for anyone to bear. Kudos I suppose to Greg McLean, who does, at the least, a better job with this material than some tepid work like The Darkness. But it's also not something I could care to ever revisit - yes, even on threat of murder and/or that I'd have to murder someone.

And on the note of the direction, it is a well-made film as far as how the pacing of it goes - it's a slim 82 minutes - and is cast with people I really like (John Gallagher from last year's 10 Cloverfield Lane, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Gunn regular Michael Rooker who I wished was in the film, sort of spoiler, longer, and Gunn's brother Sean who was the most "fun" to watch). What doesn't work is that Gunn's concept, a riff on Battle Royale (no, this time it's a good comparison, more than the Hunger Games), doesn't really match up to the level of the execution of the material which is lackluster.

More work needed to be put into the characters for me to care past it being a standard slasher movie, which this also is to an extent. The stakes are that the characters are in this office and everyone will die (tracers, meant to be there for the employees "protection" in case of kidnappers doesn't seem like a sound premise that employees would pay heed to, but okay I'll try to suspend disbelief since it is Columbia), and the directions are that X number of characters must be killed by Y number of time otherwise Z number will be offed. I had a little faith that perhaps Gunn would try to be clever with the premise, or try and go for exploring some of the psychological depths that could come out of this pressure-cooker situation (an element of the Stanford Prison Experiment is there too). The main issue is wasted potential.

Take that prison experiment comparison; in that scenario, which was in real life too and also was a film a couple years ago, people had to gradually torture others and dynamics were built. Here the idea is more like 'well, these employees, for the most part, have been together long enough so the dynamics are already there.' But it's very basic dynamics here, drawn like how it might happen where the characters we're introduced to early on in the first 15 minutes are going to be the *really bad* on one side and the ones that are our heroes (or close to it as likable side characters like Sean Gunn) will be on the other. Every step of this ends up being predictable, and furthermore when it comes to the kills - by the time the last stretch comes and it's 'kill or be killed' for all involved, we're left with the characters we expect, and that's a problem.

Why not surprise us and off a character out of nowhere, or, when a particularly graphic moment happens about 2/3rds of the way in, characters we thought were going to make it don't? Another issue comes with the use of suspense and tone; there are a few pockets where things get intense as f***for a particular character (one involves an elevator that brought back memories of Speed or Mission:Impossible), and yet there's only so much creativity that can come with the cat-and-mouse dynamic in an office building (a lower boiler-room level is used but not enough). The tone part of it is that, well, this *is* bleak as hell and we're in for a nasty ride. I was fine with that, but, and maybe this is more on the director's end than the writer, there wasn't any kind of necessary/relief. If you thought you were getting a comedy-horror, it's less that than just horror-horror.

Again, unpleasantness can make a movie compelling and unique in some ways - Gunn's own Super has a similar grim outlook, though early on one might think Belko is showing humans trying to work together and not stoop to the murderous depths of depravity that they end up going to anyway - but what if there's nothing else but? It's a strange position I feel I'm in as I can tell you The Belko Experiment shows this tone with conviction and maintains its nastiness until (almost) the final shot (which by the way is just bad and confusing past trying to, uh, open up room for a sequel, what?) At the same time, I left the movie feeling depressed and unclean.

I applaud all of the cast for going through what its own writer couldn't go through and in a way I don't blame the writer for putting it out there. I just wish he had done a better job with making sharper characters and some of the logic to the storytelling while spending most of the creative energy on how people kill one another. It's a truly mixed bag.

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