Pick of the Litter – May 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell. The misfits who saved the Galaxy are on yet another quest to save it again. They’ll be picking up some new members in Moondragon as well as old foes Nebula and Yondu. This time they’ll be setting up the next Avengers film as they meet up with Star Lord’s dad – Ego, the Living Planet – and try to foil the ambitions of Thanos who seeks the Infinity Gems for a gantlet that will allow him to rule the Galaxy. May 5

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Last Men in Aleppo

(Grasshopper) Khalid, Subhi, Mahmoud. Three men who founded the White Helmets of Aleppo live day to day in a city under siege. An organization created to save lives and bring hope to a city where there is little of that, the men fight their own worst fears and heartaches to give meaning to their struggle and create examples for their children. This won Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. May 3

Mr. Chibbs

(Abramorama) Kenny Anderson, Deidre “Spindarella” Roper, Bobby Hurley, Nate Archibald. Ten years after retiring from a stellar pro basketball career, Anderson has made life a party of drugs, alcohol and sex. Still reeling from the death of his mother, he loses a cherished coaching position and finds that in order to move forward he’s going to have to face his own demons for the first time in his life. May 3

Like Crazy

(Strand) Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Micaela Ramazzotti, Valentina Carnelutti, Sergio Albelli. Donatella and Beatrice both reside in a psychiatric facility in Tuscany for mentally disturbed women. They are both there for entirely different reasons but still they become fast friends. During an educational outing, they are presented an opportunity to escape custody and they take it, beginning an adventure that will take them on a road trip that will disclose their past and realize the beauty in imperfection which could potentially change their lives forever. May 5

Manifesto

(FilmRise) Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett, Cate Blanchett. A manifesto is a declaration of intent to change the status quo. The Oscar-winning actress takes on a variety of roles; in each she reads a manifesto against a striking background; some modern, some psychedelic, some futuristic. This is not just art, it’s Art. It also played as a Spotlight Selection at this year’s Florida Film Festival. May 10

The Wall

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli, Spencer Thomas. A sniper pins two American soldiers with a crumbling wall between them. As they soon discover, it’s not just war…to the sniper, it is a deadly game. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) has concocted an edge of the seat thriller in a wartime setting. May 12

Wakefield

(IFC) Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garson, Jason O’Mara, Beverly D’Angelo. Howard Wakefield was a responsible husband, loving father and successful lawyer living in a beautiful house in the suburbs. He’s everything he’s supposed to be – until he suffers a nervous breakdown and decides to see what would happen to his family if he removed himself from their lives. He lives in his attic, observing his family and as the days stretch out into months it becomes harder and harder for him to return to the life he once knew, even though he may want to.  May 19

The Commune

(Magnolia) Trine Dyrhholm, Fares Fares, Ulrich Thomsen, Julie Agnete Vang. In the 1970s a group of Danish young people gather in a commune to explore free love and communal living. At first, it’s a gas and the vibe is perfect but as time goes on they begin to clash and the solidarity that existed between them evaporates. This is a new film from Thomas Vinterberg who helmed The Hunt (one of my all-time favorite Florida Film Festival entries) and like that film played at the Florida Film Festival only this year other than a few years back. May 19

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

(Abramorama) Wendy Whelan, Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Bryan Brooks. Wendy Whelan is one of the most celebrated ballerinas in the history of American ballet. No single artist has had more ballets written specifically for them than her. However at age 47, she must fight an entirely new battle – against the perceptions of her age and her own injured body. May 24

Long Strange Trip

(Amazon Studios) Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann. Although there have been many concert films of the Grateful Dead, there really hasn’t been a comprehensive documentary about the band – until now. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the film will get a brief theatrical run before debuting on the Amazon Prime service on June 2. May 26

 

Tickled


From such things comes Internet tickle porn,

(2016) Documentary (Magnolia) David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, David Starr, Hal Karp, David D’Amato, Kevin Clark, TJ Gretzner, Richard Ivey, Alden, Jordan Schillaci, Marko Realmone, Debbie Scoblionkov. Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve

Once in awhile, a movie comes along that is a surprise to even the filmmakers. They start out making one story when all of a sudden it turns completely off the rails and heads into directions unknown. A good filmmaker will follow it as best they can. A great filmmaker will keep up with it and begin to help shape it themselves.

Journalist David Farrier from New Zealand has a tendency to follow quirky stories. When he saw an internet video for “competitive endurance tickling,” he thought at first it had to be a joke. When it turned out to be a thing, he thought it would make a great feature for his television program. He asked the producers of the videos he found, Jane O’Brien Media, he contacted them to set something up. To his surprise, he got a refusal. When he inquired as to why, he received sharply homophobic messages (David is gay) and as he pressed, the messages from the representative at Jane O’Brien Media became increasingly insulting and threatening.

His interest completely piqued, he asked for a face-to-face meeting with some of the people who worked for Jane O’Brien and met up with Marko Realmone and Kevin Clark, both members of the O’Brien legal team. The meeting didn’t go well and lawsuits were threatened if Farrier continued to pursue any sort of investigation. His journalistic senses now sensing a much different story going on, Farrier and his partner Dylan Reeve started digging into the world of the tickling fetish, speaking to David Starr, who makes fetish videos from his Orlando home, and Hal Karp who was a former talent scout for Jane O’Brien Media but who’d had a falling out with them since.

The more that Farrier and Reeve dug, the more they found instances of online bullying, threats and blackmail from Jane O’Brien Media to former employees and participants in the tickling videos which were essentially thinly veiled fetish videos. And as they did more digging going back to the online videos of one Terri DiSisto they discovered an alarming pattern of abuse, identity theft, harassment and internet fraud. Eventually all of this led back to one man: David D’Amato, the heir to a fortune from his lawyer father who seems to be the spider in the center of the web, a man who has jealously guarded his privacy. But what is he hiding?

This film, which played at the 2016 Florida Film Festival and can now be seen on HBO, is one that the viewer never knows what’s going to happen next. It is the kind of film that proves the adage “truth is stranger than fiction.” Although Farrier is making his feature film debut, he has tons of television experience and the movie benefits from it. The movie never drags and never fails to deliver twists and turns, some of them absolutely jaw-dropping.

The movie comes off like a suspense thriller and you feel a genuine sense of threat even as you think to yourself “this is an online bully hiding behind Internet anonymity” but at the same time you can’t be one hundred percent sure. Even during the Orlando sequence when Farrier portrays the fetish as an essentially harmless one (and thankfully so), there is a sense of menace that pervades the movie and one wonders if the lawyers will succeed in shutting down the pursuit of truth. This is a movie that illustrates just how important investigative journalism can be in finding out the truth even in the face of threats to career and reputation.

It should be noted that the D’Amato vigorously denies the veracity of the reporting here and insists that he is not involved with Jane O’Brien Media or Terri DiSisto in any way, despite documented evidence to the contrary. Lawsuits have indeed been filed although attempts to keep the film from being shown were unsuccessful.

While some may find the world of tickling fetish videos a bit too bizarre for their liking, to me this isn’t about the fetish so much as it is about control. Abuse thrives in silence and those who feel powerless often remain silent. Sometimes it takes someone with a powerful torch to cast light in the darkness and give a voice to the powerless. This is a terrific documentary which underscores just how necessary documentaries are.

REASONS TO GO: This is a movie that will literally keep you guessing. The value of good investigative journalism is shown.
REASONS TO STAY: It may be a little too bizarre for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The two directors, a producer, the executive producer and one of the actors were all sued in U.S. Federal District Court by D’Amato and others in an effort to stop the film from being shown.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, HBO Go, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/1/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Catfish
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Winter Sun