Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Film: 'La Chambre Bleue' / 'The Blue Room'

I never looked up the details of this beforehand, erroneously assuming that it would be based on the play of exactly the same name and adapted by David Hare, where Nicole Kidman created a stir on the London stage (and later on Broadway) by appearing eight years ago completely nude in a small, intimate theatre. (Unsurprisingly ,the entire run was a sell-out!)
Anyway, it turned out not to be that, but rather an adaptation by its main star, Mathieu Amalric (that hottie, who also directs this film) of a Georges Simenon novel. As it transpired, I had no cause to be disappointed as the film is a goodie, though in saying that I am at variance with quite a number of reviews I've only just now read.

It's a crime drama (entirely in French), but what's unusual about this is that near the start we see Amalric under police interrogation, but it's not until right towards the the end of the film that we eventually discover what the actual crime was. By a series of flashbacks from interrogation, we see Amalric in a series of amorous assignations - complete with brief, full-frontals of both parties - in an hotel room with a married lover (Stephanie Cleau). During the police questioning we get to know more and more of what has happened through further flashbacks as if peeling back a series of layers, including his own life with wife (Lea Drucker) and their 10-year old daughter. Although we can see that he's obviously under arrest, we are left in the dark for a considerable while as to knowing what the precise charge is. Has someone been killed or has disappeared? - his lover.....her husband.... his own wife? Has the alleged crime even got anything to do with his illicit affair? It actually goes considerably deeper than that.
The film is at an agreeably slender 75 minutes, a brevity to which many much longer films ought to have aspired. (Do you hear that, Bridget J?) It doesn't have a chance to get boring at any point and never even approaches it because the level of intrigue regarding unanswered questions from the audience keeps us keenly absorbed.

Acting and direction I have no complaints about. I thought the superficial warmth between Amalric and his wife was particularly well observed, they both recognising that it concealed a mutual emotional estrangement without putting it into words.

I liked this a lot, and have no regrets about seeing it even if I was in error regarding expectations. If I'd known that it had nothing to do with what I'd thought it was I might well not have bothered, and that would have been a pity...............7.5

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Film: 'Bridget Jones' Baby'

The third in the series and not the best, that place going to the first one in my opinion.
This does have quite a number of endearingly humorous moments but the film really could have done with some drastic clipping. Two hours long is too much to hold up the subject's original frothy attraction, and which is further weighted down by several more serious and reflective sections, which only seemed to pad it out without justification for doing so, whereas the film really needed to be sharp and concise to work at its best.

Renee Zellwegger reprises her role as the eponymous Londoner, Bridget, and virtually the entire film after setting up the premise, is which of two possibilities is the one-night-stand father of her expected baby - Colin Firth, with whom she willingly tumbles into bed after meeting up years later as he's going through a messy divorce, or American Patrick Dempsey, glitzy and hokey relationship adviser on TV, whom she meets at a rock music festival in circumstances which only happens in films.  The single Ms Jones herself works as news supervisor on 'Hard News' TV channel, under an unsympathetic harridan of a female boss (hopelessly over-acting).
Emma Thompson (who also worked on the screenplay, along with Bridget Jones' creator, Helen Fielding) is the hospital obstetrician monitoring progress of the foetus.

I found this a rather tiring film to watch, with rather less sparkle than I'd been hoping for. It just about held my interest but I'm not sure the casts own hearts were in it that much.
Director Sharon Maguire, who did the first of this series, ('B. J.'s Diary') but not the second, seems rather reluctant during this film to let things go and leave it to our imagination to fill in the blanks. We don't need the reassurance of seeing it all on screen.
Incidentally, there was also a number of careless continuity errors I perceived, as well as the film having had a trailer containing a number of moments that were not in, presumably edited out of, the end product. I don't think I've seen so many - it almost seemed to be advertising on false pretenses. 

This film certainly contains minutes of enjoyable entertainment, with a couple or more of LOL moments. It also fulfils its function in taking B.J.s story further, though not to a point where I'm especially eager to find out what happens next. A distinctly muted recommendation.................5.5

Monday, 19 September 2016

Film: 'Anthropoid'

Before I saw the 1975 film 'Operation Daybreak' (which I liked), I'd had little or no idea about the plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the 'Butcher of Prague'. 
The film's title is the code name for this plot, Heydrich being Hitler's rep in Czechoslovakia following its 1938 invasion and occupation, and third in command in Nazi Germany after 'Der Fuhrer' himself and Himmler. This significant, brave and sad episode, with its miserable and horrific consequences, has been rather eclipsed by other WWII events, campaigns and battles, but surely needs to be told and remembered.  

I'm not sure if this film is a major improvement on the earlier, but it's absolutely in no way inferior, as well as being considerably more brutal, particularly in the violent interrogation scenes under torture, graphically realised on screen, and the culminating shoot-out in a church where the plotters are holed up, this latter episode taking up a third of the entire film - and most effective it is too. 

Jamie Dornan ('Fifty Shades of Grey') and Cillian Murphy (of too many films to mention) are, respectively, the Czech and Slovak leaders of the assassination enterprise, meeting up with other resistance sympathisers in Prague, to bring their plot to fruition, the latter including the ever-reliable Toby Jones.
Especially noteworthy is that this film is shot (in very subdued colours) in Prague at some of the actual locations where the incidents took place.

English Director Sean Ellis does a sterling job with a good script and a uniformly high acting standard from a cast which also includes a high proportion of Czechs and Slovaks.

Even though one knows the tragic outcome I did find it exciting with virtually no longueurs. 
I didn't mind English being used throughout by the cast (apart from the German of the Nazi officers) even though there were historically no English characters in this episode. However, some of the cod-foreign accents when using the English I could have done without.

It's a good film, being nowhere near the 'boring' that I've seen suggested in some reviews. It's a story that has too infrequently been brought to the screen, large or small, and I'm content in giving this version a thumbs-up........6.5.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Film: 'Ben-Hur'

Being aware of this being a box-office flop in America (and very likely to be emulated as such here - I was in an audience of about ten), as well as the majority of reviews being negative or lukewarm at best, I didn't really want to bother with seeing this, but did go assuring myself that I could always leave at the self-decreed two-thirds point which would qualify as my having 'seen' the film. Against these considerable odds it was surprising and pleasing to find that not only did I sit it out but thought that it was not at all bad - or, better expressed, it was not all bad by any means.

I've not seen the Charlton Heston version (itself a re-make) since its original release in 1959 when I was 12 or 13 - and all I remember of that was the chariot race, though that particular memory has been polished up by having seen clips of the race section several times on TV over the years. This new film, even at over two hours long, is still more than ninety minutes shorter than that William Wyler directed version, in which I hardly had a clue as to what was going on.
Which brings me to what I regard as a strength of the new version - its admirable clarity of motivations of the characters. I wasn't lost for one moment - and not only that, I was interested enough to want to follow it.

Jack Huston (nephew of Anjelica and Danny) and Toby Kebbell play Prince Judah Ben-Hur and his step-brother Marcellus respectively, bosom friends who become deadly enemies after the now Roman commander Marcellus' request to B-H to keep a rein on Jewish discontent against Roman rule, culminating in a guard of ginger-bearded Governor Pontius Pilate (Pilou Ansbaek) being killed by an arrow shot from B-H's home during Pilate's procession through Jerusalem. B-H, his mother and his sister are arrested, separated, and the hostility between B-H and his former close buddy is complete when B-H, despite his wealthy former princely status, is consigned to being a scum-of-the-earth galley slave. (These scenes at sea are quite remarkable - violently harrowing but also exciting). 
When B-H miraculously survives this ordeal he is taken in, still as a slave, by a powerful African potentate, in the frame of Morgan Freeman (yes, playing a mortal! - and the only well-known member of the cast). B-H's way with horses endears him to his new owner who suggests he enters an upcoming major chariot race to compete with Marcellus, and thereby securing his freedom as well as winning a bet for the African. (No prizes for guessing who crosses the finishing line first).
The race itself, with half-a-dozen four-horse charioteers competing simultaneously, is extremely well shot, and almost nail-biting, even though one knows the outcome.
Oh, and I ought to mention that there are a few scenes featuring Jesus Christ himself (Rodrigo Santoro, in a speaking role), first seen lovingly doing a bit of carpentry work while voicing a few succinct bon-mots - and last seen being crucified in a scene to which Christian fundies could not make any objection at all, so uncontroversial it is, sticking rigidly to the conventionally accepted and blessingly approved version (unless, of course, one considers the entire event as 'controversial').
Btw: Why do we still have to have 'celestial choirs' singing their "Aaaaah aaaaaahs" on the soundtrack to evoke religious mood and reverential solemnity? I would have hoped that this notion would have been vanquished to the films of yesteryear.

Much has been made of the anachronisms in this film and they really are glaring ones.  The first I picked up on was seeing the young men wearing breeches (this is, of course, supposed to be early in the first century C.E.). Other reviewers have said they are wearing what are definitely jeans. Whatever it is, the men would also have looked out of place, though maybe not quite as gratingly, if the actors had been part of Robin Hood's gang of merrie men. 
There are other dubious features I could mention but I don't want to further spoil the fun of anyone who wants to see this.

It reads like I'm fairly down on this film but it's not really the case. It was far better than I expected and I really did feel for the characters. It's also been said that the cast acted as though they couldn't care much about the situations they were portraying. I didn't find that. I thought they all managed to put in a good effort with a somewhat creaky and hackneyed, frequently sanctimonious storyline. I could easily have done with considerably less 'treacle' in the closing minutes, though.

Director is Russian/Kazakh, Timur Bekmambetov, whose best known directed film up to now has been 'Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Slayer', not seen by me.

I'd suggest that if you're in any way interested in seeing this, do give it a go and I think you may well find your hopes and expectations being met - or even exceeded - as mine were....................6.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Film: 'Hell or High Water'

With not only Chris Pine and Ben Foster in the same film, but the added attraction of the ever significant and welcome presence of Jeff Bridges (in possibly his last screen appearance, though I do hope not), this film must surely be good, musn't it? Yes, it most emphatically is! If Bridges is to bow out with this production he could hardly have chosen better.

Directed by the English David Mackenzie, who has more than a dozen films to his credit though I've not seen any of them due to very limited release, this one deserves to put his name firmly on the map.

Set in the present day, Pine and Foster are two brothers who, right from the film's start, are on a bank robbing spree in small-towns-Texas - not necessarily to vastly enrich themselves, but primarily to pay the debt on a ranch and secure its ownership, though their 'takings' does enable them to engage in other activities as well. 
Bridges is a local, long-in-the-tooth lawman/ranger on the very cusp of retirement who, along with his deputy, tries to identify and then give chase to the robbers.

There is an agreeable level of dry humour throughout, mostly coming from Bridges' character, which counterbalances the violence of occasional incidents - though the latter is not excessive for films of this genre.

Acting from all concerned is top-notch. Script is sharp, photography of the great, flat outdoors is all for which one could hope - and with a soundtrack of Nick Cave songs, well, it's as near perfect as dammit.

It's one of those films which I find hard to fault. It does end on not quite the resolution which films of this type usually do, though not that that is a criticism of it.

A film which I'm pretty sure will provide widespread pleasure worldwide...............7.5.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Film: 'Cafe Society'

A Woody Allen film is an annual 'event' towards which I always look with agreeable expectation. Unfortunately, this one I'd rate so far below the heights which he is capable of attaining that I find it hard to commend it on any level. In my view it deserves to be placed in the lower reaches of his lifetime of films. 

Two things in particular didn't enhance my 'enjoyment' of the film. In this the lead is played by Jesse Eisenberg who is my current number one irritant on film. It started with 'The Social Network' and was consolidated by the dire 'Batman v Superman'. His appearance here doesn't in any way expunge my unfavourable attitude to him.
In addition, I watched this on a stiflingly hot day in a stuffy cinema, my only mood being to want to drop off to sleep.

Set in the 1930s, the first half of the film takes place in Hollywood where Eisenberg from New York comes to visit his uncle (Steve Carrell), an influential film agent who rubs shoulders with all the big screen stars of the time. He hopes to get a job in the industry but his uncle isn't keen on the idea. Meantime he falls for Carrell's secretary (Kristen Stewart), and courts her, wanting her to come back to New York where they'll marry. However, his uncle has similar designs on the same person. Added to this complication, and providing much of the little humour in this film - and very 'black' it is - is Eisenberg's older brother back in NY, a gangster leader who'll eliminate anyone who gets in his way, as well as doing 'favours' in that direction. Eisenberg, returning to NY becomes a successful night club manager and takes up with another young lady (Blake Lively). 

I thought the whole film was on the laborious side, plotwise as well as script. There are a few of the 'sparkles' in dialogue which we come to expect from Allen, but they are much sparser than usual. Even Allen's trademark jazz background score seemed to be lazy choices - jazz improvisations of course, but only of old standards that we already know so well - and not only that, the same numbers are repeated several times! It's almost as though he couldn't be bothered to spice it up by giving us something unusual.

I felt relieved when this was over. It's not a film I'll want to recall. I may watch it again when it comes round on TV, but only if by then I've forgotten how inferior it was. 
A serious disappointment, then, but being Allen who even at his worst is better than some, I'll award it ........5.5


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Film: 'Things to Come'/ 'L'avenir'.

Following on shortly after the marvellous 'Julieta' here we have another superior non-English language film, and one which also features as its central character a woman of late-middle age, a mother with mature offspring.

Isabelle Huppert is a philosophy teacher in Paris in a recent time of student agitation, for which she has little sympathy. She takes annual breaks away with her husband (Andre Marcon) during which she fails to pick up on the latter's growing emotional estrangement from her. When they return to the capital, he's provoked by his daughter's facing him down about his attentions drifting elsewhere, so he decides to make a clean breast of it, telling his wife that he's decided to move in with his new affair. Though she had no inkling, she takes the news as equably as one could under the circumstances, and prepares for single life, having also to keep an eye on her aged, ailing and suicide-threatening mother, living alone with her cat.
Meanwhile she renews her acquaintance with a former, much younger, student of hers (Roman Kolinka) and accepts his invitation to visit him at a farm in the country where he's living with a handful of German friends.
You might have expected that this story would now develop into a romantic affair between the now unattached teacher and the younger man. I was very agreeably surprised that it didn't go down this predictable route.

Like 'Julieta' again, this is a modest film with no great pretensions - a human story without overblown melodrama or histrionics. It keeps everything on an even keel and yet manages to be totally absorbing. Acting and direction (from Mia Hansen-Love) are pretty well faultless.
I felt somewhat wary for the black cat which features a number of times, being moved in its carry-basket hither and thither, but can report that despite my apprehensions that it might meet a miserable fate, no harm came to it. 

'L'avenir' is another film which gave me a great deal of satisfaction, We seem to be going through a patch of good films which provide mostly gentle contentment in addition to entertaining us with quality......................7.5

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Film: 'War Dogs'

Though based on a true story, as soon as this brash film settles down one can guess the arc that it'll follow, which it totally does.

Masseur Miles Teller happens to meet his old school pal, Jonah Hill, the latter now a relatively small-time, though lucrative, dealer who wins U.S.Government defence contracts for Afganistan, which he achieves by tendering through telephone and computer messaging, impersonating an arms big-wig dealer plus a lot of lying and bluster - his arms-providers being distinctly dubious figures in the Middle East. 
Teller, impressed by the money Hill is making, doesn't need much convincing to ditch his massaging job and come on board, they forming a successful partnership which despite a few narrow scrapes (visiting Iraq, then Albania) carries on successfully. One is just waiting for the time when their ambition and lust for ever more money makes them over-reach themselves. Enter crooked arms-arranger, Bradley Cooper (appearing in just a few short scenes) leading to the pair's carelessness in not being ultra-careful in keeping everyone who's part of these shady dealings on-side. It only takes one disgruntled player to collapse the whole vulnerable house of cards. Needless to say there's also been a growing mutual mistrust between the two partners.

Romantic interest is provided by Ana de Armas as Teller's wife, who isn't told about the true nature of the 'work' which is bringing in so much as to enable them to live in luxury. 

Director Todd Phillips, best known for his two 'Hangover' films, (though I haven't seen either) gets away with a fairly work-a-day product. It delivers what it's intended to, without any particular special touches that would have kept it lodged in the mind.
Often very loud, it managed to carry me along with it just sufficiently while it played. I didn't think it especially original despite it claiming to be grounded in fact. 
Ultimately, I'd rank it as being in the category of 'memory-disposable'............5.5.

Film: 'Julieta'

I thought this quite exceptional. Easily one of Almodovar's very best, maybe even his best of all - and that's an awfully big claim with the record of triumphs which he has merited to date (overlooking his rare and untypical misfire in last year's camp-festy 'I'm So Excited').

Despite a few sniffy, though minority, reviews I've seen which thought the story over-stretched credibility, I found 'Julieta' (entirely Spanish dialogue) captivatng from start to finish. There's no let-up in its sombre mood - underlined by a well-judged and serious, often troubling, background soundtrack - right from its opening until a few seconds from the finish. Nevertheless, it's a heartfelt, beautiful and unsettling film in which one never knows where it's going to go next.

The opening section shows the title character, a woman in late middle-age, (Emma Suarez) preparing to leave Spain to move to Portugal with her partner - when, for some unclear reason which she denies him, she changes her mind. It turns out that she's just bumped into a former close friend of her daughter, the latter having deliberately estranged herself from her mother, not having made contact with her for 12 years. The former friend explains that the daughter is now herself a mother of three and living in circumstances which only become a bit clearer late in the film. So the mother returns to the apartment which she'd intended to vacate, changes her mind about leaving and starts writing a letter/memoir to her daughter, explaining things that she hadn't told her when she'd disappeared out of her mother's life when still a teenager.
From there on it's a succession of re-creations of parts of the mother's earlier life, now played by Adriana Ugarta, with her newly-born and, later, then young daughter - but, very importantly, it tells her of the circumstances of her birth, how she met by chance, and fell in love with, a young man (Daniel Grao) on a train during a night of strange happenings, a night which was to change both of them for ever.

The mystery of how the younger Julieta gets to where we found her elder self at the film's start is very well choreographed, managing to hold in abeyance things that happened on the way without tipping us over into exasperation. All the time we sincerely want to know what happens next, and it's doubly satisfying when we get to find out. But that's not to say that the film's conclusion doesn't leave questions unanswered. There are certainly knots still left untied as it finishes. However, for the first time in the film, the background music strikes a note of optimism, which rounds it all off very neatly while also leaving a smidgeon of unresolved suspense.

I've no criticism at all with the director's efforts. There are no outlandish or spectacular gestures. Everything is kept to a modest scale as befits the very personal struggle the title character undergoes. Similarly, I have nothing but praise for the entire cast - specifically, both 'Julieta' actresses cohesively holding the film together despite appearing in two different time-frames. 

Thoroughly enjoyable; if you're already a fan of Pedro Almodovar (and who isn't?) I'll be very surprised if you're not most impressed by this film. If it doesn't feature in my Top 5 of the year, and towards the upper end of it at that, I'll......I'll........ooh, I don't know!..................8

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Film: 'David Brent - Life on the Road'

I appreciate that Ricky Gervais is not to everyone's taste, but he is to mine. If you liked 'The Office' and 'Extras' you'll want to see this. If you remained unmoved you'll simply not bother. In the event I did find this film largely very funny, with some genuinely LOL moments (not an easy thing to accomplish in my continuing condition!)

Rather than taking the character from 'The Office' and putting him into a blown-up, TV spin-off version of that show, he's taken forward in time, now as a travelling salesman for sanitary products (the full range!) working for a firm - 'Lavichem'. Brent takes time off from his job to indulge his personal desire of touring venues as an (ageing) rock star fronting a band ('Foregone Conclusion'), a foursome who are less than enamoured by having Brent's presence, both on- and back-stage, they doing it reluctantly for financial reasons. 

The film starts and ends with episodes in the Lavichem offices where we see Brent in the same character which endeared him to some of us in 'The Office', with all the same blustering traits and toe-curling pronouncements which we got to know so well from TV. And he's on every bit as good form with it here, though as this film doesn't have any of the support actors from 'The Office' off whom he could bounce with his unintentionally offensive or embarrassing lines, that's something of a loss. Having said that, there are a number of new characters who do fill the equivalent roles more than adequately - most especially his desk-neighbour with whom he forms, to the great irritation of other workers, something of a crazy, non-stop repartee, double act. I laughed a lot at their madcap exchanges.

The body of the film is Brent on the road with his band, the initially intended national tour having been massively reduced in scale, because of lack of interest, to virtually a single county just outside London. They perform in small clubs and bars with few people attending, while those in the sparse audience who are there quickly get bored or pay scant attention to what's happening on stage as Brent attempts to show that he's 'with it' (with hilarious moves). He's also roped in a rapper (Doc Brown) to perform with him, an act who, to Brent's chagrin, is more readily appreciated than he is himself.

Gervais has written his own songs. One about not discriminating against the 'disabled' and delivered with utterly intended sincerity is full of OMG! moments in the lyrics ("Take him by the hand - if he's got one.") Another song concerns the injustices suffered by Native Americans. All brilliant material!

Outside the stage act, in hotels or restaurants, the other members of the group and crew make it abundantly clear that they'd rather not be in Brent's company only, of course, he doesn't read the unspoken messages, leading to a spate of verbal tangling and foot-in-mouth moments.  

There seems to be a consensus that this film loses its 'oomph' in being too long for its material, which might have better suited a couple of half-hour TV shows. It's true that I did find that it does sag a bit around two-thirds through, but not fatally, in my view,

Also Gervais himself directs the film as well as having written all the lines himself. A further view has been expressed that it really needed a collaboration with someone like his 'Office' and 'Extras' co-writer, Stephen Merchant, to sharpen things up and edit things down. But again I find myself in disagreement. Yes, there might have been room for some improvements but I do think that Gervais even alone acquits himself with honours.

In a previous review I voiced my approval of the recent film version of 'AbFab', which some didn't share. I'm prepared to receive similar notes of disagreement for my positive take on this film. I've got to be honest - I laughed more times during this than in any other film this year and, from the sound of it, many in the audience did too..................7.5.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Film: 'Wiener-dog'

I have a considerable liking for quirky films - and this one has a lot of 'quirk' in it.
(It's not to be confused, of course, with the recent film 'Weiner' - one about a creature who is capable of living only by base animal instincts, and this one about a dog.)

I never knew (or had forgotten) the American term of the film's title. Everyone in England calls this breed 'dachshund' - maybe also 'sausage dog' by some. In fact I wasn't quite sure how to pronounce 'Wiener' and was ready to ask for a ticket in the way of 'Veener-dog' (which I presume is derived from the German for 'Viennese') when I happened to see a notice at the cinema entrance explaining phonetically how to say it. (I suppose the staff were fed up with hearing it mispronounced.) 

So to the film itself, which I might have avoided, being concerned as it is with an animal which may have been portrayed as being mistreated, until I read that the dog was merely a 'device' to link four separate stories together, with greater emphasis placed on the pet's successive owners than the animal itself. 
Also, director Todd Solondz (just noticed that we share birthdays, he being younger by 13 years) is one whose name I sit up for. Although I've only managed to see a couple of works of his, both from the 1990s - 'Welcome to the Dollhouse' and 'Happiness' (ironic title!), two films I liked a lot - they are both again full of quirkiness. 

The dog owners here include some very recognisable names - Julie Delpy, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Burstyn and, perhaps in the most substantial segment, Danny de Vito as a frustrated, struggling screenwriter. Each part is about 20 minutes long, or just above, without any significant links between them other than the domestic pet itself, which gets called different names in each one. (In the final part, the invalided Burstyn has named it 'Cancer'!)

(Spoiler alert!)  There is just the one truly upsetting scene for we animal lovers, and it comes right at the end. However, there are a few seconds notice when we can guess what's going to happen and have an opportunity to look away. In addition, there are also one or two scenes earlier on involving the dog which skirt close to the edge of upset though they do not actually tip over into it. 

I liked 'Wiener-dog' a lot. I'm favourably disposed towards this kind of 'compendium' film and this one held onto my interest in all four episodes (plus a very brief 'intermission'). If you're able to cope with uncertainties regarding the dog's fate I can reassure you that apart from the one scene to which I've referred you have little else to be apprehensive about and should derive sufficient entertainment to have made for an enjoyable hour-and-a-half............7.5

Monday, 22 August 2016

Film: 'Tickled'

This is a documentary which, I think, few will have heard of (though well received at Sundance) about an American organisation which must be about the weirdest that one can imagine. 
It seeks to recruit young men (and its search is exclusively male-directed) to volunteer to be tied down and tickled - just that! There's no suggestion of eroticism or fetishism, and certainly no sexual activity. 

New Zealand investigative reporter David Farrier, who specialises in unusual or 'wacky' subjects, comes across a recruiting advert for the company by chance and, thinking that it would make a good story as well as providing welcome free publicity to the firm, approaches them by e-mail. The response - from the organisation's boss, one 'Jane' of 'Jane O'Brien Media'  - is utterly astonishing. She insists that the firm has absolutely nothing to do with catering for homosexual tastes (even though Farrier hadn't suggested that it might), repeats the line forcefully maintaining that homosexuals are 'disordered', and even calls Farrier a "faggot". Furthermore, in this rant she threatens him with legal action if he proceeds any further with his idea of making a documentary about the organisation. 
Needless to say, this totally disproportionate and manic response gets the very opposite reaction from Farrier from the one desired, compelling him to dig deeper with the enlistment of computer whizz-kid buddy, Dylan Reeve. Shortly afterwards, a party of three fly from America into Auckland to engage in a legal confrontation, one of them particularly obnoxious and threatening. Of course all this intrigues Farrier and Reeve even more and before long they themselves start making visits to the U.S.A. to discover more about this company. What is its motivation? What purpose if not in the sexual market? Where does its income come from? And why had there been such a furiously intemperate response to his initial approach, which had obviously touched a raw nerve? (They also discover that would-be tickle-'victims' are lured into this 'web' by being presented with lavish gifts - tickets to rock concerts, having first class air tickets supplied and being put up in plush hotels, even being sent entire computers to keep! But - and this is additionally very strange - having completed their tickling session, there's no suggestion of their being blackmailed for money or, indeed, for anything else.)

They eventually track down just one of the tickling volunteers (others were apparently too reluctant to speak) who relates of how he found an unauthorised video on YouTube of his being tickled (always only in the conventional tickling spots - armpits, soles of feet, chest, stomach - though not the sex organs). When he got Yahoo to take the video down on the grounds of his not having given permission for it to be displayed, his world fell in. There was an immediate and extremely irate letter from 'Jane' warning him that as he had crossed the line (he wasn't aware there had been one), his life was now not going to be worth living - and then this very same video was published on every single video site available - and, not only that, his full name and address given, that of his employer, the clubs he belonged to - and with claims that not only was he unreliable and unbalanced but that he was also a child-molester! Letters detailing his supposed activities even started being sent through the mail to his mother saying that her son is a pervert! The devastating consequences to the young man's life have little need to detailed. 
(Incidentally, Farrier, on one of his visits, does meet up with a genuine tickle-fetishist who provides such service to his 'clients', all above board, no threats or menaces, full discretion guaranteed - nothing at all wrong with that).
Meanwhile, another organisation like Jane's has also started business in America, this time run by a 'Terri' from a different company but working on the same lines, only whereas Jane's ticklers (the ones doing the tickling) were all young men, Terri's ticklers are young women, though the 'victims' are again exclusively male.

It would spoil things to say here what Farrier and Reeve's investigations eventually uncovered - and that only through their dogged determination to get to the bottom of it all. This film does keep one guessing because throughout we are very bit as curious as these two about what on earth is it all about - and why?
We get some answers about three quarters through but it's not until the very final minute or two and the end captions that there is a semblance of rationale presented. It's not entirely satisfactory but it does fill in most of the gaps, while still leaving one with a lack of total resolution.

I found it quite a gripping expose of a truly odd organisation, even though I left the cinema with an unpleasant aftertaste in knowing that complete justice hadn't been fully meted out to where it was due, something which recognised the damage which had been done to innocent lives...............7