Thursday, May 29, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix Streaming, Special "DIY Indie" Edition: 24 EXPOSURES (2014) and ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (2013)

(US - 2014)

Indie filmmakers Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, and Ti West form the core of a relentlessly busy crew of DIY mumblecore filmmakers who took part in the V/H/S anthology and have received acclaim mostly in indie hipster circles but seemed poised to break into the mainstream with the terrific 2013 slasher film YOU'RE NEXT, directed by Wingard, written by Barrett, and co-starring Swanberg and West.  West, who had some acclaim away from this posse with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and the overrated THE INNKEEPERS, also directed Swanberg in the current THE SACRAMENT.  Swanberg wrote and directed 24 EXPOSURES, which stars Wingard and looks like what might happen if West teamed up with Henry Jaglom to make a slow-burn re-imagining of the 1983 cult slasher film DOUBLE EXPOSURE. 24 EXPOSURES is obviously a film shot cheaply and quickly.  It's as minimalist as can be, with some really bad acting and a score that vacillates between "1980s John Carpenter" and "Skinemax fuck scene." Wingard is "fetish photographer" Billy Wingard, who specializes in graphic still death shots of staged murders.  Helping him is assistant/girlfriend Alex (Caroline White), who's open enough to allow model Callie (Sophia Takal) to join them in bed. Billy is also preoccupied with Callie's friend Rebecca (Helen Rogers), whose possessive boyfriend (Mike Brune) doesn't want her taking part in his photo sessions. Meanwhile, down-in-the-dumps and improbably-named detective Michael Bamfeaux (Barrett) is given the boot by his wife but still has to do his job, which involves investigating the murder of a model who never showed up for a scheduled shoot with Billy and Alex.

Starting with Wingard's character having the same surname, 24 EXPOSURES is meta almost to the point of self-parody.  This is especially the case by the end when, after a whole lot of very little has happened, Bamfeaux, moonlighting as an aspiring writer, turns his search for the murderer and his friendship with Billy into a memoir as a literary agent (played by Swanberg) goes through a laundry list of his manuscript's flaws, go-nowhere plot details, and general construction weaknesses and rattles off ways to improve it, almost like Swanberg is stopping to critique his own film, still in progress.  It's that kind of nonsense that shows he's more interested in being "clever" than constructing a real story.  Some parts of 24 EXPOSURES look almost Tommy Wiseau-like in their sub-softcore-porn production value.  You'd think for as long as Wingard and Barrett have been friends, they could at least convincingly play friends in a movie (Barrett, in particular, is awful).  But this is the kind of film where the sense of amateurish artifice is intended and the bad performances are by design, but to what end?  Other than Swanberg drawing facile parallels between Billy and Bamfeaux by showing them both eating dry cereal as a snack, there's no real attempt at character or thematic depth. 24 EXPOSURES is a tediously self-indulgent home movie made by guys who should know and have done better.  It's either an inside joke among their clique or, more likely, an excuse for Swanberg and Wingard to hang out with some naked chicks on set.  (Unrated, 77 mins)

(US - 2013)

When it debuted at 2013's Sundance Film Festival, it seemed highly unlikely that ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW would ever be seen again afterwards. With an inheritance from his grandparents providing the budget, writer/director Randy Moore and his cast and crew pulled off one of the most audacious and ambitious guerrilla filmmaking stunts in the annals of cinema:  with season passes to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, they shot the bulk of the black & white film inside the parks, using scripts stored on their phones and armed with handheld (or concealed) cameras and sporting wardrobes that made them look like average tourists. Moore said in interviews that as many times as they went back to the parks and as many times as the actors got on the rides (he reportedly had the four main actors ride It's a Small World 12 times in a row until he got the shots he needed), none of the Disney cast members got wise to what they were doing. Much to the surprise of Moore and everyone else, Disney, fiercely protective of its image and its intellectual property, never attempted to block the film's release and never publicly addressed it, though it has been added to the online supplement to Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia.

On the last day of a family vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) gets a call from his boss telling him that he's been fired.  Jim keeps this devastating news to himself and focuses on giving wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and kids Elliott (Jack Dalton) and Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) one last fun day before going home.  It's a day that becomes increasingly surreal as every song, every attraction, and every animatronic character becomes more sinister and nightmarish by the minute.  And that's on top of the everyday horrors of a nagging wife, screaming kids, rude or constantly coughing patrons, lines that won't move, and Elliott getting sick on Space Mountain. Jim is also bewitched by two seductive, giggling French teenage girls (Danielle Safady, Annet Mehendru) who turn up everywhere before he starts deliberately following them. It's clear early on that Jim's current level of reality might not actually be, and the completely off-the-rails second half becomes a horrifically dystopian version of the Disney experience, fusing elements of TOTAL RECALL and VIDEODROME, with a cat-flu epidemic, turkey legs made of emu, rollercoaster decapitations, a secret crew of cleaners, and Disney princesses who double as high-priced courtesans for wealthy Asian businessmen.  By the end, it's basically an elaborate TWILIGHT ZONE episode and would probably work better as such, but Moore's daring filmmaking process and his ability to make do with what he had--a lot of the shots are composed as such to avoid copyright infringements and being discovered--are very impressive.  Regardless of how the film even turned out, it's a major accomplishment that he was able to get it done.  As a story, it loses its way a bit and seems to drag even at 90 minutes, but as an exercise in DIY filmmaking, it's not to be missed.  (Unrated, 90 mins)

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