Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and second film or series available on DVD or instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
This first-time feature from writer Isa Mazzei and director Daniel Goldhaber is a fascinating and strange trip into a world many of us have never seen: the world of the cam girl. Cam girls are essentially in the porn business, performing in front of a web camera for willing clients who pay the girls to watch and interact with them. What each girl does depends on the individual: some are flirty, some are more risqué, and some are more explicitly sexual. Mazzei was a former cam girl, and she wrote the film based on her personal experiences. The film, however, is a fictional account of a cam girl who wakes up one day to find her identity stolen. The sci-fi(ish) psychological thriller twists and turns with Hitchcockian fervor (add a dash of Lynch), and all the while it keeps us guessing. It is a winning formula from a writing/directing duo who are just embarking on what looks to be a promising career.
The film starts with an arresting opening sequence: cam girl Alice (a spectacular Madeline Brewer) seems like a girl-next-door-type, interacting with her adoring watchers and thanking them all personally every time they pay her. She is sexy, flirty, and very smart. She is always one-step ahead of her coterie, and as the stakes of the skit increase, we begin to wonder about it. The “act” becomes clear from the start, and a central subject of the film is defined here—performance.
Such is the life of a performing cam girl: constantly trying to please, constantly raising the stakes, and constantly looking at the leaderboard (of top performers). Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange is the New Black) plays the part with an affability, sexiness, and energy that is perfect for the role. She embodies the character from the beginning, and regardless of any preconceived notions about the industry and the players therein, she wins us. When Alice wakes up one day to find a dopplegänger, Lola, has taken her place, Brewer’s performance really shines (now as Lola and Alice). The plot really takes off at this point as the mystery deepens.
Mazzei and Goldhaber both formerly lived in Boulder and were in town recently for the Denver Film Festival. These are the type of people you root for in the film business—real people with real talent making real stories. Be sure to check out this thoughtful, interesting, and solid all-around-film. It begins a run at the Sloan’s Lake Cinema Drafthouse starting on November 30 and was also picked up by Netflix.
You will like this if you enjoyed Showgirls, Sleeping Beauty, or anything from Hitchcock.
Season 3 (Netflix)
The Marvel TV Universe has struggled of late. After the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the Universe looked promising. As my reviews of those shows stated, they were innovative and even spectacular shows that rocketed Netflix into the realm of premium cinematic TV. But as good as those shows were, the first season of Luke Cage was tepid at best, and the first season of Iron Fist was downright awful. The Punisher was somewhat promising, but the crossover series The Defenders (with all the characters together) fizzled, and then the second season of Jessica Jones was a disappointment. Luke Cage and Iron Fist were both canceled after their weak second seasons. Jessica Jones season three is in development. In the meantime, Daredevil season three keeps the Universe pulsing with first-class production values, solid storytelling, sizzling action, excellent performances, and stinging social commentary. This series started out strong and gets better every year.
In my review of season one, I stated my overall feeling for the series: “I find its mixture of comic book lore, Taxi Driver film noir-darkness, and Oldboy gore refreshing.” Charlie Cox as the tortured anti-hero is sublime, and cohorts Deborah Ann Woll and Eldon Henson are perfect. The villain of season one, Wilton Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), was a worthy foe: smart, erudite, urbane, and brutal. When season two expanded the world of the show while Fisk was in prison, it suffered. But he returns for season three, and what a return it is: he is now The Kingpin, one of the most beloved villains of the Marvel comic-book world. He has now become the best villain on TV.
This season narrows its focus down to the duel between Daredevil and The Kingpin while still slyly adding in new characters (including a new villain who will certainly star in season four) and biting, contemporary social commentary. That commentary is a scarily precise portrait of the current political climate, boiled down into one sadistic and sociopathic character. Overall, the acting, writing, and production values are all first-rate and the season speeds along with vengeance and verve. Even more than keeping the Universe alive, the show stands on its own as a shining achievement in this new era of TV.
Now playing on Netflix. You will like this if you liked season one, season two, anything from Tarantino, and/or Oldboy.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.