DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Bubble, The Puffy Chair, Humpday, Sex and Death 101, Baghead, Borat, Bruno, In the Electric Mist


Title:  Bubble

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 73 min

MPAA Rating: R (I think it could have been PG-13)

Distributor and Production Company: Magnolia /2929/ HDNet / Cuban-Wagner

Director; Writer: Steven Soderbergh, wr. Coleman Hough; music by Robert Pollard. Tagline: “A Steven Soderbergh experience”

Producer: Gregory Jacobs

Cast:   Dustin James Ashley, Katherine Baumier, Joyce Brookhart, Daniel R. Christian, Ross Clegg , Debbie Doebereiner, Decker Moody, K. Smith, Misty Dawn Wilkins, Laurie Lee, Omar Cowan

Technical: HD Panavision rendering, full widescreen. 2.3 : 1 (“scope”); Dolby Digital

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: filmmaking


First: a note about the title. I once had a boss in an “interim job” during my early “retirement” (?!?) who called me “Bubbles,” after Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee, so rumor has it.


This is one of those movies that creates controversy by the circumstances of its release and its technology. Magnolia is releasing this film on DVD and Cable at the same time as its platform release in theaters, which has caused some theater chains to boycott it and has started  your typical turf wars debate. So I went to Landmark E Street in Washington Saturday Jan. 28 to see it, and found the small auditorium reasonably full.


The film is in cinemascope HDNet, the full wide screen rendering of high definition video by Panavision, and visually it is very effective, with the outdoor scenes of spring in southern Ohio and in Parkersburg, W Va.  So are the indoor scenes of the doll factory. The visual image of the molded plastic doll body parts forms a metaphor for the characters, who inhabit this fictive world as objects and pawns in a game where others have a lot more wealth and they are the proles struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck. So this minimalist movie is itself about the morality of the way we perceive other people.


The cast is reported to be locals, not professional actors, and they are very effective. The script was apparently improvised so the speech is very natural with a lot of slang and monosyllabic chatter. I don’t know what the legal arrangements were, and whether the actors had to join SAG.


The story centers around three main characters: Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), an fiftyish woman supervising in the doll factory and taking care of her sessile aging father (Omar Cowan) who pretty much has to have all of his physical needs attended. She keeps him at home rather than sending him to a nursing home ICF with Medicaid. She mother hens a young man Kyle (Dutsin Ashley),  who would look like a gay icon with his young unfurrowed teenage face if he hadn’t disfigured his forearms with symmetrical tattoos on his wrists (oh, yes, he wants to be covered with body art, as that is his own avenue to self expression). Oh, yes, he chain smokes, as do the other characters. (Oh, didn’t you hear, heavy smoking can make you go bald in the legs.)


Enter 23-year-old Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) as an employee, and an emotional triangle develops, which Martha perhaps resents. Rose has another job cleaning house for rich people in town, and had just quit a CAW job in a nursing home (where she was the last resort to take custodial potty care of nursing home residents). But Rose asks Martha to babysit her two year old while she goes on a date with Kyle, who apparently quit high school and some sort of emotional disturbance and a stint of special education. They go to Kyle’s room (a room is all that he can afford), and little happens, but while Kyle is out of the room to get a beer, she steals some money from his chest of drawers. They return, and Rose has a confrontation with her ex boyfriend Jake (K. Smith) who had fathered the child.


Next day Rose is found strangled to death, and you have the mystery. I won’t give the solution, but there are loose ends in the story, clues that go nowhere. In the final analysis, it seems that people do not always know what they do. Decker Moody is masterful as the police inspector, and he hammers home at the guilty party into remembering the crime.


This film has no connection to a similarly named film by Eytan Fox (below). 

The Puffy Chair (2005, Roadside Attractions/Cinesite/Netflix, dir. Jay Duplass, wr. Mark Duplass, 85 min, R) appears to be another film intended for simultaneous platformed release and DVD release.


It now appears on Netflix, simultaneously with its theatrical exhibition by Landmark:


But let be backtrack a bit. Some personal stuff here. At various times in my life, I have been asked personally if I could be more "assertive." In a job interview for a collection agency in 2003, the HR head asked me when I had ever told someone to do something and made him do it. As a substitute teacher I was criticized for not being able to "discipline" middle school kids not yet able to do the right thing on their own. For me to get someone to do something, they have to understand why, in terms of legitimate self-interest. (Actually, in debt collection that really works.)


Josh Sagers (Mark Duplass, playing the lead for the role that he wrote) is the archetypical masculine personality. He can make people do things. He can manipulate them. He is "living with the girl" Emily (Kathryn Aselton) in Brooklyn, and rather than sexual intercourse before marriage (SIBM) he sees it as a kind of trial, unofficial marriage. Commitment (and responsibility) is difficult for Josh. George Gilder (Men and Marriage) would have put him on a pillory. There is always a later time to face problems that would require philosophy. For the moment, there are one-liners (sometimes profanities) and manipulations. You make people do what you need to have them do.


The story is that of your "genre" road movie. Josh wants to make real progress having a family (isn't that the point of male manipulation? Oh, I forgot -- women tame men!)  He makes a meager living booking musicians, a good job for a manipulator. His dad in Atlanta (Gerald Finnegan) has a birthday. Josh buys a purple reclining chair on Ebay, and will drive down to North Caroline to pick it up, and then deliver, and take Emily along, maybe to make this relationship work. In suburban New Jersey (where else?) they pick up Josh's kid brother Rhett (Wilkins), who tags along. Now Rhett is, as Josh says, a child who cannot survive on his own. He tries to look older. Despite his baby face and perfect, unfurrowed eyes, he has a full beard and hairy chest, which in some scenes looks a bit scraggly.  That's one thing about these indie films--the male leads get to keep their chest hair (however muted in many instances). They get to look lik men, and Josh is attractive, which probably helps with his manipulations. They are hetero enough for Details, but it's easy to imagine gay variations of this kind of story.


I don't know if this is the six-part screenplay that they teach in film school. The change in plans is quick as they go on the road trip, but the story builds up as a sequence of Josh's manipulations. First, he tries to get them a motel room for $10 less a night. The proprietress gets suspicious (she looks like she belongs in Canterbury Tales) even though Josh and Rhett try desperately to pull it off. (Rhett pees in a water bottle while lying out of sight in the SUV). Later, they are in NC, and find the Chair to be a ripoff. Josh uses his masculinity to make the business owner go in his pants and then get it re-upholstered. (He gets in the man's face and says, "I am Josh Sagers!...:) At one point, he rescues Rhett, who has failed to make any progress in getting the salesman to come out. There is this episode in a theater where Rhett meets a girl and Josh soon conducts a mock "wedding." They finally get the chair, heading toward one last crisis to overcome when Rhett imagines the chair to be contaminated and sets it on fire at another motel. Josh breaks his arm tackling his brother. They finally meet his dad in Atlanta (what about the puffy chair? what about having a birthday present?) and will have to face a final showdown in his relationship with Emily. Can he be tamed?  


There is a "moral" to all this. Men grow up with the idea that they will be required to provide for others -- a family -- to compete for others. Does that generate most of our ethical dilemmas, when men manipulate others wrongfully? Is that "the cheating culture"?  Yet, the young men seem to be living in the present, for their own adult gratifications, with little awareness of what lies down below. On the other hand, some of us never even accept that kind of responsibility, to compete for others.     


If you want to see a facsimile of The Puffy Chair, go to this (jpg) link. This is a chair in a Super 8 in Topeka, KS.  


Humpday (2009, Magnolia, dir. Lynn Shelton). Mark Duplass has aged as a married man but wants to try gay porno with a straight college rommate. Blogger.


Sex and Death 101 (2007, Anchor Bay, dir.Daniel Walters, with Simon Baker and Winona Ryder as the deadly film fatale; an exercise in Internet prescience. Blogger.


Baghead (2008, Sony Pictures Classics, Mark and Jay Duplass). Four actor/screenwriters hole up in a cabin to write a horror flick and find their screenplay being filmed as they write it. Blogger review. Incorporates the black-and-white short "We Are Naked."

The film has no relation to the similarly named "Towelhead" (link below).


Borat: Cultural Learning of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, Fox Searchlight/Everyman, dir. Larry Charles, wr. Sacha Baron Cohen, Larry Hines, 89 min, R (nearly NC-17), USA/UK).  This wicked satire is a road movie, that could well use a Puffy Chair and a Josh Sagers character. (The film goes from Russian to English all the time, as the title sounds like a literal lexical translation from Russian.) Actually, Sacha Baron Cohen is gangly, ectoplasmic and hairy enough for the role of visiting team documentarian Borat Sagdiyev, who takes his road trip in the USA like he had diplomatic immunity. The prologue and epilogue are shot in Romania. Once over here, Borat is in everyone's face with inappropriate advances and gestures, many of them homosexual even though he ostensibly is married.  At one point he interviews arch conservative black republic Alan Keyes, who fills him in about the "gay community." He runs around, driving an ice cream truck and a bear as bodyguard, and makes the circuit parties, like a rodeo where he makes wonderful mince pie of Bush's Iraq policy.  This film could have been reviewed with gay movies, with political movies, or road movies. The most striking shots are during the end credits, grainy digital video of pre-1991 Soviet Union with all the evil industrial complex and pollution. Maybe the point is to vindicate Ronald Reagan's policies in the 1980s after all.


Sacha Baron Cohen gave some great scatological stand-up comedy at the 2007 Golden Globes when he won best actor in a comedy.  Just look up the trivia about him on imdb


Bruno (2009, Universal, dir. Larry Charles, wr. Sacha Baron Cohen, 85 min, very hard R). Judge for yourself this satire of homophobia. Blogger.


In the Electric Mist (2009, Image, dir. Bertrand Tavernier, novel by James Lee Burke, 102 min). Tommy Lee Jones plays a grizzled Louisiana sheriff facing his own demons with a bayou mystery involving a movie about the Civil War being filmed there. Went right to DVD with very limited theatrical release, but a masterful film. A hit at the 2009 Berlin Festival. Blogger.


Related reviews:.  Traffic, Assisted Living,  I Hate Babysitting (part of Nsync review) The Bubble (Eytan Fox)  Towelhead


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