In intriguing ‘Look,' the action is all seen through surveillance cameras

by Robert W. Butler

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

1 May 2009


The premise of “Look” is so hip and so timely that you marvel somebody didn’t think of it sooner.

Adam Rifkin’s film has been shot entirely from the point of view of the surveillance cameras that are everywhere in our modern world.

The film has been making the rounds of festivals for the last couple of years and has picked up a few awards. It comes out on home video Tuesday.

Over the course of this meandering, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic movie, we see footage from surveillance cameras mounted in department stores, offices, elevators, hotel hallways, high school stairwells and parking lots. From video-recorders mounted on police car dashboards, on ATM machines and on poles over busy trafficways.

We’re told in an opening credit that the average American is recorded 200 times a day by various cameras. Go to a shopping mall and it’s likely that a security dweeb watching a wall of monitors can follow your progress from the moment you park your car through an entire day of shopping and dining. If you look suspicious - or if you’re an attractive woman - he can probably zoom in for a better look.

If this film can be believed, some customer dressing rooms have hidden cameras. Ostensibly they are there to catch shoplifters, but since “Look” opens with two high school girls stripping down to try on outfits, you can easily comprehend their other uses.

“Look” is less a conventional narrative than several interwoven short stories.

A department store manager (Hayes MacArthur) is having multiple affairs with his female employees. It’s hard to tell if he’s aware that his stockroom trysts are being captured by hidden cameras. This guy would probably enjoy watching video of himself in action.

A rich, spoiled teen (Spencer Redford) decides to seduce her English teacher (Jamie McShane), a nice-enough guy with a pregnant wife and no intention of straying.

Two creeps dubbed the Candid Camera Killers (because they were videoed killing a cop who pulled them over) cruise around the city on a robbery-kidnapping binge.

A couple of “Clerks”-type bozos trade inanities while working the night shift at a mini-mart.

Suspecting that a child-care provider may be abusing his little girl, a high-powered lawyer installs a hidden camera in his family room.

An office nerd endures countless practical jokes from his colleagues. At one point, he enters a parking garage to find that his car’s wheels have been removed and it is resting on jacks.

You’d think that the limitations of the film’s setup would make for a cinematic slog. After all, most of these cameras don’t move (a few are timed to pan from side to side all day long) and there aren’t many opportunities for a conventional close-up. But cinematographers Scott Billups and Ron Forsythe do a slick job of throwing changeups. Some of the surveillance footage is in grainy black-and-white, some crystal clear and in full color. Usually there’s a time code in the corner of the frame giving us the date, the time and the location.

In settings where there are several cameras, editor Martin Apelbaum cuts between thefeeds while the players act out their scenes in real time.

What’s surprising is how quickly we get used to the idea that cameras are everywhere; we’re able to ignore “Look’s” obvious gimmick and concentrate on the Altmanesque plots. The acting by a large cast of unknowns is utterly naturalistic.

Of course, “Look” isn’t 100 percent authentic because the actors all have been carefully mic-ed so that we can hear the dialogue. In most public areas the surveillance cams can watch us, but they can’t hear us.

For which we should be thankful.


According to the press materials, “Smother” is being released on DVD just in time for Mother’s Day.

Really? Who hates their mother that much?

It’s not that this comedy is terrible so much as it takes an unrelentingly glum view of parent/child relationships.

Diane Keaton - in full Annie-Hall-as-manic-depressive mode - is Marilyn Cooper, a whining, sobbing, manipulating harebrain so irritating that her only child, Noah (Dax Shepard), will do almost anything to steer clear of her.

In writer/director Vince Di Meglio’s comedy, Marilyn moves in with Noah and his superhumanly tolerant wife, Clare (Liv Tyler), after deciding that her husband of 45 years (Ken Howard) has been having an affair. It says something about how shrilly Keaton plays Marilyn that instinctively we’re on the side of the cheating husband.

There are complications. Noah loses his job. He and Clare are desperately trying to have a baby, which means enforced sex over several days. And Clare’s dopey cousin (Mike White), a wannabe screenwriter, takes up residence on the couple’s couch.

Watching Keaton here is not unlike dragging a woodworking file across your teeth. But there is a bright side - Shepard gives a really hilarious deadpan performance as the long-suffering Noah. He’s like the love child of John Ritter and Zach Braff, and singlehandedly makes “Smother” worthwhile.


Returning to DVD in a 10th anniversary “special edition” is “A Galaxy Far Far Away,” Tariq Jalil’s homemade documentary about the world of “Star Wars” fanatics.

As Jalil explains in his voiceover, he likes the “Star Wars” films but can’t quite comprehend the mania surrounding them. Particularly puzzling to him was why so many people would put their lives on hold to camp on the sidewalk outside theaters where the new “Star Wars” film - “The Phantom Menace” - wouldn’t be opening for another 45 days.

The doc doesn’t take sides. If you think these people are hopeless geeks who desperately need to get a life, “Galaxy” won’t change your mind. If you’re more charitably inclined, the movie allows you to celebrate their obsession.

There’s an amusing/appalling sequence in which hundreds of fans besiege a Toys “R” Us store where new “Star Wars” toys are going on sale at midnight. In an interview, exploitation king Roger Corman gives what may be the best analysis of the “Star Wars” phenomenon I’ve ever heard.

And for sheer delirium, it’s hard to beat the two dudes in full Klingon makeup who flawlessly sing their planet’s war song.

Topics: adam rifkin | look
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