‘Kim Dotcom’ documentary shows dark side of fight against internet piracy

Kim Dotcom re-enacts the police raid and his arrest. Contributed by Nigel Marple

Why would the New Zealand government, at the urging of the United States government, conduct a raid on the home of an accused internet pirate with a force normally reserved for someone like, say, Osama bin Laden? Annie Goldson’s documentary “Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web” compellingly suggests that the Motion Picture Association of America and its lobby have so much political pull that they can influence other countries’ governments to conduct illegal raids on citizens if said citizens might be disrupting their commercial enterprises.

Dotcom (born Kim Schmitz) is an infamous German hacker who made his name breaching security on the internet before anyone outside of his ilk even knew what that meant. Dotcom’s file sharing site Megaupload.com could be used to pirate (or share, depending on your point of view) original entertainment content.

In Dotcom’s case, there is no definitive evidence that Hollywood saw an overall increase in revenue once Megaupload.com was taken down; in fact, some reports suggest Megaupload.com actually contributed to Hollywood’s bottom line despite some of its users choosing to engage in copyright infringement.

Reporter Greg Sandoval sums up the situation best: “You get in between America and its money and we’re going to have big problems.”

The documentary is essentially a courtroom drama as Dotcom battles the forces of multinational interests influencing the American and New Zealand governments. The third act delves into the troubling fact that Dotcom, his family and associates were under intense personal — and illegal — surveillance leading up to the raid, something for which the New Zealand government later apologized. “Kim Dotcom” is a frightening portrait of blatant disregard for law by law enforcement and the extraordinary reach of the surveillance network of some of the most powerful countries in the world.

“Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web” screens again at 11:30 a.m. March 16 at Alamo South.

‘Hot Summer Nights’ tells drug-fueled coming-of-age tale

“Hot Summer Nights.” Contributed

“Hot Summer Nights” is a sneaky slice of dark Americana, a gorgeously shot, hard truth coming-of-age tale rendered through a lens of innocence and grandeur, a sexy 20th century fairy tale.

Elijah Bynum’s directorial debut catches you off guard. What begins as seemingly a nostalgic ode to early ’90s summers full of cocaine, marijuana and drinking on Cape Cod careens into more dramatic waters.

Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe) is a James Dean-like pot dealing townie hunk who befriends the visiting Daniel (Timothee Chalamet). Their friendship blossoms into an extremely lucrative marijuana distribution operation covering the New England area as Daniel takes Hunter’s dime bag hustle to new levels, getting in bed with mobsters of some sort. The boys, becoming men, look for love and try to hold onto innocence while procreating with the profane and inevitably shed any vestiges of boyhood on their journeys.

The looming metaphor of Hurricane Bob, a major character in the third act, is smart, truly encapsulating the emotional tone of the film. Bynum’s use of a disassociated child narrator walking us through the lore of the town and the fable unfolding before us has echoes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Bret Easton Ellis. And, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. It’s a must-see film from this year’s South by Southwest.

“Hot Summer Nights” screens again at 6 p.m. March 17 at Zach Theatre.

Joe Swanberg’s ‘Win It All’ won over SXSW, heads for Netflix

“Win It All.” Contributed by Mitch Buss

After toiling away for over a decade making incredibly low-budget independent films, director Joe Swanberg has fallen into a groove with Netflix that seems to suit him well.

Last year he premiered a series on the streaming service called “Easy” (which will begin shooting its second season this spring), directed a few episodes of another one of their shows (“Love”), and is now getting ready to launch his most accessible and slickly produced feature with them. And while the storyline was fully scripted out in advance this time, like in “Easy” the cast still largely improvised their dialogue.

Before the world premiere screening, Swanberg noted to festival director Janet Pierson that the movie “had to be” at the festival. His last big premiere in town was 2013’s “Drinking Buddies,” a movie that started to mark a new chapter in his career. It was a far cry from when he first debuted at SXSW in 2005 with the erotic drama “Kissing On The Mouth.”

This film is another collaboration between Swanberg and Jake Johnson. Johnson co-wrote the screenplay and also stars as Eddie Garrett, a well-intentioned man who just happens to be a gambling addict.

A friend who is about to go to jail shows up at his apartment one day and asks him to store an overstuffed duffel bag for him while he’s away. It seems to be a reasonable request but comes with the caveat that he never open the bag or worry about what is inside. Curiosity (of course) gets the better of Eddie, who later discovers that the bag is packed to the gills with cold, hard cash.

For a man who loves to gamble, this is a revelation that proves hard to resist. He decides that his new “storage business” could do him good if he just borrows $500 out of the bag to see what he can do with it. His sponsor (a hilarious Keegan-Michael Key) tries to talk him out of it, but that initially borrowed sum quickly becomes $2,148 in a card game and a spark is lit. Swanberg helps us follow the money by keeping a running tally of Eddie’s gains and losses on screen.

After Eddie loses far too much of the money, he attempts to go straight. He pleads with his brother (Joe Lo Truglio) to let him come work for the family landscaping business, something he’s apparently resisted for years. While all of this is happening, Eddie also falls in love. Mexican actress Aislinn Derbez stars in her first English-language role as Eva, a single mother who needs to ensure that things between them are really serious before introducing him to her daughter. This leads him into a bit of a double life, struggling with his desire for her and his addiction.

A surprise collect phone call from prison brings the news that Eddie doesn’t need – his pal is getting released from prison early and will be coming by in a week to retrieve his bag. It triggers a last-gasp attempt to make things right and provides for an exhilarating final act.

“Win It All” is accompanied by a truly funky soundtrack of mostly classic sounds from the Numero Group label and a percussion-heavy score by Dan Romer (“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”).

The movie only had one screening during SXSW but will premiere April 7 on Netflix.

SXSW Film review: ‘Hardcore Henry’

Hardcore Henry is an unflinchingly original, first-person action film where YOU are the main character, Henry.  Credit: STX Entertainment
Hardcore Henry is an unflinchingly original, first-person action film where YOU are the main character, Henry. Credit: STX Entertainment

“Hardcore Henry” is a front-row type of film. It should be seen and experienced in a theater.

However, no matter where you sit or how you see it, you will still be Henry, or at least under the illusion that you’re him.

“Hardcore Henry” is the first-of-its-kind, a film completely shot with a Go-Pro (dozens of Go-Pros actually) making it 100 percent POV. So, if you would like to be dropped from a freeway overpass, want to know what it feels like to shoot at someone from the back of an incredibly fast-moving motorcycle or fall from a helicopter all while eating popcorn and sipping a beer, this is the film for you.

First-time full-length feature director/writer Ilya Naishuller makes the man-child id of senseless violence a pseudo reality, a kind of first person gaming-esque hyper-violent fantasy. But never fear, the film is not all smash-em-up testosterone, adrenaline and bloodshed. Its viscera is comic-like camp.

Naishuller has a sense of humor through the fisticuffs and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Henry is a superhero, whose voice activation has yet to be turned on. We become superheroes for around 90 minutes, and that is appealing.

Henry was once a man, who is now a souped-up hyper athletic killing machine who can execute the most dexterous of Parkour moves and kick everyone’s butt creatively. You, or Henry, awaken, with absolutely no authentic memory, to your wife screwing your robotic leg back on in some type of laboratory when security is breached and the evil radioactive villain with gravitational radiation powers, Akan, comes to capture you and your wife.

The chase is on, and it truly does not stop until the credits roll. Good luck. Unfortunately, you will be unable to catch “Hardcore Henry” at any more showings, but the film is set for wide release April 7th.