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Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:

Erin Brockovich (with Julia Roberts)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

. "Bubble"

Just what "bubble" is director Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic," "Ocean's Twelve") enveloping us in? The bubble of a social microcosm in a small town? The safe assumptions we make about ordinary people? Beware the bursting of a bubble containing seemingly safe chemical reactions.

Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) and Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) are employees of a factory stamping out rubber dolls. They are an unlikely pair but, really, only friends of convenience. She's older, lives with her infirm father (Omar Cowan) for whom she's the primary caregiver. Her off-time hobby is sewing little garments when she's not watching TV. Kyle's a gangly, inexpressive young man who works two jobs, lives with mom, and is saving up for a car.

The times aren't good in the small midwestern town. Kyle's mom is out of work, jobs are scarce and don't pay very well when they are available. The sruggling factory just received a big order though, and, to make their delivery date, they're offering their understaffed workers a bonus if the job is done on time. Needing help, they hire Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), a single mother with some air-brushing experience. She's young, attractive and industrious.

But... the thoughts and values she expresses during breaktime conversation raises doubts--there's something not quite warm and cozy about the lady. When she invites Martha to keep her company at her sideline job as a housecleaner, Martha is shocked when Rose calmly takes a bath before cleaning the house. Martha wavers between accepting or rejecting a woman she clearly sees as an oddball. Kyle, on the other hand isn't bothered by anything, and is simplistically delighted when Rose hones in on him for special friendship and, even, a date.

New Horizons in Film Marketing
In a distribution experiment that has Hollywood brass on edge, "Bubble" was released simultaneously to theatres, Cable TV, and DVD. Take your pick. One can infer from Soderbergh's ploy that he'd like to see this become the trend, if not the general practice, but, after seeing it, I hardly expect such a low-budget venture with non-pro actors to shake up existing marketing practices.

If the post-release analysis shows more revenue than it might have produced by conventional means, look for it to pave the way for future low-budget, digitally photographed entries for the art house. The real idea, it seems to me, is to help the small filmmaker recoup expenses much quicker, and finance that next film. Can't hurt if distributors are willing.

~~ J.B.

When Martha agrees to babysit Rose's little daughter because of that date, Martha doesn't suspect it's with Kyle... until he shows up at the door. Martha's sense of confusion over the young woman now elevates itself to jealousy and betrayal. She babysits, managing to hide the extent of her disturbance until the couple returns, Kyle leaves, Rose's loser boyfriend Jake (Kyle Smith) shows up and accuses her of stealing his money (which, by this time, we're ready to believe), and leaves Rose alone again with Martha.

When, the next day, Rose is found dead, we begin to get the idea that Soderbergh's theme is to upset the assumptions one makes about apparently predictable situations. Banality doesn't rule out harmful behavior and we've been lulled into thinking it does. Detective Don enters the drama, played by pitch perfect Decker Moody, an actual police detective for the Parkersburg PD. He contributes his methodical style to the murder investigation as he begins it with an interview of suspect #1.

For this first of a series of six films Steven Soderbergh is directing for HDNet films, he puts together a cast comprised of local residents in the border area of Ohio and West Virgina where the film was shot. Debbie Doebereiner is the general manager of the Kentucky Fried Chicken where she's worked for 24 years; Dustin Ashley is studying to be a computer technician; and Misty Dawn Wilkins has a fiance, four children, and is a stylist in a West Virginia Salon. While the general tone suggests a permissive hand at the helm (and behind the camera), the subtlety of the story is guided and focused. The first-time performance quality creates a naturalistic style that's pure in its shallowness and a clever dramatic diversion.

Robert Pollard, formerly of the rock band Guided By Voices, contributes to the mounting tensions with spirited if sketchy solo guitar segue pieces, and two new songs. Some praise goes to Coleman Hough's script for masking psychopathic danger behind the consistency of dullness. The thing that bursts this bubble, in the end, proves to be a stinger.

How is this marketing experiment turning out? As of February 13, 2006, (10 days of release) Weekly Variety reports $127,888 from theatres. The reports of DVD sales has, so far, been withheld by Magnolia Homevid--not a sign that the company's revenue estimates have been met. Company shipments of 100,000 DVD copies as claimed in their statements are also not confirmed or corroborated.

~~ J.B.

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 ~~  Jules Brenner  


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