Saturday 27 July 2013

Review: Compliance

Year: 2013
Director: Craig Zobel
Screenplay: Craig Zobel
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy

Synopsis is here

I’m not surprised that there was a certain amount of anger was aimed at Craig Zobel’s feature; Compliance. Although inspired by true events, the film almost asks you to take a massive leap of faith. I’m sure when many watch the events that took place, many couldn't, nay wouldn't, believe that something similar had taken place in real life. And yet a quick Google of the name Lynndie England would take you to sites talking about the Abu Ghraib torture pictures.

The pictures show England, posing and mocking naked Iraqi prisoners. Her response as to why she posed in those pictures was that she was taking orders from people in higher ranks (she was also in a relationship with one of the officers). Stating that she felt odd posing like she did, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. Compliance plays on the idea that under authority, with the right pressure and stress applied, responsibility diminishes. It’s at that point when bad things happen.

But the film is still incredible hard to take in, but constantly thought provoking. I’m sure there are tons of message boards full of comments from smarter folk who would never do anything like what transpires within the films plot. But then again despite intelligence, one can still be recruited into a cult.

Zobel’s film gets the environment just right. From the very start restaurant manager; Sandra (Ann Dowd), is already under a certain strain. A confrontation with a supplier sets up the day awkwardly and Sandra, a well meaning but unpolished woman is already at odds with the playground politics that take place in retail places such as this ChichWich restaurant. A conversation between relationships neatly shows the differences and conflict between Sandra and Becky (Dreama Walker), the teenage girl who becomes the main victim in the situation.

But everyone becomes victim in a prank which quickly takes advantage of authoritative powers. Zobel’s film may anger people, because it shows how easily and engrained some of our human behaviours are. A female manager hears over the phone; a firm yet relatively friendly male voice proclaiming to be a police officer and quickly she lends responsibility over to the voice. While the conversation continues out back, the restaurant gets busier.  It’s a Friday and places such as this are always busy

The caller at first is vague about the details of his call. Allegedly there’s a theft and someone out front is culpable. But as the conversations wear on, the caller (a despicable Pat Healy) is able to influence the situation further due to fudged facts and background knowledge. The conversations at times feel much like recent bank card scams that have come into play recently.

Zobel’s script cleverly picks up on those small details that we so easily forget, but help the caller gain such an advantage. Healy’s caller character effectively uses cold reading to make it appear that he knows more than he actually does.  The film also uses its surroundings to its advantage. Much like the occurrences the film is based on, the cinematography gives us an on point description of small town U.S.A., a place with less “excitement” and ultimately, less reason to be suspicious of authoritative orders. As the film continues, we see less of anything else. Just faces in concerned close up, with little to console them except that voice on the other line.

Compliance is well performed and neatly observed and a great film to watch to perhaps provide a few moments of water cooler/after dinner chat. I do doubt however that many will feel the need to watch more than once. Most will argue they wouldn't be taken as such a fool and many may not. But Zobel’s film understands the smaller details that make events like this happen.  Nobody believes that they can be made the victim. If that was truly the case films like Compliance would not exist.

Review: The Wolverine

Year: 2013
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Svetlana Khodchenkova

Synopsis is here

We all have our biases, and for me, a Wolverine film with James Mangold was going to be a negative one. Speak to more open minded bloggers and critics and of course the idea of biases is a secret shame that is often shunned. “We must be open to all things!” Some may scream.

We’re not. Our personal afflictions affect us greatly and the idea of the director of the horrible faux fizzy, Charade wannabe; Knight and Day, helming a Wolverine sequel that was to effectively erase the risible “origins” film out of people’s minds was not on my list of things I can’t wait to see at the cinema. Mangold has had a decent past with the likes of Copland, Girl Interrupted and Walk the Line. However the elements that were making up this feature just didn't seem to meld in my head.

But what do you know (more what do I know), The Wolverine manages to be a pretty effective waste of time. I mean that as a terms of endearment. I had more knock around fun with this than some of the “bigger” blockbusters of the year. I think the reasons are simple. The Wolverine doesn’t seem to be invoking any sort of terrorism, or end of the world foolishness. It’s almost as if the film realised the fatigue that has come with the pummelling all these major cities have taken. The Wolverine has its focus on its people (well mutants) and the all the better for it.

Mangold was quick to spout of a very particular list of films that influenced the film, ranging from the likes of Wong Kai Wai’s Chungking Express to Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds. Mangold’s choices are interesting to say the least, as while the film doesn’t particularly feel like any of the films he mentions, the first two acts of the film didn’t seem to fall into the same typical categories of similar fare. There an interesting use of framing and space, the action that takes place has weight to it (I was a massive fan of the bullet train sequence) and Jackman clearly looks like he’s having more fun than he did previously. It helps that his supporting cast are a bevy of attractive ladies. Both Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto are fashion models rather than actors. But neither embarrass themselves in terms of performance. The chemistry that both women have with Jackman is palatable.

Yet it’s that dastardly third act, which looks to hamper things as the film moves from formidable jaunt to scattershot clusterfuck. Character motivations fly quickly out the window as the film decides to lend itself to typical reveals for reasons that don’t seem to matter anymore. A shame, as there’s more than enough to make this worthwhile. A screenplay tidy up and a better villain (Svetlana Khodchenkova is hammy and out of step with the tone of the film) would have had The Wolverine as a more solid recommendation. It now gets merely a light tip of the hat for convincing my bias that it can easily be mistaken.