Compliance Review

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Based on true events, Compliance tells the unsettling account of how far some people may go to obey an apparent authority figure. On a busy day in an average fast food joint, manager Sandra receives a phone call from a police officer accusing a young female employee of stealing money from a customer. Convinced she is duly following procedure Sandra commences with the step-by-step investigation on behalf of the caller no matter how invasive it becomes.

The characters in Compliance walk a blurry line between victim and perpetrator. Director Craig Zobel wisely refrains from brashly transforming his characters into knee jerk parodies or monsters. He rightfully induces a level of ugly and tense discomfort that warrants a fair amount of seat squirming or awkward laughter, but manages to achieve this without getting schlocky, instead simply utilizing the story’s biggest shock tactic, that of staggering blinkered obedience. It’s refreshing to have mere human flaws provide the real horror. Zobel subtly captures why fast-food chains were the prime target of the twisted hoaxer. The hierarchy in the service industry (particularly in the U.S mould) is drowned in petty rules alongside frustrated rank and file. Add to that minimal wages and the rigid environment inbreeds an unquestioning adherence to the powers that be. Emphasising a setting where monotone consistency is encouraged and individual instinct is frowned upon for risk of disruption leads to the situation being all the more plausible.

Ann Dowd gives a bittersweet and measured performance as the restaurant manager Sandra, who is front line of the hoaxer’s coercion, she by no means begs for empathy but is tactile enough to avoid being too demonised. Dreama Walker similarly plays Becky the victim of the bizarre crimes well, as an initially confident teen that is rendered despondent over the course of the film, maintaining the quick fear of immaturity in the face of well spoken authority. The handling of every character isn’t quite flawless, there are a couple of shakier portrayals that run a little on the weaker side but I suspect these hiccups lay within the tricky adaptation process. For the majority though the film is well-handled, avoiding cheap hysteria or explicitness makes the reality of the events further deplorable and dare I say relatable. These people were not psychologically strong-armed so much as manipulated through fear and flattery, causing an eerily assumed politeness that is perfectly illustrated come Sandra’s final scene. The phantom cop is charismatically played by the ever wonderful Pat Healy and used in a restrained fashion that is beneficial, keeping him suitably shrouded largely as a voice on the other end of the phone and interspersed with real-time domestic appearances that present an approachable balance between the enigmatic power he wields and the perverse prankster with too much time on his hands that he ultimately is. As an audience we get all that we need from him, everything that unfolds does of course present larger questions about why and how he managed to commit these long distance abuses but as in real life we rarely have coherent answers to these questions conveniently delivered to us.

Any voyeuristic moments are dutifully sterile and completely within context, providing a sense that had this film been in the hands of another young director they’d have possibly capitalised more on the leering scenes, dragging them out beyond the point of impact and probing past the realms of taste. It’s a frank relief that an upstart horror film maker with something to prove never laid his sticky hands on the premise. Whilst skilfully constructed and statically riveting, Compliance is easier to conclude as bleakly intriguing rather than darkly entertaining and it is perhaps advisable to approach it as such. The film is an admirable undertaking and although half of the tension is achieved by it being based on actual events that wouldn’t have been an easy thing to insure and overall it skews a fall into exploitation. A distinct lack of sensationalism or moralising nicely shows the thought behind the scenes that make it a recommendation for anyone wanting to leave a film reflective, perplexed and kind of needing a shower.

(March 2013)

http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2013/03/21/an-unsettling-account-compliance-review/

No Review

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With No Rather than labouring the potential dramatic political thriller approach, which had it been a Hollywood product it certainly would have, director Pablo Larraín chooses to take a smart and frankly refreshingly route handling bleak true life events in a slyly humorous and breezier manner. In 1988 infamous dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to seal his permanence in power, leaders of the opposition persuade a slick young advertising executive to head their ‘No’ campaign. Under the firm scrutiny of the despot’s watchmen, the ‘No’ team conceive a bold plan to win the election and help free Chile from oppression.

Visually No convincingly utilizes its setting and period; the whole film is steeped in a garish eighties haze, smartly weaving in stark archive footage and well done reproduction of the spangled Americanised televisual campaign. The advertising backbone of the narrative is a smart and enlightening thread that manages to intrigue and entertain; it serves as an approachable point of view through which to understand the country’s crisis. Where performances are concerned the majority of the cast come and go rather briskly and merely serve as employees and naysayers to move actions and decisions forward. Gael Garcia Bernal is a fine actor whose hit rate has varied over the last few years thanks to his pretty face often gracing scenes in some unappealing melancholy indies and disappointingly a couple of sickly (and commercially baron) rom-coms,  so it is nice to see him re-gaining some interesting mileage back. As René Saavedra it is arguable that the role isn’t the most intense considering the characters part (albeit a debatably distant one) in bringing down a Chilean dictator but the portrayal is capable and subtly strong. There is a sub-arc surrounding René’s son and his son’s mother that falls rather flat, its a somewhat unwelcome element  due to it feeling like an afterthought and adds little in having us empathise much further with our protagonist. The lack of character exploration doesn’t hinder the interest in the events on screen but it does slightly mar the film with a lack of human investment that renders most of the players beside the point. The biggest example of missed character depth is the most interesting relationship on show; that of René and his mentor and boss (nicely played by Larraín staple Alfredo Castro) who is hired by the opposing ‘Yes’ strategists, this provides the best interactions in the film and harbours a complexity that elevates the tension much needed between the characters rather than just shrouding them with the bigger picture of national issues.

All in all No is a competent and interesting watch with a lot of tactful skill on hand, avoiding falling too dry thanks to Larrain’s already proven originality, with his strong previous films Tony Monero and Post-Mortem. Whilst admirable it’s not quite as solid as you feel it should have been and with its intimate tone serves a little light on individual connection which could have lent a deeper tautness and made it a more memorable experience. Although not game changing No is certainly deserving of praise, acts as a good glimpse into Chilean cinema and as an introduction to a director who is becoming a great poster boy for South American film.

(Feb 2013)

http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2013/02/08/gael-garcia-bernal-says-no-to-general-pinochet-no-review/

Beasts of the Southern Wild Review

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Beasts of the Southern Wild is a determined début from director Behn Zeitlin; Contending with her hot-tempered father and his fading health, melting ice-caps that flood her precious yet fragile bayou community, The Bathtub, and threaten to unleash destructive ancient beasts, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is bursting with expression, telling a streamlined and sincere fable through memorable imagery and performances that feel both commendably organic and skilfully considered. It draws upon an impressive creative confidence regardless of budget and so has a resourceful feel that compliments the narrative, characters and setting perfectly. This outcome and approach is frankly refreshing amid the myriad of bloated retreads and franchises currently weighing down much of the film industry. Although it has several notes of fantasy Beasts remains a performance lead film, in his protagonist director Zeitlin has sprung a mini-tour-de-force upon the screen with Quvenzhane Wallis as our heroine, Hushpuppy, essentially a 6 year old survivalist with huge burdens to bare. Wallis is simply brilliant, no notes of  John Hughes type cute kiddie in a tight spot, the actress plays her character rightfully strong, restrained and as a young but stark realist. Whether she is drawing her story so she is remembered after she is gone, flexing her ”guns” to a baying group of merry adults or is told she will be ‘King of The Bathtub’  Wallis believes it with tough charm and wholly convinces.

Getting a strong and convincing performance out of a child is no mean feat and Behn Zeitlin displays a deft hand at this. As adorable Wallis is, and she is to the tenth power, her hard headed idealism as Hushpuppy makes you admire her. She is ably supported by a passionate Dwight Henry as her temperamental but loving father Wink; in fact although the film rests so much on Wallis’ small but sturdy shoulders the scant supporting cast as a whole make scenes lively and empathetic with a reassuring warmth. With it’s themes the film evokes some other films in tone; notably The Neverending Story and Spirited Away, albeit with a less fairy tale aesthetic. The understanding for the natural world order also channels the Studio Ghibli ethos, as well as several of the anime studio’s efforts in marrying  mythology with a perilous coming of age tale. Beasts of the Southern Wild is vibrant and immersive with detail that elevates the power of it’s scenes, with aptly intimate hand held camera work, wonderfully textured set design and a beautiful soundtrack alongside a respect for natural sound and thoughtful silence. Audibly with well placed narration from Hushpuppy the film is reflective and moving without ever broaching saccharine.

The one flaw here is beyond the screen, the 12A rating is a genuine shame, as young children in the UK will be less able to view this wonderfully imaginative film, especially since there really isn’t anything in the film that has the power to corrupt or cause nightmares.

Putting aside the film’s inevitable wooing of art-house audiences, Beasts of the Southern Wild is best taken for what it is, a strong and imaginative experience that is heartfelt in it’s simplicity, often funny and unique and featuring a riveting central performance with just the right amount of edge. At once angry and romantic, sad and triumphant, I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing more from both director and its young lead.

(Oct 2012)

A Simple Life Review

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A Simple Life, directed by veteran Hong Kong film maker Anna Hui, centers on the tender relationship between an ageing maid Ah To (Deannie Ip) and her employer Roger (Andy Lau). After decades of dedicated service to Roger’s family Ah To suffers a stroke and chooses to reside in a nursing home, but as time passes her health fades and Rogers slowly turns from lone bachelor to devoted carer.

A Simple Life is an ornate experience that is thoroughly rewarding and the myriad of praise and accolades it has so far received are much deserved on all counts. Easy on the eye and almost meditive in its cinematography, aside a lovingly subtle score there is much delicate skill on display, but it is the performances of real life God mother and son that really shine. The well respected actors, Lau and Ip, have an organic and dignified chemistry that is likely aided by their off screen connection, but I would wager that this relationship wouldn’t always guarantee such seamless performances from other pairings. Andy Lau’s chicness is still quietly apparent but in this instance utilized affectively, Hui appropriately steering the actor’s most notable traits to convey the subtlety aloof level Roger initially operates on, this serves to give further unspoken gravity to his new found responsibility, Roger’s care is never played with predictable burden or impatience but calmly considerate gratitude and realism. Deannie Ip as Ah To is resilient and loveable, a woman who has committed her life to caring for generations of one family and in essence forsaking much of her chances at a family of her own. Though Instead of her role being cynically approached, as with many Asian domestic dramas; with her employers as cold and unappreciative or even tyrannical, they are nothing but grateful and recognize Ah To’s life long kindness as much as her mild stubbornness will allow. Without the need of monologues, flash backs or forced dramatics the role reversal in the leads relationship is a willing transition on Roger’s part and eventually Ah To’s, this makes their interactions all the more believable and moving.

Whilst never rip roaring hilarious the gentle humour that runs throughout resonates well and is always the right side of sweet. The balance in A Simple Life is struck well also, never shying away from the unnerving fragility of old age or the not particularly uplifting challenges in senior mental and health care, the scenes in the home aren’t without their moments of sadness but they also give way to touching moments of selflessness and amusement. Anna Hui shows an admirably restrained and well-judged direction especially with never resorting to dramatic U-turns or thrown in tension to derive cheap emotional pay offs.

Never feeling overly long with its careful pace, A Simple Life gives you the opportunity to empathize and enjoy a natural and superbly acted relationship without pushing or judging. A truly satisfying film, which puts aside the trappings of hasty modern film and allows the audience to appreciate a loving sincerity between two people. The film is much like the character Ah To herself; in being special, unassuming, kind and sensitively strong.

(July 2012)

http://www.thefilmpilgrim.com/reviews/a-simple-life-review/9123