Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Film Review: "Compliance" (2012).

"How far would you go?" This is the question in Compliance. This thriller film written and directed by Craig Zobel, and based upon the strip search phone call scam. Inspired by true events, the film tells the chilling story of just how far one might go to obey a figure of authority. On a particularly busy day at a suburban Ohio fast food joint, high-strung manager Sandra receives a phone call from a police officer saying that an employee, a pretty young blonde named Becky, has stolen money from a customer. Convinced she’s only doing what’s right, Sandra commences the investigation, following step-by-step instructions from the officer at the other end of the line, no matter how invasive they become.

In early 2004, a call was made to a McDonald's in Mount Washington, Kentucky; In the real life incident, the girl's name was Louise Ogborn and she worked at McDonald's. Her assistant manager's name was Donna Summers, and the caller on the other line was 'Officer Scott' and the call had originated from a pay-phone in Panama City, Florida. The card he had used was an AT&T phone card that he had bought at Wal-Mart. The only person who did prison time in the real case was Walter Nix Jr., boyfriend of restaurant manager Donna Summers. Summers was given probation. The caller David Stewart was believed by cops to be thirty-eight-year-old prison warder Stewart. Who is thought to have tricked managers of more than seventy fast food outlets in thirty-one US states into strip-searching, humiliating and sexually abusing customers and staff. Stewart, was found not guilty due to insufficient evidence. 

The film stars Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, and Bill Camp. We should give the cast well-deserved praise for taking on roles so unusual for them and so different than anything they've done.

Compliance is a film that really takes its time, but does a masterful job of showing how this scam didn't just destroy the lives of the victims, but how it became a burden to almost everyone involved. It's a story about the elusive nature of evil in a world that thinks justice will eventually come to our rescue. Among a plethora of skillful thrillers about repeat offenders in the realm of scams and frauds, Zobel's wonderful film has easily become the benchmark of the modern era. Beautifully poised, slow and sinister: a trance of expectant menace in which Zobel holds his audience until the film's finale. A complex crime drama that limits its action, opting to save it for the times that bring the greatest impact. So insistent, and successful, is at duplicating real-life hypercomplacency that you may try writing a "k" in two, not three, strokes to see the difference - damning and admiring how this indisputable masterpiece drags you down the rabbit hole. It is a great film that many true crime buffs would love due to the treatment given to the subject, and that many movie fans will admire thanks to Zobel's direction and the performances of its cast.

Simon says Compliance receives:

Friday, 23 November 2012

Film Review: "Skyfall" (2012)

"'Be careful what you wish for, Mr?' 'Bond. James Bond'". The titular character is about to tackle his greatest mission yet in Skyfall. This twenty-third film in the James Bond series, produced by Eon Productions and distributed by MGM and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The film was directed by Sam Mendes. In the film, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

For 50 years, James Bond is one of the most enduring action characters in movie history. Since the first 007 film in 1962, his weakness for women, his brutal and violent capacity and his British sensibility had created one of the most successful if not the most critically praised film series in Hollywood history. The books have sold over one million copies and the films have been seen by over half of the earth's population. Bond's author (Ian Fleming) and his films' creators (Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) had created the ultimate male fantasy. James Bond was first created in the novel Casino Royale on February 17th 1952 in Fleming's house, Golden Eye, in Jamaica. With the intention to write 'the greatest Spy story to end all Spy stories.' But as sat and typed 2000 words every hour away on his golden typewriter, even he could not imagine the phenomenon that he was about to create. But how has Bond lasted for 5 decades? The spy himself has through several incarnations, starting with Sean Connery in the 1960s starring in 5 films. In 1969 after Connery's exit, for one film only, the Australian model George Lanzenby took on the role. After Lazenby's downfall, Roger Moore occupied the role in 7 films during the 70s. The mid 80s saw the continuation of the bond character with its fourth entry, Timothy Dalton. And after two films, in the 90s, the role was then occupied by Pierce Brosnan. Now in the 2000s, the role now belongs to Daniel Craig. Six actors in search of one character. The constant element in the films is the character himself from the novels and first fleshed out by Connery and his director Terrence Young in the first film Dr. No (1962). Then all the way into now Skyfall with Craig and director Mendes. In total the films had gone to gross over $6 million and still counting. For now Bond has been successful as he has ever been. The formula has lasted for 50 years and Bond's legacy is now, and will always be, intact.

Mendes was approached to direct the film after the release of Quantum of Solace in 2008. Development was suspended when MGM encountered financial troubles and did not resume until December 2010; during this time, Mendes remained attached to the project as a consultant. The original screenwriter, Peter Morgan, left the project during the suspension. When production resumed, Logan, Purvis, and Wade continued writing what became the final version of the script. Filming began in November 2011 and primarily took place in the United Kingdom, with smaller portions shot in China and Turkey.

The performances in the film were all brilliant and well casted. The film features Daniel Craig's third performance as James Bond, at the centre, Craig manages to get out of the shadow of the previous Bonds and finally brought his full potential to become the next great Bond. Craig had relaxed into Bond without losing any steeliness. I also should praise Daniel Craig for refusing to let Javier Bardem steal the show by matching Bardem's performance. Craig's brilliance is that, just by looking at him, we see the deep scars of hurt beneath his icy blue eyes, even before a slightly weird finale takes Bond into uncharted childhood 'back-story' territory and it all goes a bit Nolan-era Batman. Daniel Craig would usurp Sean Connery in defining the role of James Bond. Javier Bardem played Raoul Silva, the film's antagonist. I also have to praise Bardem's performance as the most authentically Bondian villain in decades. Dame Judi Dench, who played M took on the role as always with a brilliant, sardonic and tough nature. Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, whom I found to be an "interesting" character, delivered a unique punch to the story. Bérénice Lim Marlohe took on the role of the beautiful and enigmatic character, Sévérine. She played the role perfectly and had great chemistry with Craig, however I felt that her role was too small, much smaller than I imagined. Finney's performance as Kincade, the gameskeeper, was warm and rich in gravitas.

Dark, complex and unforgettable, Skyfall succeeds not just as an entertaining spy thriller film, but as a richly thrilling cinematic saga. It is a haunting film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing blockbuster. Like what The Dark Knight (2008) did for the comic-book genre, it redefines the possibilities of the spy thriller genre and the James Bond series. The film goes much deeper than its predecessor, with a deft script that refuses to scrutinize its hero with popular psychology, instead pulling the viewer in with an examination of Bond's psyche. The filmmakers move the film away from the spy thriller cinema and closer to being a genuine work of art, with Mendes' sophisticated direction and the gritty reality of Roger Deakins’ cinematography helping to create a world that has something raw and elemental within this franchise. Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its genre kind. Mendes has delivered the most accomplished, mature and the most technically impressive work to his career. The film is nothing short of brilliant. In the annals of sequels, the film is what The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins (2005) - it's that much better. To conclude, the film is a haunting and visionary piece of cinema. The film displays evident patience and intelligence to the filmmaking all over. It is not just a good genre movie or a good summer movie. It's a great movie, full stop.

Simon says Skyfall receives:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Film Review: "360" (2011).

"Everything comes full circle" in 360. This drama thriller film directed by Fernando Meirelles, adapted by Peter Morgan, and loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde. A dramatic thriller that weaves together the stories of an array of people from disparate social backgrounds through their intersecting relationships. The film combines a modern and dynamic roundelay of stories into one, linking characters from different cities and countries in a vivid, suspenseful and deeply moving tale of love in the twenty-first century. Starting in Vienna, this movie beautifully weaves through Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio de Janeiro, Denver, and Phoenix into a single, mesmerizing narrative.

The film stars Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Yes, the cast is certainly seductive with Nobel intentions and some lovely performances. But too bad the director keeps getting in their way, and the direction often beguiling. Yet ultimately we're left with a distinct sense of abandonment, of a story insufficiently told.

The result feels schizophrenic. An offensively condescending tourist's eye. The pornography of global damage and suffering for the popcorn munching voyeuristic entertainment of more economically cozy moviegoers. While Schnitzler's narrative returns an unequivocal guilty verdict on sexual morality and class ideology, the jury on Meirelles's storytelling abilities remains hung. I don't remember being thrilled even once. A lot of righteous finger wagging along the way but many punches are pulled. More stylistic bark than substantive bite. The philosophical ambitions of Schnitzler and Meirelles are quite insistent, but the story feels like a story, not like the truth-it's both far-fetched and predictable. If Meirelles' style were any murkier, audiences would have to bring flashlights and a shovel. Not only preserves the book's flaws but has added to them. The combination of drama and soap box proves an uneasy, and ultimately unsuccessful, one. The film is engaging, still it never connects with much more than a curiosity. The emotions run, but not deep. Ultimately, it offers reassurance that the rat-infested system doesn't need to be smashed, only cleansed. As its taciturn title might suggest, the film could have used a major injection of forcefulness. It's interesting and absorbing enough that I can't call it a failure, but it doesn't cohere enough to qualify as a success. If the personal story works better, though, it's partly to default: As a political thriller, the film has a few holes. The film doesn't self-destruct, implode or fall to pieces the way other movies do when they end badly. It just loses its form and drifts away. If it sends audiences home to log on to the Amnesty International website, terrific - but that still doesn't make it a very good movie. It is more like walking past a series of paintings than watching a film. You can admire the skill that went into work, but it never carries you along. The outcome seems rushed and predestined, rather than exposed. The personal and the global are at frustrating odds.

Simon says 360 receives:

Film Review: "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel" (2011).

A look at the life and work of the influential fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar. This is Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. This documentary film written and directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt & Frédéric Tcheng. One of the leading figures in fashion for decades, Diana Vreeland's life is presented from her beginnings in Paris, to her work as a columnist and magazine editor, and to her role as a curator of a fashion museum.

Born on September 29, 1903 in Paris, France, Vreeland would go on to become a noted fashion columnist and editor for world renowned fashion magazines, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, being the editor-in-chief of the latter, and as a special consultant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1964, she was named on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.

The film is a wonderful reflection on the legacy of an individual who has lived an exceptional life. Behind the icon was a woman who has lived life to the fullest, and serves as an inspiration to everyone who watches the film. This is not a film about big people or grand issues. It is delicately, oddly, insistently trivial. Much of the fun is getting a behind-the-scenes look at how the fashion icon constructs an outfit. And then, maybe, following er lead. That necklace that was too big, too bright, too gaudy may seem just right. Especially if you add another. Full of humour and warmth, the film is a delight, and sure to pique your interest in more audacious outfits. The beautiful thing about the film is that even though there are pearls of wisdom, tender moments, heartfelt truths and sharp criticisms throughout, the film never loses focus of what is at the heart of Iris' work and life. So much more than meets Diana's looks: looking at self-determination, relentless individuality, devil-may-care creativity, romance, fame and mortality all peppered throughout with delicious humor. The film is an especially realistic portrait of human life even by the standards of an inherently realistic genre. There is, for all the frivolity of her business, a gravitas and magnetism about Diana Vreeland: she's smart and funny and sassy enough for the viewer to see past a life of privilege and walk-in wardrobes. The film offers an entertaining view into the artistic process, encroaching mortality, and societal trends. Although mostly a loose and unchallenging portrait, the film is of value to the documentary field if only for taking a stand, however casual, against drabness. The film drums home its agreeable themes - never be afraid to express yourself and never stop having fun. It's nice to be reminded of this by someone with more than six decades of experience. Even if the film doesn't get far beneath surface of its subject, it is still a pleasant, if slight, depiction of a human curio. As a snapshot of an exceptional woman, Iris is an uplifting and entertaining film; it lifts our spirits with the fuel of hers.

Simon says Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel receives:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Film Review: "Sinister" (2012).

"Once you see him, nothing can save you." This is Sinister. This supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson, and written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. The film follows true-crime writer, Ellison Oswald, who is in a slump; he hasn't had a best seller in more than 10 years and is becoming increasingly desperate for a hit. So, when he discovers the existence of a snuff film showing the deaths of a family, he vows to solve the mystery. He moves his own family into the victims' home and gets to work. However, when old film footage and other clues hint at the presence of a supernatural force, Ellison learns that living in the house may be fatal.

Cargill says that his inspiration came from a nightmare he experienced after seeing The Ring (2002), in which he discovered a film in his attic depicting the hanging of an entire family. In creating a villain for the film, Cargill conceptualized a new take on the Bogeyman, calling the entity "Mr. Boogie". Cargill's idea was that the creature would be both terrifying and seductive to children, luring them to their dooms as a sinister Willy Wonka-like figure. Cargill and co-writer Scott Derrickson ultimately decided to downplay the creature's alluring nature, only intimating how it manipulates the children into murder. In further developing Mr. Boogie, the pair had lengthy discussions about its nature, deciding not to make it a demon but rather a pagan deity, in order to place it outside the conceptual scope of any one particular religion. Consequently, the villain was given the proper name "Bughuul", with only the child characters in the film referring to it as Mr. Boogie. By late September 2011, Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Thompson, and Vincent D'Onofrio were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late October. Filming took place in Long Island, New York; and Los Angeles, California. The super 8 segments were shot first, using actual super 8 cameras and film stock, in order to maintain the aesthetic authenticity of home-shot super 8 footage.

The film stars Hawke, Rylance, Ransone, Thompson, and D'Onofrio. Impassioned performances were given by the cast, especially Hawke. Hawke projects intelligence, determination and resourcefulness that carry the movie nicely. Though by the second half of the film, Hawke and D'Onofrio were utterly wasted perhaps because the script didn't bother to give them both character arcs.

Aside from a shaky final act, Sinister is a very scary and very fun supernatural thrill ride. It depends on characters, atmosphere, sneaky happenings and mounting dread. This one is not terrifically good, but moviegoers will get what they're expecting. The strongest analogue for the second half of the film is one that the filmmakers probably weren’t trying for: it feels like a less poetic version of a James Wan fairy tale. If there's a complaint to be made about the film, it's that the film's second half is unable to live up to the impossibly high standards set by the first half.

Simon says Sinister receives:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Film Review: "End of Watch" (2012).

"They were the city's top guns, until one discovery made them the cartel's most wanted." This is End of Watch. This action thriller film written and directed by David Ayer. Longtime LAPD partners and friends, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala patrol one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Though they may bend the rules, their honor and dedication to the job are unquestioned. Taylor and Zavala always have each other's back, even if Taylor's surreptitious filming of their daily activities for a college course is a bit ill-advised. All hell breaks loose for the officers when they run afoul of a vicious Mexican cartel.

Ayer grew up in South Central Los Angeles and has had numerous friends in the LAPD. He had written several films previously about police officers in Los Angeles, but while these depicted rogue and corrupt officers, he wanted to feature honest, ethical police work in End of Watch. In contrast to his previous works, Ayer wanted to focus on the friendship between Taylor and Zavala. In December 2010, Ayer wrote the screenplay over six days. Jaime FitzSimons, a longtime friend of Ayer and a former police officer with the LAPD, served as the film's technical advisor, and his experiences from working in Los Angeles inspired several plot points of the film. Jake Gyllenhaal was the first to be cast in the film; after receiving the script, he read it in an hour and immediately accepted. Michael Peña was cast shortly after, following a string of auditions. By August 2011, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, David Harbour, and Shondrella Avery rounded out the film's cast. Gyllenhaal and Peña did not bond immediately but gradually became close friends over the process of training and filming. Gyllenhaal and Peña undertook five months of intensive training under the guidance of FitzSimons to prepare for their roles. Tactical training was also given to Harbour, Ferrera, Horn, and Grillo. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place over twenty-two days throughout South Central Los Angeles. The film was shot in a combination of found footage style and traditional photography. Most scenes were captured by four cameras simultaneously: six of these included a handheld camera operated by Gyllenhaal, cameras clipped to Gyllenhaal and Peña's vests, and dashboard footage from their patrol car. Some scenes were shot entirely by Gyllenhaal.

The film stars Gyllenhaal, Peña, Kendrick, Martinez, Grillo, Ferrera, Horn, Harbour, and Avery. The cast gave amazing performances, with Gyllenhaal and Peña truly made you believe in these down-to-earth yet over-the-top characters. However, as a character study, the film somewhat lacked characterization, and it's a bit predictable to be an effective cautionary tale.

A crazy little film, modest in its scope but grand in its ambition. It paints it's story in loud primary colors, with intense pressure cooker characterizations. A film that seems gritty and pointless for its first third, begins to grow in meaning as the pointlessness snowballs into absurdity and then tragedy.

Simon says End of Watch receives: