Monthly Archives: April 2013


Compliance film posterSynopsis

Set in a fast food restaurant named “Chickwitch”.  Sandra (Ann Dowd) is the boss.  Hundreds of dollars worth of bacon have been spoiled so she puts it right by nagging her subordinates.  Employee Becky (Dreama Walker) has a boyfriend.  Sandra receives a phone call from someone calling himself Officer Daniels who tells her there is a thief among the staff.  Sandra targets Becky and she is compliant with Daniel’s demand to isolate Becky and then subject her to increasingly humiliating treatment.  Daniels is actually an evil hoaxer…


This is a truly scary and original film about humanity’s terrifying gullibility when faced with dictatorial behaviour.  In her eagerness to do right by the law, it never occurs to Sandra to question the initially implausible, and later downright sick, demands of the phone caller.  The police station is only half a mile away yet she doesn’t wonder how it takes so long for the caller to arrive.  Becky must take off her clothes and submit to this caller’s demands in a film which looks like a very dark Twilight Zone episode.  Whatever one’s view on the Milgram Experiment (a 1961 laboratory situation in which students administered what they thought were increasing doses of electric shocks to victims, doing this out of cowed obedience, in reality the “victims’ simulated pain”), Compliance illustrates it as it glares at our readiness to succumb to unsupported assertion and arrogant control.  Compliance‘s characters are like lab rats in their self serving propensity to act on slanderous rumour.  We’ve seen too many examples in recent history to doubt this as such manipulative evil can flourish in our readiness to submit to outrageous claims to authority.

Compliance has chosen a fast food diner, with its overworked staff serving disgusting fried food (I wouldn’t give burgers to a dog, never mind a human being).  Sandra’s fiancée (played by Bill Camp) also complies with the demands of the fake police officer  The prankster knows when to use the right doses of flattery and threat.  Compliance bleakly portrays Sandra as no different from most petty authority figures in such workplaces, she is submissive to hierarchy, and bullying to those she has authority over, her slave mentality makes her perfect compliance material.  Compliance is a Haneke parable about our primitive malleability when it serves our imagined petty advantage e.g. in approval seeking.  Upon being questioned at the end of the film, Sandra claims victim status and squirms with self justification when shown filmed evidence of her compliance, and tries to change the subject with a banal observation.  This film is based on a real incident.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Arbitrage film posterSynopsis

Stars Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a multimillionaire who is involved in a four hundred million dollar scam over the non deliverance of a deal on Russian copper.  He is married to Susan Sarandon as Ellen, his daughter Brooke (played by Brit Marling) works as his business partner.  Gere has a mistress, Julie, and he accidentally kills her and walks away. The detective is played by Tim Roth and he tries to nail Gere for the death of his mistress but Gere can cover his tracks.  Will he be found out by his wife and detective? What will his conscience do, and will there be justice?.


The writer has had experience in the financial world.  It’s been criticised for its implausibilities with regard to finance but I don’t think that’s important here.  It’s a tense and thrilling film with a touch of film noir.  Gere is attractive even in his 60s (which can’t make him over popular) but I find him quite an accomplished actor.  He doesn’t have to display turbulent emotions, they break through the smarmy surface so you know he’s done a good job of hiding them.  He plays roles in which other actors would feel they have to look tortured, Gere lets the panic out in dangerous outbursts.  His suave appearance gives him that awful sense of entitlement that stokes up the drama.  Sometimes we will him to get caught out, and sometimes we want to see how he gets away with it, as he makes unlikeable people occasionally sympathetic.  In Pretty Woman he played a terrible role as a smug manipulator and would-be saviour of a prostitute.  Here his character leads a life of deception but then we learn that the detective is prepared to bend rules to get him, and that his wife (Susan Sarandon) at the end is prepared to blackmail him to keep funding her charities.  He is prepared to use someone else to cover for him but gives him a big pay off so that no-one comes out of this cleanly.  Gripping.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Film Reviews


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I Give it a Year

I Give it a Year film posterSynopsis

These are Minnie Driver’s words as she wonders how long the marriage between Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) will last.  Stephen Merchant is the best man at their wedding and makes embarrassing jokes at the wedding reception.  It’s about their marriage.  Nat works in a slick company, Josh is an aspiring writer who is interested in Chloe (Anna Faris), and Nat is interested in her American colleague Guy. Will the marriage survive?  They wonder about this as they visit a marriage guidance counsellor.  Minnie Driver plays the counsellor who’s own marriage seems to thrive on the contempt she has for her husband.  There are awful dinner parties and Christmas games, how will it end?


The comedy in this is often laboriously facetious and snide.  The couple appear to bear out Minnie Driver’s cynical dismissal of their marriage prospects.  Each bickers over the other’s mannerisms as the romance seems to be draining quickly out of their marriage.  There is rare hilarity when they visit a marriage guidance counsellor who is a paragon of irony, she manifestly cannot ensure her own domestic happiness as she interrupts her session to argue with her husband.  Stephen Merchant performs his usual one trick as the quick talking jerk whose supposed self deprecation snags into disparagement of others disguised as jokey adolescent “”blokey-ness”.  The toe nail curling scene at the wedding reception is well done but it all buttresses middle class self regard just as This is 40 does.  People hector each other thinking they’re so cool they can wallow in self deprecation.  Stephen Merchant’s performance is like one of those stand up comedians who talk fast enough to stop audience member hecklers from spoiling their jokes and by doing this betray a hectic insecurity.  Minnie Driver’s hilarious contempt for her husband is meant, in it’s unflattering cruelty, to be symptomatic of honest love.  In the end I Give it a Year succumbs to the same cosy sentimentality that this self regard is prone to.  It’s essentially a Richard Curtis rom-com with blunt speaking.  There are tearful unions and re-unions.  As we have seen in many romantic films (since Breakfast at Tiffany’s) the characters get soaked in the rain  and join up in tearful reunions just like in Four Weddings and a “Funeral. The general disparagement only serves to reinforce the film’s endorsement of conventional endings.  This film should go in the refuse bin.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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This is 40

This is 40 film posterSynopsis

Starring Paul Rudd as the husband, Pete, and Leslie Mann as his wife, Debbie.  It’s a story of a married couple facing up to being 40.  He runs a record company and likes Graham Parsons’ music, she is a business woman and frets about age.  They both get on each other’s nerves, their adolescent daughter is also very difficult.  Debbie’s father Oliver is played by John Lithgow, he is a surgeon and rather distant.  Pete’s father Larry is played by Albert Brooks and he is clumsily friendly.  They have parties and arguments and might learn to love each other.


Sometimes the humour in this film gets a bit lavatorial, but mercifully never descends to Adam Sandler’s depths.  There is a lot of nastiness, as when Debbie picks on a nerdy boy whose mother threatens comical violence against the couple for being bad parents.  There are self righteous shouting matches.  People on the verge of middle age are supposed to find all this relevant to their lives and quite hilarious but I was put off by the smug self regard of these people.  The record company is failing and they are going to have to surrender their suffocating affluence (diddums).  Debbie objects to Pete giving money to his father, she is avaricious and hysterical.  They have a touching  regard for status and money, their anxiety about loving it is supposed to ratchet the tension through all this forced humour.

Demonstrations of everyday educated middle class observational acuteness are dutifully paraded: references to bodily functions, existential anxieties, sexual insecurities.  We also get the well tested formulae of comedy situations relying on obsessional glitches and personal weaknesses as if acknowledgement of these is supposed to reinforce the rather routine wit.  We know in the end that love will triumph over the tantrums and quirky self regard.  It’s as if films like this are trying to outdo the oddities in Little Miss Sunshine.  Debbie owns a boutique and thinks the flirty young employee is stealing from the company but it turns out to be the awkward geeky girl who, when confronted with the accusation, takes refuge in a weirdly senseless vocal performance.  This is a disposable light weight film.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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