Posts Tagged ‘drama’

11167541_detThis year has culminated in a series of fascinating historical and political dramas that shows the different sides of war and intelligence.  Each has brought a different facet, style and tone to each of their proceedings and interestingly, we end with the most modern historical tale of all – the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with Zero Dark Thirty.  The question becomes where this film will stand amongst the heavy proceedings of all the others.  The answer, luckily, is that Zero Dark Thirty is a meticulous and well-thought out film that is not only a great historical mystery thriller but thoughtful in it’s themes of the costs of modern warfare and solitary confinement, even with some emotional holes.

Zero Dark Thirty follows the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. What ensues is a decade long search with the film mainly focusing on one task group based in Pakistan.  Several members of this group are introduced including Dan (Jason Clarke) and Joseph (Kyle Chandler) who are capturing suspected members and using various psychological and torture tactics to try and get more information before more attacks happen.  Soon, Maya (Jessica Chastain) is added to the team, for her extensive knowledge and relentless attitude.  The chase will take Maya and the rest of the team around the Middle East until the final debate on Bin Laden’s final location.

The weakest sections of Zero Dark Thirty deal with character complexity and emotional depth along with some glossed over narrative elements.  The film is definitely heavy with lots of names, locations and proceedings.  However, because of the depth of the narrative, the characters are mostly not given much room to grow for the most part and are fairly simplistic.  Unfortunately, some of these simpler characterizations also lead to moments within the story that feel not genuine or emotionally weaker.  Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) is one good example of this problem and her character arc.  This situation bleeds a bit into some of the lack of depth in terms of the logic of how these situations proceed.  Because of the high nature importance of the mission, seeing how these politics go through sometimes seem a bit too amplified to be logical such as an argument with Maya versus her superiors.  Again, much of this seems due to the amount of plot material the film has to get through but are still apparent points to make.  Some of the music as well seems inconsistent – although some of the more Middle Eastern soundtracks are intriguing to see, when it changes to a more Western, traditional orchestra, the transition seems a bit too jarring and out-of-place.

However, these problems definitely do not outweigh the terrific pace and thoughtfulness put into creating a complex but comprehensible and exciting narrative arc.  The film is definitely very dense, as previously mentioned, with lots of names and movement, yet it is presented in a fashion in which audience members will remember and understand each step of the proceeding without feeling bored or overwhelmed. It’s a well-paced script that feeds information out without dumbing down the proceedings too much.  This narrative is also given some depth as well in terms of presenting a fairly unfiltered view of interrogation techniques and intelligence gathering methods and letting the audience make the ultimate judgement on what is morally right and not.  This thinking is extended onto Maya’s character who benefits the most from the script (at the expense of other characters) who is actually given some interesting characterizations both as a parallel to audience reaction and her own persona growth thanks both again to the script and Chastain herself.  All of this is wrapped in a weighty atmosphere that always feels on the cusp of another explosion or suicide bomber and does not shy away from darker moments from both the opposition and the US forces. It becomes a fascinating look at the pros and cons of the intelligence process and more or less, just a great piece of storytelling.

Zero Dark Thirty is an intense dramatic thriller that may be short on emotional depth but intricate and engaging in the rest of it’s package.  Yes, there are some simple characterizations that seemingly ‘dumb down’ some of the plot proceedings and little complexity in terms of the sides that people stand on.  However, this lack of complexity and depth luckily does not apply to the core plot and narrative movement as Bigelow and her team weave an intricate narrative of mysteries, red herrings and politics mixed in the search for Osama Bin Laden.  People may rightly question how many of the details are accurate and what ultimately yielded the final results.  However, as a film, Zero Dark Thirty is not only well-told and well-executed but also a thoughtful piece on the war against terror and the heavy toll it brings.  

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Rated: R
Running Time: 157 Minutes

The Wie muses: **** out of *****


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11166394_detThe historical drama is definitely not an uncommon sight, especially given some rich and great movies surrounding some of these spectacular true events.  One of the interesting debates that come with a movie format though is how to approach the historical figure.  Will the director/writer/crew take on the entire lifespan or a good chunk of timeline or narrow down to a few events?  Lincoln takes on the issue by going the latter route, focusing squarely on the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency.  The decision turns out to be for (mostly) the best as Spielberg and his fairly strong team of actors and crew members really churn out a very historically vivid picture that focuses much on the politics of the situation although the film suffers from the slow pace that emotionally isn’t always consistent.

Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just been re-elected and he has made a choice to try and pass the the constitutional amendment to ban slavery before the Civil War is over, since the Southern States would never accept such a key component of their original plan of secession.  However, the key people in his life are having doubts such as his wife, Mary (Sally Field), Secretary of State Seward (David Strathairn) and his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt).  Also not helping matters is a fired up opposition both in the South and the House and even in his own party such as with one of the leaders of the Radical Republicans, Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and his own cabinet.  Lincoln has to make several crucial decisions before time is too late.

Lincoln’s best strengths come forward within it’s acting troupe and the atmosphere and approach to the subject matter.  As stated previously, Spielberg’s choice of narrowing down the film’s focus to Lincoln’s last few months proves to be to the benefit of the plot.  The plot really can focus on Lincoln’s character and poignant character interactions within this smaller time frame while still elaborating on other important life points in passing conversation.  The film is at it’s best when it allows Lincoln to simply speak to his intended listener and juxtapose the situation with another emotionally charged scene of a different nature.  From a personal storytelling session to his cabinet to a fiery argument with his wife, the film really feels like a play in it’s presentation because of how focused on conversation and expressions the film looks towards.  Additionally, the beautiful lighting and the great look of the set pieces and costumes help sell the setting and place.  Lincoln playing with his younger son with the light shining from the morning light is simply gorgeous and does not feel overly forced.  Finally, there is, of course, the actors themselves.  There are some terrific performances here that are so important because of the focus on the dialogue and emotional output.  The best two come out to be Day-Lewis and surprisingly, Jones.  Jones is a surprise because his character at first appears to be fairly meek and nominal for Jones’ types of characters.  However, it grows to not only be somewhat sarcastic and strong but flawed and moving.  His monologues on the House floor are a highlight.  Day-Lewis, of course, is the star of the show and really embodies Lincoln as not only the president but also as a well-liked but political strategist that plays with his power.  He brings a moral question into his actions and shows the struggles he faces on all sides.  It’s a fascinating performance that is striking and memorable in not only the look and mannerisms but the range of emotions that evokes a much more complicated president that many may be surprised to see.

That is not to say, unfortunately, that the film is not without it’s flaws from it’s pacing to it’s trappings.  Sure, the film is two hours and thirty minutes long.  However, many films are of comparable lengths and do not suffer from the pacing problems found here.  Although ‘Lincoln’ really focuses on these few months of Lincoln’s life, there are scenes that feel both unnecessary or simply too dragged out.  For instance, many scenes with Robert and the President feel strangely out of place as emotionally, Robert’s place feels unnatural and unnecessary for much of the film’s themes and purposes.  Another part that makes the film feel strange is it’s strange emotional changes such as in it’s use of comedy.  Several comedic characters are played to make the scenes regarding lobbying the Democrats more lax and change up the emotional draw of the film.  Unfortunately, these scenes jar heavily with the heavier emotional scenes and it’s heavy usage by the climax feels very unrealistic with the film’s goals.  Other elements as well do not help the film such as, surprisingly, the usually strong Williams’ soundtrack which lacks a memorable melody or strong overtones.

Lincoln is filled to the brim with powerhouse performances and a very focused theme, diluted somewhat by it’s overly methodical pacing and overly lingering plot.  Yes, the film’s pacing is definitely not impeccable as it really slowly scans over the intricacies of Lincoln’s plot in this two month window and some of the side stories feel unnecessary or over-glamorized.  That being said however, there has been lots of care taken with the film’s quality with a beautiful look and an appropriate Spielberg touch to the proceedings that make the film’s time period and actions work to the film’s benefit – all of this bolstered by a very strong actors, especially from Jones and Day-Lewis who both are given ample time to give rousing and well-rounded performances.  More or less, although Lincoln doesn’t perfectly give audiences all of the trials and tribulations of Lincoln’s presidency, the film is a well thought-out piece on the struggle of presidential power and political choice in even the darkest of times.  

Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 150 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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Dramatic comedies have an interesting fine line to follow – make too much light of a situation and the film could fall apart into nothing but inane laughter.  On the other side, a dramatic comedy with little to no laughs brings forth a problem of a subject matter that takes itself too seriously.  The balance is key to creating a well-rounded plot that can be well-appreciated.  Silver Linings Playbook, for the most part, takes that balance well into heart although perhaps sticking too closely to the tried-and-true plot beats.  Nevertheless, the film is so slick in it’s packaging from it’s pacing to it’s characters and it’s messaging that the Silver Linings Playbook ends up as a serious contender for your attention.

Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat (Bradley Cooper), a bipolar young man who has been sent to a mental institution due to an incident with his wife.  After serving his time, he is taken home by his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), to his football-loving father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).  However, Pat still is troubled at times and it is only until he meets his friend’s wife’s sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is also going through her own set of problems, that he finds some solace to help his recovery process.

The weakest parts of the film are that in terms of the film’s structure and general character arcs; there is little that stands out.  The film is very conventional in how it approaches the general plot with few legitimate surprises that come out from just the story.  Although, as explained later, the characters really move the film into more interesting territories, little can be attributed to the directions taken with the story which feel like a very typical romantic comedy.  Much like Russell’s previous film, The Fighter, which was really constrained by it’s very typical underdog fighter plot route, Silver Linings Playbook feels similarly constrained by it’s fairly typical growth arcs that doesn’t pull many punches, even to the end.  Also not helping are the plot devices that appear and although the film does not purport to make them revelatory, the fact that these various ‘devices’ are fairly obvious and unsurprising do not help to make these moments any less protruding.

However, many of these plot problems are much more negligible compared to the success of it’s characters and aesthetic look into mental illnesses and their recovery.  One of the most fascinating sections is the acting and characters.  There are simply some fantastic performances here that are engrossing and full of life from both the obvious set of actors and some surprising turns as well.  Lawrence continues to amaze audiences with another fascinating turn as Tiffany, playing an individual who is depressed and awkward yet full of pizazz and sporadic energy.  Complementing her is an equally fairly bombastic yet emotionally distraught performance from Cooper who gives a very surprising performance as the mentally disturbed Pat.  Together, Pat and Tiffany become absolutely fascinating to watch interact on screen as their two tough personalities collide and complement each other in both energetic and quieter scenes.  Although a bit much at times due to how sporadic these outbursts and energetic squabbles can be, it feels very appropriate given the subject matter and how these individuals’ minds are working on overdrive at nearly all times.  Complementing their performances are some good supporting roles such as De Niro and most of the other cast.  Just as well, the energy from the cinematography and editing define this very crazed state of being as well.  There are lots of cuts throughout the film and scenes fly by quite quickly.  As Pat descends into a state of frenzy, the film equally spirals into a controlled state of unrest with the camera falling all around and the cuts becoming all the faster.  Again, it becomes quite taxing at times to watch simply because so much information is being conveyed, but the way it works itself into the themes and emotions within a scene makes it all the more spellbinding to watch.

Silver Linings Playbook is a film that doesn’t innovate exactly in terms of it’s fairly typical narrative beats but is a delight of a film in nearly every other respect.  True, there is nothing particularly spectacular about some of the film’s obvious plot devices and the nominal and unsurprising plot arch.  However, simply focusing on these points does the overall film discredit as there is a bountiful amount of great praise that can be seen in this film from the spectacular acting showcases of much of it’s cast (especially Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro) to the more than appropriate frenetic pacing and editing to the amount of time it spends on it’s characters and relationships.  Silver Linings is a fairly steady look into mental illnesses that still carries a light heart on it’s sleeve without sacrificing it’s integrity.  It’s a joy of a film to watch that satisfies as both a crowd pleaser and a serious repertoire.  

Director: David O. Russell
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

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Existential films always have a fine line to balance in their pursuit to find the reason for human purpose.  The beautiful aspect about this ‘genre’ of films is that they can fall under any really as they weave and explore different aspects of the human life to find meaning and reason.  Few, however, touch the complexity found in Cloud Atlas, a very daring adaptation of an equally daring fictional book.  Although it’s own ambitions is simply really too enormous to fit into one film unto itself, there is no denying that there is an absolutely fascinating pull to what Cloud Atlas has to say as a containment for film and a fascinating expose of the human life and beyond.

Cloud Atlas follows six storylines among a continuum of time starting from the late 1800s to the far-flung, unknown future.  The stories range from a lawyer who is sick at sea and must deal with a stowaway; a conniving musician who is inspired to finish a grand music piece under the guidance of a great composer; a mystery thriller in which a reporter is trying to uncover the importance of a power plant; an elderly man who must try to figure out a way to repay his debts; a future with a replicant who has a personality; and a far-flung future in which man has returned to the wilderness.  The main actors, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, and Donna Bae, play a variety of roles throughout these storylines.

Cloud Atlas both struggles and thrives on it’s ambitious concept with many of it’s detractors also being it’s core strengths.  This statement seems unfair for any film since it doesn’t offer a definite critique, but because of the nature of Cloud Atlas, there is no simple way to approach a straightforward analysis and review.  For instance, the film’s choice to use it’s main cast of actors (and some side characters as well) in nearly all of the storylines is daring although not always effective.  Some of the character changes are quite dramatic and effective, creating for some fairly fascinating moments of disbelief in an impressive usage of makeup and acting prowess.  Unfortunately, some of these changes are not as effective as certain storylines take place in specific parts of the world which even some of the best makeup cannot change (the future storyline with Somni is most affected). The acting also gets put on full blast because of this decision and once again, the mileage varies.  For the most part, the acting troupe works fairly hard to make their characters work and feel fairly distinguished with special mentions going out to Tom Hanks, in one of his most challenging series of roles, and Ben Whishaw, who delivers some of the film’s most interesting moments. All-in-all, in my opinion, the thematic implications of utilizing this mechanic is understandable and gives the film more weight – playing on the core of the film’s concepts about destiny and karma that could resonate in any person regardless of race, gender, sexuality or more.

Speaking of these themes, Cloud Atlas also will be heavily looked at because of it’s deliberate focus on these existential and philosophical musings and it’s structure.  Unlike the book it’s based off of, the film adaptation feels free to really play with the editing heavily.  This means that the plot really frees itself to go back and forth from storylines with what seems like at first, reckless abandon.  However, the trio of directors try to utilize the film medium to really make comparisons in the storylines much more apparent as well as try to convey the themes a bit more openly.  Timelines are transitioned into one another at times and direct comparisons are made on a frequent basis.  The end result is intriguing to watch unfold although will most likely baffle most audiences.  Much of this is due to how well the stories are explained and fleshed out.  Some of the stories on their own do not seem to hold as much weight or just don’t play out as interesting whether it’s due to the lack of changes or changes made from the original novel or where it is placed on the narrative thread.  Some may also be bothered by the frequent monologues that really try to reiterate the themes as much as possible.  What I believe most people will agree on is that the idea itself is unique to see play out – six stories that have their own unique genres and (mostly) set of characters that are linked more by abstract ideas and concepts, and the mileage on which it is effective may vary on how much an audience member may understand what transpired on film and once again, pays close attention to the thematic qualities of intertwining fates.

The film’s aesthetics, for the most part, are something that is a bit easier to approve of.  The music, in my opinion, is one of the strongest parts of the film.  It gracefully transitions from scene to scene, really embodying each of the six separate storylines with it’s own strong melody while still being able to connect the entire film as well.  The camera work, for the most part, is also a delight to watch with some great action and dramatic set pieces set up to again, repeat that theme of similar historical beats and interconnecting lives.  It’s a beautiful marriage of careful planning and kinetic force.  Finally, the special effects work in itself is not exactly groundbreaking but the overall production still feels polished with little to really nitpick on and conveying the stories’ time periods well.

Cloud Atlas is nothing short of astonishing in many ways.  True, it’s filled with many imperfections, weighed down both by it’s ambition and attempts to wade through the twisted tangled plot threads with too much of a overly preachy thematic set.  However, although many will be bogged down and turned off by these inconsistencies (and it’s long running time), the final product is an absolutely fascinating piece of cinema.  Full of symbolism, meaty themes, rapid tonal shifts and some of the strangest performances and make-up work in any film thus far this year, the film bombards the viewer with it’s fairly kind adaptation of the equally complicated (if not more so) book it’s based off of.  It doesn’t always work or resonate, but there is no denying in my mind that Cloud Atlas stands as a unique piece of art and an existential piece on our lives and trying to comprehend death, love and connections throughout space and time.  I’m glad a film like Cloud Atlas exists to continue to explore the nature of film in absolutely bizarre and engrossing ways.  

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Running Time: 172 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: **** out of *****

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Films can elicit different emotions for various purposes whether it is a dooming bell to a happy farce.  It’s job isn’t just to entertain but to make sure the audience understands the purpose it’s trying to reach and it’s eventual conclusion.  At times, films can be frustrating affairs as the audience tries to peel back it’s layers and grasp what the director was trying to say only to be succumbed back to square one.  This eternal struggle forces an audience member to either give up in frustration or continue the epic back-and-forth mind game of understanding.  And so comes this review of The Master, a film by the always fascinating Paul Anderson and explores cults and it’s followers in detail.  The eventual end product is that same struggle of understanding where the pieces fall in place and why but for better (or for worse), it will take a bit more than a single viewing to fully ascertain all the detail.  In the end, however, the film’s overly long and pretentious methodology fights with some brilliant acting roles and beautiful aesthetic qualities that oddly end up as a fairly good view of the oddities of cults in itself.

The Master follows Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran of World War II who suffers from PTSD.  After his return from the war, his troubles continue to haunt him as he deals with alcoholism and fits of extreme anger.  He tries to acclimate to society in different occupations and roles but continues to find trouble until he hides in a boat and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who created a fervent following based on his own book.  Soon, Freddie meets the family including Lancaster’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), and the small growth of the cult versus society and has to battle his own demons along the way.

The Master is at it’s best when it lets it’s actors flow in a scene with strong cinematography, score and lighting all helping to set the tone.  The acting ensemble here collectively are a phenomenal group.  The supporting cast has some great moments, especially an underutilized but controlling role from Adams in one of her darker roles.  The way she controls and sits in the back of her husband is always intense to see and fascinatingly strange.  On the other hand are the two leads, Hoffman and Phoenix who bring such intensity and ferocity to their characters in similar yet so different ways.  Hoffman commands a well-spoken man that has both severe anger issues and jovial outbursts as the cult leader while Phoenix acts like a trickster, brashly moving onto his next move yet so intrigued by Hoffman’s character.  Watch the scenes that simply include the two of them in one room (there’s many opportunities for this) and see them both explore and stay fascinated with one another in an interesting game of cat-and-mouse.  Supporting these actors is gorgeous cinematography that loves to pull back in rapid cuts and let the landscape and the character(s) be seen in relation to one another.  Additionally, the lighting has such a 1950s’ quality to it that perfectly sets the tone along with a musical score that parallels it’s characters well, especially Freddie’s broken clarinet theme.

However, the film will deeply divide many on whether or not it’s narrative does much with the characters and strange plot devices that it languishes in.  Anderson sets up the stage between the meeting of an outsider, Freddie, and the cult that Lancaster holds together.  However, the film does not deviate much from this interaction and creates a bit of a repetitive tempo that revolves around this circle in which Freddie despairs, finds solace and then rediscovers the despair and breaks.  This pattern may happen at different intensity levels and moments in the history of the cult but the beats all seem to remain the same, even puzzlingly near the end with few answers and a breadth of questions.  Personally, although the problem was apparent, the themes did seem to resonate in why such a pattern was occurring in terms of who was the master of the other and in control along with the personalities and inner demons that seem to be commonplace among the cultists and Freddie.  Still, there is no denying that Anderson has little care to explain the purpose or reasoning behind the character motivations which could have created a possibly clearer picture of the situation or that the better narrative, in terms of Lancaster’s cult, is given less time to grow than the strange tale of Freddie.  This film is set up more as a symbolic and abstract piece that has fascinating pieces with a narrative that doesn’t always connect.

The Master is a film that completely knows its purpose, even at the expense of it’s narrative, but still ends with a fine acting ensemble and cinematic piece.  There is no denying that the film is bound to infuriate and confuse much of it’s viewing audience with the overly long narrative and plot cycle that rotates in circles more than pushes forward.  However, for audiences that can understand it’s purpose and look past such strange plot devices, there is much to be found from some brilliant performances from Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams along with a great musical composition, beautiful cinematography and a fascinating sense of cults.  Although it may be illegible at times, The Master is a fascinating film that challenges it’s audience to come to terms with it’s character, just as much as they try to become masters of one another.  

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R
Running Time: 137 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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There is no exact rule for what a film can and cannot do (granted, if we dig deeper, there are intrinsic elements that people do expect but for the sake of the review, I wanted to focus on this general aesthetic).  Instead, it has a sense of purpose in what it wants to try and accomplish.  One of the most important elements I believe a film has to prove before the film ends.  However, even after trying to generally prove it’s central purpose, the said film needs to make the purpose worthy of discussion and prove that it brings a unique insight into the table, especially one that challenges the audience with a powerful question.  So comes Compliance, a film based on true events, that falls very much into the center of this category.  It asks and presents a large moral dilemma, but unfortunately falters when trying to give meaning and purpose behind it all.

Compliance follows Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a call from a police officer one day that one of her employees, named Becky (Drema Walker), had been caught stealing from another person and needs to be detained until police could arrive.  Sandra detains Becky into the back and thus begins a long ordeal between the police officer, Sandra, Becky and a host of other people connected to the incident in the film including the person on the other line, Officer Daniels (Pat Healy).

Compliance’s strong suit is in the good aesthetic value of the fairly simple story.  Very little of the plot happens outside of the fast food restaurant and the interior is not exactly filled with interesting set pieces.  The problem that creeps up is simply all the attention of the film being put onto other elements of the film other than the scenery and a close inspection of context and narrative.  At least on a purely aesthetic level, the film is fine.  The colors are muted and dark to reflect the tone of the film while the actual actors seem to fit their roles in terms of appearance.  Compliance also sets up interesting ideas and themes with it.  The narrative explores obedience and power in different facets whether it is over a faceless medium or a manager and her employee.  It also asks about what common sense would be and the levels of relationships that affect the final outcome.  The fact that it is based on a true story definitely adds a bit more at stake to what may seem like an outlandish premise.

The problems, however, creep up in terms of how much one buys the premise and the lack of little else other than the conflict.  Although the film opens up in gigantic letters that it is based on a true story, the film does little to provide the audience with much context and conflict.  Instead, it gives out little morsels of character exposition and is too set on telling the plot straight than trying to imagine and think about more of the relationships of these characters inside and outside the fast food restaurant.  Personally, the lack of this context was a strong factor in feeling that the film did not do enough to explain itself and ended up more ridiculous than shocking.  Showing the audience the perpetrator as well felt as more of a scare tactic than much usage of trying to explain his motivations.  Under the film’s current guidance, hiding the perpetrator under a veil would have serviced the story much better.  Yet the presentation style and the film order felt so by the books that it did not do the end product enough justice.  Such a laid back approach felt to skew the film with more questions than answers – questions that the film could have either filled with it’s own assumptions or at least give scenes of provocative thought to.  The best scene in the film perhaps is in it’s final scene between the manager and another character, discussing the events that had transpired – a scene that had some weight in terms of character development and thoughtful questions on it’s subject matter.

Compliance is a tough pill to swallow, not exactly because of it’s subject matter but the decisions made in it’s presentation and characterization.  The central tale of Compliance is told fairly clearly with little room for the imagination and in that sense, makes for an interesting character study and moral issue of obedience to authority and personal sensibility.  However, personally, the film’s stand as an omnipotent passerby feels inadequate for the subject matter, only subtly hinting at why characters may have acted in a certain way.  This slight glance at the characters’ back story only fuels more of a desire to see how characters acted in different situations compared to the moral challenge presented in the film and to present more characterization that seemed lacking.  The end result is a fairly sad ordeal into those that abuse power and those that don’t do more to recognize such abuse but failing to put much substance behind the spectacle.   

Director: Craig Zobel
Rated: R
Running Time: Approx. 90 Mins.

The Wie muses: ** ½ out of *****

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A film (or any narrative for that matter) doesn’t really have to follow a core set of rules.  It could start out with an explosion and spend the rest of the time discovering why the explosion happened in a quiet fashion or it could tell the story backwards with reckless abandon.  However, the creative team behind the content is trying to sell the audience on an experience that works within the rules and confinement that it has set out for itself and when those initial rules are broken and not properly given an explanation or fits within the context of the world, the experience becomes more and more unbelievable.  Thus is the case of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which sells a great atmospheric take on an apocalyptic setting and dark comedy aesthetic but falls apart midway through the film as the very foundation and interests the film had pivot to something that seems untrue to the film’s initial premise.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World follows Dodge (Steve Carell) who has just heard, along with nearly everyone else around the world, that the world is going to end in three weeks.  Alone and confused, left by his wife, he meanders day-to-day as the world around him crumbles apart until one day, he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), who was crying outside his window on the fire escape.  As riots and more people panic around them, they go off in a car, not knowing sure where they’re going or what they’ll discover together.

The film starts off with some great solid points from a great aesthetic, pace and style.  Using a dark comedy style, the film capitalizes on it’s ‘end of the world’ scenario with little fanfare, making use of radio broadcasts, television news and just day-to-day happenings to exemplify the shock at the severity of the situation and the result plays out fairly brilliantly with Carell’s Dodge as the man in the middle, experiencing it all.  It’s definitely devilishly dark with suicides, orgies and reckless abandon all in the mix but these situations really play true to situations involving how people would react given the knowledge they were all about to be killed.  The film also does a fairly good job covering most of it’s bases in terms of these scenarios and usually are fairly surprising (expect a few jumps) and doing it’s best to ask the questions that people would ask in this type of predicament.  The style also starts out just as strong with a day countdown and this recurring sense of dread and surprise and in the middle of it all, Carell’s fairly straight middleman performance is a perfect echo to the chaos around him.  These elements really put some serious light onto the situation while poking at the tropes and concepts that we conceive in our mind for the apocalypse.

Unfortunately, a strong start gives way to a overly melodramatic and strange turn in style and narrative along with some other minor grievances.  The film, halfway through the film, starts to give way to it’s romantic subplot which unto itself shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  However, the attention given to this subplot changes the entire dynamic and flow of the film for the worse.  The dark comedy becomes a sappy, melodramtic romantic film, which sure, if it initially created a sense of melodrama or better progression up to this point, it would have made much more sense.  However, not only is the change fairly abrupt, it’s for the worse as the scenes come off as overly melodramatic with typical musical montages and romantic tropes that feel much weaker than the darker first half.  Only up until the very end does the film feels like it got a handle on it’s romantic notion but unfortunately, it left a trail of disappointing and boring scenery in it’s wake as it drops many of the stylistic flourishes from the first half.  On a smaller note, although personally equally as grating, is the obvious product placement, which by the second half of the film seems so in-your-face and obnoxious.  A scene in which a minor army character presents his fleet of mini-sized smart cars is not only out-of-place but obvious in what it’s trying to sell to the audience.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a disappointing case of a strong first half mired by a very contrived second half.  The film features a great role for Carell, reminiscent of his work in Little Miss Sunshine, and a strong, dark comedic look in the face of the apocalypse.  However, a romantic subplot eventually takes center stage and pivots the film nearly completely into an overly melodramatic movie that feels both unnecessary and uninteresting to the main event.  These two contrasting sections hurt my overall impression of the film, which felt like it had more going for it, but it’s hard to deny the charm of Carell and the effective if unsurprising ending.

Director: Lorene Scafaria
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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