Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Few DVD Reviews & More Awards Season Whatnot

As it's Awards season, there's no lack of lists and polls, or bitchin' about the results of said lists and polls going on. 

So I thought I'd mention that I voted in the 2012 Muriel Awards, the results of which are being posted starting today. Check them out here. Be sure to keep checking back as they will be trickled out over the next few weeks.

I just submitted my 2012 movie rankings to The LAMB (the Large Association of Movie Blogs). I'll let you know when those are posted.

And I wrote about the Oscar nominated shorts in last Friday's Raleigh N & O“Oscar short film nominees offer a lot of entertainment” (Feb. 1st, 2013)

Now for a few reviews of movies from last year I'm catching up with:

THE WATCH (Dir. Akiva Schaffer, 2012)

There are more CGI effects than there are laughs, or even attempts at laughs, in last summer’s flop comedy THE WATCH, which I just watched on DVD. Ben Stiller, in his standard uptight goody two shoes role, stars as a Costco manager who starts a neighborhood watch with Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade to get to the bottom of the mysterious murder of one of Stiller's Costco security guards (Joseph A. Nunez).

For a while it doesn’t even feel like the movie has a screenplay as it largely consist of the four leads riffing on top of the flimsy material, and once it gets to its major set pieces involving invading aliens, the gags are almost non-existent.

Schaffer, one-third of the SNL Digital Shorts masterminds/musical satirists The Lonely Island (the other members, Adam Sanberg and Jorma Taccone put in a cameo in an orgy scene), competently stitches together what Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg supposedly wrote down, but it never amounts to anything more than half-assed humor. Schaffer’s previous film, HOT ROD, was actually laugh out loud funny, you're lucky to get a few mild chuckles out of this.

Rosemarie DeWitt, a familiar face from quite a few recent indie films, plays Stiller's wife in what's mainly a sideline role, but she gets to run around with the guys during the Costco-set climatic battle, so at least she gets out of the house. Vaughn's wife (Erinn Hayes) isn't so lucky as she's only in one scene and doesn't even have a line.

I almost snickered a little when Will Forte (SNL, MACGRUBER) as a snarky cop who ridicules Stiller and crew would pop up, and some of Vaughn’s motor-mouthed character’s banter who see himself as a “cool dad” made me come close to smiling, and occasionally got close to giggling at Ayoade, who though strongly underutilized, is a welcome fresh face among the other’s overly familiar shtick, but I just couldn’t get down with the dick joke mentality and the sloppy plotting. So another less than stellar Ben Stiller vehicle that wasn’t a smash, what else is new?

COMPLIANCE (Dir. Craig Zobel, 2012)

There are parts of this film that made me so uncomfortable I felt like leaving the room, but I knew I’d still be looking back at the screen through the doorway if I did. Screenwriter/director Zobel based his film, his second after GREAT WORLD OF SOUND, on a real life scenario that’s has surprisingly happened many times - a prank call that leads to sexual assault.

At a fictional Chickwich fast food restaurant, in Ohio (Ohio again!), the manager (Ann Dowd) gets a call from a man claiming to be a police officer who has been in touch with the chain’s regional manager. The man, who we only hear as a disembodied voice for the first third of the film, tells Dowd that one of her employees, a 19-year old blonde cashier, has stolen money from a customer, and that this is part of a larger investigation.

Dowd brings the girl (Dreama Walker) to the backroom office and questions her about the theft following the man’s instructions. Walker denies taking the money, and Dowd can’t find it in her pockets or purse. The man then instructs Dowd to perform a strip search. With another supervisor (Ashlie Atkinson) present, Walker takes off all her clothes, including her underwear, and we know that phony voice of authority is going to take this twisted gag as far as he can go.

By this time, we have gotten random shots of the man, played by Pat Healy, who is obviously not a cop, at his home with a bunch of store bought calling cards. Healy lounges around as he gives orders on the phone, makes a sandwich, waters plants, etc. all the while putting these poor people through humiliating sexual situations of his own devising. 

A co-worker of comparable age to Walker, who spends most of her role naked with only a Chickwich apron covering her, Philip Ettinger, refuses to go along with what Healy tells him to do, but Dowd’s boyfriend (Bill Camp), called in from a night drinking, is more susceptible. The restaurant is slammed while this is all going on, so Dowd is torn away to serve customers up front and is majorly oblivious to how crazy-go-nuts it gets.

As if to remind us that it's an art film, Zobel intersperses close-ups of fries sizzling in grease, grimy floors, and other mundane bits of the restaurant’s unappealing décor throughout the film, so you fully get the closed-in vibe of this messed-up material. What I couldn’t stop thinking was, are these people really that stupid to not question that anybody could just call and identify themselves as police? Then I had to remind myself that this has happened, and that, yes, people can get that horribly manipulated.

Although it can come across as exploitive speculation on the premise of the strip search prank call scam, COMPLIANCE is cringe-inducing cinema at is most involving. It falters in its last 10-15 minutes when it becomes a procedural crack down on the caller, and then gives us an un-insightful scene of Dowd being interviewed on a magazine style news show about the ordeal, but for a large compelling chunk of its running time, it’s one of 2012’s best, and oddest, thrillers.

More later...

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