COMPLIANCE Directed by Craig Zobel

True story.  I recently heard a young woman —shaken, on the verge of tears— tell some friends about how her thuggish bar manager accused her and a co-worker of theft the night before. After the place closed, he locked the door and wouldn’t let them leave until one of them confessed. Frustrated when both pleaded their innocence until early in the morning, he fired both of them. “Can he do that?” she asked. No, he can’t. It’s called illegal imprisonment. And he probably broke any number of labor laws as well. The susceptibility of people who don’t know their legal rights, of underpaid workers afraid of losing their job, and our ingrained fear of and deference to authority–this is at the heart of Craig Zobel’s brilliant film “Compliance.” It is easily the most radical American film of the year.

Ostensibly a thriller, the story is very simple. On a busy Friday night at an Ohio fast food restaurant called ChickWich, middle-aged manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) receives a call from a police officer telling her that one of her employees, Becky (Dreama Walker) is suspected of theft. Sandra diligently follows the policeman’s instructions, taking Becky to the back, questioning her, subjecting her to a strip search, even asking her construction worker fiance Van (Bill Camp) to help as she juggles the demands of the front counter and the man on the phone. We know the caller (Pat Healy) is a sadistic prankster, trying to see how far he can push people beyond their ethical boundaries. It’s easy to think we’d catch on quickly if this happened to us, yet this is inspired by a real incident, one of 70 such pranks that happened over a decade. (For a fascinating document of them, see the Wikipedia page on the “strip search prank call scam.”) Read more

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS Directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud

After his demanding wife smashes his beloved violin, gifted musician Nasser-Ali Khan decides it can not be replaced. No other violin will produce the beauty that has led to his stellar musical career or help him forget his unhappy marriage. After rejecting a number of conventional suicide methods, Khan announces that he will die in eight days, simply by laying down and giving up. Each day, memories from his past gradually tell the story of how his love of life diminished and the significance of this particular violin.

The old technique of deathbed flashbacks is enlivened here by a wealth of narrative devices (live action mixed with numerous styles of animation, theatrical re-enactments and multiple film stock simulations) as well as some Oscar-worthy art direction and sound editing. The setting will also be novel for most audiences: Tehran in 1958, a time when Iran was more westernized than it is now. “Chicken with Plums” is adapted from co-director Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name.  She and her co-director, Vincent Paronnaud —also a graphic novelist— made the acclaimed 2008 animated version of her graphic novel “Persepolis.” Read more

This Evening PINE HILL Comes to Fort Greene

Keith Miller is excited about his new indie feature, “Welcome to Pine Hill”  screening outdoors in Fort Greene Park this Thursday.  Just how will it play under the stars?  It’s not an action movie or a romantic comedy.  Well, maybe kind of a bromance.  “Welcome to Pine Hill”, which has been getting raves and awards ever since its debut at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize, concerns a young man named Shannon Harper played by Brooklyn native, non-actor Shannon Harper.  [Editor’s note: I harbor no ill will because Shannon, who was supposed to be interviewed for this piece, was a no-show.]  I won’t give away too much of the plot, I can only say that the movie has a most memorable opening which just happens to be based on a real life incident that occurred just outside filmmaker Miller’s apartment building in South Slope.

Miller, an unassuming white guy, was walking his dog, William, when he was stopped by a large young black man.  The larger of the two turned out to be Shannon Harper who identified William as his own lost dog, Prince.  When Miller told Harper that he rescued the dog —then a four month pit bull pup— off the street and attempted to find its owner, the two men started the process of navigating the breaches that existed between them.   Read more

CRAIGSLIST JOE directed by Joe Garner

Every morning, Justin, a young Chicago man juggling dozens of part-time jobs and activities, goes on Craigslist and follows the same routine. First he checks the “personals: strictly platonic: women seeking men” section. Then he goes to “jobs: general labor” and clicks on “Transport” and “ETC.” Within the “Gigs” section, he browses listings in “labor”, “event,” “crew,” “domestic” and “talent.” Finally he heads over to the “pets” section in “community.” Justin is one of the self-described Craigslist addicts whom filmmaker Joe Garner meets on a journey to see if the free, online forum begun seventeen years ago is actually enabling a sense of community for its users. “I’m going to use technology,” Joe declares, “the very thing that is supposed to be isolating us — to connect with others.”

His mission?  For one month he will have no access to money, friends or family, carrying with him only a laptop, cellphone, passport and toothbrush. He will rely totally on Craigslist to find food, shelter, rides and company. Sure, some might suggest that a  healthy, young, attractive white male pretending to be homeless for a month is not the riskiest example of participatory journalism. And then there is the matter that he is being accompanied the whole while by a camera man (Kevin Flint) whom he also found on Craigslist. Still, it’s an interesting idea and Garner is an earnest, genial pathfinder. A boyish 29-year-old (he looks a bit like Kevin Connolly of “Entourage”), he’s good at staying in the the background and letting people tell their stories. Read more

KLOWN directed by Mikkel Nørgaard

Early in “Klown,” a Danish sex comedy released in the U.S. last week, the slow-witted, geeky, thirty-something Frank (Frank Hvam) confesses to his horny, always scheming pal Casper (Casper Christensen) that he hasn’t read the assigned text for their all-male book club meeting. But neither has Casper. “I didn’t join the book club to read,” he snaps back. “I come here to hang out with the guys!” Not a typical venue for male-bonding councils, yet that is exactly what it turns out to be. The other men give Frank mischievous advice on how to court favor with his girlfriend: masturbate on her while she is asleep. (He later tries this in a boundary-pushing, outrageous scene.) When another member also confesses to not having read the book (the novella, “Heart of Darkness”), the club leader punishes him (Jørgen Leth, star of “The Five Obstructions”) by giving him what he calls a “schnozzle”–the kind of nose crimpings Moe routinely dealt Curly and Larry.

The club is led by Bent, an octogenarian made rich and famous for writing one song (“Alley Cat”) and who also runs a very exclusive brothel, one Casper hopes to visit during a canoeing vacation with Frank. (A funny bit lost for most non-Danish audiences is that Bent is played by Bent Fabric, the actual Dane who wrote the silly piano standard that won a Grammy in 1962 and which also appears on the film’s soundtrack a couple of times.) For family man Casper, the trip down the river promises to be a wild, lecherous “Tour de Pussy,” one almost ruined when Frank kidnaps a 12-year-old nephew, Bo, and brings him along to disprove his pregnant girlfriend’s understandable doubts about his potential for fatherhood. Read more