Saturday, October 06, 2012

September 2012

With the new TV season in full swing, various work obligations, weekend trips to Las Vegas and San Jose, respectively, and the loss of my movie companion, I saw only three new movies in September (and watched nothing from my vast film archives). Here's hoping I can make up the difference by year's end. Here's what I saw:

ROBOT AND FRANK (2012)—In the not-too-distant future, an aging cat burglar (Frank Langella) is given a "helper robot" (voiced by An Education's Peter Sarsgaard) by his son (James Marsden) after the old man starts to lose his memory and his motivation. A relic from the past, Langella at first resists this technological marvel—it can wash dishes, fold laundry, prepare dinner and hold a decent conversation. None of that means a thing to Langella...until he realizes that the robot might be conscripted to participate in less legitimate tasks. This is a science-fiction film that Isaac Asimov would have relished, and thought it moves a trifle slowly and is ultimately too long, the patient viewer will reap rewards from its quiet (and very human) story. The robot is superbly manipulated and brought to "life." (8)

THE WORDS (2012)—The cast, which includes lovely Zoe Saldana, attracted me to this drama; fortunately, I saw it while visiting Las Vegas, before I had the chance to get scared away by the universally poor critical reviews. Co-written and co-directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, it tells the story of a failed novelist (Bradley Cooper) who discovers a WW2-era manuscript in an old briefcase that's so good he can't resist taking credit for it. Naturally, it becomes a huge bestseller...and then the real author comes into the picture. Not only does the viewer of the movie get to experience some of the story-within-the-story, but it turns out that Cooper's story itself is the plot of a novel by another writer (Dennis Quaid). If this sounds complicated, it's because I'm not explaining it as deftly as Klugman (nephew of Jack Klugman) does. This is a film with numerous layers, and while it admittedly doesn't make a point with an appreciable impact, it tells a marvelous story—three in one, in fact! This is one of my favorite movies of the year, despite the unfair critical drubbing it received. (9)

COMPLIANCE (2012)—Back in the 1970s, there was a TV-movie called The Tenth Level that told a fictionalized version of the real-life Stanley Milgram obedience research story, in which subjects were manipulated into doing inhumane things simply because they were instructed to. Similarly, Compliance is the fictionalized version of a real-life obedience story "ripped from the headlines," as they say. Based on the true story of a prank phone caller (posing as a cop) who successfully persuaded the manager of a McDonalds restaurant to strip-searching an employee, this is a movie to make you squirm in your seat as you see the terrible action unfold beyond the mere strip search. It's made all the more chilling when you consider that these events actually occurred pretty much the way the screenplay lays it out. It's hard to watch, but equally hard to look away. Ann Dowd is terrific as the manager who is tricked into doing something reprehensible, and Dreama Walker (of TV's Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23) is sympathetic as the innocent and doe-eyed employee. Not to be missed. (9)

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