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Movie reviews: Lawless, Compliance, Possession, and more

Crooked police vs the bootleggers. Prohibition and small town southern U.S. are nicely re-created in Lawless

Big issues are everywhere in this week’s films, including  declining journalism, corporate bullying, defying or blindly obeying authority, corruption and official retaliation.

 You can also (if you go to www.vlaff.org) find a critique of Cuban society, in a zombie film nonetheless. It’s tonight’s opener at the Latin American Film Festival, which runs daily until a week Sunday. Argentina gets special attention this year.

Here’s my list for today:

Lawless:   3 stars

Compliance:   3 ½

Oslo, Aug. 31st:  4

Big Boys Gone Bananas:   4

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry:   4

The Bullet Vanishes:  3

The Possession:   2

 

LAWLESS: All praise to the art directors, the set builders and the costume people.  Their work is the best thing about this film. They got the look of 1020s rural Virginia down exactly, even to that horrible short back and sides haircut Shia LaBeouf wears. He plays the youngest of three bootlegger brothers and,  as we learn in an early scene when as a young boy he couldn’t bring himself to shoot the family pig, the most sensitive.  Tom Hardy, as the oldest, is tough, which is necessary when the local cops, a special agent (played with oily relish by Guy Pearce) and a fat politico come around demanding a cut of the profits.  The “true” story was written by the grandson of one of the brothers.

 

We get two hours of well-crafted violence, intimidation, shootings, fights and high-speed chases on narrows roads, interrupted now and then by assertions of independence and invincibility.  And some romance, Shia with Mia Wasikowska, as an adventurous preacher’s daughter, and Tom with Jessica Chastain, as a former burlesque artiste. Gary Oldman has a few scenes as a Tommy-gun wielding gangster.  There’s good, sometimes excessive, action and a facile stab at drawing a parallel with today’s war on drugs  Note the music though. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Ralph Stanley and others do The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart,  John Lee Hooker and others in bluegrass, here they are.  In perfect support of both the time period and the film’s air of menace and trepidation. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5  

COMPLIANCE: Do what you’re told. We know what we’re doing. Some time back, probably around the Viet Nam War, we learned that’s not always true. This film shows us people who’ve never learned that. And it’s a chilling vision, all the more so because it’s true. A caller to a fast food restaurant identifies himself as a police detective and says that the pretty young blonde at the front counter has stolen money out of a customer’s purse. The manager, played by Ann Dowd, agrees to take her into the back room and search her. Then strip search her.

 

Dreama Walker, as the victim, can only whimper her innocence and more orders come. They’re more intrusive, and eventually abusive. Writer-director Craig Zobel carefully advances the progression step by step. He shows how the caller manipulates the manager and a couple of employees she brings into the scene and how they all bow to his authority.  We can see a dozen questions they should have had along the way but they don’t ask them. There have been 70 cases like this in the US. This one, although set in Ohio, is based on one in Kentucky, which has been well-documented in subsequent court cases. The film is tense and lurid, but not exploitative. The unstated message is good: No, you don’t have to. (5th  Avenue Cinemas) 3 ½  out of 5 

OSLO, AUGUST 31st: A drug addict fails at suicide at the beginning of the film and then gets a chance to fix his life. He’s given a day pass from a rehab centre to go to a job interview. He botches that and spends the rest of the day and night meeting old friends. Sounds gloomy and ominous doesn’t it? Not so. I won’t say it’s happy and ends well, but it is a sharp and gripping character study of a lost soul. “I’m 34 years old. I have nothing,” he says.

Actually, as we watch him visiting around Oslo, we learn that he’s bright, thoughtful, the son of intellectuals and still liked by his friends. His girlfriend, though, won’t answer his calls and his sister won’t meet him for lunch. Very subtly, without hysterics, the picture is filled in. He says can’t feel anything. In a very poignant scene in a café he listens to conversations around him and grasps how cut off he is. An old drug-sharing pal, now a family man and a potential role model, offers advice but also admits his own life is boring. The story is from a 1931 French novel about alcoholism that was made into a film by Louis Malle. This Norwegian version by Joachim Trier is terse, succinct and, for all its despair, surprisingly light much of the time. (Vancity Theatre) 4 out of 5  

Playing in tandem with …

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Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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