Tag: craig zobel

Z for Zachariah


Z for Zachariah (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

After a nuclear war, the majority of the planet became uninhabitable. One of the exceptions is the valley that Ann (Margot Robbie) resides in which was somehow protected by the nuclear fallout and quite possibly has its own weather system. Although Ann has lived with family, it has been a year since the rest of them attempted to find survivors outside of the valley. To her surprise, while doing her usual chores and rounds, Ann crosses paths with a man named John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a research engineer wearing a suit designed to protect from radioactivity. Soon enough, despite their initial but important differences, they decide to live together.

“Z for Zachariah,” directed by Craig Zobel, is a contemplative piece that works as a chamber drama and barebones science fiction. Credit to the casting directors for choosing actors that are comfortable portraying many different emotions very often in one scene. This is because, aside from the main plot involving faith and science, the film is also about the images the characters paint in the viewer’s mind as they recollect traumatic memories.

Scenes that stand out involve characters simply sharing a meal or standing in a room and talking to one another. Particularly moving is when Ann opens up about her extremely isolated existence in the farm, what she had to go through before meeting John. We get a taste of her lifestyle during the first ten minutes as she trudges forward during her usual routine, a dog being her sole companion. Although the word “suicide” is never uttered, the subject is brought up with an elegance and a sadness. One cannot blame her for considering such an action and yet one ought to commend her strength for ultimately continuing to live, to keep fighting.

The pacing is slow and deliberate which is most appropriate in a story like this. Thus, the material is successful is building a lot of sexual tension between John and Ann. It is critical that we believe they are eventually drawn to each other, despite their differences especially when it comes to believing in God, because their feelings for one another—whatever it is exactly—is challenged later, upon the arrival of Caleb (Chris Pine), who claims that he is on his way south due to news that there is a colony of survivors there.

On some level, the picture works as a thriller in the final third as we begin to question how far a character, or characters, is willing to go in order to defend or upend the status quo. The ambiguous ending is wonderfully executed because clues are laid out for further dissection. It is up to us to decide which avenue to believe. In the wrong hands, it could have been simplistic, too fixed, altogether too clear, offering no sense of mystery or questioning. More importantly, the ending shoves us into the mindset of its characters.

Loosely based on the novel by Robert C. O’Brien, “Z for Zachariah” is a piece of work that is polished, certainly shot beautifully, but has enough roughness around the edges—its ability to take risks to be exact—to keep it fascinating. It is made for a more contemplative, empathetic audience.

Compliance


Compliance (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

It seems just like another busy Friday shift at ChickWich, a fast-food joint in Ohio. Everything is going smoothly, despite an employee who had to stay at home due to a bug going around, until Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, receives a phone call from a man named Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) who claims that one of the female employees is being accused of stealing money from a customer’s purse. Sandra is not exactly sure who the officer is referring to and gives a name without even thinking about it.

The man on the other line now has a name and Becky (Dreama Walker), who has been at the cash register since the beginning of the shift, is called over to the back to sort things out. The first order of business is to find the money by performing a strip-search on the unsuspecting nineteen-year-old. By the end of this busy day, Becky will have been raped.

Written and directed by Craig Zobel, “Compliance” is inspired by true events involving prank callers pretending to be cops and their ability to talk people into doing all sorts of illicit activities. According to the film, seventy incidents have been reported in over thirty states. It is easy to dismiss the premise of the picture by simply reading the synopsis. It is even easier to judge the victims who have been involved in the prank because, after all, don’t they have an idea about how the law works? I say that such is self-centered and ignorant thinking. Not everybody knows what you or I know so it is important to keep everything in perspective. Otherwise, this type of incident would not have occurred well over a dozen times.

The picture is propelled by a script with a good ear for dialogue. The employees at the fast-food restaurant talk like people we encounter while ordering our burger and fries. The early scenes hold a certain level of amusement because it feels true to life. They joke around, talk about their shifts, and their boyfriends and girlfriends. It captures a specific sense of place which is paramount if we are going to believe what is about to transpire.

When it takes a serious turn, it does so in a deceptively simple way. Becky is taken to the back: dimmer lights, very quiet due to being away from the hustle and bustle, and significantly less space to move around. Also, the camera has the tendency to use more close-ups so we can appreciate the subtle emotions drawn on the characters’ faces each time the situation takes a turn. From time to time, we get a chance to exit the room, breathe, and absorb what has just happened. It is apparent that a carefully controlled craft and much thought are put into the material. It is important that they be acknowledged because otherwise, with all the sick things that happen in that room, it can be considered as an exploitation film.

In my eyes, the writer-director makes one critical error. That is, he shows us the face of the man on the other line. By doing so, Zobel puts a face on evil—white, mid- to late-thirties—which lessens the intensity of his material. Because the camera is generous in showing the perpetrator’s face, most of us will pay less attention to his body language: how it responds once he hears that the thing he tells them to do has been executed. It is ultimately a question of power and how far he can take it. The face can hide plenty of things but how a body reacts requires another level of control.

“Compliance” is not an easy movie to sit through given its subject matter, but it does deserve to be seen. If anything, it makes a case that just because we face someone in a position of power, does not mean we should compromise what we feel in our gut to be wrong or immoral. It is our responsibility to ask questions and protect ourselves from those wishing to exploit us.

Great World of Sound


Great World of Sound (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Martin (Pat Healy) answered an ad for a small record company, known as Great World of Sound, and was hired to become a record producer. He loved his job because he was passionate about music and he believed in giving talented artists a chance to make it big in the music industry. He was paired up with Clarence (Kene Holliday) who was as equally enthusiastic to sign new artists. But the more time they spent in their new position, they began to feel a gnawing suspicion toward their superiors’ (John Baker and Michael Harding) true intentions. Astutely written by Craig Zobel and George Smith, “Great World of Sound” was a fiercely honest look at the relationship between people who wanted to turn their talent for music into fame and fortune and the so-called businesses designed to help get their names out in the world. The auditions that Martin and Clarence sat through in their motel rooms was like watching the audition week of “American Idol” only thrice the realism. It was funny because most of the artists were convinced they were really good when they actually weren’t; it was touching because a handful of them came from extraordinarily difficult backgrounds; and it was sad because the prospective musicians were being tricked into paying money (for a “producing fee”) for a dream that could never be attained through this specific path. Despite the fact that we spent only a minute, sometimes less, with the artists, we couldn’t help but care for them in some way. I loved the fact that the artists looked like people one could see walking down the street in any small town or city. With Zobel’s confident direction, we could feel the artists’ desperation for wanting to get discovered and finally making it big. Martin and Clarence were complex characters, not necessarily worth rooting for because, initially and unbeknownst to them, it was their job to steal from people, but because we wanted them to do the right thing. We weren’t always sure if they were going to. Martin was a dreamer. He loved the idea of his job but actually doing it was an entirely alien sphere. With each “like” between words and awkward random pauses, we could feel that he was uncomfortable with his job. But he felt that he needed to stick with it because he and his girlfriend (Rebecca Mader), also an artist, had bills to pay. Financial issues also plagued Clarence because had children to support. His speech about fairness and doing what was right was inspired, true, and heartbreaking. In a span of a minute, he revealed who he was and how he became such a fighter. “Great World of Sound” was a splendid independent film. It was successful in establishing an argument about the American Dream simply being a carrot dangled in front of us, forever out of reach.

Zoom In: Stories Behind the Best Independent Films of 2007


Zoom In: Stories Behind the Best Independent Films of 2007 (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

2007 was one of my favorite years for movies released in the year 2000s because independent movies demanded to be noticed. My top ten favorite movies from that year largely consisted of indie films. Mario Diaz’ documentary discussed the hard work in getting independent movies financed, the long and arduous process of making such films, and hopefully getting them picked up by studios for wider distribution. It also highlighted the role of the renowned Gotham Awards in putting the spotlight on indie pictures so they could have a chance to be seen by audiences all over the world. Some successful passion projects included (but not limited to) Sean Penn’s free-spirited “Into the Wild,” the Coen Brothers’ ruthless “No Country for Old Men,” Tamara Jenkins’ vitriolic and wildly amusing “The Savages,” Todd Haynes’ philosophical “I’m Not There,” and Jason Reitman’s verbal exercise that was “Juno.” On the other side of the spectrum, although it did win key Gotham Awards, movies like Craig Zobel’s “Great World of Sound” didn’t quite captivate audiences in a worldwide scale. It was great to hear from the aforementioned filmmakers about what their movie meant to them. It was a nice reminder, especially for people like myself who watch hundreds of movies each year, that every film should be approached with an open mind. And if it somehow underwhelms us, it’s important to treat it with respect and explain why, in our opinion, it just didn’t work for us. Because all movies, whether they be good or bad in our eyes, have a story to them. The directors, the crew, the actors, and the producers take the time and the money to create something that would hopefully pass as a work of art. I think my love for independent feature films stemmed from the similar themes they so often tackled: identity, one’s place in the world, one’s relationship with others, and the way an individual received, processed, evaluated information, and how one’s thought differed from one’s actions. Independent movies appeal to me because I was going through those very same themes back in the tenth grade when I was just beginning to see movies as more than a source of entertainment. I was drawn to their daring subject matter, complex characterizations, and shocking honesty. I think that parallel will always be a part of the way I see motion pictures. That’s why I always lend a critical eye to the characters and the way they attempt to deal with and adapt to their specific circumstances. The documentary also shed light to the fact that women filmmakers weren’t as high profile and prolific as their male counterparts. It’s unfortunate because I strongly believe that women, in some ways, view things differently than men and it will benefit the world if women’s visions are shared just as equally as men’s. “Zoom In: Stories Behind the Best Independent Films of 2007” needed an extra thirty to forty minutes for more in-depth exploration, but it managed to tackle many interesting ideas with the time that it had.