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“Skyfall”-ing into “Compliance”: a recent re-evaluation

It’s my belief that a truly fine critic should be critical of their own output. Now, I’m not claiming to be at the level of “truly fine”—that’s for others to decide. But it’s certainly what I wish to attain. Throughout my decades of being a film nut, there have been an array of classic works that I just didn’t grasp that first time around. Most famously, perhaps, are “Blue Velvet” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”. I now acknowledge them as a pair of the finest films ever made, but my first view of each of them left me conflicted. I wasn’t sure what to make of either one. But I kept trying. Far too many people dismiss something that they don’t adore on that first go-round. How could I be so arrogant to think that these weren’t top-notch works, when all of the best cinematic observers insisted they were? Multiple watches, lots of reading and studying—I eventually came around. I simply wasn’t film educated enough to appreciate those two classics before I was even old enough to drink. It wasn’t the films that were lacking—it was me. More movie-goers need to admit that to themselves. Believe me—I’ve had the conversations. It’s aggravating and astonishing to listen to the scores of folks who are convinced that they “know it all”. They are certain that “The Master” is a terrible film, and that “The Iron Lady” is a superb one—and no one is going to tell them any different. All subjective, you say? Nah—that’s just bad taste. Sometimes it’s a lot subtler than deciding between greatness and horrendous. Sometimes grades, or star ratings, or reviews just need to be tweaked a little bit. Take the two 2012 critical favorites featured in this post. Both supply a higher level of reward than I could decipher on that initial view.

I was fond of both “Skyfall” and “Compliance” when I experienced each during the fall/winter film season. But I also felt that Bond 23 was a bit of a disappointment, and that Craig Zobel’s indie thriller wasn’t quite “best-of-the-year” quality. I misjudged. Why? Maybe I saw “Skyfall” too fresh on the heels of “The Dark Knight Rises”. That could’ve been one factor. And I’m not dismissing my original complaints of misogyny and homophobia. But the focus on those aspects was more muted during the second look. Sam Mendes direction was much stronger than I originally felt, for instance. And there’s a sharper sense of humour at play than I originally determined, as well. If I was reviewing “Skyfall” freshly today, I might give it a B(or even a B+), instead of the B- I had once ordained. Oh, it’s still idiotic that Bond survives that distance drop into a body of water. But it’s not the first transgression of that kind, and it won’t be the last. I also wasn’t sure when first sitting through the intense “Compliance” if it would get an “honorable mention” on my 2012 Ten Best list. Those of you that are regular readers are already aware that it did. It deals a much slyer hand than I deciphered back in early January. Plus the performances are all top shelf. And not only the wonderful Ann Dowd, but support players like Bill Camp, Ashlie Atkinson and Dreama Walker too(one could also argue that Ms. Walker is actually Ms. Dowd’s “co-lead”). And director Craig Zobel gets my utmost admiration for having the patience, bravery and skill to go maverick and silently include that entire police drive from the station to the restaurant towards the film’s conclusion. It’s a deft nod to the concept of time that I fear many may have missed. Kudos to its brilliance. “Compliance” is easily deserving of an A- grade. And I wasn’t in tune enough on my virgin watch to recognize just how exacting it is.

A family situation has kept the blog dormant for the last week. All is now fine and drifting back towards normalcy. What occurred caused me to do some personal re-evaluations, so this comeback post is timely in that respect. Truth be told—I missed writing. It’s good to return to the keyboard. Exciting stuff coming soon: the somewhat overdue review of Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone”, and a return of the “Flashback” feature with an appreciation of the director’s cut of 1986’s “Little Shop of Horrors”. Also, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to revisit Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” in John Doyle’s intimate off-Broadway revival. I was a big supporter of the original Broadway Tony-winner in 1994, and my advance feeling is that the smaller space will enhance this typically complex and difficult Sondheim work. My seat has been secured, and I can’t wait! Plus, we’ll see if Andrew Dominik’s under-seen 2012 offering of “Killing Them Softly” can match up with 2007’s brilliant, under-seen “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. Brad Pitt’s back for the director’s latest effort—and I hear it’s bloody as hell. And April’s entry in The Cronenberg Chronicle finds David reaching full maturation with 1983’s “Videodrome”. I’m hoping to have that one in by the first week of next month—and then after that there’s only five to go.

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