Home viewing variety pack: Compliance, The Conversation, Mama, John Dies in the End, Jiro Dreams of Sushi


I’m still watching a movie every day but sick/busy/etc. haven’t blogged. Here are the five  best Netflix/Hulu/Amazon movies I saw in the past month:

Compliance explores how far people will go to obey authority. A prank caller posing as a police officer compels a female fast food manager to strip search a young female employee. Though his directions becomes increasingly bizarre the manager accepts his explanations based on her belief that as an authority figure he is following a protocol. While others involved question his direction and some even refuse to comply, he continues to manipulate  the manager, the employee, and others. While watching this film I kept wondering how these people could allow themselves to be manipulated and thinking how unrealistic the plot seemed… until the end when it was revealed that this actually happened over 70 times in a ten year period at fast food restaurants and grocery stores in 30 states. In 1961 Yale professor Stanley Milgram conducted experiments to try and understand why German soldiers complied with Adolph Eichmann. He stated in his conclusions that “ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” 50 years later this is still true. Mark 2:27 says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Like the Sabbath, law and authority exists for the benefit of humans, not the other way around. What do we teach about compliance to authority? How is authority trained to respond to being questioned? Do we behave as though we were made for the law?

In The Conversation Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, a legendary surveillance professional who is hired to record a conversation between a young couple in a busy park. Made in 1974, I don’t know how I missed this film in the past but I’m glad I finally saw it. While the equipment dates the film, the characters and situation do not. Based on what he hears Harry comes to certain conclusions and feels that he is in a position to prevent a crime. A past mistake and an active moral conscience compel him to become involved. Harry is an extremely private and somewhat paranoid person who does not share his concerns with his business partner Stan. Harry acts alone to try and prevent the murder he believes will be committed. While the plot seems to validate his paranoia in some ways, the film raises important questions about speculation and assumptions. The question I was asking at the end was “What would have happened if Harry had simply bounced his thoughts off Stan?” Acting on limited information and a single perspective, one person’s conclusions may not reflect reality.  In an abundance of counselors there is safety. Prov. 11:14.

Mama is a horror movie that is stronger on character than it is on plot. After five years two feral children are found in the woods and returned to their loving uncle and his not-so-willing girlfriend? spouse? The acting and the subtle consistencies in the plot make this a better than average horror flick. Jessica Chastain proves her versatility again as Annabel, the reluctant new mama. Annabel’s character development and the increasing maternal attachments between Annabel and the girls brought something more to the story. Megan Charpentier’s and Isabelle Nelisse’s performances as the little girls make this film compelling in spite of some plot issues. Their behavior is consistent with children who have suffered parental neglect. The developmental delays seem realistic. The girls feels both loyalty and fear toward Mama. The younger girl, Lilly,  has no memory of a previous life and prefers Mama’s familiar if malevolent presence while the older girl, Victoria, is torn. She is rapidly readjusting to her new/previous world and warming to Annabel but she’s fearful of what that means in the world she’s occupied with Mama and Lilly. Even though this is a horror movie, the real-world emotional conflict of children who have suffered abuse or neglect (and even the dysfunctional parents who love them in their own way) is relevant. Both Mama and Annabel are  ill-suited mamas. Annabel because she doesn’t want the job and Mama because she’s a crazy ghost. I didn’t like the end but perhaps the point is that intervention in extremely dysfunctional situations is a fragile thing that may not always have the outcome we hope for.

The humor in John Dies in the End made this story of unlikely heroes work for me. David and John are ordinary slackers dealing with an extraordinary mission to save the world when a mysterious new drug turns it’s victims into a mindless invading hoard. It’s got this 80’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey quality about it. And I mean that in the best possible way. It doesn’t take itself seriously, the gore is gross and gooey but always good natured and funny. With the help of a cute but dysfunctional girl and her faithful dog they must trace down the source of this mayhem before it’s too late. The existential plot involves a crazy series of events that are not particularly sequential and might be easier to follow after another viewing, but it’s David’s off-kilter, disjointed stream of narration and commentary that makes the movie so entertaining anyway. After finding out that Cracked.com’s Jason Pargin wrote the story, the whole thing made more sense. This one just made me smile.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about an 85 year old chef who runs a tiny sushi restaurant in the basement of a Toyko office building. Jiro is one of the most respected chefs in Toyko and his food is in high demand; but he enjoys his small restaurant and the quality and attention to customers it allows him to provide. He spends 40 minutes massaging an octopus to get the texture just right. His attention to detail and commitment to perfection is intense. For those in his employ it can be exhausting as well. Jiro’s sons were the most compelling part of the story for me. Not only are they heirs to their fathers’ work but to his attitude toward his work. This is Jiro’s legacy to his sons. The younger son Takashi has opened a larger, more relaxed restaurant across town. Takashi has been able to translate this legacy into something that is his own, yet in many ways he does not stray far from his father’s shadow. The older son, 50-year-old Yashikazu, works for his father and will take over the business when his father retires. He chooses to wait for the opportunity to make his own mark in deference to Jiro. The filmmaker really lets the players tell the story without much commentary. I enjoy films that let me into a culture that is not my own without telling me what I should think of it. Jiro does that and I really enjoyed the trip.

Comments are closed.