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Magnolia Pictures Wrap-Up

The Good Doctor


Orlando Bloom was put in the difficult position of being the prettyboy star of two major blockbuster film series very early in his career. Besides Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Gore Verbisnki’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, he was also cast/miscast in huge period action productions, like Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy and Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. This premature over-saturation led to inevitable backlash. After some time out of the spotlight in smaller, contemporarily set dramas ( Sympathy for Delicious, Main Street), he took on the role of the villain in Paul W.S. Anderson’s ill-conceived Three Musketeers reboot, where he steals the film and is a major component in its surprising watchability. Hopefully, this opens the door to more campy baddy roles peppered through a slowly-growing collection of independent releases. One such independent release is Lance Daly’s The Good Doctor, which Bloom also acted as executive producer on (sometimes you just have to create your own roles, I suppose).

The Good Doctor is very much the kind of film an actor would want to usher through production. As Dr. Martin E. Blake, Bloom is the absolute focal center here. He’s also an understatedly tortured soul (there’s a lot going on behind those eyes) who Bloom must balance between charm and villainy as the character begins to partake in less than reputable activity. His destructive obsession with his young patient, Diane (Riley Keough), recalls the similar and definitively darker obsessions of the title characters of Maniac and Taxi Driver. He’s a modern, white-collar variation of DeNiro’s Travis Bickle. I’m afraid I’m entirely unfamiliar with Irish director Lance Daly’s previous releases (he appears to make a film every 3 or 4 years). His choice of look here is a sort of slick nouvelle vague meets BBC teledrama thing with lots of studious close-ups and blurry backgrounds. This clinical, detached look seems kind of obvious for the subject matter, but goes down pretty smoothly, thanks to the juxtaposition of some bouncy, choppy editing that keeps the mostly uneventful narrative moving. The screenplay is credited to John Enbom, whose most recognizable work includes writing for the Veronica Mars and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series. Not to stereotype the guy, but this resume isn’t surprising. Much of The Good Doctor plays like a pilot for a particularly unoriginal weekly medical drama that turns into an unremarkable thriller. The awkward build up around Martin’s angst is, at times, plenty effective, but one gets the feeling the whole film would work better as a short subject (even with the ‘extraneous’ stuff, this version would’ve worked better ending around the one-hour mark everything past that is kind of unneeded).

According to specs, The Good Doctor was shot on 16mm film. This Blu-ray’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer captures the essence of the format, but this is more of a Moonrise Kingdom or Away We Go 16mm than a Rob Zombie or Walking Dead 16mm. The frame is continuously grainy and the textures are soft, but I’d never describe it as particularly gritty or grim. Daly and cinematographer Yaron Orbach’s shallow focus and use of source lighting, coupled with the format’s comparative lack of detail, doesn’t lead to much in the way of complexity, but major details are reasonably sharp. The brightly lit, detached look lends itself well to a monochromatic treatment, but there are downy pastels and electric red lights peppered throughout the otherwise grey palette. The Good Doctor is so subtle, aurally speaking, that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t have a whole lot to do outside of the simplest, centered dialogue and effects. The hallways of the hospital are occasionally brimming with the sound of medical machines, telephones, and softly speaking staff, and some of this does leak lightly into the stereo and surround channels. Directional involvement is limited to occasional horror-movie-like bumps in the night as Martin’s paranoia overtakes him. For the most part, it is the crisp center channel that does all the non musical work. Singer/songwriter Brian Byrne’s musical score is low energy and atmospheric, alternating between mournful piano motifs and scary, low-end strings that give the LFE something to do. The extras include The Making-of The Good Doctor (9:50, HD), AXS TV: A Look at The Good Doctor (4:50, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.


Magnolia Pictures Wrap-Up

Jack and Diane


Jack and Diane is certainly a conceptually interesting film. Two mysterious young ladies named Jack (Riley Keough) and Diane (Juno Temple) quickly grow infatuated with one another while the camera looks on like a lecherous documentarian. But there’s a twist – one of them may be a werewolf. Or not. The horror elements all appear to be metaphorical, rather than literal. Sadly, the interest ends in the concept, because Jack and Diane is a largely uneventful, drowsy, naval-gazer (I believe the technical term is mumblegore) that only acts to remind us there’s already a pretty great female-centric werewolf movie laced in metaphors called Ginger Snaps.
 
Jack and Diane (no relation to the song) is written and directed by one Brian Rust Gray, whose naturalistic approach makes for an effectively ambiguous and even beautiful look. The use of close-ups and subjective camera placement creates an effectively claustrophobic atmosphere that occasionally disguises the listless truth of the film. More often than not, it is the writing that fails him. The complete lack of story momentum is sort of the point of the project, but there’s no good reason for his characters to be such thin stereotypes. He makes a valiant attempt at understanding the thoughts and emotions of teenage lesbians – he just has no idea what he’s doing. Diane is a faint outline of other sad indie movie girls. She’s sure to tell her guardian that she isn’t her ‘real mom,’ she mopes while twirling her hair, and, when she wants to cheer herself up, she plays dress-up in front of a mirror. Jack, who dresses like a high school boy circa 1995 and only plays cassette tapes, is very obviously a surrogate for Gray himself and is perpetually angry, because she’s street smart. Eventually, even Gray seems to get bored and he begins fashioning bizarre crises with no payoff -– like Diane’s twin sister (who we otherwise never see or care about) being raped as part of an Internet porn ring. Temple (the latest princess of indie films) and Keough (who also appeared in The Good Doctor) act their little faces off to no avail, because their characters are so underwhelming. The only interesting things here are the brief stop-motion animated and creature attack sequences. The creature is designed by Gabe Bartalos ( Basketcase 2 and 3, From Beyond) and the animation has been put together by Stephen and Timothy Quay, aka: The Brothers Quay ( The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

This 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray is smooth and reasonably vivid. Gray and cinematographer Anne Misawa don’t do a whole lot to colour-coat the film, instead allowing the already colourful costumes and set dressing to create a reasonably eclectic palette. The natural lighting muddies things up a bit, but, for the most part, colour lines are well-defined and the more vibrant hues pop effectively. The otherwise clean details are limited by the use of heavy close-ups and shallow background focus. The 35mm format leads to some fine grain, but the gentle gradations and lack of artefacts might trick you into thinking you’re watching a digital HD-shot movie. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack matches the video quality in that it’s a mostly naturalistic affair with subtle ambience running through the channels to create a generally immersive aural environment. The musical score is composed by Icelandic pop group Múm (who, as a bit of personal trivia, I met when my friends’ band opened for them and I helped sell merch). Most of their score and the more incidental, non-score music often comes from a screen source and is treated appropriately with directional placement and general sound quality. Sometimes the music is so low on the track that the naturalistic qualities are lost (the characters are in a noisy bar and don’t even need to raise their voices to be heard), but this helps to soften the sequences where Múm’s more dreamy score engulfs the stereo and surround channels in a conventional manner. Extras include Creating a Monster: Behind the Special Effects (10:10, HD), AXS TV: A Look at Jack and Diane (4:50, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.


Magnolia Pictures Wrap-Up

Compliance


Compliance is easily the best of the three films I’m reviewing for Magnolia. It’s also the one that will likely garner the most furiously opposing opinions, because it’s subject matter is so nauseating. A man claiming to be a police officer (Pat Healy) calls a fast-food restaurant and informs the manager (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) has stolen money from a customer’s purse. The fake cop then proceeds to convince the manager to strip search the employee. When she complies, he ups the ante. The story is based on a series of more than 70 (unfortunately) true events throughout 30 states, that ran almost a decade until the perpetrator was finally caught in 2004.

Writer/director Craig Zobel is another indie auteur I’m basically unfamiliar with, though he was a producer on David Gordon Green’s George Washington (Green produced this film in return, it appears). For Compliance, he takes a hyper-natural, documentary-style approach, which is the only way I can imagine such a painfully intimate story being told. His images slowly grow more detached and colder as the emotional horrorshow progresses. The look works to hold the drama, only failing to do so when Zobel and cinematographer Adam Stone cram their actors’ faces into the far corners of the super-wide scope frame. Compliance is a very uncomfortable movie on just about every level, from the icky, aggressively frustrating subject matter to the agonizingly realistic characters and awkward small talk. Teeth-grinding anger is the point of the film. It’s a horror film, just on an emotional rather than a visceral level. When it becomes painful to watch the pain is complimentary in same fashion that the revulsion that greets a gory special effect is complimentary to a slasher movie. Deeper beneath the stomach-churning façade are potent questions about the right of authority and the psychology of acquiescence (see also: Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, which inspired Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Das Experiment). Zobel constructs a tight, tense atmosphere, but, without performances this utilitarian, it may have turned into a goofy joke of a film, thanks to a lack of narrative thrust (it already verges on funny a few times). Lead Ann Dowd garnered Oscar buzz for her portrayal and I have to agree with the general consensus. Her character is almost instantaneously, heartbreakingly tragic, which helps keeps us from absolutely hating her as she allows a bad situation spiral out of control.

Compliance was shot digital HD on Arriflex cameras (meaning this group review covers 16mm, 35mm, and digital formats). Zobel and Stone do interesting things with the visuals by blending the jagged, vérité camerawork with soft-focus backgrounds and smooth, unnaturally homogenized colours. The palette is made up almost entirely of warm colours that are then de-saturated, cooled, and set against a consistent blue hue. The use of heavy close-ups and shallow focus doesn’t do the detail levels any favours, but textural complexity doesn’t appear to be high among the film’s ambitions. The orange and tan backgrounds are occasionally dotted with minor green flecks and the blackest edges feature very minor sharpening effects during the rare wide-shots. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is very, very loud, despite a general lack of intensive sound design. It’s loud, but it’s also consistently clean and natural without a lick of high-end distortion. The sound consists mostly of very dry dialogue sequences, but there are scenes that take place out in the weeds of the faux-fast food joint that feature plenty of surround enhancement. Heather McIntosh’s musical score doesn’t make too many appearances, but when it does, it impresses with rich, super high fidelity solo or quartet strings and stereo-enhanced bells and drums. The score also underlines some of the more intense sequences with a subtle LFE rumble. The extras include an interview with Zobel (10:10, HD), Behind the Scenes of Compliance (2:00, HD), AXS TV: A Look at Compliance (3:50, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Magnolia releases.


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