For the first time since we compiled Criticwire’s mid-year, Best Films of 2012 breakdown almost two months ago, there’s a weekend with a pair of films from those lists hitting theaters. Both have enjoyed 2012 festival runs and have had multiple opportunities for feedback since their first-quarter debuts. But in one more case of narrative vs. documentary, “Side by Side” enters this weekend with a higher B+ average, good enough to garner this week’s title as Criticwire Pick of the Week.
Chris Kenneally’s new documentary is yet another example of how the film vs. digital debate is rippling through the industry, while permeating the public consciousness as well. “Side by Side” uses actor Keanu Reeves as a narrator and interviewer, guiding the audience through the technical, philosophical and cultural ramifications of the steady shift from celluloid to digital capture of imagery. Some critics argue that the value of the film comes from the educational nature of including a wide array of filmmaking professionals in the discussion. In her Flick Feast review, Kezia Tooby writes that “the documentary gives plenty of screen time to the lesser known but equally as talented people such as cinematographers, editors and colour correctors who are highly prolific in the industry.” Jessica Kiang describes in her Playlist review from the Berlin Film Festival (where “Side by Side” debuted), that the collaboration between Kenneally and Reeves grounds the film in a sincerity toward the subject matter. “Reeves can sound a little weak and stilted in voiceover, but we soon forgive him for it as his genuine interest in the subject reveals itself, as does his sensitivity as an interviewer, neither overly deferential nor overly chummy,” she writes.
Coming in as the third-highest reviewed English language indie of 2012 back at the end of June, “Compliance” gained steam out of Sundance as an important-but-heavy counterpart to the decidedly more uplifting “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Drawn in part from true events, the film profiles a female employee of a fast-food restaurant who is aggressively interrogated and assaulted at the instruction of a man posing as a police officer. In his A+ review at Film Threat, Don R. Lewis categorizes “Compliance” as a horror film, but makes a distinction between director Craig Zobel’s treatment of women characters and standard slasher Hollywood fare. Of “Compliance,” he writes that it’s “a brilliant film that seeks to divide and upset not only groups of people but also, individuals.” Edward Douglas’ review for Comingsoon.net highlights the film’s visual choices, mainly in the way that its cramped setting increases tension. “It starts out fairly naturalistic, almost fly-on-the-wall,” Douglas explains, “then transitions into something more stylistic and cinematic, giving us a better impression of Zobel’s skills as a director.” Kate Erbland concludes her Film School Rejects review with the summation that “while the film’s soundtrack and long shots on certain inanimate objects frequently feel heavy-handed and overbearing, ‘Compliance’ is a riveting watch when it’s focused squarely on conversations between its characters – terrifying, maddening conversations with no comfortable end.”
Another notable release this weekend is “Cosmopolis,” the latest from director David Cronenberg. The film premiered at Cannes to a slew of varied responses, where it made Criticwire members’ overall top 10 lists for both Best and Most Disappointing film of the festival. In addition to those polls, we compiled a Review Capsule for the film that captured much of the ambivalence toward the film. Most reviews occupied the middle ground, arguing that the film might have its Cronenberg flashes of brilliance, but there’s much to unpack before getting to the film’s central worth.