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Gaetana Caldwell-Smith


By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

Dreama Walker as Becky being questioned by Sandra and Marti.

COMPLIANCE,   film based on true events, written and directed by Craig Sobel, starring Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Philip Ettinger, and Pat Healy.

                                                             UNSPEAKABLE ACTS

                                                            By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith 

The shocking, cringe-worthy film, “Compliance,” has the look of a cinema verité documentary.  It takes place during winter in a small-town strip-mall fast-food restaurant with problems of spoiled food due to employee negligence and an illness related short-staff.  Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, a stressed-out, heavy-set, middle-age woman, gets a phone call from a man saying that he’s Police Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) who unfortunately can’t take the time to go out there in person because he’s very busy.  He tells her that one of her customer’s complained that an employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), stole money out of her purse an hour ago; she’s with Daniels now along with Sandra’s boss, the franchise owner.  The mostly young staff is on edge as it is; Sandra has warned them that a company “secret shopper” is coming in to rate the place.

When Daniels asks Sandra to take Becky into the break room and search her purse, you know something is not kosher.  From merely rummaging through her purse, the search escalates incrementally, orchestrated by Daniels as the rest of the oblivious staff out front continues serving the steady stream of hungry customers.  He cows and intimidates Sandra, flatters her so that she’ll do anything he asks.  A foreshadowing scene occurs early in the film between Sandra and Becky so that when she takes his side, even referring to Becky as a thief, it rings true.  The cook, Kevin (Philip Ettinger) and a grizzled supplier (Matt Servitto) are the only ones who aren’t fooled.  Sensing things are not right, they make phone calls.

The fact that the entire film is based on telephone dialogue neither constricts nor undermines the suspense and pace.  Plus, the camera breaks it up with shots of customers chowing down in booths; rusted, greasy equipment, dirty dishwater, piles of discarded cartons and wrappers (Chef Ramsey would be appalled), and a parking lot rimmed with melting snow-drifts.  Soon scene will segue to a bland-looking, early fortyish man in sweater and slacks, sitting in front of a littered desk, or making a sandwich, with a phone to his ear.

Daniels threatens Becky with jail-time and fabricates drug deals, implicating her.  Confused, she denies everything, protests his demands, and insists that she’s innocent. He tells her frequently to calm down and insists that she address him as “sir” or “officer.”  He ensures that there is only one person at a time in the room with her. Becky, who now sits naked, covered only by an apron, ends up allowing Sandra, her assistant, Marti (Ashley Atkinson), as well as Sandra’s balding, sheepish, beer-drinking fiancé, Van (Bill Camp), to carry out Daniels’ phone directed, step-by step searches tantamount to those perpetrated on prisoners suspected of concealing contraband in bodily orifices.  Daniels rewards Van for conducting the most egregious search with a sex act by Becky. 

            You ask yourself why Sandra and the others allowed this to happen.  People are conditioned through religion, education, and government to obey the law and not to question authority.  The man spoke convincingly, repeatedly stating that he was an officer of the law, asking, “Don’t you want to do the right thing?” “Help me out here,” and “The sooner you do this, the sooner it’ll all be over,” interspersed with threats.  Also, he had done his homework on these people, knew their weaknesses and used the information to his advantage.

 Can we use the message of the film to explain how tyrannical, imperialistic governments gain control of its citizens?  How 100s of thousands of people are coerced into leaving their homes and boarding freight cars that will take them to their deaths?  How millions of innocent people are driven from their lands, herded into reservations, or concentration camps as were Japanese citizens in California?  Can it explain the exploitation of women?  Minorities?  The undocumented, and so on? 

Though this cringe-inducing film takes place in the restaurant, mostly in the back room, it is not claustrophobic.  The acting feels natural, you sense that these are real, hardworking people asked to carry out unspeakable acts on an innocent person.


“The Tyranny of Cheerfulness” Samantha King

By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith
PINK RIBBONs, INC., directed by Léa Pool, written by Patricia Kearns and Léa Pool; based on the book by Samantha King.
Statistics state that every 23 seconds a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and one dies every 69 seconds.

The eye-opening Canadian documentary, “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” is aptly subtitled “Capitalizing on Hope.”  Director Léa Pool filmed events in Susan G. Komen Walk-for-the-Cure during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), held in major locations around the world.   AstraZeneca, a corporation that produces cancer-causing chemicals and drugs, founded BCAM, which takes place annually in October.
Watching the film, the preponderance of hot-pink EVERYTHING got to me- from the twisted pink ribbon to pink flamingo glasses.  Nowadays, you can’t turn around without a proliferation of pink products being pushed at you.   As seen in the film, the Komen’s “walk for the cure” has spread globally.  World leaders throw pink spotlights on monuments and/or historic sites, like Niagara Falls, during BCAM, an activity akin to breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull of a ship.  When interviewed, someone asked, “What does lighting up Niagara Falls with pink lights mean?”   It’s enough to make you gag.   Pool interviewed social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich.  Diagnosed with breast cancer, she opted out of going pink, saying she was highly offended by the infantilizing of women; and how one was expected to be upbeat.   Anger is negative; the efforts to find a cure are made to be fun!   Still, I wondered, where would AIDS research and treatment be if it weren’t for the anger of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in the 1980s?
The efforts to find a cure started in the 1940s.  It was seen as a battle (Ehrenreich commented, “I wasn’t battling anything.  I chose to live”).  During WWII, members of the American Cancer Society, marched in military uniforms to demonstrate the “fight against” cancer here at home while “our boys” fought the enemy overseas.   Back then, the ratio of breast cancer deaths was 1 in 22, now it’s a shocking one in eight.  Today, an astounding 59,000 women a year die of breast cancer.  What is going on?  Ronald Reagan had pledged to throw millions of dollars into finding a cure.  It became a philanthropic endeavor and huge corporations came on board.  Many wonder where all the money is going; there is very little to show for it.  Philanthropic foundations believe that the solution is more money.   Yet there is no coordination between federal and/or private foundation cancer research organizations.  Andl only a tiny percentage of all the Komen funds go to research ( 15% last year, down from 20%.  Komen has cut by nearly half the proportion of funds it spends on research grants).
It has been noted that drug companies profit by making people terminally ill- a truly egregious cycle.  Heads of pharmaceutical corporations must be rubbing their hands knowing that the more drugs they sell, the more people will develop cancer.  Cancer is a disease with an indefinite remission or end-time, so corporations can sell their wares indefinitely.   Cancer surgeon, Dr. Susan Love feels that chemotherapy and radiation are poisons.  She wants more research.   Yet few scientists are studying the effects of pesticides, toxins, and plastics in the environment- some plastic products disrupt hormones in all species.  It is a known fact that certain plastics mimic female hormones, destroying endocrine functions.   Interestingly, so far, studies have included only white women, when an inordinate number of women of color, due to income disparities, live in environmentally compromised areas.   Yet Komen sponsors can’t work with environmentalists because Komen has ties to companies whose products contain carcinogenic substances!  Interestingly, no mention was made in the film concerning men with breast cancer.  Perhaps Polo or some other male-oriented product will step up.  Still, since 2009, men get their own week during BCAM
The Komen “cancer industry” hooked up with corporations and evolved into selling their products.  Yoplait, until it was discovered that its yogurt contained bovine growth hormone-  the company has since stopped using it and iIt still supports Komen; Revlon and Estée Lauder got on the pink bandwagon, both whose cosmetics contain carcinogenic chemicals-  they promised to investigate.  Avon’s Avon Foundation for Women disassociated itself from Avon Products to protect them from liability from its cancer causing ingredients.   During one BCAM, Kentucky Fried Chicken sold its deep-fried chicken in pink buckets (a short film clip shows that Colonel Saunders had switched his trademark white suit to pink), creating controversy.  The hypocrisy is stunning considering that these companies purport to fight cancer.
Sports teams signed on to BCAM realizing they could profit.  Since many NFL players were not nice guys, they joined the cause, and, in my eyes, made themselves ridiculous wearing pink laces in their cleats; pink ribbon logos on helmets and other equipment.  After an influential breast cancer survivor ordered herself a white, pink- striped Mustang, Ford held raffles for a designer Mustang, proceeds to benefit Komen.  Sadly, a dozen female Ford employees who had assembled the cars’ plastic interiors, died from breast cancer.   “When I see a pink ribbon,” activist Judy Brady says, “I see evil.”   That’s how I felt each time, Nancy Brinker,  Komen Foundation founder was interviewed in her blush, band-box pink jacket –  her robotized voice and smooth, heavily made up face, and perfect hair.
Pool interviewed a group of women with Stage IV, or end-stage- cancer, whose breast cancer metastasized.   “We’re made to feel we didn’t try hard enough,” one said.  Their doctors say that they can take drugs to prolong their lives.  The women ask: “But what kind of life would we be living?” Another said, “It’s like they’re using our disease to profit and that’s not OK.”
The film was made before the Planned Parenthood controversy where Komen pulled its funding from that organization.  Karen Handel, a Komen vice-president, and five other leaders have resigned, yet the flack continues.  The pink ribbon hype is a total phenomenon.    Would that the hundreds of thousands of people who participate could realize that they are being exploited for corporate profit so that they’ll get angry, organize, and speak out!   We need the energy of an ACT UP, the organization that propelled the eventual success of a viable AIDs treatment.


By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

THE DICTATOR, directed by Larry Charles, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, and Ben Kingsley.

“The Dictator” is outrageously over the top hilarious; Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, the heavily bearded Admiral General Aladeen, in a militaristic, be-ribboned white suit and cap, is the dictator of the fictional oil-rich country of Wadiya.  In a speech about democracy vs a dictatorship, he riles up the crowd by asking if they want to live in a country that spies on its citizens, arrests them without charge, and imprisons them indefinitely; and also assassinates its citizens who happen to be friends or relatives of suspected terrorists who are in another country at the time.  Hopefully, the audience gets that Aladeen is talking about America, espousing truths that no mainstream media would dare touch.  The self-important major TV newscasts anchors reporting on Aladeen’s every move are portrayed as a bunch of well-groomed, clueless nitwits.
Aladeen’s handlers hire an imposter because Aladeen has decapitated so many detractors that Wadiyans want him killed.  On the lam, Aladeen ends up in New York dressed in the rags of a homeless person; he runs into fellow countryman Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), whom he thought he’d ordered be-headed.  Nadal now owns a restaurant called Death to Aladeen. He then gets involved with an organic foods co-op run by Zoey (a gamin Anna Faris), who outfits the 6 ft 4 Cohen in a Take Back the Night T-shirt and baggy, baby-blue, thigh-length shorts.  Without even trying, Zoey innocently and naively effects a major change in him.
The film touches on the US dealing with the Wadiyan nuclear enrichment program; the push for an Arab Spring democracy in dictatorships.  Cohen leaves no sensitive issue unscathed such as female infanticide, women’s rights (women, generally), police brutality, racism- Blacks, Jews, Asians, and more.  Still you will not hear an anti-Muslim peep.  There’s some bathroom and high-school jock humor throughout, but the concept is like a Michael Moore documentary only totally fictionalized with bizarre characters, dialogue and scenes.  Ben Kingsley plays Tamir, Aladeen’s right hand man who plots to overthrow him.  He is a dead-ringer for Hamid Karzai, complete with hat and cape, and the only character who plays it absolutely straight.  The audience in the theatre was mostly women and we all laughed out loud throughout.


By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

Director Bradley Parker shot “Chernobyl Diaries” in the manner of the popular scare-fest “The Blair Witch Project” using hand held cameras and like that film, the characters film themselves.   Three young people are in the Ukraine visiting a friend’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) who now lives there.  Screen writers Shane and Cary Van Dyke, round out the characters by touching on their relationships, such as Paul’s sibling rivalry with younger brother, Chris (Jesse McCartney, who looks like a young Leonardo diCaprio), and Chris’s love interest, Natalie (Olivia Dudley).  The dialogue shows them to be sophisticated, mature people in that no one says “like” or “anyways.”
Paul bullies the others into joining him and another couple on an extreme tour run by Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) a blocky, shaven-headed, alien-from-another-planet-like dude.  Their destination?  Chernobyl- site of the worst nuclear disaster until last year’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan that damaged its Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactor, laying waste everything for miles.
The premise of “Chernobyl” is that Russia is keeping secrets of what became of people who didn’t, or couldn’t, evacuate the Ukrainian town of Prypiat, two miles distant from Chernobyl, by order of the Soviet Union.  Everyone was given only five minutes to pack up and leave.  A fleet of buses was conscripted to take the inhabitants to safety, after the nuclear meltdown twenty five years ago.   The film hints that the old, the sick, the invalids, and the infirm who couldn’t leave are imprisoned there to slowly die of radiation poisoning; the healthier ones are not allowed to leave lest they tell others about what’s really going on.  We see this as a possibility in the fate suffered by Amanda (Devin Kelly) as the last survivor.
Billed in the horror genre, first-time director Bradley Parker ‘s “Chernobyl Diaries” will disappoint horror movie fans.  It is slow moving except when characters run through labyrinthine passageways trying to escape things that go bump in the night or flee ravenous beasts; and it is bereft of creepy, supernatural, ghoulish monsters.  Though glimpses of small, bald, or hooded figures are seen in windows or creeping ominously and intently after the tourists making their way around in the dark.
In Uri’s beat up military van, they approach Prypiat once inhabited by hundreds of families whose adult members once worked at the Chernobyl nuclear facility.  They are stopped at the gate by a guard who tells them that the facility is closed due to maintenance.   But of course, Uri knows a secret way in.  They take pictures of the area that once boasted tree-shaded gardens and a playground with a Ferris wheel and other rides, now eerily still and rusted.  Everything is desiccated; and the old concrete Soviet era blockhouse, hi-rise apartments (like Cabrini-Green) are strewn with rubble and rusted metal.
Led by a confidant Uri, they wend their way in the half-light through apartments still furnished with overturned tables and chairs, a school with dust-covered desks and papers strewn around, a hospital ward with rusted iron beds, and here and there lay creepy, tattered, soiled ,eyeless doll, and weird-looking labs featuring weird-looking machines covered with dust and debris.  They hear noises.  Uri assures them not to worry, nothing can live here.   The setting is haunting.   Then something happens to belie Uri’s assurance.  They realize they should not have come, so pile into Uri’s van.  Night is falling.  Predictably the vehicle breaks down; things go from bad to really, horribly bad until there is just one of the six tourists left, then none.  One inconsistency is that the tourists start out exploring Prypiat on foot, yet appear to end up in the damaged reactor itself, two miles away.
I believe Parker’s “Chernobyl Diaries” is timely and important; but it got bad reviews.  People wanted more horror.  What can be more horrifying than a domestic nuclear plant explosion and meltdown which kills people, contaminates and lays waste land for hundreds of miles and for hundreds if not thousands of years?   This could be the future for Okuma, Futaba, and other towns which lie within a fifty mile radius of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.  Most of the footage for “Chernobyl”was shot in Prypiat.   I recommend seeing the Greenpeace and BBC videos of the history of Chernobyl and Prypiat- then and now- on You Tube. Also, tours to Prypiat are as routinely conducted today as there are to the ghost-haunted remains of the prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.