On paper, the story told in Craig Zobel's new film, Compliance, sounds unbelievable. Sandra (Ann Dowd), a fast-food-restaurant manager, gets a call from a police officer (Pat Healy) during a busy Friday-night shift. He tells her that one of her employees, Becky (Dreama Walker), has stolen money from a customer and that she's to be detained until he arrives. Sandra does what she's told, but the officer's requests get increasingly intense and, before long, Sandra and another employee have strip-searched the young woman. That's just the beginning of the humiliating experience this woman goes through. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous—like, why doesn't anyone see through what's going on, hang up the phone and give the poor girl her clothes, right?
The thing is, Compliance, which opens for a week at the Ken Cinema on Friday, Aug. 31, is based on just one of a slew of similar phone calls that were made about a decade ago, to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Northeast. Most of what goes down in Compliance really happened, even the seriously disturbing stuff. Just like in real life, almost everyone in the movie believes he or she is doing the right thing because someone with authority is calling the shots.
So, what kind of person would do something so awful? Zobel says that he and his star, Pat Healy—who was also the lead in The Great World of Sound, the director's first feature—spent a lot of time talking about that.
"He probably felt marginalized, and this was his sort of relief," Zobel tells CityBeat. "A lot of what we talked about was along the lines of whether he had done it a bunch of times. For him, the stakes were really low, this guy probably just hanging out on the other end of the line. I doubt he ever thought about what he was doing to them in a real way. He was just in some ways kind of like, Well, they're stupid, and they could just hang up. Why don't they just hang up?'
"It's a bit of a video game, and he's, like, Wow, got to Level 3 this time.'"Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.
2 Days in New York: Julie Delpy wrote, directed and stars in this nifty little movie, in which she and her partner, Chris Rock, find their lives jostled when her parents come from France to visit them.
The Awakening: Rebecca Hall plays a ghost hunter who stumbles upon the real thing in post-WWI England.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate: Jet Li's new martial-arts epic will screen in 3-D and in IMAX at AMC Mission Valley.
For a Good Time, Call...: Two girls (Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller) who couldn't stand each other in college start up a phone-sex line in order to afford a fabulous New York apartment.
Hari-Kari: Death of a Samurai 3D: Takashi Miike's new martial-arts epic will screen in 3-D at Reading Gaslamp Cinema. Lawless: The new film from John Hillcoat, about three brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) running moonshine during Prohibition, looks great but feels long and somewhat lifeless. See our review on Page 26.
Little White Lies: French film about a group of old friends whose vacation is altered when one of them has a serious accident. Starring Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin.
Love Carrot #3: A couple's one-night stand leads them to switch bodies, à la Freaky Friday. Also, it's in Russian.
The Possession: A young girl buys a cool-looking box at a yard sale, only to find out it hosts an evil spirit. Not the bargain she was looking for.
One Time Only
Forrest Gump: These days, it just seems weird when you see someone wearing Bubba Gump gear. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, at Gingham in La Mesa.
Grease: Apparently, it's the word. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
The Princess Bride: The final show of Stone's movie series. It seems inconceivable that the summer's over. It's familyfriendly, so bring the kids in for a beer at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
Dolphin Tale: A boy saving a dolphin from a crab trap doesn't just spawn a friendship; it also creates a movie! Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, in the food court at the Piazza Carmel Shopping Plaza.
Bringing Up Baby: Cary Grant is a paleontologist desperate to get a grant from wealthy heiress Katharine Hepburn, who happens to have a pet leopard named Baby. Screens at noon and 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont.
alt.pictureshows: This year marks the 10th anniversary of curator Neil Kendricks' short-film extravaganza. It starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla branch.
The Dark Glow of the Mountains and The Man Who Skied Down Everest: Werner Herzog's documentary about Reinhard Messner is paired with a self-explanatory doc about Japanese climber and skier Yuichiro Miura at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Ship in the Woods in Del Mar.
Surf's Up: Shia LaBeouf voices a penguin who surfs. Yeah, that sounds annoying. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
The Big Lebowski: A slacker-man drinks many white Russians. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, through Sunday, Sept. 2, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Big Heat: The Library's Fritz Lang series concludes with this hard-boiled cop film. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at the Central Library, Downtown.
An American Werewolf in London: John Landis' lupine classic was a specialeffects game-changer when it was made way back in 1981. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Intolerance: D.W. Griffith's 1916 silent masterpiece kicks off the ongoing 100th-anniversary celebration of the Ken Cinema. This version, which clocks in at almost three hours, screens at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1 and 2, at the Ken.
The Italian Job: Not to be confused with the remake from this millennium, this 1969 heist picture stars Michael Caine, as well as Noel Coward and Benny Hill. Screens at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Gremlins: Just don't feed them after midnight. Screens at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, at Full Moon Drive-In in Pacific Beach.
Some Like it Hot: This comedy classic, featuring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, co-stars the Hotel Del. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Bernie: Jack Black gets dramatic in Richard Linklater's dark comedy, about a fussy little man in Texas who murders his patron (Shirley MacLaine) after she pushes him too far. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Bridesmaids: Kristen Wiig hit the big time with this raunchy girl comedy that she stars in and co-wrote. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
2016: Obama's America: A right-wing doc designed to terrify the faithful.
The Apparition: College kids like Ashley Greene and Tom Felton release something supernatural while conducting experiments.
Beloved: Catherine Deneuve and her real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, costar in this decade-spanning musical romance. Ends Aug. 30 at the Ken Cinema.
Cosmopolis: Robert Pattinson keeps trying to get out of the Twilight shadow. David Cronenberg's new film, in which Pattinson stars as a hedge-fund guy who sees his fortune unravel during the course of a single day, might give him some cred.
Hermano: Two Venezuelan brothers desperately try to make it in professional soccer to escape their poverty-stricken beginnings.
Hit & Run: Real-life couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell co-star in this action road-trip comedy, which Shepard also wrote and directed.
Premium Rush: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Manhattan bike messenger being pursued by corrupt cop Michael Shannon, who thinks Gordon-Levitt's got something more than irony and attitude in his messenger bag.
Robot & Frank: In the not-too-distant future, an elderly jewel thief (Frank Langella) gets a robot butler as a gift.
Killer Joe: Matthew McConaughey is good as an overly polite hitman in William Friedkin's new NC-17 thriller.
Ek Tha Tiger: This Bollywood action romance shot around the world screens at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
The Expendables 2: Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme join the aging-action-star party, along with Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Willis, Li and the Governator.
Paranorman: Everyone thinks Norman, voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee, is a freak because he can talk to ghosts. That talent comes in handy when his small town is invaded by the undead. New 3-D stop-motion film from Laika, the folks who made Coraline.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton can't have a kid. That is, until there's a knock on the door and an odd little boy who apparently grew in their garden tells them that he's theirs.
Searching for Sugar Man: When two South Africans try to learn how an obscure American singer-songwriter from the '70s died, they get more than they bargained for. Despite that sounding like a feature, it's a pretty damn good documentary.
Sparkle: Whitney Houston's final film is about a girl group that has to deal with the difficulties of success.
The Bourne Legacy: Jeremy Renner takes over the franchise, which is now directed by Tony Gilroy, the guy who wrote all of the other Bourne movies and directed Michael Clayton.
The Campaign: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis spar over a North Carolina congressional seat.
Celeste and Jesse Forever: Rashida Jones, who co-wrote, plays Celeste, who's trying to stay friends with her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jesse (Andy Samberg).
The Healing: In this Filipino horror flick, a faith healer conjures up exactly the sorts of things she's trying to dispel.
Hope Springs: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones turn to Steve Carell to put some zip back into their marriage.
Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D: The crazy guys in the Nitro Circus do all kinds of death-defying stunts that would put the Jackass crew to shame.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: If it feels like they release one of these every summer, that's because that they release one of these every summer.
Total Recall: Less a remake of Arnie's 1990 flick than a new adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's short story. Colin Farrell plays Quaid, a man who starts to believe that everything he remembers might not be real. Kate Beckinsale is in the Sharon Stone role; Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston also star.
Adventures in Wild California: Here's what happens when the state has a few drinks and flashes the camera. Actually, no it's an IMAX movie about nature that's screening on Fridays at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Step Up Revolution: This time the dancing is in 3D! And Miami!
The Watch: Originally called Neighborhood Watch, this comedy—starring Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn as suburbanites in over their heads while trying to protect their 'hood—had its title changed after the Trayvon Martin killing.
The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy concludes.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: This Sundance success, about a little girl living in Louisiana after an apocalyptic environmental disaster, is beautiful and beguiling.
Ice Age: Continental Drift: So cold.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Apparently, he does whatever a spider can. In 3-D, too.
Katy Perry: Part of Me: She's also in 3-D!
Savages: Oliver Stone directs this thriller about two pot growers, played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson, who take on a Mexican cartel after the bad guys kidnap their girlfriend (Blake Lively). As in, they share.
Deep Sea: This IMAX undersea film was made by Del Mar's Howard and Michele Hall and is narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Ted: Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend gives him an ultimatum: It's either her or his walking, talking, foul-mouthed teddy bear, voiced by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, who also wrote and directed.
To Rome with Love: Woody Allen is his own worst enemy, because every time he turns out a mediocre movie—and this pastiche of stories set in Rome is certainly mediocre—it gets judged against his previous work.
Tyler Perry's Medea's Witness Protection: What the world needs now, apparently, is another Medea movie.
Brave: Princess Merida would rather be shooting arrows than playing dress-up, but when she defies her Scottish tribe, she sets loose a horrible curse that only she can fix.
Moonrise Kingdom: Set on an island off the coast of New England in 1965, this new one about two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away from the dysfunctional adults in their lives will be adored by those who worship at the altar of Wes Anderson.
Madagascar 3: Apparently kids still fall for this. Parents, too.
Prometheus: Ridley Scott returns to outer space, exploring the origins of humanity and the original Alien. It's worth seeing on the big screen and in 3D.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
The Intouchables: French blockbuster sensation about an aging Caucasian paraplegic who hires a poor young black man to be his caretaker.
Snow White and the Huntsman: Big-budget retelling of the fairy tale finds the huntsman (Thor's Chris Hemsworth) teaming up with Snow White (Kristen Stewart) to try to end the reign of the Evil Queen (Charlize Theron).
Men in Black 3: Will Smith has to go back in time to prevent Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement from murdering Tommy Lee Jones, who's represented in the past by Josh Brolin.
Battleship: Peter Berg's adaptation of the Hasbro board game, pitting the American Navy against invading aliens, is seriously loud and explodey.
Bernie: Jack Black plays the real-life Bernie Tiede, a popular Texas funeral director who was convicted of murdering an 81-year-old widow.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: There's a charm to this movie about British retirees who outsource their retirement to India, mostly because the cast is made up of folks like Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith.
The Avengers: It set box-office records for the biggest opening weekend ever, and for good reason. Joss Whedon's take on the Marvel franchise is well-written, superbly edited, funny and enormously entertaining.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Hunger Games: The most anticipated movie of the year to date is about a dystopian future where teens like Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are forced to kill one another to stay alive.
Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity: Liam Neeson narrates this IMAX film, screening at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Born to be Wild 3-D: Despite sounding like yet another animated animal movie, this is an IMAX film about baby elephants and orangutans and the people who love them. Oh, and it's narrated by Morgan Freeman. Collective sigh for the baby monkeys, please.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.