The Stanford Prison Experiment

September 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Olivia Thirlby
Directed by: Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“C.O.G.”)
Written by: Tim Talbott (debut)

In 1971, psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted one of the most controversial psychological experiments in history. Bringing together a group of student volunteers to play both guards and prisoners, Zimbardo’s intentions were to simulate a prison environment and study the abusive behaviors within the prison system. What happened, however, was that everyone, including Zimbardo himself, become entrenched and absorbed into their roles and psychological degradation, humiliation, and empowerment began. Almost 45 years later, these events are brought to the big screen in Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “The Stanford Prison Experiment.”

The cast is a veritable who’s who of young actors who have been in minor, but effective roles. Actors like Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller and Johnny Simmons are among a few of the actors who are great in their roles as prisoners. As each of the prisoners slowly unravel under the pressure from the guards, each actor gets to add more and more nuance and dramatic ability to their performance. On the guard side of things, Michael Angarano plays the sternest guard who takes satisfaction out of antagonizing everyone. At first as a joke, Angarano’s Christopher Archer invents an accent and swagger. As things progress, he starts to become this character and Angarano’s performance starts to get over the top. It is intentional and even necessary to show how far the guards, especially Archer, took it, but Angarano ends up feeling way too cartoonish to take seriously.

There’s a sense of real tension and discomfort that flows through “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” The film is at its best showing an unflinching portrayal of normal people who knew they only in an experiment becoming influenced, swept up in their designed roles and convinced that what they were experiencing was real. Zimbardo (played by Billy Crudup in the film) himself served as a consultant on the film and most of the conversations are lifted from actual transcripts from the experiment itself, which adds to the unease. One of the most effective things about “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is how Alvarez  perfectly captures how good-natured and amusing the experiment seemed at first and how it turned on a dime. As a study of human behavior, it’s fascinating to watch the turn of simulation blending into reality and the effects on the psyche of everyone involved from the guards, to the prisoners, down to the designers of the experimenters themselves.

If there’s a complaint to be had, it is that the film could have used a little bit of condensing. Redundant scenes of abusive behavior are hammered a little too hard and a little tightening up in the editing bay could have made the film feel a lot shorter. Well-shot, designed and with a keen 70’s aesthetic, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a slickly made and accurate portrait of one of the most stunning social experiments ever done and will serve as a great conversation piece for psychology students and movie-goers alike.

The To-Do List

July 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader
Directed by: Maggie Carey (debut)
Written by: Maggie Carey (debut)

In “The To-Do List,” Brandy (Aubrey Plaza, TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” “Safety Not Guaranteed”) is a high school valedictorian who is sexually repressed. In order to become more experienced for college, Brandy makes a list of sexual acts she must perform before she is finally ready to have sex. As she gets started, she finds herself in over her head as she does her best to keep up with the more sexually-skilled guys and girls around her.

Plaza, who is known for her extremely dry sense of humor, gets the chance to be a little more broad and physical with her comedy in this film. While her performance is good enough and shows her ability to carry a movie (she did it last year in “Safety Not Guaranteed”), it is the supporting cast that provides the most laughs and memorable moments in “The To-Do List.” Actors like Bill Hader, Clark Gregg and Donald Glover in particular make the most of their screen time with solid comedic timing.

First time screenwriter Maggie Carey sets her film in 1993, but sadly brings nothing to the table by doing so. Besides serving as a backbone for a nostalgic soundtrack and offering a few 90s references and some out-of-style hair and clothing choices, it’s a wasted opportunity. Carey’s script is in many ways the most problematic feature of the film. A lot of the laughs come from the sheer shock of hearing a buttoned up goody-goody talk about – and ultimately performing – various sex acts. Carey flexes her sexual vocabulary muscles quite well by using terms that will have audiences jump online to check UrbanDictionary.com. More uninhibited (and freaky-deaky) moviegoers, however, might already know what “bumping donuts” means.

Still, many of the jokes fall flat. For example, when a clueless Plaza is introduced to the term “motorboating,” she states that it should be easy because she knows someone with a boat. Easy and unfunny jokes like that, mixed in with stale gross-out humor, tend to drag the film down. While the film’s glorification of female promiscuity and mixed moral messages may be off putting to some, it’s hard to imagine “The To-Do List” (originally titled “The Hand Job”) not finding fans of the new wave of female-driven raunchy comedy spearheaded by the success of “Bridesmaids.” Unfortunately, despite Carey’s efforts and solid cast, the humor is too inconsistent to truly hit the sweet spot (if you know what we mean).

Jennifer’s Body

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons
Directed by: Karyn Kusama (“Aeon Flux”)
Written by: Diablo Cody (“Juno”)

Actress Megan Fox may be drop dead gorgeous, but there’s nothing pretty about “Jennifer’s Body.” The film is screenwriter Diablo Cody’s first script since winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for 2007’s slightly overrated “Juno.” (I still highly recommend “Juno,” but some of its pretentious dialogue bothers the hell out of me…”Honest to blog.”) Anyway, in “Body,” Cody and director Karyn Kusama (“Aeon Flux”) spew out as much unoriginality as the demon-possessed Fox does prickly, black vomit. It’s going for campy, but there’s really nothing too hilarious or scary to make it memorable. When a lesbian kiss between Fox and Amanda Seyfried is the only thing luring boys to the movie, you know you have yourself a guilty pleasure that’ll only be worth a few seconds on YouTube once the buzz dies down.