July 15, 2011. Things Fall Apart. Movies Reviewed: Horrible Bosses, Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times, Hospitalité
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.
Movies sometimes seem like an undifferentiated mass of formless entertainment flickering on a big screen, each movie like the one you saw last week, and all of them disconnected from daily life, from the real world. Bit it’s worth it to take a step back and view films like an alien might from outer space, or someone ten years in the future who just came back in a time machine. Because, with a bit of distance, you start to notice themes and trends from one movie to the next.
Right now, at the back of everyone’s minds, is the economic meltdown, the unraveling of businesses and workplaces, the lack of job security, and the fear of unanticipated change. So this week I’m looking at three movies — a comedy, a documentary, and a comic drama — about workplaces facing crises and that may be on the verge of falling apart.
Dir: Seth Gordon
Three friends, Nick, Dale and Kurt, all hate their bosses. Squeaky voiced Dale (Charlie Day) is a dental hygenist who’s sexually harassed by his nymphomaniacal dentist boss, who wants to have sex with him over the sedated bodies of her patients. Nick (Jason Bateman) works in sales at a big company, and has to kiss ass to get his sadistic boss to give him the vice president position. And Kurt’s (Jason Sudeikas) nemesis is the boss’s son, who’s trying to run the business into the ground so he can skim off the profits to pay for his coke habit.
So, at a point of desperation, the three of them come up with a twisted plan to kill each other’s bosses – hilarity ensues. Well, not exactly.
It’s a bit funny, but not that funny. It’s not slapstick, nor screwball, nor sketch comedy – some combination of all three. The script is condescending: typically, it tells a funny joke, but then explains it, so the people who don’t get the joke the first time can laugh too. What’s really weird abut this movie is that Dale, Kurt and Nick are played by TV comedy actors, the bosses and side parts are played by more famous movie stars like Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Colin Farrell. It sort of works but sort of seems wrong, like a movie disconnect. Jason Bateman is OK but his part isn’t that funny, and Jason Sudeikas comes across as a low-rent Will Farrell. Aside from a very funny scene involving cocaine, only Jennifer Anniston as the slutty dentist and Charlie Day get the comedy just right. I wouldn’t call this a horrible movie, but it’s not a boss pic either…
Meanwhile, another business is going through huge changes, and a new documentary looks at what’s happening to it.
Dir: Andrew Rossi
So the NY Times is at a point of crisis. With the economic meltdown, circulation didn’t drop, but advertising did – by some 30%. Newspapers, some more than a hundred years old, are folding across the US. Some people say that print is dead, and the movie begins with a haunting image of copies of the Times just hanging there, upside down, in the printing queue like so many slaughtered and plucked chickens in an abbatoir.
And it faces more problems. Judith Miller and other Times journalists served as government lap poodles printing dubious articles on Saddam Hussein’s mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction, which were later quoted by Bush’s government as justification for their invasion. After all, the Times printed it – it must be true. (Miller is asked on TV whether she’s a journalist or a stenographer.) And online sources like Wikileaks and Gawker are usurping the first stage in the news cycle which used to be the undisputed domain of the press, especially the front page of the New York Times. And many people get their news from aggregate sites like Huffington Post that poach stories from the real journalists who write them.
This is a very interesting, well-made documentary. It humanizes something as mammoth as the NY Times by concentrating on its reporters, editors, and columnists, especially the very fascinating and entertaining former crackhead David Carr, an opinionated and witty, dedicated champion of the newspaper, who curses like a sailor but puts the dot-com weenies in their place.
Meanwhile, in another part of the world at another printing press, is this new movie out of Japan called
Dir: Koji Fukuda
Kobayashi, his beautiful wife Natsuki, and their little daughter live a placid existence above the tiny printing company started by his late father. Their home is in Shitamachi, the old part of Tokyo where their biggest worry is finding an escaped parakeet, and fending off the local NIMBY club, neighbourhood watch made of local gossips who warn about dangerous people like the homeless, and the dreaded gaikokujin – foreigners.
But suddenly their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of Kagawa, an old school friend. Kagawa starts fixing up the printing machines, and moves into their house. But soon, all the family secrets start come to light and the skeletons fall out of the dusty closets. Who’s that sketchy man Natsuki was seen with? Whatever happened to Kobayashi’s ex-girlfriend? And how did such an plain man marry such a pretty woman?
When Kagawa’s wife, a sexually- charged, blond dance instructor from Brazil – or possibly Bosnia – arrives too, the norms of the house are turned upside down, culminating with some more unexpected guests and a surprising birthday party. Hospitalite is a good comic family drama about the very real shifts in everyday life in contemporary Japan.
Horrible Bosses and Page One are playing now, and Hospitalite is playing once only at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, next Thursday as part of the Shinsedai Film Festival – look online at Shinsedai-toronto.com. Also opening today at the Royal is Blank City — a great documentary about No Wave cinema that captures that short, explosive period of wide-open but underground filmmaking in 1980’s NY City: check your local listings.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.