February 2010

Office Culture in the Movies

It's a strange but understandable phenomenon that people who spend 40+ hours a week working in an office environment would want to go to the movies to see a bunch of actors pretend that they have stiff jobs for a couple hours. Office movies plug into a steady source of relatable material that they proceed to magnify, twist and otherwise turn goofy for the sake of narrative or maybe just to tickle the fantasies of the audience. These films are rarely the most successful at the cinema, but they're still important documents about our culture's perceptions of one of its most pervasive elements. Often times, it's just as important to see what parts of corporate culture get twisted as it is to see which parts are left intact in an office movie.

"Reservoir Dogs"

Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" is a movie I had heard much about, but never got around to watching until last night. All the hallmarks of Tarantino are well and truly present - copious gunplay, copious bloodshed and copious profanity - but under it all, there's an interesting story, too. A jewel heist goes horribly wrong, and the six men who carried it out (and their two employers) are left wondering which one of them ratted the team out.

Once Again, With Feeling: Three Movies Ready for a Remake

Hollywood may be a little slap-happy with remakes, reboots and adaptations recently, but I don't think that remakes are bad in and of themselves, just the material major studios decide to give an update. There's no earthly reason why Alvin and the Chipmunks had to happen and I think we can officially leave the few but impressive works of Jane Austen out of our cinemas for a little while given how there's been a screen adaptation of at least one of her books made every single decade since the 1930's. I'm of the opinion that the only movies we really ought to remake are the ones that didn't quite get it right the first time but could be really excellent in different hands. Here are three classics that are long overdue for a facelift.

Paper Heart: Acting without Acting

Now that we’re all over being mad at Michael Cera for not immediately jumping at the chance to film an Arrested Development movie, we can go back to appreciating his staid, self deprecating persona. The only problem is the fact that it seems like Cera, since becoming something of a downer heart throb, has picked up a bit of charisma – not too much though.

It probably has something to do with the characters that he plays – or character considering that each one bears a striking resemblance to the next – but Cera’s carved out a niche. Co-starring in Charlyne Yi’s Paper Heart, though, finds the actor exhibiting at least a modicum of his new found confidence. Alright, confidence is an over statement, but at least he’s not falling all over himself like Maybe’s in the room.

Woody Allen's Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Well, Play it Again, Sam isn’t all Woody Allen’s. It was a Broadway production based upon a script that Allen penned, of course. But the filmic rendition of the play was directed by Herbert Ross – who’s probably still better known for his work in the theater world than the big screen. Who directed this feature, though, isn’t really the point. Ross’ work doesn’t readily impact the overall product anyway. And since the action takes place in San Francisco as opposed to New Yawk, Allen may not have found his most poetic, behind-the-camera moments anyway.

Gus Van Sant's Milk: A San Fran Tale...

Films that aim to relay a story inextricably tied to politics in some way either come off perfectly or arrive as some sort of polemic, inciting its viewership to aspire to greatness instead of just sitting around watching movies. This later facet to filmmaking is obviously troublesome at points, but some how Gus Van Sant was able to render Harvey Milk in filmic terms that are agreeable to pretty much everyone – unless you hate the gays, that is.

Regardless, it’s odd that Van Sant has been able to move from such obtuse movie making like Elephant and Last Days, released in 2003 and 2005 respectively, to the relatively main stream Milk staring Sean Penn.

Latcho Drom: A Roma Documentary

The onus of any filmic work is to keep its audience engaged. Arriving at such a point, regardless of the whether the film is a comedy, a horror flick or a documentary, necessitates a great deal of planning by all involved. Scriptwriters, cinematographers and a film’s director need to collude on some specific approach to how a feature is going to keep folks in seats. In the best cases this entire process comes off seamlessly, resulting in a magnificently entertaining and engaging work. Other times, the visual splendor of a project, no matter how deep and wide, isn’t enough to maintain any viewer’s attention.

Latcho Drom suffers this in spades.

Found Footage Festival: A Run Through the Dustbin

The Movie Center had a chance to briefly speak with Nick Prueher – one of the brains behind the Found Footage Festival. Collecting various analog video sources and editing the most ridiculous together, Prueher and his partner in crime, Joe Pickett, have criss-crossed the country showing the frankensteined footage to small and large houses alike. If you’ve missed the show in the past, check the Fest’s website for touring details.

Movie Center: The festival is dependent upon your ability to find new, ridiculous footage on a regular basis. How does that happen when you’re on the road?

A Shaw Brothers Production: Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

Tying Quentin Tarantino to any number of low key and often forgotten filmic genres isn’t too difficult a task. His films perpetually reference a back log of international cinema. Granted, for the most part, the movie references that are included come off as a bit obtuse and can easily pass by most viewers. That being said, Kill Bill basically lifted a character that appeared in a few productions coming out of the Shaw Brothers’ camp during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

On Jandek: Jandek on Corwood

Documentaries focusing on figures in music usually fall into one of two categories: awe inspiring or a drain to watch. The pacing in a film largely comprised of people talking about a musician while sitting in an office, on a couch or standing around at a record store doesn’t always translate into good viewing. Of course, there still might be some interesting knowledge dispensed, but that info can very easily be glazed over if it’s all rendered in boring terms.

Less Than Zero: Hmmm...Click...

In mentioning my obtuse love for American Psycho, not just the movie, but Bret Easton Ellis’ in a broad, general sense, an acquaintance of mine told me about Less than Zero, the 1987 filmic rendering of another novel from the desk of Ellis.

The cursory introduction to the feature seemed to include all of the things necessary to get me in front of the screen: drug use, prostitution, Robert Downey Jr. What could go wrong?

Woody Allen's Love and Death (1975)

Woody Allen has been and always will be a comic. The way in which he’s able to appropriate his influences in a sort of dervish of references is not only amusing, but intellectual, albeit sometimes forced.

There’s not too much to be said for the director that hasn’t been proffered before, but in Love and Death Allen appears to be shedding some of his more juvenile shtick for the dense philosophical examinations of self and relationships that would come to make him an American master in the years following this 1975 film.

Does Celebrity Ruin Movie Stars?

I was inspired by a comment left on this blog by fellow movie critic M. Carter to contemplate the effect that celebrity has on the overall quality of a given movie star's performance. A lot of actors seem to lose themselves in the spotlight, the promise in their early material smothered by overexposure, the wrong projects or a simple over-development of ego. It's a strange balancing act a lot of performers can't seem to maintain. Does the Hollywood system, or maybe do we viewers, ruin our most talented actors by giving them too much wealth and adoration?

L.A. Story: A Steve Martin Production

Pictures rooted in a place and time have a heavy task to dispatch. A film is required to not only aptly convey a physical reality that a good number of viewers are familiar with, but concurrently, relate some truth about the city that it seeks to document. Of course, this latter portion of a film’s job can be related in any number of ways – and since the 1991 flick L.A. Story was written by and starred Steve Martin it’s supposed to be laughs that reveal some deep understanding of L.A.

Almost Hip: 1995's Hackers

I recently got a chance to sit down and watch Iain Softley's 1995 movie Hackers. It's been well over a decade since I last saw Hackers all the way through, so this was the first time a lot of the little details of the film struck me. What's really remarkable about this movie is that, despite growing more hilariously off-target with its prognostications about computers and the Internet with each passing year, it comes tantalizingly close to an accurate understanding of what would eventually become rave culture several years after its release. Peppered throughout Hackers are a series of directorial choices that indicate the hand of someone who has just recently lost touch with youth and fashion. That, in itself, is fascinating.

No Nomination for Wild Things?

Many people are already going bonkers over the Academy Award nominee announcements. Sandra Bullock should or shouldn’t have been nominated, Clint Eastwood ain’t gettin’ his respect, and what the heck is that Celtic cartoon? These are just some of the comments that I’ve heard and I neither agree nor disagree with them, as I haven’t seen any of these three films.

However, one film that I saw, and that I consider to be the most amazing film that I did have a chance to see last year, was Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. I could extol the film’s brilliance, rave about its message and go on and on about how much I loved it overall…but I’ve already done that.

The Princess and the Frog

Beauty and the Beast has been my favorite Disney movie since I was a little girl. Belle, though still a dress-wearing, marry-a-prince-by-the-ending Disney “princess,” was a pretty tough cookie. She liked to read, didn’t care a whit about the town beefcake, and saw past the face of a beast into the heart of the man that she loved. Of course, the enchanted castle, fun songs, and awesome animation all helped, too.

But now I have a new favorite. The Princess and the Frog—I get goose bumps typing it!—was an absolute masterpiece. (Spoilers ahead.) As soon as we heard about it, I felt a bubbling, expectant excitement in my belly. I couldn’t wait to see it, which made the back of my mind nag at me—“It’s going to suck with you building it up like this!” Fortunately, my mind was wrong.

Revision: Nick Cassavetes's "Alpha Dog"

As far as I'm concerned, there are three kinds of bad movies. Some are so terrible that they're unintentionally hilarious and some are just clearly lacking in any redeeming qualities. Then there's this curious third kind, the rarest variety of film there is. These are bad movies that have loads of wasted potential, movies that could have been good if only a few things had been done differently. If any movie fits this description, it's Alpha Dog, the 2006 true crime drama written and directed by Nick Cassavetes. It is such a bizarre jumble of baffling motivations that despite being aimless and at some points nigh-unwatchable, I found myself compelled one summer to watch it several times over.