Office (O piseu)


You never know what lies beneath the surface of an office drone.

You never know what lies beneath the surface of an office drone.

(2015) Suspense (Little Big Pictures) Ah-Sung Ko, Sung-Woong Park, Sung-Woo Bae, Eui-Sung Kim, Hyoun-Kyoung Ryoo, Soo-Hyun Son, Chae-Eun Lee, Dae-Hwan Oh, Chang-Yong Lee, Jung-Min Park, Sung-Chan Son. Directed by Won-Chan Hong

If there is a more cut-throat environment than the modern corporate office, I can’t think of one. Office politics are as savage a human undertaking as any lion hunt. The backstabbing and venal office gossip can not only destroy careers but also lives.

&Byung-Guk Kim (Bae), a sad-eyed sales manager for Cheil, a huge food and beverage distributor, returns home after a long, rough day at the office. Taking the train home from work, his almost zombie-like expression is troubling, but when he comes home to wife and son all seems well…until he picks up a hammer.

The next day, Kim’s sales team intern Mi-Rae Lee (Ko) hurries into work, late again. She arrives there to find the police questioning the team about Mr. Kim, whose family has been brutally murdered. Her manager warns her to not divulge anything that would place the company under a negative light, but still under the questioning of Detective Jong-Hoon (S-W Park) she admits that Kim had been under intense pressure and was desperately unhappy.

It turns out he had plenty of reason to be. Sales director Sang-Gyu Kim (Kim) runs sales meetings like the Spanish Inquisition, berating his team with profanity and belittlement. Setting unreasonable sales goals, he mocks even those on his team who meet those goals for not having done it soon enough, or in the manner that was expected of them. The drones, terrified for their jobs, work brutal hours, haunting the office well after dark, ghosts shuffling in the hallways as hard drives whir and printers vomit out ream after ream of sales figures.

As the police investigate, it is determined by reviewing surveillance footage from the company’s security system that the murderer returned to the office after committing his crimes and that none of the security cameras recorded him leaving. Jong-Hoon is convinced that the killer is hiding in the building itself. When bodies start turning up on Sales Team 2,  his worst suspicions are confirmed – but not in the way he thinks.

We mostly see this movie through the eyes of the intern Mi-Rae. Ko turns in a magnificent performance as the put-upon intern. Through her perpetually hunched body language, we see physically her subservient demeanor and through her often panicked eyes we see how desperate she is to be promoted to full-time. When a pretty, foreign-educated new intern (S-H. Son) is hired for the team, her anxieties increase. She is well past the time when most interns are hired on the company. She has a lot going against her – she’s a country girl rather than a Seoul sophisticate, and she can’t understand why her hard work seems to get derision rather than praise.

First-time director Hong has crafted a wonderful thriller here. While some have characterized this as a horror film, there really isn’t enough gore or other horrific elements to really fit the bill. The first murders of Kim’s family are done in a Hitchcockian style, in which the viewer appears to see more than they do; the hammer he uses to massacre his family falls, we see blood spattering the walls but never the hammer connecting with flesh. That contrasts with a later murder of a bitchy assistant manager who is stabbed repeatedly until she falls into a heap to the floor and even that is relatively bloodless, although not blood-free.

Hong utilizes the bland environment of a modern office nicely, creating a creepy atmosphere that heightens the tension as the late night silence of a bustling office becomes threatening and frightening. The electronic score heightens the tension nicely, and most viewers should find themselves perched resolutely on the edge of their seats.

As much a satire of the corporate culture of Korea as it is a thriller, this Office is a solid although not spectacular suspense film. There are a few twists and turns but the main twist should be easily picked up by most veteran movie buffs. The pacing is a bit slow and the film at nearly two hours probably a good 20 minutes longer than it should be. Still, for those looking for something a bit different, this Korean film which has yet to acquire U.S. distribution should be one to look out for on the festival circuit and hopefully on streaming sources sometime next year. It was the opening night film at the New York Korean Film Festival.

REASONS TO GO: Hitchcockian suspense. Terrific performance by Ko. Utilizes environment to perfection.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit too long. Pacing could have picked up a little.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence, some of it bloody, a bit of profanity as well as a surfeit of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Debuted at Cannes as part of their Midnight Madness series, and made it’s American debut at Fantastic Fest in Austin October 1st.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rear Window
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Bridge of Spies

I Don’t Know How She Does It


I Don't Know How She Does It

It just doesn't get any more romantic than a loving embrace in snowfall.

(2011) Comedy (Weinstein) Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Kelsey Grammer, Olivia Munn, Seth Meyers, Christine Hendricks, Jane Curtin, Mark Blum, Busy Philipps, Sarah Shahi, Jessica Szohr, James Murtaugh. Directed by Douglas McGrath

There are few people I have more respect for than the working mother. It is very much like juggling alligators; if you mess up even on one gator, you can find your whole world crashing down around you.

Kate Reddy (Parker) is just such a creature. She works as an executive at an investment bank’s regional office in Boston; she has a crusty boss (Grammer), an overqualified assistant named Momo (Munn) who disdains Kate’s commitment to her job, and a backstabbing co-worker (Meyers).

Outside of work she’s got a bitchy mother-in-law (Curtin) and a devoted friend (Hendricks) who thinks Kate has it all together but like most moms, does a lot with smoke and mirrors. She also has a saintly husband named Richard (Kinnear) who is an architect who is just getting a major promotion at his job. She too is working on a big promotion – by coming up with a brand new retirement fund that will appeal to both investors and the bank’s brass as well. She is given a hunky partner to work with – Jack Abelhammer (Brosnan). It also means that she’s going to be traveling to New York a whole lot.

That means guilt for missing her kids life and further guilt for neglecting her husband. It means being made to feel less of a mom by the stay-at-home supermom (Philipps) that works out while her kids are at school and takes advantage of party planners for her kid’s birthdays. Does anybody remember when getting pizza and a cake was enough for a child’s birthday party?

Of course, we all know that sooner or later the gators are going to come crashing down and take a bite (or several) from Kate whose two children are precocious and adorable and well-adjusted which doesn’t sound like any kids I know. We also know that her work career will take off and promise even more travel, putting more strain on her marriage. Isn’t that how it works for all working moms?

This is a movie that has been taking enough lashings from critics to make a Roman galley slave blush. I would venture to guess that most of the critics taking shots at it are not working moms. I was with one when I caught it in the theater and she was quite affected. She thought that the issues that Kate faced were very relatable. That’s a big plus in my book.

I’ve never really warmed to Sarah Jessica Parker as an actress. She’s always seemed shrill and a bit too neurotic for my tastes. She still is here, but the role really calls for it. Kate has a great deal of stress on her and sometimes stress makes us do desperate things, like buying a pie at a deli and trying to disguise it as homemade.

Greg Kinnear is one of the more likable actors out there right now, and he does saintly husband as well as anybody. Despite Kate consistently leaving him holding the bag at home and seemingly dismissing his career as less important as his own, he continues to support her in every way imaginable.

Pierce Brosnan is another solid pro who pretty much always delivers. Here he’s a sweet and respectful colleague who rather than taking credit for her work gives her props. Yeah, sounds like a lot of investment bankers I know – not that I know many. Still, the moral and kindly businessman is not one we see in the movies much these days.

The movie is purportedly a comedy although there is a lack of laughs here (although to be fair, Da Queen found many things funny that were well out of my experience range). It also lacks the gravitas and depth to be a decent drama, which kind of leaves the movie in this limbo of neither one nor the other and not be satisfactory overall.

This definitely has limited appeal which is just fine. If you’re a mom and you work, you’re going to find a lot to love in this movie. If you love a working mom, you might see a bit of insight in there. If you don’t have a working mom in your life, you might want to pass this by – there’s not a lot here for you. That’s all good, but just a word to the wise – be aware that this movie is definitely skewed to a specific demographic and if you don’t fall within it, you might wind up wondering if the local multiplex still gives refunds.

REASONS TO GO: Kinnear and Brosnan are awesome. This is definitely a role well-suited for Parker. The issues that come up for Kate are very relatable for working moms.

REASONS TO STAY: Not funny enough to be a comedy nor does it really have enough depth to be a good drama either.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and a bit of innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director McGrath also writes a political commentary column, “The New Flapjack,” for The New Republic.

HOME OR THEATER: Certainly this will do just as well at home as it will in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Drive

Obsessed


Obsessed

Sex in a men's room? How very '80s!

(2009) Thriller (Screen Gems) Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Jerry O’Connell, Bonnie Perlman, Christine Lahti, Matthew Humphreys, Scout Taylor-Compton, Richard Ruccolo, Bryan Ross, Bruce McGill, Meredith Roberts. Directed by Steve Shill

Forbidden fruit can be intoxicating. We all have had the urge to sample it at least once in our lives – we wouldn’t be human otherwise. Still, fruit can be forbidden for a very good reason.

Derek Charles (Elba) is a successful man by any barometer. One of the best at what he does, he is married to Sharon (Knowles), his former assistant. The couple has a baby and live in a gorgeous home. He is on the upwardly mobile track for a bright future.

Into this comes a new office temp, Lisa (Larter). Bright, beautiful, sexy and competent, she is covering as Derek’s office assistant while his regular assistant is unavailable. At first she’s a godsend, making his life so much easier but it soon becomes so very apparent that she’s got much more on her agenda than just getting his coffee. She wants Derek – period – and will do anything to get him. And trust me – this is a vicious, smart, clever woman with absolutely no conscience. “Anything” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

At first there’s just some attempts at flirtation that are only a little bit inappropriate for office behavior, but soon things escalate (as such things will tend to do). Before long, Lisa and Sharon are matched up head to head with Derek as the prize…and only one woman will walk out of it still standing.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. Like Fatal Attraction and others of its ilk, the predatory female stalker is depicted as sexy, demented and single-minded. There’s a prurient interest in the role reversal – after all, statistically it is men who are more likely to stalk female co-workers and violence resulting from such stalkings are far more likely to happen with men than women. Still, there is an almost cynical kind of Hollywood studio exec chic in appealing to the lowest common denominator which is certainly where this is aiming for – straight for the crotch.

Now, I like Ali Larter and thought she was terrific in “Heroes,” and she’s plenty sexy enough to carry this role off, but when Lisa finally goes off the deep end, the character gets less and less believable and that’s simply fatal to a movie like this. O’Connell makes a brief appearance as Derek’s buddy…nothing to write home about there, but to be fair the part wasn’t written so he could deliver something to write home about.

Beyonce gets the thankless role of Derek’s wife, given virtually nothing to do until the final reel when she goes mano-a-mano with Larter and that’s pretty hot stuff, but still it smacks of misogynistic Hollywood marketing. “Yeah…a catfight at the end – the boys will love it! Cha-ching!” It’s repulsive and fascinating at the same time, the mind of a studio exec.

Idris Elba is an actor who has always impressed me with his ability to command the screen. He so rarely gets the opportunity to do so on his own, but he does here and he doesn’t waste his opportunity. He very well could be the next Denzel – that’s the kind of potential he has. He has yet to achieve that breakout role that lofts him into the next level; this isn’t it obviously and unfortunately.

The movie suffers from cliché-itis and a disease I like to call “RPDATW Syndrome.” That stands for Real People Don’t Act This Way and that’s precisely what the characters here do. I don’t mind suspending disbelief and giving the screenwriters some leeway, but when you make a sharp left turn to Bananaland, you’re definitely in trouble as a filmmaker.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, some inspiring, some unhealthy. I think the move here would have been to show the contrast between a healthy love affair and obsession; that might have made for a more interesting film. I think that was the way the filmmakers wanted to go but they didn’t have the execution for it. That’s enough to knock what could have been a decent film several pegs down.

WHY RENT THIS: The climactic fight between Larter and Knowles is spectacular. Elba is always interesting as an actor.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s been done before, and better. This falls under the “Real People Don’t Act This Way” bailiwick.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality which given the subject matter is unsurprising; there’s plenty of dialogue that is suggestive. There’s a bit of violence, some disturbing imagery and yes, bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sets were recycled from other films including Quarantine and Stepfather.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $73.8M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Dark Matter