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

Operation: Endgame


Operation: Endgame

Zach Galifianakis supplements his income with a part-time job at Target.

(2010) Spy Comedy (Anchor Bay) Joe Anderson, Ellen Barkin, Rob Corddry, Odette Yustman, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Ving Rhames, Emilie de Ravin, Maggie Q, Brandon T. Jackson, Beth Grant, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Hitchcock. Directed by Fouad Mikati

When you are a highly-trained assassin, paranoia is part of your daily routine. Of course, if you’re locked in a bunker with a group of other highly-trained assassins all of whom seem hell-bent on killing you, that paranoia might seem downright reasonable.

It is the day of new President Obama’s inauguration. In Los Angeles, an underground bunker is the headquarters for a group called the Factory, two teams of highly skilled killers (Team Alpha and Team Omega) are welcoming a new recruit to their ranks. He is codename Fool (Anderson) and no, that’s not a knock against his intelligence; all of the operatives have codenames based on the tarot deck.

However, there is much more going on than meets the eye. There is a traitor in their ranks and when Devil (Tambor) turns up deceased, the facility is accidentally put on lockdown with 90 minutes to evacuate before going ka-boom. With the identity of Devil’s murderer in question, suspicions run rampant and it becomes crystal clear that the orders have come down from on high that the two teams have been ordered to eliminate each other. Who, if anyone, will be left standing at the end is pretty much anybody’s guess.

 The concept is pretty nifty and the cast even more so, so that should make for a terrific movie right? As we all know, that isn’t always the case. The movie is sabotaged by sub-par production values and awkward moments that bring proceedings to a screeching halt every so often, and that’s not what you want to do in a thriller, an action movie, a spy movie or a comedy, all of which this movie has elements of. Maybe that’s part of the problem – too many genres in this soup.

Anderson is a bland lead, although Yustman as the romantic interest (who has a history with Fool) is pretty solid. Galifianakis, who was on the cusp of hitting it big when this was filmed, has little more than an extended cameo as a brilliant but deranged individual haunting the corridors of the bunker. Barkin is wonderful as usual as a cruel chain-smoking bitch who heads one of the teams; I’ve always thought of her as the thinking person’s Cameron Diaz. Corddry also gets kudos for an acerbic foul-mouthed mentor for Fool.

I like that the bunker is more or less a bunch of offices, and the assassins dispatch each other with a variety of office supplies. Some of these murders are rather clever and more than a few are pretty gruesome. The somewhat banal environment accentuates the horror of the bloodshed nicely. These sequences tend to work better than most of the others in the movie. While the cast is impressive, for the most part the characters are kind of one-note and exist to have a cool Tarot-related name and eventually get bumped off.

All of this could have been forgiven if the movie had a little bit more fun in it but the fun felt forced. I would have wished for something with a little more energy; at times, it felt like a direct-to-cable release that in a lot of ways it was. Operation: Endgame got a very brief theatrical release before going to home video which is where you’re going to find it now, assuming you still want to look for it. There are some moments that are genuinely entertaining, but not enough to keep my interest throughout.

WHY RENT THIS: Fun concept and when the movie hits its high notes, it is quite entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough high notes. Feels more like a made-for-cable movie.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence is pretty much off-the-chart, there are a few sexual references and a good deal of swearing permeates the soundtrack.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally titled “Rogue’s Gallery.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Change-Up

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