Corporate Animals


There is no “I” in team but there IS meat…

(2019) Comedy (Screen Media) Demi Moore, Jessica Williams, Ed Helms, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Karan Soni, Martha Kelly, Dan Bakkedahl, Calum Worthy, Jennifer Kim, Nasim Pedrad, Frank Bond, Wendy Meredith, Britney Spears, Courtney Cunningham, Chris Harding, David Phyfer, Richard Beal, Tobiah Powell, LynNita Ellis.  Directed by Patrick Brice

 

There is something inherently funny about corporate life. From the platitudes that are meant to inspire to the team-building exercises that are more an exercise in wasting time to the gorilla in a velvet suit venality of corporate politics, it’s a wonder that the subject hasn’t been mined more often for the comedy gold that is clearly there. Maybe it just hits a bit too close to home for most of us.

Lucy (Moore) is the high-strung platitude-spewing CEO of a company that makes edible cutlery. The corporate culture is supposed to be diverse and inclusive but below the surface of civility there is an awful lot of discontent. Perfect time for a team-building session, right? Of course, right.

Brandon (Helms) is their guide as he attempts to get the group to move a stone sphere that is clearly too heavy for the group to budge until the intern Aidan (Worthy) is injured, but that’s just the warm-up. The main event is spelunking in some deep caves in New Mexico. When the group comes to a fork, Lucy insists that they take the more difficult “advanced” route despite everyone else – including Brandon – trying to dissuade her.

At first, it looks like Lucy might have been on to something when the group reaches the majestic Cathedral Cavern but what little triumph the group can muster is quickly quashed when an earthquake buries them in the cavern and kills one of their number. Bummer.

Finding a way out doesn’t seem to be much of a priority for Lucy who is confident that there will be a rescue party finding them shortly; after all, she had left an itinerary with the ranger’s office and as soon as they’re listed as overdue the cavalry will be coming. When it soon becomes obvious that they are going to be trapped for more than a few hours, it becomes clear that the problem of survival is going to start with the fact they have no food and no water.

This is very much a dark comedy with elements of parody meant to take on the aforementioned subjects of office politics and corporate culture. Brice, who previously helmed the much better comedy The Overnight works off of a script by Sam Bain which is too scattershot for its own good. There are too many subplots, including the rivalry between Jess (Williams) and Freddie (Soni) who were both promised a big promotion by Lucy, Lucy’s sexual harassment of Freddie and the fact that Lucy’s incompetence has left the company nearly bankrupt, a fact her workers are ignorant of.

Lucy is definitely the centerpoint here and the movie could have used an actress with a deft comic touch. Demi Moore is a lot of things, but she has never been known for her comic timing. She ends up coming off as vile and venal, self-absorbed and arrogant who believes herself to be superior in all ways to those who actually do the work that keeps the company going. One has to wonder if Moore was cast because she had a similar role in the drama Disclosure which was also a far better movie than this one. One imagines that Ms. Moore cashed the check as quickly as she could and moved on to something a bit more challenging.

Someone who does have a deft comic touch is Jessica Williams who is note-perfect as the long-suffering assistant Jess who is far more competent than anyone else in the workplace. Anyone who has seen her in the Netflix film The Incredible Jessica James knows what Williams is capable of and the career path in front of her is bright and shiny indeed. I look forward to seeing her in more movies.

By necessity the movie is dimly lit over long stretches and while the cavern set is pretty decent, it also looks like a set. While apparently some of the film was lensed in the famed Frankfurt Caverns of Kentucky, the rocks look like papier machė. The movie would have benefitted from a little more focus and fewer subplots. The critics have pretty much savaged the film so don’t expect there to be much of an audience for it but adventurous readers who are interested can take a chance on it when it hits home video in a few months.

REASONS TO SEE: Jessica Williams is absolutely stellar.
REASONS TO AVOID: This has been done better elsewhere.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some drug and sex references, a bit of violence and some gruesome images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sharon Stone was originally cast as Lucy but had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. Demi Moore stepped into the role instead.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 31% positive reviews: Metacritic: 31/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Severance
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Lamp Light


The look on your face when you’re late for work due to a tunnel collapse.

(2016) Thriller (RandomMason Rey, Joel P.E. King, Kelly Frances Hager, A.J. Sweatt, Chelsea Christopher, Dr. A. Goodwin, Nathan Goss, Rebecca Torres. Directed by Mason Rey

 

There was a joke going around some years ago: Ever have one of those days? Well, I have one of those lives. That can truly be said about Don Gos (Rey), a telemarketer trying to shill for investors into a precious metals company. Most of the people he speaks to aren’t exactly overjoyed to be speaking with a telemarketer which is pretty much true for all of us, even telemarketers. Still, he handles the abuse and the snide comments with as much grace as he can muster.

Afterwards, he gets to go home but not to a loving family but to an empty apartment. Don’s love life is all online with a girl named Olive he’s never met and frankly, considering the way things are going, probably never will. To say the least Don has some self-confidence issues.

On the way to work the next morning he decides to take the scenic route, trying to delay his arrival at the office for as long as possible. Not to He goes through a tunnel – which promptly collapses on top of him, burying him alive inside his car. At first, he thinks this will be a temporary inconvenience but as the hours pass by he realizes that help may well be on the way but it might not arrive in time. The car’s chassis has protected him thus far but the weight of the mountain on the steel encasing hi is beginning to take its toll and it seems only a matter of time before he’s crushed to death.

Don’s beginning to freak out more than a little bit until he hears the voice of a fellow survivor – Gym (King) who is not far away but unable to move any closer. The two get to talking and little by little Don begins to take a hard look at his life and his choices – and particularly to what happened to his marriage and why his wife (Hager) isn’t around anymore.

In this kind of cinematic situation, Hollywood tends to want heroic figures in peril and this surprisingly goes a different route. Not to knock Mason Rey but he is far from the action hero mold; he’s more of an everyman, not in great shape and a little bit too much into geek things. It’s not that he isn’t good looking, it’s just he isn’t the sort that is going to dig his way out of this with a plastic spork and a drinking straw.

I guess you can go as far as to say that this is an “in-action” movie rather than an action movie. All but the first 20 minutes is set in the interior of a crushed car and that doesn’t allow for a lot of camera movement., so most of the film we are stuck staring at Rey doing various things to pass the time, from taking stock of his food and water to drawing figures on the car to trying to dig his way out. There isn’t a lot for Rey to do but chat with the disembodied voice of Gym and that leads us to watch as Don’s grip on sanity begins to get somewhat loose. Rey is compelling given the circumstances but fair warning, some are going to find the film a bit too static.

=And it does move pretty slowly. This is a character study in which we essentially are trapped in Don’s head along with him. There are some flashbacks but for the most part this is the Mason Rey show, which considering he also wrote and directed this isn’t too surprising (if you looked carefully at certain festival screenings he was also selling popcorn in the lobby). Fortunately, Rey has enough presence to back it up so it doesn’t come off as auteur ego.

=There are some plot malfunctions that are a bit glaring; for example, one would think that Don would be in greater danger from asphyxiation than being crushed to death. He does an awful lot of talking which would fill his limited air supply with carbon dioxide but that aspect doesn’t seem to be addressed unless you attribute some of the of the sanity issues to hypoxia rather than stress. In any case, that isn’t made really clear. There are a couple of others but I won’t go into detail as they would constitute spoilers and this is a good enough film that it doesn’t deserve to be ruined by a venal critic trying to make a point.

Yes, this is a film I’d actually recommend with some caveats. It is ponderously slow and is more of a cerebral film than an action-oriented one so even if the buried alive aspect intrigues you, the approach may not be to your liking. Nonetheless there are some compelling features that make this flawed but ultimately satisfying film worth a look.

REASONS TO SEE: Mason Rey is a fairly compelling lead.
REASONS TO AVOID: Awfully slow-moving and not a lot of action.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as you might expect from someone being slowly crushed to death.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2018.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Daylight
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of a Terrorist

Happy Feet Two


It still sucks to be a penguin.

It still sucks to be a penguin.

(2011) Animated Feature (Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Hank Azaria, Alicia Moore “Pink”, Sofia Vergara, Common, Hugo Weaving, Brad Pitt, Anthony LaPaglia, Matt Damon, Ava Acres, Carlos Alazraqui, Magda Szubanski, Benjamin Flores Jr., Jeff Garcia, Johnny Sanchez III, Lombardo Boyar, Meibh Campbell, Richard Carter, E.G. Daly. Directed by George Miller.

The first Happy Feet, directed by George (Mad Max and sequels) Miller held some interest despite a message shift from being yourself and overcoming obstacles to a global warming warning which led to a half billion dollar box office take and an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, one of the few non-Pixar movies to have won one. The bar was obviously set pretty high for the sequel.

The hero of the first move, Mumble (Wood) has married his sweetheart Gloria (Pink) and they’ve had a son of their own, Erik (Acres). In the land of Emperor Penguins, dance has take over from singing as the means of expression of one’s heart but there’s a lot of both. It’s like an unholy cross between March of the Penguins and Glee. Erik, who can do neither and disgraces himself by wedging himself into a hole in the ice headfirst, urinates on himself in embarrassment and winds up running away.

He makes his way to Adelie Land where his dad’s old friend Ramon (Williams) is from and is now ruled over by Sven (Azaria), a penguin whose people had been forced to leave when their fishing grounds were overfished. He had escaped only by learning to fly – but he’s not actually a penguin but a puffin, although nobody notices the difference. Sven sends Erik home with his dad but not before Erik has fallen under Sven’s spell of “if you can believe it, you can make it happen” philosophy.

However, the climate change issue is being felt most here in the Antarctic as Emperor Land calves away and becomes a gigantic bowl with no way in and no way out. Mumble and the boys are unable to return home and their family and friends are facing starvation. They do all they can to feed them but it will take a lot more than the four of them can provide to save the Emperors.

The plot is actually much more convoluted than that, with a side plot of a pair of krill named Will (Pitt) and Bill (Damon) who have ambitions of being more than a snack for whales and break away from their swarm, as well as one involving Bryan the Beachmaster (Carter), a seal whom Mumble saves.

Certainly the ecological message of climate change and its consequences remains here although the original message of self-reliance and being your own person seems to have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by a “we’re all in this together” theme with a side of “when we work together we can do anything.”

The animation, as with the first film, is nifty and colorful; your kids will love it, as well as the cuddly penguins who are as in the first movie, adorable. However if you are setting this up on the Blu-Ray player, you might want to leave the room; as I said the story is pretty confusing and frustrating. There really isn’t anything here that will persuade you that your time with the kids kind of out of the way won’t be better spent taking care of things around the house or better yet, having a bit of me time.

Sadly, this is unoriginal and uninspiring, a combination that non-discerning kids might be able to get past but most adults are going to wind up fidgeting like a four-year-old at a Merchant-Ivory screening. With the abundance of really quality kid-friendly animated features that appeals to adults as well, there isn’t a good reason to put this on your list unless you either love listening to Robin Williams do his thing (and admittedly he does it very well) or if you just like the pretty pictures.

WHY RENT THIS: Nicely animated. Very kid-friendly.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A jumbled mess. Lacks originality and adults will be squirming throughout.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some rude humor and a bit of peril which might upset the really young but otherwise suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pink, who sang a song (“Tell Me Something Good”) during the opening credits of the first film, replaces the late Brittany Murphy who voiced Gloria in the first movie. The film is dedicated to Murphy and to Steve Irwin, both of whom voiced characters in Happy Feet but had since passed away.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Includes the Looney Toons short I Tawt I Saw a Puddy Tat which preceded the theatrical showings of Happy Feet Two. There are also four (count ’em) music videos including Pink’s latest single (at the time), as well as three sing-a-long tunes from the film. Finally there is an app which you can download on your iPad Touch or iPad which allows you to view additional content while the film is playing.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $150.4M on a $135M production budget; the box office performance was disappointing.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Journey to the Center of the Earth

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Last Holiday

Quarantine


Quarantine

Jennifer Carpenter is just glad it's not Dexter who's stalking her.

(2008) Found Footage Horror (Screen Gems) Jennifer Carpenter, Jay Hernandez, Columbus Short, Greg Germann, Steve Harris, Dania Ramirez, Rade Sherbedgia, Jonathon Schaech. Directed by John Erick Dowdle

There is a certain horror of being trapped in an enclosed, locked space with flesh-eating lunatics. However, the possibility of becoming one yourself only heightens the terror.

Cub television reporter Angela Vidal (Carpenter) has a relatively soft assignment; to spend a shift with the night crew of a Los Angeles fire station. She flirts with the handsome paramedics Jake (Hernandez) and George (Schaech) and banters with her cameraman Scott (Harris). She goes with them on what appears to be a routine call; an elderly resident of an apartment complex has been injured and is acting erratically.

They go on the call only to find something extraordinary. The elderly resident is far from a helpless old lady; she attacks them with nails and teeth, seriously injuring one of the firefighters and killing a police officer. When they call for help, things get even weirder – the house is locked down by the CDC and anyone who tries to leave is shot, as in dead.

It turns out that there are more infected than just the old lady and soon the residents, including the landlord (Sherbedgia), a vet (White) and a badass (Short), are fighting for their lives and trying to find a way out – if there is one.

This is the remake of a Spanish film called [REC] and is similar to films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield in that it is filmed with a single hand-held camera and purports to be “found footage,” raw footage of an actual event. The appeal of these to audiences is that they create a certain buzz and people are fascinated with the concept of footage of events that have been kept secret from them; the appeal to studios is that they’re incredibly cheap to produce and can be extremely profitable.

Dowdle, who did a similarly-themed film in The Poughkeepsie Journal, does a great job in making the tension high throughout the film, basically from the time they arrive at the apartment complex. The issue is that if you watch [REC] as I did you will see that the movie is virtually a shot by shot remake in most of the important aspects. Many of the best parts of Quarantine were lifted whole cloth from [REC]. I would have liked to have seen a little more creativity on that score.

Of course, it can be argued that this just shows the good taste of the filmmaker and I can’t argue that. I will also grant you that the changes that Dowdle did make were all improvements, without exception. The main problem with the film is that other than Schaech and Hernandez, the cast is pretty bland. Carpenter, who was excellent as the sister in “Dexter,” is miscast as the reporter. She doesn’t have the vanity or the look of a local television reporter; she is more tomboyish. The role requires her to become terrified to the point of panic and she’s never really convincing in that light. That may be a little bit of “Dexter” holdover; I will willingly cop to that.

Still, this is a nice example of a found footage horror film. It’s a little more slickly made than [REC] but to be honest, I liked the Spanish film better (the cast was far more convincing although the explanation in that film for the events bordered on the ridiculous) and would recommend that above this one; however it’s a given that it’s much more difficult to find so if all you can locate is this one, you won’t be disappointed.

WHY RENT THIS: Tension is nicely executed here. Horrific images are over-the-top and well done.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A nearly shot-for-shot remake of [REC]. Although Schaech and Hernandez make fine firefighters, the rest of the cast is mostly forgettable.

FAMILY VALUES: Extreme violence and gore, along with a good deal of profanity. There’s also an extremely tense and terrifying atmosphere that may be too intense for the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There is no musical score in the movie, highly unusual for a Hollywood film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41.3M on a $12M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Treeless Mountain

127 Hours


127 Hours

James Franco might just be looking at Oscar gold.

(2010) True Life Drama (Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clemence Posey, Kate Burton, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Lizzy Caplan, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle

Being capable can sometimes be confused with being arrogant. However, being capable can sometimes cause one to become arrogant. Arrogance can then lead to hubris and that can lead to the kind of disaster that can change a life completely.

Aron Ralston (Franco) is the prototypical Type A personality. He never met a physical activity he didn’t like, a challenge he couldn’t face. He’s at his happiest when he’s alone in the canyons of Utah’s Canyonland National Park, even though it’s a bit of a hike from his Colorado home. Sure, he has friends like Brian (Lawrence) whom he works with and even Rana (Olson), an ex-girlfriend who sees through the cocky bravado and pronounces that he will end up alone.

Still, Aron is naturally charming as he proves when he meets a couple of pretty young women (Mara, Tamblyn) out hiking. They’re lost, he knows his way around and soon they’re frolicking around in an underground pond. When they separate, one leans into the other and says “You know, I don’t think we even figured into his day.” And they’re right, although he will eventually look back on their encounter with some regret.

He’s going to have the opportunity to dwell on that, and other aspects of his life. While crossing a cut canyon, he steps on a boulder he thought was stable and goes plummeting, downwards-like. When he lands, he discovers the rather inconvenient fact that his arm is pinned to the canyon wall by a boulder the size of a home AC unit. He tries to move the boulder, but no good. He tries pounding the boulder, unsuccessfully. He takes a deep breath, lays out all the contents of his backpack and tries to think. The sinking realization is that nobody knows where he is. Nobody can hear his cries for help. His water supply is limited as is his food. He has no real tools that can extricate him from the situation apart from a multi-purpose tool with a dull knife blade.

After freaking out a little bit, Aron realizes the grim situation he is in. He has only enough water to last him a few days. Nothing short of a jackhammer is going to get that rock off of him. He is going to die. 

Dying is a funny thing, particularly when you have time to wait for it. You are given a chance to reflect back on your life, see the road not traveled and figure out who you are and what didn’t work. And, as his water begins to run out, the lack of sleep and the exposure to the elements begins to play with his mind. And as his time runs out, he is faced with a devastating choice between the will to survive and a horror that thee and me could never contemplate.

Most of you know by now that Aron Ralston is an actual person who went through this, and that devastating choice was whether to saw off his own arm with the dull knife or else wait to die. Obviously he chose the former, and stumbled out of that canyon to be rescued by a pair of hikers who alerted authorities.

You wonder how a film set in a cramped space for 127 hours – a little over five days – can be a riveting experience but Oscar-winning director Boyle makes it so. Even though for the most part you know what everything is leading to, you get to see inside the person that Ralston is. During his ordeal, he made several entries on a digital video camera that essentially detailed what he was going through but also served as a goodbye and apology to his family for the times he put his own needs ahead of theirs. In the end, he realizes that he had insulated himself from the things in life that were most important.

Franco is an expressive and often physical actor who is perfectly cast here. This might be the defining performance of his career; it is as sure a bet to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in a few months as any performance this year is. He is onscreen for the entire movie and spends much of it alone. He has to capture the attention and imagination of the audience without interacting with anybody other than himself, and he does it in a way that is both natural and unforced.

The amputation scene is not as graphic as you might think, although there are reports of people fainting during it. It certainly is disturbing and I would think long and hard if I were the sensitive sort about putting myself through it. If you have someone who is affected by such, you might want to take it under advisement that they might not do well at this movie although the scene isn’t gratuitous in the least.

The cinematography here is breathtaking, utilizing the majestic desolation of the Utah landscape as a character in the movie. It is this that Aron disrespects and winds up paying a heavy price.

REASONS TO GO: A career-making performance by Franco and another great movie by Boyle. This is the kind of movie that stays with you long after its over.

REASONS TO STAY: Sensitive sorts will be disturbed by the amputation scene, and claustrophobics might be made uncomfortable with the surroundings in the film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of bad language (hey, you’d curse if you had a boulder on your arm) and some pretty disturbing scenes of self-amputation that are definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The camcorder that James Franco uses in the film is the same one used by Ralston on his ill-fated trek. The video he shot had only previously been shown to family and close friends, but Boyle and Franco were allowed to watch it for accuracy sake. The video is kept in a vault for safekeeping.

HOME OR THEATER: Much of the film takes place in a cut canyon, a very narrow environment, but some of the shots of Canyonlands National Park are just breathtaking and should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Police, Adjective