The Company Men

For certain, getting fired, laid-off, or downsized is not an event that any of us will ever find inspirational. This hardly seems to be a topic that Hollywood would tackle. But tackle it they did. Television’s John Wells (he was the Executive Producer of both ER and The West Wing) makes his film debut with The Company Men as the Director and author of the screenplay.

The film is not about guys being shown the door which is only a few steps away from their jobs on the factory floor. No, in this film, the ax falls on a trio of guys way higher up on the food chain. These guys aren’t on an assembly line, or even in upper floor cubicles. No, these are EXECs. They are living the American dream. One day they are climbing into their Armani suits, taking power lunches, or driving to their golf clubs in expensive foreign cars.

The next day, they’ve found out that they’ve been downsized. Their services are no longer required. The film focuses on three guys. The first to go is Ben Affleck’s Bobby Walker. He’s 37, a Sales Manager with a fast track success story on his resume. He’s done a good job but he has become expendable or as they tell him – redundant.

Bobby is married, has kids, a huge mortgage, a Porsche, a golf club membership, and his wife loves him very much. As an employee with 12 years on the books, his severance package includes 12 weeks pay, as well as the use of office facilities at an outplacement agency.

Bobby is a cocky fellow, and even while his incredulity is evident – You’re firing me? it is hard for him to accept his circumstances. He thinks he’ll be back to his high life in only a very short and brief time. As the days pass, then as the weeks pass, Bobby remains in denial. He doesn’t see a need to sell his Porsche, or give up his golf club membership, or acknowledge that eventually, they will have to sell their home and move in with his parents. Continue reading

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The King’s Speech

With the Oscars Awards Night only about a month away, and coming closer and closer with each passing day, I’ve decided to take a more active interest in the Oscar contenders. In the Best Picture Category, I’ve already seen half of the list:

Black Swan

The Fighter

Inception

The Social Network

True Grit

Since The King’s Speech was playing at the AMC multiplex, just  three minutes away by car, I decided to add this one to my list of Best Picture contenders that I’ve not only seen, but also reviewed. So without further preamble:

I’m going out on a limb right away – first, Colin Firth seems to be a shoo-in lock for Best Performance by an Actor. Geoffrey Rush could walk away with the Supporting Actor award. The screenplay award – for a script expressly written for a film, is also possible.

As for Best Picture, The King’s Speech appears to be gathering momentum. To be honest, I had reservations about this film, or more accurately, this kind of film, capturing the hearts and minds of the Academy voters.

But that was before seeing the film.

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Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye)

Love and death come uninvited…”

That phrase is a direct quote from the film. In its way, that phrase gives you a some idea of what this movie is about. The line was spoken by Amitabh Bachchan who appeared in this film as the 5th lead of the 6 headliners. He played Sam, a 60 something, unrepentent womanizer/skirt chaser. He defended his activities by saying that he was only fulfilling a promise to his deceased wife which was to do everything now that he wasn’t allowed to do while they were married.

The film is entitled Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna which means Never Say Goodbye. This film was directed by Karan Johar and was released in August 2006 as one of the most highly anticipated films of that year, or any year. This was also the film Johar directed before My Name is Khan which I have recently reviewed.

In a nutshell, the film (called KANK for short) is about marital infidelity. There’s nothing new under the sun about that because we have had one or the other or even both parties of a marriage cheat on their partners for about as long as there have been marriages.

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My Name is Khan

I am currently reading the Nelson DeMille 2010 novel – The Lion which has numerous references to the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York. It is a detective thriller about the hunt for a Libyan assassin. This novel is set in the present time. But this book made me think of that tragic day, so I decided to have a look at the Karan Johar film – My Name is Khan. The film was released in many parts of the world, including  India and the United States, on February 11th and 12th. 2010.

The film stars Shahrukh Khan and Kajol. This is their 5th pairing on screen since they first appeared together in 1993. Their signature film is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge which was released in 1995. This film is the longest running film in Indian Cinema history. It won 11 Awards for film excellence and is considered the most popular Indian film ever.

My Name is Khan is the story of Rizvan Khan, played by Shahrukh, an Indian Muslim living in California with his Hindu wife, Mandira Khan, played by Kajol. They meet in San Francisco when he is a salesman of beauty products, and she is a haircutter in a beauty salon. The time frame is sometime in the late 1990’s or in 2000 but is definitely prior to 09-11-01.

Khan’s character Rizvan suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome which is a form of high functioning autism. His disease is manifested, not in his intelligence, but in his socialization: he has difficulties in making eye contact with people, he cannot bear touching people or being touched, he has an overpowering fear of all things yellow, as well as loud and unusual noises.

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The Dilemma

The Dilemma from Director Ron Howard opened across the country today. From the trailers one might think this is a) a buddy film, or b) a rom/com, or even a drama and a comedy. Well, the reality is that it is all of the above to greater or lesser degrees depending upon where in the film you opt to make the call.

Starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, The Dilemma is correctly titled although that word ‘dilemma’ is rather old and gives us no clue as to what the film is about other than someone having a problem. Then again calling the film Between a Rock and a Hard Place would have been longer and newer, but wouldn’t have been any better in the clue department.

The story comes down to what do you do when you discover that your best friend’s wife is cheating on him. This is an easy question to comprehend, but there are no easy answers as to what to do. Vince Vaughn as Ronny Valentine is placed in this situation and it nearly eats him up alive.

The best friend is Kevin James as Nick Brannen. Together Nick and Ronny are B&V Motor Design and they’re right in the middle of trying to build a perfect engine design and then sell it Chrysler for their high performance cars. There’s huge amounts of money at stake, high pressure, competition, and by the way – accomplishing this is no easy task. Just getting a meeting to make their pitch was almost beyond their wildest dreams.

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The Pledge

Nearly a decade ago, on January 19th, 2001, a film directed by Sean Penn was released. The cast was very impressive starting with a nearly unrecognizable Benicio Del Toro who was joined by Aaron Eckhart, Patricia Clarkson, Tom Noonan, Helen Mirren, Michael O’Keefe, Mickey Rourke, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepard, Robin Wright, and … Jack Nicholson.

To be honest, I didn’t know anything about this film when it popped up in the middle of the suggested film list for me provided by Netflix. The title is The Pledge.

Simply, Jack plays a retiring sheriff in Reno, Nevada. While he and his friends were at his retirement party, a gruesome murder of a young child was discovered. Jack only had hours to go before his official retirement date, but he went out on the call.

A little 8 year girl had been brutally raped and killed. When no one wanted to go and tell the parents, Jack playing Jerry Black, stepped up and went to see them. This is when we got one of the most unusual shots in the history of film.

The Larsons, Margaret and Duane, (Clarkson and O’Keefe) were the parents of the slain little girl. They ran a turkey farm. We see them at work in the turkey ‘barn’ as Nicholson arrives. This barn is about the size of a basketball court and filled with young turkeys who are just milling about  in all their wall-to-wall splendor. Nicholson enters at the far end of the shot and he has to wade through these thousands of live turkeys. We hear the sounds of these gobblers but we don’t hear Nicholson or the Larsons. From our perspective it may as well have been pantomine.

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Country Strong

Both Season of the Witch and Country Strong were opening at the local cine-plex on Friday the 7th. Should I go see a film about a 14th century witch or a 21st Century country singer?  Medieval mayhem or country music? Did I want to feel scared or feel good? Well it wasn’t that difficult of a decision to have to make.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Kelly Canter – the country singer. While she does her own crooning – her voice is pretty darned good as is some of the music, the story seems old and familiar. Once you’ve attained stardom in country music, you’re on a road faced with some choices; diminished ability due to drinks or drugs, followed by death or divorce… or rehab and redemption. For sure, this doesn’t happen to everyone  in the real world of the music industry, but nearly always happens in the movies about the music industry.

Directed by Shana Feste, this is the latest iteration of the genre (the troubled singer/musician) that goes all the way back to the original A Star is Born from the 30’s with the Judy Garland remake in the 50’s and the Barbra Streisand remake in the 70’s, The Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sweet Dreams, Tender Mercies, and as recently as last year – Crazy Heart. Someone is always getting knocked down but not out. They go through a rehab, then they go back out on tour to the delirious delight of their fans. But even if these stories have become trite, or a cliché, or just some hackneyed tripe, you can still enjoy the music, and then enjoy the redemption second-hand. If the characters are well written, then you might even have a hit on your hands.

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