From The List of Shame, File #13: Nine to Five

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

Workin’ 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin’ by
It’s all takin’
And no givin’
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

Dolly Parton, “9 to 5 (And Odd Jobs)”

Nine to Five (or 9 to 5) opens with Dolly Parton’s boisterous anthem of the working woman. As we hear her belt out this Oscar-nominated theme song, we see a montage of women in pantsuits hightailing it in heels on their way to work. They’re eager, bright, and ambitious. And they’re all most likely working for an incarnation of the film’s villain Franklin M. Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), the stereotypical nightmare of a boss, incompetent, sexist, and the bane of existence for any woman looking to break through the glass ceiling.

With an opening like that, I was expecting this film to be a lot like South Park, a comedic romp with a poignant social message to grab onto…minus Mr. Hankey. And for awhile it seems that is precisely what we are going to get. We are introduced to Mr. Hart’s “girls” a.k.a his personal assistant Dora Lee (Dolly Parton), the office’s can-do senior supervisor Violet (Lily Tomlin), and the recently divorced workforce newbie Judy (Jane Fonda). There are some great scenes leading off the film between Dolly’s Dora Lee, and Mr. Hart as she denies his sexual advances with her trademark Southern sweetness and wit. Tomlin drips with sarcastic comments and jabs at Hart’s bumbling incompetence. And Fonda’s bright-eyed bushy-tailed portrayal of a woman just getting her professional footing is endearing at first, but unfortunately becomes just as forgettable as the focus of this film come the second act.

I really did enjoy the first half of this film. But then things get a little too wacky. We are lead to believe that this film will focus on women’s rights in the workplace, and while I was expecting these gals to get revenge on their ass of a boss, the plot becomes so convoluted I can barely recollect where it started. After a bad day at the office, Dora Lee, Violet, and Judy head out for a drink to wallow in their misery. A drink turns into a night of smoking pot and fantasizing about the ways they each would like to off Mr. Hart. No harm there, people have thoughts just as bad when they’re sober. The fantasy sequences are silly, but I can forgive them this indulgence. It’s what comes after the next day in the office that sets the wheels in motion for the insanity to come. A box of rat poison, conveniently resembling the creamer used in Mr. Hart’s coffee, makes the ladies believe that they have poisoned their boss, accidentally of course.

Without going into specifics, the ladies end up kidnapping a body from the hospital they believe to be the dead Mr. Hart. It’s not. Back to the hospital they go. When they discover Mr. Hart in the office the next day, released from the hospital and fully aware about their “plot” to kill him he threatens to have them thrown in jail. Obviously, they’re not having any of it and decide to kidnap him and hold him for blackmail at his house (his wife, a lovable ignoramus, is away on vacation).

I could go on but there really isn’t any point. All the social issues this film could have addressed are condensed into a pithy 15 minutes towards the end of the film when the ladies institute a series of office initiatives including flex and share hours, and company daycare, while their boss is left tied up in his own house. Dora Lee, Judy, and Violet are all interesting enough characters thrown in wacky and unbelievable circumstances that surpass the scope of the film itself. Any wit or humor achieved in the film’s first 45 minutes is abruptly lost, and the story instead makes a series of weird choices that result in a story that seems to be a splice of two completely separate films-part screwball comedy, part espionage farce.

Even moments that are meant to be humorous, like Hart’s wife coming home from vacation to find her husband strapped to the ceiling in pseudo-bondage wear should have been funny, but just fell utterly flat. I think such a sequence could have benefited from a more frenetic pace where the audience senses there is much at stake for these characters. Instead the story lobs along and even resurrects a story arc from the very beginning of the film involving Jane Fonda’s ex-husband turned stalker. The result is a creepy encounter that just feels wrong given the hilarity that should be ensuing.

I’ve made frequent mentions of time in this review. That’s not a good thing. When you find yourself watching the clock during a movie there’s a problem. The only true beacon of light in an otherwise murky film is Dolly Parton. Nine to Five was her first screen role, and I wish better material was given to her. She is a truly gifted actress and if nothing else, this film will be historically remembered for her breakthrough performance.

List of Shame Files normally appears on Wednesdays. Previous entries are here.


Review: Fright Night

Fright Night is a remake of the 1985 film of the same name, and though I haven’t seen the original in a long time, I feel as though a successful remake formula could be thus: 1. Don’t remake the best films and 2. When you do remake a film, put your own stamp on the material.

Its unique voice is what makes the new Fright Night so much fun. From the script upward the film has a sense about it that is one part scare, one part tongue- firmly-in-cheek. The film was written by Marti Noxon, an alum of both Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men. Noxon brings a wonderful voice to the film, especially through the dialogue. Her creativity and unique ideas really shine through, elevating Fright Night into one of my favorite movies of the entire summer.

Besides the battle plan featured in the film’s climax, Noxon’s most interesting contribution may be in the location. The new incarnation is set in a suburb of Las Vegas, as Noxon was inspired by her trip there during the last presidential election. She writes:

You’d think I would have been contemplating the greed and ineptitude that led the nation to this sorry state, but instead my mind was fixed on one dogged thought: “God, this would be the greatest place to be a vampire. Sinners aplenty just down the road, a transient population that works all hours of the night and day … and all these abandoned homes. You could pick people off and who would ever be the wiser?”

She cites additional inspiration coming from the Amblin films she grew up with, like ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, and Jaws. All of these films bring the fantastic and danger to the mundane world of the suburbs, and Fright Night captures this better than any American film in recent memory, including Super 8. In fact, I imagine replacing the film’s soundtrack with the most recent Arcade Fire album would be a fascinating experiment.

The other thing that makes this film one to be seen are the performances. Colin Ferrell is terrific as Jerry the neighborhood vampire, and the actor’s charisma is used to great effect. Jerry is so much fun to watch, as is the scene-stealing David Tennant (Doctor Who) as the vampire expert Peter Vincent (a stage magician in this incarnation). Tennant’s particular sensibilities are a perfect fit for the role, and he provides much of the comic relief in the film’s last third.

I also applaud Fright Night for bringing back the old school evil vampire. Jerry is malevolent, unrelenting, and insatiable. There is nothing redeeming (or sparkly) about him. He, like the shark in Jaws, is a force of nature to be reckoned with, not reasoned with or interviewed. It’s also refreshing that with these ‘chaste’ Twilight vamps running around, Fright Night brings the sexy back, showing Jerry as having an intense physical reaction to being near his prey, especially in the olfactory sense.

Fright Night is easily the surprise of my summer, one I wasn’t even anticipating (it didn’t even make our summer movie preview). Yet I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I recommend it if you’re looking for a retro fun monster movie.

Rehash: This Week in Film News

Every week we attempt to rehash the top news stories (in our opinion) in the film industry. Can’t wait for Friday? Follow us on twitter (@filmhash) for more news and ramblings throughout the week! 

Hollywood doesn’t seem to be finished with Tolkien just yet: in addition to The Hobbit, word is the controversial novel Mirkwood by Steve Hillard, may also be adapted for the silver screen. The novel presents itself as a story about J.R.R Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings epic just with different characters and names. Also something about being in America and encountering elvish magic? Sounds bizarre, and supposedly the Tolkien Estate is less than thrilled. Read more here.

 Talks about a Blade Runner remake seem definite as ever with the announcement that the original director Ridley Scott will be returning to the project. Opinions vary about whether a) a remake is needed, and b) Ridley Scott is the right man for the job. Harrison Ford will most likely not return. Read more here.

With summer coming to an end everyone is gearing up for awards season. Word is Woody Allen’s wildly popular Midnight in Paris will undergo a wider release this fall (Oscar push anyone?). We’re not complaining!

Just in case you didn’t feel old enough, Pixar turned 25 years old this week. The animation studio has singlehandedly changed animation in America and audiences couldn’t be more grateful. However, looking back on Pixar’s stellar career has made some question their recent “failure” with Cars 2, and whether or not it will signal a decline in original quality films. We’re not sweating it though- Brave in 2012! Read more here.

The much anticipated Lone Ranger remake starring Johnny Depp and produced by the team behind the first Pirates of the Caribbean film has been cancelled for the time being. Concerns over the ballooning budget for the film have studio execs worried. Read more here.

Trailer of the week: Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black. Watch it here. 

Netflix Instant Pick: America’s Mountain Culture

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

There are some cities in America that lend themselves to being featured on screen, Boston and New York come to mind. Perhaps it’s because the strongest personalities in Hollywood just happen to call these places home. But I’ve always had a fascination with places a little more remote, where life is intertwined with the landscape and in some cases even dictated by it. I’m speaking of course about America’s Mountain Culture, particularly Appalachia and the Ozarks.

Jesco White, "The Dancing Outlaw"

I watched The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009) a few months ago purely on a whim. It’s a documentary that chronicles a year in the life of the notorious White family of Boone County, West Virginia, a family made “famous” by its patriarch D. Ray White, the king of mountain dancing. We see his widow Bertie Mae throughout the film, a woman so selfless it makes the rest of the brood downright despicable. Touted as America’s last outlaw family, the Whites are an amalgamation of thieves, drug dealers,  and addicts, with a reputation for destruction in Boone. But the most intriguing personality in this family is Bertie and D. Ray’s son Jesco White, the only other member of the family to master the art of mountain dancing. Jesco is a man tortured by many demons, but the second he performs, the years of heavy drinking, smoking, and drugging melt away and we are met with a man who missed his calling as a national entertainer.

This documentary is about the Whites, but it is also about West Virginia, and the people who live there. Coal mining is still a way of life for many, and poverty runs rampant. But despite the hard times, the mountains call to these people, and together a unique relationship is formed. A bond with the land that makes it difficult to leave. We see that these people feel left behind by the rest of the country, and a once vibrant piece of the American tapestry is left to fray under the pressure of a rapidly declining mining economy.

But the resolve of the people of Boone County is unmistakable. In fact, they wish more attention was payed to the good that can come from tucked away corners of the world, and not families like the Whites. A county official is interviewed for the film and tells the story about a local kid getting a full-ride scholarship to MIT. “Why aren’t they following him around with a camera,” he asks. The answer of course is simple. Why is Jersey Shore watched by millions. I understand the frustration of the good citizens of Boone, who pay their taxes and wish that the stereotypes associated with the “backwoods” of Appalachia would stop being reenforced by probing documentarists. But I also think that at the very least The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia aims to capture a moment in time about a group of people that are slowly disappearing under the weight of their own fame and self-destruction. Like it or not, the Whites represent a unique portrait of Appalachian life, and I think they deserve a place in film memory.

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone

For another excellent film featuring America’s mountain culture (this time in the Ozarks) I recommend the painful yet beautiful Winter’s Bone. Jennifer Lawrence portrays a quiet yet fierce young woman determined to save her family’s house and find out the truth about her father’s disappearance. Similar to The Wild Whites, Winter’s Bone examines the oftentimes complicated relationship between family loyalty, and fending for yourself. It shows a lawless land governed by alliances and swift retribution for defectors.

Watch Winter’s Bone here and The Wild Whites here.

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.

Netflix Instant Pick: Mel Brooks Parodies

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights are movies that may be on your List of Shame, but with both on Netflix Instant, that’s easily rectified. Mel Brooks is a singular name in parody and these are among his most celebrated, and most recent parody films. Brooks only made four films in the 80s and 90s in this genre, but with little quantity comes great quality.

Spaceballs (1987) is a landmark in a peculiar subgenre: the Star Wars parody. While the film also features many other cultural references, Star Wars was Brooks’ main target. It’s a fertile ground for parody, as we have seen in subsequent years (where shows like Family Guy and Robot Chicken have done multiple entire episodes dedicated to it). What’s funny to me is that this film came out just 10 years after the release of the first Star Wars film, and critics were complaining that they were already over saturated with it. Ebert wrote in his original review, “The strangest thing about Spaceballs is that it should have been made several years ago, before our appetite for Star Wars satires had been completely exhausted…this movie already has been made over the last 10 years by countless other satirists.”

However, don’t let that deter you. After all, If you haven’t seen Spaceballs, then you’ll never know why “Pizza [the Hutt] is going to send out…for you!

Watch Spaceballs here.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) is the parody film Brooks made after Spaceballs, and is his last good film to date. Like its predecessor, the film is a direct parody, and luckily it adheres as close to the Robin Hood mythos as Young Frankenstein is to its source material. However, like Brooks’ other historical parodies, it includes a lot of anachronisms as humor, aided by the great Dave Chapelle as Achoo.

Brooks particular target this time, the Kevin Costner film Prince of Thieves, is probably a less popular film now that Men in Tights has become a cult classic. By broadening this film to encompass the whole Robin Hood legend, and not just one specific portrayal, it bolsters the parody to stand in its own right. Lead Cary Elwes elevates the film to new heights with his now famous line, “Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent!”

Watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights here.

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.

Thoughts on Movie Poster Controversy

This post is in response to an interesting list that was circulating last week from Flavorwire on the 10 most memorable film poster controversies. When it’s usually the films themselves that get people up in arms, I found this article to be a new perspective on the many forms of censorship (warranted and not) that exist in the film industry. My thoughts about each list entry are below, please refer to the link above for pictures in the original article.

1. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher (2011)

I’m going to go out on a limb and claim this film as the most anticipated of the year. So when the poster was released (with a killer tagline I might add), it was bound to stir up attention. But many found the half-naked depiction of Rooney Mara a little jarring, and a misrepresentation of her character, Lisbeth. Instead of a strong heroine, many found a vulnerable victim in the arms of Daniel Craig. When I saw this poster I didn’t have the same reaction. I think many people mistake vulnerability for weakness, and that’s not what is being portrayed here. Plus, it’s David Fincher, and as Ryan has said, “he’s no hack director.” I have all the confidence in the world that he will do justice to Lisbeth and her story.

2.  Captivity, Roland Joffe (2007)

I’m not a fan of horror films, so I had no idea this movie really existed although I do recall hearing a little about this controversy. All I really have to say about this one is movies like this should never even be made, let alone marketed to a general audience. It’s torture porn, plain and simple, and everyone associated with something like this should be ashamed. The article includes a link to another article that has more coverage of the public outcry, and the lame attempts at excuse making by distributor reps. My favorite includes the explanation that a change in the film’s ending (supposedly our lead remains alive instead of being tortured to death) is empowering to women. My question is, even if you mistakenly send the wrong images to the printer (which the reps claim is what happened, and that there was no executive sign off or approval) the fact is that this series of four panels was at one point a draft. A draft that was up for consideration, and a draft that pretty much gave the ending of the film (at one time) away. I posed my confusion about this to Ryan, to which he replied, “a movie like this doesn’t have a story, it doesn’t matter.” Exactly.

3. The Road to Guantanamo, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross (2006)

Interesting that one little close up fixes the problem for everyone. A great example of the power of perception.

4. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog (2009)

This entry was an interesting read, if what interests you is the MPAA’s quirky and oftentimes ridiculous regulations. Although I have to agree that a gun shoved in someone’s face sends out messages, whether we want it to or not.

5. The Hills Have Eyes II, Martin Weisz (2007)

The article found this entry to be another random morality call by the MPAA, but to me there is a stark difference if you can believe it or not. As you may have already gathered, I hate the depiction of torture in movies. I can see people shot, blown up, blah, blah, but I don’t do mental or physical torture. Which is why I hate horror films. So back to the posters. The first poster submitted to the MPAA was rejected because of the hand clawing its way from the body bag. This person, obviously alive, is trying to escape almost certain death. To me this represents torture, which can be disturbing (and honestly it should be disturbing) to a lot of people. So they changed it to the feet of presumably a dead person dragging outside the bag. Don’t get me wrong, this is just as messed up as the first, but slightly less so since the worse for this poor soul seems to be over. Can I just ask what the heck is appealing about films like this? I mean really, I actually want to know. I kind of want to take a shower after writing this paragraph….

6. I Spit on Your Grave, Steven Monroe (2010)

All I have to say is, why was this even made? See Captivity.

7. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Kevin Smith (2008)

I actually thought the original poster was hilarious. Apparently the Canadians have a better sense of humor.

8. The Rules of Attraction, Roger Avary (2002)

This was interesting to me because I know I read a book for my Russian History class in college that had toys, I believe a bear and a Barbie doll in a compromising position on the cover (you had to read the book). So it was strange to me that this came across as offensive, especially since I’m pretty sure most kids have done this to their stuffed animals at one point.

9. The People vs. Larry Flynt, Milos Forman (1996)

The original poster was used in Europe, but I have to say I like the second poster more-I think the symbolism rings truer.

10.    The Outlaw, Howard Hughes (1943)

The outlaw? Apparently Jane Russell’s breasts….

Movie Tavern: Skeptic Turned Believer

I had read enough about the Alamo Drafthouse franchise in Texas to be slightly skeptical about the Movie Tavern that just opened it’s doors in Collegeville, PA. For those not familiar with this trend, both the Alamo and Movie Tavern provide theatergoers with food, drink, and seat service during a film. As fantastic as this sounds, as someone who gets cranky when they hear the crinkle of a candy bag, I was expecting a full blown aneurism at the prospect of listening to the orchestra of people eating a full-blown meal.

But I’m happy to report that I actually had a positive experience at Movie Tavern, and here’s why:

1. The auditorium setup
Because waiters need to be able to access everyone’s seat without too much disruption, the aisles in these theaters are huge. And consequently, so are the seats. Let’s just say this is probably the only time in my life I will experience what first class is like on an airplane. With so much room, it’s easy to get comfortable and enjoy the movie you’re watching.

2.  The fluidity/timing/ease of ordering food
Movie Tavern recommends arriving a half hour before your movie time to ensure that there is ample time to get seats, and order food and drinks. Because mostly everyone in the theater is ordering the bulk of their food before the movie even starts there is little risk of multiple interruptions while the film is playing. I think I was only passed three times by a waiter during the course of a two hour movie. Each seat has a tray to hold everything, and a button that you press for service. After you receive your food, the waiter only comes back if you push the button. To my surprise, very few people continued to order things throughout the movie. I guess I had little faith that people would remember the primary reason they go to theater: to see a movie, and not to eat.

3. The movie itself
Selection of the movie is an important thing to consider in this situation. I believe my experience was as positive as it was because I saw Cowboys & Aliens, an action movie that required little thought on my part, and enough noise to block out any mastication in my general area. Because I was in the middle of eating during the first twenty minutes of the movie, my attention wasn’t always up at the screen. I wouldn’t normally condone this, as I like to be fully immersed in the film from beginning to end, but Cowboys & Aliens is one of those fun, easy films that doesn’t require such stiffness. I want to stress again that I don’t think I would chose Movie Tavern for quieter, more introspective films where excess noise in the theater becomes a distraction.

4.  An extensive and reasonably priced menu
I was thrilled and surprised by the amount of choices offered. Movie Tavern has a full bar, and plenty of menu options (and dessert!) to please just about everyone. The food isn’t stellar, but not any worse than a large casual restaurant chain, like Applebee’s. It’s also a nice luxury to be able to drink beer during a film (without having to hide an ice pack in your coat and possibly be kicked out or worse, your beer confiscated).

5. Friendly waitstaff and employees
I think I was told “Enjoy your movie” five times before I even sat down. And while such enthusiasm may wane after the initial opening (trust me I’ve worked in service jobs before), I felt very welcome and taken care of while there. I’m calling out the service specifically because another one of our local theaters that we frequent out of necessity lacks the same friendly face. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the moody teens that work there or what, but because there’s alcohol being served in the theater, a majority of the staff is older and less full of angst.

I came into this experience as a purist, believing that anything added to the theater experience was probably taking away from it. And in some cases, I believe Movie Tavern could take away from film watching. But if you’re looking for a fun, different, and social night outing with friends, then Movie Tavern may be something to look into-as long as the movie you’re watching isn’t The Tree of Life.

Movie Tavern website.