Friday, July 8, 2011

Horrible Bosses, Zookeeper, Page One: Inside the New York Times

Horrible Bosses
Rating: 3/5

Horrible Bosses is a great title. Who hasn’t had a horrible boss?  Who hasn’t fantasised about getting even?  Well, someone did something about theirs in this dark little comedy.  It’s a kind of feel good movie for the morally challenged yet cowardly.
What we have is an update of Strangers on a Train and Throw Mama form a Train only as a threefer. Three pals have a common gripe – their horrible bosses.   Nick (Jason Bateman) is expecting a promotion after eight years of kowtowing to his awful boss played by a perfectly cast Kevin Spacey.   And then he’s passed over.  Insult to injury, boss #1 is nutjob, sadistically addicted to abusing Nick. 
Dale (Charlie Day) is being systematically sexually harassed and brutalised by his boss, a deranged dentist played with abandon by Jennifer Aniston in her least becoming role ever.  His friends tell him to man up, that it’s good to be at the receiving end of a sexual deviant.  Eh?
And Kurt, Jason Sudeikis, is at the mercy of the son of his mentor (Donald Sutherland whose character dies in a car crash early on), a coke snorting, sexual outlaw whose home looks like “Shaper Image took a d...p”.    Colin Farrell plays this lout with the wicked attitude, whose stupidity is enhanced by his bald headed comb over and clothes a rat wouldn’t nest in.  He’s got it in for Kurt who stands between him and the company’s money.
The three actors couldn’t have better chemistry, they’re friends, and we believe them. They plot and plan and have differing actions to the word “murder”, and “toothbrush”. Three different guys, three similar motives, three brains trying to come up with the perfect plan to off those who have made their lives misery upon misery.  Do their bosses deserve it? Undoubtedly.  Will they get it? Seems unlikely with this motley crew of doing the planning.
And it’s even more unlikely if they follow the advice of one Motherf****r Jones (Jamie Foxx) a smooth talking low life who has just come home from prison. For five large, he’ll guide them in their vengeance.
Foxx is just extraordinarily funny in a role he’s never done before.  And by the way, really fun stunt casting.  Julie Bowen plays Spacey’s wife and Old Spice Guy Isaiah Mustafa shows up as a cop.   The aforementioned Sutherland is in the film for mere moments, but that’s enough to make an impression.
Horrible Bosses isn’t outrageously funny like Hangover or Tropic Thunder.   It’s R-rated comedy lite with a great story and three engaging leads.  It’s an interesting case of a film filling in its own gaps.  During moments when this latest in the R-rated comedy wave has a moment that’s not exactly hilarious, the story itself is so interesting that it doesn’t matter much.  The entertainment energy level remains the same straight through, with, several tasty treats over the credit roll.

Rating: 2/5

Kevin James’ “pet” project has finally hit theatres after years in development.   James’ Mall Cop was a surprise hit with family audiences and a bust with critics, and this Zookeeper will undoubtedly repeat that familiar pattern.   And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Kids like talking animals - who doesn’t?  And the story is sweet and unchallenging.  But it’s not Gone with the Wind.
Zookeeper isn’t the best comedy ever made, but it may have the most heart.   James has nurtured his “talk to the animals” outing with a real passion and he got some pretty impressive stars to act as the animal voices.  Adam Sandler (who produced) is especially hilarious as Donald the monkey, and joins Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Nick Nolte, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Maya Rudolph, Don Rickles and many more.   James has some cool friends.   Stay for the credit roll song jam of More Than a Feeling, hear Sly belt out the lyrics in the character of a lion.
James is Griff, the zookeeper, who was dumped hard by a girlfriend five years earlier.  He was humiliated because he’d planned fireworks, a Mariachi band and a message in a bottle for the big ask.  He was turned down flat and his confidence was shot and he hasn’t had a date since.
Out of the blue, “she” shows up and goes out of her was to interest him.  She’s still with someone, but obviously hedging her bets.  Griff’s co-worker Kate (Rosario Dawson) is a good friend and encourages him to pursue Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) if it makes him happy.
Meanwhile it’s all happening at the zoo. The animal characters keep a close eye on what happens to Griff, their favourite, and discuss it all with voices when the humans aren’t around.   And Griff’s dealing with a seriously depressed Gorilla (Nick Note) who leads his life in a viewless concrete enclosure – nice touch for increasing awareness about the plight of caged wild animals.   And Griff must reign in Shane (Donnie Wahlberg) who is cruel to the animals. 
Griff’s getting nowhere fast with a Stephanie and decides to launch a full scale assault on her heart with help from Kate and the animals.  And to coincide with his assault, the animals start speaking.  They know a lot because they listen and gossip and they have plenty of advice, “man up”, “pee in front of her”, “walk like an ape”, “bellow”. 
Griff’s friendship and efforts with the Gorilla encourage the animal to come out of himself – literally – they go for dinner at a chain restaurant where he’s a huge hit with the ladies.   There are some genuinely funny sequences here and some trumped up but cute car chases.
This isn’t the pinnacle of filmmaking but the kids watching at a screening I attended were howling with laughter.  It’s a kid hit and compelling enough for the parents who will realise it’s not aimed at them.   The romance becomes a lesson in authenticity and loyalty and that’s a good thing.  I’d also like to offer a ****Ken Jeong alert***** as Venom, the senior zookeeper who adds some fun and flavour.

Page One: Inside the New York Times
Rating: 2.5/5

Andrew Rossi and Kate Novak’s investigation into the state of the newspaper industry, focusing on the venerable  and acknowledged “paper of record”,  The New York Times, seems about eight or nine years late.   Ironically, while the documentary and the Times itself is all about disseminating news in the most efficient ways possible, there’s nothing really newsy here.  Online news gathering which allows us to be our own producer of our own news stream, has rocked the newspaper and TV news industries.
People just don’t buy papers anymore and they don’t watch TV news, at least the way they did in 2005.  They get their news on their friendly computer screen, in feeds, syndication, emails, whathaveyou.  They poke through several reports on the same story to see which one they most want to read.  Ditto pictures and commentary.  You can’t do much better than that, personalised news every day all day, virtually free (aside from computer costs) when you want, where you want and without commercial breaks (mostly) and anchor chatter.
There was a time years ago that the Times experimented with paid online news service, but stories were soon accessible free.  And the paper’s answer to death by online?  Charge people to read online stories.  It defies reason.  The film is a kind of roundup of stories of newspaper chains shutting down, the proliferation of blogs as real service sites, how competition from other newspaper chains changed and evolved – or devolved. And it’s all from the Times’ point of view, personified by the people of its Media pages.
David Carr an outspoken defender of the Times is an odd mixture of old fashioned ethics and new world realism.  A former crack addict he hit the big time becoming a columnist for the Times and the paper and its relevance is his passion. He chats it up in seminars around the US.  He’s a pioneer and a veteran and as colourful as the myths of those old time newsmen. 
It captures the paper in the uncomfortable days of change, a sea change that could spell the end for the paper which has published without a break since 1851 and won 106 Pulitzer Prizes.   It’s like the introduction of reading devices which may supplant books – after their glorious millennia long run.  But they’re over too.  So, let’s put things into perspective. Everything is changing, especially the media. There are citizen journalists, blogs, instant Tweets, Facebook posts, all of which can be considered news.  No longer must news come from between the sheets of a newspaper or from the TV dial.   Things are tough for people and institutions that won’t change.  Like one of the guys in the movie says we live in “interesting times”.
The problem once again is that this is all old news. Had the film been put together and released even a couple of years ago, it would have been timely and shocking.  The Times partners with Wikileaks? Big deal!  !  An anonymous blogger becomes a big deal at the Times?  And?  Papers Tweet now!  So? So do I!   And so does the guy who accidentally let it slip that the US was attacking Bin Laden’s secret home in Afghanistan!  You see?  Too little too late.   The film could also have looked at television’s precipitous decline as victims of online superiority but it didn’t – I hope that’s not a future doco – it’s already happened folks and we all know that sad story too.

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