Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Working Girl (dir by Mike Nichols)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1988 best picture nominee, Working Girl!)

Welcome to the 80s!

Yes, Working Girl is definitely a film of its time.  It’s a film that’s obsessed with big things: big dreams, big offices, big money, and big hair.  It’s a movie where the heroes talk about hostile takeovers and where everyone’s dream is to eventually to be an executive on Wall Street.  You know all of those people who claim that The Big Short is the greatest movie ever made?  I can guarantee that the majority of them would totally hate every character in Working Girl.  Working Girl is such a film of the past that it even features Alec Baldwin doing something other than bellowing at people.  In fact, Baldwin’s actually sexy in Working Girl.  It was strange to see him in this film and realize that he was the same actor who currently spends all of his time picking fights on twitter and defending James Toback.

Of course, Alec Baldwin has a relatively small role in Working Girl.  He plays Mick Dugan, the type of blue-collar guy who gives his girlfriend lingerie for her birthday (“I just wish you would get me something that I could wear outside,” she says as she tries it on) and who then proceeds to cheat on her while she’s off at work.  From the minute we first meet Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), we know that she deserves better than Mick.

Tess is a professional administrative assistant.  She’s just turned 30 but she’s not ready to give up her dreams and settle for a life of fighting off coke-snorting executives and coming home to some guy like Mick.  (Speaking of early performances from infamous actors, one of the coke-snorting executives is played by Kevin Spacey.)  Tess has got a bachelor’s degree in Business.  As she puts it, she has a “mind for business and a bod for sin.”

She’s also got a new boss, an up-and-coming executive named Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  It turns out that Katherine is 29 years old.  (“I’ve never worked for someone younger than me before,” Tess says as Katherine gives her a condescending smile.)  Katharine encourages Tess to think of her as being a mentor.  If Tess has any ideas for investments, she should feel free to bring them to Katharine.  Of course, when Tess does so, Katharine claims that her bosses shot the idea down.  It’s only after Katharine breaks her leg in a skiing accident and is laid up in Europe that Tess discovers that Katharine has actually been stealing her ideas and not giving her any credit for them.

What is Tess to do?  Well, she does what any of us would do.  She passes herself off as an executive and presents her idea to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) herself.  Jack is impressed with the idea but he’s even more impressed with Tess.  Of course, complicating things is that Jack was once in a relationship with Katharine and Katharine still thinks that she’s going to eventually marry Jack.  And, of course, there’s the fact that Tess is lying about actually being an executive…

Working Girl is a frequently amusing film, elevated by performances of Melanie Griffith and, in the role of Tess’s best friend, Joan Cusack.  Add to that, Harrison Ford is remarkable non-grouchy as Jack Trainer and Sigourney Weaver appears to be having the time of her life playing a villain.  Even as I laughed at some of the lines, here was a part of me that wished that the film had a bit more bite.  At times, Working Girl tries too hard to have it both ways, both satirizing and celebrating Wall Street culture.  In the end, the film works best as a piece of wish-fulfillment.  It’s a film that says that not only can you win success and Harrison Ford but you can get your bitchy boss fired too.

Despite being a rather slight (if likable) film, Working Girl was nominated for Best Picture of 1988.  However, it lost to Rain Man.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Primary Colors, Dick, FDR: American Badass, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies


The greatest President of all time, Rutherford B. Hayes

The greatest President of all time, Rutherford B. Hayes

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy Rutherford B. Hayes Day!

In honor of my favorite holiday, I wanted to share 4 shots from 4 films about Rutherford B. Hayes.

However, my plan ran into a little problem.  Despite the fact that he’s the best President that this country ever had, there aren’t any movies about Rutherford B. Hayes.  He is literally the most underappreciated leader this country has ever had.  (In 2011, the President joked about Hayes not being on Mount Rushmore.  For that reason, I voted for Gary Johnson in 2012.  Don’t you mess with Rutherford B. Hayes)

So, here are four shots from four films that deal with other people who exist in the shadow of Rutherford B. Hayes.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Primary Colors (1998, dir by Mike Nichols)

Primary Colors (1998, dir by Mike Nichols)

Dick (1999, dir by Andrew Fleming)

Dick (1999, dir by Andrew Fleming)

FDR: American Badass (2012, dir by Garrett Brawith)

FDR: American Badass (2012, dir by Garrett Brawith)

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012, dir by  Richard Schenkman)

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012, dir by Richard Schenkman)

Shattered Politics #81: Charlie Wilson’s War (dir by Mike Nichols)


Charliewilsonwarposter

I hate to say it but Charlie Wilson’s War did not do much for me.

I hate to say that because this 2007 film is fairly well-acted, well-directed, and well-written (by Aaron Sorkin, whose scripts usually get on my last nerve).  And it deals with an important subject.  Taking place in the 80s, the film details how a Texas congressman (Tom Hanks), working with a profane CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and an eccentric socialite (Julia Roberts), managed to create popular and political support for giving weapons to the Afghan rebels who were fighting the Soviet invasion of their country.  By doing so, Wilson helps to weaken the Soviet Union but, when his efforts to provide humanitarian aide to Afghanistan are less successful, he also contributes to the subsequent rise of the Taliban.

It should have been a film that I would normally rave about but … I don’t know.

I watched Charlie Wilson’s War.  I laughed at some of Tom Hanks’s facial reactions.  (Hanks is playing a womanizer here who may, or may not, have been high on cocaine when he first learned about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and it’s obvious that Hanks really enjoyed getting to play someone who wasn’t a traditionally upright hero.)  As I watched, I again considered what a loss we suffered when the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman died.  And, as I watched Julia Roberts, I again wonder why, despite the fact that she’s from Georgia, it is apparently impossible for Julia to sound authentically Southern.

(Of course, I’m sure some would argue that Julia wasn’t playing Southern here.  She was playing a Texan.  Well, I’m a Texan and I’ve never heard anyone down here sound like that.  Tom Hanks, meanwhile, actually managed to come up with a decent accent.  Wisely, he underplayed the accent, whereas I don’t think that Julia has ever underplayed anything in her life.)

And, at the end of Charlie Wilson’s War, I knew I had watched a good film but it was also a film that left me feeling curious detached.  To be honest, I almost think the film would have been better if Hoffman’s CIA agent had been the main character, as opposed to Hanks’s congressman.  Hoffman’s character, after all, is the one who nearly lost his job over his belief that the Afghan rebels should be armed.  All Hanks really has to worry about is whether or not he’s going to be indicted for using cocaine in Vegas.

However, I do think that Charlie Wilson’s War does deserve praise for one very specific reason.  Excluding the films made by native filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson, Charlie Wilson’s War is one of the few films that I’ve ever seen that actually portrays anyone from Texas in a positive light.  Even more shockingly, it’s a positive portrayal of a Texas politician!

(I know it must have been tempting to change history and pretend that Charlie Wilson was originally elected from somewhere up north…)

But, overall, Charlie Wilson’s War didn’t do much for me.  But, if you’re into military history and all that, you might enjoy the film more than I did.

(Plus, all you boys will probably enjoy Emily Blunt’s scenes….)

At the very least, you can watch it for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

 

Shattered Politics #63: Primary Colors (dir by Mike Nichols)


Primaryposter

Jack Stanton (John Travolta) is the charismatic governor of an unnamed Southern state.  After spending his entire life in politics, Jack is finally ready to run for President.  Even more ready is his equally ambitious wife, Susan (Emma Thompson).  Jack proves himself to be a strong candidate, a good speaker who understands the voters and who has the ability to project empathy for almost anyone’s situation. He’s managed to recruit a talented and dedicated campaign staff, including the flamboyant Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), and journalist Henry Burton (Adrian Lester).  Henry is the son of a civil rights leader and, as soon as they meet, Jack talks about the first time that he ever heard Henry’s father speak.  Within minutes of first meeting him, Henry believes in Jack.

The problem, however, is that there are constant hints that Jack may not be worthy of his admiration.  There’s the fact that he’s a compulsive womanizer who is given to displays of temper and immaturity.  When one of Jack’s old friends reveals that Jack may have impregnated his daughter, Jack and Susan respond with a pragmatic ruthlessness that takes Henry by surprise.

When one of Jack’s mistresses threatens to go public, Henry is partnered up with Libby (Kathy Bates) and sent to dig up dirt on her and her sponsors.  When the former governor of Florida, Freddie Picker (Larry Hagman), emerges as a threat to derail Jack’s quest for the nomination, Henry and Libby are again assigned to research Picker’s background.  Libby is perhaps the film’s most interesting character.  Recovering from a mental breakdown, Libby has no trouble threatening to shoot one political opponent but she’s still vulnerable and idealistic enough that it truly hurts her when Jack and Susan repeatedly fail to live up to her ideals.  As an out lesbian, Libby is perhaps the only character who has no trouble revealing her true self and, because of her honesty, she is the one who suffers the most.

First released in 1998 and based on a novel by Joe Klein, Primary Colors is an entertaining and ultimately rather bittersweet dramedy about the American way of politics.  John Travolta and Emma Thompson may be playing Jack and Susan Stanton but it’s obvious from the start that they’re meant to be Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to Travolta’s attempt to sound Southern, this is ultimately one of his best performances.  As played by Travolta, Jack Stanton is charming, compassionate, self-centered, and ultimately, incredibly frustrating.  One reason why Primary Colors works is because we, as an audience, come to believe in Jack just as much as Henry does and then we come to be just as disillusioned as Libby.  Emma Thompson’s performance is a little less obviously based on Hillary.  Unlike Travolta, she doesn’t attempt to imitate Hillary’s voice or mannerisms.  But she perfectly captures the steely determination.

Primary Colors captures both the thrill of believing and the inevitability of disillusionment.  It’s definitely a film that I will rewatch in the days leading up to 2016.