Monday, October 31, 2005

Cures for the workin' man's blues

"So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."
Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons in "Office Space"
If you haven't felt that way at least once in your life you're probably not a terribly introspective person. Personally, whenever I do, I find the workin' man's revenge fantasy "Office Space" to be the perfect cure.
Out this week is a so-called "special edition" that features a 26-minute retrospective featurette "Out of the Office" with director Mike Judge and the cast members, plus some deleted scenes. Not much in the way of extras, but probably enough to lure some suckers out there.
That quibble aside, "Office Space" is one of the oddest - and sheerly cathartic - comedies around. In its honor, I present my 1o favorite movies about the unfortunate necessity of working. If you've found a way around it that won't get me locked up, I'm all ears.
10. "Night on Earth" Jim Jarmusch offers five simultaneous cab rides in five different parts of the world: Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. All are darkly funny, but a pre-"Life is Beautiful" Roberto Benigni as the kind of mad cab driver you can only find in Rome steals the show. This one also contains what must be the best French-English line ever about a blind cab driver from the Ivory Coast: "Ivoirien! Get it?" If you know of a better one, let me know.
9. "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" Errol Morris is simply the best documentary maker in America, no matter what that rotund rabble rouser from Flint has to say. Though he finally won an Oscar in 2004 for "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara," "Fast, Cheap" remains my favorite from his wide body of work. In interviews with four truly odd characters - a wild animal trainer, a topiary gardener, a robot designer and an expert on the naked mole rat - Morris shows how obsession can lead to inspiration. Plus, the naked mole rats are just plain cool.
8. "Super Troopers" Before he became an expert in squeezing Jessica Simpson's ample booty into Daisy Dukes, Jay Chandrasekar was - and still is - the leader of a crazy comedy troupe called Broken Lizard. This juvenile, often peurile but always funny flick about some truly inept Vermont highway patrolmen is their masterwork, if you can call it that. Admit it, jokes about cops are funny because we know we would never want to do their thankless work, and the Broken Lizard boys exploit this truth to the extreme.
7. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" - Anyone who had the misfortune of sitting through "Elizabethtown" may have forgotten that Cameron Crowe can be a very funny guy. Based on Crowe's book about his year undercover posing as a high school student in California, this one deserves all the blame for creating a monster that is now devouring our movie screens: The teen comedy. Unlike the pablum produced weekly now, however, "Fast Times" is genuinely rude and real, and it makes this list for poor Judge Reinhold's performance as Brad Hamilton, whose meltdown behind the fast-food counter is priceless.
6. "Clerks" It must pain Kevin Smith to learn he peaked as an artist so early. Personally, I think I did when I played the Buddha in a community theater production of "The King and I" when I was about 10 years old. May not sound like much, but you try sitting still for 10 minutes in stage makeup. It ain't easy. "Clerks" is the only movie I know of that almost earned an X rating just for dialogue. Still very funny 11 years later, this one works even if you've never had to make change behind a counter, or, like me, make the biscuits every Saturday morning at McDonald's.
5. "The General" If you can call thievery a job, then few people were better at it than Martin "The General" Cahill, who managed to steal $60 million and become an Irish folk hero before meeting his inevitable demise. As good as any of the great '30s gangster flicks (except perhaps the perfect "Little Caesar",) John Boorman's biopic stars Brendan Gleeson as Cahill and Jon Voight as the cop who relentlessly pursued him, and they're both perfect.
4. "Riff Raff" Before he flashed the world in "The Full Monty" and played the terrifying Begbie in "Trainspotting," Robert Carlyle was a real workin man's hero in Ken Loach's "romanticy comedy" about surviving in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. Loach, like any good Socialist, is painfully earnest, and the "English" is so rough that it has subtitles for us Yanks, but this portrait of life just above the poverty line on a construction crew is sharply funny before it takes an even sharper turn to bleak reality.
3. "Mississippi Masala" Indian director Mira Nair knows more about the American South than many of its native sons and daughters, as she proves in this tale of pride, prejudice and passion. Denzel Washington plays Demetrius, the struggling owner of a carpet-cleaning business in Mississippi who falls in love with an Indian woman, the exquisitely beautiful Sarita Choudhury in her film debut. What sets this apart from other romantic comedies is the tight-knit clan of Indians who, of course, work in a hotel and are fiercely protective of their young women. You can't call it a stereotype when it rings so true. It's a unique culture clash and a fun tale.
2. "Local Hero" The late Burt Lancaster appeared in an astonishing 88 films, according to the Internet Movie Database (, but to me he'll always the hapless oil company executive Happer, who pays an analyst to verbally berate him in this little '80s gem. Lancaster sends Peter Reigert to Scotland to buy an entire village so the company can build a refinery there, and what he finds has enough local color to blind you and charm to spare.
1. "The Snapper" OK, this one is more about the pain of not working, but it's my column, so deal with it. Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, "The Commitments," "The Snapper" and "The Van," are the equivalent of popcorn flicks on paper. You can read them all in a few days and you'll smile the whole way through. Though Alan Parker's movie of "The Commitments" has many charms, Stephen Frears' "The Snapper" is even better. This made-for-television flick for the BBC stars Colm Meaney as a Dubliner who has to deal with being on the dole just as he finds out his daughter is about to have a baby out of wedlock and won't tell him who the father is, the ultimate Catholic shame. I'm not sure the word "eejit," proceeded by an expletive unsuitable for print here, has ever been put to better use than in this portrait of Irish family life. My favorite exchange:
Dessie Curley (Meaney): I haven't cried since I was a kid.
Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher): You cried during the World Cup.
Dessie: Sober, Sharon! Sober!
You can find most of these flicks at any reputable video store, and maybe even Blockbuster. Enjoy!


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Iwaya said...

i have still failed to find a movie that even comes close to the oddity and brilliance of Office Space. But i'm going to check out these new ones you have recommended.

ps: for the next week or so, i'm going to go through everyone of your posts because i have fallen!

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