It’s been a heroic run with Videoport Jones these past few years, savaging movies, playing favorites and generally committing acts of aggression against taste and decency. So this week we’ll go out just like every week, looking at the line-up of new releases. Looks like we’ve got “Sherlock Holmes” and “Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” and…I’m sorry. The what? Squeakquel? I must have read that wron…SQUEAKQUEL?!? It’s NOT A WORD! CAPS LOCK IS ON! Murderous rage is rising! RISING! I can’t go out like this! JONESY, HELP!
Videoport Jones: Here, for no reason whatsoever, is a list of our favorite films and TV shows where good people are laid off for no good reason. What do they have in common? Well, the corporate entity doing the firing is never, ever remotely sympathetic. Try to think of a film or show that is on the side of the fire-ers. I couldn’t do it.
Justin: Feeling better. Wait, Jonesy. This doesn’t have anything to do with my predicament, right? I mean I’m taking a voluntary parachute. I’m on good terms with my compant…
VPJ: I know, I know, times are tough all over and all the rest of it. But the people in these stories being fired are never at fault. In fact, their firing invariably smacks of the lowliest injustice; people, often who’ve worked for that same corporation for years and years, and doing a commendable job, forced out because of the company’s inability to run itself with economic or creative vigor, or due to managerial greed. And sure, the response, invariably, is “It’s the market,” “It’s nothing personal,” or “It’s just business.” Whatever helps you sleep at night. I would propose the counter argument that, if your employees are doing the jobs you hired them to do and doing them well, with competence and honor, and your company suddenly has no place for them, well, perhaps it’s business…but it’s not good business. Anyway, here are my picks:
VPJ: Well, this is timely… James L. Brooks’ 1987 tale of the creeping, money-driven decline of the news media is trenchant, insightful, and prescient, all the while being damned funny, with network producer Holly Hunter choosing between hunky but dim prettyboy reporter/anchor William Hurt and snarky but brilliant and principled, but shlumphy, Albert Brooks (who’s hilarious), both romantically and professionally. In a situation that has absolutely no bearing on the current professional situation of anyone writing this column, budget cuts and ratings declines cause a wholesale series of layoffs during the film, threatening the most committed and professional reporters with undeserved unemployment while rewarding those most willing to play corporate ball. The movie’s packed with memorable, quotable scenes, but for some reason I keep flashing on the one where the high-powered network anchor (an uncredited Jack Nicholson) deigns to visit the newsroom alongside the weaselly exec there to announce the layoffs. When Nicholson intones, “This is a brutal layoff”, the exec, in an unguarded moment, quips, “Well, you could make it a lot less brutal if you knocked a million or so off your salary…”, only to, in the face of Nicholson’s silent death stare, cave immediately with, “A joke…a bad joke…” A bad joke indeed, but a great movie.
JE: “Sex, tears, this must be the news!” Great movie really, and I’d argue one of Albert Brooks best. I think what makes me like this movie more on repeated viewings is that it’s a love story that sneaks up on you. You think you’ve got this poignant, timely (and still timely) story about the news business (which is great), and then this love story jumps on your back. And you find you’re OK with it. I’d say Brooks knack for dialogue and characters was never more on point than in this movie, but it would be hard not to deliver when he’s playing opposite Hurt and Hunter. There is something about Holly Hunter that despite the fact I sometimes find her voice funny, I am transfixed by her. Even when it’s JUST her voice (“The Incredibles” for instance). Sure this one is not as timeless as say, “Network,” but it’s just as honest and twice as funny. And absolutely in no one has any bearing on anything happening currently in local news circles. Plus, it’s no “Switching Channels.” Yikes…
VPJ: Hey, look – it’s another example of a group of dedicated, passionate journalists (in the sports world in this case) being squeezed and threatened with extinction by their corporate overlords, more concerned with ratings, money, (and dumbing their content down in order to achieve same) than with their principled pursuit of truth, beauty, and all that hippie crap. Aaron Sorkin’s pre- “West Wing” sort-of sitcom, set at an ESPN-type sports channel is, like ‘WW,’ an inspired workplace drama/comedy, with great turns by Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Robert Guillaume (as the best boss in TV history), Felicity Huffman, Josh Malina, and my secret crush Sabrina Lloyd as the most adorable Gal Friday anywhere. Again, my mind, for no particular reason, fixes on the final story arc, where, faced with their corporate parent’s impending plug-pulling, which mirrored the network’s real-life decision to cancel the series (SPOILER ALERT), Sorkin writes in a happy ending. A mysterious billionaire fairy godfather buys the network and decides to keep the ratings-challenged but brilliant Sports Night on the air, saying (in a line Sorkin must still giggle over), “It’s a good show…anyone who can’t make money airing Sports Night should get out of the money-making business.” Any billionaire media mogul out there with room for a similarly-good and principled writer, should give Justin a call.
JE: “Sports Night” continues to be near the top of my “Brilliant, But Canceled” list. It was just so flippin’ smart and had these great, well-thought out characters who you’d love to have a beer with, or work with. The cast is so untouchable (let’s not forget some great guest work from William H. Macy) that I still associate all of them, no matter what they’re on now, with this show. It remains one of TV’s biggest injustices (right up there with axing “Firefly.” Honestly, I don’t know why I still watch Fox). But on the other hand you have to wonder if “Sports Night” continued would we have gotten the mind-blowing awesomeness that was “The West Wing?” If we peeked into an alternate reality where “Sports Night” ran for seven seasons would we ever have gotten the Bartlett Administration? Tough, tough choice. You have to figure Sorkin’s experience with “Sports Night” is part of what made “The West Wing” come to life. And yes, billionaire media moguls who happen to read this blog, do call. Or stop down at Videoport!
VPJ: Sure, I’m one of those socialists that Tea Party activists like to spit on and call names. (I’m such a pinko that I think poor people should have health care, just like rich people. That’s how much of a jerk I am.) But I gotta say, the central premise of this documentary examining the nature of big business capitalism tickles me; A corporation as a sociopath. Concerned only with it’s own success and needs, to the exclusion of all others, even to its long-term detriment because of the negative effects it has on the society in which it lives. Umm. Yeah. It’s a fun premise, carried off with aplomb by the filmmakers who make the case that there’s something rotten and ultimately self-defeating at the root of the unprincipled corporate system and hammered home with the interviews with those hurt so badly by it.
JE: You sir are un-American. I don’t know why I should associate with such a socialist, hippie, commie, left-wing nutjob. You are a cancer on this great republic. I think in most scenarios it’s hard to make large multi-national corporations seem warm and friendly. How can you? There’s no way to hug a conglomerate is there? (Sorry, that was a little crunchy.) I’m really of two minds on this topic, because on one hand I like having money and being able to buy things, which is the nature of business and the great beast in question here, Capitalism. That said, the pursuit of money and power for their own sake is, well, I think that was covered well in Star Wars. And this documentary, which, like any good documentary breaks down maze-like organizational chart that corporations have become into easy to understand pieces. And just like it’s hard to sympathize with a large, faceless company, it’s hard NOT to sympathize with the people left behind, strewn in the wake like ex-girlfriends. Available at Videoport!
Up in the Air
VPJ: Ahhh…The Cloon. So cool, so suave, so reassuringly wise. It’d be a pleasure to get fired by him (an independent consultant brought in to fire employees their actual bosses are too chicken to fire themselves) and handed a useless folder called something like “Passages,” “Transitions,” or “Don’t Leave Your Ass Prints on My Door on Your Way Out,” I bet. Well, the Cloon is as good as ever in this, again timely, dramedy, plying his patented Clooney magic as he soothes the way out the door for the victims of the current economic…unpleasantness. It’s a good movie, too, putting a human face on the fact that good people are often out of work for no good reason. Over to you, Justin!
JE: You know I had to go to a “career counseling” session recently and it was nothing like The Cloon led me to believe. I feel cheated. I mean, sure, I got plenty of useful information on unemployment benefits, health insurance and how to look for a new career (even a packet titled “Transitions”), but it didn’t reach into my soul with eyes that could stop a rabid momma bear at 20 paces. Ah…The Cloon. This movie is remarkable for a number or reasons, first being that I think we get a different side of Clooney here, one that turns out to be a little more vulnerable then we’re used to. Second, we gotta give a shout out to local girl Anna Kendrick who more than carries her own weight against that smoldering monument of manliness and Vera Farmiga. Finally, I really enjoyed how director Jason Reitman used actors (an amazing turn from J.K. Simmons) and real people who have been laid off in the scenes with people being “reduced.” It hit home then, and, gulp, now.
Finally, Jonesy, let me say it has been a pleasure and my honor working with you these past few years. We’ve strangely always been on a similar wavelength, which made getting to know you so easy. Maybe it was our shared devotion to Joss Whedon (thanks to you and Mrs. Videoport Jones for getting the NXT Gal on the Buffy train finally), our love of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, or our disdain for Saw films, but I feel like we’ve been friends forever. People may be surprised to find out that this little collaboration started thanks to MySpace of all places, where I one day randomly asked if someone at Videoport would be up for DVD reviews. And there you were, just in the nick of time. You sir, are the wind beneath my wings. You are the Chewie to my Han, the Tango to my Cash, The JD to my Turk and now, as ever, the Butch to my Sundance.
VPJ: Well, with Justin accepting the Press Herald’s golden (yet seaworthy) liferaft, that means that I, the unpaid barnacle on his professional dinghy (yeah, I said it), will be cast adrift too. Double secret unemployed, I think that makes me. Or would, if I weren’t lucky enough to be employed at a company that, unlike those in the films above, treats its employees fairly and operates on a set of principles somewhat more enlightened than unprincipled money-grubbery. Yup, it’s time to unmask on the way out the door: I’m Dennis Perkins, the company is Videoport (the pseudonym may have clued in the sharper of you), and I’d like to thank you all for reading my silliness, for chiming in with your own, and especially Justin, who gave me this opportunity and showed me that it’s possible to make new friends when you’re all grown up and stuff. So, to all of you out there, hire Justin, (or, you know, me, if you’ve got an extra film reviewer spot open), rent at Videoport, check out my movie blog (look out for possible guest shots from Mr. Ellis), and keep watching movies, you knuckleknobs.
Our heroes enjoy a moment at Videoport with “The Blind Side”