Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 4 – Silver Screen, Movie 4 – Margin Call (5/6)

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18:15pm Silver Screen, Aleja Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego 5

The Silver Screen multiplex located in the high-rise 'Manhattan' area in the centre of Łódź.

For the fourth film of the Day I cantered up the remainder of the pedestrianised section of Piotrkowska and slipped through the underpass on Al. Piłsudskiego to hook up with Marta, once more, at the Silver Screen cinema and casino complex. Silver Screen was one of the pioneer multiplex companies in Poland until it was bought out by MultiKino in 2008. Shortly before I arrived in Łódź in 2001 Silver Screen’s flagship complex was opened, which immediately redrew the cinema landscape in the city. With 10 screens on a five-storey, purpose-built, city centre site, Silver Screen was a glamorous addition to the city’s film theatres, a position further enhanced by the small-scale casino operation and ‘sky-bar’ that allowed for essential views of the city skyline, as well as serving up a pretty mean Cuba Libre.

Since the opening of the Cinema City complex in Manafaktura, Silver Screen has lost a little of its new kid on the block allure. Oddly Multikino resisted the urge to alter the Silver Screen brand in Łódź, something that is partly explainable as a result of the multiplex’s unique position within the Multikino family of cinemas as a theatre that profits from screening less obviously commercial cinema. Unlike Multikino’s other Polish cinema’s Silver Screen tends to have a roster of films that aren’t entirely dominated by the latest big-budget Hollywood offerings, which is not to say that Silver Screen is art house, but rather a little more refined than your regular run-of-the-mill multiplex.

One of the annoying characteristics about Silver Screen is the extremely authoritarian approach to screening that the cinema demonstrates. Although seating location is optional, people tend to be corralled into the same seating zones by ticketing staff, whose attitude tends toward the Polish bureaucratic. On top of that the multi-tiered structure of the complex means that exits and entrances are much more regimented than in any of the other city cinema’s, making the whole process of getting in and out of the movie, or making your way to the bar, all the more awkward and confusing.

With screen space at a premium Silver Screen sprawls out over five storeys of a purpose-built entertainment complex.

The screens vary in size from fairly large Cinema City style ‘premier’ screens, to smaller and less well organised auditoria, such as Screen 6 in which we watched the stockmarket horror Margin Call. As with almost all modern cinema chains Silver Screen tend to have very comfortable and cushioned seating, although unlike with Cinema City and the Helios group, they have skimped a little on leg room. The biggest problem that Silver Screen has is to do with the position of seating, with many auditoria having staircases running down the centre, or close to the centre, of the audience area. This means that there are far more seats in the theatre that have awkward, fringe views of the screen, which might leave a number of people disappointed on busy nights – and Silver Screen tends to still have a sizable traffic in terms of audience numbers. Also the auditoria tend to have seating that is very close to the screen, which forces viewers located in these seats to crane their heads upward toward the film projection.

In terms of the projection itself, the image was crisp and clear, with sound at a good level and theatre lighting dropped to near blackness. Unlike Cinema City the film was screened in the correct format ratio and also featured by far the longest trailer reel of any of the cinema chains (a whopping five full previews). The premium price of Silver Screen tickets is 22zł making it rather prohibitive in comparison with most of the other cinema chains visited. That said, in terms of concessions, promotional material and film range it is hard to compete with this venue, which is serviced by a downstairs food court, two cafes, an arcade and the aforementioned ‘sky bar’, as well as the usual sweet counters and popcorn dispensers.

Cinema Experience: 7.5/10

 

Margin Call was a movie I’d heard so little advance information about, which probably made its effect all the more powerful. Producer/star Zachary Quinto was particularly superb as the canary in the corporate counting house, but then a cast which featured such sterling performers as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci was uniformly excellent throughout. Demi Moore also continued her career resurgence with a tight-lipped, clench-jawed performance as the woman left holding the baby carriage as the bomb goes off. This film was writer-director J.C. Chandor’s debut feature and the signs are that Hollywood has another talent on their hands in the Tony Gilroy mode.

This fictional movie about the origins of the current financial crisis feels aesthetically very similar to two recent Clooney efforts Michael Clayton (written and helmed by the aforementioned Gilroy) and the chilly romance of Up in the Air. In an early sequence the movie actually uses the same employee severance interview structure as the latter of those films. What is remarkable about Chandor’s direction is the way in which it utilises many of the tricks of effective horror cinema, with: slightly out-of-focus shots, mysterious things occurring off-camera or partially obscured within the shot, steadily escalating tension and a methodical use of reaction shots to maximise the perception of fear. This is in essence a horror movie, where the evil villain is the amorphous and wholly nebulous force of chaos. Rather than simply plotting an easy route to condemning the finance industry for getting the world into this latest monetary crisis, Chandor’s script is savvy enough to see that the markets go through cycles of decline and expansion that can be influenced by the behaviour of those operating within them, but can never be wholly controlled or predicted.

It would be easy to criticise the film for taking a too superficial approach to its subject matter, particularly in the way it frequently avoids going into the specifics of the failed projections. Yet this would be to ignore the fact that the lack of knowledge is what is truly terrifying in the movie, with the absence of significant understanding even on the part of mathematicians and analysts hired by the financial sector only adding to the ‘fear factor’. Also it has to be acknowledged that few audience members would be willing to sit through a hardcore dissection of the vagaries of recently created financial investment packages and stock options. In this regard Chandor and Quinto have done an admirable job of approximating the panic of the early stages of a financial crisis, whilst going some of the way to humanising the faceless ‘fat-cat’ villains that so many people now seem to blame.

Another marvellous aspect of the film is the way in which it seems to turn the hustling-bustling New York metropolis into a bizarre ghost town, seemingly on the verge of yet another profound psychic trauma. This effect is established through the impressive way in which Chandor demonstrates the disconnection and remoteness between the people in the glass-panelled offices and the city they nominally inhabit. Kevin Spacey seems to embody the moral outrage, however muted, at the objectionable behaviour of Jeremy Irons’ ruthless corporate head, yet ultimately both characters are doing what they have to do in their own best interests. In this world money talks and its value is the sole arbiter of action. Irons’ character is right to suggest that if his company didn’t dump these assets then another company would. All that they are really guilty of, it would seem, is following a mass social delusion of wealth and having the vision to come to their senses before reality becomes a nightmare.

By far the most interesting and haunting moment in the whole movie is when Paul Bettany visits Stanley Tucci’s sacked risk analyst. Tucci, one of the very best character actors out there, tells an anecdote about his previous work as a civil engineer and the bridge he helped build that actually contributed something to the communities it served. What goes unspoken here is that Tucci’s work for the corporation has none of this tangible value, or meaning, a concern for which brings Tucci broadly in line with Pitt’s Billy Beane from Moneyball.

Film Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review:- Horrible Bosses (2011)

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Dir:- Seth Gordon

Starr:- Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland

 

Sometimes I wonder if around the age of seventeen my sense of humour got shut away in the deep-freeze of adulthood. It seems so long ago since I last sat down and watched a great comedy. So is it just me? Did someone amputate my funny bones while I was sleeping? Or, has comedy cinema become torturously unfunny? The fact that I still appreciate a good stand-up performer (a Louis CK, Richard Herring, Dylan Moran, for example) and adore sitcoms of the quality of Gervais’ Extras, or the aforementioned Louis CK’s Louie, makes me suspect that the problem doesn’t lie with me. Thus, ipso facto (to put it in the parlance of Charlie Day’s character in Horrible Bosses) there must be something wrong with comedy cinema.

 

Part of the problem may well be the increasingly ridiculous lengths screenwriters appear willing to go to in the hope of contriving a comedic ‘situation’. In terms of story, modern-day comedy often appears content with simply using the shorthand of referencing other movies, like some crazed film nerd spouting off their favourite film sequences in no particular order (think anything featuring Will Ferrell in a lead role, or made by Judd Apatow). Failing this approach then the plot’s sheer absurdity is frequently highlighted by the characters, as if this post-modern schtick could somehow make the execrable turn to gold (think Tina Fey and Steve Carrell in the extraordinarily stupid Date Night, or anything with Owen Wilson on auto-pilot). Very often a comedy film will then shoe-horn in a star-performer, or up-and-coming stand-up (usually an SNL alumini), around which the woeful plot machinations can revolve, in the hope that their ‘winning’ comedic charm will paper over the non-existent story (Adam Sandler is still public enemy number one). The final prominent approach, which has been around for many a year, is to simply dwell upon some ‘gross-out’ element of ‘reality’ (a kid copulating with a pie, a grossly obese person farting) and play up to any kind of hackneyed ‘taboo’ repetitively. Whatever the approach there is a near-total disregard nowadays for the most basic of narrative requirements, a ‘character’ (not a performer) that an audience can either relate to, or become horrified by, over the course of a story being told.

 

Seth Gordon, the man who brought us the engaging arcade documentary The King of Kong, manages to fall into many of these above mentioned traps in the ultra-daft Horrible Bosses. The Hangover has a lot to answer for, as being a mildly amusing box-office smash it has become the de facto Hollywood comedic paradigm. Take three guys, preferably one clean-cut and charismatic, one who is always willing to follow his dick wherever it may lead and one who is a little neurotic and a whole lot of crazy, then put them into some ‘far-fetched’ situation and ensure enough dick and drug jokes are in place to carry the plotting through its leaner stretches. The Hangover may have been a daft bit of male wish-fulfillment, but at least it situated the action in a realistic milieu, a Las Vegas stag night, which made the absurdities of the narrative all the more probable. In Horrible Bosses you are never quite sure where the three friends actually are (I assume Los Angeles, simply because it doesn’t look like New York and appears to be hot) and more to the point the filmmakers don’t really seem to be too concerned with such details – afterall Sudeikis’ character works for a chemical company owned by a guy called Pellit and Bateman’s character works in a company that reads suspiciously like a phonetic spelling of ‘comedian’.

For what it is worth, Horrible Bosses revolves around the idea that three friends, stuck working under various types of ‘horrible boss’ (the despotic slave-driver, the coke-head nutcase, the sex-crazed maneater, see I read the promotional hoardings) decide to murder each other’s bosses, which, as the film helpfully points out, is pretty much the plot of Strangers on a Train and Throw Momma from the Train. This high concept narrative takes about thirty minutes to get going, as before our intrepid trio of put-upon employees can get down to their shoddily executed executions they first of all have to demonstrate how ‘horrible’ their bosses are – which, if you don’t get it from each little vignette, is helpfully reinforced with some ‘crazy’ bold-font interlays.

 

The horrible bosses in question are really just an excuse to cast some Hollywood ‘A-List’ talent in larger-than-life cameo roles. Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey seem to really relish their respective walk-ons, but of the three of them only Spacey really convinces as Jason Bateman’s sadistic office manager. Colin Farrell barely registers as the coke-addled, kung-fu obsessed son of Donald Sutherland’s (blink and you will miss him) paternalistic chemical company owner (a real shame as Farrell has consistently proven how good he is at comedy, think Intermission and In Bruges). Whilst Jennifer Aniston’s turn as a sexually harassing nympho dentist seems an almost desperate performance from an actress who has effectively disappeared into a character vacuum of Friends’ making. Where Farrell has a comedy pronounced forehead and Aniston has a need to walk around in her underwear quite a bit, Spacey is a far more conventional workplace tyrant, which makes his particular brand of misery-dispensing all the more funny (the scene in which he makes Bateman drink a heroic full glass of whiskey is priceless).

 

The lead actors, with the exception of Bateman, were all fairly new to me. Charlie Day was ramped up to Galifianakis as the neurotic dental hygienist (has there ever been a more glorified job description) suffering a Michael Douglas fate at the hands of Aniston’s overly touchy-feely, I-Pad using, dentist. Day’s irritatingly whiny tones gradually became less excruciating as he began to shoulder most of the obvious visual comedy, particularly after his character inhales a motherload of cocaine. Sudeikis played the confident (almost conceitedly so) and apparently charming ladies man, who happens to own the most outrageously handy sat-nave service (a whole ten seconds of laughter can be derived from the mispronunciation of an Indian call-centre operative’s name). Thankfully Jason Bateman, a man who made Starsky and Hutch a pleasure, can always be depended upon when it comes to delivering withering self-deprecation and scalpel-sharp sarcasm.

 

Despite an excruciating set-up, the second half of the film did actually deliver some decent chuckles, particularly revolving around Day’s cocaine-fuelled logic. Jamie Foxx made a decent impression in a brief cameo as a ‘murder consultant’, further emphasising that comedy tends to emerge from the absurd played straight, without obvious irony, or a knowing wink. Seeing Foxx steal his scenes from the lead ‘comedians’, reminded me of Trading Places where Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy were so effective in find the comic within the dramatic. It is to films like Trading Places, or, perhaps more appropriately, the oft over-looked Mike Judge workplace comedy Office Space (featuring a decent Aniston comic turn), that I turn when thinking of great comedies. In both cases the crucial characteristic of the fantasy world these films portrayed was the way in which they sought to play the comedy straight, never letting the performers signpost the comic moment, but rather allow that comic moment to be discovered. Compared to works like these Horrible Bosses was nothing more than a modest ninety minutes of frivolity, but there have been comedies already this year that have delivered far less (the painfully unfunny Cedar Rapids). If nothing else I’m sure that it will at least serve to bring the euphemism ‘wet work’ out of the shadows and into racier afterwork conversation.