The Morning After: Nov. 25, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Executive Suite

We can discuss corporate greed all we want, but we often lose sight of the idea that not all corporations are greedy, repugnant institutions, unconcerned for their employees and desirous only of making the largest dividend for their shareholders. At the heart of all major corporations is a foundation that may have been as simple and noble as making a high quality production for a reasonable price.

Executive Suite opens suggesting that high in the glass towers of New York City, there are stories of struggle and turmoil that mirror those below them face. That seems like the kind of introduction a film would receive from someone not wanting to anger corporate donors. What follows, however, is as pro-America, pro-business, pro-people as you can get. Seven board members of a major furniture manufacturer jockey for dominance as the company’s president dies of a heart attack leaving the corporate leadership in upheaval.

It takes time to get to the nitty-gritty, requiring the audience to understand a little about each person on the board. Although this order may seem arbitrary considering the contributions of some, this is the order they were listed in the credits: William Holden plays the hard-working furniture designer whose youth makes him the least likely heir to the presidency; Barbara Stanwyck is the hurt daughter of the company founder wanting to remove herself from the board over a lack of appreciation by its current president; Frederic March is the number-cruncher whose entire goal is to squeeze the largest profit out of the company even if it means an inferior product; Walter Pidgeon is the aging heart of the operation, a man who was most likely to be the company’s Executive Vice President if the president ever moved to do so; Paul Douglas is the front line salesman whose affair with his secretary Shelley Winters gives March’s character leverage in the coming election; Louis Calhern is the conniving, money-hungry executive who sells the company’s stock short after having witnessed the president’s death below his office window; and Dean Jagger is the factory manager whose interest in the presidency is non-existent, but whose desire to see the company in good hands is a key linchpin to Holden’s success. Above all of these is Oscar nominee Nina Foch as the conflicted secretary stuck in the middle of this battle, but finding a way to preserver her humanity simultaneously.

The cast is terrific and the situations are realistic without being overbearing. While the final encounter in the boardroom is a bit heavy-handed, it is such a powerful and effective close that we accept its manipulative nature. Director Robert Wise showcased why he would be destined for an Oscar seven years later after a string of quality successes.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

What may well be one of the greatest book-to-screen adaptations, Suzanne Collins dystopian novel about a corrupt government controlled by the wealthy, inflicts suffering and poverty on its populace for daring to rebel against its dictatorial rule. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) successfully thwarted the Capitol in the first book and film of the franchise, The Hunger Games, but must make nice with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) or risk the lives of her family and her lover Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

When her attempts to showcase her love for fellow victor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) fail and uprisings begin in the various districts, Snow and his Gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) device a spectacular arena match on the 75th anniversary of the games. As the Quarter Quell brings together two victors from each of the twelve districts, Katniss must decide who she’ll protect and who she’ll betray or be killed in the arena.

Frustrated as I was that Francis Lawrence was brought in for the sequel after Gary Ross was unable to meet Lionsgate’s tight shooting schedule, Lawrence manages to take the material and make it fresh and boistrous, wringing just the right amount anger, frustration and sorrow as required by the source material. Of course, with material like this to build off of, it would be impossible for any director to screw it up. Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt do a terrific job bringing Katniss’ second set of adventures to life.

This is the sequel fans of the books and the first movie desired and while some aspects of the book are left on the cutting-room floor, the end result is a colorful pageant of strange costumes, bizarre hairdos and an arena as magical as the one described in the novel. The end itself is a pitch-perfect set-up for the next two movies and without Lawrence, it would have been nothing.

The Croods

Colorful, detailed and engaging, DreamWorks’ first offering of 2013 doesn’t quite have the magic of some previous efforts, but is nevertheless an entertaining excursion into the distant past.

Eep (Emma Stone) is tired of her sheltered existence, stuck under her father’s (Nicolas Cage) paranoid thumb. There’s safety in the cave, but her restless spirit leads her on an adventure one night when she’s a mysterious flicker and goes to investigate discovering a warthog-bedecked figure able to coax the light of the sun in the middle of darkness. Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is afraid of the dark and has used his brain to conjure forth fire at will, a feat that makes Eep enamored with him, but distrusting of the newness. Her father is even more apprehensive. After his forewarnings of cataclysmic earthquakes, the adventureless family begins a trek across a vast new landscape towards a mountain in the distance that promises freedom and safety, but not without breaking out of their shells first.

DreamWorks creates a film that replicates a “traditional family” in The Croods, but never encourages more than superficial complexity, preferring to create lush, exotic environments while ratcheting up the comedy enough to make it interesting for children, but with a solid family-based message for the parents. Obviously, the box office showed that strategy worked; however, compared to a film like How to Train Your Dragon, it’s impossible to say the studio is improving. While it is having fewer bumps lately than Pixar, it’s important to note that DreamWorks has had more misses than the folks at Pixar have.

It’s a Disaster

As four couples gather for a regular brunch gathering, a horrible disaster imperils their lives and they must come to terms with the various failings and frustrations in the relationships on display.

Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller) are the hosts and are on the verge of divorce; Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) are sexually active and not mutually exclusive; Hedy (American Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace) have been engaged for six years, but no one is sure why they haven’t gotten married; and Tracy (Julia Stiles) and Glen (David Cross) are newly together, having met online, and aren’t quite sure where their relationship will go. As the eight friends and acquaintances navigate the thorny aspects of their relationships, they must come to terms with their impending deaths trapped in a sealed house with only a nerve gas on the outside to greet them.

The reveals are almost all expected. The relationships are thinly-constructed. Yet, the situations and performances bring out the humorous aspects of the situation. While some bits are laugh-out-loud funny, some are more subdued and others are utterly disappointing. It’s an uneven film that missed a few too many opportunities for riotous entertainment, but settled into a well meaning package that’s good for watching on a night with nothing else to do.

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