Five For Friday: Workplace Films

Five For Friday is an ongoing weekly series in which I pick five of my favourite things along the same theme. Last week we took a page from High Fidelity in examining Side One, Track Ones. This week, a salute to the 9 to 5 ratrace.

Top Five Workplace Films 

There are a lot of people out there who actually do like their jobs. I’m one of them. But in the entertainment world you don’t get far by making stuff about what people find satisfying. Even in the most secure and stable of personalities, there has to be an itch to scratch.

Many people don’t like their jobs. And they are the ones who get films made about them. From record shops to offices, here are my favourite workplace films; starring quirky characters and with scripts that manage to turn the humdrum and mundane working existence into an existential crisis.

In order of release:

Clerks (1994)

Clerks was made for under $30,000 and launched the film career of its writer and director, Kevin Smith. It’s a pretty amazing story captured in full on the Clerks X DVD extras, and it inspired me to start writing many a film script before jacking it in a full ten pages later. The film itself is, of course, a fantastic comedy highlighting the plight of full-time shop monkey Dante, struggling between getting a real job and the comfortable existence he enjoys at the convenience store alongside best friend and primo antagoniser Randal.

clerks kevin smith

That’s Kevin Smith. Originally he wasn’t even supposed to be (here today) in the film, but if I remember correctly he had to take this line from Jay because Jay kept messing it up and they were running out of film. That’s indie filmmaking for you, and this film in particular helped bring about a huge resurgence in low-budget straight-talking films…

Empire Records (1995)

…kind of like this one. Released just a year later for what I imagine is also not much money, Empire Records is just one of those very, VERY quotable films that anyone who’s seen it can incorporate into their daily geek language.

empire records review

It starts with what appears to be an employee stealing company money and frittering it away at the casino, but ‘bad apple’ Lucas is just misunderstood for reasons that become clear later. In contrast to what I said earlier, most of the people here at Empire Records do like their jobs, but it’s very much a stopgap for some who are trying to work out what to do with their lives, too.

Oh, and also the events of the film take place on Rex Manning Day – the greatest made-up holiday ever.

It’s surprising how many of the cast are, while let’s not go mad and say they’re all A-listers, still knocking around on TV. Aside from Mizzes Tyler and Zellweger, Anthony LaPaglia (Joe) and Rory Cochrane (Lucas) went on to long-term gigs in Jerry Bruckheimer crime dramas, while Johnny Whitworth was quite recently seen in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – the less said about that though, the better. (He does follow me on Twitter though – if only because I tweeted about Rex Manning Day a while back.)

Joe is a superb manager though, let’s not forget that.

Office Space (1999)

Office Space is the absolute go-to film for anyone who has a begrudging indifference towards their job – not so resentful of it that they are encouraged to seek alternative employment, but not so buoyed by it that they can throw themselves into the working week with wild enthusiasm.

office space gif

Not unless they’re destroying office equipment, anyway; but writer-director Mike Judge has done very well in drawing from his own history in soul-destroying office jobs to come up with not only this fantastic film, but also in creating Silicon Valley, which takes a similar approach in magnifying the cracks which appear in California tech culture.

High Fidelity (2000)

I remember being unsure that this would work as a film. How wrong I was. At one point in my life, working at Championship Vinyl would’ve been my dream job, despite even its owner Rob’s near-despair at how he’d merely rattled along all those years without embracing his lot in life. His own business, a regular crowd of hip young gunslingers and the love of a good woman…who he’d managed to drive away partly because of his own reluctance to cling onto something.

high fidelity review

Man, I love John Cusack. Between Rob Gordon, Lloyd Dobler and Martin Blank he ran the entire length of the emotional spectrum – all amazing characters and all somewhere in my own Top 5 of pretty much anything. These characters are at the same time so relatable and so distant – while I’m most inclined to identify with Rob’s love of music and Lloyd’s romantic naivety, even hitman Martin Blank offers that coldness which all of us must wish we could sometimes have to get out of a bad way of feeling.

Waiting… (2005)

Finally, this one took me a bit by surprise when I first watched it at university. I liked Ryan Reynolds well enough from Two Guys & A Girl but wasn’t too struck by the rest of the cast so gave this a miss first time around. Then when I realised the film had been misrepresented by the UK press and was, in fact, a bloody funny film, I became a big fan.

waiting john francis daley

It reminds me a lot of Empire Records in that whole ensemble-cast-of-wacky-kids way, but the humour is much too filthy to draw further comparisons. I especially like John Francis Daley’s character, Mitch, who draws comparisons to Silent Bob by barely getting a word in edgeways throughout the film – though this is more due to his rude colleagues than out of habit.

I’ll be giving all of these films another watch in the near future I think, if only to remind me that even when work’s getting me down, it could be worse – I could have Milton for a colleague.

Clerks 3: Kevin Smith Is Running Out Of Wells To Go Back To

I was very nervous when I read that Kevin Smith was making Clerks 2. The reasons he wound up making that film; namely a desire to work on a smaller-time scale again with his closest friends rather than being burned by the Hollywood system, as well as to revisit the actors and characters with which he had his first success, are not the cynical cash-grabby reasons you may have expected. (These come later.)

See what I mean? He wears his brand on his bloody clothing!

See what I mean? He wears his brand on his bloody clothing!

To the surprise and delight of most, Clerks 2 ended up being pretty bloody good. It had the warmth underneath the filth that we’ve all come to expect from the creator of the chocolate-covered pretzel routine, and gave Smith good reason not to suffer from the self-doubt he was experiencing at the time after the negative backlash of previous effort Jersey Girl stung him back a couple of steps.

Fast-forward to 2013, and Smith is trying to be everywhere at once. He wrote a new animated Jay & Silent Bob film, and can be seen every Thursday night on cable TV with his Comic Book Men – both self-reflexive celebrations of the man’s Smodcast empire which originated from a podcast he started in 2007 with producer, best friend and “heterosexual life partner” Scott Mosier. While Mosier is busy establishing a solid industry reputation – by producing documentaries and working on Adult Swim-style animated programming for Titmouse, Inc. – Smith remains firmly in his own brand; recording for five different podcasts a week, touring them live onstage with a revolving cast of co-stars from the Smodcast universe, and plugging such things to his almost 2.4 million followers on Twitter.

The latest in a series of false starts for his next actual production – after hockey drama Hit Somebody became a film, then two films, then a TV mini-series, then god knows what – was another visit to the characters who made him: Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, played in the films (and short-lived animated series; how’s that for squeezing the nickels) by Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson. Anderson in particular was very, very nervous about making even a first sequel but Smith’s enthusiasm for what was a very personal project turned him around on the topic.

And now? Clerks III. Having waited twelve years to revisit the lives of the sweariest clerks in servitude, Smith wants to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the original by releasing a third instalment of the series in 2014. This format also went through some weird conceptual changes – being first proposed as a Broadway play, and then as a novel, before Smith finally sat down twenty years to the day that he started production on the original and hashed out a script that’s, as he put it, “the best film [he]’ll ever make”.

For the sake of his legacy, in danger of being swallowed whole by his own self-congratulatory Smod-dulgences, I really, really hope this turns out to be the case.

Comic Book Men review

I’ve spoken before about my near-all-encompassing love for the work of Kevin Smith, but for me his reality TV series leaves a lot to be desired.

Comic_Book_Men_logo

Comic Book Men is an American reality TV show set in Smith’s New Jersey comic book shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. The shop is officially staffed by Walt Flanagan and Mike Zapcic, though the programme also stars long-time friends and colleagues Ming Chen and Bryan Johnson. Under the guise of recording one of Kevin’s many podcasts, the five cast members commentate on each week’s happenings around the shop, with a good bit of comic collectors’ heaven thrown in thanks to the Pawn Stars-like segments where hopeful sellers have their vintage merchandise appraised and negotiated for.

I found that there are two main big improvements on season one; the first of which is the halving of the running time. At only half an hour including commercials, viewers would be left wanting more from week to week, whereas they struggled to make an entertaining hour the first time round. The other big difference is the change in Walt’s character; I’m a huge fan of the weekly podcast Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave! (which he and Johnson record with fellow TV star Bryan ‘Q’ Quinn of Impractical Jokers) and I can see that the mercenary attitude which Walt takes to shop-keeping is an admirable trait when backed up with the warmly sarcastic tone he possesses in the studio; as opposed to being just the curmudgeonly sod he came across as onscreen in season one. The four friends’ onscreen relationship isn’t without its moments of one-upmanship and snark but it comes across much better when played out in shorter bursts.

But that’s what bothers me about Comic Book Men, reality TV in general, and specifically American reality TV; it really is played out. There are so many fake-looking moments in the programme; too much clumsy editing and lines which are being said for a third, fourth, fifth time to get the proper reaction and microphone pick-up. For someone who made his millions by writing real and believable characters and situations, Smith’s artificial spotlight on his friends – which I definitely read somewhere that Walt didn’t even want to be a part of – comes off as too contrived.

It definitely has its fun moments; the Zombie Run storyline was a big favourite, and I like it enough to say it’s one of my absolute favourite reality TV shows. But there’s the rub – reality TV is my absolute least favourite kind of TV. I’ll just stick with the podcast(s).

DVR Full Fail Friday: Zack & Miri Make A Porno

Sky+ box status: now 83% full. Remind me next time that films in HD generally take up more room.

Zack_and_miri_make_a_porno_ver3

Without sounding clichéd and like I’m just looking for some preamble to justify the heavy criticisms that are coming, I’m trying to think of the best way to say that Kevin Smith wrote and directed four of my very favourite films (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks 2), and his films got me through some very very shit times, and I think that Kevin Smith is as talented as his work is – on the whole – intelligent, refreshing and hilarious.

So I won’t. I’ll just get straight on with the knee-jerk bashing that paragraphs like the above usually precede.

First off. There’s a clip from a BBC sketch show called Big Train where something supposedly impressive is being shown off to a group of people in a town hall, and a man at the back of the room shouts “but WHAT…do they DO???”

And that’s how I feel about Seth Rogen: what does he do? I just don’t see the appeal. I get that he’s the scrappy underdog in a room full of success stories; the kid who got picked last in PE; but maybe I didn’t hate getting picked last in PE as much as I thought. He’s obviously a talented bloke, I like his timing, whatever else in this film – and I’ll admit I’ve seen him in nothing else (because…what does he do?) – but I just get narked off about any actor who gets work off the fact that he’s “dorky” or whatever, when anyone who’s actually that dorky wouldn’t be in a film in the first place. Maybe I’m just too far through the looking glass here. I dunno.

And – again, very stupid-sounding pre-qualifier coming here – I’m no prude but I’m not generally interested in seeing sex comedies, or rather comedies based entirely around the concept. Maybe I’m more repressed than I thought I was; all I need to know is that seeing people waving dildos about doesn’t automatically tickle my ribs. (Unless I’m literally having my ribs tickled by the dildos; then it’s all good.)

There were parts I liked, though. Craig Robinson’s in it. And Jeff Anderson. And even Jason Mewes keeps his clothes on long enough – oh, except that bit at the end where he doesn’t – to have some good jokes.

Tough one, this. I really love Kevin Smith’s stuff in general so I’m not about to bash his work. This film had Seth Rogen in it and was about making porn: therefore, I’m not the target audience. Unlike the supposed fans Smith keeps alienating every time he tries something new, I’m not offended by that fact. I just didn’t like it much.