©2008 Big Empire Industries and Randy Shandis Enterprises
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This week:
In Good Company

Filthy says:
"One lump or two?"

There is too much fake sweet out there. There are too many people who pretend to be nice when they don't mean it. It's fine coming from a waitress at the Village Inn, you know? The food tastes better if the waitress pretends she's nice than if she kicks you in the nuts before taking your order. Maybe that's what she really wants to do after you've vomited a twelve-pack of Schlitz and four pickles into the planter behind your booth. But in that instance you appreciate the artificial kindness she exudes.

I hate it when the moviemakers are insincere. At Village Inn I pay $9 for a crappy sandwich and pie plus fake niceness. Hollywood skips the meal and still takes the cash. What I hate is all the phoniness the grassfuckers dish out like spoonfuls of lard at a Chinese orphanage. They can fill you up, but it sure as hell ain't satisfying. And if you swallow enough, your gut will rupture and it'll all seep into your kidneys and lungs and kill you. I'm talking there about the bad movies. I think lard is fine. Actually, Rex Manteca is downright delicious.

I guess most of the pricks who make movies don't have sentiments of their own to express, and their movies come off as an estimation of feelings they think other people want to feel. They themselves, though, don't feel shit, good or bad. They're too busy making deals and talking to "buds" on cell phones. They attempt to present ideas of true love, warmth, fear and disappointment through montages, athletic sex scenes and the sort of dialog better suited to the 99-cent section of Hallmark. And they almost never get it right. I think they believe their job is to approximate emotions while having some nice furniture in the scene, and the audiences is left to figure out how to feel.

Maybe it's all that Goddamn sun out there, the smog, or maybe it's because the limpdicks are in Hollywood because they like the idea of making movies way more than the process, and they themselves have few or no original stories to tell. That may be why a movie like in Good Company feels so sincere and so sweet. I say that as a honest-to-god compliment. I'm a sucker for the real sweet because I think it's so fucking hard to do, and so affecting when it works. When real characters express real feelings, it can break a guy's heart.

That's not to say In Good Company is great because, well, I didn't think it was. The plot is contrived in a lot of places and uses some lazy devices in others. But what really works is that the three main characters are genuine, fleshed out and their emotions feel real. Maybe this sounds like I've turned into some sort of sissy, but I haven't. Don't believe it? Why don't you meet me in a public place and I'll punch you in the face and then run like hell. A sissy can't run do that because he'll slap himself in the face with his flailing arms.

Dennis Quaid plays a middle-aged advertising salesman with a good job, a good wife and two good kids, one of which is played by Scarlett Johansson. When the sports magazine he's worked at for 20 years is taken over by a soulless corporate raider, he is demoted and his new boss is a 26-year-old hotshot played by Topher Grace. Grace has been tasked with cutting budget by bosses who have no concept of what it takes to sell a magazine, and Quaid is determined to keep his job because his daughter has chosen to go to pricey NYU and his wife has yet another bun in the oven. By bun I mean baby. By oven I mean her womb. I do not mean that she is cooking a baby.

Grace is eager to move up in the (corny name) Globecom, although he doesn't know why. The movie implies that corporate movers and shakers are just that because they have nothing else in life. Maybe this is true sometimes, and I once worked with a guy who did nothing but work, even when there was no work to do. That wasn't ambition, though; that was just because he was Canadian. Anyway, Grace's character's basis is a pretty shallow and easy assumption to make. He wants to please his bosses and does what they demand, even firing all of the people Quaid hired over the years, and trying to turn their workplace upside down. While working with Quaid, Grace realizes that like the boy in a King Missile song who only finds true happiness after jumping over a church and winning the minister's daughter's hand, what Grace has always wanted is a stable, happy, fulfilling family life. It's convenient pop psychology that he says around the midpoint of In Good Company that his father ditched him when he was a kid. He believes that his chance for happiness and normalcy is with Quaid's daughter, Johansson, a brilliantly smart and human 18-year-old girl.

Johansson falls for him, too. Around her, Grace's defenses fall and he is not the corporate shark. He becomes a somewhat charming doofus willing to admit his failures. Their romance lasts approximately the middle third of the movie, only ending when Quaid catches them together and slugs Grace in the eye before telling Johansson how disappointed he is. It's a scene that really packs a wallop because it's believable. Their relationship is as solid and well-defined as movie father-daughters are. And in a much healthier way than in Candy Bottoms' Daddy's Tool. Of course, the middle of the movie completely ignores the fact that grace is working really hard because it fails to properly mix the work-office movie with the romance movie, but that's just one of the many issues.

About the last genuine moment in the movie is when Johansson gets creeped out by how quickly Grace declares his love for her. Then writer-director Paul Weitz seems to throw in the towel and wrap it all up with a series of horribly lame gimmicks that too conveniently give everyone what they want: Quaid interrupts his top boss's big speech with questions we're supposed to believe everyone is secretly wondering but is too afraid to ask; a horseshit turn of events gives Quaid back his old job, sends Grace on his much-needed inner journey and gives the movie's only corporate baddie the comeuppance he deserves; a nearly unbelievable scene where Grace says "If you fire him, you'll have to fire me"; and a miracle where Grace and Quaid finally work as a team to save the day at work. Aw, come on, how the fuck does a guy write a great script for 90 pages and then puss out with this shit?

Still, Weitz deserves a shitload or two of credit for writing three characters at odds, but who are all sympathetic. Even Grace is developed enough for us to feel lousy for him when he falters. When Quaid confronts his daughter about her secret tryst with his young boss, he tells her he liked her better when she was five, and you can understand what he means. Even worse, you can understand how much it hurts her when she replies "That's a terrible thing to say." It is. My father said something like it to me once, except he said he liked me better when his half was still in his dick. It was probably a terrible thing to say, but I don't quite understand what he meant, so I just file it away for some time later when maybe I'll understand.

Weitz also deserves credit for showing a middle-class, suburban existence as something worth having. For too fucking long we've had to listen to those shiny-dicked jackasses is Los Angeles pat themselves on the back for not succumbing to the "mind-numbing" ad emptiness of the suburbs. They never bothered to go see for themselves, just assumed that since they live elsewhere, elsewhere must be the place to be. But Weitz shows the soul and the depth of what it is to be middle-class, secure, comfortable and more interested in accomplishment than appearance. It's believable that this empty little shit played by Grace would trade his life for a loving family. Again, if you think I'm being a sissy, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, I'll return it and you'll open up a whole envelope of face-punch on yourself. I just believe that more good shit happens in the suburbs than the downtown frauds want to know. The people living there aren't nearly as fucking as annoying as the phony bohos who think a loft apartment and the right hair care products somehow give them street cred.

Quaid is really fantastic in this movie. He's oddly red-faced for much of it, but he's a believable, stern, loving protector whose biggest obligation is not to himself but to his family. Maybe he's red-faced because he keeps the problems to himself. Grace is very good, too. He's loose-limbed and dorky enough to work as an oddly romantic lead. His corporate raider half is a little more problematic, but probably because that side is so shallowly drawn. Johansson is an amazing fucking actor. I always want to kick guys in the nuts when they say she's hot. She's not hot. She's pretty for sure, but what makes her so desirable is her soul and intelligence. She seems like someone you get to know and think more about the conversations with than you do the sex. She does a great job with the role here, but she's given some hard work. Like what 18-year-old invites a guy to her dorm room and then seduces him with mood lighting and Diana Krall? That's what middle-aged writers dream up, but it ain't reality. Krall makes guys dicks go limp, unless they're the kinds of guys who get hard by acting the way they think sensitive women want them to.

And despite all these problems, I still liked this movie. Four Fingers for In Good Company. I'm a sucker for the sweet stuff.


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Earl Dittman of Wireless "Magazine"

Racing Stripes is "Soon to take its place as one of this generation's most hilarious, smart and entertaining family classics!"

Coach Carter "will have you on your feet, cheering for more... a filmmaking triumph!"

I see Dittman in the theater, bringing his bloated corpse to its feet and yelling at the screen, "More! More, damn you! I demand more Coach Carter!"

Filthy's Reading
Don Delillo - Cosmopolis

Listening to
Ted Hawkins - Suffer No More


Strangers with Candy - Season One