Tag: comedy movie

Thank You For Smoking – A great comedy movie on Big Tobacco and Washington, D.C. lobbyists

Go oooooon - have another one. It's good for you!

This is a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced, well-drawn satire of the power of American lobbyists.  The script is sharp, snappy and fun, while raising important questions about the nefarious influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. In this case, the satire focuses primarily on Big Tobacco, through the spokesman Nick Naylor, played wonderfully by Aaron Eckhart, and complemented by the two other “MOD” squad members (Merchants of Death, as they happily refer to themselves; the two others being Maria Bello‘s character, a hardcore drinker representing the alcohol lobby, and David Koechner, playing the guns fanatic for the firearms industry. Both of them are entertaining and funny in their performances — especially because they play them so seriously).  So clearly it’s a great cast, which also includes fab performances by William H. Macy, yet again playing another loser role; this time as the senator for Vermont going after Big Tobacco (in an embarrassingly incompetent way), J. K. Simmons once again playing a hard ass so well (as Naylor’s militaristic boss), and Robert Duvall (utterly charming, ruthless, and a Southern Gentleman, who plays ‘the Captain’, the last almighty oligarch of Big Tobacco).

Jason Reitman’s film, for which he wrote the screenplay as well as directed is thankfully nothing like Juno the dull, pretentious movie with the enormously irritating and snotty female lead role, or Up in the Air, the half-baked, completely compromised satire on the insipid life of business. Perhaps because it is based on something substantial, namely the successful satirical novel Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley (ironic, given that he’s the son of the now-deceased American political neo-conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of The National Review and who helped Reagan come to power).

The film’s satiric quality and sheer value for entertainment has also made me relish the prospect of reading Buckley’s other satirical fiction. (Interestingly, like his father, Christopher also had a privileged education and began as a conservative (even being a speechwriter for George W. Bush in 1981), but over time his talents and politics turned to a criticism of the neo-conservatives, and he became known as an author of satires such as this, as well as God is My Broker: A Monk-tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (note: God is My Broker is out of print as if 2011), Little Green Men, The White House Mess, and No Way to Treat a First Lady.)  And, the movie has given me hope once again in Jason Reitman: that he may come up with the goods and deliver another wonderful movie, rather than the fecal matter of Juno (real name it merits: Juno it’s Sh*it? Answer: Yes, I do, thanks) and Up in the Air (as in, Up its Ars*e).

Sideways – drink! arse! women! feck! And yes, it’s a great movie, too

Paul Giamatti - happy as a lamb (to the slaughter). Photo © Matt Baron/BEImages

As any fan/previous viewer of Paul Giamatti’s acting will know, no one does miserable/depressed/self-loathing/angst-ridden/complicated/face-like-a-slapped-bottom better than him. In fact, when you reflect on some of his notable roles, such as Lady In The Water (2006), where he plays Cleveland Heep, a miserable, depressed caretaker/superintendent; American Splendor (2003) — in which he plays Harvey Pekar, the depressed, famous underground comic book novelist — and his vastly underrated film, Cold Souls (2009), in which his role is a version of his ‘real’ actor’s self, I mean Paul Giamatti’s own, angst-ridden to the maximum degree from losing his actor’s soul, and neatly echoing Malkovich’s angst at the integrity of his own being compromised by others entering his own head, in the marvellous Being John Malkovich (1999) — well, he has clearly been chosen precisely for his ability to convey such negative and complex emotions; his face is a portrait worthy of a hybrid Hieronymus Bosch/van Gogh/Edvard Munch painting).

In other words, he is a master of complex, confused misery; there is no other actor I can think of who does what Giamatti does better than him.

Sideways - click here for play.com's region 2 DVD offer
Sideways - click here for play.com's region 1 DVD offer

Sideways (2006) is a lovely, touching movie, that uses as its springboard a venture into Californian wine country, as a holiday between two male friends, one of whom, a surface-only, self-centred and good-humoured guy who is about to get married and wants to have some last flings before doing so (Thomas Haden Church plays the role very well; he’s probably most well-known for playing the Sandman in Spiderman 3 (2007)), and the other, of course, is Giamatti’s character, an unpublished novelist, depressed and self-loathing, obsessive wine connoisseur, who still suffers from the divorce from his wife two years earlier.

The two female leads are

Virgina Madsen

Virginia Madsen, who plays the love interest to Giamatti’s character, and Sandra Oh,

Sandra Oh
Real men, real wine! (aka: just drink the stuff, mofos!)

who plays the sex/passion interest of Thomas Haden Church’s character. Both of them perform their roles with charm, a sense of humour and a touching, gentle and real grace, for characters that are lively, bright, fun and independently minded – my idea of a real feminist woman; this is refreshing, especially considering they could

have been treated in the traditional Hollywood manner of simply having to act as two-dimensional foils for and second-rate characters to Church and Giamatti; kudos to the male director/co-writer and co-writer/novelist of this film (see two paragraphs below for their names).

While some critics and bloggers have described this as a slow/or slow start movie, I would argue differently and say it’s a drama that builds gradually on a simple premise and, as it does so, it unravels/reveals a mesh of complex themes around love, desire, denial, depression, hypocrisy, friendship, self-respect, integrity and passion. It is a great complement to the road movie and the buddies genres.

I’ve now watched it a good few times, and enjoy it all the more each time. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, the acting from the entire ensemble is top-notch and it’s a joy, joy, joy to imbibe (never mind the wonderful education you get about some terrific Californian wines along the way). The director, Alexander Payne, and screenwriters Rex Pickett (from his original novel), along with Alexander Payne, and the cast, all deserve their accolades and are to be congratulated for such an utterly charming film. Highly recommended to all lost souls, lovers of the pressed grape, romantics at heart and/or under the table (after some great vino, of course). As some say in England when about to celebrate each other’s company and when drinking something fancy: bottoms up!