Now on Screen: Horrible Bosses, Page One, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
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Now on Screen: Horrible Bosses, Page One, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Because Toronto’s more movie obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you Now on Screen, a weekly roundup of new releases.
Was anyone else as excited for Horrible Bosses as we were? Jason Bateman! Charlie Day! That other guy! Jamie Foxx doing comedy again and Colin Farrell in schlub-face! And we’re super-happy to report that it’s really, really funny. So see it. Or, if you hate laughs, there’s also some documentaries opening this week.

20110707_horriblebossessmall.jpg   Horrible Bosses
Directed by Seth Gordon
20110707_pageonesmall.jpg   Page One: Inside the New York Tinmes
Directed by Andrew Rossi
3 1/2 STARS

20110707_conansmall.jpg   Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Directed by Rodman Flender

Horrible Bosses

Directed by Seth Gordon

Nobody in American comedy does manically coked-up better than Charlie Day. If you’ve ever seen that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia two-parter, “The Gang Gets Whacked” (and if you haven’t, go watch it right now), when Day’s scrappy oddball Charlie Kelly gets hooked on “gumming” cocaine, then you know how perfectly he apprehends the jittery, dry-eyed terror of doing too much blow. As promised by the early trailers, Horrible Bosses gives Day his cokey showcase (though he still doesn’t so much snort it as accidentally inhale a whole bunch of it), and it’s worth the price of admission alone. And even if Day’s dopey-nice-guy-who-could-go-off-at-any-moment shtick is a bit one-note, Horrible Bosses is very much his showcase. Like Galifianakis in The Hangover, whose own schizoid teddy bear persona shares more than a little with Day’s punty beserker act, he simply steals the show.
And this is something, considering that Bosses boasts an incredible cast. The frat pack trio at its centre (Day, Jason Bateman, and Jason Sudeikis as three guys hatching a Strangers on a Train–modelled plot to axe each others’ tormenting employer) has a believable chemistry, which eschews the usual lady’s man/dork/weirdo dynamics of something like The Hangover. (That Sudeikis is the de facto ladies’ man, and plays it more pudgy, pervy horndog than Don Juan says a lot about this film’s lack of self-delusions.) And the bosses (Jennifer Aniston as a denist sexually bullying Day, Kevin Spacey as a psychotic upper-management heel, and Colin Farrel as a coked-out, combed-over, martial arts–obsessed schlub) are also perfectly cast.
In a lot of ways, Bosses is essentially a browbeaten male take on 9 to 5. Like that film, it’s a fantasy of white collar insurrection. Here though, the patterning is more aggressively male. Instead of wanting to overthrow their tyrannical managers and reorganize the power structures of their workplace, our heroes’ goal is to execute their respective top dogs. (Except, in a show of limpness, Aniston, who they somehow think can be rewired by being fucked. Of course, killing her would mean we don’t get to see her trot around in lingerie for as long.) When the three commit to getting their hands dirty, they solicit the help of Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx, returning to comedy with scene-stealing aplomb), a self-described “murder consultant.” From there, it’s basically a set of comic set-pieces involving bungled reconnaissance, Three Stoogean head-slapping, and police evasion.
Gordon (who made the nifty arcade gaming doc King of Kong, but also Four Christmases) botches the pacing a bit, rarely giving all the bubbling comic charisma room to breathe. It’s easy to miss a lot of jokes, either because you’re still caught up in laughing at the last one, or because you can’t make them out over the steadily-thumping soundtrack (this will be the film that launched a million iTunes downloads of the Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now”). But you’d have to be a real hack to bung up all the natural talent here, and Gordon keeps things afloat. Spacey channels his barking-mad movie mogul Buddy Ackerman from Swimming With Sharks as murderously-mean mind-fucker Dave Harken, and Farrell’s turn as the American douchebag ne plus ultra is exceptionally winning, coming as it does from way out of left field. Aniston too is bewitchingly funny, hitting the comic notes she’s hinted at before and proving she can play bad girl better than Cameron Diaz. With an even, coherent mix of jokey banter, zaniness, and anal rape zingers, Horrible Bosses is this summer’s funniest comedy. With apologies to Bridesmaids.
Horrible Bosses opens Friday, July 7 in wide release. Click here for showtimes.

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

Directed by Andrew Rossi
3 1/2 STARS

It’s weird that as everyone, including the New York Times, scribble eulogies for the daily newspaper—and scribble most eagerly that of the New York Times—we’ve seen in Toronto in the past six months alone the opening of two documentary films which take as their subject something having to do with the New York Times. First there was the excellent Times-produced doc about NYT street photog Bill Cunningham. And now Page One, which while not bankrolled by the Times seems no less uncritical about its essential place in the contemporary media landscape. It’s almost as if the New York Times is loosing its tendrils into other media, so every time you turn around you’ll know that the New York Times exists and then you’ll remember to read the New York Times every morning while you’re munching on your New York Times Flakes breakfast protein. New York Times.
Page One essentially sets about unpacking the reality of what’s referred to in the film as “New York Times exceptionalism”: basically, the belief that the Times is such an important paper of record that its operations will remain unaffected by sea changes in how people interact with the media. Page One focuses primarily on the Times’s Media Desk, which is fitting because the section was pretty much invented to keep a pulse on the changes in the media landscape that may threaten the Times. It’s kind of like selling tickets to your own hanging.
When Rossi’s film works, it works because the people are so interesting. There’s a reason so much of Page One focuses on media reporter Dave Carr, the reformed cocaine addict who has emerged as the smoky voice of the “new” New York Times in the past decade. Seeing Carr grapple with the story of sexual harassment in a competing media empire, or all but tell Vice magazine co-founder Shane Smith to shut the fuck up, is great, and gives Page One a real sense of character. Obviously, a doc like this will appeal to anyone interested in the day-to-day operations of a newspaper—and who isn’t after seeing season five of The Wire (whose creator, David Simon, appears briefly, incidentally)?—but it may carry the starchy dry scent of pulp and paper for others. Worse than its occasional doldrums though, is the manner in which Rossi (be it intentionally or tacitly) makes the case for Times exceptionalism, paying little more than lip service to apparently less-than-exceptional daily rags that fell at the hands of Gawker, the Huffington Post et al.
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times opens Friday, June 8 in selected cinemas. Click here for showtimes.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Directed by Rodman Flender

The main snag that trips up a documentary like Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is its core paradox. Documentaries like this are all designed to give a behind-the-scenes look at how good-natured and refreshingly down-to-earth famous people are. You know, he’s just like us! But how many good-natured and down-to-earth people do you know who have had documentaries made about them? It’s phony cat-in-the-windowsill filmmaking that Flender passes off here, forgetting another central paradox of documentary filmmaking: that perching the cat in the windowsill fundamentally changes the nature of the cat, the sill, and everything else in the vicinity.
If we learn anything about O’Brien from this film, it’s that he absolutely loves to perform, much in the same way that a heroin addict loves shooting heroin. This explains why, when he was unceremoniously bounced from his Tonight Show spot and embargoed from appearing on TV, he immediately hit the road with a travelling music and comedy act that was somewhere between stand-up and circus act. As he states repeatedly in the film, he can’t stop.
Can’t Stop is plenty funny, leavened by how hilarious O’Brien and his entourage are (Andy Richter seems to be an actual real-life sidekick, which is awesome). Even when he’s worn ragged and road-weary, O’Brien’s scruffy mania amuses. But it’s impossible to shake the sense that it’s all being performed. It doesn’t help that Flender is so content to pal around with O’Brien, giddy just to be in his company, and never really prods his hard-working star. Likewise, the cult of Coco is never investigated. Why do people like him so much? What about his persona endears him so much as an underdog? The viewers may have their theories, but Flender never puts forward his own. Then again, maybe it’s too much to expect theorizing and prodding from the guy who directed Leprechaun 2 and Idle Hands.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop opens Friday, July 8 in select cinemas. Click here for showtimes.