Many Main Characters. Movies Reviewed: Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service, Little White Lies, We Can Do That, Faster

Posted in Bad Movies, Canada, Class, comedy, documentary, Feminism, France, Italy, Japan, Mental Illness, Sex, Uncategorized, Unions, US, violence, Western by on November 25, 2010

A lot of traditional movies have one main character, a love interest, and possibly a rival. But there are other types of movies out there too. This week I’m going to look at some movies with many more main characters than you may be used to.

Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service

Dir: Maya Gallus

… is a documentary that takes a look at the food-service sector with all its contradictions and idiosyncrasies, and how this kind of work differs according to class, status, culture, and sex.

It addresses a lot of questions. Why is it that women working as waitresses might be thought of subservient? And why do they get paid less than their male counterparts? Why are the jobs for women mainly at low-end diners and restaurants, while male waiters dominate the very top tier of haute cuisine? And at which point and in what way does sexual perception enter these job?

This fast-moving documentary takes you on a journey from Ontario diners and truckstops, to “sexy” and topless restaurants in Quebec, and then to Parisian edifices of haute cuisine — an exclusive profession where women have barely made inroads — and to the very strange maid cafes of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where service becomes a ritualized image formerly only seen in Japanese anime.

It has some good quotes; like a male waiter explaining that women are too emotional or too physically weak to be a waiter… immediately followed by images of a low-end Paris waitress carrying heavy boxes of alcohol up narrow, twisting staircases. Also the endless bowing scene at a maid café has got to be seen to be believed.

Dish is a documentary done the way I think documentaries should be made (but usually aren’t). It documents people and events showing you what’s going on, without an intrusive narrator or voiceover telling you what’s going on. The filmmaker stays out of the picture and lets the many people she interviews tell the stories instead. It’s quick, punchy, funny, and a bit shocking at times, exposing the hypocrisies that we all live with.

Little White Lies / Les Petits Mouchoirs

Dir: Guillaume Canet

…is another movie with a big ensemble of characters who are spending time together in a summer home by the ocean. (Sort of like a French version of The Big Chill). They go there every year, sponsored by one of the friends, Max, who’s a successful restauranteur. The people he surrounds himself with have jobs like opera singer, actor, masseur… Superficially, they’re all good-looking, fun people who know how to party. They talk about ecology, fitness, new-age, music,

But there’s a shadow hanging over this summer; Ludo, one of the friends, has a terrible motorcycle accident, and is put in intensive care at a Parisian hospital. But the group decides to go to the beach anyway. Though all the arguments, practical jokes, and gossip are comic at first, they gradually intensify, as the people slip into a kind of despair. Past and present love affairs among the various friends (some of them are married and have kids) rear their ugly heads, and the little white lies of the title gradually reveal themselves.

This was a good, ensemble movie, clever, subtle, well-made. Still if you see it, be prepared for a 2 ½ hour long movie with lots of witty dialogue… but not so much action. It played at TIFF this year and I saw it this week at the EU Film Festival.

We Can Do That

Dir: Giulio Manfredonia

…is another enjoyable movie at the EU Festival, this one from Italy. It’s also a movie with lots of main characters. Nello (Claudio Bisio) is a trade union organizer, but he’s too market oriented for his union buddies, but too anti-corporate for his girlfriend who works for a big Milan designer. So he gets sent down to a co-operative whose members are all people kicked out when they closed down the mental hospitals in Italy in the late seventies/ early eighties. Nello soon meets this big group who are all kept on very heavy medication under the dictatorial doctor Del Vecchio. Some are developmentally handicapped, some autistic, others with emotional problems, or mental health issues.

They sit around all day, catatonic, stuffing envelopes. Nello soon discovers they’re not as clueless as they initially appear to be. As one character tells him: “We’re crazy, not stupid”. So Nello decides to apply union principles to the people in the co-op. He gets them to cut down there medicines, starts treating them like adults, and works with them to found a profit making buisines that will employ all the members and make them feel good about their success.

I know it sounds like one of those group movies like The Commitments or The Full Monty — and actually it is — but it also has lots of quirky and interesting characters, good melodramatic plot turns, and lots of funny parts, too. This reviewer also liked seeing it because I’ve been told by three different strangers that I look like an Italian actor in this movie — Giovanni Calcagno. OK, he plays Luca, the violent, emotionally disturbed bricklayer who rarely speaks, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take it as a compliment.

You should also check out the German movie, Storm, playing this Saturday afternoon, preceded by a panel discussion on Bosnian war crimes.


Dir: George Tillman, Jr.

…is a contemporary reboot of those old 1960’s spaghetti westerns with not one, but three very similar main characters. Driver (played by Dwayne Johnson – once known as “The Rock”) is the strong, silent type, a released prisoner who decides he has to kill all the people who shot his brother. Then there’s the detective (played by the worthless Billy Bob Thorton in a bad wig) who has to catch him. And then there’s a pretty-boy millionaire assassin who has to kill Dwayne Johnston. So they drive around in the desert shooting at each other. The end.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. You have to sit through the whole thing. The title, Faster, refers to who is the fastest draw. Who’s going to out shoot the other two? But it’s not a fast action movie. It’s a slo-mo action movie. With spent bullet cartridges sloooooowly falling falling to the ground (clink clink clink.) Every time Driver gets in his car, it revs and the tires screech. Every time. There’s a chase scene where one of the cars ride in reverse. Fun? Wow… This movie is just awful. Its supposed to be an action movie, but the only word that kept bouncing around my mind, was Faster, faster, please… make this movie go faster! It’s boring and blah.

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