Tuesday, May 29, 2018

All In A Day's Work: Seven Working Class Stories


A sitcom star finally said something so racist that her network could only do the right thing and cancel her show (or really, her network which had been blithely ignoring her racism thus far smelled blood in the water of an advertiser boycott.) "But wait!," cry the oped writers, "Where shall we get tales of that fabled creature, the one whose collar is purest blue, the working class!" Fear not, I have you covered with seven working class stories well worth your time.


1. "The Brother From Another Planet." An undocumented immigrant drops into a neighborhood full of single moms, bartenders, and office drones, and he happens to be an alien from outer space. John Sayles's indescribably lovely sci-fi marvel is much more interested in the day to day experiences of its title character than special effects blowouts. The Brother (Joe Morton) goes through a series of odd jobs, crashes on a series of couches and each time it's a moment of connection, glimpsing at the kind of lives and stories most films wouldn't brother to even consider existing. I go on in detail about the film here.


2. "Eat Drink Man Woman." A Taiwanese restaurateur is losing his sense of taste and his daughters are losing their way in their brushes with love and romance of different types. It's impossible not to come away from the film famished, the preparation of food shoot with reverence for the skill it truly is. The film is warm and emphatic, letting the characters make mistakes and have their hearts broken, but always sitting them back at the dinner table to share a meal and be reminded they are not alone.


3. "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit." A magic realist fable set in East L.A., four men chip in their last 20 dollar bills to purchase a suit of clothes supposedly possessing the power to make your deepest wishes come true. They are characters dealing with poverty, fears that they can't be good community organizers, and homelessness. The movie is a performance showcase, letting each man in his turn in the suit reveal the dreams that keep them going. And the friendship among the men is the community that has enabled them to survive.


4. "9 to 5." In the gig economy, the economic stability of "9 to 5's" characters is almost envious until the proto-Trumpian grossness of their boss sloughs over them like a scum of medical waste on a beach. "9 to 5" has lost none of it's wit, or anger in the ensuing three and a half decades. The central trio is dynamite, the tie front blouses are without peer, and anybody who has worked under a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot knows there is no revenge fantasy too baroque to be imagined. I work overtime praising it further here.


5. "Bagdad Cafe." An oasis in the desert takes the form of a rusted out truck stop where a lost in more than one way tourist finds a makeshift community. Truckers, cops, and wanderers stop in on their way to anyplace else and the tourist and the truck stop's owner take tentative steps to let down their built in defenses and let a real friendship bloom. I have much more to say here.


6. "Total Recall (1990)." Labor rights, IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE! It may all be taking place in its protagonist's head but this deliciously vulgar satire and vigorously sprinting space opera lays its cards on the table by focusing its attention, and its genuine moments of heroism, on the colonists on Mars fighting for better working and living conditions. It's impossible not to think of Silicon Valley's casual disregard for human life in the corporate owners of the colony using substandard materials to save a few bucks, birth defects be damned.


7. "The Mighty Quinn." Denzel Washington has an early star turn as a Jamaican cop adrift between his family and friends mistrustful of someone working for the state, and white establishment  figures that can't be bothered to hide their contempt for him. A childhood friend gets in over his head with crooks and government agents and Washington has to decide where his loyalties lie. The film's pace is inviting, ratcheting up tension for the action scenes but leisurely observing the everyday life of a place where everybody knows, or thinks they know, everybody's business.

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