Saturday, December 29, 2012

Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield's masterful documentary The Queen of Versailles follows billionaire David Siegel and his beautiful wife Jacqueline into the great recession. They live in Florida where nannies tend to their eight children, one of whom they "inherited." While in the middle of building the largest house in the United States (inspired by Versailles), the economic crisis hits. David's timeshare empire, the biggest in the world, faces severe cutbacks.

Few tears are shed. The Siegels can be hilariously clueless and outrageous, but they also share moments of regret and generosity. As monetary woes sink in, the excess which was a source of pride for the couple becomes a garish nightmare. In spite of her degree in computer engineering, the buxom, botoxed Jackie claims to be in the dark about their financial situation. David becomes consumed with saving his company, often ignoring the rest of his family or lashing out at Jackie, who admits that she is living in a fantasy world. (The movie's apt title recalls Marie Antoinette and her notorious decadence.)

Before the crisis, one of their many children says it best: they never think about money, but they always think about money. The sense of anxiety hanging over the Siegels will be familiar to many Americans, but their opulence will not. David and Jackie blame the banks for lending them too much money, even though David's cutthroat Westgate Resorts dangles the American Dream in front of people who likely can't afford it.

This well-edited movie interviews the Siegels, their children, employees, servants, and old friends. We find out that the hired help have the smallest rooms in the house and haven't seen their family in years. They tend to children who, along with the pets, appear to be accessories. When David embarks on a Citizen Cane like quest to rescue his wealth, it's not difficult to conclude that Jackie, and perhaps all women, are also possessions to many men in the moneyed world. Hints at strained or broken family relationships are also telling.

This searing family portrait illuminates both the current state of the country and the effect of money on the psyche. The film doesn't clearly track the trajectory of David's company, but it does display hollow, disturbing, and even repulsive results of great wealth.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses opens with Nick, Dale, and Kurt describing their contentment with their work. Nick (Jason Bateman) works night and day at a high-powered company, Dale feels comfortable as a dental assistant and fiance, and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) enjoys working for a kindly boss (Donald Sutherland) in a family-like work environment. Unfortunately, Nick's boss Dave (Kevin Spacey) is cruel and manipulative, Dale's boss Julia (Jennifer Anniston) sexually harasses and blackmails him, and Kurt's boss dies only to be replaced by his decadent, moronic, and mean son Bobby (Colin Farrell). They decide that, due to their bosses' destructive and deceitful natures, their best option is to kill one another's employers.

The talented cast never quite gels due to thinly drawn characters. Bateman is especially good as his usual deadpan self, but Day's edgy naturalism and occasional ham only reminds one of his much funnier television show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Sudeikis's Kurt is fairly likable, yet his character is just another example of how the average guy can get any model to fall in bed with him.

The idea that workers submit themselves to bad conditions in an economy is touched upon here, as is the fact that men can be sexually harassed (though the situation is played for laughs). Horrible Bosses had potential but didn't tickle my funny bone.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Argo is a good film. It has the kind of tight direction Ben Affleck can handle with ease, but it is also too tidy. Based on a true story about a CIA operation during the Iran hostage crisis, the film hits all the right notes. It features edgy camerawork, period detail, and tense moments. The opening voiceover explains the history and sources of anti-American sentiment without downplaying the destructive state of the revolution.

If you are interested in a mostly unknown stint in which a CIA agent posed as a filmmaker, check it out. Prepare to recognize a host of faces. Still, the movie feels a bit pat. Some of Argo's scenes are intercut to build tension, yet they also feel a tad predictable and manipulative. In spite of its searing place in history, I didn't find Argo particularly memorable.