A cute ’80s flick that serves as something of a sister piece to another ’80s romantic comedy set against the backdrop of big New York business, The Secret of My Success (remember that one?), Working Girl stars Melanie Griffith as a secretary toiling in the mergers and acquisitions department of a Wall Street investment bank. When her uber-bitch of a boss (Sigourney Weaver) breaks her leg skiing and takes a leave of absence from the office, the Staten Island girl with Big City dreams is able to manipulate her own business deal — and steal the boss’ fella (Harrison Ford, back when he seemed to still like being in movies) while she’s at it. The film is (inevitably) hopelessly dated now, but still quite the witty charmer — Griffith and Weaver were both nominated for Oscars (as was the movie itself, at that), though it’s Joan Cusack who steals the show as Melanie’s colleague who poses as her assistant (“Can I get you anything? Coffee, tea, me?”). The opening sequence is still one of the best New York montages ever put to film, featuring a bunch of early-morning commuters on the Staten Island Ferry set to Carly Simon‘s “Let the River Run.”
An early work in Ron Howard‘s directing career (and still one of his funniest films), Gung Ho explores the extreme culture clash that occurs when a Japanese company comes to a financially struggling Pennsylvania town to re-open the local auto plant, where their strict work ethic doesn’t quite mesh with the beer-and-pizza blue collar crowd. Michael Keaton, reuniting with Howard after Night Shift, is aces as the fast-talking charmer given the near-impossible task of being the “employee liaison” between the two warring factions; Gedde Watanabe is also excellent as his new boss, a young executive who genuinely wants everyone to just get along. Actually, the entire cast is great in this, with both George Wendt and John Turturro stealing a few scenes each as two of Keaton’s pals/co-workers and Sab Shimono providing villainy as the CEO’s hardass nephew. Followed by a short-lived TV series where almost all of the Asian actors reprised their roles but all of the American actors were replaced… except for Clint Howard, Ron’s ever hard-workin’ little brother. Oddly enough, the term “Gung Ho” is actually an Americanized version of a Chinese expression, meaning “Work” and “Together.”
One of the most celebrated cinematic salutes to the working woman, Nine to Five stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton (a first-rate comedy team if there ever was one) as office workers who plot to overthrow their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss (Dabney Coleman). The collective “power behind the throne” concoct a series of ingenious schemes that get increasingly more outrageous, ending with the jerk being abducted by a tribe of Amazons in the Brazilian jungle, never to be heard from again. This is a terrific comedy, and a pretty effective revenge film as well — in fact, all director Colin Higgins would’ve had to do is simply adjust the breezy tone a notch and we would’ve gotten a pretty dark examination of sexual harassment, mental and emotional abuse and ruthless vengeance. As it stands, though, Nine to Five is a riot, one that spawned a 1982 TV series and a 2009 Broadway musical — Parton’s theme song also ended up being one of her most popular singles and scored an Oscar nomination.
While it’s not as sharp or focused as Sicko or Fahrenheit 9/11 (or even Roger and Me, at that), Michael Moore‘s Capitalism: A Love Story still packs a punch… and is guaranteed to make you sick to your stomach at least once as the ever-crusading political documentarian examines the U.S. financial crisis of the late ’00s, sticking it to the likes of Goldman Sachs, the federal Wall Street bailout, life insurance and just good old-fashioned greed in general. Moore sometimes struggles with a more abstract (and sprawling) subject matter than usual but is ever the manipulative and boisterous showman — he’s the P.T. Barnum of documentary filmmakers, oh so eager to show us his strange and wondrous displays of how nature (and big business) can be so cruel. As always, he doesn’t quite know when to quit, and his trademark cutesy touches such as creating montages set to annoying pop music tracks are more tiresome here than usual, but this is a Love Story that will stick with you — all the way to the bank.
“Sure don’t look none too prosperous.” John Ford’s stunning, unflinching adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel follows the Joad family as they embark on an arduous journey from Oklahoma to California upon losing their farm to the ravages of the Great Depression. When they finally arrive at the migrant campground (after losing Grandpa along the way), they find it overrun with starving, penniless souls, betrayed by the empty promise of the American dream that supposedly waited for them in the West. The Grapes of Wrath is a true masterpiece; a seething, angry ballad that cries for social justice without compromise as well as a big ol’ pat on the back to anyone who’s ever had to jump into a pile of shit (figuratively or literally) to earn a couple of bucks. Ultimately, however, it’s also a tale of basic survival in the face of seemingly impossible odds, something that American workers have done time and time again. Indeed, to quote Ma Joad, “We’re the people that live.”