“Sorry to Bother You” is an amazing film. It has elements of Terry Gilliam in how the reality that is presented is warped, giving scenes a surreal feel. This is Boots’s first major film and I love how he takes a surreal approach to everything. It follows the feel of a Gilliam film like “Brazil” or “The Fisher King,” where a character down on his luck is put through a warped hell and comes out of it transformed in some way. The pervasive sense of wrongness and fear that is always on the edges is another part of Gilliam’s films that “Sorry to Bother You” has emulated well. These aspects are essentially what happens here, but add analysis of race, class and privilege. It is Boots Riley’s first film (he also wrote as well as directed it) so I’m curious to see what he does in the future. If his other films are anything like this, I’ll be a fan. This is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who takes a job as a telemarketer in order to pay the bills. He soon rises in the job when he adopts a “White Voice.” His bosses take advantage of the fact that his friends and girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) are part of a protest group called “The Left Eye,” leaving him with a choice of joining his activist friends or becoming part of the greater conspiracy, which he soon discovers runs much deeper and is more twisted than he ever expected.
The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Color is used as a theme and from it there are many scenes that feel dreamlike when the colors are bright and vibrant. When there is danger or tension things go dark and the colors become muted or draped in a sickly pale light. This is how it is when Cash is among the wealthy in the WorryFree CEO’s home. The bright colors are muted and darkness covers everything. Doug Emmett did a great job.
Passing and Voice – A major theme of the film is the idea of passing and privilege. Cash moves up when he starts using the “White Voice.” In the film David Cross is dubbed over Lakeith Stanfield. He does this on the phone when telemarketing and the higher ups notice as the whole point of Telemarketing was finding people who could make the calls for war and exploitation on a global scale. The higher ups are nearly all white males illustrating privilege, and the only way Cash and other people of color can pass with the higher ups is speaking with their white voice. The way it is described by one of Cash’s coworker Langston (Danny Glover) is talk like you don’t have a care in the world. All your bills are paid and you don’t need the money, you’ve never been fired, only let go. It expressed privilege so well and the mentality behind the mindset of not having to care about anyone except yourself.
The Characters – The characters are what makes this film work the most. Cash is a guy who hasn’t had a successful job ever, so the temptation of moving up is easy to see him take. He’s in an existentialist crisis questioning what it means to live and who he is, and when the rat race of power is offered, it is easy to see why he would take it. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit is also shown to be more complicated than the revolutionary artist, as during her show she adopts a British “White Voice” among clients as she sells her work. Yeun’s character Squeeze is also amazing as well as the revolutionary who cares about Cash but is also trying to get with his girlfriend showing that his heart might be in the right place with the other Telemarketers and unionizing but he’s still a sleaze. I loved how they all played off each other and the Corporate bosses were fun in their obliviousness or sociopathy. Armie Shammer as the main antagonist and CEO of WorryFree is especially creepy in how he is charismatic and unhinged.
The Degrading Nature of Reality T.V. – One of the running realities of the world of “Sorry to Bother You,” is a show called “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!” The show is in the style of Maury or any of the other countless competition shows where the contest gets humiliated in a physical and degrading way. Cassius goes through the show to reveal the conspiracy behind the corporation WorryFree that tricks people into lifetime contracts where they are provided food and shelter but have to work on site and have their freedom and agency given up. They are being used for more nefarious means that Cash finds when the CEO of the Corporation wants him to be their agent among the protests.
The Exploitation of Labor – Another core message of the film is that those with power and privilege don’t care about the workers, and there are systems in place to keep that it going. From the trap of the golden elevator and being able to “support” protests without ever having to join or speak up. Cash is offered this choice that he takes it. The conspiracy that is revealed is that the workers are being transformed into Horse People (equisapiens) so that they will be stronger more efficient workers. Cash is even turned into one when the CEO wants him to be their MLK and trick the species into following WorryFree’s will. The system doesn’t hold at the end after Cash free’s the equisapiens and the protestors are attacked by the police. At the end, we never see if the telemarketers ever got greater rights, tying the fight to modern day with the seeking of rights for workers and the fight against labor exploitation.
This is a film that I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of the best films of the year. I have a spot for surrealist films and films with a point. “Sorry to Bother You,” accomplishes both and is a beautiful film with complicated characters. I can’t wait to see what else Boots Riley creates, as he truly has an eye for cinema and is an extremely talented writer. I love a film with layers and depth that not only are entertaining but have something meaningful to say. Boots Riley is an activist and that comes out in this story, and he does it in a creative way that elevates the piece beyond more than just entertainment. I really enjoyed the final twist as well, which I will not spoil here. Seriously, check this film out.
Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Only reason it wasn’t perfect (though it gets close) is that the ending kind of tapers off and the transformation that Cash goes through from a man in crisis to high on privilege is a bit fast. If it had been a more gradual transformation the film would have been perfect.
Dreamworks has two great Franchises that still manage to put out great animated films. Those Franchises are “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda.” These are series that take inspiration from their worlds (fantasy, Kung Fu films) and keep the characters and plots real and at times deep, while still managing to have a sense of humor. “Kung Fu Panda 3” is no different, though I think “Kung Fu Panda 2” is the better film, which I’ll go into at another time when I go through the first and second film.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger and produced by Melissa Cobb.
The story involves Po (Jack Black) being found by his father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) and returning back his father’s village to learn the art of chi when Kai (J.K. Simmons) breaks free from the Spirit Realm and is seeking to consume everyone’s Chi. Po must learn the art before all fall before Kai and the Masters whose chi he possess and now controls.
The Pros: The World – The world is a fantastic fantasy world populated by humanoid animals that live in China. We have far off villages like the Panda one that are almost Tibetan in theme and also the main city with the Jade Temple which is reminiscent of Beijing. The world feels lived in too and the heroes who walk among the people are celebrated as such, like celebrities.
The Animation – The animation goes between classically inspired painting in telling back stories or montages, to the flowing 3D that makes up most of the film. It truly is beautiful.
The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer creates an amazing score and pulls on classical Chinese music for a lot of his score. It is wonderful and pulls on the heart strings and elevates the action when it needs to, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Zimmer who is a master of his craft.
The Characters – The main characters are fantastic and have great moments that give them complexity and reason for their actions. This is a character driven story and it is the relationships that inform the action, like any good action movie.
Li Shan – Bryan Cranston plays Li Shan (Po’s Father) and does a great job as a man who lies to be with his son again as he says the Pandas know the art of Chi (even though it has been lost to time) and spends time connecting with Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping and in the process helping Po realize that he isn’t alone, which saves his son multiple times.
Mr. Ping – James Hong is an amazing voice actor and I’ve loved him in his role as Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping. We see him go through jealousy when Li Shan finds Po but also him get over it as he becomes a part of the Panda Village and gets the chance to be a father again to all the baby Pandas as well as council Po in the coming battle when Po feels only alone.
Master Shifu – Dustin Hoffman is a great actor and he has the chance to shine here as the one challenging Po to be better and that he still has much to learn. Sadly we don’t get to see him at his height as Kai consumes his chi, leaving it up to Po to rescue him. In the end he has humility though and asks to learn the art of chi from Po after the final battle.
Grand Master Oogway – Oogway’s chi is consumed in order for Kai to enter the mortal realm and through it all he is the one guiding all of them as it was the Panda’s of old who made him realize that it would be there that that the Dragon Warrior (Po) would be born. In the end Po gets to say good-bye to him too and we see how much of Yoda type figure Oogway has always been.
Kai – I liked Kai and not just because J. K. Simmons voiced him. This is a character who felt left behind as he watched his friend who he saved found peace…and he couldn’t stand that. He was a general so to him power was things and this what leads him to take chi from others. In the end his greed consumes him though as he misses the point of what power really was.
Po – This is the film of Po not only getting comfortable in his skin but becoming a teacher of others as he realizes it is playing to peoples’ strengths that can help them master themselves. He also is saved by the village when Kai nearly consumes his chi as it is in him realizing all his different identities that he realizes how he is the Dragon Warrior and uses his infinite chi to explode Kai as Kai’s body is unable to contain it all.
Finding Self – Finding self is a major theme of the the film as Po doesn’t really know who he is beyond being a warrior who cares about his friends. It is only after he becomes a teacher that he begins to realize how much he doesn’t know again and that who he is, is a part of everyone else. It is this individualist yet collectivist belief that he becomes the Dragon Warrior.
Power in Community – Kai is alone and uses others as slaves in order to take more. Po is someone who is dependent fully on others and it is in that difference of the many versus the one that his full power is unlocked. One stick can break easily, but it is harder to break a bundle.
Taking v. Serving and Enlightenment – The other theme of the film involves taking versus serving…all the characters who grow are those who learn to see outside of themselves and their own selfishness. Li Shan tells the truth, Po serves others, Oogway defeats Kai the first time by protecting others. This is where true power is unlocked in the film.
Family is Greater Than Blood – Mr. Ping is not Po’s blood and the movie makes a point of that, and it also makes a point of showing that Mr. Ping is Po’s second father and that he needs both of his fathers and it is because of both of them he lives and has grown to be who he is. This is an awesome message that really illustrates that family is greater than blood.
Okay; The Other Masters – Master Mantis, Monkey, Snake and Crane are all comedic relief and Master Tigress is relegated to action hero who doesn’t get to make any choices. This is sad as they got some great exploration over the last two films. They aren’t ever annoying but this was a missed opportunity.
The Pandas of the Village – There is a line between comedic village and real people and I don’t know where the Pandas fall on this line. So I’m putting them at okay.
Kai’s End Game – Was he going to conquer the world after consuming everyone’s chi or did he plan to just consume forever? I wish this had been set down a little better.
This was a really good film, for me it was “Finding Dory” levels of enjoyable, though it didn’t reach original Pixar quality like “Inside Out” or even touch the perfect film of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” but it worked for all that it was. This is Dreamworks paying tribute to Kung Fu films and taking the philosophy into the film while giving us fun and comedic characters…as well as drama and family. If you haven’t seen it or any of the films in this Franchise, go and check them out. If you have kids they will love it and the world is so much deeper that it appears at first glance, just like the Kung Fu films it draws inspiration from. The action is used to make a larger point and tell the drama of people who show us the ways we can grow as well.
Final Score: 9 / 10 I’d rate it higher if Kai had been explored better and if the other Masters had been treated better and not just played for comedic relief.