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It’s nice to be reminded every now and then that going to to the movies is sup­posed to be fun. The first Kung Fu Panda film was a bois­ter­ous and enter­tain­ing treat (“resembles an eight-year-old’s bed­room while they are throw­ing all their toys around” I said in 2008) and the latest ver­sion is an improve­ment on that, adding a lay­er of sen­ti­ment to the amus­ing hijinks. It also trucks along for a nothing-wasted 91 minutes and should keep adults and not-yet-adults well and truly amused.

Panda Po (Jack Black) became the unlikely Dragon Warrior in the first film and now has rock star status among the anthro­po­morph­ic cit­izenry. Along with allies “The Five”, he defends the inno­cent from tyranny in between (and often dur­ing) meals. A new tech­no­logy and a shad­owy fig­ure from Po’s past threaten the peace and force our hero to grapple with the strangely unanswered ques­tions about his child­hood and how a panda came to be adop­ted by a goose in the first place.

What I like about the KFP films is that they haven’t for­got­ten that they are car­toons. Director Jennifer Yuh knows that anim­ated viol­ence can be incred­ibly funny (she super­vised the mar­tial arts scenes in the first film) and I feel cer­tain that even the great Tex Avery would be proud of some of the action she’s produced.

On a more (self-consciously) ser­i­ous note we have The Company Men, advert­ised with pic­tures of ser­i­ous look­ing men in suits and black over­coats star­ing mourn­fully off in to an uncer­tain future. Written and dir­ec­ted by John Wells (co-creator of “The West Wing”), The Company Men is a rare example of the Hollywood left actu­ally try­ing to score genu­ine polit­ic­al points but you know, as the great Frank Capra help­fully poin­ted out, if you want to send a mes­sage call Western Union.

Ben Affleck is a top sales and mar­ket­ing exec­ut­ive in the ship­build­ing divi­sion at a bil­lion dol­lar US indus­tri­al firm man­aged by Tommy Lee Jones. The par­ent com­pany needs to juice the stock price to keep the sharks at bay – and ship­build­ing has been a los­ing pro­pos­i­tion for years – so Affleck (and thou­sands of oth­ers) are downs­ized into a shrink­ing employ­ment market.

Over-extended and highly lever­aged, Affleck has to get used to a Porsche-less life­style, to the extent of selling his McMansion back to the bank and mov­ing in with his par­ents. Meanwhile, even Tommy Lee and 30-year vet­er­an employ­ee Chris Cooper (util­ising his cus­tom­ary sneer act­ing tech­nique) are on the way out. No one is safe!

Naïve, sen­ti­ment­al and eco­nom­ic­ally illit­er­ate, The Company Men looks like it was pro­duced by people who have nev­er even seen an office job in their lives. Great act­ors sit at desks and stare at bind­ers full of prin­ted out spread­sheets like they are Aramaic scrolls and then wander around long-abandoned factor­ies remin­is­cing about the days when people in America made things “with our hands” as if that really mat­ters these days. Kevin Costner plays Affleck’s down-to-earth older broth­er, a build­ing con­tract­or who makes things “with his hands” and who nobly loses money on a job just to keep his staff on over the winter.

I’m sure there is a great film out there about the pain of being a man at work (in fact I know there is: Glengarry Glen Ross) but The Company Men knows not of which it speaks.

Perhaps the suit and tie wear­ers in The Company Men would have had a bet­ter time of it if their boss had been Catherine Deneuve from Potiche. She plays Suzanne, the “trophy wife” of small town fact­ory own­er Robert (Fabrice Luchini), forced to take over man­age­ment of the com­pany when her hus­band suc­cumbs to ill­ness and hubris. Of course, hubby can’t stand it when she turns the oper­a­tion around and we’re set for a clas­sic battle of wills in the board­room and the bedroom.

Set in the chau­vin­ist­ic 70s – when atti­tudes to women in the work­place were as anti­quated as the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) Inc. – most of the fun seems to be purely nos­tal­gic and because the script is a lazy adapt­a­tion of a suc­cess­ful stage play the action is mostly studio-bound with lots of the best stuff hap­pen­ing off-screen.

The nicest touch is mak­ing Deneuve boss of an umbrella fact­ory – ask a Film Society mem­ber why that is so sweet.

Finally, a slightly more exten­ded shout-out to Bill Cunningham New York, a film that got a ten word recom­mend­a­tion in my World Cinema Showcase pre­view back in April. Cunningham has been pro­du­cing a weekly street-fashion seg­ment for the New York Times for almost 40 years, cyc­ling around Manhattan look­ing for inter­est­ing people with an inter­est­ing look. He’s a lovely guy and his self­less cata­loguing of dec­ades of trends make him a liv­ing treas­ure. He also takes their social pics, and takes them very ser­i­ously too.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 13 July, 2011.