Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Victory for the Gals in "Made in Dagenham"

“Made in Dagenham” a Cheeky Comedy about Equal Pay

By Skip Sheffield

You’ve come a long way, baby.
That was the patronizing slogan of a stupid cigarette ad campaign aimed at women back in the 1970s.
It came to mind when I saw “Made in Dagenham,” a British film based on a real incident at the Ford motor Company factory in Dagenham, U.K. in 1968.
The “girls” operated sewing machines to create the fabric for seat coverings. Because they were not deemed “skilled” workers, they were paid at a lesser rate than their male counterparts, working under terrible conditions.
Sally Hawkins, who was so terrific as an incurable optimist in “Happy Go Lucky,” plays Rita O’Grady, a typical British housewife who works on the assembly line in addition to her household chores.
The always-reliable Bob Hoskins plays Albert, head of the auto workers union. Albert takes a personal interest in the obvious injustice of the women’s situation, and he makes their cause his own.
Yes, “Dagham” is a bit like a British “Norma Rae” or “Erin Brockovich,” but it is done with inimitable English panache, with script by William Merchant under the direction of film veteran Nigel Cole, who helmed the cheeky “Calendar Girls.”
There is a certain self-deprecating gallows humor that characterizes working class British, and such is the character of the 187 women who at the urging of Albert, go on strike for equal pay.
Rita O’Grady becomes the reluctant leader of the movement. She finds more powerful allies in the beautiful wife of the factory boss (Bond girl Rosamund Pike) and the concerned government minister of labor (Miranda Richardson).
The ladies of Dagenham are a sight in their shellacked bouffants, 1960s attire and unflappable attitude. When it becomes unbearably hot in the summer, they doff their blouses. When it rains they unfurl umbrellas to protect against the leaky roof.
“Made in Dagenham” is a feel-good movie of downtrodden rising up and overcoming their powerful oppressors with good cheer and determination. Even if you don’t care much for feminism, it’s hard not to root for these feisty ladies, who in reality were instrumental in convincing Parliament to pass the Equal Pay Act of 1970.

Three stars

Kevin Spacey is Crafty, Devious “Casino Jack”

“Casino Jack” was a centerpiece film of Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, which was dedicated to the memory of director George Hickenlooper, who died in October just before the festival began.
Kevin Spacey plays the supremely confident, thoroughly devious title character, lobbyist “Casino Jack” Abramoff.
“Mediocrity is what most people live with,” Jack lectures his bathroom mirror image. “We do more because we have to.”
This is one of those rise-and-fall sagas, in which we see Jack wheedling his way through the rich and powerful corridors of Washington, D.C. with an air of entitlement and superiority. Born into wealth, Jack became College Republican National Chairman, wielding influence while still an undergrad.
As egotistical as Jack is, Kevin Spacey makes him likeable; a devilish rogue, if you will, and if he is to be believed, a devout Orthodox Jew.
Jack is a gambler at heart, so it came natural that he would conspire with Native Americans to exploit their sovereign nation status to open hugely profitable gambling halls. Jack did not help the impoverished Indians out of the goodness of his heart. He extracted extravagant fees for his services, and his greed would be part of his downfall, thanks in large part to one suspicious, tenacious tribesman (Graham Greene).
Jack had a big Florida connection with his collaboration with a shady gambling cruise line owned by an even shadier character named Gus Boulis (Daniel Kash). Jon Lovitz does a funny turn as the fearful, hapless low-lever shyster Adam Kidan, who helped Jack get hooked up with Gus (with disastrous results).
Kelly Preston personalizes the damage inflicted by Jack’s selfish ways as his long-suffering son Pam, and Barry Pepper poignantly bears his betrayal as his business partner and protégé, Michael Scanlon.
But mostly “Casino Jack” is played for laughs, and it may well be Jack Abramoff who has the last laugh. After serving minimal time for conspiracy tax evasion, he was release Dec. 3, 2010 and is now back in circulation.

Three stars

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