#400. Genre Mixers

Mark Twain is quoted as writing, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn, and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely, but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” This is as true when he wrote it as it is today. While many genres of film have been done and overdone, the truly “original” stories come from combining and mixing genres together in interesting and unique ways. Sometimes, bringing two genres together helps both genres to fill in the weaknesses of the other. While not incredibly common or successful, these movies are certainly unique. This week’s two films highlight some notable “genre mixers.”

Cowboys & AliensCowboys & Aliens
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Something about the wide-open spaces of the western genre makes it wide open for genre-mixing possibilities. Of course, other genres, like science fiction, have drawn inspiration from the classic westerns for their characters and plots. After all, we wouldn’t have Star Wars (1977) and its many sequels/spinoffs if it weren’t for westerns and samurai films. Few movies have actually gone so far as to combine the two genres of western and science fiction outright, though. Not that this is a new mixing of genres, as films as far back as Westworld (1973) have combined these two genres to moderate success. Perhaps it’s the emptiness of the open plains and the emptiness of space that draws these two genres together. More recently, movies like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) have been less subtle about combining these genres.

Soon after Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the nearby town of Absolution, aliens attack the old-west city and abduct some of its citizens. While Jake doesn’t remember much, the mysterious bracelet on his wrist activates and allows him to shoot down one of the alien crafts. Joining together with other townsfolk, Jake sets out with a posse to pursue the injured alien from the downed ship. With his memories returning, he remembers that the aliens are abducting people to learn their weaknesses. These aliens are also interested in obtaining gold, which was how Jake came to be an enemy of Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Jake stole gold from Dolarhyde in an attempt to bargain with the aliens to get his wife back. Now recalling where the aliens were based, Jake leads the group of westerners to ambush the aliens while also learning that one of the posse members is actually a friendly alien in disguise.

The Warrior’s WayThe Warrior's Way
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

While Star Wars set samurai films and westerns in space, rarely have these two genres been combined together directly. Both have similar elements in the characters and settings, even to the point where a movie based in one genre (like Seven Samurai (1954) or Yojiimbo (1961)) can be easily transferred over to the other (like The Magnificent Seven (1960) or A Fistful of Dollars (1964), respectively). An additional genre of the supernatural could easily be combined to samurai films or western films—the latter of which was seen with Jonah Hex (2010)—since there’s a lot of unknowns that can be introduced in both genres. Now, going so far as to combine the samurai, western, and supernatural genres together in a single film is a feat only The Warrior’s Way (2010) has been able to accomplish.

After becoming the best swordsman in the world, Yang (Dong-gun Jang) is tasked with killing the remaining member of his enemy’s family. He refuses to complete the task because this individual is only a baby girl. Running away from his homeland with the baby girl in tow, Yang finds himself in the old west town of Lode. To help the citizens protect their city from a corrupt Colonel, he unseals his sword, which immediately gives away his location to his pursuers. Partnering with the sharpshooting town drunk and a woman who scarred the Colonel years ago, Yang is able to repel the enemy of the city shortly before the samurai arrive to destroy him. He must defeat their leader so he can live a life of peace. Can the greatest swordsman in the world overcome these overwhelming odds, or will his bloody past finally catch up to him?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 combined classifications

#397. Miniature Worlds

“It’s a small world, after all.” While we often associate this song lyric with our ability to meet people from our different spheres of influence who happen to be in the same place at the same time, what if this repetitive stanza from an amusement park ride is taken at literal, face value? A world that would be considered “small” includes many dangers we normally wouldn’t think about in our standard sizes. These small worlds can be magical in their details that would normally be overlooked by much larger people. Some creatures are so small that they only ever know the worlds we would consider “miniature.” Sometimes, we get a chance to experience a difference in scale ourselves through the magic that is the movies. This week’s two films highlight what it’s like to live in miniature worlds.

Toy Story 2Toy Story 2
Year: 1999
Rating: G
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Toys have the innate ability to mimic the world around us on a smaller scale. This is partly due to the children who play with these toys being able to manipulate the world of the toys to suit the situation they want to reenact. In instances like The LEGO Movie (2014), or its 2019 sequel, the scale comparison is difficult to find, since everything around these miniature plastic people is built to suit their smaller scale. However, in movies like Toy Story (1995)—and its four sequels: Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010), and Toy Story 4 (2019)—the challenges of being a toy in a human world become readily apparent. The few yards between houses can seem like an enormous canyon. The many stories of a tall apartment building can seem like an impossible height to climb. A classroom for children can seem like a prison camp. Perspective shifts are common when dealing with miniature worlds.

When Andy (John Morris) leaves for cowboy camp, the toys go into rescue-mode when his mother decides to hold a garage sale and get rid of some of Andy’s old toys. While the rescue operation succeeds, Woody (Tom Hanks) is a casualty to the garage sale when he’s stolen by toy collector Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight). Now it’s up to the rest of the toys to figure out where Woody was taken and rescue him. Once in Al’s apartment, Woody learns he’s to be part of a Japanese museum exhibit celebrating the 1950s television show that spawned the toy line in the first place. After Woody’s friends find him and convince him that life in a museum is no existence for a toy, Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer) kidnaps Woody to ensure they all go to the airport together. The race is on to get to the airport and retrieve Woody—and his newfound friends—before the plane leaves for Japan.

EpicEpic
Year: 2013
Rating: PG
Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours

While most toys will never experience the human world at human size, there are plenty of instances in the movies where humans are shrunk down and interact with the miniature world. In some instances, humans will have the chance to interact with the inhabitants of the smaller world, like in The Secret World of Arrietty (2010). Sometimes, someone will gain the opportunity to shrink down and experience this little world themselves. Occasionally, this shift in size is intentional, like in the superhero films Ant-Man (2015) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). Sometimes the shrinking is accidental, or outside the person’s control, like in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! (1989) or Epic (2013), respectively. In both cases, when people manage to survive the smaller world, they grow to appreciate their larger world when they return to normal size.

Professor Radcliffe Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) has been researching the forest around his house for years in the hope that he can discover a society of tiny beings known as the “Leafmen.” His daughter, Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), has come to live with him and—in true teenager fashion—demands that she be called M.K. After an argument with her father, M.K. leaves the house only to moments later have to chase after their dog as he races into the woods. As she searches for the dog, she finds Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) as the tiny woman falls to her death. With her last bit of magic, Tara shrinks M.K. down to the size of the Leafmen and requests that she protect a pod that will either sprout in light and rejuvenate the forest or sprout in darkness and spread destruction. It’s up to the Leafmen warriors to stop the evil Boggans and protect M.K. so she can get the pod to sprout in the light.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 small settings

#395. Galaxy!

Every evening, when humans look up at the sky and see the stars twinkling above, many of them wonder what lies beyond our galaxy. Sure, we’ve explored outer space a little bit, but there’s so much more we haven’t even gotten close to discovering outside our solar system. This speculation of what lies beyond the sun’s gravitational pull has fueled science fiction writers for decades. With so much potential in the galaxies beyond our own, the results are almost fantasy in comparison. Over time, computer technology has improved to the point where filmmakers can also capture the wonder and awe tied to the unknown beyond the galaxy. While the science of these movies might not be accurate, they help answer the “what if” questions. This week’s two films focus on settings located in far-off galaxies.

Guardians of the GalaxyChris Pratt
Year: 2014
Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours

With the current limitations of physics preventing humans from exploring the rest of the galaxy, there’s a lot we don’t know about when it comes to the beings and technologies located in other galaxies. Many people consider humans to be “alone” in our galaxy, but that still doesn’t stop many others from searching for other forms of sentient life. Others are convinced that we have been visited by aliens from distant galaxies. These visitors have allegedly abducted humans from Earth, but what if these humans eventually learned to live their lives in these new galaxies? While humans would be rare in these situations, we’d still have a unique perspective that likely wouldn’t be present in other alien communities. Could humans use these attributes to save the very galaxy that so few of them have visited?

Despite being abducted as a child in the late 1980s, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has made the best of the situation and is now traipsing across the galaxy under the pseudonym of “Star-Lord.” As a treasure-hunter and mercenary, Peter finds himself in possession of an orb that has attracted the attention of several individuals. After an incident on Xandar, the individuals who want the sphere have been captured and sent to jail in the Kyln. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) team up with Peter, who also manages to convince Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) to not kill Gamora and join them on a mission to confront Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) instead. When the orb is revealed to hold an Infinity Stone, the fight is on to protect the galaxy by preventing Ronan from giving the power to Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Galaxy Quest!Galaxy Quest!
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 102 minutes / 1.70 hours

When something becomes popular enough, eventually it becomes a parody of itself. Movies like Spaceballs (1987) made fun of Star Wars (1977) for the somewhat ridiculous space opera that it is. Similarly, the original 1960s run of Star Trek has spawned numerous parodies over the years. With a cultural influence that can’t be ignored, Star Trek has been lampooned by other television shows like The Orville (which itself actually takes the ideas presented in Star Trek pretty seriously). In terms of movies, though, Star Trek’s one notable parody would have to be Galaxy Quest! (1999). The original series of Star Trek was so ridiculous by the standards of the late-1990s, that it was easy to create a somewhat “meta” comedy based on the television series that has lasted for so long and spawned numerous imitators.

After the show Galaxy Quest became a cult sensation, fans began holding regular conventions for it. The cast of the show would regularly make appearances at these conventions, especially Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who portrayed the lead, Commander Peter Quincy Taggart. When he agrees to help the “Thermians” during a convention, he quickly learns aliens are real and that they used the television show to construct a working replica of the spaceship. Unfortunately, while the specifications for the ship were mentioned in Galaxy Quest, none of the aliens who made it know how it works. Enlisting the help of his former cast mates, Jason has to overcome their perception of him as a narcissist to help the Thermians defeat Sarris (Robin Sachs), a warlord who wants to see the Thermians exterminated.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great galactic adventures

#392. Brain over Brawn

“Work smarter, not harder,” is the motto of many a business that wants to succeed by creating efficiencies in their processes. The trick that comes with this idiom is that taking the brute-force approach can sometimes appear to be the easier path to success. If there are multiple steps needed to set up a more efficient process, it can be seen as cumbersome—until it works, that is. We’ll often see character stereotypes in movies where the “successful” individual is physically stronger, but the underdog of the story is inevitably smarter. How can the smarter characters win over the stronger ones? While “the pen is mightier than the sword” might work for politics, using intelligence as a weapon is often the only way some characters can triumph over their bullies. This week’s two films highlight the intelligent characters who use their brains and come out ahead of those who only use their brawn.

MegamindMegamind
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours

If Revenge of the Nerds (1984) has taught us anything, it’s that the downtrodden people in society who are often scorned for not being as pretty/handsome or derided for their physical weakness can use their superior intelligence to enact their revenge on the bullies in their lives. In the realm of superheroes, though, brains and brawn are the common archetype of the villain and superhero, respectively. While a villain’s schemes are rooted in intricate plans, they must account for their adversary’s super-human strength in some way. Whether it’s through creating super-strong robots or using the hero’s weakness against them, the genius supervillains intrinsically know they have the deck stacked against them from the start. Overcoming such odds can feel exhilarating, but there is a cost involved.

Megamind’s (Will Ferrell) latest plot to defeat Metro Man (Brad Pitt) seems like every other unsuccessful plan he’s dreamed up over the years. This time, however, it works. With Metro Man dead, Megamind takes over Metro City and rules with a black-leather fist of villainy. Unfortunately, without the daily sparring between the villain and hero, Megamind becomes bored with his newfound success. Using his technology and superior intelligence, he sets out to create a new hero with some of Metro Man’s DNA. Acting as a mentor to Titan (Jonah Hill), Megamind tries to mold the formerly scorned cameraman into a hero he can go toe-to-toe with. Unfortunately, because Titan’s past was filled with loneliness and weakness, his newfound powers backfire and create a violent and out-of-control menace for the city. It’s up to Megamind to now don the hero’s cloak and save the day.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Year: 2009Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours

We all want to be popular, as it can validate who we are as a person. And yet, today’s society seems to still rely on the primal sections of our brains to determine who is popular and who isn’t. The characteristics like beauty and strength were used long ago to determine the adequacy of a mate, but this has continued into modern times and caused many intelligent people to be scorned. Their smarts and passion for the topics in life that they love will often give them the label of “nerd” amongst the more popular individuals of a society. What we often seem to forget is these “nerds” are regularly responsible for the inventions that make all of our lives easier. Do these smarter individuals turn to inventions to feel validated? To create a legacy that’s not predicated on physical appearance? To altruistically create a better society? Sometimes they’re the only people smart enough to deal with a disastrous problem.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), is a passionate inventor who lives in the floundering city of Swallow Falls. While his father, Tim (James Caan) is employed by the failing local sardine economy, Flint sees the writing on the wall and wants to make his own path. Despite his failed inventions, Flint continues on and finally creates a device that can turn water into food. Needing more power for his machine, he accidentally rockets it into the sky, thus ruining the opening of Sardine Land, a last-ditch effort by the mayor of the town to attract tourists. As the townsfolk are berating Flint, it soon starts raining cheeseburgers, thus saving the city by attracting “food tourists.” Unfortunately, as the orders for food multiply, so does the size and intensity of the food storms. To stop the food hurricane, Flint must fly to the device and put a stop to it before the entire island is destroyed.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 superior smarties

#388. Adoption

The reasons for giving a child up for adoption are nearly as varied as wanting to adopt a child. While it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as an economic “supply and demand” situation, there are often times where children could be better off in an adoption situation than staying with birth parents. These situations can bring about drama later in the child’s life when they learn they aren’t the biological progeny of their adoptive parents. Of course, most parents have the best of intentions for their adoptive children, but sometimes the battle between nature and nurture can prove to be a challenge for even the best-prepared parents. Needless to say, adoption is an option for those who find themselves with unexpected pregnancies and those who unexplainably cannot become pregnant. This week’s two films highlight adoption as part of their plot.

JunoJuno
Year: 2007
Rating: R
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

Teenagers rarely have the resources or maturity to raise a child, which is mostly why the idea of pregnant teenagers is generally frowned upon. There are generally three options for these unexpected children: abort them, keep them, or give them up for adoption. That’s not to say teenage pregnancies are the main source for adoptions, as unsafe family conditions or resource constraints could force a mother to give up their child for adoption. Whatever the case, the determination of what to do with these children is often influenced heavily by the mother’s family. If there’s a strong support network for the mother, she might choose to keep the child, despite the challenges. If the family is more judgmental, then the mother might opt for an abortion to keep things simple. At the end of the day, even if a child is being adopted by a different family, a mother still has to give birth to the child.

When Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) learns she is pregnant, she immediately goes out to get an abortion. Her life as a teenager will have to change drastically if she decides to keep this child, but once she’s in the abortion clinic, she loses her nerve and leaves. At this point, her only option is to put the child up for adoption. Her parents are surprised but supportive of her decision. Opting for a closed adoption, Juno meets with Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner), who have agreed to adopt the child. Juno and Mark hit it off, but after Mark decides to leave Vanessa, Juno begins to re-think the adoption. At the same time, she also realizes she loves the boy who got her pregnant and wonders if they could make a relationship/baby work. After leaving a note on the Loring’s door, Juno goes into labor shortly after and gives birth to a boy.

The Odd Life of Timothy GreenThe Odd Life of Timothy Green
Year: 2012
Rating: PG
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours

Reproduction is a messy and complicated process. While it almost seems simple for some couples to get pregnant, without even trying, others spend years trying to achieve the same result. So many factors can lead to a couple being unable to conceive. Even if the medical community is becoming better equipped to handle these limitations or restrictions, these procedures can be extremely costly. Unfortunately, due to the bureaucracy involved with the adoption process, it’s not much less expensive or emotionally-draining than trying to conceive via alternative methods. Even though becoming foster parents can be an easier and less-expensive alternative, there are sometimes challenges involved with these children as well since some of the “nature” has already been set in stone. In any case, adoptive parents should expect just as many challenges with a new child as they would if they had birthed the child themselves.

Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) are heartbroken when they learn they are medically unable to conceive a child. To keep Cindy from spiraling into depression, Jim encourages her to outline the ideal child she would want and bury the notes in the backyard. In a magical twist, shortly after a surprise thunderstorm, Timothy (CJ Adams), a 10-year-old boy, arrives at their house and claims to be their son. While this is strange by any means, Timothy also has leaves growing on his legs that cannot be removed. Despite challenges at school and in the town, Timothy has been living up to his parents’ hopes and dreams, but at the cost of the leaves on his legs. These leaves are a countdown to his eventual disappearance. Even though his time with them was short, the Greens have proven they are fit parents and can care for an adoptive child.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 adoptive aspirations

#387. Unexpected Pregnancy

Pregnancy can often bring immense joy to a family, as soon-to-be parents prepare to bring their progeny into the world. On the flip side, an unexpected pregnancy can bring intense anxiety and emotions into potentially strained relationships. Of course, cynics might argue that the unforeseen pregnancies in our society have the potential to overwhelm us, especially if those who want to become pregnant cannot. At least, that’s the idea movies like Idiocracy (2006) have promoted. In any case, the surprise of an unexpected pregnancy can be solved in many ways. Many unwanted pregnancies are aborted, but there are also options for adoption, as well as keeping the baby. Whatever ends up happening, these pregnancies are usually monumental moments in people’s lives and will change them from then on out. This week’s two films highlight some unexpected pregnancies.

Children of MenChildren of Men
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

With the birth rates in many developed countries dropping lower every year, pregnancies are becoming more and more unexpected. When pregnancies are no longer the norm, fear sets in and society crumbles. The entirety of civilization hinges on whether or not a population can replenish itself over time. Even certain “gaps” in generations where there aren’t as many births can affect the economy as they age through their developmental, career, and retirement life stages. If we take these ideas to the extreme and imagine a world where it’s been 18 years since the last birth, the introduction of an unexpected pregnancy could be a world-changing event. While we are far from such a scenario, this is precisely the plot presented in the dystopian film, Children of Men (2006).

Due to several factors, humanity hasn’t had a new birth in almost two decades. Added to this is the fact that many—if not most—children died from disease just before the shortage of births. These problems have put the whole world on edge, and for a good reason. Many individuals, like Theo Faron (Clive Owen), have become cynical, merely waiting for their inevitable deaths and the end of civilization. In exchange for a lot of money, Theo agrees to escort a refugee to safety since the United Kingdom is violently strict when it comes to immigrants. The refugee, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) reveals to Theo that she is pregnant with the world’s first baby in 18 years. Such a fantastic event is unexpected by all involved, but it leads to a battle to gain control of the child for political purposes. Can Kee escape to safety with her baby?

JunoJuno
Year: 2007
Rating: R
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours

While an unexpected pregnancy can be a plot twist in dramas like Gone Girl (2014), it seems to be a common trope of the comedy genre. When characters have to scramble to figure out how they’re going to handle a baby, comedy ensues. Movies like Knocked Up (2007) and Waitress (2007) focus on the relationships that give birth to these unexpected pregnancies, and what happens to the relationships after this defining event. One night stands and loveless marriages are quite different situations than the oft-demeaned teenage pregnancy. Part of the reason for this is due to the emotional maturity of the parties involved. Teenagers usually don’t have any idea what they want to do with their lives, so being tied down to a newborn and being required to raise it for the next 18 years is a scary and unsettling proposition, especially when these teenagers aren’t even 18 themselves.

The titular Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is surprised to learn she is pregnant. As a 16-year-old, she should be learning how to drive, but now must make a difficult decision that could affect her entire life. Her initial reaction is to get an abortion, but she changes her mind and opts for adoption instead. With her parents’ support, Juno meets with a couple who want to adopt her baby and immediately bonds with them. Meanwhile, Juno finds herself conflicted in regards to the child’s father, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She knows he adores her, but the stigma of being a pregnant teenager is one of the forces that causes her to push him away. While Juno and Paulie’s relationship breaks down, the married couple suddenly gets a divorce as well, forcing Juno to make a tough decision for her baby. Will she keep the child and raise it herself, or give it to one of the adoptive parents?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 unprepared parents

#385. Long Takes

Cinematographers use plenty of camera techniques to create the director’s vision for the film. From zooms to pans, these techniques help tell a story and can help the audience understand what’s happening on screen. There are some advanced techniques, like the dolly zoom (also known as the Vertigo (1958) effect), that use the characteristics of a camera to create a sensation that’s impossible to convey in just a single photograph. While we rarely experience life as a series of scenes cut together to form a cohesive narrative, most movies are filmed this way. In fact, many films use too many cuts, which can disorient the viewer. The more natural approach to filmmaking would then be a series of long takes, making the camera its own character that can move around the space of the movie and focus on what it needs to convey the plot. This week’s two films use long takes to their creative advantage.

GravityGravity
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 91 minutes / 1.52 hours

One of the benefits of the long take is how much information can be cohesively tied together. Alfred Hitchcock used a long take at the start of Rear Window (1954) to introduce the scene, the characters, and the main reason why the setting will be constrained to the eponymous “rear window.” While this long take works its way around the set, without following anyone in particular, Martin Scorsese uses the long take in Goodfellas (1990) to follow Ray Liotta’s character through a nightclub. Long takes have been increasing in popularity as they have been easier to film. Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) uses a long take in an extended action sequence to help convey the peril of the main characters as they try to find safety. It is then no wonder that his next film, Gravity (2013) would use the long take to great effect as well, earning him the Best Director Oscar (it won Best Cinematographer, too).

In Gravity, the camera mostly follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as she tries to return to Earth after a high-speed cloud of debris destroys the Space Shuttle Explorer. The only other crewmember to survive is Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who uses his experience as an astronaut to calmly work through the problem. Through the use of his Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), he helps both of them reach the International Space Station (ISS), where they find all the attached spacecraft have already evacuated to Earth. With no other options, and the debris making its 90-minute destructive rounds, Dr. Stone must resort to drastic measures to reach the somewhat nearby Chinese space station, where she can use a lone Russian Soyuz capsule to return home. This is, of course, assuming everything still works and that she can pilot the foreign spacecraft.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Year: 2014Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Rating: R
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

While long takes are an essential part of a good cinematographer’s toolbox, it can be difficult to shoot the entire film’s plot in a single take. Difficult, but not impossible. Even though movies like the Hungarian version of Macbeth (1982) weren’t entirely one shot, it’s the first instance until Timecode (2000) to successfully perform the technique. Before this accomplishment, films as far back as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) used some clever editing and trickery to make it seem like the movie was filmed in one, continuous shot. With the advent of digital techniques and capabilities (film reels were a limiting factor), this becomes even easier to achieve. Except for a few cuts at the beginning and ending, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) manages to tell a “one-shot” story that takes place over a few days, thus earning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematographer Oscars in the process.

We open on Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) hovering in his underwear in his dressing room, mentally preparing to go on stage to perform the play he has chosen to write and direct as a statement to distance himself from his previous role as the superhero “Birdman.” With opening night a few days away, he’s assaulted with cast changes, foreign reporters, and an ungrateful daughter (Emma Stone). The camera follows the drama as it weaves around the theatre and behind the scenes, capturing the hectic nature involved in any thespian endeavor. While Riggan wants to succeed and become the successful actor and director he wants to be, he is haunted by his past and threatened by the future that is closely guarded by New York theatre critics. In a drastic moment on opening night, Riggan is able to obtain notoriety that is both ironic and fitting.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 continual camera work