#374. Fired!

It has been said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” For the rest of us who do have to work, our job can be a means to an end, or it can be the uneven side of a work/life balance. Many people define themselves by their jobs, using their profession as an opportunity to subtly hint at their income. Even though most people need jobs, there are many reasons these people might be fired from said jobs. From incompetence to downsizing, an individual’s livelihood usually hinges on whether or not they have a job. Being fired from a job isn’t the end of the world, it’s merely a forced transition. These transitions can either be positive or negative, based mostly on how much the person liked their job. This week’s two films highlight the impacts of being fired from a job.

                                                       The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Year: 2013
Rating: PG
Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours

The continual improvement of technology is both a blessing and a curse. While these new technologies often make our lives easier through automation, this simplification can take away jobs from hard-working individuals. Furthermore, as the world increases its reliance on the digital realm, many tactile products must make the transition from analog to digital to remain relevant. In the age where all information is easily accessible on a computer, the need for newspapers, magazines, and hardcover books is reduced in kind. Some people will still hold on to these relics due to nostalgia or other sentimentality, but when the producers of such physical media find themselves in need of an upgrade, there are inevitably jobs that will be lost in the transition. The march of progress can certainly leave people behind in its dust.

Life magazine has recognized its need to transition into the digital world. As a result, the final printed issue needs an exceptional picture to represent the end of an era. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is in charge of the photographs for the magazine and has just received a roll of pictures from famed photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). Sean indicates that negative #25 should be used for the cover, but the image is missing from the roll. While layoffs are happening all around him, Walter travels the world to find the elusive photojournalist so the final issue can get its cover image. The transition team in charge of layoffs continues to lose its patience as Walter tries to track down the picture. Eventually, Walter is fired just after finding the photo. Along the way, he has realized his life needs to be more than just a job.

Up in the AirUp in the Air
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Perhaps the most difficult part of a manager’s job is firing their employees. This can occasionally be made easier by the employee’s incompetence, but so many managers abhor conflict that employees can get away with incompetence and still keep their job (like in Office Space (1999)). However, when a company is struggling to survive, and layoffs need to happen, it is up to the manager to fire their employees. This can be much more difficult to handle for both parties, considering how many workers are still good at their jobs, despite the changes happening in the company. While some documentary films like Fired! (2007) discuss what it feels like to be fired from the employee’s side of the interaction, Up in the Air (2009) takes the opposite side of this equation and shows what it’s like to be the one facilitating the firing.

It’s never easy to fire someone, which is why many companies hire Human Resources consultants to do the dirty work for them. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is one of the best consultants, traveling across the country to help these companies fire their employees. His experience in the business has allowed him to recognize that people need a human element to the firing process. When a new video teleconferencing system is introduced by up-and-coming Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), Ryan feels obligated to show how the removal of the human element makes things worse. Natalie also learns this the hard way when her boyfriend dumps her via a text message. Of course, the real irony is when Ryan realizes he has not made any deeper human connections due to his job requiring him to travel extensively. Does he leave his career to put down roots?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 jobless gems

Snack Break: Congratulations

There are some years where the Best Picture Oscar is clearly a cut above the rest. Sure, lots of the nominees (albeit fewer than in previous years) were pretty good movies, but none were nearly as great as Green Book.

Green Book

Of this year’s nominees, I still need to see Roma and Vice, and I will get to them eventually. There were also other films that I was not aware of that have now piqued my interest as well. But, in the end, I think Green Book is a timeless story that speaks loudly about the journey of life and getting to know others who might be different from us.

If you want to see what I thought about the other nominees this year (that I did see), you can check out the links below:

#373. Life

We all have one life to live. What we do with that life is mostly up to us. Sure, circumstances may limit our opportunities, but how often do we celebrate those who broke through those limitations and lived a full life because of their perseverance? Even in the realm of cinema, most characters only have one life. Unless the plot is more like a video game, or there’s a “reset button” motif, most films will have a certain amount of impact when a character dies. It has been suggested that people should live for their eulogy, and not their resume. Audiences are inspired by those individuals who lived a full life, especially when compared to those who do nothing more than pass through this existence with no impact to those around them. How then, should we define our lives? This week’s two films examine the lives of two different individuals.

Life of BrianLife of Brian
Year: 1979
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours

Regardless of your opinion about Jesus Christ and whether or not he died for our sins, most people agree His life was the most influential existence on the planet. After all, our whole calendar system is pinned to the year of His birth, even if it’s not referred to as anno Domini (AD) any longer. Many films have been created about Christ’s life, some even touting it as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Consequently, there are also many parodies of this Biblical story. Some might consider these films sacrilege, like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Others, like Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) take a more comedic approach in their parody. After all, it’s easy to make jokes when a person’s life is so well known that audiences will understand the references, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Born in a humble stable in Bethlehem, Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) lived a life adjacent to Jesus Christ (Kenneth Colley). While Jesus would go on to speak about love and forgiveness, Brian focuses his life on getting the Romans out of Judea. To impress a girl, he joins the People’s Front of Judea but ends up arguing with the members more than accomplishing the group’s ultimate goal. When the Romans finally pay attention, Brian has to blend into the crowd and does so by mimicking some of what he has heard from Jesus. Suddenly, a devoted following springs up and finds everything Brian does as divine, even if most events are pure happenstance. Unfortunately, because his disciples won’t leave him alone, he sneaks away and is captured. Despite being crucified, Brian is reminded to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Year: 2013
Rating: PG
Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours

One of the strongest forces on the planet is inertia. In terms of physics, Newton’s first law of motion states that an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity until it is acted upon by an outside force. This can apply to our lives as well. How often do we find ourselves in the same rut, day after day and year after year, with no ability to break out of our routine? If we let life slip by in repetition, how much of our experiences will be relegated to the mundane? When it comes right down to it, inertia is comforting. If we never break out of our comfort zones, we’ll never learn what life has to offer. Sure, we may be tied down to a job or to a family, but if we can break away every now and then, maybe we can experience life in its fullest capacity. After all, “to see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) spends an unreasonable amount of time in his head, daydreaming about a life much more exciting than his own. In his visions, he is confident and action-oriented enough to woo his office crush, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). Both Walter and Cheryl work at Life magazine as it undergoes a transition into the digital age. Walter is in charge of the photographic negatives for the magazine but is unable to find the desired negative for the final cover. This picture was taken by elusive photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), so Walter sets out to use the remaining negatives as clues to find the cover photo. Along the way, he bravely takes on whatever life throws at him, no longer living his adventures via daydream. After locating Sean, he learns where the negative is, only to realize he accidentally threw it away. Returning home, Walter has a new perspective on life as the negative is found and the cover is printed.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 lived lives

#372. Few actors, many roles

For the most part, each individual who acts in a movie only has one character to play. To understand the amount of emotional depth of a single character, these actors will often devote themselves to this singular role. But what about those actors who portray more than one character? Furthermore, what if the whole cast needs to take on multiple roles? There could be many reasons to go this way, including funding limitations, comedic purposes, or thematic motifs. Whatever the reason, when a few actors take on multiple roles in a movie, it can either be a distraction or a fun treasure hunt as the viewer tries to identify all the roles these actors filled. This is even more pronounced when famous and well-known actors are taking on these multiple roles. This week’s two films highlight some examples of a few actors taking on many roles.

Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 172 minutes / 2.87 hours

When it comes to a specific character who is seen during different parts of their life, the standard way to show this growth is via different actors playing the same character. This has been done in many movies, including the 2016 Best Picture, Moonlight. Sometimes, a single actor may play the same character throughout the lifecycle, like Brad Pitt did in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). However, when it comes to portraying the same character archetype over centuries, the same actor can be employed to show the link between the timelines. During the silent era, Buster Keaton did this in Three Ages (1923), mostly because he was the star of the film. In a more modern context, Cloud Atlas (2012) chooses to use the same set of all-star actors in multiple roles throughout multiple timelines as an artistic technique to show the interconnectedness of the characters.

While most of the members of the ensemble cast of Cloud Atlas only have one segment where they’re the lead character, they do appear in most segments. The timeline starts with Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), an abolitionist from 1849 who wrote a journal during his near-death experience. Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) read this journal while composing “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” for the elderly Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) found this piece of music in a record store in 1973 before surviving an assassination attempt due to the exposé she was writing. Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) would eventually read the novelization of these events in 2012, which would inspire him to write his own story. Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) would be inspired by the movie version of this book in 2144, starting a revolution in the process. Finally, Zachry (Tom Hanks) lives in a post-apocalyptic 2321 created by the revolution.

Life of BrianLife of Brian
Year: 1979
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.57 hours

Years after I saw Dr. Strangelove (1964), I came to the realization that three different characters in the film were portrayed by Peter Sellers. The acting was so superb, I hadn’t even noticed they were all the same actor. In general, comedies are more likely to use a small group of actors in multiple roles, especially if they’re known for short comedy sketches on television. Sure, you can have a small set of actors portray multiple characters through their voices, like in The Simpsons Movie (2007), but when it comes to live-action films, the guys from Monty Python are the de facto comedy group when it comes to multiple roles for individual actors. This is likely due to their success in the realm of sketch comedy. Even though there is a narrative thread that runs through movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Life of Brian (1979), they’re essentially just a series of sketches.

Living life in parallel to that of Jesus Christ (Kenneth Colley), Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) was born just one door down from the stable where Jesus was born. Years later, he would attend the Sermon on the Mount and become inspired to join the People’s Front of Judea to stand up against the Romans’ rule. Through his exploits, he tries to blend into a crowd by pretending to be a prophet, repeating some of Jesus’ teachings in his own words. This leads to Brian developing a devoted following which eventually takes everything he says as a lesson or parable. Even random events are seen as miracles in their eyes. After finally escaping his following, he is captured by Roman guards and brought before Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin). Pilate offers to release a prisoner, and Brian’s name is offered, but someone else claiming to be him is released while he is crucified.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 many roles with not as many actors

#371. Stories through Time

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is partly due to those people who don’t learn from history and are therefore doomed to repeat it. While most movies usually span a short timeframe, there are a few out there that manage to cover almost the entirety of human existence. Some even go so far as to speculate what the future would bring for humanity. After all, if humans keep making the same decisions and mistakes in the past, what could possibly change that habit in the future? These parallel storylines are often used to prove some point to the audience. While it can be interesting to see how people in ancient times acted in the same way we do, sometimes the message the filmmaker is trying to make is beaten home too much. This week’s two films use multiple stories throughout time to tell a story.

IntoleranceIntolerance
Year: 1916
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 197 minutes / 3.28 hours

In telling multiple stories that span a long time period, each individual story is practically a short film in itself. The epic scale of the run-time for these films is merely a product of the multitude of stories that need to be told. During the early days of movies, short films were the norm, so stringing four of them together to tell a larger narrative was certainly doable. D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) manages to span a timeframe from 539 BC all the way to 1914 AD, stopping off around 27 AD and 1572 AD in the process. This film was so impactful, not only as a form of apology for The Birth of a Nation (1915) but for inspiring at least one parody: Buster Keaton’s Three Ages (1923). Both films highlight the fact that humans have remained the same for a very long time.

Throughout the ages, intolerance has been a problem for humanity. The similarities between Cyrus the Great of Persia (George Siegmann), the Pharisees of Israel, and the Catholics of France all show how being intolerant of others leads to great destruction, pain, and death. Sometimes, the people being affected by the intolerance have their own intolerance against their persecutors, with a few notable exceptions. Even in modern times, money fuels the prejudice between businessmen and the workers they exploit. In the end, this intolerance isn’t necessarily based on the color of one’s skin, but instead on how one group of people has a prejudice against a different group of people who might threaten the wealth and power they’ve grown used to over the years. Aside from the obvious lesson that intolerance has been around for a long time, we also see that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 172 minutes / 2.87 hours

While Intolerance covered about 2.5 centuries of stories, some modern films have gone from the beginning of time to the present day. The Tree of Life (2011) didn’t have nearly as many stories to tell, but the range was much greater. In contrast, Cloud Atlas (2012) only covers just over 450 years. However, Cloud Atlas examines the future as well via its parallel stories. While other movies that cover long timespans in short chunks will use the collective history lesson to sell a moral, Cloud Atlas speculates what the distant future will be based on what we know about human behavior. More to the point, Cloud Atlas shows us how individuals can span centuries in various forms, sometimes taking the spotlight or sometimes acting in a supporting role. Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, I think we can all agree humans have the same basic thought processes that affect global history.

Actions have consequences, even if they’re not immediately apparent. Individuals who support the abolition of slavery in 1849 could affect the post-apocalyptic world of Hawaii in 2311. For instance, the 1849 journal of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) could influence Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), who gains credit for “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” via blackmail. This piece of music could influence Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a journalist in 1973 San Francisco who escapes an assassination attempt after uncovering a nuclear conspiracy. Rey’s life could be novelized and read by Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), who is accidentally committed to an asylum. Cavendish’s memoir could be turned into a movie that helps shape the revolution of the human clone known as Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) in 2144 Seoul. This revolution leads to Zachry (Tom Hanks) and his tribal people worshipping Sonmi-451 in 2331.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 timeless tales

#370. D.W. Griffith

Some directors may have been prolific, but then there are directors like D.W. Griffith. In the 23 years of his career, he directed over 500 movies. Most of these films were directed before 1914, as Griffith made the newfound medium of filmmaking his playground to discover and cement many of the film techniques we know today. It’s weird to think the close-up shot wasn’t widely used before Griffith made it a standard. It is also interesting to note that Griffith worked almost exclusively in the medium of silent films. Of his 518 movies, only two were with sound: Abraham Lincoln (1930) and The Struggle (1931). These were the last two films he ever directed. With a catalog of movies this large, there are bound to be a few gems. This week’s two films highlight some of the most significant films D.W. Griffith ever directed.

The Birth of a NationThe Birth of a Nation
Year: 1915
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

Partly because the length of a reel of film was a technical limitation, many directors of the silent era made their movies on a single reel of film. At a length of 1,000 feet, silent movies could fit about 15 minutes of footage on a single reel. Longer movies would often advertise their run-time in terms of reels. With so many short films in circulation, it was a little odd to find D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) was comprised of a whopping 12 reels. Even modern movies rarely break a three-hour run-time, but this silent spectacle certainly does. With movies like this, D.W. Griffith ushered in the era of the “feature-length” movie. He showed how much could be done in 12 reels of film, not only in terms of plot but also in terms of the creative and artistic methods used to tell a story of this length.

The Camerons of South Carolina enlist to fight the Civil War and soon find that Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) is the only surviving son of his two brothers. His headstrong attitude caused him to lead a charge at a major battle and earned him a nickname: “The Little Colonel.” Unfortunately, he is captured after being wounded in battle. While he is accused of treason by the Union and sentenced to hang, his mother asks Abraham Lincoln to pardon him and has her request granted. After Lincoln is assassinated, Ben finds the freed slaves of the South are using underhanded techniques to become elected officials. These former slaves don’t seem to know proper manners for governing individuals, which is why Ben tries to “scare” them into behaving by starting the ghost-themed Ku Klux Klan. Soon, order returns as the Klansmen ensure the slaves are no longer stuffing ballot boxes.

IntoleranceIntolerance
Year: 1916
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 197 minutes / 3.28 hours

If The Birth of a Nation was long, Griffith’s follow-up, Intolerance (1916) was even longer. Around 200 minutes long, this epic is actually four different stories told in parallel. Because of the backlash he received for the racially insensitive The Birth of a Nation, Griffith answered the only way he knew how: through film. He wanted to show intolerance in its many forms as a form of apology for glorifying the racist ideals of the Ku Klux Klan in his previous movie. Fortunately, this apology seemed to work, as he continued to direct many films after this point, including the classics Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), and Orphans of the Storm (1921). Regarding his legacy, the American Film Institute originally put The Birth of a Nation on its Top 100 list in 1998, replacing it with Intolerance during the 10th Anniversary list. A fitting substitution, considering the original circumstances.

To show “Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages” (the subtitle for this film), Griffith follows four instances of intolerance across history. The oldest story is from the Babylonians, whose intolerance between different sects of followers of two different gods led to their demise. Even Jesus Christ (Howard Gaye) Himself experienced intolerance, the penultimate result of which was His eventual crucifixion. Centuries later, Catholics were intolerant of Protestants, which resulted in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Finally, in the modern times of 1914, the socially backward situation that leads to a man being sentenced to hang just for protecting his wife from the boss who put him in prison the first time. Most of these moments of intolerance end in tragedy. There is one story that does manage to pull out a happy ending, while still enforcing the huge influence intolerance has over people.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great D.W. Griffith movies

Bacon #: 3 (San Francisco / Roger Imhof -> Man Hunt / Roddy McDowall -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)

#369. Shameful Nations

We all have that one thing we’re ashamed of. Whether it’s a guilty pleasure, like enjoying a children’s television show, or something more sinister, like breaking the law, individuals will usually have something in their life they want everyone to forget. While many of these shameful things can be common for a large number of people, when a society forms around a group of people, there are inevitably individuals the group would rather outsiders just outright ignore. These individuals can bring shame to the entire group, either through their actions or by their strongly-held beliefs. Unfortunately, because these anomalous individuals are often seen representing the whole group, shame is brought to everyone. This can be scaled up from something as small as a workplace, to as large as a nation. This week’s two films highlight shameful nations and the individuals and groups who formed them.

ScarfaceScarface
Year: 1932
Rating: Passed
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Crime doesn’t pay, but when criminals become popular, there’s a bigger problem with society. If people don’t feel remorse for their crimes, and if they’re lauded for standing up to a system keeping them down, then the laws that hold everything together will have a difficult time supporting a civilized nation. While criminals can be part of larger organizations, the famous mobsters of the 1920s were personalities who often made headlines all by themselves. Individuals like Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Carlo Gambino made the police and law enforcement of America look foolish by breaking numerous laws and getting away with it. In shaming the legal system, these individuals in turn shame the entire nation these laws were enacted to protect. And yet, these gangsters provide entertainment via their hijinks.

Loosely based on the real-life gangster, Al Capone, Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is inspired by the sign outside his apartment which states, “The World is Yours.” Working underneath Italian mob boss John “Johnny” Lovo (Osgood Perkins), Tony is helping the Italians take over the south side of Chicago. Of course, just being a lackey isn’t enough for Tony. Not only does he start pursuing Johnny’s girlfriend, but he makes a move to take over the north side of Chicago from its Irish gangs. To aid in achieving his goals, his friend Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) helps Tony kill Johnny after a botched assassination on Tony’s life. However, when he learns his beloved sister is in a relationship with Guino, Tony goes insane and kills his friend, which inevitably results in the police coming in and taking Tony down.

The Birth of a NationThe Birth of a Nation
Year: 1915
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

While history is written by the victors, there can be embarrassing or shameful events in this history which are difficult to gloss over. Especially as time marches on and sentiments change, what was once condoned as appropriate behavior is condemned by future generations. These shameful events in a nation’s history cannot and should not be overlooked, lest the nation repeats them. For the United States, much changed in the wake of the Civil War, but the shameful veil of racism still seems to hold onto many of its residents more than a century later. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan disgrace an entire nation that considers itself “enlightened.” Unfortunately, early Hollywood did not help with this, since films like The Birth of a Nation (1915) bolstered a rebirth of the KKK that still exists today.

The lives of a family from the North and a family from the South are intertwined during the Civil War. Both families send their sons to the front lines of war, but the daughters and wives end up working in the hospitals. When one of the Southern boys, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) is captured and taken to a Union hospital, he is stricken with the daughter of the Northern family. Similarly, the eldest Northern son falls in love with one of the Southern daughters. When Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, everyone returns home and tries to rebuild. While the Northern family makes sure Reconstruction policies are enforced in the south, Ben Cameron observes the freed slaves abusing the government and not taking their responsibilities seriously. After starting the Ku Klux Klan, Ben manages to bring the freed slaves back in line and restore order to the southern governments.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 shame-filled societies