#319. Shirley MacLaine

While there are plenty of comediennes in Hollywood today, this wasn’t always the case. Most of the women who appeared in comedies were either cast as serious characters to offset the hilarity of their male counterparts (as was done in The Marx Brothers’ films) or were used only as naïve damsels who would eventually fall in love with the male main character. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when women started to have roles that could showcase their comedic talent. Shirley MacLaine was one of these women, and she has continued to support comedies to this day. With such a long and diverse career, MacLaine has managed to maintain her poise and dignity in a genre that often resorts to slapstick and lowbrow jokes to get their laughs. This week’s two films highlights some of Shirley MacLaine’s best roles.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

When it comes to awards, comedies are often at a disadvantage when compared to dramas. It is disappointing to have such a bias toward dramatic stories and roles when there are plenty of excellent comedic films. This bias is also present for the actors who play these comedic roles. Because of this challenge, the comedic actors and actresses who manage to be nominated for their work have overcome much to earn that honor. Shirley MacLaine has received nominations for Best Actress five times during her career. For three decades, she received nominations for Some Came Running (1958), The Apartment (1960), Irma la Douce (1963), and The Turning Point (1976). Finally, in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, a film that also took home Best Picture, she took home that coveted statuette for her role as Aurora Greenway.

Despite being alone, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) readily confides in her adult daughter, Emma (Debra Winger). Both of them are practically in the same life stage: searching for love wherever it may reside. Unfortunately, as Emma finds love with Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s disapproval puts a wedge between them both. Meanwhile, Aurora gets to know her neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) and falls in love with the retired astronaut. Through some difficult times in Emma’s marriage and journey through motherhood, Aurora is always there for her. Unfortunately, there is little Aurora can do once Emma is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A mother never wants to bury their child, even if said child has had a meaningful and love-filled life up until that point.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

From her very first role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), MacLaine soon found herself in many Best Picture winners. Only a year later did she have a role in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), the Best Picture for that year. Four years after that, she would appear in The Apartment (1960), also a Best Picture winner. Along with the aforementioned Terms of Endearment, MacLaine certainly has a knack for appearing in fantastic movies. Of course, when I go back and watch The Apartment, I realize how young she really was. Today, she has aged gracefully into other roles in such movies as Steel Magnolias (1989), Guarding Tess (1994), Bernie (2011), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), and The Last Word (2017). Still, one of her most iconic roles for me was as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment.

Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is an elevator operator in an insurance office. While her job has its ups and downs, the least of which is repeated sexual harassment from some of the men, she eventually runs into Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon). Bud asks Fran out on a date to go see The Music Man at the theater that night. Fran accepts but never shows up since she first has to meet up with her lover, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Coincidentally, Sheldrake takes Fran back to Bud’s apartment. Bud had been loaning his conveniently located apartment out to his co-workers so they could have their extramarital affairs in exchange for a recommendations to get him promoted. When Bud finally comes home, he finds Fran in his bed, having attempted suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. Over the next few weeks, he helps her get back on her feet, and they both fall in love in the process.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Shirley MacLaine roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty / Joey Slotnick -> Hollow Man / Kevin Bacon)


#318. James L. Brooks

Some people have the ability to bring out the greatness in others. Or, at least, they have the capacity to see the greatness in others and guide it into the spotlight. I would like to think that a producer has this ability, mostly due to the success of James L. Brooks. As the winner of several Emmy Awards, he clearly knows how to produce a television show, many of which have become a part of the popular culture fabric of our society (The Simpsons, for one). Regarding his films, he has only directed six of them, but they have been a little more hit-or-miss. When the right elements come together, his films are certainly successful, both critically and financially. Perhaps this is due to his ability to get to the humanity of a story and its characters. This week’s two films examine the successful directing of James L. Brooks.

Broadcast NewsBroadcast News
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

With as much television experience as Brooks has, it is no wonder that he eventually decided to direct a film about it. The behind-the-scenes of the newsroom could only come from an intimate knowledge of the industry, of which James L. Brooks certainly has. Broadcast News (1987) was only one of a handful of Best Picture Oscar nominees he directed. Each time he made an Oscar-worthy film, it is interesting to note that he also obtained nominations for Best Writing as well. As Good as It Gets (1997) earned this distinction alongside Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment (1984). Of course, as a producer of films, he was also in the running for a Best Picture Oscar with Jerry Maguire (1996), a film he did not direct or write, but did produce. Unfortunately, most of these films left him without any Oscars for his effort.

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) has boundless ambition when it comes to her job as a television producer. Her best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), secretly has a crush on her but is unable to confess his feelings. Meanwhile, a promotion moved Tom Grunick (William Hurt) from sports to the main anchor chair, despite his only skill being a photogenic personality. Jane learns Tom is also attracted to her, but Aaron tries to warn her about him while at the same time finally confessing his own feelings. It turns out Tom has broken a few ethical rules during a heartfelt interview that he obtained from a woman who was sexually assaulted. In the end, all three of them have to disband and live their lives elsewhere when the network goes under. While each of them found their own individual success, they still managed to maintain their friendship through it all.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Brooks’ breakout film was none other than the aforementioned Terms of Endearment. I’d hate to draw correlations to his work and the work of M. Night Shyamalan, but he seemed to peak with his first two films. Terms of Endearment won Brooks his only three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Director, the latter of which was also his only nomination in that category. Lately, his films have not been quite successful at all. I’ll Do Anything (1994), Spanglish (2004), and How Do You Know? (2010) are all largely considered much weaker than his Best Picture-nominated work. Since he only seems to direct two films every decade, we probably can’t expect anything from him soon, but when he does return to the director’s chair, I certainly hope he can earn another Oscar for his work.

The mother-daughter relationship is perhaps one of the tightest relationships any two people can ever have. Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma Greenway-Horton (Debra Winger), have both wanted to find love in their lives. When Emma is married to Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s mothering nature fails to show how much she cares about Emma and instead strains their relationship. As Emma starts her own journey into motherhood, Aurora finds love with her next-door neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), a retired astronaut. While Emma’s marriage is threatened by an affair held between Flap and one of his students, a cancer diagnosis for Emma forces the family together. Flap and Aurora do their best to put their differences behind them to support Emma in her final months.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best by James L. Brooks

Bacon #: 2 (Modern Romance / Jane Hallaren -> Hero at Large / Kevin Bacon)


#317. Local News

Even with the proliferation of different news sites across the internet, when it comes to the news of a local area, there are only a few options to keep yourself up-to-date. There are still websites for local news, but either the newspaper or the local television network usually runs them. Because there are limited sources for local news, any competition for readers and viewers can be fierce. The competition does not just exist between different sources; it can be between individuals trying to advance their careers in the local news racket. Some are content with becoming the best in their region, but others are looking for that larger gig on the national scale. Some people just want to deliver the news, but many are committed to getting ahead. This week’s two films highlight individuals involved with local television news.

Year: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

When it comes to television news, the images are key. Most of the time, a local station will have some cameramen who will go out and help a reporter perform their report. However, there are often situations where a local camera crew cannot get to a scene in time to record it or the reactions of the public on the scene. In these cases, freelance video journalists can make some money selling the footage to local news stations for being in the right place at the right time. From storm chases to car crashes, these individuals will put themselves in or near dangerous situations to get the best footage. Consequently, the perception of these individuals is usually linked to profiting off the suffering of others. Their desire to get paid will often force them to decide which lines to cross and how far to go to obtain the best video.

When Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) learns about “stringers,” he immediately becomes enticed with the prospect of being a freelance video-journalist. In one of his first successful collects, he manages to tie in a human element to his footage, despite trespassing to get it. His tactic works, and he starts making repeated, successful sales of his footage to a local news station for exclusive rights. Unfortunately, he now has run afoul of the man who introduced him to this career, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). The competition is fierce, but Lou’s loose morals eventually give him the edge he needs to dominate over Joe. In a stroke of luck, Lou runs across a homicide and robbery in progress and decides it is a prime opportunity to catch video of the immediate aftermath of a crime, as well as the eventual capture of the criminals. This decision proves to be the most dangerous one he’s made yet.

Broadcast NewsBroadcast News
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

How “local” does local news have to be? Is it for a single city? A whole state? An entire nation? When we consider “national” news, it rarely involves events that affect us personally. Most national news usually has to do with what the government is doing and how it might trickle down into the local markets. So, one would then assume that any news about the government in Washington D.C. would be considered “local” to those who live and work there. As the hub for the nation’s decision-makers, Washington D.C. needs to have local news that helps to keep these representatives accountable. The Washington Post is usually the best source of governmental accountability available to the public. Could the local television news stations provide a similar service? Do the major networks have the monopoly on this information? Can these local stations provide an invaluable service?

Moving from local to national news is a big deal, especially when you work in Washington D.C. Tom Grunick (William Hurt) has just moved up into an anchor position at the local news station after years as a sports anchor. He knows he’s not quite qualified for the job, other than having the “looks” for it. While he has an attraction to the producer, Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), he shares that trait with her best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). Aaron is a great writer but lacks the skills to be an on-camera reporter, despite his desire to do so. Through this love triangle, all three of them have their successes and failures in the news industry. Unfortunately, when the network downsizes, they each have to go their separate ways, resulting in none of them being able to pursue a relationship past a tight friendship.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stories at 11

#316. Television

Over time, it has become difficult to distinguish between television shows and movies. With the advancement of production values for television shows, each episode looks a lot like a mini-movie. Even movies have become more “serialized,” with character arcs and other minutia crossing over between separate films (I’m looking at you, Marvel Cinematic Universe). So if it is not for entertainment content, what does television provide us? Clearly, the first thing television offers us is convenience. We can watch television on our own time in our own homes. However, there is another benefit of television: the most up-to-date content; or, at least that is what it used to provide. With the internet offering non-stop, live content, television is no longer the “go to” for this material. This week’s two films highlight the challenges, struggles, and behind-the-scenes of television.

Year: 1976
Rating: R
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours

There once was a time when television was not on 24/7. It provided content for the day, and the network would go off the air for the wee-hours of the morning. Being a network during this era of television was simpler because the amount of created content needed on a daily or weekly basis was small. Starting a new network certainly had its challenges, as was seen in UHF (1989). On top of creating interesting content, maintaining viewers and keeping them engaged has always been the challenge of television networks. What may be in vogue one week may drop off entirely if the content does not engage audiences. Fads come and go quickly. From trivia shows to reality television, knowing what is popular at the time can make or break a network. Behind this content, there are people. People who make decisions about what the viewer gets to watch.

Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is always on the lookout for the next big show in television. After sealing the deal for The Mao Tse-Tung Hour to appear in the fall season, she turns her attention to the new hot personality: Howard Beale (Peter Finch). Initially, Beale was a news anchor whose falling ratings led to an angry tirade on the news, consequently skyrocketing his ratings through the roof. Diana convinces her boss to make the news show into something more “entertaining” and receives rave reviews when it transitions over. Because of the success of the show, Christensen finds herself in a new romance with her boss. Unfortunately, for her boss, Diana’s one true love is her job, which has its benefits and detractors. When Beale gets a little too excited about network politics, Diana finds the perfect solution in hiring terrorists to assassinate him and to kick off the next season of The Mao Tse-Tung Hour.

Year: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

At its most basic level, television is entertainment. Even the news needs to keep its viewers entertained so they will keep coming back for more. Local news has a bit of an edge in its market because the only competition is with other local news stations. People living in a community will always have an innate desire to know what is going on around them, so the local news with the latest scoop will likely earn their viewership. Sometimes, human-interest stories can bring in the viewers, but we all know that the violence of our everyday world is truly what entices people to tune in. These stories might give us anxiety if they happen near where we live, or they could comfort us to know that justice still reigns in our region. In the end, these stories often need video footage to aid in the television program’s presentation of the news.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is eking out a living selling stolen materials from construction sites. One night, in his escape, he runs across a car accident where he learns that freelance video journalists film these events and sell the footage to local news stations. After a few failed attempts, Lou finally manages to get an exclusive and sells it to KWLA 6. It turns out, the station is looking for footage of violent incidents in the poor parts of Los Angeles to make the wealthy neighborhoods feel safer. As Lou continues to provide content, he manages to blackmail the morning news director into a relationship. Since his business is starting to take off, he also hires an intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), who helps navigate him to police scenes. Unfortunately, Lou gets a little too ambitious and ends up in a high-speed chase to get footage of dangerous criminals. Can Lou and Rick get out of their predicament alive?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrible slaves to television

#315. Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet is perhaps the best Director you’ve never even heard of. While his films have garnered almost fifty Oscar nominations, they’ve only earned six. None of these six were for Best Director, but he was nominated at least four times over his long and distinguished career. One of the reasons most people aren’t familiar with his work is that the heyday of Lumet’s best works was in the 1970’s. During this decade, his films garnered the vast majority of Oscar nominations, as well as all of the Oscar wins (in a three-year period). While his career has spanned six decades, most of his films aren’t recognizable, despite his prolific filmography. Many of these films are critically acclaimed, even to this day. This week’s two films highlight some of the best that Sidney Lumet’s directing had to offer.

                                                                          Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day AfternoonYear: 1975
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

In 1974, Lumet directed Murder on the Orient Express, a film that garnered the most Oscar nominations to date for one of his films. With six nominations, only Ingrid Bergman’s performance managed to snag a win, the first for a Lumet-directed film. One year later, Dog Day Afternoon would pull the same feat, with six nominations and one win for Best Original Screenplay. One of these nominations was for Lumet’s directing, which was his second overall at the time. Many will recognize that Al Pacino helped to cement this film in the history of popular culture. Perhaps his inclusion in this film was in part due to his iconic portrayal of the eponymous Serpico in the Lumet-directed film from two years prior. If anything, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon show that Sidney Lumet can direct Al Pacino to be on either side of the law.

While Serpico has Al Pacino portray an honest cop of the same name, Dog Day Afternoon goes in the opposite direction, allowing him to portray bank robber Sonny Wortzik. Sonny is new to this crime game and botches his first robbery at the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. Soon the cops have been called and only two of the original three robbers are left to hold the bank hostage. Sonny is able to get the public on his side by letting a security guard go due to an asthma attack but also riling them up by yelling about the recent Attica Prison riot. It is eventually revealed that the reason for the failed robbery was to pay for Sonny’s girlfriend to finish gender reassignment surgery, earning him more sympathy points. Realizing that the whole fiasco is a bust, Sonny just wants to get him and his partner, Sal (John Cazale) out safely. The negotiators oblige, but Sonny and Sal end up getting a bad deal in the process.

Year: 1976
Rating: R
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours

Right from the start, Sidney Lumet’s skill at directing was easily recognizable. His first film, 12 Angry Men (1957) is considered by many to be the epitome of the courtroom drama, even if the courtroom is rarely seen at all. Earning three nominations, this film garnered Lumet his first nod for Best Director. 25 years later, he would bookend with another courtroom drama and earn his fourth and final Best Director nomination for The Verdict (1982). His most-nominated film, however, was Network (1976), which racked up an impressive ten nominations. Lumet was nominated for Best Director, but it was the Original Screenplay and the acting talents of Peter Finch (Best Actor), Faye Dunaway (Best Actress) and Beatrice Straight (Best Supporting Actress) that brought home the gold that year.

Anger is front and center on Howard Beale’s (Peter Finch) Evening News segment after he learns that he will be fired due to poor ratings. As luck would have it, his un-anchor-like actions push the ratings of his show through the roof. Meanwhile, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) realizes the potential to morph the “mad as hell” anchor into an entertainments show instead of a news-oriented one. Now that Beale has a new-found power as a prophet of the airways, he decides to take on the Saudi Arabian conglomerate who is poised to buy out his studio. This gains the attention of the head of the Communications Corporation of America, Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), who takes Beale aside and shows him the financial sense of the world. As a result, Beale is told to tone it down and this leads to a slide in the ratings for The Howard Beale Show. Only one option remains for the network, and it’s a win-win situation for them.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous Sidney Lumet movies

Bacon #: 2 (The Manchurian Candidate (2004) / Robert W. Castle -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)

#314. Stockholm Syndrome

Hollywood has often been accused of glamorizing characters and plots that are downright unrealistic. Often, these characters will act in a way that is seen as completely illogical, often just to get the plot to the climax it needs. Women in romantic comedies can be found in relationships with jerks to highlight the “good guy” difference in the male protagonist. Similarly, some dramas show women in abusive relationships, unable to leave due to their illogical love for the guy. While this latter example is more realistic, it highlights something usually seen in hostage situations: Stockholm syndrome. These survival instincts may be illogical in any normal situation, but in the high-stress and dangerous hostage situation, this coping mechanism helps hostages to survive, even if the effects last long after the incident is over. This week’s two films examine some examples of Stockholm syndrome.

Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

“There’s no place like holm . . . Stockholm.” One of the negative aspects of many Disney films is that they are largely based on stories from a much different time. While the stories themselves are usually harmless, there are often boundaries and more adult concepts that need to be discussed with small children. Snow White couldn’t give her consent to being kissed, even if it would break her curse. Ariel’s relationship with Prince Philip couldn’t work because she wasn’t able to communicate, and communication is the key to a good relationship. Aladdin’s relationship with Princess Jasmine was founded on lies, which isn’t a good way to start a relationship. The only reason Rapunzel didn’t escape her captor earlier is that she grew to love her “adopted mother,” even after the verbal abuse Mother Gothel used to keep her trapped in the tower.

For eighteen years, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) has lived in a tower with her “mother” Gothel (Donna Murphy). While Rapunzel understands the intrinsic reason for her solitary confinement is to protect her from the dangerous world outside, she still longs to see the world beyond her window. What she doesn’t know is that Gothel stole her from her birth parents because she possesses a magical power in her hair to heal; a power that Gothel has used for hundreds of years to remain young. When a thief by the name of Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) accidentally finds his way into her tower, Rapunzel sees an opportunity to escape. Unfortunately, now she is torn about going to see the annual lantern lift-off, as it could damage her relationship with Gothel. It’s not until she realizes she’s the missing princess that she breaks the “spell” Gothel had over her and truly tries to escape in earnest.

Dog Day AfternoonDog Day Afternoon
Year: 1975
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

If Hollywood movies are any indicator, one of the most frequent locations for a hostage situation to take place is in a bank. Bank robberies seem to be common and it’s difficult to do during daylight hours without involving a few innocent civilians. Consequently, if these hostage situations take too long, then Stockholm syndrome has more time to take hold. There are a few thought patterns that can develop into Stockholm syndrome, including the development of positive feelings toward their captor, believing in the humanity of their captor, no previous connection or relationship to their captor, and lack of cooperation with the authorities sent to help them. Any one of these ways of thinking can lead to a false sense of safety in the hands of someone who by all logical indicators is a dangerous individual.

During the dog days of summer, Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale), and Stevie (Gary Springer) head into the First Brooklyn Savings Bank in an attempt to rob the place. Unfortunately, their timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only is there a measly $1,100 left in the vault, but soon the police are alerted of the situation after Stevie runs away. Now Sonny and Sal have decided to sit it out in the bank, along with everyone else who happened to be in there when they started their two-bit scheme. Sonny tries to keep the hostages comfortable, allowing one of them to go when they have an asthma attack. He even goes so far as to request that the police bring in pizzas for the hostages. As the hours tick on by, everyone learns why Sonny needed the money, which helps to humanize his plight. Eventually, both robbers get their demands met and are driven to the airport, where they find one final surprise waiting.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 helpful hostages

End of Act Six

If this were a beloved television show with weak ratings, we’d probably be done with this blog right now (and waiting for the movie to come out). As it is, we still have another ~1.75 years to go, and I hope you continue to enjoy the connections between these films. So, which movie was your favorite this year? Or was your favorite from Year 1, 2, 34, or 5?
Rain Man
The King’s Speech
The Last Emperor
The Last Samurai
Dances with Wolves
Field of Dreams
The Natural
Wrath of the Titans
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Men in Black 3
Night of the Living Dead
The Social Network
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Great Gatsby
Moulin Rouge!
Requiem for a Dream
A Beautiful Mind
Sucker Punch
Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Muppet Treasure Island
Treasure Planet
The Lion King
Secondhand Lions
The Sixth Sense
The Town
The Departed
Good Will Hunting
Dead Poets Society
Pay it Forward
V for Vendetta
The A-Team
Casino Royale
The Gangs of New York
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Van Helsing
The Brothers Grimm

With the end even closer in sight, I wanted everyone to know that there will be a book published with all of these connections once we reach the end of this blog at post #400! I look forward to creating the same “connection” experience in physical form as I have in this digital one. If you sign up for my newsletter on my main website (www.benjamin-m-weilert.com), you can be kept up-to-date on the progress toward this book’s publication.