#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

#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

#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 1950s 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 highlight 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 won 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, she had 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 theatre 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 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)