Directed by Steven Soderbergh
What’s it about: Loosely based on German novelist Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, The Castle, this cinematic version follows the writer and insurance company employee, Kafka (Jeremy Irons in the titular role), as he stumbles upon an underground society and attempts to uncover their next terrorist activity.
Why watch it: From the start of his career, director Steven Soderbergh has, more than any filmmaker of his generation, successfully jumped back and forth between mainstream movies and artsy films. Kafka clearly resides on the “artsy” side. Creepy, enigmatic, Kafka’s not a tidy story where the plot and purpose were sketched out on a napkin in crayon by studio executives. The film, like its subject (Franz Kafka), offers few, obvious answers, but opens a door for the viewer to ponder: The lofty idea of “‘man’ as individual and his place and purpose in modern society.” And, if all that just sounds too far out, then watch Kafka for the lush, black-and-white cinematography and the haunting musical score.
Interesting factoid: When searching for his missing colleague in the Cafe Continental, Kafka is approached by friends and they ask: “What are you working on?” Kafka replies: “A thing about a man who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a giant insect!” A direct reference to Kafka’s best known work, “Die Verwandlung,” or as we refer to it in the English translation, The Metamorphosis.
Business takeaway: If you think you’re in a dead-end job, you probably are. As a business guru told me 20 years ago, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” I quit my Kafka-esque job by week’s end and have supported myself by writing ever since.
Memorable scene: The comedic moment where the twins at the insurance company engage in a speed-typing contest.
Doctor Murnau: A crowd is easier to control than an individual. A crowd has a common purpose. The purpose of the individual is always in question.
Franz Kafka: That’s what you’re trying to eliminate, isn’t it? Everything that makes one human being different from another. But you’ll “never”, “never” reach a man’s soul through a lens.
Doctor Murnau: That rather depends on which end of the microscope you’re on, doesn’t it?
Next up: Lloyd’s of London
Directed by Henry King
What’s it about: When tweens Jonathan Blake (Freddie Bartholomew) and Horatio Nelson (Douglas Scott) learn that sailors/pirates are planning to swindle an insurance company, they trek to London to warn the owners of “Lloyd’s Coffee-House.” Their news eventually results in a job with the company for Blake (Tyrone Power plays him as an adult), who eventually becomes an owner of “Lloyd’s of London.”
Why watch it: Though Blake is a fictional character, the film, besides being a good action yarn, provides an origin story to the venerable Lloyd’s of London.
Interesting factoid: Lloyd’s of London was future superstar, Tyrone Power‘s, first leading role, and, at the tender age of 23, he showed the studio heads he had the chops to carry a film.
Business takeaway: Doing a good deed can lead to good things happening to you. i.e. Pay it forward.
Memorable scene: The spy subplot, where Blake is involved in passing along false information to enemy troops, thus enabling Admiral Nelson valuable time so he can win the Battle of Trafalgar.
Lord Stacy: Ah, yes, I recall your face. You’re a waiter at Lloyd’s Coffee-House, aren’t you?
Blake: Yes. I am at Lloyd’s.
[They're interrupted by the young woman Blake has been romancing.]
Lady Elizabeth: Mr. Blake, I’d like you to meet my husband, Lord Stacy.
Next up: Save the Tiger
13. Save the Tiger (1973)
Directed by John G. Avildsen
What’s it about: Harry Stoner (Jack Lemmon) has tried everything to save his apparel business. First, he cooked the books. Then, he hired prostitutes for his clients. Finally, after all else has failed, he resorts to an arsonist to burn the place down so he can collect on the insurance.
Why watch it: Jack Lemmon’s performance. I’ve always admired his work, but when watching movies in the ‘70s, Lemmon was never one of my heroes. That lofty perch was held by the more macho actors like Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and the like (okay, guilty pleasure alert: Burt Reynolds), but, as I get older, and watch Lemmon’s movies again, I find the nuances and subtle emotions of greatness.
Interesting factoid: Jack Lemmon admitted to having had a serious drinking problem at one time, which is one reason he looks back on his Oscar-winning role as Harry Stoner in Save the Tiger as perhaps the most gratifying, emotionally fulfilling performance of his career.
Business takeaway: It’s a list of things “not” to do: If you own a business, don’t juggle the books. Don’t set your factory on fire. Don’t offer prostitutes to your clients. Don’t get involved in insurance scams of any kind.
Memorable scene: The speech Harry Stoner (Lemmon) gives at the fashion show is one of those “Oscar” moments and probably what helped Lemmon win for best actor that year.
Myra: Are you okay? Do you want something?
Harry Stoner: Yes. I want that girl in a Cole Porter song. I wanna see Lena Horne at the Cotton Club. Hear Billie Holiday sing “Fine and Mellow.” Walk in that kind of rain that never washes perfume away. I wanna be in love with something. Anything. Just the idea. A dog, a cat. Anything. Just something.
Next up: Sleuth
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
What’s it about: Lovers. Rivals. Deadly games. Insurance policies. Did I say, deadly games? Yes. And that only scratches the surface of this complex, psychological thriller.
Why watch it: For the many guises that characters Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier) and Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) assume. At its core, Sleuth is an actor’s film more than it is a director’s and that’s why the remake by Kenneth Branagh in 2007 is such a pale comparison.
Interesting factoid: Michael Caine was so beside himself to be working with Laurence Olivier, that he didn’t even know how to address him. Eventually, he broke down and just asked. Olivier replied, “Well I am the Lord Olivier and you are Mr. Michael Caine. Of course that’s only for the first time you address me. After that I am Larry and you are Mike.”
Business takeaway: If a deal sounds too good to be true, well, you know the rest.
Memorable scene: The rough and tumble moment where Michael Caine gets Lord Olivier in a hammerlock and feigns arresting him. It actually looks like it hurts. Your heart goes out to the older actor.
Milo Tindle: We are from different worlds, you and me, Andrew. In mine, there was no time for bright fancies and happy inventions, no stopping for tea. The only game we played was to survive, or go to the wall. If you didn’t win, you just didn’t finish. Loser, lose all. You probably don’t understand that.
Next up: Memento
Directed by Christopher Nolan
What’s it about: Leonard, an ex-insurance investigator, can no longer build new memories. Using tattoos and scattered notes, he attempts to find the murderer of his wife, which is the last thing he remembers.
Interesting factoid: “The medical condition experienced by Leonard in this film is a real condition called Anterograde Amnesia, the inability to form new memories after damage to the hippocampus. During the 1950s, doctors treated some forms of epilepsy by removing parts of the temporal lobe, resulting in the same memory problems.”
Business takeaway: Get a really, really, good day planner.
Memorable scene: When Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) realizes he’s running and that he’s running parellel to another man. At first, he thinks he’s chasing the man, but when the other guy pulls a gun, Leonard realizes he’s the one being chased. It’s a microcosm of the entire movie, of Leonard’s patchwork existence and blocked memory.
Leonard Shelby: I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?… Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.
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